House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was privacy.


Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK


That, in the opinion of this House, the Government should authorize a proclamation to be issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada amending Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to: (a) recognize the fundamental right of individuals to pursue family life free from undue interference by the state and (b) recognize the fundamental right, responsibility and liberty of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, and urge the legislative assemblies of the other provinces to do likewise.

Mr. Speaker, I am both pleased and disappointed this morning to be leading the debate on a topic that is so important to families all across Canada.

I wonder if it would make any difference to the members of this House and to the people of Canada if they knew that the state had more power than parents to determine what is in the best interests of children. I wonder if it would make any difference to all of us here and to parents if they realized the unlimited power of the state to take children away from parents without any real evidence whatsoever. Today I will present evidence that parents have only time consuming, expensive legal recourse if their rights are abused because of the legislation and the bureaucracy working against parents and that the government is clearly abusing their powers.

Here are some concrete examples, or should I say horror stories.

Until February 1995 Charles and Sandra Butler home schooled their children, ages 11, 8 and 5, which is permissible in Newfoundland as long as the curriculum is accredited by the district school board. The Butlers followed a home school curriculum developed by the Seventh Day Adventist Church that the local school board had refused to accredit. The family had no history of neglect or abuse.

The department of social services decided that the Butler children were in need of protection under the province's child welfare act on the grounds that the Butlers had neglected to provide adequately for the education of their children. The Butlers' three children were apprehended even though the five year old was not required by law to go to school. Social workers expanded their list of grounds for taking the children away from their parents to include concerns about the children's health and education, possible physical and/or emotional abuse and the religious zealotry of their parents.

A judge granted social services temporary custody of the children for a four month period. The Butlers were forced to hire a lawyer and appeal the judge's orders on the grounds that, first, the judge applied an improper standard of proof; second, he relied on inadmissible evidence and hearsay; third, the hearing violated the principles of fundamental justice; fourth, the parents were not properly informed of the nature of the hearing; and fifth, the parents were not given an opportunity to call evidence.

In December 1995, more than 10 months after their kids were taken from them, the court granted the Butlers' appeal and ordered the children be returned immediately to their parents.

In her conclusions the judge found that the Butlers' parental rights under section 7 of the charter of rights and freedoms had been violated.

She also concluded that the children's academic abilities seemed normal for their age. They appeared well adjusted. They were physically healthy. They were rarely sick. There was absolutely no evidence that the parents physically or mentally abused their children.

She also agreed that the bureaucrats had not handled the case in a manner in keeping with the principles of fundamental justice.

The Butler children had to spend more than six months in foster care. This government-enforced separation of children from their parents was devastating for the kids, the family and the family's relationship with the community in which it lived. All of it was totally unnecessary. A proper investigation by government bureaucrats at the outset would have arrived at exactly the same conclusions that the judge did in court.

The abuse here was by government bureaucrats, not the parents, even though the judge concluded that the Butlers had parental rights under the charter. Had parental rights been in the charter it may have actually resulted in the bureaucrats conducting a proper investigation before scooping the Butlers' kids and keeping them separated for six months.

There are many horror stories. Here is another one. In June 1995 a Nanaimo couple's three children were taken from them by social services. Terry and Lisa Neave's two-year old daughter was taken to hospital for testing and treatment of a choking disorder. One day before the transfer a paediatrician taught Mrs. Neave a jaw-thrust manoeuvre that would clear her daughter's air wave when she was choking. The manoeuvre involved raising the child's jaw with a hand at her neck.

At the children's hospital in Vancouver, Lisa Neave and her daughter were assigned a double room with another mother and sick child. Mrs. Neave performed the manoeuvre on her daughter during a choking episode. The other mother reported what she thought was abuse to the hospital authorities. Mrs. Neave was required to explain her paediatrician's instructions to a social worker and to the head of the hospital's child protection unit. The head of the child protection unit concluded that Mrs. Neave had an unusual form of child abuse in which a parent fabricates an illness for their child. Without checking with the Neave's paediatrician or family doctor, the next day social services apprehended all three of the Neave's children.

Even though no one had ever seen Mrs. Neave abuse her children, a judge ruled that Mrs. Neave was a high risk to her children. The Neave's family doctor and paediatrician tried to contact the social worker. They reported that their calls were not even returned. The children were not allowed to come home until December and Mr. Neave still had to act as supervisor over his wife.

In January the results of the court ordered psychiatric assessment of Mrs. Neave concluded that Mrs. Neave's only psychiatric problem was caused by her children being taken away from her and by the RCMP investigation. In February the court orders imposed by the department of social services were set aside. The Neave's children had lived away from home for five months. Their legal bills exceeded $10,000. All this could have been avoided if the social worker had simply called the paediatrician and confirmed the instructions Mrs. Neave had received.

Having parental rights included in the charter of rights and freedoms may have prevented this travesty of justice and this emotional nightmare.

There are many other examples like this that I could relate to members. These ought to be of grave concern to all Canadians. Unfortunately, the charter of rights and freedoms only protects an individual's rights and freedoms, it does not provide the legal framework for this balancing of parental rights, children's rights and the rights of the state.

I maintain this is why parental rights and responsibilities need to be included in our charter. Child abuse by the state is just as abhorrent as child abuse by parents. There needs to be a proper balance between the rights of parents to raise their children and the right of the state to interfere. That is why M-33 is here today.

My main point is this. Parents have a responsibility to provide their children with the necessities of life. As long as parents meet this fundamental responsibility to their children governments should respect the fundamental right of parents to raise their children free from undue interference by the state.

Cindy Silver, a Vancouver lawyer, points out that the dignity and worth of both individuals and families in a free society were prominent in the Canadian Bill of Rights, but any reference to the family was omitted from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She says that omitting the reference to family in the charter of rights and freedoms contributed significantly to the demise of family autonomy and the devaluing of the family in law and legislature.

My Motion No. 33 would correct this oversight and return a proper balance between parental rights and responsibilities and help reaffirm the state's proper role in family life in Canada.

Section 15 of the charter states every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal benefit of the law without discrimination. Ms. Silver correctly points out that because the charter includes age as a prohibited ground for discrimination this effectively changed the constitutional status of children, making them equal to adults under the law.

Making children equal under the law and omitting family and parents from our Constitution has put child rights groups in charge of the political agenda and left parents with little or no defence.

Here is what is happening as result. In 1991 Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a document which tried to address all the concerns raised by child rights groups around the world. Ms. Silver states: “As a result, the UN convention confers both protective rights and choice rights, thereby establishing a presumption that children should be able to act autonomously whenever possible”.

Ms. Silver then outlines the choice rights that governments now endorse for all children in Canada regardless of what parents think is good or bad for their children. Article 13 states the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and the ideas of all kinds, whether orally or in writing, in the form of art or through any media of the child's choice.

Article 14 states the right of freedom to thought, conscience and religion. Article 15 states the right to freedom of association. Article 16 states the right to privacy. Article 19 states the right to be free from all forms of physical and mental violence. Article 19 has been interpreted by the UN convention review committee to include freedom from simple spankings by a loving parent to help correct a child's behaviour from time to time.

In June 1995 the review committee criticized Canada for failing to repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code, the section that provides a defence for parents who use corporal punishment, reasonable under the circumstances, to correct their children's behaviour.

While the UN convention and the review committee's recommendation have no legal force in Canadian law, this does not prevent the no spanking lobbyists from pushing the government to change the law. Nor has the federal government been an innocent bystander. The government has been providing funds for these anti-spanking, anti-parental rights lobby groups to do research and to launch court challenges to advance their cause. That is wrong.

Parents and families are left to defend themselves from this intrusion by the state while government provides moral and financial support to lobby groups that would diminish parental rights and family autonomy.

Ms. Silver's paper states: “Since 1992 the federal government has allocated $459 million toward conforming Canada's law and policy to the provisions of the UN convention. Part of this amount was used in 1992 to create the children's bureau of Health Canada whose mandate is to ensure consistency with the UN convention and co-ordination for all federal program and policies for children”.

All this is expenditure of human and financial resources by the government to implement a UN convention that has not even been debated or approved by members of parliament.

Dallas Miller, legal counsel for the Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada, describes the negative aspect of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in an action paper he prepared for home schoolers.

It states: “Although several of the provisions offered generally positive, non-offensive platitudes, a substantial portion of the convention undermines parental rights. These threats to the family generally fall into three categories: first, transfer of God given parental rights and responsibilities to the state; second, the institutionalization of rebellion by vesting children with various fundamental rights which advance notions of the children's autonomy and freedom from parental guidance; third, the establishment of bureaucracies and institutions of a national and international nature designed to promote the ideas proclaimed in the charter of the United Nations and to investigate and prosecute parents who violate these children's rights”.

Mr. Miller has analysed each article in the UN convention and he highlights how the charter could be used to undermine parental rights and responsibilities. Here are just a few examples he cites. Article 3: In an article concerning children the courts, social service workers and bureaucrats are empowered to regulate families based on the bureaucrats' subjective determination of what is in the best interests of the child. That is happening in Canada.

Article 4: Signatory nations are bound to undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of rights articulated in the convention.

Article 13: Little children are vested with the virtual absolute freedom of expression and under this provision parents could lose the right to prevent their children from interaction with pornography, rock music with profane lyrics or violent television shows.

This is terrible that this is allowed. Children are guaranteed freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Children have the legal right to object to all religious training from their parents.

Article 15: This article declares the right of the child to freedom of association. Children could claim a fundamental right to join street gangs, cults or racist organizations over parental objections.

I have many other things I would like to present and that is why I have introduced Motion No. 33. I feel strongly about the issue, as more than 6,000 petitions support my efforts to strengthen protection for parental rights from undue interference by the nanny state.

Parents must have the freedom to do what I think is in the best interests of their children. If the government thinks they are wrong, section 1 of the charter guarantees the government can only interfere in accordance with reasonable limits prescribed by law that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

In conclusion, my motion proposes to institute a proper balance between children's right, parental rights and the rights of the state. I would like to respectfully request at this time, with the consent of the House, to make Motion No. 33 a votable item.

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent that this motion be deemed votable?

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members


Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members


Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Ahuntsic Québec


Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to speak to the motion to amend section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Once again I would like to say the hon. member from the Reform side uses exceptional cases to make his point and not what is the general rule in Canada.

Section 7 of the charter says: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of the fundamental justice”. It sets out a balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the state.

In looking for protection under section 7, one first asks if there has been an infringement of one of the three protected interests, deprivation of life, liberty or security of the person, and then asks if such deprivation was in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. These principles are found in the basic tenets of our legal system and are vital to our societal notion of justice.

The purpose of the member's motion is to add to section 7 the fundamental right of individuals to pursue family life free from undue interference by the state, as well as the fundamental right and responsibility of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.

On first examination, there is nothing reprehensible about this motion. One might indeed be tempted to support it, for who among us does not think that Canadians are entitled to a rich and rewarding family life free from undue interference by the state, and who would not encourage the right and, of course, the responsibility of parents to direct the upbringing of their children?

Canada takes seriously its responsibilities toward its children. For example, in December 1991 Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a broad ranging treaty which delineates the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children.

As a leader in drafting the convention, Canada has been noted for its action on behalf of children. As a mother of two daughters, I am reassured that the government has done everything to acknowledge that children also have rights in our society and takes action to protect those rights here in Canada and throughout the world.

The family has been recognized and entrenched in the Canadian legal system in a myriad of ways. It has been supported and treated as a fundamental building block of our nation. One can look to laws concerning the validity of marriage, dissolution of marriage with its attendant need to provide for the financial interest of the parties and the continued well-being of children, and recent developments such as the government's child support guidelines initiative.

We provide support to families through a vast array of programs and policies. The Criminal Code of Canada protects children from abuse and neglect, as do child welfare agencies throughout the provinces and territories. Our tax system treats family relationships in a way that differs from individuals.

Canada in no way fails to respect families. It supports parents who look after their children's upbringing. No one is worried that Canada will introduce measures of oppression, interference or repression with respect to the family.

I therefore do not understand what the risks are to which families and children are exposed and which the motion before us seeks to eliminate.

Can the state interfere in family life in Canada today? There is no doubt that it can and, in some cases, it even has an obligation to do so. Ideally, every parent should be a loving parent, every child happy, healthy and safe from danger, and every family a refuge from the hustle and bustle of daily life, a place of warmth, security and affection.

We have only to read the newspapers, listen to the news and turn on the television, however, to realize that this is not the case, and the member has given examples to prove it.

Families in Canada today do not need more protection from state interference. Every day in this country there is enacted a delicate balancing act wherein the state uses its powers carefully, some may say too carefully, to protect vulnerable family members, women, children and the elderly, from harm. The rights of individuals are weighed and where the balance tips the state steps in to take care of its citizens.

I do not think Canadians wish to see those capabilities eroded. Our society is outraged when we read of children returned to or left in abusive families. Every day we read of that in the local newspapers. Do we really wish to further hamper the efforts of our child welfare authorities? Do we really want long charter based challenges clogging up our court systems while the vulnerable continue to be harmed?

The courts have examined section 7 of the charter and its impact on family rights. It is not my intention today to give a list of all the relevant case law. There simply would not be the time.

Our courts have concluded that the right to raise a child is part of a parent's right to liberty. They have ruled that the state should interfere only when necessary, thus confirming that the rights of parents are vital in our society. It is not a question of recognizing parents' right of ownership over children, but of recognizing parents' rights to make decisions in the interest of the child.

Our common law rules have long recognized, however, the right and the power of the state to step in to protect children at risk. That is a fundamental principle of our law.

In my opinion and in the opinion of the government we do not need this amendment to section 7 of the charter. Canadian families are protected from undue interference by the state and parents have the right to raise their children within the limits of the law. The law is there to protect those who are the most vulnerable in our society and those who are our most precious resource, our children.

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, perhaps members find this a difficult issue to talk about. I will state something personal for the record. I have received a lot of mail on an issue which the hon. member who introduced this motion referred to.

I am not personally in favour of repealing section 43 of the Criminal Code. I certainly made that clear to a lot of constituents who have written to me about this. I know I have colleagues who take an opposite view. However for the record, being private members' business and all, I do not take that view. I do not think the government does either. At least that is what it says.

People are being whipped up into a frenzy in some quarters about the prospect of this article of the Criminal Code being repealed when I do not see any evidence that the government has this intention. Certainly it would not have my support if the government did have that intention, if it were to come before the House that the government was trying to repeal it.

What the member has done is point out in a different way something I commented on years ago in this House during the final debate on the charter, which is that is the charter of rights and freedoms institutionalizes in this country a small l liberal individualist view of society and it has its limitations.

For instance it does not adequately recognize the rights of communities or of collectivities. It tends to regard all human life as the interaction of individuals. It goes beyond that to some degree when it recognizes the existence of aboriginal rights but I think it certainly is still limited in so far as it only succeeded in enshrining the small l liberal individualistic view of life.

This is not to say that there is anything particularly wrong with that point of view. It is just that it does not encompass the complexities of the relationships we have with each other both as individuals and as groups.

That was something I pointed out then and I think it continues to be true. The member argues that it does not adequately take into account the reality of the family. I am listening to that argument. In fact I read the articles he sent around. There are some concerns expressed in those articles which I agree with. At this point anyway I remain unconvinced that anything could be accomplished by actually putting into the charter something having to do with parents and families. I personally am not opposed in principle to that idea, I am just not sure how it would work.

One of the things I find curious in the debate that unfolded this morning, and it takes on this shape in other forums and on other issues, is this tension between the state and the family. To some degree I do not know whether to call it exaggerated or misplaced or a bit of a phoney war in this sense.

I think both the state and the family are losing out to the marketplace. There are two more fundamentally weaker and weaker institutions in our society, the state and the family. The reaction of those who are concerned about family values is to attack the state. It may be appropriate in some cases to do so but it is totally inappropriate in any case not to recognize that what is eating away at family values every bit as much as some of the things that are attributed to the state are the values of the marketplace.

After all it is not the state that creates and maintains the culture of violence we see on our TV screens. It happens because of the very successful marketing on the part of the TV companies. The advertisers participate in this. They will pay higher rates for programs they know have the attraction that comes with violence. We see this more and more in sports as well.

It is not the state that is the purveyor of pornography. We see this wrong attitude toward human relationships and toward women and men not just in what we strictly call pornography; we see it in advertising all the time.

Every time we turn on the TV people with young children have to worry about what boundary will be pushed by private advertisers, by people many of us in this place hold as examples: “Boy, that guy is a good marketer. Boy, that company is a good marketing company. Boy, they really know how to sell their product, look how their stocks have risen in the marketplace”.

It may be obvious but what I find difficult to take is this concentration alone on ways in which the state may be undermining the moral fabric of the country. I find this difficult to take when it is not accompanied by an equally vigorous attack on the values used in selling a product, that the end justifies the means, that sex or whatever the case may be can be used to sell the product and that is just the way the market works and we have to accept that.

I do not think we have to accept that. If we want to create a moral society, we have to be prepared to be comprehensive in our view of this and not just single out the things that fit our ideological predisposition. We have to be willing to take on the marketplace. This is not something we are willing to do, particularly in this day and age.

People who talk about the marketplace in this way, like myself, are regarded as some kind of archaic old socialist who has not embraced the freedom that comes from the marketplace where people do what they want. People sell what they want. People do whatever is permissible in order to sell their product.

I ask members who are concerned about these things to think about this as well because to the extent that we cultivate a particular ethic when it comes to the marketplace, we reinforce values that perhaps we do not really want to reinforce.

We often say when we speak of youth crime that young people do not seem to have any values. Well maybe they do. Maybe young people have picked up the values of the marketplace instead of the values of the family or the values of the state.

Perhaps young people have picked up on the value that what matters is the bottom line, that what is important is the quarterly profit margin. It does not matter how many people have to be laid off or how many hospital beds have to close whatever the case may be whether it is the state or a private company depending on what kind of activity is involved.

Perhaps young people have picked up that for 15 years we have been glorifying the ethic of every man for himself, every person for him or herself and that we regard as romantic, unrealistic and idealistic in a pejorative and patronizing way anyone who says that maybe this is wrong and maybe we should not exalt these types of values at the expense of everything else.

I would certainly invite people who are concerned about the points the member was concerned about to rethink this as well.

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party to speak to the Reform motion respecting Canadian families and the role and responsibility of parents.

We in the Progressive Conservative Party believe that ultimately the raising of children is the responsibility of parents. We believe in supporting families to raise children in the best possible manner so they can become productive citizens in our society. We encourage families to enable the potential of each and every child.

The motion before us today speaks of amending the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to allow individuals to pursue family life free from undue interference by the state and to recognize the fundamental right and responsibility of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. If we are proposing to amend the charter to allow this, what exactly is it that we would amend?

Section 7 of the charter of rights states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice”.

We believe that this section of the charter does not need to be amended to provide families with the ability to raise their children in the manner they see fit. Section 7 provides parents with the right to liberty, freedom to raise their children as they see fit within the common fundamental values of society. We would argue that existing laws already provide parents with the ability to raise their children without undue interference of the state within the framework of the common public good.

What is undue interference? The member proposing this motion speaks of the concern that parents have that if they spank their children in public their children would be taken away from them by the authorities. This he says is undue interference in family life. Spanking a child as a disciplinary measure is an issue which is hotly debated but to my knowledge most child welfare agencies in the provinces regard spanking a child's bottom as a grey area between discipline and abuse. Ways of disciplining children is an issue that should continue to be debated by our society.

What of the necessity to protect children unfortunately sometimes from their own parents? Would the Reform Party amendment to the charter of rights and freedoms prevent the government from exercising its ability to protect children who are suffering from abuse, sexual and otherwise?

Children should be raised within their families. Families are the basis of Canadian society. Parents should be responsible for their children. But the state must have the ability to protect children in situations where the parents are unable or unwilling to assume that responsibility.

Removing a child from the family under current provincial laws is not as simple as members of the Reform Party would make us believe. Child protection workers must use the least intrusive measures possible and social workers are charged with showing that removing the child is in the child's best interest.

Child welfare legislation is quite specific stating that children can only be removed if evidence of emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect can be proven before the courts. Instead, much work is placed in trying to assist families to better deal with the stresses of everyday life so that children are not neglected, not abused and families can work and live together without abuse or neglect.

Is this an undue interference in people's lives? To me this is trying to strengthen the family unit rather than break it up.

It is ironic that the Reform Party proposes an amendment to the charter of rights and freedoms to allow parents to raise their children without interference by the state. The Reform Party's principles and policies state: “The Reform Party recognizes that child abuse and family violence attack the very foundation of organized society. The party supports enacting, communicating and enforcing laws that protect family members against such acts”. Would the Reform Party's own principle not conflict with the motion before us today? The Reform Party's policies and principles appear to contradict the hon. member's motion.

Reform calls for a lowering of the age at which offenders should be tried as adults. Even though these children would still be considered minors, Reform's policy would call for an intervention by the state into the ability of parents to raise and discipline their children.

In conclusion, we do not need to amend the charter of rights and freedoms to allow parents to raise their families in the manner they best see fit. What we need is a better informed discussion on the issues that prompted the member to bring forth this motion. We also need to ensure that family poverty is not the cause of abuse or neglect of children.

As a society we need to focus on the needs of today's children because they will be the ones representing Canada in this House in the future.

I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing forward an issue which should be debated and should be questioned in this House. The issue is not to change the charter of rights and freedoms to be able to accomplish what the hon. member has suggested. One cannot legislate that and good family values. Those family values must and will come from families and the parents of the children themselves.

I stand before you, Mr. Speaker, very proud of the job that my wife, my family and I have done to make sure that my children are constructive members of society. That was done without legislation. That was done with pride and with obvious dedication from both parents, and certainly dedication from my children.

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak briefly to the motion. I want to make sure that I leave the appropriate amount of time for the hon. member who moved the motion. I would appreciate if you would give me a signal to ensure I do that.

The motion is very important. I think many members of the House have not fully recognized how important it is. It is important because Canadians have had a long history of respecting the role of the family in Canadian society. They are concerned historically about the separation of state and family.

I refer to the Canadian bill of rights which in its preamble clearly states:

The Parliament of Canada, affirming that the Canadian Nation is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, the dignity and worth of human person and the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions;

Entrenched in our bill of rights was a recognition by the founders of our nation that the family had a unique and special place in our country. In the same way Reformers who are Canadians and have shaped our policy are also concerned. That is why in our party documents we have a statement that says:

The Reform Party affirms the duty of parents to raise their children responsibly according to their own conscience and beliefs, and further affirms that no person, government, or agency has a right to interfere in the exercise of that duty, as long as the actions of the parents do not constitute abuse or neglect.

Our concern is that there seems to have been an erosion of the respect for the role of family in the Canadian mosaic and in our laws. I refer to the preamble that is now in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which superseded the bill of rights as we all know. That preamble states:

Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:

There is no reference to the family. It has been taken out, an omission which although may seem insignificant to some is having impacts in Canada.

The parent-child bond is so critical to the long term health of our nation and starts first in the physical sense. Actually it is even before children are born. They are saying now in some studies that the child in the womb can recognize the mother's voice and certain movements. I know in my own case I have twin daughters, one is very active and one is a little more sedate. We knew the one that was very active even in the womb. She was so active and she is still the same today.

A nursing mother has a closeness with her children and passes on certain antibiotics. My point here is that the physical needs of the children are met by the parents. There are new studies showing the importance of physical contact with parents. Children develop trust as their needs are met and they are put in a stable environment.

Also there are studies showing—I saw one over 10 years ago—the negative impacts of changing caregivers, what that does to children and the long term effects of psychosis which can come from it. It is so common, as we see in many day care centres today. It is from our parents and our families that we actually get our identity; he looks like Uncle Joe or she looks like Aunt Mary.

There are sacrifices for sure in raising children, but in anything worthwhile there are big rewards. Seeing one's child go from the womb to adulthood is a special investment that reaps great rewards for parents.

No one is in a better position to do this than parents. No well intentioned state or social agency will ever be able to usurp the role of the parent. That is why our forefathers were sure to entrench that in our bill of rights and in our legislation.

It is also important to see that parents have a hand in shaping the mental capabilities of children. There is a new study out that I read recently which indicates that the cognitive and mental development of a child from age zero to three is critical. If they are not properly stimulated in the right environment with their parents and are left alone, for example, as was referred to in some tragic cases, certain parts of the brain do not develop. Even as they get older, after the age of three, they cannot recoup that loss.

This is such a critical time and only a parent who loves the children can provide what is needed for the long term best interest of children.

Within families we teach children how to get along. We teach within families how to share, how to be considerate of others, how to give up our own personal desires and learn how to control our emotions and gain self-control. Sometimes we do not always get our own way. For the good of the family we may have to back away from something. In this day and age when everyone is clamouring for rights, the family is one institution where we need to learn that we do not always get our own way for the best of the family. Respect for authority is birthed in the family.

I quote how important the parent-child bond is by referring to a comprehensive study done in 1996 by the Foundation of Family Research and Education. It stated that in the area of children's emotional bonding with parents regular non-parental care increased the risk of children developing insecure bonds by 66%. It also stated that the results from this work and others conducted since demonstrated that insecure bonding to parents in childhood was a direct cause of clinical levels of emotional and behavioural problems in adolescents, including youth crime. It indicated that it was clear the family was the primary arena of influence in the development of children and adolescents.

When we look at some of the challenges we have with our youth today, it just underlines the need to ensure that the autonomy of the family is protected. We go beyond just protecting it to supporting, strengthening and encouraging the family for the long term health of the country. I applaud the member for bringing forward a motion like this one that is designed with that intent in mind.

I want to move to one additional area briefly, the loving concern that parents have for their children. They want things to go all right for them. They want them to have a happy and good life. We all know this. Parents are in the first and best position to pass on the core foundational values that will carry children through their lives. These values the parents have themselves. They have tried them in the crucible of life, things that they were taught and have tested as they have gone through life. When parents look back, as I do, there are some things they wish they had not done. I have learned some lessons. My concern is that I impart to my children the very best lessons I have learned for their best interests.

No state or social institution can do that with the same love and concern that a parent has for a child. I applaud grandparents in this respect as well. Much can be gained from grandparents.

Parents establish a foundation in their children. The children test the foundation and may change it and develop their own when they are adults. However, the best person to impart that foundation is the parent. No system, no government or no agency should interfere in this work.

There are families that have troubles and problems, and some of them are tragic. The pressures families face today are enormous in this technological age. In our enthusiasm sometimes we look for a quick fix and we think we know better. However, we should always be cautious of a bureaucracy eager to expand, where government will fix everything. That is a medicine that is worse than what is being treated.

If we really want to help Canadian children we must respect the special relationship between parents and their children just as our forefathers did in shaping of the bill of rights. Governments and bureaucratic social agencies do not serve families by coming between the parent and their children. If anything, their focus should also be to support, encourage and strengthen healthy family relationships rather than interfere with them. Let us help parents, not replace them.

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Speaker

We will go to the member for Wentworth—Burlington who will take us to 11.59 a.m. Then the hon. member whose bill it is will have five minutes to wrap up.

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to the motion. While I believe the intentions behind the motion are excellent, the motion is seriously flawed.

If I may say to the member, what I find most wrong with the motion is that it sets the individual against the group. What he would propose to do with the motion is amend the charter to the effect that parents would have certain rights over their children.

The very essence of rights legislation is to define the limitations of the state or the group on actions of the individual. If we give rights to parents or the state it does not matter; we erode the rights of the individual. We would get into terrible difficulties if we accorded special rights to parents. We would get parents who might abuse their children in a very profound way and we would limit the ability of the state to intervene.

On the other hand the member detects, as we all detect from our constituents, an erosion of the ability of custodial parents to manage their children in a sincere and effective way because of a certain fear that the state may intervene improperly when it attempts to apply discipline or other actions on children.

This is not a problem that is limited to parents. It is also a problem that extends to other custodial figures in society like teachers and police officers in the course of their duties in a community with teenagers and other young people. In the old days before the charter of rights, the teacher, parent or the local policeman could caution a child, could say to that child “you must not do this”. They could even enforce limited discipline.

The real flaw in the charter of rights, which is causing the problem and discomfort with respect to the ability of parents, teachers or local police officers to discipline children, is that the charter accorded full civil rights to children before the age of majority, before the age of having the responsibility to exercise those rights.

We have a situation now where if a teacher attempts to impose discipline on a child in school, or even if a parent attempts to impose discipline on a child, the child can resort to the courts and actually report to the police. We have a situation in our schools now where there is a great problem with respect to teacher-student discipline simply because children are often a little too alert to their rights, which has caused a major problem in the exercise of discipline.

I feel the problem in the charter of rights is fundamental to our difficulties with the Young Offenders Act. Whatever amendments come down in the Young Offenders Act, ultimately we will have to amend the charter of rights so that we can give not full civil rights to young people but return some of the custodial opportunities to parents, teachers and the courts.

While I support in principle the idea behind the motion, I regret I cannot support the motion itself.

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the government, the NDP and the Conservatives objected to this motion being supported. The government said it did not want to discuss it any further because the examples I gave were exceptional.

It is our job in this parliament to make laws to prohibit and discourage undesirable behaviour in Canada. Armed robbery is an exceptional act. The vast majority of people do not need a law against it, but we pass laws against it nonetheless.

There is abuse by bureaucrats and the state of their power. The argument that the government makes holds no validity because we need to be protected from them. There needs to be this balance and that is what I have been arguing.

The government also complained that this would result in a logjam in the courts, but look what is happening now. Parents have to go to great lengths to get back their children after having done absolutely nothing wrong.

This motion is designed to protect children. People are missing the point. Children need our protection and this motion would give them precisely that. Those who are objecting to this just need to look at what is happening in Canada today.

I could give many other examples. I wish that the government members, New Democrats and Conservatives who have tried to twist what I have been saying would look at these more closely.

In summary, I quote from Mrs. Silver's paper:

These cases illustrate the margin for error in Canada's child protection laws place families in a vulnerable position. This is not to say that the state has no role in protecting children. Society has a vested interest in ensuring that a child's best interests are served. There are times when the state's power to intervene in cases of genuine physical or sexual abuse or neglect is crucial. A parent's rights do not trump the rights of the child. Neither are the two necessarily opposed. The rights of the child must be paramount; however, where the parent and the state disagree is on the child's best interests. The law must begin with the presumption that the parent and not the state is right.

Beginning at this point places the onus on the state to rebut the presumption according to the principles of fundamental justice.

Kari Simpson, executive director of the Citizen's Research Institute in Surrey, B.C., sent me documentation on dozens of horror stories of kids being scooped by government officials under the authority of the child family and community services act. People would have to contact my offices. Obviously, I do not have time to go through them.

If this parental rights and responsibility motion were approved by parliament today the resolution would then be sent to the legislatures of the 10 provinces to debate and vote on. The people of this country should be allowed to debate this issue. We are sweeping it under the rug in this House at this moment and that is wrong. Having parental rights, responsibilities and liberty in the charter would ensure an appropriate balance between the fundamental freedom of parents to raise their kids and government's role to protect children when parents fail to properly discharge their responsibilities.

My motion would institute that proper balance between children's rights, parental rights and the rights of the state, and that is why I requested very respectfully that we unanimously approve that this motion be made votable.

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business


The Speaker

The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville has asked for permission to put a motion to the House seeking unanimous consent, as I understand it, to make this a votable item. Is that correct?

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business



Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

I have already asked for that.

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business


The Speaker

Does the hon. member have permission to put the motion?

Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Charter Of Rights And FreedomsPrivate Members' Business


The Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-3, an act respecting DNA identification and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Code and other acts, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

Dna Identification ActGovernment Orders


The Speaker

My colleagues, I have received notice this morning of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough.

Dna Identification ActGovernment Orders


Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is with some regret that I bring this matter forward, but I feel I am under a duty to do so. It arises out of Bill C-3 which will be before the House today for amendment.

It also bears on government action which I feel impedes members of this House in their consideration of this bill which is scheduled for report stage today.

An essential part of the debate on Bill C-3 has to do with a disagreement over an important constitutional question. Eminent counsel outside the government were requested to give an opinion with respect to the options the government was considering. The chief law officer for the crown, the Minister of Justice, decided to go outside her department to secure the opinion of these three distinguished lawyers who had in the past been members of the judiciary. This information was made known to members of the justice committee on April 20 when the minister appeared before the committee for main estimates.

The Minister of Justice felt it was necessary to get this judicial opinion outside her department as it bore directly on the issue of the timing of the taking of DNA which is central to the debate before the House today.

Over the weekend I learned that on Friday evening the opinions of these three eminent jurists were made available to the executive director of the Canadian Police Association. At the same time, those opinions were not made available to members of the justice committee, or at least not to the members of the opposition I spoke with. The information was made available to the director of the police association, but not to the justice committee.

The House of Commons will be asked to vote on questions relating to this very important opinion which the Minister of Justice felt it necessary to seek. I suggest that, as members of the House, we have been placed in a disadvantaged position. I and my staff worked on this issue over the weekend, as did other opposition members in preparation for today's debate. We did so without the knowledge of the opinions sought by the Minister of Justice. I only received these opinions this morning.

I believe the opinions were made available, but it would appear they were not delivered to the office in the same manner that they were delivered to the director of the Canadian Police Association. I understand he received them via courier to his house in Brockville, while we as members of this House did not receive them until this morning. I took the liberty of providing those opinions to my colleagues in other parties because they had yet to receive them at all.

I would suggest that the government's actions demonstrate that it cares more for the opinions of an interest group than it does for those of members of the justice committee who are being requested to speak on this issue in the House today. The government has failed in its obligation to treat this House with the same respect as it does those who are not members of this Chamber. It is the “cheque is in the mail” response. The government went to the trouble of having this decision rendered and then did not go to the trouble of having that information provided to us as members of the committee.

This is not to show any disrespect for interest groups, in particular the Canadian Police Association. It is certainly entitled to this information as well, but the same courtesy should have been extended and the same effort should have been made to ensure members of this House had that crucial information. Instead the government chose the slowest and least cost effective means to transmit the material. We in this House have been asked to approve departmental estimates and to provide the department with our feedback on this important piece of legislation, and yet the government has communicated this information to us by the slowest of all possible means.

I submit there was a breach of parliamentary privilege. The government's purpose in securing a legal opinion was to influence the deliberations of the vote that will take place on Bill C-3, yet it has failed to give sufficient time for us to fully consider these important legal opinions.

I point the Chair to citation 31(10) of the sixth edition of Beauchesne's where a Speaker on the issue of ministerial communications to the House stated:

The question has been asked whether Hon. Members are entitled, as part of their parliamentary privilege, to receive such information ahead of the general public.

I can find no precedent to justify this suggestion.

I am not arguing that we have a priority to receive it before members of the public, but at the very least we should receive it at the same time. This information relates directly to the point that will be debated in the House today. It relates directly to the point with respect to the timing of the taking of DNA. I assure the House that will be the position taken by members of the opposition. There is an obligation to make that information available in advance. This action by the government, I would suggest, was not only contentious, but ill-thought out and ill-advised, given the fact that this information is before the House. Haste makes for bad law and that is the danger that arises when situations like this occur.

Therefore, I believe it is incumbent upon the Chair, at the very least, to consider this issue prior to the commencement of the debate. We need time to review these decisions. We need time to digest the opinions of these jurists who have been called upon by the government to render a decision and to consider them in the debate here prior to speaking to these amendments.

I would suggest it is urgent that we deal with this in a timely fashion, to use the minister's words, and that we do so prior to the commencement of the debate today.

Dna Identification ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I support the points which my hon. colleague has made.

This is a very important bill. The three legal opinions that have been rendered were rendered after our committee exhausted its time to call witnesses to explore all avenues on both sides of this issue.

We are now left in the position where the three legal opinions are resting upon all members of parliament with considerable weight and without adequate examination of the positions reflected in those decisions. It certainly puts us at a disadvantage in terms of being able to adequately deal with the opinions at this particular time when we are no longer able to call witnesses before the committee to deal with the issues that have been raised in them.

It is very important in this particular case that we have time to do that. If we do not, then we are simply going to take the weight of those three decisions without examining the rationale that is given within those decisions.

I have only had time to rush through the three decisions this morning. We are going into debate today on this and it is not fair for members of parliament to have to deal with these very weighty decisions without time to adequately consider them or even to call witnesses to get their opinions on the reverse side of the issue.

I support my hon. colleague's point of privilege.

Dna Identification ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too want to support my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party.

This morning, I received from my colleague, the Progressive Conservative House leader, three legal opinions totalling 75 pages in English only. Unfortunately, I was preparing the eight motions I will present before this House and I did not have time to read the 75 pages.

I must add, however, that a legal opinion does not read like a Stephen King or John Chisholm novel, and I think all members taking part in the debate, and all the members in this House, should have the opportunity to read, digest and understand these three legal opinions, which I believe will have a significant role to play in the debate this afternoon or later, we hope.

Dna Identification ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to comment on this point of privilege.

The hon. member for Crowfoot is in fact a step ahead of me. I have not yet seen the decisions that were rendered which form an integral part of the amendments to the legislation that certain parties wish to introduce.

I can anticipate what the justices might have said. They might have agreed with my reasoning, but I do not know that and I would like to see their opinions. I think they are fairly important.

I did not know they were available until I received a phone call from my colleague, the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. I thank him for making that call to me today. I did place a call to the chair of the committee to see if we might get copies.

Those decisions are important. As indicated, one does not take lightly and read quickly the decisions of justices on a particular point of law. We must make an effective and proper decision on this piece of legislation. Indeed my colleagues in the House have questioned me about these particular issues. I am sure members of the Bloc Quebecois, members of the Reform Party, members of the Conservative Party and perhaps even members of the government want to know this important piece of information.

I too would support the question of privilege raised by my colleague.

Dna Identification ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec


Nick Discepola LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough has defeated his own argument in claiming a question of privilege when he quotes Beauchesne.

In that citation, he indicates very clearly that there is no obligation on the part of the minister to have to advise members of parliament prior to the public.

I would like to assure the Speaker and hon. members that the Minister of Justice did render the opinions on May 1. It was a Friday. The House adjourns relatively early, at 2 o'clock on Fridays. Some members may not have been present in their offices.

The opinions were given to the public and to members of parliament. Every single member of the justice committee received these opinions. The member has claimed also that the government may have used the slowest possible means of communicating these opinions to members of parliament whereas we used courier services to get them to some of the public.

We used the traditional means, the internal courier service. In talking to some of my colleagues, they have not yet seen the opinions either because some of them have just come back today.

I do not think there is an obligation on the part of government to make sure members are in their offices to receive their correspondence. That is up to members and their staff. I beg to differ, that there is no question of privilege here.

We are still at report stage and we still have ample time to put forth any modifications members of the opposition would want to put forth. As I said, the copies were sent through the normal distribution channels we have always used traditionally in this House.

Dna Identification ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to point out a couple of things. I received these opinions on Friday afternoon.

There are some problems. The chair of my committee was circulating documents. There is a procedural motion in our committee that we not distribute unless documents are in both official languages.

The second problem is that these opinions were not ordered as a result of activity on our committee. In other words, our committee did not ask for these opinions. It was the minister acting on behalf of the government who asked for these opinions.

The three opinions came from lawyers, retired judges, who were in fact retained by the government, by the administration, by the cabinet, by the Minister of Justice, to render those opinions.

I suggest the argument of the House leader for the Conservative Party does not hold because there is no obligation on the government to share legal opinions that it pays for and obtains in the normal course of its business with members of this House.

However, the Minister of Justice elected to do that and she did so commencing on Friday when she undertook to distribute those opinions.

Let us keep in mind that our committee reported on this bill a week or two ago. There was a very strong vote in the committee with respect to this bill. I do not think there was any wavering. There was no backtracking after by the committee, no other concern.

We can still take this up under Standing Order 108(2) which allows us to look at anything within the jurisdiction of those departments for which we have responsibility in our portfolio.

The argument of the justice critic for the Reform Party falls because if the committee decides to undertake that further study, it can do so under Standing Order 108(2).

We are at report stage now but the Senate, whether some of us may like it or not, will also study this. Presumably we will have access to these opinions which have been made public.

The parliamentary process will continue and it will unfold as it should. I submit the government is under absolutely no obligation to provide these opinions to other members of parliament or even to government members of parliament. However, it has done so.

I suggest therefore that this is not a point of privilege and even if it raises a prima facie point of privilege, I suggest it has been answered.

Dna Identification ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think it bears mentioning that it was received at our office by regular standard mail. It was not sent by courier to our office, just to differentiate from what the parliamentary secretary said.

I think the hon. member for Windsor—St. Clair also raises an important point that this information has distributed in one language, and that point was raised by the hon. member from the Bloc.

I suggest that if a prima facie case does not exist, at the very least we should be given an opportunity to review this material in its entirety. If it was important enough to seek this decision and important enough to get to an important group like the Canadian Police Association, surely that in and of itself bears out the argument that we as members of parliament debating this issue on the floor of the House should be given an opportunity to digest this information.