Mr. Speaker, since the lower court ruling in Ontario in Halpern v the Attorney General struck down the definition of marriage as unconstitutional 14 months ago, this is the first opportunity that elected members of Parliament have had to discuss this issue on the floor of the House of Commons. Naturally, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the issue of same sex marriage in Parliament, in the public, democratic forum that Canadians look to for both leadership and representation on social policy issues.
Unfortunately however, so far the expectations of Canadians have been frustrated on both fronts. Recent decisions regarding the status of the definition of marriage in Canada have taken place almost entirely outside of the context of public debate or consideration of the public's elected representatives, something which is astounding considering the magnitude of the societal change these decisions are likely to effect.
Most, if not all of us, agree that this debate today is long overdue and should be looked upon as a starting point for parliamentary debate on this important social policy matter. I would like to begin with a quotation and it states:
Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages...I fundamentally do not believe that it is necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to accommodate the equality issues around same sex partners which now face us as Canadians.
These are the words of the former justice minister, the current Minister of Health and MP for Edmonton West, from Hansard on June 8, 1999. On February 15, 2000, during the parliamentary debate on Bill C-23, the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, she 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.
She added, and I think importantly for this debate:
Important matters of social policy should not be left to the courts to decide. If parliament does not address the issue, the courts will continue to hand down decisions in a piecemeal fashion, interpreting narrow points of law on the specific questions before them. This guarantees confusion and continuing costly litigation. Most worrisome, it risks removing us from the social policy process altogether.
What she was talking about when she referred to us was the democratic institution of Parliament.
Just four years later, and the minister's words notwithstanding, the jurisdiction of Parliament to legislate on matters of social policy has been effectively derailed by the courts.
The 1999 promise to protect marriage was made by the former justice minister, the Prime Minister, the former finance minister who will soon become the next Prime Minister, the current Minister of Justice, and by a total of 31 current cabinet ministers. They have broken their word to Canadians and they have consistently failed to clearly explain why they have done so.
Canadians expect better than this from their government. It is clear that the Liberals have failed Canadians and they have failed democracy. Despite the former and the current justice minister's promise to take all necessary steps to preserve the definition of marriage, they have failed to do so. Indeed, they have failed to take even the most basic step of appealing the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court.
They have sat idly by while lower courts have improperly appropriated the jurisdiction to redefine marriage and the courts have fundamentally changed the definition of marriage.
Some have suggested that the charter is there to protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority. That is not correct. I find it amazing, coming from a party that calls itself the New Democratic Party, this absolute abdication of its responsibility as the democratic voice on social policy matters by simply turning them over to unelected judicial figures appointed by the Prime Minister.
The charter is not there to protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority. It protects everyone who relies on its provisions, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the application of that principle.
We look at what are the principles in the charter. The institution of marriage is a matter that was specifically reserved for Parliament in 1982 and does not fall within the scope of the charter. As such, the time honoured rules of parliamentary democracy, including a majority vote, are applicable to this social policy issue. It is not for the courts to alter these rules. It is for the court to obey the law by properly applying the principles that Parliament enshrined in the charter.
If the charter is to be amended, the courts must, in our democracy, defer to the judgment of Parliament in respect of the nature of those amendments. There is a democratic deficit in the House and it comes from the frontbenches of our Liberal government.
They have failed to appeal the British Columbia and Ontario court decisions to the Supreme Court of Canada, despite the justice minister's clear responsibility as the chief law officer of Canada to uphold the jurisdiction of Parliament. As the Attorney General, the Minister of Justice does not have a responsibility to the government. He has a responsibility to the rule of law and he has substituted the rule of law for crass party politics. He has confused his political role as a Minister of Justice with the legal office he holds as the Attorney General and he has done the bidding of the Liberal Party rather than his duty as the Attorney General.
Despite spending $250,000 and having heard from over 400 witnesses in person in a dozen cities with an additional 400 written briefs submitted, this minister simply decided to shut down the justice committee because he was not getting the response he needed to sell the same sex marriage debate to Canadians.
It is not enough that he shut down the justice committee. It is not enough that he refused to appeal the Ontario Court of Appeal decision. He went further to actively undermine those who would seek leave to the Supreme Court of Canada, who hoped to be able to argue their case in front of the Supreme Court to clarify that this was an issue that remained within the jurisdiction of Parliament and that the Supreme Court clearly tell the lower courts that they had overstepped their jurisdiction and had wrongfully appropriated the jurisdiction of this democratic institution.
The justice minister's reference to the Supreme Court does not address the constitutionality of the traditional definition of marriage. All it does is ask the court whether same sex marriage is constitutional. This softball lob to the Supreme Court is worded in such a way that the court has little choice but to agree.
What do the nine Supreme Court justices feel like, being used as a political tool by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice? They should stand up and say they will hear the appeal, they will do the right thing, and they will respect the jurisdiction of Parliament to make decisions on matters of social policy.
Then the Prime Minister attempts to pass this charade off with a so-called free vote. When the same sex legislation eventually comes before Parliament, sooner or later, even if it is soundly defeated in the House, same sex marriage will continue to be the law in Canada since it is now the law by default, by judicial fiat.
The Prime Minister told his caucus as much in a closed door meeting. Unfortunately, he has not shown the courage to tell the general public the same.
Even those countries that have legalized the marriage of same sex couples do not treat those relationships in exactly the same manner as the traditional marriage relationship. For example, in Belgium, same sex married couples are not permitted to adopt children. Furthermore, the decision to legalize same sex marriage in both the cases of Belgium and the Netherlands is not based on a judicial interpretation of human rights as is the case in Canada. It was done as a matter of social policy.
It is interesting to note that the final vote on Bill C-250 is scheduled to take place tomorrow. Make no mistake about it, Bill C-250 is one side of the same sex marriage debate. It is the side that brings the weight of the criminal law to bear on those who for one reason or another disagree with the institution of same sex marriage. The one agenda is to push same sex marriage, the other is to stop any criticism of it by the imposition of criminal penalties. Bill C-250 will further erode the ability of Canadians to speak out in a free and open manner.
The suppression of legitimate expression is a threat to our democracy, to our basic freedoms, and the values that are in fact enshrined in the charter of rights. There is no comfort in the promise of the justice minister that religious freedoms will be protected. He has broken his word in the past and there is no reason to take him on his word now.
I want to focus for a few moments on the assertion that some of the courts are simply adhering to the charter by imposing same sex marriage on Canadian society. The proponents of this view have conveniently forgotten that in 1981 the House of Commons subcommittee debated for two days whether to include sexual orientation in section 15 and it voted to leave it out. It voted to leave it within the jurisdiction of Parliament to determine. Of course the courts wrongfully appropriated that jurisdiction by improperly amending our Constitution.
The last clear statement we have from the Supreme Court of Canada on this issue is from Mr. Justice La Forest. It should be stated that those who would discount that judgment failed to point out that of the four judges who agreed with the La Forest judgment, none of the others disagreed. They were silent.
The last clear statement we have from four judges of the Supreme Court who constituted the majority decision in Egan was a defence of the definition of a marriage and the rejection that Parliament, providing special support and recognition to the traditional definition of marriage, does not constitute discrimination against other types of relationships, including common-law heterosexual relationships or homosexual relationships.
To avoid living up to the responsibilities, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice said in respect of the 1999 resolution that they did not somehow realize that this might involve a commitment to the use of the notwithstanding clause. As the leader of the Canadian Alliance stated earlier, that is an argument that is without merit. However I want to make it easier for anyone who has any concerns about voting for the traditional definition of marriage as one man and one woman because of the reference to all necessary steps in the 1999 motion and the motion here before us.
Accordingly, I make the following motion, seconded by the member for Crowfoot. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “others”.
I will bring this forward Mr. Speaker, and I am sure the Clerk will pick that up.
Today I say to this Minister of Justice, the cabinet and colleagues, now is the time to end the deafening silence and tell Canadians where we stand. Do we believe in the traditional definition of marriage or not?
With my proposed amendment, the motion is clear. Where do we stand on the definition of marriage? It is time to end the kind of nonsense that the Liberals have tried to raise in order to take a clear stand on this issue. Will members reaffirm the definition of marriage as being one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others or do members vote against that definition?
The members' votes on the amended motion will tell Canada where they stand.