Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to debate Motion No. 392. First, I wish to applaud the member for Sherbrooke for the motion that says that the government should add social condition to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act.
Human rights is a dear topic to all Canadians. Canada is seen around the world as a leader in human rights. In fact, Canada initiated the universal declaration of human rights and certainly the Progressive Conservative Party supports Motion No. 392.
The motion brings attention to the neglected area of discrimination called social condition. We must remember that what we are doing here is protecting not only rights of individuals but ensuring that they are not discriminated against. We have come a long way in the field of human rights in this country and that is what we are talking about, but we still have a long way to go.
We only need to point out along this rocky path of Canadian history that this country has some bleak moments in its past. Let us recall the deportation of the Acadians and the treatment of the first Irish immigrants to this country. Let us remember the internment of Japanese Canadians during the second world war and the internment of Ukrainian Canadians between 1914-20 when over 5,000 Ukrainians were put into 24 internment camps across this country. Let us remember the Chinese exclusion act of 1923-47 when Chinese were kept out of this country because of their race.
We can see there are a lot of lessons that we need to learn from our history. In fact, I raise the question, how many Canadians know about this history which they need to learn? We as a society do not tolerate discrimination. According to the Human Rights Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic group, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.
Canada has always been a leader on the international stage in terms of promotion and protection of human rights. Indeed, a Canadian, John Humphrey, was one of the architects of the universal declaration of human rights, often referred to as the “Magna Carta of Humankind”. The declaration includes the right of social security and to the realization of social and economic rights indispensable for a person's dignity and the free development of his or her personality.
The international covenant on civil and political rights, which Canada ratified in 1976, is the most comprehensive international document in the area of social and economic rights. Article 9 guarantees the right to social security and social insurance. Article 12 guarantees the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Article 13 guarantees the right to education. Article 11 enshrines the right to an adequate standard of living as set out in Article 25 of the universal declaration. Article 2 of the covenant binds state parties to guarantee all rights without discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Many Canadians naturally assume that the same vigilance has been taken domestically to safeguard social and economic rights which we are talking about this evening. At first blush, that would appear to be the case. Human rights are both entrenched in the Constitution and protected in provincial and territorial human rights acts across the country.
However, upon closer examination, an argument can be made that Canada has fallen short of its international obligations by failing to fully implement its international commitments to promote and protect social and economic rights. Concerns have even been expressed at the international level in this regard.
In talking about social condition, we are talking about the poor and impoverished of a country. Welfare recipients are becoming poorer than ever.
This is not helped by the fact that despite increased contributions by the federal government through the national child benefit, most provincial and territorial contributions to welfare incomes for families with children have eroded significantly. As well, people on welfare who are considered employable have endured years of cuts and freezes to their welfare incomes and have been forced to subsist, in some cases, on income as low as one-fifth of the poverty line in 2002. Similarly, the value of the welfare incomes of people with disabilities continued to decline.
As in previous years, Canada's low performance with respect to poverty is highlighted by the most recent United Nations human development report of 2002 which contrasted Canada's third place ranking in terms of human development with its 12th place ranking with respect to poverty. The report ranks 173 countries with respect to human development by means of a composite yardstick that measures the average achievements in a country on the basis of life expectancy, education and standard of living. While the human development index ranked Canada third in terms of achievements in the basic dimensions of human development, the human poverty index put Canada in 12th place when assessing deprivation in the same three dimensions of human development captured in the human development index.
Despite the increasing level of poverty in this country, the courts have been reluctant to recognize social and economic rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most see this area as better suited to the institutional competence of the legislative, as opposed to the judicial, branch of government. In view of the interconnection between poverty and other forms of disadvantage recognized by human rights legislation, considerable attention has therefore been given to human rights legislation as a source for ensuring the promotion and protection of social and economic rights in this country.
It has been argued, for example, that without legislation protecting against discrimination on the basis of poverty, the true experience of people who are the most disadvantaged in society will never be completely addressed. That is why we are here this evening talking about social condition as a necessary point to be considered.
Because we are talking about human rights, I would like to make a couple of comments about the Canadian museum for human rights project that was announced for the province of Manitoba this past spring. This project presents an important opportunity for Canada to acknowledge and educate about human rights struggles in this country and the world, and to present our country's commitment to respect and understanding.
The national project came about because of the work put forth by Mr. Izzy Asper and the Asper Foundation of Winnipeg. Mr. Asper is currently expanding the project's base of support so that it is inclusive to every community in Canada. I know that he has the support of both the Chinese and the Ukrainian communities.
The human rights museum will be located at The Forks in Winnipeg and will house displays and programs focused on the understanding and the advancement of human rights, including the struggles faced by Canada's aboriginal people. The Forks enjoys a 6,000 year history that celebrates and embraces diversity. The 56 acre site attracts more than five million visitors annually. It is the ideal location to establish the Canadian museum for human rights, to promote respect and understanding.
We do not choose where we are born or into which family. Studies have shown that there is an increasing gap between rich and poor. We have all heard the saying “born on the wrong side of the tracks”. One principal Canadian value is that of equality. We cannot have equality unless we get rid of discrimination. People are discriminated on social status in this country.
I applaud the member for Sherbrooke for tabling this motion.