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House of Commons Hansard #83 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-23.

Topics

Canada Pension PlanOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Canada Pension PlanOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

This particular suggestion was made previously. We have undertaken to put it on the agenda for the next federal and provincial finance ministers' meeting where this kind of thing would be discussed.

ImmigrationOral Question Period

April 11th, 2000 / 2:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Progressive Conservative Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, today the auditor general reported that after 10 years of discussion, the departments of Immigration and Health Canada cannot decide if applicants should be routinely tested for infectious diseases.

Can the Minister of Health tell the House how many more years Canadians must wait before tests are done routinely for infectious diseases?

ImmigrationOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Thornhill Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the auditor general identified a need to improve medical screening and we are doing it.

As I said, a regulation has been developed as part of the new legislative package as a result of consensus achieved across the country. It will be tabled when we get into clause by clause.

Members should also know that health and safety are a priority and that is why immigration officers at the ports of entry in Canada can request a medical test of anyone entering Canada. It is important for everyone to know that we need to have a common definition of medical inadmissibility so we can ensure there is consistency in decision making.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, an act to modernize the Statutes of Canada in relation to benefits and obligations, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3 p.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the comments of the member for Wentworth—Burlington.

He commented that Bill C-23 inappropriately used the term conjugal. I agree with him. We have made the comment a number of times in the House that not only is it inappropriate to use it in a same sex relationship, it is also probably irresponsible not to define it in a bill, particularly one which uses it so frequently.

I was concerned when I understood him to say that the real problems with the bill were generated primarily from the bureaucracy in the justice department; that it really was not the justice minister who was responsible for bringing forward the bill in the manner that it is and structured as it is, with all its inherent weaknesses which we have itemized several times, but that the problem was really in the justice department. I find that shocking. Is he implying, by his own volition, that the justice minister does not have control of her department, that she cannot call the shots over the people who work in the ministry? Certainly that was the tone of his comments.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I said was that there is a certain lack of confidence that the justice department officials will deal with these issues impartially.

In fact, what I said was that this is a very fine bill in the sense that it does define marriage and that it does define same sex relationships outside marriage. The unfortunate thing is that there is a school of feeling on my own side that the lawyers, and particularly the justice department, will not defend this clause defining marriage when it comes up in other legislation.

What I was trying to point out was that I think we have a problem where we have a justice department that creates the laws, advises the minister and then defends the laws. I think it is fair to say that it is generally felt, there is a general feeling on all sides of the House, that the justice department is not always acting on behalf of parliament, but acting more on behalf of its interpretation of the charter rather than the interpretation of the charter as represented by the representatives of the people.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3 p.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that reply from the hon. member and I appreciate his candour. Certainly, it sounds to me like there are problems in that department and that the justice minister should be the one who is in charge. She is ultimately responsible for what comes out of her department and she should act on that.

I have noticed in Bill C-23 that the definition of common law partner, which includes two people of the same sex in a conjugal relationship, is repeated in every statute. In fact, it is repeated sometimes more than once in each of the statutes under Bill C-23. Yet the justice minister and the justice department have deemed it not appropriate to put the definition of marriage in every statute. It appears at the front of the bill, but it is not in the statutes.

We have a legal opinion which says it will have no legal weight when a court challenge comes. Therefore, is it not appropriate, in his mind, that our amendments which were voted down by the government yesterday should have been included? If we can include a definition of common law partner, why not a definition of marriage which we have been advocating all the way along?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

I repeat, Mr. Speaker, my view is that once you get the definition of marriage in law and once you get the definition of same sex couples as being outside marriage in law, that is enough.

The only reason the 19 on this side were not onside with the government and supported the member for Scarborough Southwest was because they are not confident that the lawyers and perhaps even the justice department will cite this clause in Bill C-23 when the issue of defining marriage or defining same sex partnerships comes up. It is sad. It is wrong. It is unfortunate because we should have confidence that the laws we pass will be applied and will be defended adequately in the courts.

I would argue that this is one of the problems we have with the supreme court interpreting the charter. It is not that the supreme court is not doing its job; the real question is whether the interests of parliament are being defended adequately before the supreme court. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, those who are defending the interests of parliament are the very people who wrote the laws in the first place and are the very ones who advised the justice minister in the first place.

What I am suggesting is that we have to re-examine the relationship of the justice department in the creation of the laws and the defence of the laws. I think we have to look at this whole issue and I suggest to members opposite that maybe it could be a motion for an opposition day. I cannot do it.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-23. I think it is very important in terms of the kinds of measures that the government is taking in this very important area.

I want to begin by congratulating the Minister of Justice for putting together what I believe is a very fine piece of legislation and one which I think Canadians, for the most part, wherever they live in our great country, will not only respect but also welcome. I want to indicate at the outset that I think it is a good move and that Canadians, ultimately and historically, will applaud the fact that we are moving in this all important area.

I have listened to the debate on Bill C-23 over the last little while and I have to say that some members opposite, the reformed CRAP alliance party members, have in fact gone repeatedly—

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Speaker ruled clearly several Mondays ago, and the ruling has been upheld repeatedly by the Speaker, that the name of our party is Canadian Alliance, and we should—

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, you will recall that I said the reformed CRAP party, the alliance people. Now, having said that—

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise again on a point of order.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We are not going to get into this. The hon. member for Waterloo—Wellington will go to the text of his dissertation, and I will look after it.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, you are fair and even-handed, as always.

What I found not so long ago was that in listening to members opposite I was quite astonished, to put it frankly and bluntly, at some of the misconceptions that they seem to want to perpetuate, and the myths too. For example, I listened prior to question period to the member for Dewdney—Alouette. I listened to the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands who, when I was speaking, talked about a barroom brawl. Is that not interesting coming from members opposite, a barroom brawl. I would have thought that they could do better than to be hanging out in bars, never mind brawling.

The member for Nanaimo—Cowichan was quoted recently in the Vancouver Sun . He said “A gradual blurring of the sexes has occurred that gave young men growing up in many female dominated single parent homes an identity crisis”. This, according to him, has led to the rise in “militant homosexuality”.

He went on to state that he was unable, however, to explain why he believes that single mother families encouraged such homosexual militancy.

Compare that to the member for Yorkton—Melville, again one of those Alliance people with extremist views which are way out in left field, and other right wing nonsense. He was quoted as saying in a press release “In the 1950s buggery was a criminal offence. Now it is a requirement to receive benefits from the federal government”.

It was not so long ago that the party opposite made reference to gays and blacks, saying they should be relegated to the back of the bus. That is a direct quotation from those members. It is amazing that these people opposite keep perpetuating that kind of nonsense, that kind of hatred, discrimination and bigotry. I suppose we could say it is part and parcel of who they are and what they represent, but it is very sad that they would do that.

What I want to do, instead of focusing on the negative nonsense of the Alliance people, no matter what they call themselves, is to focus on the positive, which is that we on the government side defend tolerance, compassion and caring. Unlike those people who stand for and are representatives of the politics of extremism and bigotry, we represent the politics of hope and reconciliation.

That is what decent Canadians expect of their government: caring, compassion and tolerance. That is precisely what the Minister of Justice and the government have proceeded to do in this very important area.

I could go on in terms of the kinds of myths that members opposite are perpetuating. In fact, I want to do that right now.

I have listened for the last couple of days to some of the speeches. I want to point out that Bill C-23 is not about marriage. In fact, on this side of the House last year we supported the motion which indicated that was not the case. To have them rise time and time again to say that it is about marriage is really outrageous. I do not know what kind of political spin or cheap political shots members opposite want to make in this area, but it really is quite unacceptable. Canadians see through their shenanigans, duplicity and hypocrisy.

The bill is not about marriage. It is certainly not about relationships, dependent or otherwise. It is not about sending in the sex police, as some members have alluded to in their convoluted way, suggesting that would occur. Rather, we on the government side, in a positive, upbeat fashion, are saying that into the 21st century we will define ourselves in a manner consistent with the values of Canadians, which are tolerance and compassion. That is why we are proceeding with Bill C-23.

It was reaffirmed by a motion of parliament last year that marriage is the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. We have repeated that in the bill to underscore the point. If there are Canadians across this great country who do not feel the way I and other members of the government do, but rather agree with those on the opposite side, they can take comfort from knowing that there will not be a change in this very important area.

The proposed legislation is an omnibus bill. I know that is well known. It takes action on a number of fronts. Bill C-23 eliminates discrimination so that benefits and obligations that currently apply to common law, opposite sex couples will be extended to same sex couples as well.

The bill goes on to modernize obsolete language. It repeals provisions of obsolete laws that are no longer needed and, where necessary, makes the kinds of modifications necessary in keeping with the kind of required omnibus legislation that we have before us. I believe Canadians ultimately respect this. In the process we are putting it into a contemporary context in keeping with who we are as Canadians as we move confidently into the 21st century.

Let me go into some detail with respect to these changes. There are 68 laws and statutes that will be affected and over 20 departments and agencies of the federal government. Let me highlight some of the more important changes because I think for the record we should note them.

The term “common law partner” is a new term to law but is used and understood by Canadians who have used the concept over time. In the French language its equivalent is conjoint de fait. Every day in publications and in other media across Canada, we have heard these terms either in French or in English. I think Canadians understand them for what they are.

Bill C-23 would standardize the definition of the term “common law partner” as unmarried, conjugal relationships of at least one year. Similarly, the word “spouse” after passage of the legislation before us, would be referred consistently then to married persons only. It should be noted that the one year cohabitation period to qualify for benefits and subject to obligations is not new and is not changed by Bill C-23.

Similarly, the term “conjugal” has been used in federal legislation for 40 years to describe common law, opposite sex relationships. The factors in determining a conjugal relationship will be the same then for opposite sex and same sex partners.

What we are doing is making sure that it fits into context in a modern, contemporary sense. We are making sure that it makes sense in all kinds of areas. I could point those out but I will not take the time now other than to say that things as far ranging as the Agriculture Marketing Programs Act to the War Veterans Allowance Act will be affected in this very important area. It goes without saying that things like the Canada pension plan, bankruptcy and insolvency act and many other acts and statutes will be affected in this all important area.

Where there are rights and responsibilities, there are also obligations. It is important to note that we on the government side have recognized these all important concepts. We have put them into perspective. We have weighed them out and we have thought thoroughly and clearly, hard and long about what it means not only for us in the House, but Canadians wherever they live in this great country of ours.

At the end of the day, we have been able to come up with a very workable bill. This is a bill that makes a great deal of sense. It accomplishes what the supreme court asked us to do. It accomplishes, in my view, what Canadians expect the government to do in this important area. In Ontario, Mr. Harris did the very same thing within 48 hours. Why did he do that? He did it because it made sense and it was also the right thing to do. He did it because he knew that the supreme court judgment had to stand.

We in this great Parliament of Canada need to follow suit. We need to modernize and update the very legislation that is important in this area. That is precisely what we are doing. I believe that ultimately Canadian people will judge us as having done the right thing.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Reform Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech and he did make some very interesting references. In fact, I would like to point out that he really showed his true colours at the beginning of his speech by not engaging in debate, but engaging in name calling, the lowest form of argument. When one has nothing better to say and no logical reasoned arguments to make, they can always resort to the lowest form of argument, name calling. That is exactly what this member has participated in here today and that is unfortunate.

I want to ask him two very specific questions. I will be brief.

The first one has to do with a comment made by his own House leader, the current House leader of the government, when he said “I object to any suggestion which would have homosexual couples treated in the same way as heterosexual couples” and he also went on to say “I do not believe homosexuals should be treated as families. My wife, MaryAnn, and I do not claim we are homosexual. Why should homosexuals pretend they form a family?” I would like to ask him if he agrees with that comment and I would also like to ask him why he was so opposed to including the definition of marriage in Bill C-23 which he voted against at report stage last night.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for the allowing me the opportunity to respond.

I listen day after day in this great House of Commons to the kind of thrust and parry that take place across the aisle and to the new leader of the Canadian Alliance, the member for Edmonton North. This member speaks of name calling. I watch the Leader of the Opposition very carefully and how she mocks the ministers and the Prime Minister, how she mocks language and speech and how she mocks and name calls. That is just one example of how the people opposite behave in this great House of Commons. It is unbelievable how they behave. But Canadians see through that. They see through the duplicity of those people who say one thing and do another. They see through the duplicity of people with their holier than thou attitudes who say something one way and then, quite frankly, answer from the opposite side of their mouths.

Let me get to the question that the hon. member asked. We on the government side, in recognition of the sanctity of marriage, moved along expeditiously with supporting a motion last year that underlined what we believe, which is that marriage is the sole union between a man and a woman. I do not know what it is about that the hon. member does not understand. I do not know what cheap political points he wants to score, but Canadians see through that nonsense. They see through it every time.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member on the other side and I have to admit he is more than one ingredient short of the recipe.

I would like to ask the member this question. What some of us who are opposed to this bill find difficult is to accept the lecturing that seems to go on and that those who are opposed to the bill are somehow opposed to democracy. I finally have had it with being called a racist or a bigot because I cannot accept the fact that a spouse is a member of the same sex. That is my right and, indeed, my responsibility. I reject any attempt to try to muzzle people, to try to intimidate us and to paint this as some kind of human rights issue. I do not see it in that light. That was said by the hon. member for Mississauga West, a Liberal. I will stand up and call him a racist and bigot.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it really is hard to answer the member opposite when he gets up on his hind legs and behaves the way he does.

He talks about ingredients. What kind of ingredient does he have? Look, by the way, at his very thin skin and the fact that he raised issues like bigotry and racism. I did not do so, but he did. Methinks he doth protest too much.

It is really obvious who the people opposite are. Last night was a telling vote because they are the people who talk about grassroots participation. They are the people who talk about free votes. Yet if we look, to a person last night, they all voted, en masse, en bloc. Why? It was because they were all whipped into voting the way they did. They are the people who talk about grassroots. They are the people who talk about free votes. What duplicity. What hypocrisy.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve in this final part of the debate on Bill C-23, the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act.

I will remind the House that this bill was introduced on February 11, 2000 and that it is basically designed, for reasons of equity, to modernize certain benefits and obligations in order to guarantee that partners in a common law relationship, whether of the same or opposite sex, are treated equally under the law.

The changes proposed in this bill must guarantee, in keeping with the supreme court decision of May 1999 in M v H, that same sex couples in a common law relationship have the same advantages and the same obligations as opposite sex couples in a common law relationship, and the same access as other couples in Canada or Quebec to the benefits to which they have contributed.

I would like to point out that I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, who will be speaking on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois after me.

I would also like to point out that this bill is the culmination of multiple and long-standing efforts by people who have been long engaged in the battle to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is a battle in which Quebec has played a lead role, as it was the first to enact legislation incorporating sexual orientation among the illegal grounds for discrimination. It did so by amending its charter of rights and freedoms, back in 1977.

Bill C-23 is therefore the culmination of a lengthy battle by many members of society, regardless of their own opinions about sexual orientation or their personal choice of orientation. It is the culmination of numerous attempts to change federal or provincial legislation. It is also the culmination of successes at the provincial level, for several pieces of legislation have been passed to put an end to discrimination in various Canadian provinces where benefits were concerned.

I think that as the debate at third reading of Bill C-23 draws to a close it is important to remember how this legislative saga began and to put this bill into context. Like many members of my party, I hope it will be passed by the House of Commons.

I would remind the House that the Parliament of Canada had decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults more than 30 years ago, in 1969. Seven years later, in 1976, the Immigration Act removed homosexuals from the category of persons denied entry into Canada.

Until recently, there were hardly any other federal legislative initiatives with respect to the legal aspects of homosexuality. Numerous private member's bills to prohibit discrimination based on orientation were introduced in the House of Commons between 1980 and 1992, but none of them made it past first reading. Nor did the proposed amendments to other statutes with a view to eliminating certain forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation succeed either.

In December 1992, then Minister of Justice Kim Campbell introduced Bill C-108, which would have added sexual orientation to the prohibited grounds in the Canadian Human Rights Act and defined a married individual in strictly heterosexual terms.

The purpose of Bill S-15, introduced in the Senate by Senator Noel Kinsella, was to add sexual orientation to the prohibited grounds in the same Canadian Human Rights Act. This bill was passed in June 1993.

However, when parliament was dissolved in September 1993, after a general election was called, this bill, as well as Bill C-108, died on the order paper.

In 1995, parliament passed Bill C-41, an act to amend the criminal code. The bill provided that evidence establishing that a crime was motivated by hate or by bias based on a number of personal characteristics was an aggravating circumstance that should lead to the imposition of a harsher sentence.

The inclusion of sexual orientation in these personal characteristics generated a great deal of opposition. That was in part due to the opinion expressed by some that this would lead to the inclusion of the sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, or that it would otherwise lead to the erosion of traditional family values.

In spite of that opposition, Bill C-41 received royal assent in July 1995 and came into effect the following year, in September 1996.

In February of the same year, just a few months before the coming into effect of Bill C-41, Senator Noël Kinsella came back with Bill S-2, which was similar to Bill S-15 and which sought to add sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination under section 3 of the federal act, and under section 16, which deals with equal access or affirmative action. The bill was adopted by the Senate in April 1996.

I should also mention a private member's bill, Bill C-265, introduced by the member for Burnaby—Douglas, whom I salute for the personal fight that he has been leading on these issues— which did not go beyond first reading stage in this House.

On April 29, 1996, the Liberal government of the day, through the Minister of Justice at the time, introduced Bill C-33 to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding sexual orientation to the list of illegal grounds of discrimination based on sexual orientation. This bill was finally passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate and received royal assent on June 20, 1996.

I must also not fail to mention the efforts of my colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, or party's critic for these matters. He too introduced bills in November 1994, May 1996 and again in February 1998 and March 1999 to end this discrimination in federal legislation. These bills, like many private members' bills, came to nought.

Today we reach the final stage of the passage of this bill. Its passage follows on the unanimous adoption by the National Assembly of Quebec of a bill with similar goals amending various legislative provisions pertaining to common law spouses and putting an end to the discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation found in the laws of Quebec. Ontario has done the same thing.

It is therefore high time that the Parliament of Canada, and this House of Commons in particular, followed the path taken by other lawmakers, that is the path of equality, and gave real meaning to the concept of equality contained in our charters.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's comments. I understand that he is a man with considerable academic credentials.

I have presented petitions in the House from people in Quebec who have asked for the definition of marriage to be reaffirmed in statute. I also have in my hand a legal opinion from a senior counsel in Toronto who has basically said that the approach to define marriage as a union of a man and woman at the front end of an omnibus bill but not in the statute will not bring into force any legally binding definition of marriage.

Based on the petitions from Quebec and the attempts of the official opposition to put the definition of marriage in the statutes where it will have significant legal effect and express the will of the House, would the member condone this? If so, would he support the motion that this bill be referred back to the justice committee to consider including a meaningful definition of marriage in the statutes that the bill addresses?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would say to the member that it should be noted that in Quebec, as elsewhere in Canada and indeed in the world, there are various positions on the equality of persons with different sexual orientations, which are sometimes rooted in religious beliefs and sometimes in prejudices that a healthy upbringing could perhaps eliminate.

These differences must be noted, but the will of parliaments here and elsewhere in the world to end discrimination must not be thwarted.

I believe that this bill is the culmination of many efforts made by those with the most interest in these issues, those who have often been the victims of discrimination. This bill will finally give them true access to equality and the right to benefits they have been denied.

The question of marriage and its definition is touched on in this bill. The Liberal government has decided to include an interpretation clause that may be along the lines of recognizing that marriage is reserved for opposite sex couples. This debate will have to continue. It is one that the Canadian Alliance will perhaps, and quite legitimately, wish to pursue.

As for us, the fact that this question is not necessarily definitively resolved in this bill should not prevent us—at least not most of us—from being in favour of a restorative bill that will grant a too-long-denied equality on same sex couples.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I realize that my colleague opposite comes from the civil code tradition but perhaps he could explain to our colleague from Calgary Centre that the definition of marriage already exists in common law, which has the full force and effect of legislation passed by the House. It was unanimously endorsed by the House of Commons and is being reaffirmed in the bill now before the House. Maybe he could explain that to our colleague from Calgary Centre.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is true that marriage is defined in both the Civil Code of Quebec and Canadian common law. This is a definition that can evolve, that has evolved in other national jurisdictions, that can do so here in Canada, and in Quebec.

I would like, however, to be able to believe that the whole issue of the definition of marriage, even if addressed in this bill, will continue to be debated. I believe that our societies are undergoing such changes that not only will common law unions be recognized but also that partnerships between persons of the same sex will be given more formal recognition.

In my opinion, this is debate that is not over. It ought not to be, because there are those who support a more formal recognition of common law unions between persons of the same sex. There are others who wish to see marriage reserved for people of opposite sexes.

The debate will progress as our society progresses. I trust that this change will take place within the context of respect for institutions and also of respect for convictions. I hope that it will, above all, take place with respect for the equality of men and of women.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to explain the nature and the purpose of this bill. There are those who would have us think it covers a much broader range of situations than is actually the case.

This bill has nothing to do with marriage or adoption. Basically, for reasons of fairness, it seeks to amend certain benefits or obligations so that couples living in common law relationships, whether those relationships are same sex or opposite sex, are treated equally before the law. That is the essential purpose of this bill.

All that the proposed amendments do is give effect to the May 1999 supreme court decision in M and H. The purpose of the bill is to amend 68 statutes so as to include same sex couples in the definition of common law couples.

In the past 20 years, most provincial governments in Canada have brought in legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms changed the legal framework with respect to the equality rights of homosexuals.

I wish to note that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was based heavily on the Quebec charter, which preceded it. Already in 1977, that charter specifically prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The legal aspects of sexual orientation have to do with two main principles: first, prohibiting discrimination in order to protect gays and lesbians against discriminatory actions; second, recognizing homosexual relationships, which implies granting the partners in these couples the benefits and guarantees enjoyed by unmarried heterosexual couples.

This bill is therefore not about the institution of marriage, even though an amendment was made to specify that the word “marriage” means the lawful union of one man and one woman. I do not see the point of that provision, but if it can reassure some people, fine.

It seeks to prohibit and eliminate the most pernicious forms of discrimination based on the individual characteristics of a group or an individual, including race, language, religion, but also sexual orientation.

The bill recognizes that society finds it unacceptable that certain groups not be treated fairly, including when it comes to social benefits and guarantees.

The fact that the bill includes sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination does not mean that homosexuality is either condoned or condemned, but rather that we are concerned about providing legal protection to individuals.

It should be noted that the proposed amendments are not all one sided. They will provide new benefits to same sex couples, while also imposing new obligations on them.

Here are a few examples. In the area of taxation, the total household income will be taken into account for the purposes of the child tax benefit, which was not the case before. The incomes of both spouses will also be taken into account to determine eligibility for the guaranteed income supplement.

Under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, same sex couples will be subjected to the same restrictions regarding the transfer of properties or of their goods before declaring bankruptcy.

In the Canada Business Corporations Act, the prohibition against a shareholder, an associate or an administrator receiving financial assistance from a company will extend to same sex partners.

In the Bank Act, with respect to conflict of interest, the partner of a director will be taken into account.

In the Canada Elections Act, a returning officer cannot appoint a partner as a deputy returning officer.

In the Trust and Loan Companies Act, same sex partners are included in connection with additional fines the court may impose on the partner of a person convicted of an offence under the act who has acquired any monetary benefit.

These are obligations that did not exist. There will be benefits, but obligations as well, so that these people will be treated as are all citizens of Canada.

There is nothing unique or revolutionary about this bill. I was saying that it arose out of many supreme court decisions. All of these cases were won by those who had brought them before the court. We are confronted to fact and law.

Since 1997, a number of provinces have acted, including British Columbia. They have amended their laws to include partners of the same sex. In June 1999, for example, Quebec amended 28 laws and 11 regulations to give same sex couples the benefits and obligations as opposite sex couples living in a common law partnership. In October 1999, Ontario, under Mike Harris, passed an omnibus bill amending 67 laws in accordance with a supreme court decision. I think this reflects a realistic attitude.

Seven provinces, the three territories and the federal government have passed legislation granting same sex survivor pensions to their employees. This is also the case for major Canadian cities in any region, British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, the maritimes, for more than 200 Canadian companies in the private sector, hospitals, libraries, social service institutions and banks.

This is therefore a strong trend, if I can put it that way, aimed at adaptation to the modern world, to today's situation, to what we are experiencing today, to what we know exists even if some people want to hide its existence. This is a reality that cannot be made to disappear.

Polls confirm, moreover, that the public wants to see an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation. A 1998 Angus Reid poll reported 74% of respondents were in favour of federal benefits to same sex couples; 67% of respondents were of the opinion that same sex couples should receive the same benefits and also have the same obligations as common law spouses; 84% believed gays and lesbians should be protected from discrimination.

As these results show, this bill meets the expectations of the public, who feel that discrimination based on sexual orientation is inappropriate. This bill proposes some concrete measures that go beyond declarations of good intentions. Going beyond sexual orientation, this legislation gives equal treatment to every citizen, regardless of sexual orientation.

I dealt with this situation some fifteen years ago when I was a union negotiator. In 1986, I believe I signed the first collective agreement, in Quebec anyway, giving same sex couples the same benefits as opposite sex couples. This trend has continued, with the result that in the hotel industry, the sector in which I was negotiating at the time, most owners of hotels in Quebec recognize this reality. And this did not entail huge costs because these people pay taxes just like you and I do.

Once again, this is not a bill about sexuality or marriage—it is a bill about equity. I understand that some people are hesitant because of some of their values, often rooted of course in religious beliefs, but the religious beliefs of some must not become the law governing others.

Religion is an individual affair for which I have the greatest respect, but it must not be imposed on others. On occasion, we must recognize values that we do not necessarily share but that are held by others who in no way interfere with or denounce our beliefs.

In this sense, I think that this bill corrects the injustices we are now experiencing and have experienced for a long time. I believe it is time that we brought our laws into line with reality and the readiness of Canadians and Quebecers to accept those whose orientation is different but who are making a contribution to our society, just as they, I and we all do.