Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to add a few words of wisdom, I hope, to this important debate.
The member proposed that we should add in the Canadian Human Rights Act the phrase “social condition” as being one of the categories that cannot be used as a basis of discrimination.
I always wonder about this whole concept of having a list of groups that are to be included or not included. For example, under the Canadian Human Rights Act the grounds for discrimination already include race. I do not think anybody in the country in the year 2003 would disagree with that. We should not discriminate against people because of the colour of their skin when it comes to having them apply for rental accommodation, a job or whatever it is.
The same thing applies to national or ethnic origin. I do not think we have a problem with that. Colour, I presume, is the colour of a person's skin. That is related to their race. They are closely tied together. I would simply say that nowadays this is almost self-evident. I do not even think it needs to be codified, if the truth be known. If a person has the tendency to discriminate, the law will not change it. I think we can do a lot better by using a process of persuasion.
Actually I have an example of that. When I was a youngster growing up we happened to live close to the armed forces base in one of the little towns in Saskatchewan called Swift Current. There were a lot of air force people there. In those days we had the separation of the armed forces.
Here we were, German-speaking immigrants during the second world war, going to school with people whose moms and dads had recently been fighting the war in Germany against the Nazis. There could have been a law at that time that said that one could not discriminate against people because of their race. I do not know if it would have made any difference. Some of those kids in school did not like us because their dads were out there fighting us. Somehow they equated us to that but we overcame it.
When my brother and I were in school we made it a point to get along with everybody, and we did, as did our parents in our community. In fact, my dad was a leader in many instances in helping people who were in need of help and established a reputation that totally neutralized the discrimination which may have existed against us. I think that is the way to do it. It is not by passing laws.
I remember a little phrase I heard a long time ago which ties in with this. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. Therefore we cannot, just by passing a law, change a person's mind but we can change a person's mind through reasoning and by doing the right things.
The act goes on to say that we cannot discriminate against people because of their religion. Now we are getting into areas where I think we have a potential problem because occasionally different religions conflict. If we cannot discriminate against people because of their religion, with which I basically agree, when a person comes looking for a job and if in fact the religious faith has nothing to do with the job, then that is not a basis of the choice of whether or not we hire that person.
However what about people who own a book store that promotes their religion? Could people of a different faith enter the store and demand that their books be put on the shelves alongside the others? Does the owner of the store have the right to say, no, that he or she will not sell those books, or does that person not have those rights?
I think we need to be very careful here. If we try to make everybody into one huge homogenous group we may actually undo something for which Canada is noted, which is that although we have differences we respect them and we get along really well with them. However let us not codify into law a whole bunch of restrictions.
We cannot discriminate against a person with respect to age. I will give an example that is really quite absurd. If I showed up at the local racetrack and said I wanted to become a jockey, the people there would have every right to say that they did not think that I had the right body shape, size or weight, that I would break the backs of their horses, and that I was too old. I think they would have had the right to say that. I could not have said that they had to hire me because otherwise I was going to take them to the Canadian Human Rights Commission because they were discriminating against me because of my age.
In recent years we have added to this list the undefined term “sexual orientation”. We need to be really cautious about the application of that one. How about marital status? We cannot discriminate against people because of their marital status, family status, disability and--here is an interesting one--a conviction for which a pardon has been granted. I think we probably agree with those different things.
The proposal before us is to add to that another undefined term “social condition”. I have such a terrible problem with that. I have some of the same concerns as the parliamentary secretary. We could end up having people deem protection from this act when that was not the intention at all. There are different places in which there are differences on how we treat people based on things that are already here.
I think, for example, when I drove into a national park--and I have not had an opportunity to drive into a national park for a number of years now--it used to be that people who were seniors got in free. People who are not seniors should take that to the Canadian Human Rights Commission and ask why they, because they are younger, should pay more than that rich cat up there who is 75 and going in with his 40 foot motor home? It is a place where we differentiate between people based on age, which is not right, but do we want to really make a big scene about this in the Human Rights Act?
We have this undefined term “social condition”, which can frankly mean just about anything. I can even tie it back to ethnic origin. I am thinking right now of a person in my riding who is an aboriginal. This guy went to work. I will not identify him obviously, but man did he do well in business. He is a rich cat in my community and he is doing very well. Would he need to have protection which other visible minorities need? How do we balance these things off?
Frankly, the government should be out of this entirely. I really believe that. In our society and with our enlightened views these days, we can get along with each other with our diversity very well without being threatened by going to human rights commissions that have all of these strengths and powers to impose fines and other penalties because we have not met some arbitrary and undefined definition in our behaviour toward or with people.
We must also consider in this whole issue the long term effect. When we were debating the issue of including sexual orientation--I used the phrase then and I will use it again now--the list is not complete until everyone is on it. I think that really is it.
We ought to treat people fairly, honestly, and treat them for the humans that they are. Let us not look at and magnify the differences. Let us not classify people into this group and that group because that will lead to increasing problems rather than to a more cooperative and a happy society.