moved that Bill C-415, an act to amend the criminal code (hate propaganda), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak to this legislation which I first tabled in the House almost 12 years ago. It was on June 27, 1990 that I tabled Bill C-326 to amend the criminal code hate propaganda provisions.
The bill is straightforward; in fact it is a single page. The purpose of the bill is to amend the hate propaganda and promoting genocide provisions of the criminal code to include in the definition of those who are part of the “identifiable group” that is protected under these provisions the ground of sexual orientation.
Under the current provisions of the criminal code hate propaganda sections, identifiable group means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin. My amendment would add the words “sexual orientation”. I hasten to add that in the future I would strongly support expanding this provision even further to include, for example, the grounds of sex, and physical and mental disability, to include the provisions that are covered by section 15 of the charter of rights.
The section on hate propaganda has been in the criminal code since 1970. It was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Keegstra case. I will quote from one of the judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada as to the importance of this legislation. It stated:
The harms caused by [hate propaganda] run directly counter to the values central to a free and democratic society, and, in restricting the promotion of hatred, Parliament is therefore seeking to bolster the notion of mutual respect necessary in a nation which venerates the equality of all persons.
That is the purpose of this hate propaganda legislation. I would note as well that two major sections are encompassed by this, section 318 on the advocacy of genocide and section 319 on the public incitement of hatred.
Some might ask what about those who want to engage in legitimate debate about a whole range of issues, including the issue of gay and lesbian equality; or what if our religious beliefs, for example, force us to the conclusion that there is something evil about gay and lesbian people and that is an essential part of our religious beliefs? That speech is protected under the provisions of section 319 in a couple of areas.
First of all, there are safeguards in subsection 319(3). It states that no person shall be convicted of an offence under this subsection if, among other grounds, in good faith he expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject. There are other safeguards as well. In addition I would note that a prosecution under this section can only proceed with the consent of the attorney general, so there is that additional safeguard.
I want to take one moment to respond to a concern that has been raised by some members. That is the suggestion that because section 318 of the criminal code on advocating genocide does not include the protections in subsection 319(3) somehow we should not move ahead to include sexual orientation in the overall definition of “identifiable group”.
I would hope that no one in the House would seriously argue that one should be permitted to advocate genocide, which is the deliberate destruction of an entire group under the guise of some sort of religious freedom. I do not think anyone in the House would advocate that. If there is to be opposition to this bill, I would hope that it certainly would not be on that particular ground.
If we amend subsection 318(2) of the code, it also has an impact on other federal legislation such as for example with respect to the interception, seizure and forfeiture of hate materials by agents of the state in other sections of the criminal code. The Canada Post Corporation Act authorizes the seizure of hate propaganda as defined in this section. The Customs Tariff Act prohibits the importation into Canada of material that constitutes hate propaganda within the meaning of the criminal code and the Broadcasting Act as well. This applies to those sections also.
Members might ask why it is important to include sexual orientation. I will not take the full 20 minutes because I want to give other members an opportunity to participate in the debate, but I want to give one very graphic and powerful example of why this is important.
There is a fellow named Fred Phelps from the United States. Fred Phelps hates gay people. In fact, he operates a website called www.godhatesfags.com. If we went to that website we would find that it is full of hatred. It has an image of a young man named Matthew Shepherd, who was brutally beaten, tortured and left to die on a fence in Wyoming because he is gay. It has a picture of him burning in hell. On the website Fred Phelps celebrates the fact that according to him Matthew Shepherd has been in hell, as of today, for 1,326 days.
Fred Phelps wanted to come to Canada to burn the Canadian flag and to promote hatred against gay and lesbian people in Canada. Many of us were concerned about that. The RCMP in Canada said they would like nothing better than to have the tools to stop this hate purveyor from coming into Canada to promote his hatred, but they said because of the provisions of the criminal code they could not do that. I quote for example Sergeant Pat Callaghan who is the head of Ottawa--Carleton's hate crimes unit. He said:
If this was done against a Catholic, a Jew or a black person, charges could be laid. If we had that legislation, we wouldn't have to put up with his nonsense on Monday. We could have told him, “If you show up and start spreading this hate, we'll arrest you”.
That is as it should be. That is a very important reason for promoting and supporting the legislation.
As well I would note it is important because the impact of hate literature is very destructive. Hate propaganda is very destructive. It has an impact on gay and lesbian people who are struggling with their sexuality in terms of their own sense of self-esteem and self-respect.
One woman showed me a leaflet that came in the mail. She has a young son who is gay. The leaflet was full of hatred. It was a diatribe of hatred. She said “Imagine, Svend, how this affects my son” and how it affects other people, young people like Hamed Nastoh, a young man who, in despair after having been bullied and brutalized by his classmates, threw himself off a bridge in British Columbia not that long ago. There are others who, because of the failure to clearly condemn this kind of hate propaganda, feel that somehow there is a licence to attack gay and lesbian people.
Rob Peterson, for example, a young law student at the University of New Brunswick was brutally attacked in November 1999. He was kicked in the face, punched in the face, repeatedly called a fag and seriously injured. The failure of this country and of our government to say that hate propaganda is unacceptable creates an environment in which these kinds of attacks are in fact deemed more acceptable.
Of course the fact that we have hate propaganda legislation that prohibits hate propaganda on certain grounds but excludes gay and lesbian people sends out the very clear message that somehow we are less than equal. The failure to include gay and lesbian people sends out the message that we are in fact second class citizens in our own country. That as well is clearly not acceptable.
Finally, I want to note that in terms of the legislation, it has some of the broadest base of support of any private member's legislation, indeed sometimes government legislation, that has come before the House. Every provincial and territorial attorney general supports the bill. In fact in November last year there was a meeting of provincial, territorial and federal attorneys general and they unanimously called on the government to move ahead to adopt the legislation.
I see at least one member of parliament here from Alberta. The attorney general of Alberta, Dave Hancock, pointed out that protecting gays from hateful propaganda has nothing to do with endorsing homosexuality. Here is what he said:
I support the hate crime legislation which prohibits people from spewing hate against anybody for any reason. There are appropriate ways to discuss issues in our country...and you don't need to put forward hateful literature. It doesn't matter what you believe about sexual orientation.
I issue a special plea to my friends in the Canadian Alliance. I hope they will listen to their colleagues the provincial attorneys general in every jurisdiction in Canada on this issue.
This is an opportunity for the Alliance to take a stand on an important issue. On every other occasion, when the issue of equality or respect for gay and lesbian people has come before this parliament, the Canadian Alliance has voted against that legislation. I am hoping today will be different. I am hoping that today members of the Canadian Alliance under the new leadership of the member for Calgary Southwest will in fact have the wisdom to recognize that they should be supporting this legislation which has such broad support right across the political spectrum.
In fact, I have another letter which was sent by Mike Harris and Howard Hampton jointly calling on the federal government to move ahead on this legislation.
I want to quote as well the House leader for the Canadian Alliance, the member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast, who said that he supports this change in legislation. In fact, in a public statement he said “It makes sense to me. I don't believe in incitement of hatred against anybody”. I hope other members of that caucus will support this as well.
In closing I want to say that if one is allowed to dedicate legislation to anyone, I would like to dedicate this bill to the memory of Aaron Webster. He was the British Columbian who was brutally beaten repeatedly with a baseball bat in a park in British Columbia for one reason and one reason only: because he was gay. I hope that this parliament will send out the strongest possible signal that hate crimes and hate propaganda of any sort, whether it is racism, anti-Semitism, whether it is directed at gay and lesbian people or people with disabilities, has no place in Canada.
In fact, at Aaron Webster's funeral his two sisters, Pamela Miller and Faith Quintillan, both of whom live in Alberta, said that they hope their brother's legacy will be tougher laws to protect gays and lesbians. I hope that this parliament will heed that plea.