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House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was religious.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from June 9 consideration of the motion.

Free Trade AgreementsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 391, under private members' business, standing in the name of the hon. member for Joliette.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Free Trade AgreementsPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed from June 10 consideration of the motion that Bill C-343, an act to amend the Citizenship Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

June 11th, 2003 / 6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-343 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Citizenship ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

It being 6:25 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

On a point of order, the Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among all parties in the House and I believe that you would find unanimous consent for the following motion, a copy of which has been circulated to all parties.

I move:

That, immediately before Government Orders are called on Thursday, June 12, 2003, the House shall proceed to consider second reading of Bill S-5 and, after no more than one representative of each party has spoken for no more than five minutes each, the bill shall be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee of the whole and reported without amendment, concurred in at the report stage and read a third time and passed.

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to adopt the motion?

Business of the HousePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed from June 6 consideration of Bill C-250, an act to amend the Criminal Code (hate propaganda), as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud today to speak to Bill C-250.

I would like to recognize and compliment my NDP colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, for his courageous and tireless life's work in seeking equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in this country.

I am proud to stand with him today and support Bill C-250 as a significant step in what I see as perhaps one of the last great civil rights struggles of our time. I wish to thank him for giving us all the opportunity to end this parliamentary sitting on a positive note by voting for an issue that I can be proud to support. I believe all of us should be proud to support the bill.

Bill C-250 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to include sexual orientation under the categories of hate propaganda. I think it is useful to examine what we mean by hate propaganda. One legal definition states:

Hate propaganda, as an exercise of expression, seeks to incite and encourage hatred and tension between different social and cultural groups in society.

It is a disreputable passion. Its purpose is to inflame, intimidate, and marginalize the individuals and the community at which it is directed. Hate speech serves to vilify and to undermine the dignity and self-worth of members of the target group, and erodes Canada's constitutional commitment to equality and multiculturalism.

Having said that, it is all the more important and admirable that we deal with this issue today in Parliament, hopefully before we adjourn for the summer. Every day in Canada, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are at risk of being verbally harassed, physically assaulted, and discriminated against because of their perceived sexual or gender orientation.

Sometimes this violence is extreme and culminates in murder. In November 2001 Aaron Webster was brutally murdered in Vancouver's Stanley Park and police believe the perpetrators beat Webster to death simply because he was gay. On December 4, 2002, the badly beaten body of Christopher Raynsford was discovered in his Ottawa apartment. It appears Raynsford was also murdered because he was a gay man.

Verbal abuse, whether it is taunts, epithets or threats often precede episodes of violence. In fact, verbal abuse is the best predictor of the physical violence that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are subjected to based on their sexual orientation. This fact points to the urgency of Bill C-250 which would make illegal the promotion of hatred against these Canadians. In doing so, I predict this will save innocent lives.

Under current federal legislation it is illegal to incite hatred on the basis of race, religion, colour or ethnic origin, but not, incredibly, sexual orientation, even though the empirical evidence shows that over 62% of incidents of violence against identifiable groups in society are those incidents against the gay community.

In the absence of prohibitions under law, incitements to hatred against LGBT Canadians are able to flourish with few, if any, real consequences to the perpetrators. In fact, the absence of Canadian law that prohibits the promotion of LGBT hate propaganda lends license to the perpetrators of such abuse, both within and outside our borders.

I point to the tactics and the website of American Fred Phelps, the so-called reverend of the Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps and his followers routinely picket the funerals of LGBT people with signs that read “God hates fags” or “AIDS cures fags” or “No fags in heaven”. These are some of their popular slogans.

Phelps' website features a memorial to Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming youth who was savagely tortured and murdered in 1998 because he was gay. The website features a photograph of Shepard burning in the fires of hell and stating the number of days he has been supposedly in hell since his murder. This is incredible.

Canadian police have been unable to do anything to prevent Phelps or people like him from entering Canada and inciting hatred against LGBT Canadians because of the absence of this reference in the Criminal Code. In 1999 Phelps visited Ottawa and prompted this response from Sergeant Pat Callaghan of the Ottawa-Carleton Police Hate Crimes Unit. He stated:

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”.

A Criminal Code amendment would allow police the ability to charge and arrest people like Phelps, who incite hatred against LGBT people. One bystander at the Phelps demonstration in Ottawa said that in Canada we can be whatever we want and we do not like it when people come into our quiet community and spread their hatred.

The critics of Bill C-250 claim that religious teaching and expression would be severely curtailed by the Criminal Code if it were amended in this way. This argument is patently false. The fact is that religious freedom and expression are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, furthermore, the Supreme Court of Canada has established strict criteria for the prosecution of suspected hate crimes. For example, before a prosecution of offences can proceed, the Supreme Court requires the consent of the attorney general in the province in which the alleged hate crime has occurred. The Supreme Court criteria also ensure that prosecution of suspected hate crimes occurs only when the situation is serious enough to warrant such an intervention.

Further to that, even though we do not believe it was legally necessary, there is an amendment to Bill C-250 which would specifically, once and for all, state clearly that quoting from any scripture is not to be considered a hate crime for the purposes of this act. That should give comfort to those who have raised the concerns that their freedom of speech regarding religious matters may be somehow infringed upon by this bill. It is simply not true.

Protecting LGBT Canadians from hate propaganda has gained widespread support. In 2001 Canada's provincial and territorial attorneys general urged the federal government to implement legislation to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground under federal hate propaganda legislation. Alberta Attorney General Dave Hancock stated:

I support the hate crime legislation which prohibits people from spewinghate 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.

The current hate propaganda laws in Canada that ban the incitement of hatred should include sexual orientation because of the overwhelming evidence that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are the object of what we already considered a hate crime and these crimes should be prosecuted under hate crimes legislation.

I believe it is a proud day for the House of Commons to add to the issue of equity and equal treatment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. It is an honour for me to support Bill C-250 and I am proud to stand with my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas in his pursuit of equality for gay people in this country.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to give support to the amendment moved by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River which would add to paragraph 319(3)(b) of the Criminal Code the words:

...or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text;

I believe it addresses concerns raised by religious communities that presented to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding Bill C-250. They were concerned that Bill C-250 would cause negative consequences for those who base their beliefs or opinions on religious texts.

However let there be no doubt whatsoever about my wholehearted support for Bill C-250, the private member's bill put forward by the MP for Burnaby—Douglas.

The bill would provide for the inclusion of “sexual orientation” within the already existing definition of an identifiable group found in subsection 318(4) of the Criminal Code. Subsection 318(4) reads as follows:

...“identifiable group” means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.

All that Bill C-250 would do is add “sexual orientation” to that list.

I support the bill for many reasons. First, because of the hundreds of letters I have received from Canadians and organizations across Canada urging me to support the bill. Public health officers have written identifying gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities, especially youth, as priority groups that are specifically vulnerable, especially to suicide and depression.

A 2001 Ottawa wellness project found that 36% of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth had seriously contemplated suicide compared with 26% of other high risk teens. A 1995 University of Calgary study found that over 30% of gay male adolescents had attempted suicide. This is three times higher than the average for adolescents who are not gay.

Health status is as much dependent on social justice and mental well-being as it is on clean water and smog free air. I have had letters from jurists from across Canada. I will quote one such group, the Canadian Bar Association which represents 38,000 jurists. It feels that the bill, and I quote:

--would provide...complementary components of an effective legislated response to violence based on sexual orientation and to the fomentation of hatred which breeds that violence.

The bill is about equal protection under the law for all vulnerable groups and, as a member of a vulnerable group, I understand that need.

At present, the specifically homophobic nature of violence and harassment experienced by this community is unaddressed in Canadian law. I say specifically because many of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms advocates cite the Canadian Human Rights Act as being sufficient protection. However there is a provision in the Criminal Code that refers to hate crimes and hate propaganda in which specifically it lists historically vulnerable groups but it does not name sexual orientation as one such group, yet.

As the Vancouver police department, which also advocates support for the bill, states:

In fact, the situation faced by members of the LGBT community causes great concern to police.

According to a two year study conducted on hate and bias type crimes over the period of 2001 and 2002 in Vancouver, it showed that “sexual orientation represents 38% of reported incidents, which range from homicide through assault, harassment, robbery, threats, theft and arson”.

The Vancouver police cites that “in Vancouver sexual orientation forms the basis for 62% of the assaults and robberies against the groups protected under s 718.1”.

The Vancouver police go on to say:

The simple truth is that a person identified on the basis of their sexual orientation is more likely to be the victim of an assault than any other group and is more likely to sustain an injury.

The risk to persons on the basis of sexual orientation extends to others and is entrenched through a pervasive stigma that could be corrected by government action to support Bill C-250.

Those are not my words. They are quoted verbatim from a brief presented by the Vancouver police department to the justice committee.

Resolution 02-15 of the Canadian Association of Police Boards specifically urged the passage of the bill.

However I have also heard from family service organizations in Canada, such as the Family Service Association of Toronto, which states:

From our daily work with a wide range of individuals and families, we know first-hand that [this group] are routinely the target of hatred by uninformed people. ...there is currently no legal protection against incitements to hatred and harm.

In case I am accused of only listening to the advice and arguments made by special interest groups, I want to say that I have also heard from St. Mary's Catholic Church in Yukon. Father Timothy Coonen states:

--I believe that there is nothing in the Bible that permits the promotion of hatred against other human beings, including gays and lesbians. They deserve the full protection of the law.

I urge you in the strongest terms to support this bill.

From the United Church, I quote Minister Warren McDougall who states:

Violence and other expressions of hatred directed toward people because of their sexual orientation is absolutely unacceptable.

Yet, as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, it would be unfair of me not to mention that we also heard from many religious bodies that were concerned that the addition of sexual orientation to identifiable groups in section 318(4) would have severe and negative consequences on their beliefs and opinions of homosexuality as it is derives from religious text.

I believe that section 319(3)(b) of the code addresses that concern adequately. However the amendment by the member for Scarborough--Rouge River does specify belief based on a religious text, which some have argued is not fully covered in the clause as it currently exists.

I am sensitive to these concerns and I therefore support the member's motion but I want to return to the principle of Bill C-250. I fully support it based, not only on the reasons given earlier but also because as a physician for 23 years I have seen firsthand and counselled many gay, lesbian and transgender patients, mostly youth who have suffered as a result of the discrimination, the name calling, the shunning, and especially the many of whom were depressed and often contemplated suicide. As I mentioned earlier, statistics show this to be true.

Finally, Canada is a signatory to the United Nations convention on human rights. Like all signatory states, Canada has an obligation under international law to exercise due diligence in preventing homophobic acts, investigating them and ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Due diligence describes a threshold of efforts which a state must undertake to fulfill its responsibility to protect individuals from abuses of their rights. Canada has consistently shown due diligence in protecting most minority rights. The time has come for this extremely susceptible group to become part of that group and to be under the umbrella of Canada's protection.

I wish to end by quoting Gary Reid who is a survivor of a nail bomb explosion at a gay pub in London in 1997. He says:

The fear, loathing, hatred and ignorance culminating in these bombings is a warning to society and the world as a whole that racism, prejudice, homophobia and a fear of difference is out there and we should all challenge it at every opportunity.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of thousands of people across the land who have written and stated their opposition to this bill perhaps more than any other bill that has passed through this place in the last few years.

Let me state first that the Canadian Alliance is against the promotion of hatred against any individual or group in society. The member opposite was right when she said that the Bible does not promote hatred toward any individual, and that is very true. It is sad, indeed, when people claim to be against these kinds of rights, such as Reverend Phelps who was mentioned earlier. I am sorry we have those kinds of people who take it over the top.

The Canadian Alliance does not support that kind of action because we believe every human being has the right to be respected.

However, although we respect them and even though the Bible teaches us to love them, it does not teach us to love things that are against the principles of God's word. Therefore we are not instructed to love the wrong that we might see but we are instructed to love the person. I have great respect for some of the people in this House. They conduct themselves as gentlemen and as ladies in many situations but I do not have to agree with their lifestyle.

The Canadian Alliance believes that all individuals should be protected by law against hate crimes. In fact, we believe all groups are already adequately protected under the Criminal Code. For instance, let us think of all the people who would speak evil of politicians. There are many people in this land who basically stir up hatred against politicians and yet we would not want to be added to that group.

However we do believe in the freedom of religious expression and conscience according to section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We believe in free speech. I personally am concerned about this. For the past 30 years I have stood in the pulpits across this land and in other places and have preached from the Bible text. I am concerned because it is my duty as a minister of the gospel, when I am fulfilling that position, to speak truly according to the Bible, which is the book that I view as the word that teaches us rightly how to live. I am concerned that some day I would not be allowed to read and speak freely from that book.

We are concerned that Bill C-250 would not ensure adequate protection for the freedom of religious expression; for teaching, preaching or speaking in these terms; standing up for what we believe is morally right or wrong; and that in some way those freedoms would be taken away from us in the future.

Although the sponsor of the bill, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, tries to convince Canadians that his bill would not threaten or impede religious expression, we all know that if the bill passes it will just be a matter of time before some pastor, some priest or some rabbi will be hauled before a human rights tribunal and prosecuted for promoting hatred based on his religious beliefs.

We do not believe the assurances of the member for Burnaby—Douglas and I will explain why.

Some time ago the former justice minister gave her assurances that the definition of marriage would not be changed. In this House, on February 15, 2000, the former justice minister said:

This definition of marriage, which has been consistently applied in Canada and which was reaffirmed last year through a resolution of the House, dates back to 1866. It has served us well and will not change. We recognize that marriage is a fundamental value and important to Canadians. That value and importance is in no way undermined by recognizing in law other forms of committed relationships.

Then a few days later, February 29, the minister also said this, “The common law of this country is equally authoritative with legislation.The courts have said over and over again that there is no need to make it any clearer because I think they cannot make it any clearer. They have said that marriage is the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”.

Now we are facing an attack on this traditional definition of marriage. Why do we not just lean on the assurances of the former justice minister that it will not change? However we cannot do that. No person can give anyone the absolute guarantee that things will not change. Not even the justice minister can do that. Nor can the member for Burnaby—Douglas give us those kinds of assurances that religious freedoms will be protected, nor that holy books of the different religions will be protected if Bill C-250 is adopted.

I have seen too many changes in my lifetime to things that seemed to be motherhood and apple pie, but they changed. We cannot buy that line of a personal guarantee or guaranteed protection. There is no assurance of protection of any kind. The fact is we are already losing many of our individual rights and religious freedoms. Let me just share a few examples.

First, let me mention a group in Canada called the Gideons The Gideons, because of their religious conviction, like to hand out the new testament scriptures to grade six students in the schools across our nation. They no longer can do that on school property. They must do it outside of school property. They have lost that right to exercise their religion in that way.

Just last Christmas season, the Christmas tree in Toronto was not allowed to be called a Christmas tree. It was called the “Giving Tree”. Anyone knows that at Christmastime it is a Christmas tree and that right of expression has been removed. “Merry Christmas” was removed the year before, in 2001. A friend of mine put on 80-some commercials on the radio station in Ottawa, Ontario, and that is somewhere near here. After they were recorded, he was called back to the studio and had to redo them. They could not use the words “Merry Christmas” on the radio station in this town.

In 1997 in London, Ontario, Mayor Haskett was found to be in violation because she refused to declare a gay pride day because of her religious beliefs.

In 2002 an Ontario superior court judge ruled against the Catholic school board of Oshawa, preventing it from carrying out its religious beliefs at one of its own school activities.

A printer in Ontario was fined $5,000 and ordered to do work for a gay group, even though this was against his religious convictions.

In Saskatchewan, a man named Mr. Owens printed some old testament verses in an advertisement that he paid for in the newspaper. These biblical quotes were ruled to be hate literature.

It is already happening. We are losing the right to express ourselves according to our religion and according to the books that we believe are given to us by God and that will direct us in life.

We can talk about the hierarchy of rights. Why is the first section, section 2(c) granting religious rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, subservient to down the line section 15, which mentions these hate crimes?

We can talk about free speech and guaranteeing it all we want but I do not believe there is any guarantee, even with the amendments. The three amendments are not written strongly enough to assure us of guarantee.

The loss of religious freedom is already taking place. People are losing their right to practise their religion and to speak freely, It is about words. It is not about hate. It is not about crime. It is about words. This bill is suppressing free speech. words that enable one to freely express religious opinion or conviction on their issues of morality.

The religious rights of people in our country are being trampled on at the insistence of a very small group of people associated with some very vocal special interest groups. Thousands of people have written to members of the House. Thousands of people have signed petitions. Not one member in the House can ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of Canadians oppose the bill. I will join them in the opposition of the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying very clearly and plainly that the Bloc Quebecois supports this bill and will support it wholeheartedly.

When deciding whether or not to introduce a bill, there are two questions that need to be asked. The first one is whether there is a need for a bill. The second is whether the bill in question meets the need that has been identified by the first question.

Let us start with the need. I remind hon. members that Quebec is recognized around the world as a place of tolerance, a place that accepts and defends rights and freedoms. Quebec was the first jurisdiction in Canada to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, back in 1977. Quebeckers are very proud of this.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that Quebec and Canadian society is more tolerant when it comes to homosexuality, there are still groups and individuals that perpetuate ideas that promote hate toward homosexuals.

This type of hate must be punished in a society that calls itself free and democratic. If we do not tolerate hate propaganda based on colour, race, religion or ethnic origin, then it makes perfect sense that we should do the same when it comes to sexual orientation.

Currently, there are five groups that are targeted by hate propaganda. Of these five groups, four are protected. The one group that is not protected is made up of gays and lesbians.

It is interesting, and particularly relevant, to note that according to Inspector Dave Jones of the Vancouver Police, in Vancouver, 62% of hate crimes target homosexuals. This percentage, 62%, is high when we consider that gays make up only one of the five groups identified as targets of hate crime. According to Dave Jones, it is unacceptable that sexual orientation is not considered an identified factor targeted by hate propaganda.

There are all kinds of examples of hate propaganda. The Internet site, www.godhatesfags.com has been mentioned several times. On this site, there is a picture posted of the young man who was beaten to death and who is allegedly burning in hell because he was gay.

On that subject, I would like to reiterate what Pat Callaghan, from the Ottawa-Carleton police hate crimes unit, said about the visit to Ottawa by some followers of the godhatesfags site creator, the so-called Reverend Fred Phelps. 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 this nonsense. We could have told him, “If you show up and start spreading this hate, we'll arrest you”.

So my first criterion has been met; there is a need to protect a group that is being subjected to hate propaganda.

For the second criterion, when we analyze this type of bill, we have to ask ourselves whether it meets the need identified in the first criterion.

Freedom of religion is what is at issue here. It is the primary objection to this bill. It was the objection raised by my colleague from the Canadian Alliance who spoke before me.

First, I think it is important to say that not all religious groups or religious individuals oppose this bill. I will not repeat what my Liberal colleague said before me about the letter from Timothy Coonen from St. Mary's Catholic Church in the Yukon, or the letter from Thomas Adams, the pastor at the Baptist church in Richiboucto, or even the editorial—to use another religious denomination—from the Jewish Bulletin of January 3, 2003 pointing out that the Bible is not hate literature. I would only ask people to read what was said.

However, I do not entirely agree with my Canadian Alliance colleague who spoke before me. He said that he would no longer be able to speak freely from the Bible to condemn homosexual activity—for lack of a better word.

I was baptized Catholic. I was raised in that faith and I even went to private Catholic school. At school, in our religion courses, we were taught—I am making an analogy; and I know that analogies are often less than perfect, but bear with me—that the Jews made a mistake in not accepting Jesus as their saviour. The theological position of the Catholic Church—and I think it is the same in all the Christian churches—is that Jesus is the Messiah. Thus, accepting Jesus as our saviour leads us to eternal life. The Jews, who did not accept him, committed a theological error.

That is what I was taught and perhaps they still teach it. It is possible to say, with respect, that one believes the Jews made a mistake in not accepting Jesus as their saviour. But to go from that to saying that because the Jews made a supposedly theological error, they can be subjected to hate propaganda is a major leap that our society has refused to make for a long time, for instance when provisions against hate propaganda were included in the Criminal Code.

On Sunday, I attended the opening of the Holocaust Museum. It is easy to see how far hate propaganda can lead. One can see the depths of baseness and darkness that human beings can descend to when hate is involved. I am very much aware of the hate that has been directed against the Jews.

In the same way, someone who believes in a particular interpretation of the Bible, a holy book, may well say, “We condemn what homosexuals do”. Someone might very well say that. But to go from this interpretation in good faith of a religious text to an incitement to hatred based on hate propaganda is, once again, a step that must not be taken.

I was using the example of the Jews who are protected by the Criminal Code because they are an identifiable ethnic group. Quite simply, the same reasoning applies in the case of homosexual, lesbian or transgendered persons. It is simply a matter of not crossing the line between interpretation of a religious text, with which one may agree or disagree, and incitement to hatred.

We know full well that freedom of religion is well protected in Canada. There is section 2 of the Canadian Charter, section 3 of the Quebec Charter and the supremacy of God, as stated in the preamble to the Constitution. No right is an absolute right in our legal system, but the only possible limitations are those necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Because these are factors that may affect a freedom very well recognized in our legal system, these limitations must be clear and narrowly interpreted to ensure that the freedom in question is subject to as little limitation as possible.

In a nutshell, freedom of religion is given prominent status in our law; nevertheless, it is not absolute. It is subject to limitations which must be clearly justified in law and come with safeguards.

I will conclude by reminding the House of three things. First, so far, there have been very few prosecutions under the hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code because the test is very difficult to meet. The disclosure that results in an infraction must be specifically designed to promote hatred against an identifiable group. The message heavily laden with contempt must spread hatred according to factors very clearly defined by Justice Dickson in the Keegstra decision.

I will let a non-partisan analyst, namely the Parliamentary Research Branch, conclude for me:

The drafting of the Code's hate propaganda provisions with respect to specific intent, the definition of hate propaganda by the courts, the special defences and the fact that the attorney general of the province needs to approve prosecution all contribute to ensuring that this kind of prosecution will be possible only for the most blatant cases and that the act is consistent with the Charter.

I read further:

These requirements meet the limitation criteria set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in cases relating to freedom of conscience and religion.

Adding sexual orientation to the list of identifiable groups does not have a negative impact on the principle of freedom of conscience and religion. It does not increase the limitation that may be placed on this freedom by lawmakers and courts or decision makers. Its impact is neutral.

In conclusion, we wholeheartedly support Bill C-250.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on this bill.

In this regard, the Progressive Conservative Party has decided to lead by example. There is often talk of a free vote but, over the past two years, our party has held the most free votes.

Basically, I hope that most of the members of my party will support Bill C-250. I believe that this bill is a step, and I have never pretended otherwise. Personally, I am very open to same sex marriage and even allowing same sex couples to adopt.

So, I think that Bill C-250 is an essential step in accepting same sex marriage. But I hope that this debate will be quickly followed by a vote in the House.

This bill—and I do not want to repeat what my hon. colleagues have already said—updates the Criminal Code. Thirty years ago, no one ever talked about gays, lesbians, transgendered people and so forth. Today, they do, as we are doing now. So, there is an evolution in acknowledging people who are part of this country. Gays and lesbians are an integral part of this country and of our reality. So, this is an important subject. This group has a place and is making its own way. However, this group is the victim of hate propaganda and violence too.

Some people will say, “This means no more gay and lesbian jokes”. Gays and lesbians in Canada and Quebec have the same sense of humour as straight Quebeckers do. This does not change anything. We are talking about hate propaganda. In my opinion, this is an acknowledgment, and a signal that the Government of Canada has to give as soon as possible.

I hope that everyone will agree with me: whether we fear for religious freedom or not, whether we support the bill or not, it is essential to ensure that all the political parties in the House agree, before the summer recess, to hold a vote on this bill. Whether the members support or oppose this bill, they must vote and quickly.

Of course there is the whole issue of religious freedom. Everyone has received an incredible amount of e-mails. I would, however, remind hon. members that the principle of the separation of church and state has been around for a very long time. Parliament is neither a church nor a synagogue. It is the forum for democracy in a country. I know that some of us hold to our convictions, but Parliament is not a Catholic or Protestant church, nor is it a synagogue. Everyone is welcome here. It is up to parliamentarians to decide on this matter, in accordance with their principles, of course. There is no question of blocking or delaying, a decision must be reached.

An amendment has been moved, and I personally believe it was unnecessary. But if more detail can be added in order to protect religious freedom, so be it. I would, however, remind hon. members that defining religion is a problem in and of itself. We must be careful. When reference is made to the Koran or the Bible, there is agreement. There was reference just now made to the Gideons. We in Quebec have the Raelians. Determining whether or not something is a religion could lead to very lengthy discussions.

That said, I agree that there should be more protection for freedom of religious expression. Exactly what would adding sexual orientation to the list take away from anyone?

Does this mean that the priest who has been camping out in front of Parliament since 1997, ever since I first came here as an MP, will be taken off to court? Absolutely not. He is speaking out against homosexuality. That is fine. “So what?” as they say. He is against abortion, and has a right to be. He has been camped out there since 1997 and is entitled to do so. This is just one example. And none of that will change.

He will not be charged under Bill C-250. Often, people need concrete examples, and I think this is a good one.

Another thing I want people to understand is that everyone has an opinion when it comes to same sex marriage, but that is not the issue here. That is not what the member for Burnaby—Douglas is asking for. What he is asking is that this important group in Canada, which has a different sexual orientation from others, no longer be subject to hate or hate propaganda. That is all he is asking. I hope that there will soon be a debate on the other issues, but that will come later.

How can anyone argue against Bill C-250 based on the principle of freedom of religion, when freedom of sexual orientation also needs to be protected? We cannot limit one freedom to uphold another. Too many wars have been waged because of that. It may seem silly to say, but this propaganda exists, it is out there, and we must protect these people against it.

If we want to maintain freedom in Canada, we must protect this freedom and the ability to enjoy it. Religion should not be called into it. Absolutely not.

Once again, I understand people's hesitancy, but with the amendment before us, we should be able to vote on it easily. We should be able to explain to our constituents, to those who send us e-mails and letters, that we want to ensure that people who are different by their sexual orientation are not subject to hate propaganda. It has nothing to do, at this point, with one's position on marriage or adoption. That can be explained.

We need to take the time. My colleagues and I did that this morning. The leader of my party, who is still our justice critic, explained it; he supports Bill C-250. He explained this to people, and yet they are aware of his opposition to same sex marriage. However, this bill is not about that.

We need to explain to people that their freedom of religion will always exist and will not be threatened. It is set out in the Criminal Code.

We know that there are problems. We heard from the Vancouver police. We see that regularly. It is time for action.

Our colleague from the New Democratic Party has been fighting for this for years. I know that it bothers some people when the member for Burnaby—Douglas rises in the House and rattles our cage with regard to these issues. It is somewhat disturbing for certain people. They say, “Oh, it is him, we must be careful. There must be something fishy here”. Absolutely not. He has this unique personality as a parliamentarian and his qualities have been recognized for years.

What he brings us today is strikingly realistic. It is very simple. If it gives people the opportunity to discuss the issue of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, all the better. As heterosexuals or religious people, we cannot hide in the closet. Absolutely not. We have a role to play as parliamentarians.

In closing, with all due respect, I was telling my colleagues two things. We must vote. We know that Friday, Monday or Tuesday at the latest, we will be going back to our ridings to be with our families and friends. Let us vote quickly. I am convinced that, during the summer, we will have the opportunity to discuss this issue with our constituents. We will be able to tell them that Parliament has provided protection by adding sexual orientation to the definition of identifiable group in the Criminal Code of Canada.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-250 which we are debating today proposes to extend the application of the hate propaganda provisions to groups distinguished by sexual orientation.

The purpose of the hate propaganda provisions is to prohibit the public communication of hatred against an identifiable group. An identifiable group is currently defined in the Criminal Code as any group distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.

The bill came back to the House by means of new procedures adopted to ensure that private members' bills are given appropriate attention by the committees they are referred to.

In the case of Bill C-250, the bill was examined by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The committee held meetings and heard from different witnesses. However due to unfortunate circumstances, the committee was not able to complete its study and conduct a clause-by-clause study of the bill. As a result, Bill C-250 was deemed to have been reported without amendments.

During the committee hearings, witnesses and members alike expressed concerns that excerpts from the Bible on homosexuality would be found to be hate propaganda if the hate propaganda provisions were extended to a group distinguished by sexual orientation.

The committee also heard testimony from Department of Justice officials who advised members that it was unlikely that anything in the Bible could meet the threshold established by the jurisprudence for deciding that a statement constitutes hate propaganda. Their comments were based on the interpretation of the elements of the offence by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Keegstra decision.

The Supreme Court of Canada also stated that the statement had to be made for the conscious purpose of promoting hatred. The Supreme Court said that promoting had to involve active support or instigation to hatred. The Supreme Court said that hatred connotes emotion of an intense and extreme nature that is clearly associated with vilification and detestation. I am not aware of any part of the Bible that would meet this threshold.

More important, justice officials brought to the attention of the committee the existence of a specific defence against the charge of hate propaganda. This defence exists currently in subsection 319(3)(b) of the Criminal Code and it applies to an opinion expressed in good faith on a religious subject.

The defence provision says clearly that no person shall be convicted of an offence of promoting hatred if, in good faith, he or she expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject.

By way of example, I am certain that the Bible is a religious subject. Therefore, the existence of this defence comforts me in the belief that quoting from the Bible would fall under this defence.

I am convinced that the Bible would not be found to be hate propaganda if Bill C-250 became law.

Throughout the committee hearings it became apparent that Canadians want it to be crystal clear that it will be possible to continue quoting and teaching the Bible or other religious texts without being concerned about being accused of propagating hatred.

Motion No. 1 as drafted provides this kind of reassurance. This amendment would clarify the application of the defence to an expression of opinion based on a religious text when the opinion is expressed by a person who believes in the text. I support the intent of this amendment and hope it will help to further reassure all those who have expressed concerns.

Motion No. 2 would extend to an offence under subsection 319(1) the requirement that any attorney general consent to the prosecution of this offence. The offence under subsection 319(1) is different from the other hate propaganda offences for which the attorney general's consent is currently required.

Specifically, the offence in subsection 319(1) is that of incitation to hatred which could result in a breach of the peace. Although at first glance this would seem positive, requiring the attorney general's consent for this offence could result in delaying police intervention in circumstances where physical violence against victims is imminent.

In addition, this provision could impact on provincial and territorial attorneys general, and they have neither been consulted nor given an opportunity to consider the implications of this amendment. In order to maintain positive relations, it is essential that they be consulted and be allowed to comment on a proposal such as this. With this in mind, I cannot support Motion No. 2.

The third motion amends the definition of hate propaganda in subsection 320(8) to exclude any religious text for the purposes of seizure and forfeiture of hate material. I submit that this motion is unnecessary and could result in excluding unintended material. Section 320 allows seizure and forfeiture of texts only where “the communication of which by any person would constitute an offence under section 319”.

This means that the only texts that can be seized are texts which meet the high threshold established by the Supreme Court of Canada for hate propaganda offences and to which none of the defences, including the religious belief defence, apply. Under existing legislation, a text that expresses a bona fide religious opinion would therefore not be seized. Motion No. 3 might open the door to abuses in the interpretation of religious texts. It proposes to protect all religious texts from seizure, without a definition and without a bona fide test as exists in section 319. As a result, it would protect any writing that is claimed to be a religious text. It would not allow a distinction between bona fide religious texts and bogus religious texts. They would all be equally protected.

An amendment with such serious implications requires further examination to assess its impact, not only on hate speech based on sexual orientation but also on hate speech based on the existing criteria, that is, race, colour, religion or ethnic origin. This amendment should also be discussed with the provinces and territories because of the potential for negative impact. For these reasons, I cannot support Motion No. 3.

In conclusion, with the amendment from the member for Scarborough--Rouge River so that the necessary balance is struck between adding protections for this identifiable group and on the other hand ensuring that those who quote or teach in good faith the Bible or other religious texts are not accused of inciting hatred, I accordingly ask members to consider doing the right thing for all Canadians.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House to debate and to oppose Bill C-250.

I was told a long time ago that if one refuses to stand for some things, one may fall for everything. There comes a time when people need to take a stand, not only to represent their constituents but to take a stand for what they believe is the right side to stand on. That is what we are doing here tonight.

The law that has been proposed in Bill C-250 promotes the interests of some people over the interests of others. It poses a significant danger to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This bill, as brought forward by the member for Burnaby--Douglas, is a “trust me” bill. Everyone we have heard speak in favour of Bill C-250 has said, “Just trust me”. They have told Canadians to trust them that there is a need for the bill and to trust them that there is a huge bitterness and hatred toward a certain segment of our society, basically the homosexual segment. They have said, “Trust us that we need something extra in the Criminal Code. Trust us that if someone is brutalized or assaulted we need this because there is no power in the Criminal Code at the present time”.

That “trust me” is not going to hold up here today.

Members of the Canadian Alliance do not support anyone making statements promoting hatred toward any identifiable people, to any group. The proposed amendments to the law raise a number of very serious concerns about which thousands of individuals have written and called. Tens of thousands of petitions have been brought forward in the House.

I see that my time is up. The Canadian Alliance is proud to stand and say we will oppose this bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 7:25 p.m. it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the report stage and third reading stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion No. 1 agreed to)

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The next question is on Motion No. 2. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.