Mr. Speaker, the opposition motion, as amended by the Minister of Justice, addresses an extremely important issue. I think it would be worthwhile for the House to express its views on this issue, which merits reflection.
I am a bit bothered by the turn the debate is taking. I think there is a slight difference between the motion as drafted and what I am hearing, and that is what is bothering me. I have the feeling Reform Party members want to oppose two concepts. They are using the topic of marriage to oppose the rights of gays and lesbians. It would appear that they want to steer the debate in another direction.
Contrary to what the government will be doing—and I do not know about the opposition parties—the Bloc Quebecois will allow a free vote on this issue. Members will be able to vote according to their conscience. This is very important, given the underlying implications.
Personally, I think this is a poor time to debate this issue in the House, before there has really been a substantive public debate. This is an issue to which society must give some thought, one whose evolution over time it must consider. One cannot simply spring it on people as something parliamentarians must vote on.
Canadian and Quebec law and society are evolving. What marriage was considered to be in Great Britain in bygone times may not necessarily hold in 1999 in Canada and Quebec. The minister cited case law that goes back a few years. I would like the House to consider the question of marriage from a much more contemporary angle.
On May 20 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on an equally important matter, the question as to whether partners of same sex relationships were entitled to support payments under Ontario's Family Law Act.
I can understand that such a ruling would upset some Reformers.
Here again the justices of the supreme court simply applied existing principles of law. They did not invent the wheel. I do not think this lends itself to wild demonstrations in Ontario, in opposition to the interpretation of these Courts have given to the Ontario Family Law Act.
I think things have changed. Had the same decision been rendered 25 years ago, I have no doubt that we would have demonstrated in the streets. Today people are perhaps more open than they were on a similar subject.
In Quebec, I would say we are in the lead. The national assembly has taken extremely important steps to try to establish some equality. Regardless of whether people recognize it, approve it, disapprove of it or not, the fact exists in Quebec society, and the members of the national assembly recognized it.
It was not a decision by the PQ government alone. It was a unanimous decision of the national assembly. I must point that out, because it is not every day there is a consensus in the national assembly or in a parliament. I think it was Bill 32, which obtained the unanimous support of the national assembly to amend a series of acts. If I recall correctly, 28 statutes and 11 regulations were amended in order to give gay and lesbian couples the same rights as couples in a common law relationship. This is a step forward, and I think it is one that received the approval of the people of Quebec.
As we can see, things are changing. We are mulling this question over. Today, in a motion, the Reform members want to block any discussion of this issue. I think it is too early.
It is proper to speak of it because outside the House, in the society as a whole, in our families, it is important for people to tell us what they think about it and how they see things.
Those who are adamant that marriage be between a man and a woman are afraid that one day gay and lesbian couples will claim the right to adopt and other rights. They wonder where their demands will end. This is a legitimate question.
I think that we still have not enough information to be able to make a definite position on such an important issue as this. I believe that marriage is a indeed sufficiently important institution in Canada and in Quebec to warrant our taking the time to address it and to have a definition that is the most representative of the society in which we are living in 1999, on the eve of the year 2000.
There are a number of different concepts involved. There is marriage, there is union, there is the couple. There are a number of different concepts, and I believe that each one needs to be defined.
I had a bit of fun looking up the definition of marriage in the Petit Robert . In the latest edition of the Petit Robert , it is defined differently than in the one dating from ten years ago. At that time it was defined as the union between a man and a woman.
Today, in the most recent edition of the Petit Robert , it is defined as the lawful union of two persons under conditions set out in the law. The dictionary definition of marriage has changed. This means that the definition is an evolving one. A societal debate is required in order to reach a definition.
That leads me to another point I want to address. Initially the Minister of Justice introduced an amendment to the motion to add the words “within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada”. It is far from clear where the Canadian government's jurisdiction over marriage begins and ends.
I have consulted certain documents by constitutional experts in order to see what point we have reached in the evolution of jurisprudence and Canadian constitutional law in this connection.
In the last edition of their tome on constitutional law, Henri Brun and Guy Tremblay, two PhDs in law from Laval University's faculty of law, have the following to say about apportionment and jurisdiction as they relate to marriage:
The era of the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction over marriage has to do with the fundamental conditions, i.e. capacity of the parties, and impediments. The concurrent provincial jurisdiction with respect to the solemnization of marriage has to do with the preliminary formalities, including obtaining parental consent, in the case of minors.
... and it has to do with the actual conduct of the ceremony, including the competence of those officiating. And in the exercise of their jurisdiction, the provinces, like the federal government, may stipulate sanctions up to and including annulling a marriage.
In other words, when it comes to marriage it is not clear what is exclusively federal and what is exclusively provincial. The line is fairly blurred and over time the provinces have acquired increasing powers with respect to marriage, as opposed to divorce, which has always come under the exclusive jurisdiction of Ottawa.
Here too, things have evolved. I will take this opportunity to make my oft-repeated point: if the federal government were to act in good faith, it would withdraw completely from this jurisdiction and allow the provinces complete freedom to legislate with respect to marriage and divorce.
That being said, I think this is an important debate and one which merits public discussion. We cannot give a fast cut and dried answer to this issue, and there should be a much broader discussion. At the same time, great care must be taken not to interfere in what may, according to long-standing custom, be provincial jurisdictions.