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.


Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.


Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise in parliament to present a petition signed by hundreds of Canadians from New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta.

Once again they join with thousands of other Canadians across the country in asking that the government withdraw Bill C-23, affirm the opposite sex definition of marriage in legislation and ensure that marriage is recognized as a unique institution.

Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.


Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I too have the privilege of standing in the House today to present a petition.

This one is interesting because in this one package we have petitioners from New Brunswick, Quebec, the Ottawa region, Manitoba and Calgary. They are from right across the country.

These petitioners, as some of the others who have already presented petitions, are asking and urging parliament to withdraw Bill C-23. It goes against everything they believe in.

Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.


Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise as well to table about 100 signatures from Alberta and Ontario objecting to Bill C-23, adding to the tens of thousands of others that have been tabled which ask that the government withdraw the legislation and protect the institution of marriage.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River


Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

I ask, Mr. Speaker, that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members


Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

April 11th, 2000 / 10:15 a.m.

Vancouver Centre


Hedy Fry for the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved 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.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.



John Maloney Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to be here today to speak to Bill C-23, the modernization of benefits and obligations act.

First let me thank my colleagues, the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, for their excellent work. I would also like to thank all the witnesses, the individuals and organizations that took the time to thoughtfully consider the bill and to either appear before the committee or to send in a brief on Bill C-23. Their work is very important in this process and I want to thank them for their time and helpful contributions.

Bill C-23 will amend 68 statutes to ensure that committed common law couples of the opposite sex and the same sex receive equal treatment under the law with regard to benefits and obligations. As the Minister of Justice has repeatedly said, the legislation is about tolerance and fairness.

Through the bill we are achieving respect for the fundamental values inherent in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government and the majority of Canadians believe that all common law couples in committed relationships should be treated in the same way. Bill C-23 reflects this reality.

Let me take a minute to review some of the more complex issues and misinformation that have arisen surrounding Bill C-23. Some members of the House and some witnesses before the standing committee have suggested that Bill C-23 does not go far enough and that the benefits and obligations should be extended not to just same sex couples but to all people in relationships of dependency. I would stress, however, that Bill C-23 does not preclude discussion which has already started on whether or how to acknowledge the nature and reality of the many types of dependent relationships.

The government agrees that this is an important issue which deserves further attention. It is for this reason that the Minister of Justice has already announced that the issue will be referred to a parliamentary subcommittee.

The mandate of the parliamentary subcommittee will be to examine four broad categories of questions. First, should the Government of Canada reconsider the basis on which benefits and obligations are determined at present? Second, what overall policy objectives for Canadian society should benefits and obligations support? Third, if either economic dependency or economic emotional interdependency is the most appropriate basis on which to distribute benefits and impose obligations on Canadian society, how would it be defined and measured? Fourth, should all benefits and obligations be distributed on this basis or only some where appropriate?

These questions are highly conceptual and represent the first stage of this study which will set the framework and principles on which further study of the issue of dependency will be based.

As was mentioned in the committee hearings, the Law Commission of Canada has been studying the issue of dependency and interdependency for some time and expects to release a public issues paper on these questions in the early summer of this year. Work on these broader, important questions is real and is progressing.

The broader issue of dependency is complex and separate from the issue dealt with in Bill C-23. I realize that many are frustrated with what they see as further delay on this related but separate question. However the government firmly believes that it is premature and irresponsible to extend benefits and, more particularly, to impose obligations on these broader dependent relationships without careful consideration of all the implications for society.

Although some federal statutes already extend benefits and obligations to people in dependent relationships, we need to know more. We need to know about the financial cost, any possible downsides for elderly and disabled individuals and whether Canadians would even be prepared to take on legal obligations for their relatives and others before we could determine whether it would be appropriate to include such relationships in all laws.

A number of adult Canadians currently reside with elderly parents, siblings or other relatives. Extending benefits and obligations to people involved in all these forms of relationships would have far-reaching consequences for individuals and society as a whole. While benefits which reflect dependency would likely be welcomed, it is unclear whether the accompanying legal obligations should be imposed on individuals or those relatives with whom they reside.

For example, eligibility for the guaranteed income supplement under the Old Age Security Act is determined on the basis of combining the income of both persons, which might result in reducing benefits for some elderly persons who live with adult children or other relatives. As another example, if an adult lives with his or her elderly parent for many years and then leaves to marry, this extension might result in a situation where the Canada pension plan credit would be split between the parent and the child as it would now following a divorce.

Premature changes may have unexpected results. Government must be careful and responsible with any changes so that the system encourages rather than discourages people taking care of each other. We must be careful to ensure that any legal changes would not impose obligations which accidentally act as barriers to people supporting each other.

While the more complex issues surrounding the broader questions of dependent relationships need to be worked out, this work cannot be allowed to delay further the issues dealt with in Bill C-23. The Law Commission of Canada stated before the committee:

However much we believe the need for parliament ultimately to strive for its legislative “best”, we also believe that there are times, and this is one of them, when it should proceed to enact what is, constitutionally, a legislative “good”.

Members opposite have also claimed that Bill C-23 will destroy the institution of marriage or result in adoption by same sex couples. The Minister of Justice has repeatedly stated that the bill is not about marriage. It is about equal treatment under federal law for all common law couples, whether of the opposite sex or the same sex.

Nevertheless, the government has been responsive to the concerns of many Canadians, including some in my riding who needed reassurance that the fundamental institution of marriage would not be altered in any way by the bill. I proposed an amendment at committee stage to give this reassurance to Canadians. Subclause 1.1 of Bill C-23 now states:

For greater certainty, the amendments made by this act do not affect the meaning of the word marriage, that is, the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

This answers the many questions which have been presented here today in the petitions. Although some have claimed this does not have any legal effect, I and others on this side disagree. The amendment to the bill is a clear statement of the intention of the government that the legal meaning of marriage remain the same as it always has been in the history of Canada.

With regard to the claims that the bill will result in adoption by same sex partners, I wish to point out again that adoption is decided under the laws of the provinces. It is provincial law. The references to adoption in Bill C-23 are there to ensure that children adopted in accordance with provincial law will be included in federal law.

This is one aspect of Bill C-23 which has not received much attention in the debates but which I believe is important. Bill C-23 amends several federal statutes to ensure that children are not discriminated against, both by including references to adopted children in those few statutes which do not already do so and by removing the last remaining reference to illegitimacy to ensure that all children are included in the federal law.

There has also been a series of conflicting remarks from the other side: first, that the government is only putting the bill forward because the courts have forced the government's hand over the objections of Canadians and, second, that the bill is unnecessary as it goes beyond what the Supreme Court of Canada has required. Let me respond by saying that the government brought forward the bill at this time because it is the right thing to do.

Governments have a duty to represent the interests of all its citizens whether they belong to the mainstream or, perhaps even more important, when they represent a minority group. I am pleased to represent a political party which believes as one of its central policies that governments have a duty to safeguard the interests of both the majority and the minorities which make up the face of Canada.

In May 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada in its ruling in M. v H. said that governments could not continue to discriminate against same sex common law couples by denying them the benefits and obligations granted to opposite sex common law couples. All unmarried common law couples, both opposite sex and same sex, must have access to the same benefits and obligations.

However, although the decision of the supreme court set out the road map by identifying that same sex common law couples must be included, which is its proper role under the constitution, it remains up to parliament to decide how the law must be changed to provide that equal treatment. That is why the approach in Bill C-23 is both a responsible and a balanced one which deliberately maintains a clear legal distinction between married and common law relationships.

What the courts have told us and what the bill addresses is that common law relationships should be given equal treatment in the law, whether they are opposite sex common law couples or same sex common law couples. The bill uses clear language to maintain the term spouse for married couples and to introduce the new term common law partner for both opposite sex and same sex unmarried relationships. By doing so it preserves the legal distinction between married relationships and unmarried conjugal relationships.

In the absence of a legislative action such as the bill the courts will continue to address cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on the very narrow issues brought before them. The status quo is not an option. It promises confusion, unfairness, and continuing and costly litigation. Equally important, it runs the unacceptable risk of making the courts the arbiters of social policy.

I have on final issue. The proposed amendments to the Judges Act contained in Bill C-23 were referred to the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission for consideration and recommendation pursuant to the Judges Act. I am pleased to advise that this independent and constitutionally mandated commission has now informed the government that it supports the Judges Act amendments which are consistent with the amendments to the other statutes included in the bill.

In its reporting letter, which was tabled in the House on March 30, the commission observed that the proposed amendments to the Judges Act represent an appropriate response to the issues surrounding survivor annuity benefits. It is noted in particular that the apportionment rules provide a satisfactory basis for resolving any conflicts in those few instances where there may be more than one survivor, a legally married separated spouse and subsequent common law partner.

Perhaps most significant is the commission's observation that the proposed amendments are important and timely to ensure compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its recommendations that the amendments be passed without delay. We are grateful to the commission for its careful consideration of these issues and for the timely delivery of its report.

In conclusion, the bill is about equality and respect. Bill C-23 provides a responsible and balanced approach to correct longstanding discrimination against same sex couples and to ensure equal treatment for common law couples of the same sex and opposite sex while preserving the fundamental importance of marriage.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.


Eric C. Lowther Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join in the debate on third reading of Bill C-23.

I have had the opportunity, as the bill has moved through the House and through committee, to speak to the bill four times. I do not think it would serve the House or yourself, Mr. Speaker, to go over too much of the ground that has already been covered at some length.

Yesterday's Hansard shows in some detail the 10 very strong reasons why the official opposition felt, and made strong arguments in fact, that Bill C-23 should be withdrawn. We laid that out for the House and we put forward amendments to improve the bill. Unfortunately last night, with the exception of a few on the other side, those amendments to improve the bill were jettisoned.

I noticed that the member opposite talked about the definition of marriage that is in Bill C-23 which has been added due to public pressure by the justice minister. Yes, we are thankful that that amendment was put in there.

What troubles us is that the definition of common law partners, which this bill now defines as any two people, same sex or otherwise, who live together for one year in a conjugal relationship, is continually defined in every statute throughout Bill C-23 repeatedly. Yet, to place a definition of marriage and spouse in those same statutes is something the Liberals have refused to do. They put it at the front end of a bill where it will not appear in any statute anywhere. When someone pulls the Income Tax Act off the shelf or the Pension Beneficiaries Act or any of these acts, there is no definition of marriage there, but there definitely is a definition of common law partners.

In our amendments we asked that the government actually make this definition of marriage substantive and have legal effect because there are court cases coming that will challenge the definition of marriage. It is our position that if we are going to put it in law, let us put it in law. That was our argument, to put it right in the statutes.

Unfortunately, the Liberals have elected to leave it out of the statutes and put it in a place whereby, in the expert legal opinion of Mr. David Brown, a lawyer from Toronto with the firm of Stikeman Elliott who reviewed legal precedents and textbooks on this very matter, the way the government did it would have little to no legal effect when these cases come forward as opposed to the approach that the Canadian Alliance put forward, which would substantively place the definition of marriage in Canadian law.

Why is that so important? It is important because it would send a clear signal to the courts on behalf of the Canadian people that marriage should remain the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all other definitions.

It is troubling that the government would put forward an amendment to appease the concerns of Canadians. We have heard here in this House from the petitions, thousands of them now, probably over the 10,000 mark that have come forward in a short period of time on this bill. It is of concern to us that the government would attempt to appease those concerned Canadians with an amendment to Bill C-23 that really is for show only. As the member for Scarborough East referred to it, the Liberal member in fact, it is a ghost amendment, a ghost bill which is going to float out there but will not have any real effect. Canadians are thinking that it will, but they have been misled by this Liberal government.

It would have been more sincere for the government to actually have adopted the amendments that the Canadian Alliance put forward to have the definition of marriage put in the statutes. It is troubling that it has misled the Canadian people and those petitioners to think that something substantive has been done when in fact it has not.

There is a number of significant problems with this bill that are going to cause it to be very troublesome in its implementation and to which I have made reference before. One of the key areas is this term that the government has added in the definition of common law partners. In fact, it is the criterion for qualifying for all these benefits that we currently apply to marriage and family. The single criterion for same sex couples now is that they live in a conjugal relationship.

Well, it is a term. There are all kinds of terms in legislation but, normally, when that occurs, there is some definition of the term so that it is made clear to those looking at the statutes or the legislation passed by this House who qualifies or who does not.

We have repeatedly asked for a definition to be included in Bill C-23. The government has refused to do that. In committee and otherwise, it has answered by saying the courts know what a conjugal relationship is. What kind of answer is that? That answer says that the courtroom is going to be the determining place for people to to get a ruling whether or not they actually are in a relationship that qualifies for all these benefits.

Just think how inappropriate that is. Here we have two individuals who are living together, assuming they are in a conjugal relationship and later finding out that they are not or vice versa, assuming they are not and later finding out that they are. The confusion, the court cases, the challenges, what happens to the benefits, the obligations upon death, all these questions are left unclear by this piece of legislation.

What troubles me the most is that members opposite, good members, members that have children of their own and families, or that are married, know that this is a fundamental flaw in this bill. They know it. Yet, last night we saw that on the report stage amendments, in spite of knowing that there are these fundamental weaknesses with this bill, the members are going to follow the edict of the Prime Minister and the cabinet and vote for a bill that is so tragically flawed. That is what troubles me more, that good men and women would not stand up for what they know is right, stand against what they know is wrong and fulfill the obligations they made to their constituents a few years ago when they were elected to this House.

It is not the first time we have seen the Liberal government move in a direction that is directed to them by either the courts or lobby groups. There has been a litany of decisions that have been made by this Liberal government that have impacted the Canadian family in a detrimental way. I cannot use any other word, except that the policies of the Liberal government are actually working against the Canadian family.

Let me review some of those. I think it is in keeping with Bill C-23 because it points out that there is a trend here that is consistent in this current Liberal government.

Let us take, for example, a statement made in the House a year or so ago by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance that parents who stay at home do not work as hard as those in the workplace. That caused a big kerfuffle across the nation. Families from across the nation and those who care for children at home spoke out. There were retractions resulting in all kinds of activity, and then questions about that.

In fact, because of the public pressure and because of motions that were brought forward by the Canadian Alliance that addressed the inequity and the tax treatment of stay at home parents or single income families, the finance minister was forced to launch a special committee to look at tax fairness.

The special committee sat for a number of months, had witnesses appear, as is the normal committee process, and produced a report that said there were some fundamental inequities in the way that tax treatment is applied to families that actually made it more difficult for parents to spend time with their children. It actually provided incentives for just the opposite, for parents to put their children in institutionalized care and enter into the workplace. It made recommendations that that should change.

A few weeks ago we saw the budget. The recommendations in that report were not included. We went through the whole report process. We went through recommendations from the special committee to address the anti-family tax policies of the Liberals. There were some good recommendations, but nothing was implemented.

Let us talk about another situation. This issue is by far the number one issue for petitions that the House has seen in the whole 36th Parliament, far greater than any other issue that has hit the floor of the House. Many people who have never been involved in the political process were motivated to get involved on the one issue. We are approaching over half a million signatures. I think we may see one million on this before it is over. Petitions are still coming in to my office in stacks. People listening may recognize the fact that this was the grievous ruling of a court in B.C. that struck down the illegality of possession of child pornography. Just the term turns your stomach. Petitioners across the country are crying out to have this reversed and the law upheld to make it illegal to possess this material.

The Canadian Alliance brought a motion to the floor of the House which was initially supported by some 70 members opposite. It asked the government to use the notwithstanding clause to uphold the law and not let the court strike down a law that protected children and made this kind of grievous material illegal. Unfortunately, only four of the members opposite stuck to their convictions. The rest reneged on their commitment and voted with the whip vote pressured on them by the Prime Minister. The motion we put forward to uphold the law to protect children was struck down again by the Liberals. They deferred it and said “Let us leave this to the courts. We will appeal it. It will all be solved in a month or two”.

Do members know how long ago that was? It is almost a year and a half since the court struck down the law that made the possession of child pornography illegal in B.C. What has happened in that time? Cases have been delayed. Prosecutions have not proceeded. The B.C. case is being referenced in other provinces and has impacted prosecutions on this issue. It is a year and a half later and still nothing has been resolved.

We had the tool in the House to resolve that. We had the tool in the notwithstanding clause. It is part of the charter, not separate. It is there to be used. But, rather than use a tool that they had, a legal, legislative, charter tool, they chose not to do it, to defer to the courts, to put children at risk and make this grievous material legal.

That is not the end. Bill C-23 is part of a consistent trend we see from the Liberal government. Here is another one.

I sat on a joint Senate and Commons committee that was struck after great public pressure and concern about the issue of family law, the divorce act and custody and access because the approach taken by the courts and the guidelines put in place by the Liberal government are not working. They are not working for people when it comes to issues of custody, access and support when there is marital breakdown.

Largely through the pressure of one senator in particular the committee was launched and I had the privilege of sitting on it. The government spent about $600,000 to finance the committee.

We travelled the country and heard from Canadians from coast to coast. They shared painful stories about how their relationships had broken down and they had been driven into the courtrooms. Sometimes it seemed as if the legal profession had actually made the situation worse. Both sides in some disputes were spending all their money and going into debt trying to resolve their family conflicts. Children were caught in the middle. Sometimes the testimony was painful. A couple of times the interpreters who travelled with us had to leave the interpretation booth because they were in tears. They could not interpret any more.

Lots of money was spent and lots of testimony was heard. It was a year of hard work by a large committee. The final result was a report with some good and implementable recommendations, many with which the official opposition agreed. Our dissenting report was very short.

What was the response of the Liberal government when it got the report? Was it going to implement the report? Was it a priority for the government? The response of the justice minister of the day was to say the government wanted to look at it further and it would probably take another three years before any action was taken. That tells Canadians it is not a priority to solve that issue.

With Bill C-23 what is the government communicating to Canadians as its number one priority? Bill C-23 has seen closure at second reading after four hours of debate. It had three and a half days in committee and many people who wanted to appear before the committee were excluded. There is closure at third reading now. The bill is being been rushed through the House and it affects 68 statutes and fundamentally changes some of our social norms and structures.

The government did not act on the custody and access report and it still has not. I still get letters from people who are concerned about when they will see family law reform that was recommended in the report generated by the joint Senate and Commons committee on custody and access. What can I tell them? I tell them to continue to write to the justice minister and let her know their concerns.

Ultimately I do not hold out much hope because the party opposite gives lip service to children. Once in a while it mentions the word family. There was a lot of reference to family and children in the throne speech but when it comes to implementing things that help families retain the money they earn, to protect children, that help marriages succeed, the government is not there. It does not deliver.

On justice issues, there is the Young Offenders Act. Who has been the voice pressuring for changes to the YOA? The official opposition. A member of our party from B.C. brought forward a number of significant amendments and pressured the government to move. Finally we see some movement although there is some concern that again a lot of it is window dressing and substantive changes are not there.

We see cases where the government allows parole to be given to known sex offenders. They are being released into our communities. Families and communities are not aware of the potential danger on their streets.

I can continue with more items from my list but the message I want to get across to the House is that there is a litany of—

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.


Lou Sekora Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been listening to the member and he seems to be drifting off the issue that is before us. He is drifting all over the map and I hope that he will get to the issue that is before us.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I know that the hon. member for Calgary Centre is working his way to the bill that is before the House. He apparently is of the view that there are issues surrounding the bill and government action on a number of fronts that are important and connected with the bill. I think he is making that point. I know he is soon going to be discussing the provisions of Bill C-23.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.


Eric C. Lowther Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, you are exactly correct as usual. I am tying together all the examples I have presented in the House and I could present more. In deference to the member opposite who is concerned that I may be straying, I will limit myself and not go on with the many examples that I could show of the anti-family approach of the Liberal government.

Consistent with what Mr. Speaker said, I am trying to get through to the member opposite that his party has an approach in taxation, in protecting children, in law reform and in family law that consistently undermines the strength of the Canadian family. I am asking the member to consider that these policies need to be reversed.

The Government of Canada should promote policies that send a message of the important work that parents do. They are raising the next generation. They are instilling values, character and integrity in the lives of the future citizens of this country, the next generation. Public policy must send them a message that they are doing the most important work in the nation. The most important work in the nation is parenting the next generation. Unfortunately the anti-family approach of the Liberal government is undermining that. The official opposition repeatedly has brought forward policy initiatives that are intended exactly to reverse that approach.

That is one of the reasons we are concerned about Bill C-23. Apparently the number one priority of the Liberal government is to extend benefits to same sex couples, even in light of the concern about fair family taxation that has been presented to the House. We have received petition after petition not just with Bill C-23, but prior to Bill C-23. For years people across Canada have been asking the government and the House to define marriage in legal statute, not leave it subject to the common law whims of the courts, but to define it clearly in statute, not like it has done in Bill C-23 as a ghost law, but right in the actual statutes.

Canadians have petitioned the House about child pornography, family law reform and so on. The official opposition has asked for a shared parenting approach in custody and access. We have asked for the use of the notwithstanding clause of the charter to protect children. We even brought forward improvements to the Young Offenders Act to protect children from violent young offenders and to put the non-violent offenders into good remedial treatment, to get them back on the street with appropriate reforms put in place.

We have consistently said to leave the dollars and the choices in the pockets of the parents when it comes to child rearing instead of taking them away. I sit on another committee of the House that deals with children and youth at risk. That committee is proposing a $7.8 billion national daycare program. Whose money is funding that national daycare program? It is the dollars earned by mothers and fathers trying to rear their families. They may not want to have access to a national daycare program, but they are going to pay for it anyway with the Liberal government.

Why not just leave that money with the parents? If they choose to use daycare for their situation, fine. If they choose to have a loving relation, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, that is their option. If they choose to stay at home and make do with perhaps a little less income, that is okay too.

Right now the Liberal government says it is going to tax a single income family making $50,000 a year 100% more than a dual income family, 100% more. It is forcing families for financial need to spend less time with their children.

Bill C-23 does deal with marriage. The union of a man and a woman is the foundation for the family. There are six million marriages in Canada today. We talk about the high divorce rate. Of the six million marriages, every year only about 2% of them divorce and 98% say it is working pretty well for them and they are going to stay together for another year. Seventy-five per cent of all children are currently being raised in Canada within those marriages. It is an institution that works and it is an institution that Canadians do not really want to see changed.

Our concern with the bill as I said at the beginning is that number one, marriage should be defined clearly in the statutes. The government refuses to do that. It has put it in a ghost location in the bill where it really will not have any effect even in spite of all the petitions. Number two, the government has set it up with a definition of conjugal that is undefined in the legislation and fundamentally will drive people into the courts to have the state intrude into assessing whether a private relationship qualifies or not.

Those are two big flaws in the bill. There are others but those are the key ones that have us concerned that it will not work. Ultimately this will not work. It will be a windfall for lawyers and judges in driving people into the courts, but it is not really going to achieve the government's objective.

Beyond all that, those people who may have an economic dependency or may be caring for one another in some way but would never dream of having a conjugal relationship, if that means some sort of physical intimacy or a sexual relationship, are excluded. There is all this rhetoric about addressing discrimination, yet the government excludes people who have all kinds of dependencies and close personal but not physical relations. They are excluded. If that is not discriminatory, I do not know what is. We play word games sometimes in the House. We all know it. That is one of the big problems we have with Bill C-23.

There are some other things I need to bring forward on Bill C-23. Of all the concerns I have presented about the litany of anti-family policies that have been brought forward by the Liberal government on all fronts including Bill C-23, and in all the pro-family initiatives we have brought forward on taxation and protecting children and so on, this is what is troubling most of all.

Some members opposite are aware that we have brought forward legitimate concerns. They agree with some of the things we have brought forward. They have told me privately, “I agree with you, but what can I do?” They know that some of the things they are being told they must vote for are wrong. I see them working hard to rationalize and find some to appease their conscience and say that what they are voting for is actually okay. They twist and turn and look for any kind of rhetoric from the legal bureaucracy to give them reasons for taking the position they do. Ultimately they know what they are voting for is wrong. They know it does not work for families. They know it will not strengthen the Canadian family. A lot of these initiatives and policies will actually work against the Canadian family in the long run. What troubles me is that they know it but they will not stand up and do the right thing.

It also troubles a lot of Canadians right across the country. This is the reason why Canadians are frustrated with politicians. I have seen surveys that have asked Canadians which profession they trust the most. These professions included lawyers, doctors and other types of professions. Do members know which profession has the lowest rating of public trust? Politicians are down near the bottom.

We can joke and laugh about that and say it is funny but what is this all about? We are here to serve the Canadian people. We should be the people exhibiting integrity and character as an example to our children. We should exemplify the values that inspire the youth of our nation but that is not what is happening.

When we make fun of or mock the role of elected office, whether it is the prime minister's office or the leader of the opposition's office, it is like tearing down our own house. It does not strengthen our nation. It actually undermines the respect that we have for the institutions that are in place across the country.

I encourage the members opposite to think about all the anti-family policies they have brought forward and the message they are sending with these policies that work against the strengthening of the Canadian family. They have an obligation to send a message to Canadians that certain things are important. There are verifiable facts and empirical data that show that marriage works for kids. It is not too much more complicated than that.

The Liberal government has forced closure on this bill. I think this is the 62nd time that closure has been invoked by the Liberals to limit debate. Tragically, 68 statutes will be affected by this bill and we will only have one day of debate at third reading. When they vote on this bill tonight, which gives every benefit and obligation to same sex partners, which is currently reserved for marriage and family, I hope they think about whether this is a number one priority and whether this is the message they want to send to the young people of Canada, the next generation.

In surveys and studies that I have seen reported in the press, 90% of young people say that their number one priority is family and the development of family relationships. When members opposite vote tonight will they be sending the right message? Are we sending them the message that we agree with them when we vote on the bill tonight?

I do not think that voting for Bill C-23 sends the right message at all. It sends a very confusing message. I invite every member of the House to think about the obligations they have taken on and the commitments they have made to their constituents who put them here. I invite them to think about the bill and the message they will send to Canadian youth.

In light of what I have said here today, I feel compelled to close my talk this morning by moving an amendment to give all members of the House another chance. I move, seconded by the hon. member for Elk Island, the following amendment:

That Bill C-23, an act to modernize the Statutes of Canada in relation to benefits and obligations, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for the purpose of examining the feasibility of adding a definition of marriage to all relevant clauses of the bill so as to have the effect of adding the definition to each act being amended by the bill such that the definition will carry significant legal force and effect.

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Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The hon. member for Calgary Centre's voice trailed down a bit when he was reading the motion that I seconded. I want to make sure that the official record shows that the words are “be not now read a third time”.

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11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member is correct. Those are the words of the amendment. The question is on the amendment.

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11:05 a.m.


Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to rise to speak on this bill on a day that I have no hesitation in calling historic. This is, in fact, a long-awaited day, one which will allow us to enjoy full equality with all other workers.

Before addressing the substance of the bill, what I believe the lawyers call positive law—my colleague, the hon. member for Chambly, will correct me if that is not the correct term—I would like to begin by thanking, by name, the public servants who assisted us in committee: Michelle Gosselin, Stan Farber, Lisa Hitch, Sharon Colbert, Janet McIntyre, who was always there for us and whose help was greatly appreciated, and Valérie Lasher.

As hon. members are aware, it is not commonplace for the opposition to express thanks to the government, but I believe that it is appropriate, given the significance of this bill, as we will never stop saying. This is a restorative bill, one which will remedy decades of injustice toward the homosexual community, and we must rise above partisan differences to thank the government for having had the courage to introduce it.

As well, Bill C-23 is a yardstick by which to measure our society's progress along the path of tolerance. Not very long ago, in 1994 when I was a new MP, full of energy, enthusiasm, and idealism, which incidentally I have never lost, I introduced a very similar bill.

That bill likewise proposed to amend all federal laws containing a heterosexual definition of spouse to include a homosexual one.

At the time in 1994 only 52 members supported the bill and only a single member of cabinet, the then Minister of the Environment and Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. member for Hamilton East, did so.

Today, things have changed considerably. There was considerable dialogue between parliamentarians and the gay community, as well as all those who believe in equality. I would also mention the extremely important role played by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which, since 1979, has signalled discrimination against members of the gay community.

I take this opportunity to thank the various spokespersons of gay associations, such as EGALE, and its executive director, John Fisher. This national group has for many years actively supported equality for gays and lesbians. It is associated with various cases that have come before the supreme court or lower courts, such as the Rosenberg and the Egan-Nesbit cases and, closer to home, the matter of M and H.

I want to thank the people of Quebec, whose voice was extremely important in the debate. I am thinking naturally of Laurent McCutcheon and the coalition he heads so well. This coalition combines unions, such as the CEQ, and community groups. I also want to thank the people in Quebec City, including Claudine Ouellet, who appeared before the parliamentary committee and very eloquently made the case for the need for such a bill.

I also want to thank my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, who, on a number of occasions in caucus, permitted me to make presentations and were always most patient. We know that in politics we do not all start from the same point. We have to be prepared to convince people.

The wager we made as parliamentarians, in the Bloc Quebecois and in the other parties, is that we will not constrain, but convince. We made it because we know that words, ideas and values are important in democracy.

I give myself credit for being patient and having worked on this for a long time. This evening, I believe that we will not be disappointed and that a very large number of parliamentarians will work for full equality. When the Speaker rises and puts the question, many members will support the government's initiative on Bill C-23.

I wish to thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas, who is, as members know, one of my friends. In a way, he was a forerunner and paved the way. He too has shown considerable perseverance. I believe that for this evening's results we will owe him a debt of gratitude not just for persevering but for being extremely present in all the debates on the equality of rights of gays and lesbians.

On that note of thanks, let us move to the heart of the debate.

First of all, we must recall that the bill before us is one that is eminently respectful of earlier court rulings. I will, if I may, give a brief background of the gay and lesbian community's quest for the equality that the present government proposes to grant.

It was in 1979 that the Canadian Human Rights Commission first mentioned that sexual orientation should be included in the Canadian Human Rights Act as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Recognition of same sex couples means recognition of the emotional relationships openly engaged in by homosexuals. First, we had to stop discriminating on an individual basis. That is why the first court challenge involved including sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

I want those people to clearly understand that the Canadian Human Rights Act is different from the charter. The charter is part of the Constitution; it is the supreme law of the land. It was adopted in 1982 under conditions that we all know and that today's day of celebration prevent me from describing.

By contrast, the Canadian Human Rights Act is an act of parliament. It protects those who receive federal services or who work in a jurisdiction that comes under the federal government. I am thinking of course about banks, telecommunications, postal services and all the other federal jurisdictions.

In 1992, in Haig v Canada, the Ontario court of appeal ruled that it was discriminatory and contrary to section 15 of the charter to not recognize sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. At the time, a decision which could have been binding in Ontario alone was extended to the whole country. Thanks to Kim Campbell, the then Minister of Justice—whom we remember with fondness—that ruling was made binding across Canada.

Then came Bill C-33. I was here when parliament passed it in 1993. The then Minister of Justice, the hon. Allan Rock, introduced a bill to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, so as to comply with the ruling issued by the Ontario court of appeal.

Following that, a long series of cases were heard by various courts. There were administrative tribunals, judicial tribunals, which declared that it was discriminatory for the workplace not to recognize same sex partners in collective agreements.

Another extremely important case is the 1995 case, initiated in 1993, of Nesbit-Egan v Canada. This one needs particular attention because the supreme court judgment in this case is what has led to our now needing to read section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as including sexual orientation among the prohibited grounds for discrimination.

I will give a quick overview of the case that was brought before the supreme court. Jim Egan and John Nesbit had lived together for more than 40 years. Public opinion is sometimes prejudiced. People think that homosexuals who enter into couple relationships are not always stable people capable of long term relationships.

I am not familiar with your personal life, Mr. Speaker, but just think, here we are dealing with two people who have shared each others' lives for more than 40 years. That is nothing to be sneezed at.

I regret to inform my colleagues that one of them died about a month ago, and his loss was a heavy blow to the gay community.

Mr. Nesbit sought a spousal allowance under the Old Age Security Act. This allowance is usually provided under the law when the partner of the pensioner is between 60 and 65 years old and the couple's total income is less than a given amount, which is adjusted annually. The government denied Mr. Nesbit this allowance on the pretext that the definition of spouse in the law applied only to couples of persons of the opposite sex.

The Nesbit-Egan couple therefore applied to the federal court to have it declare the definition of spouse appearing in the Old Age Security Act discriminatory on the basis of sexual preferences and an infringement of the right to equality guaranteed by section 15. Their application was denied by the trial level court. The decision was appealed to the federal court, and the application was again denied. In legal annals, one must really persevere.

The reason for the denial was that the definition of spouse was not discriminatory under section 15. That is what the federal court said. The court said it denied the spousal allowance because there was no conjugal relationship rather than because of their sexual orientation. The court ruled that the distinction between conjugal and non-conjugal relationships flowing from the definition was not the kind of distinction that went beyond the limits and constituted discrimination.

The case went to the supreme court and, in an extremely tight decision, it replied to three questions. The important thing about this decision is that it ruled that section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be read to include sexual orientation.

This is interesting because, already in 1982—the year the Constitution was patriated and certain aspects of the Constitution were rewritten, not always fairly with respect to Quebec, but that is another matter—people wanted sexual orientation included as a prohibited ground. Who was the Minister of Justice at the time? It was the current Prime Minister, who dismissed this entirely legitimate concern. Those who believed that this kind of discrimination would not be tolerated by the courts turned out to be right.

There was the Rosenberg case, where the Public Service Alliance of Canada challenged the provisions of the Income Tax Act, which did not allow same sex spouses to register retirement savings plans in each other's name or to receive survivor's pensions and allowances. That was discriminatory treatment.

Once again, the courts were extremely receptive and struck down the provisions of the act which did not allow this recognition. The government was asked to change the law, and this led to Bill C-78. The Rosenberg case triggered an important change in the Income Tax Act.

However, the bill now before us is in direct response to the supreme court. This is why I cannot agree with Canadian Alliance members. Generally speaking, and I say this in all friendship, I tend to make a point of not agreeing with them. Canadian Alliance members are not too open-minded when it comes to human rights. We will recall that they voted against Bill C-33, which amended the Canadian Human Rights Act. They also voted against my private member's bill.

They opposed Bill C-68, specifically with respect to the recognition of surviving spouse's pension. Today, they are opposing Bill C-23. It should be known that the type of society that the Canadian Alliance is advocating is one where homosexuals would not be recognized.

These people openly wish to maintain discrimination. They are hypocrites. They talk out of both sides of their mouths. Let us be clear: there are people on the Canadian Alliance side who are homophobic. Whenever they had the opportunity to trample or reject the rights of homosexuals, they did so as a monolithic block, with a single voice and guided by intolerance, by unanimously voting against the widely recognized interests of the gay community.

Of course, in a democracy, we have to accept the fact that such people get elected. They get elected by their respective groups of voters, and this is why I respect them. But the Bloc Quebecois and myself will never endorse the type of society that the Canadian Alliance hopes to build.

Some day we will live in a sovereign Quebec. I hope for the rest of Canada that it is never led by the Canadian Alliance. Imagine what Canada would be, with or without Quebec, if, some day, the Canadian Alliance were to form the government. What guarantees could we, all those who believe in individual equality, have with respect to equality of treatment?

Based on my knowledge of the rest of Canada, I believe Canadians outside Quebec are far too generous, far too open, far too sensible to trust the members of the Canadian Alliance.

As I said, this bill before us is directly dictated by a supreme court decision that was brought down on May 20, 1999, eight to one. Anyone familiar with the supreme court knows very well that this is an extremely solid decision, and an extremely significant one. An eight-to-one Supreme Court decision is rather exceptional.

M. v H. was about two lesbians who had lived together for a few years. Before they separated, they had built up a business together and acquired business capital. Under section 29 of the Family Law Act, one of the women demanded support. This support payment was not allowed, because the wording of the act called for support to be paid to a partner of the opposite sex. A whole process of court challenges then ensued, beginning with the Ontario court of first instance and ending with the Supreme Court of Canada. In my opinion, the finding in M. v H. is the most significant as far as human rights are concerned.

What was its finding? It found that Common law relationships are conjugal relationships, which must be considered as such regardless of whether the couple concerned is homosexual or heterosexual.

The supreme court first of all was giving recognition to common law relationships, and furthermore recognized the absolute equality there must be between partners in a common law relationship, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual in orientation.

I would like to continue by citing two rather long paragraphs I feel constitute the quintessence, the very structure, the main thrust of the supreme court judgment. Out of respect for our interpreters, I shall read them very slowly so that they do not miss anything.

The supreme court made the following statement in defining spouses as set out in section 29 of the Family Law Act.

Essentially, the definition...extends the obligation to provide spousal support...beyond married persons to include individuals in conjugal opposite-sex relationships of some permanence....Same-sex relationships are capable of being both conjugal and lengthy, but individuals in such relationships are nonetheless denied access to the court-enforced system of support provided by the FLA. This differential treatment is on the basis of a personal characteristic, namely sexual orientation, that, in previous jurisprudence, has been found to be analogous to those characteristics specifically enumerated in s. 15(1).

The court is referring here specifically to the decision in Nesbit. I continue:

The crux of the issue is that this differential treatment discriminates in a substantive sense by violating the human dignity of individuals—

I hope that our colleagues in the Canadian Alliance understand clearly that the supreme court is talking about something called human dignity. I do not see how, as lawmakers, we can oppose something called human dignity. I continue:

—in same-sex relationships....The nature of the interest affected is fundamental, namely the ability to meet basic financial needs following the breakdown of a relationship characterized by intimacy and economic dependence. The exclusion of same-sex partners from the benefits of the spousal support scheme implies that they are judged to be incapable of forming intimate relationships of economic interdependence, without regard to their actual circumstances. Taking these factors into account, it is clear that the human dignity of individuals in same-sex relationships is violated by the definition of “spouse” in s. 29 of the FLA.

Indeed, it is desirable. It is possible for a man to love another man, it is desirable and the fact should be fully recognized by the lawmaker. It is possible for a woman to love another woman, it is desirable, it is noble, and it should be given the same recognition by the lawmaker.

No amount of prejudice will prevent the attainment of the equality to which same sex couples are entitled to aspire. We have seen this in the court decisions. We see it in political courage. I am sure that, this evening, many of us here will wish to vote in favour of equality.

We must ask ourselves this question: Why is it important that we show strong support for a bill such as this?

Hours could be spent exploring the cause of homosexuality. As I have often said, I have five siblings, I have extremely normal and wonderful parents, and my mother stayed at home while my father worked. I wanted for neither affection nor love.

There is nothing about how I grew up to suggest any dysfunction in my family, and yet I am homosexual. I am very happy to be so. I am happy, I love life, I love my work, I have friends, I have love in my life, and I want for nothing in that regard.

Let us ask ourselves what it would mean if lawmakers continued to send the message that same sex couples are second class citizens, that, despite the fact that, in many cases, they are taxpayers, they are not entitled to full recognition.

I hope that Canadian Alliance members will reflect on what I am about to say. Mr. Speaker, you were 13, 14 or 15 at one time; you might argue this was some time ago. Whether they live in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montreal or Charlottetown, PEI, when at age 13, 14 or 15, young people discover that they are different from the others in their sexual attraction, because they are attracted to people of the same sex, it is important that they feel they are full-fledged citizens, and to know that, in their lives, regardless of profession and aspirations, lawmakers will provide full recognition and discrimination will be tolerated neither in Quebec nor in Canada.

This is what Bill C-23 proposes to do. What is so threatening about it? Could someone from the Canadian Alliance tell me how the fact that a person chooses to live as a homosexual in society, to engage in an emotional relationship, which the supreme court said ought to be considered as a conjugal relationship, poses a threat to the heterosexual community? What makes Canadian Alliance members view Bill C-23 as a threat to traditional families?

I come from a traditional family. My twin brother has a traditional family. My sister Lorraine has a traditional family with her husband Jean-Pierre and their son Francis. Yet, I do not believe that I, as an individual, threaten the choice they made to form a traditional family.

I believe the hon. members of the Canada Alliance need to review their position. They need to support this bill. Doing so will, in my opinion, enhance their status as a parliamentary group.

What this bill does not change, and it is important to say so, is the definition of marriage. The definition of marriage is not included in this bill. It is part of common law. Nothing in the 300 or so clauses of Bill C-23 changes the definition of marriage.

Those tempted to vote against this bill because they claim it threatens the institution of marriage according to the conventionally held view are, quite simply, wrong.

This bill does not change the definition of cohabitation as it exists in federal statutes, which refer to a period of one year of life together. This bill does not change the consequences and legal facts surrounding separation. According to federal law, common law relationships terminate at the time of a separation. There is nothing in this bill that changes this.

There is no change to section 18 of the Criminal Code, which refers to the fact that offences committed in the presence of one's spouse are not to be presumed to have been committed under compulsion. Not only is that section not changed, neither is section 278, nor 155 on incest, 290 on bigamy, nor 293 on polygamy. Of course, the bill does not make any change to the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act or the Divorce Act.

What the bill provides is that the expression conjugal relationship should be associated and used closely with common law partner.

What criteria are established by the term conjugal relationship, what do we mean when we talk of a conjugal relationship? In Canadian law, since the lower courts examined the term conjugal relationship, we have a fairly clear idea what it means. It means sharing a roof, personal and sexual relations, the presence of services and of social activities, financial support, the image the couple gives of itself in the community. There are of course times when all these elements are present, at other times only some of them may be present.

I would like to give my opinion right off on a very important element of the debate that took place in parliamentary committee and elsewhere. I think that the government was well advised not to recognize in the bill other relationships of interdependence. They do exist in our society: a son caring for his mother, someone else looking after a niece, one co-tenant attending to another, who is perhaps disabled. But these types of interdependence do not constitute conjugal relations.

It is to their great credit that people in our society look after others. We need only think that, in a few years, seniors in Canada and Quebec will represent over a third of our society. Indeed, we as a society must think about how we will support those who are financially dependent on others and those who take care of other people. However, that reflection cannot take place in a debate on same sex spouses or unmarried opposite sex couples.

This debate has been going on for ten years in Canada. The first case dealing with same sex spouses was heard by the courts in 1990. Now, in the year 2000, we have a bill before us. The homosexual community and all the democrats who support it have been patient, since the debate lasted ten years.

I do hope that we have an extremely informed debate on the various forms of interdependence that exist in our society. I know that some of my colleagues, including the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, hope that this debate can take place. So do other Bloc Quebecois members, but the fact that such a debate has not taken place is no reason to vote against Bill C-23.

Bill C-23 is the result of a very clear understanding of the situation by decision makers, first because the courts have issued rulings and, second, because the Minister of Finance evaluated the costs of recognizing same sex spouses. We are well aware—and I will get back to this later on—that these costs are minimal.

However, the debate on the other forms of interdependency has not yet taken place. The law reform commission of Canada is just beginning to look at the issue. I know that the government is proposing to set up a joint parliamentary committee with Human Resources, Justice and Finance, so that all the departments involved in possible recognition of other forms of interdependency can use their expertise, and so that we, as parliamentarians and decision makers, can have access to as much information as possible.

I urge all my colleagues to vote in favour of the bill and to work towards equality and democracy for the following six reasons.

First, this is a bill that recognizes one of the most fundamental values in our society. Whether we are sovereignists or federalists, men or women, young or old, rich or poor, we all believe in equal treatment. That is what this bill is about.

Second, the courts of law, the supreme court in particular, have ruled that we, as lawmakers, could not continue to discriminate against same sex couples. That is why this bill is restorative.

Third, let us be clear, the government introduced an amendment in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I was not in favour of the amendment, but it at least has the merit of removing any possible ambiguity. This bill in no way, shape or form has anything to do with marriage. Marriage according to the conventional, common law definition will continue to exist, and that is a very good thing.

Of course, I cannot guarantee that 10 or 15 years from now a court of law will not rule that it is discriminatory to limit the institution of marriage to the heterosexual community. I do not know, but what I do know is that, if a court of law rules that marriage is unconstitutional because it is limited to the heterosexual community, it will not be because of this bill. It will be because of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Fourth, according to the Department of Finance in the Rosenberg decision, this bill involves no substantial cost to the treasury.

Fifth, 70% of Canadians would like us to end the discrimination to which homosexuals are subject.

Sixth, last June, at the end of the session, the National Assembly, in the sort of unanimous gesture of which the house of the people is capable in the great moments of the community, passed Bill 32, which amended 28 statutes and recognized same sex couples.

This evening, for all these reasons, individually and collectively, if democracy is to mean anything and if we are to take pride in representing those who have put their faith in us, all members must rise and support Bill C-23 when the Speaker puts the question.