Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the matter. While I cannot speak for the Canadian Alliance on the issue I can speak for myself and my constituents.
I have no doubt that every member of the House is firmly opposed to all forms of genocide and the public incitement of hatred against others. At the same time it is our duty as parliamentarians to ensure that any legislation to censure these acts is consistent with both the principle of fundamental justice and our Canadian ideal of a free and democratic society. I prefer to deal with the issue on a principled and rational basis than on the emotional basis that has sometimes accompanied the debate.
In 1995 the Reform Party put forward a persuasive argument against adding section 718.2 to the criminal code. The section instructs sentencing judges to take into consideration whether offences are motivated by hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental of physical disability, sexual orientation or any similar factor.
Reform Party members opposed the addition of the section on the basis that all criminals should receive appropriate sentences regardless of their reasons for committing a crime. The Alliance continues to maintain that political and social ideas that may motivate an offender to commit a crime are irrelevant. What is relevant are the facts of the crime and how to deal appropriately with the offender. Similarly, victims who suffer from crimes motivated by greed should never be treated with less dignity than victims of crime based on hatred.
For similar reasons members of the Canadian Alliance opposed the definition of terrorist activity in the first anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-36, which referred to the religious, political or philosophical motivations of a person committing a terrorist act. People's political or religious thoughts at the time should have no bearing on whether they are convicted of a terrorist offence or on the severity of the sentence they receive if convicted.
The issues we are dealing with in the hate propaganda laws are somewhat more nuanced and complex. Some speakers glossed over the distinctions between hate propaganda and advocating genocide. These are very different issues and considerations, yet they seem to lump them all together.
I do not intend to wade into the convoluted and intricate arguments that surround the discussion of how freedom of speech can or cannot be applied to hate literature. However I would point to two specific concerns in the bill which must be addressed and which form the grounds of my opposition to the legislation.
First, the legislation would extend protection from hate propaganda to some groups while excluding others. While the bill would add sexual orientation to the list of groups who may claim protection from hate literature, a number of other Canadians who may be targeted for reasons of age, health, disability, social status or a number of other characteristics would not be afforded the same protection.
What concerns me is not only the piecemeal way we are approaching the law but the exclusion of a number of vulnerable groups in our society that are routinely subject to discrimination and inequality. Discrimination based on age will present an increasingly difficult moral dilemma in the ongoing public debate surrounding euthanasia and how we treat elderly members of our society. Promoting hatred or genocide against those perceived by some to be a drain or to no longer be contributing members of society is a real concern. It will undoubtedly present a challenge for us in the future, particularly in the contemporary climate of modern technology.
A more broadly based approach would assist in addressing the challenges the mentally or physically infirm may face from those who advocate eugenics or euthanasia. The unfortunate case of Robert Latimer, a father who took the life of his severely disabled daughter in the hopes of relieving her pain and suffering, has brought the issue to the forefront of moral and ethical debate in Canada.
Groups representing disabled Canadians have voiced concerns that they may become targets without their consent. To address the issue there are two possible solutions. First, the definition of identifiable group could be expanded along the lines of our current standard in the charter of rights and freedoms. The charter currently extends protection from discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.
Amending the definition in this manner has been suggested in the past. In April, 1985 the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution recommended the definition be broadened to include sex, age, and mental or physical disability. The Law Reform Commission of Canada recommended the same so the provisions would be consistent with the charter of rights and freedoms. A broader definition would be consistent with international standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees that everyone is entitled to rights and freedoms:
--without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Second, I would prefer to remove the definition that applies to the offence of advocating genocide, since genocide in itself is self-defining. This way any group which found itself subject to abuse could seek and receive the necessary legal protection.
It is second reading and I am not entitled to move an amendment. It will therefore have to wait. At the same time, given the shortcomings of the bill I cannot support it either.
Another concern about the legislation relates to the issue of legal defences. Section 319 of the criminal code proscribes public incitement of hatred. One of the four defences set out in the section would likely preclude prosecution in the context of the expression of a religious opinion. Subsection 319(3) reads:
No person shall be convicted of an offence under subsection (2)
(b) if, in good faith, he expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject--
These defences do not currently apply to section 318. There is a substantive difference between section 319 and section 318. However problems immediately arise that need to be addressed, and Bill C-415 ignores the difficulty in a simplistic way.
The absence of defences in section 318 could pose a problem for a number of common publications including the Bible, the most widely read and widely published book in Canada and across the globe. This would affect both Christians and Jews. In addition, many Muslims do not believe homosexuality should be permitted. Specific books of Islamic law dictate that homosexuals should be punished harshly. Under a broad definition of the law this could arguably fit into the definition of advocating genocide based on sexual orientation.
Is this the intention of the amendment? If it is, or if this is its effect, we cannot support it. I do not believe this kind of material was intended to be prohibited under these laws. However without specific defences in place individuals could be subject to costly prosecutions. Religious publications of many varieties could be subject to censorship or even prohibition. If Bill C-415 passes second reading we must require the committee to consider which legal defences would be appropriate in this context.
The Canadian Alliance has always promoted equal treatment of all Canadians under the law. However we are not in favour of preferential treatment of any group, something the legislation in its current form would do. We must be mindful that one man's or woman's freedom is not arbitrarily exchanged for another's based on what happens to be the current political flavour.
I will continue to work to extend equality and freedom from discrimination to all Canadians. Although I will not be supporting his bill I thank the hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas for bringing the matter forward for debate.