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.


Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment 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 ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform 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.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Ken Epp Reform 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”.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

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.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc 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.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg Centre.

I thank my colleague for Burnaby—Douglas, who has been a champion of same sex equality, not only in the House of Commons and parliament, but also in the broader society. I recognize the incredible work that the member for Burnaby—Douglas has done, not just in the New Democratic Party, but in the political life of the country, in standing to ensure that gays and lesbians are not discriminated against and in defending equality for all the people of the country.

As we are debating the final reading of Bill C-23, I am proud to say that members of the New Democratic Party fully support the bill. Our party has had a long history of standing for equality and defending minority rights, and we will continue to do that.

I would like to speak to what the bill is about. As with other issues before the House, there has been much misinformation and propaganda put forward and I think it is important to state the case of what this bill is about. In my mind, and for anyone who cares to look at the bill, it is about equality. It is about dealing with the legal issues that resulted from the May 1999 supreme court ruling in M. v H., which made it quite clear, legitimately, that governments cannot limit benefits or obligations by discriminating against same sex common law relationships. That ruling made it very clear that denying equal treatment before the law to same sex common law partners is contrary not only to the charter of rights and freedoms, but also the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Since that historic case in the supreme court a number of provinces and other jurisdictions have gone back to examine their statutes to see whether discrimination exists. For example, since 1997 the province that I am from, British Columbia, has amended numerous statutes, including six core statutes, to ensure that there is no discrimination against same sex benefits.

In June 1999 Quebec amended 28 statutes and 11 regulations. In Ontario we have seen 67 statutes amended. As well, in a large majority of Canadian cities, in private sector companies, in municipalities, in hospitals, in libraries and in various social service institutions across Canada we have seen the same kind of change begin to take effect.

I have to say, and I think many people in this country would say, that this is long overdue. It has been a long, costly and arduous role for many people in this country who have faced discrimination before the law, but also in terms of discrimination in public attitude, in government legislation and in services. Today we should take pride in saying that Bill C-23 is the right thing to do to uphold equality in our country.

Having said that, I want to say that it is also with a note of dismay that we have to challenge the misinformation that has been put forward by the former Reform Party. In fact, listening to the debate in the House over the last few weeks, I have really been quite appalled at the level of debate, the cheap shots that have been taken and the hateful comments that have been made by members of the former Reform Party.

Former Reform Party members have done the same thing they did with the Nisga'a final agreement. They have tried to portray this as a debate not about equality, but somehow that parliament will be conferring special rights on a special interest group. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is not about special rights. It is not about special rules or considerations. This is about ending discrimination toward gay and lesbian couples in common law relationships and saying that the law must apply equally and fairly to all Canadians.

I have also heard former Reform members say that the legislation will hurt children and that children will suffer. I have also heard—

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11:50 a.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I regret interrupting this speech because I enjoy listening to what the member has to say, but the Speaker has ruled, and it has subsequently been upheld about four or five times, that the name of our party is the Canadian Alliance. It has been ruled and I would ask this member simply to adhere to the ruling of the Speaker.

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11:50 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think I used the term the former Reform Party. The term alliance is an interesting one because alliance to me implies that there is a partnership taking place, and I have been curious to see who is really banging down the door to form this alliance.

We have the Canadian Alliance, the former Reform Party, the opposition members, but the point is what they say in the House and the way they have taken on this bill. They have held up a smokescreen, trying to fool people or give people the illusion that it is about special rights. That is completely unfounded and nothing could be further from the truth.

I have been particularly offended by the remarks of members opposite that the bill will hurt children and families. In fact, just yesterday a member of the opposition in his debate said “I suggest that this government has given in once again to the tyranny of the minority. We cannot legislate equality any more than we can legislate morality”.

We do legislate equality. That is what the charter of rights and freedoms is about. That is what our constitution is about. That is what the Canadian Human Rights Act is about. We do legislate equality and every member of the House should stand to defend the right of equality.

Those members are trying to legislate morality in the House. Let us be very clear about that. When they do so we have to understand that not only are they attacking gay and lesbians or same sex couples who are in a common law relationship, they have gone further than that. They are now attacking the rights of people, whether they be gay, straight or whatever, in common law relationships.

Yesterday some of the amendments that we dealt with were specific amendments to remove the term common law relationship from the Old Age Security Act and the Income Tax Act. That would take us back to the dark ages. I thought we had entered the new millennium. The members of the opposition party, the former Reform Party, are stuck in an age where their moralistic views, their narrow, hateful views of what Canadians are about, are not shared by the majority of Canadians.

I ask members of the opposition who have opposed this bill why they consider it to be such a threat to heterosexual families. They seem to think that Bill C-23 will somehow undermine their own families or what they perceive to be traditional marriages. Why is there only one definition of marriage in their minds?

I have heard Reform members say that the bill will diminish marital relationships. I have to question and challenge why they are so threatened, so weak and so hateful that in order to impose their moralistic view they are determined to deny equality to other Canadians who happen to be in same sex relationships. Why are they willing to do that?

One of the unfortunate consequences of their argument is that by voicing their biases and their prejudices against people they actually give permission to other people in society to stir up hatred and division. We saw that during the Nisga'a debate when Reformers made remarks that were then taken up by racists and by people who harbour huge feelings of homophobia. This is what the former Reform Party members are allowing to happen by their very hurtful comments. They make comments which divide our society.

We in the New Democratic Party are absolutely appalled by that stand. We think it is outrageous. We have the courage to stand in this place to defend equality and to stand in support and in defence of same sex relationships. All people should be given the same treatment under the law.

At the end of the day this bill is important because we have seen incredibly lengthy court battles. I know of couples who have dealt with the system, who have been forced to go through humiliation and discrimination because of the law and have had to pay money to lawyers. We have seen some of the very expensive legal challenges that have taken place. It is important for us as legislators to say that we have a clear ruling. This is about equality. It is about doing the right thing. We should stop this very expensive process of forcing people to go through litigation. We should be changing these laws. That is another reason Bill C-23 should be adopted unanimously by the House tonight, and it will be supported by New Democrats.

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11:55 a.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I noted that the hon. member referred to the Canadian Alliance members as hateful probably a dozen times in her speech. It does not serve anybody's interests to revert to name-calling. I notice that when people disagree in the House, particularly members of the NDP, they go on the attack and make accusations of this kind rather than substantive debate, which is unfortunate.

One of the things the member has missed in our comments, which we have continually repeated and which I would like her to address, is the fact that our core themes on this bill have been that if marriage is going to be put at the front of the bill, does the member have a problem with putting marriage right into the statutes, where legal opinion says it will actually have substantive legal effect? Legal opinion is that, the way the justice minister has done it, marriage will be left out.

Second, she said that we did not want to put people in the courtrooms and cause them to incur legal costs. Yet with the undefined definition of a conjugal relationship in the statute, people will probably be driven into the courtrooms to have their relationships assessed by the state. We have consistently said that is probably inappropriate, that it would be better to define it in the statute. I would ask her to speak to those two issues.

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Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I did use the word hateful a number of times. I stand by it because I believe the arguments from opposition members were hateful of other people in society. For example, when they attack people who are in common law relationships I wonder where is their morality in terms of imposing their views on other Canadians.

I find that incredibly divisive. I find it incredibly biased and I find it hateful. Basically it is singling out people for the fact that they do not uphold the member's particular view of marriage even though people in same sex relationships may have all the attributes and the characteristics of what the member would characterize as a traditional marriage. I think that is hateful.

In terms of the other question I say very clearly that I did not support the preamble, the definition of marriage contained in the bill. Nor do I think it should be applied to the other statutes, simply because the bill is about benefits and obligations. That was the original intent of the bill. In fact it is a great shame that the government caved in at the last minute and put in that preamble an attempt to win the support of some of its backbenchers, which obviously did not work.

The original intent of the bill in terms of benefits and obligations was correct. To put in that preamble, and to put it into every other statute where there is not a definition of marriage currently, incites an inflammatory kind of environment which allows opposition members, the Canadian Alliance, the former Reform Party, to carry out its agenda of dividing people. I simply do not agree with that.

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Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I noticed that the hon. member made reference to treating people fairly. I could not help but be reminded that a few nights ago in a private member's bill by one of the members of our party the member for Wild Rose asked for an ombudsman to be put in place to hear the issues of the native people on reserves so that they could be treated fairly. Her party voted against the grassroots native people having an independent ombudsman to hear their concerns.

It seemed to me to be a very reasonable private member's bill. It focused on the needs of grassroots people so that they would have a fair hearing. Yet strangely enough every member of her party voted against an ombudsman for native people. It seems inconsistent with her concern for—

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry, but we have to go to the response.

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Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very easy question to answer. We in the NDP believe in the self-determination of aboriginal people. We believe that aboriginal communities, first nations, have the ability and the capacity to put in place any procedures they want in terms of an ombudsperson.

For the Reform Party to impose that, we see through its agenda. When we look at the debates that have taken place in the House over aboriginal rights, the Reform Party has opposed every one. Then all of a sudden it comes up with the idea of an ombudsperson. Methinks it doth protest too much. Its agenda is very clear, but from our point of view it is something that should come from within the aboriginal community.

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Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in the debate surrounding Bill C-23, an act to modernize the statutes of Canada in relation to benefits and obligations.

I ask hon. members to keep the title of the bill in mind during my remarks. It is important that we focus on what the bill really is and what it really means and not let the debate get out of proportion. It is a very practical and pragmatic piece of legislation which simply seeks to modernize the way we treat benefits in employment situations or in hereditary issues.

I would like to honour the member for Burnaby—Douglas who on behalf of the NDP caucus has been championing this issue for his entire adult life. It must be very gratifying for him to see the bill finally being debated in this way today. Some 21 years ago when the member was first elected to the House of Commons we would have been light years away from actually having a debate on same sex benefits.

Progress has been made very slowly and at a very frustrating pace, I am sure, for the many activists who have dedicated their lives to it. As we have often said, it is like steering a supertanker one degree at a time. Slowly but surely, with dedicated people like the member for Burnaby—Douglas, we are making social progress on the issue, and I recognize him today.

Gay rights are the last great civil rights movement of our time. It is one issue we have failed to deal with during the last century with the emancipation of black people and their moving forward on social issues in the United States. That was a genuine civil rights movement. The aboriginal people in this country in recent years have finally been put at the forefront of social justice issues. That was a civil rights movement. The one remaining movement about which we have been negligent and to which we have failed to give enough attention is the very real discrimination that still exists in our dealings with gay and lesbian people.

I am always frustrated and saddened by the reaction in some of the speeches I have heard from the right wing extremist parties. The extremists always find it easier to promote hatred than to stamp it out. It is much easier to get attention by a divisive argument than by an argument which actually unites and moves society forward. More than angered, I am saddened by some of the tone and content of the debate we have heard from the right wing extremist party.

It saddens me in that it is a little frightening to think that those Canadians can be that retarded in their development on social issues. That is the only term I can use. Somehow they have been held back. The rest of us have moved forward and they have not. They have either failed to listen or refused to listen or failed to understand what the rest of the country is telling them.

The Liberal Party should not be any more proud in one sense. It moved an amendment which catered to the musings of right wing extremists in that an 1880 definition of marriage is now entrenched in Bill C-23 by amendment by the Liberal Party to appease and placate right wing extremists who simply could not tolerate the idea of the bill going forward and threatening what they believe to be the sanctity of marriage.

When the definition of marriage was put forward in the 1880s in Britain's common law other things were typical about marriage as well. For instance, two races were not allowed to marry. At that time interracial marriages were illegal. We have gone beyond that. We have matured and developed to realize that was silly, and so we chucked it out. At that time it was legal to beat one's wife as long as one did not use a rod thicker than one's thumb. That was silly. That was obsolete and had to be dealt with, so we modernized the institution of marriage to toss out those anachronisms. There is another one we have yet to toss out, the barrier which so horrifies right wing extremist parties today, same sex unions and same sex marriages.

I am very proud that my children grew up in a neighbourhood where they recognized that families could take all kinds of shapes, that there was no one definition of the perfect nuclear family. The reality is that I have neighbours where there are a mom, a dad and two children, and that is a family. There is a single mom with children, and that is a family. There are two moms with children, and that is a family too. My kids have grown up with that realization and they are not frightened by it. There is nothing to fear by extending the same rights to other groups that we ourselves enjoy.

Right wing extremists always seem to feel that by extending rights to one group somehow diminishes the rights others enjoy. Nothing could be further from the truth. It augments and accentuates the rights we all enjoy. When we all move forward together that is the only time society truly moves forward together. If we leave any one significant group behind, we are not doing our job in terms of equal rights and equal opportunities.

Some of the arguments of members of the Reform Party or the right wing extremist party are nothing short of ludicrous. One criticism is that the bill will lead to “benefits for sex” and abuses of who will be entitled to benefits. They are saying that heterosexual men will claim to be gay so they can get dental benefits or something. They are groping for ways to criticize the bill. That is absolutely absurd, but we have heard them put forward such arguments.

Reformers have consistently voted against every measure to promote equality on this issue. We have seen it all through their comments since I have been here in 1997. In 1996 Reform critic Sharon Hayes, during the debate on changes to the human rights act, said the Reform Party had taken the position that it rejected the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act as both unnecessary and inadvisable, recommending the exclusion of significant numbers of our population from coverage under the human rights act.

I wonder sometimes if members opposite think about what they are doing and what they are saying. I honestly wonder if they have given the matter any serious thought, or if they just react in a knee-jerk way, driven by emotion but certainly not by any kind of principles with which we would agree.

At the start of my remarks I asked members to remember that this is an act to modernize the statutes of Canada in relation to benefits and obligations. It is nothing more. It seeks to grant benefits to those working persons who may seek to share their benefits with someone other than the conventional definition of spouse.

This is something that has already been amended in most collective bargaining agreements and in many provincial statutes. It is really bringing the federal statutes into line with what is already the norm. There is nothing radical or revolutionary about the idea. It is simply institutionalizing what society has already agreed should be the norm.

We believe the bill is a long overdue reaction by the government to the rulings of the supreme court. If we need guidance on its origins or the moral authority, we can look at cases such as M v H. It was about payments after the breakdown of a same sex relationship. Sooner or later we knew we would have to deal with the issue. This very high profile case helped the country finally come to grips once and for all with what happens in a same sex relationship when the relationship fails and whether it should be treated in the same way as a more conventional union.

It was useful for the country to finally wrestle with the issue. We have all benefited from having the debate of recent days. I look forward to the passage of Bill C-23 because I firmly believe it is one of the last great civil rights issues of our time. I am very proud that I am lucky enough to have been elected in a period where I was able to play some role in bringing it about.

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12:10 p.m.


Peter Goldring Reform Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, in 1996 when Bill C-33 was being debated it was claimed that there was absolutely no future intent to bring in same sex benefits. Four years later and here we are.

Is Bill C-23 not just a pit stop along the way to having further amendments made to the entire institution of marriage or to the definition of marriage? Could the member give me his viewpoint on the matter of whether there should be any further amendment to the definition of marriage that he would like to see?

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12:15 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I ask people to recognize that the name of this bill is simply to modernize the statutes in relation to benefits and so on. That is what we ask people to keep in mind. It is sort of a paranoid idea to think this is the slippery slope toward what could be considered to be some kind of a dangerous movement toward anything else. Do not give it more attributes than it has. It seeks to modernize the payment of benefits and obligations in relation to many acts where there is reference to that kind of shared thing.

As to whether the definition of marriage should be modernized as well, I believe it should. I believe the definition of marriage that we are currently using, as I said, is from 1880s British common law. Many things have had to be changed to reflect social morals and so on. I think it is wrong to even try to legislate morality. That has been made in argument before. If we read Oliver Wendell Holmes at that same period of time in the 1880s, he was saying, “You can't legislate morality. The state has no business trying to legislate morality”. We can legislate equality, as the hon. member for Vancouver East pointed out quite correctly, but we cannot legislate morality.

I would say the right wing extremist party in this country has things completely reversed. Stop trying to legislate morality and admit that it is necessary to legislate equality.

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12:15 p.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, again I think it is regrettable that the hon. member of the NDP continues to use terms that take away from the debate: extremist and hateful. Those are labels which I think undermine the credibility of the House. I appreciate there are different opinions on issues. Our party has a policy that says that we feel that marriage should be between a man and a woman. It is right in our policy document.

I notice that we had a motion on the floor last June to the effect that this House affirm that marriage remain the union of a man and a woman in law and that the House do everything possible to keep it that way. A majority of members, perhaps even all the members who were there that day in the NDP party, voted against that motion to keep marriage defined as a man and a woman. I can respect that they have a different opinion.

I guess I want clarity from the member. Is that the official position of the NDP party, that we should not have marriage defined as a union of a man and a woman? Do they want to have in statute same sex marriage?

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12:15 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, nothing is stopping the organizations that the hon. member belongs to from having a definition of marriage different from what exists in statute. What exists in law and what might exist in the hon. member's church are two different things. Nothing is stopping the hon. member from passing a by-law in his church or in the moral majority right wing evangelical movement that that particular church will not honour a union other than a single man and a single woman, which would be fine.

However in fact in statute, in law where we need a legal definition for really a contractual relationship to be partners, we can be more flexible and we can be more generous.

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12:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate, a debate that has been filled with a great deal of information, a great deal of emotion and I think is generally reflective of the range of emotions that people across the country certainly feel when approaching this subject matter.

Bill C-23, modernization of benefits and obligations, is appropriately named. There is obviously an element of modernization and certainly one of obligation that will stem from the omnibus type of legislation that amends 68 statutes in federal jurisdiction.

Mr. Speaker, you have heard and other speakers before you have heard a great deal of consternation and oftentimes heated debate on this subject matter. Members of parliament individually have been receiving I am sure a great deal of correspondence and a great deal of feedback, both positive and negative, about this subject matter, this bill. Whenever it appears, whenever issues of sexual orientation or anything that might be perceived as infringing upon traditional views, values, definitions, there is bound to be a reaction that is often motivated by fear, misunderstanding and raw emotion.

We should be rather temperate and understanding and do our utmost to not fan the flames in this instance, as we have seen in other instances.

I am not drawing a direct correlation, but there is a situation currently on the east coast of Canada where we had a decision handed down by the supreme court that has spurned a great deal of debate about native and aboriginal fishing rights in our fisheries. Once again we saw a tremendous outpouring of reaction and emotion that bordered on violence and in fact led to some instances of violence. It is incumbent upon us as members not to add fuel to an already volatile situation. We border on doing that in the midst of this debate.

These issues, no doubt, will not go away even in the wake of this legislation passing. Whatever decision is made in the final analysis when this bill in fact does pass, if it does pass, the issue itself is not going to dissipate or disappear.

With that said, I have had the opportunity personally to meet with members of my constituency, individuals who are watching this debate and following it very closely. I met quite recently with Ernie Curry of Antigonish who is the president of the Catholic Civil Rights League in the Antigonish area. On April 3 I met with Mr. Curry and his group and we had a very productive meeting, in my view, with respect to the contents of Bill C-23.

Although at the end of our lengthy meeting we may not have agreed entirely on every point, the fact remains that both sides were heard. It was a very open and frank discussion where information and points of view were exchanged. I would hope at the end of the day that is the process that we are embarking on here. This is the type of analysis that can bear fruit and can give individuals an opportunity to at least understand all the signs.

As I said of that meeting, we may not have agreed on every point but we certainly came to a greater appreciation of the points of view that do exist. I was very appreciative of the opportunity to hear from him, and certainly to hear from him on the efforts, dedication and good work that is done by him and his organization.

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-23, as you would know as an individual who has followed and participated in this debate previously as an individual member of parliament for Kingston and the Islands, this bill does not intend, nor was it intended to change in a legal sense the definition of marriage or spouse for that matter. Bill C-23, in fact, may now include a definition because of the eleventh hour insertion of that amendment. However, it remains clear that the intent is not to change, deviate, revamp or somehow diminish any definition of marriage, or certainly not to attack the institution of marriage.

Many definitions have been put forward in the House, most notably by members of the Reform Party. These amendments were brought forward in good faith as an attempt to bring greater clarity and definition to what we perceive as the traditional view of marriage.

This happened as well at the justice committee. It was moved by the parliamentary secretary that we now include this definition of marriage. That was one which the Conservative Party supported. I can say personally as a member of that justice committee that we were in support of that definition.

On March 22 the government brought forward this amendment and it was adopted at the committee that the definition of one man and one woman as defining the traditional view of marriage would be entrenched in the bill. This does not affect what others have decided upon as being their view of marriage. The Conservative Party does not want to partake in any attack or any frontal assault on what is viewed as a traditional understanding of what a marriage is.

As a member of the committee, although I supported this amendment, in many instances it is not necessary. It is perhaps better left unsaid that marriage is a person's view of what that union means to them spiritually, religiously, from their background and from their upbringing.

I fear that there are occasions when we become so caught up in Cartesian thinking that we have to write everything down. I would suggest this stems from the early eighties when we contemplated bringing back the constitution, repatriating it and putting in place a charter of rights that writes down every obligation and every right in the country.

By doing so, inevitably the fear is that we will leave something out. There has always been a common law notion that there are certain things that are accepted and certain things that people have come to view as practice, a normal evolution if you will, of how the law acts and how people react and interact with one another in society.

More and more we are seeing the country faced with a situation where the government is becoming very intrusive, writing everything down and reminding people of what they do and cannot do, and essentially putting it all before them. It is like layers of shingles on a roof. There is no point in time, it appears, that government is prepared to maybe take some of those shingles away before we put another layer on top of it. More and more we are seeing bureaucracy become more intrusive, more involved and more active in people's everyday existence.

I fear that this trend has to be somehow stopped or stemmed. We should be re-examining what we are doing. A perfect example is the legislation with respect to gun registration. We know that the legislation came about as a reaction to a horrible incident in the country where women were murdered in Montreal. Yet, rather than try to deal with the root causes or with the problem itself, the knee-jerk reaction of the government of the day, the current government, was to put in place a registry system that is cumbersome, bureaucratic, intrusive and does not in fact affect the criminal element at all. It focuses on individuals who are already participating in a very lawful and personally relevant activity, perhaps skeet shooting, hunting or recreational use of firearms.

Whether anyone personally engages in that, some individuals choose to do so and that is their right, and yet the government has targeted those persons as being a group that will be legislated and almost vilified by virtue of this type of legislation.

There are numerous examples that could be cited. It is not surprising in a way that the government in this regard chose to include the definition of marriage with respect to this legislation. The government, of course, many would suggest and I might be one of them, is becoming rather complacent, devoid of ideas, very moderate and mundane in its approach to the future of the country.

It is very obvious that in the context of this legislation when people reacted, and perhaps reacted in a negative way much like we saw with the idea that we might be subsidizing the NHL, the government, like a windsock and the party that likes to lead the parade in progress, reacted by inserting at the last minute a definition of marriage. Perhaps it should have done so at the earliest instance but it is a government that obviously is completely led around by the nose by public opinion polls.

The Minister of Justice decided, and for weeks and weeks building up to the introduction of the bill, that it was not necessary and that it was not about marriage. She went to great efforts and pain to remind Canadians that this was not at all about marriage, and yet this is what we see when the government is backed into a corner.

With that, and as I have indicated, we do support the idea of having this definition in the interpretation act although, Mr. Speaker, as you will know as a person with a legal background, this will not in fact have any real legal implications on things such as the Family Maintenance Act or the Divorce Act. These types of bills will not be affected in essence by this insertion in the interpretation of Bill C-23.

I know that there has been a motion put on the floor by the Reform Party that attempts to broaden the definition and insert essentially this new entrenched version of what marriage is. I applaud the motivation for doing so, but I do not necessarily follow the thinking or why it is they have chosen to go about this task.

I will be supporting many of the amendments put forward by the member for Calgary Centre which focus in on the definition of marriage and spouse in the various statutes that will be affected by Bill C-23. As I have indicated, this will not have a drastic effect on the current operation of family courts around the country.

I reiterate that Bill C-23, which is omnibus legislation, extends benefits and obligations to same sex couples and opposite sex couples with respect to the fiscal obligations and benefits that can accrue and flow. There is still a criterion or a hurdle that a person would have to get over to benefit or become eligible for that entitlement.

This legislation has been referred to by many as being driven by the judiciary and, in particular, the supreme court ruling in M. v H. The government cannot, by virtue of this decision, limit benefits or obligations by discriminating against same sex common law relationships. Denying equal treatment before the law to same sex couples is contrary to the principles of equity enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as our Canadian Human Rights Act.

A very simple principle was set out by that decision. It was a very straightforward statement by the courts saying that same sex couples cannot be treated differently on a fiscal level. This was not a moral judgment. This was not an attempt by the courts to tread into that sacred ground of marriage. This was simply a legal recognition that there was a fiscal standard that had to be applied when looking at human relations.

The previous speaker made a very eloquent speech about the need to recognize that this is about humanity and about treating human beings with the same level of fairness, the same judicious, equitable standard that is applied around this great country. He and others have referred to the fact that things like the civil rights movement would not have occurred unless we had a vision of how we should interact with one another, irrespective of race, sex, cultural background or language. All of these stigmas that can sadly become attached to individuals in our society must be viewed with an even hand.

Justice is supposed to be blind. We have seen the symbols of justice: the woman who is blindfolded and holds a sword and the scales. This is how the law is suppose to weigh how we treat individuals in society. This is the same as more recent vintages; the way we have treated women in this country. They were only given the vote as early as 1940 and only allowed to own property in the last century. That came about at a time when it was very volatile. There was often fragmented and angry debate but the country's moral fabric did not tear apart. The country has not been reduced to shambles and burning embers. The country has survived.

To somehow suggest that we will be thrown into chaos and that the country will completely break down if we begin to extend equitable treatment and fiscal fairness to same sex partners is inflammatory.

This legislation is about equity and fairness of obligations and rights as it accrues to individuals who have paid into a fund. This is often about a person having the ability to receive a return on a fund that he or she has legally paid into and now wishes to benefit from.

This legislation maintains a clear definition between married and unmarried relationships. Even though the legislation refers to marriage, it does not go into the area of what is a spouse. It makes no attempt to define marriage as being inclusive or exclusive of individuals who have chosen to live a certain lifestyle. It protects and recognizes the merit and the obvious view that marriage is a beautiful thing.

The Progressive Conservative Party was the first to stand up and say that there was absolutely nothing wrong with recognizing the value and the importance of that choice. One is not exclusive of the other. A person's view and a person's personal attachment to what their concept of marriage is has to be respected, and that is fine.

This legislation does not undermine marriage. It does not take the pins out from under the people who have chosen to practice their life in a certain way and engage in a certain lifestyle and marriage. Marriage is but one choice that people have to make in their lives in choosing how they interact with same sex and opposite sex individuals.

It has been suggested that because the legislation recognizes fiscal benefits and obligations, which already exists in our society today, for same sex couples, that it will somehow denigrate those who chose a different lifestyle, a lifestyle that some would view as more traditional and some would view as being the majority. However, those of us in the majority have to be respectful of those in the minority. It is one of the fundamental principles upon which this country was based. That is where the tie-in exists between previous minority groups that have been discriminated against. We have had very historic debates in this Chamber on aboriginal rights, the rights of women, the rights of blacks and the civil rights movement. There is a correlation when it comes to oppression that has to be remedied.

The major change in this bill, which proposes to encompass same sex and opposite sex couples in common law relationships for one year, is that both benefits and obligations will be recognized for these types of relationships.

A lot has been said about the issue of conjugality, which has been described by some as simply sexual relations. That is factually incorrect. Some MPs have expressed a great deal of concern about the definition. Let me refer to the M. v H. case at pages 59 and 60 where the supreme court approved the criteria for conjugal relationships. This was enunciated in the case of Molodowich v Penttinen, which is a 1980 case found at 17 R.F.L., second edition, 376. This was an Ontario District Court decision.

The supreme court held that it

—sets out the generally accepted characteristics of a conjugal relationship. They include shared shelter, sexual and personal behaviour, services, social activities, economic support and children, as well as the societal perception of the couple. However, it was recognized that these elements may be present in varying degrees and not all are necessary for the relationship to be found to be conjugal.

That is crystal clear as to how conjugal relations should not be boxed into a very strict definition.

I appreciate the numerous interventions that other members have made on this bill. I appreciate the considerable correspondence I have received from members of my constituency of Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough in Nova Scotia and from around the country. The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada has the utmost respect for the views of others on this bill. We have chosen to allow members of our party to vote with their conscience and to partake in a free vote, which is something I do not believe other members of the House have chosen to do.

I appreciate the opportunity to have put my humble remarks on the record with respect to Bill C-23.

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12:35 p.m.


Peter Goldring Reform Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has said that we are putting too much down on paper about this issue. It seems to me that the courts now have some difficulty in interpreting the written law because a lot of the laws are not that clear.

Is the member suggesting that our laws be written in a vague and ambiguous fashion? Would it not be preferable to have our laws very clear, very well defined and as specific as possible?

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12:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is because there are two lines of thought. There was a time in this country, particularly when we adhered perhaps more to the British model of common law, where there was an acceptance of certain things that existed. There was an acceptance that we did not infringe upon our neighbour's house or trespass. I suppose that has all evolved over time and we are now at the point where we write everything down. The difficulty with writing everything down is that inevitably things are sometimes left out.

If we embark on a system where we must anticipate everything that will happen, it will be impossible. We will never be in such a situation where we will be able to anticipate every twist and turn that might occur in the law or every human dynamic. Humans are far too complex for us to somehow foresee every change that will occur. By giving narrow definitions to everything or, to use the hon. member's words, specific definitions in every instance, my fear is that on occasion we will make laws that will be restrictive and exclusive of some groups.

However, I do understand that there is certainly time and merit in having clear definitions.

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12:40 p.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member from the Progressive Conservative Party is consistent in being vague and evasive on taking any kind of firm position. As usual, he talks about how important he thinks various aspect of this are and how much he appreciates opinions but every time I listen to him I wonder where he stands on the issue. It is always hard to sift it out.

When we were in committee I recall that the member voted against actually defining what marriage was. When the justice minister put forward her motion in committee he wanted to terminate it. When the justice minister's motion went on to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman, he wanted to exclude that part. He voted in favour, as I recall, to exclude the definition of marriage.

The member's party was split on this back in June 1999 when we had a motion on the floor of the House of Commons. The motion asked whether we agreed that marriage should be the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. It passed four to one, but his party was split. Almost half of his caucus were not sure whether a marriage should be the union of a man and a woman. This seems to be consistent with his actions at the justice committee when the justice minister put forward her motion on the definition of marriage.

It almost seems like members of that party want to say how important marriage is but they do not want to define it. It is frustrating for me, and I think for a lot of Canadians, who would like to see this party take a stand on something and not be wishy-washy. Maybe he can explain that. Maybe I have misinterpreted his actions.

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12:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that the hon. member for Calgary Centre has misinterpreted my actions. If he was paying close attention he would realize that was not the case.

We are at a point where we have come to expect that we should not let the reform party ever have truth get in the way of reality. I know I am not supposed to use that type of language in the Chamber, but it is very misleading for a member to get up and misstate the position of a party or a person, and I take great exception to it.

With respect to what Conservatives are, there are many members in the reform party who feel somehow that one cannot be tolerant if one is a Conservative, one cannot have an open mind and look at things from all angles if one is Conservative. One has to somehow lay down the law and hammer out a position that is extreme, and that is not the case.

That is not the view many in this country have of what it means to be a Conservative. They tried and tried again to somehow paint the Right Hon. Joe Clark and members of this party similarly as not being Conservative. They referred to him as yesterday's man. Maybe he is and this is why. He was doing things yesterday that people are thinking about doing today. If that is the definition of yesterday's man, that is a darn good definition for the Right Hon. Joe Clark. He is a very forward thinking individual who has contributed greatly to the growth and development of the country. He is a very strong Conservative in the definition that I feel very comfortable with.

I want to thank the hon. member for putting forward what was a completely fallacious position on the Progressive Conservative Party. We are very comfortable with the position we have taken and I think the majority of Canadians are as well, not the 10% of extremists who try to identify themselves as living and breathing within the Reform Party of Canada.

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12:45 p.m.


Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I could not help but listen to the member describe Joe Clark and it merits examining the facts. Joe Clark was the most senior and influential member of cabinet in the nine years of Brian Mulroney's government. There were 71 tax increases and it more than doubled our national debt, $300 billion. That is extremism.

That is why our country is now in desperate straits. We are the highest taxed nation in the industrialized world and are almost $600 billion in debt which will take decades to pay off. We have an obligation to our children to not sewer the economy any further than what the Conservatives did partially under the leadership of Joe Clark. I am here on behalf of my children and all the children of the country to turn the country around and set it back on a straighter track.

I resent the member saying anything positive about Joe Clark because he and Brian Mulroney were the most negative and destructive forces the country has ever seen.

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12:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, heaven forbid that members of parliament say anything positive in this place. The hon. member would not know that if it hit him in the face because the opposition repeatedly digs up negativity and perpetrates mistruths about individuals, parties and records.

To suggest somehow that one party is responsible for the entire debt is almost Liberal-like in its magnitude of mistruth. What we have seen is an individual who has taken this argument completely to outer space in terms of relevance. It went from homophobia to tax phobia. It is absolutely ludicrous but that is the type and level of debate we have come to expect from the Reform Party of western Canada.