House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.


The House resumed from April 28 consideration of the motion.

Social ConditionPrivate Members' Business

September 25th, 2003 / 6:20 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, first I would like to congratulate the member for Sherbrooke, the most social democratic of the accountants I know, who was sensitive enough to look into the issue of social condition. Of course, when one looks into this issue, one looks into the fight against poverty, because, ultimately, it is a tool. This tool will not necessarily increase people's income. This is not what we are talking about.

To clarify, allow me to remind the House that the purpose of the motion introduced by the member for Sherbrooke is to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, not the charter. Some people may confuse the charter and the act. We know that we cannot amend the charter without using the 7-50 amending formula. But the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed in 1977 and very few changes have been made to it since. This legislation affects all citizens who receive services from the federal government and all people who work in federal jurisdictions. This means postal workers, communication workers, the military, aboriginals. Thousands of people are affected by this legislation.

I must admit that I have one cause of disappointment. The legislation passed in 1977 by the Liberal government has barely been modernized since. The ground of sexual orientation was added in 1995, and employment equity provisions designed to eliminate discrimination in employment were also included. Naturally, the Canadian Alliance did not support that, and made it an issue. In 1998, the then Minister of Justice who is now the Minister of Health mandated a panel headed by former Supreme Court Justice La Forest, which presented its report in 2000.

The Canadian Human Rights Act is one real tool available to us, as parliamentarians, to combat poverty and discrimination. It provides for the convening of a tribunal and for conciliation. As it happens, this is the legislation Bell Canada operators used to win their case and also the one that was used to force the CN-CP in those days to take corrective action concerning their female workers. So, let us not think that this is not a major piece of legislation.

Several members of the Bloc Quebecois, including myself and the hon. members for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier and Sherbrooke, asked repeatedly that the government refer it to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, to give us a chance to modernize a law that has become outdated, is behind the times and whose administrative structures are no longer relevant.

Naturally, its philosophy, fundamental objectives and grounds for discrimination remain as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. But we can no longer view the fight against discrimination the same way we did 30 years ago.

The hon. member for Sherbrooke is proposing that we include a 12th prohibited ground for discrimination: social condition. He does so knowing full well that eight provinces out of ten have included either social condition or similar grounds. Sometimes it is the financial situation, or the status as income security recipient.

In total, with respect to similar grounds and social condition, eight provinces out of ten offer their inhabitants this option under certain circumstances. In this case, we are talking about people who are receiving services from the federal government or being discriminated against by those managing federal institutions. The recourse is very specific and relevant.

We do not live in a society where equality has been achieved or poverty has been eliminated. That is not what we are talking about. In preparing my remarks for this evening, I reread a document which you have most likely read, Madam Speaker, because I know how much you hunger for information. It is a document sent to us by the Minister of Human Resources Development, who is not, you know, the most dynamic minister in the cabinet.

Nevertheless, her department has tested a new indicator of poverty, the market basket measure. That means how much people pay for the three basic needs, which are shelter, food and clothing. In a big city like Montreal, if an individual living alone does not have a little more than $21,000, there is a risk that these basic needs are not being met. And you can imagine that not everyone you meet is in this situation.

Social condition has been defined for a number of years. The first decision goes back to 1994, so there is some legal precedent. Nonetheless, I have often heard people say, “We cannot add social condition to the Canadian Human Rights Act, because that would prevent the government from having targeted policies, especially with respect to certain groups”.

But nothing could be farther from the truth. Let us look at the way it has been defined in precedent and how courts, particularly human rights tribunals, have defined social condition. The definition I am going to read has been used in judgments since 1994. It says:

A persons' standing in society is often determined by his or her occupation, income or education level, or family background. It also has a subjective component, associated with the perceptions—

The perception people have of an individual based on his education, origin, occupation and income.

—and representation which, in these communities, is connected with various objective data.

Social condition, legally speaking, was centred on a certain number of important characteristics in a community, namely income, origin, education and occupation. That is why the first protesters, those who challenged this before courts of law or human rights tribunals, were, naturally, single mothers who had difficulty finding housing. There are landlords who do not want to rent to women with children and who are not in the workforce.

By the way, Quebec was the first province in Canada—I say province knowing that one day it will be a country, as you know Madam Speaker—to include social condition in its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. That was in 1977. Income security claimants benefited from this and could fight the discrimination that certain landlords were guilty of.

Students also filed claims. This was somewhat less successful.

What would it mean if this Parliament adopted the sensible and sensitive motion of the no less sensible and sensitive member for Sherbrooke? I can give examples of what this would mean to Canadians and Quebeckers.

In terms of the employment insurance policy, it is obvious that if social condition were included in the Canadian Human Rights Act, various provisions of the Employment Insurance Act could be challenged, as the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst demonstrated when he said that entire groups of workers were not eligible under the criteria. Just think of the 910 hours and individuals filing an initial application for benefits. This is an extremely ineffective policy.

The same is true of the Bank Act. It is quite clear that large segments of our communities are unable, not only to open a bank account, but to obtain micro-credit for the basic necessities. This is discrimination based on social condition.

The same is true of the poverty in which aboriginal people live. It is clear that they are not benefiting from the same level of development as the rest of the country. For 30 or 40 years, since the Laurendeau-Dunton commission at least, annual statistics remind us that the first nations, which founded Quebec and, of course, Canada, are deprived of the development they deserve. So, this is not an academic measure.

I hope that this House will vote in favour of the motion by the hon. member for Sherbrooke, whom I congratulate for his excellent work.

Social ConditionPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario


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

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Sherbrooke for sharing with the House his thinking behind the motion he has brought before us.

I wish to share with the House some of our own thoughts on all the subsidiary issues that underlie the broad question of including social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination. I am able to do so at this time because the Department of Justice is already in the process of comprehensively reviewing this matter to ensure a responsible and considered response can be made.

The importance of ensuring that Canada continues to have an effective and responsive human rights system cannot be overstated. The government's commitment to this goal will not be undermined by hasty or shortsighted amendments, the effect of which could be to overburden the commission or to run counter to the human rights progress we have worked so hard to achieve.

Social condition without the proper constraints or study could have that effect on our human rights scheme. One thing the hon. member has intimated is that the purpose of the motion before the House is related to protecting from discrimination only those individuals of a lower or disadvantaged socio-economic status. Yet, the meaning of the term “social condition” is by no means that apparent. It implies no obvious limitations or constraints. Its definition is completely open to a variety of wide-ranging and potentially problematic interpretations.

If social condition is added in this ad hoc way, as is being suggested in the motion, a number of unintended and unforeseen consequences could ensue. I have identified three specific potential drawbacks of including social condition in this way and I would like to share them with the House.

These would be first, to possibly result in a counterproductive application of the Canadian Human Rights Act to benefit already advantaged groups that do not require our protection; second, to perhaps be so broad and malleable as to overwhelm the system; and third, to potentially be so over-restrictive as to preclude protection for the very people it was meant to protect.

Turning to the first potential situation that social condition protection could be misused or abused by already advantaged groups, the experience of Quebec is most enlightening. As the hon. member would know the Quebec charter has, since its inception in 1975, included condition sociale as a prohibited ground of discrimination. However the item was never debated or questioned on the merits at the time of its adoption.

Thus, it was left to the courts to interpret social condition. This resulted in some surprising outcomes for individuals bringing their complaints of discrimination on the ground of social condition until the Quebec Human Rights Commission intervened with guidelines in 1994.

Prior to the guidelines, social condition was interpreted by the judges to include, among other things, being a judge. A doctor's level of income and a for profit hospital were even found to come under the umbrella of social condition. In contrast, characteristics such as being in receipt of social assistance, being a full time student, being pregnant, having a psychiatric record and a history of alcoholism and unemployment due to a strike were not found to be social conditions.

Is this the result the House wishes to support in the motion? I would think not. Yet if the Canadian Human Rights Act is amended in the ill-defined and unconstrained way proposed by the motion, similarly counterproductive interpretations of the Canadian Human Rights Act could result.

For example, the addition of social condition without appropriate limits on its interpretation and application could conceivably be used to challenge our progressive tax system because there exists a higher marginal tax rate for high income earners. Our system of taxation is designed to recognize that lower income earners cannot and should not bear the same burdens on the means of their survival as those with a much larger income.

Should the addition of social condition in the name of human rights and equality reverse this? Should social condition mean that everyone receives social assistance as an income supplement whether it is needed or not?

The Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian commitment to combating discrimination seek to protect vulnerable and disadvantaged groups from discrimination, not to reward or profit individuals because they belong to already advantaged groups.

The second potential consequence of including social condition without definition or appropriate constraints is that social condition could be interpreted so broadly as to overwhelm the human rights system and leave open to possible challenge a host of valued social programs meant to assist the very lower status socio-economic groups for whom the protection is surely intended.

Considered broadly, what is a social condition? Could not the status of being discriminated against be a social condition itself? Why then would we need grounds such as family status, marital status, disability, sex, race or any other in the act? It could also conceivably cover any other social status, including being a prisoner, having a criminal record, being unemployed. The list is almost endless.

It may be that we as the people of Canada decide that we wish to broaden the scope of the Canadian Human Rights Act or to explore other approaches to discrimination protection. In any event, decisions as important as these must always be made in a considered and informed manner, which is clearly not envisioned in this motion.

The Canadian human rights system does not possess unlimited resources and the potential increase in cases that could be brought with the addition of social condition, left undefined in this manner, could have a serious impact on the administration and enforcement of our Human Rights Act as a whole.

Interpreted broadly enough, challenges could be brought against any of our social programs that make income distinctions, even if these distinctions are made for the benefit rather than the detriment of lower income individuals. Social legislation by its very nature often makes distinctions on the basis of income and employment.

The complete loss of government control over choosing where public resources should be allocated in the public interest is an unacceptable result for a democratic society.

The third possible consequence of adding social condition in an undefined fashion is at the other end of the scale: an interpretation that could be so narrow that the potential benefit of its inclusion would be lost.

Consistently, social condition is often raised in the context of poverty and a ground through which poor people can be protected from stereotypes and discrimination. However is this, or should this be, the only factor in considering an individual's social condition? If so, why not simply include a ground of discrimination such as being in receipt of social assistance or source of income? A number of the provinces have done so, but is this sufficient in the federal sector?

Does this mean we want to exclude protection for the working poor who do not receive public assistance, or for the unemployed? Should not then employment status or nature of one's employment also be a factor? And what about part time, seasonal, temporary, contract and other non-standard workers who might well face barriers those who are employed full time do not?

These examples all raise the question of whether the source or level of income is enough or whether a broader notion of social condition may be necessary.

The Department of Justice has already begun a concerted study on the issue of social condition as part of its larger review of the Canadian Human Rights Act as a whole. As members can see, our thinking is already quite advanced in this area.

It is clear that choices need to be made as to the scope, operation and definition of a ground such as social condition. However, these choices must always keep in mind the overarching objective of the act as a refuge of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised, one that is accessible, responsive and efficient. Only clear directions in the law can satisfy this objective.

As a House, we should not support the motion as it stands. To do so in this case would be to abdicate our responsibilities as law makers at the expense of the very people the hon. member surely seeks to protect.

Social ConditionPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

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.

Social ConditionPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

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.

Social ConditionPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure and privilege to speak to private member's Motion No. 392 put forward by the member for Sherbrooke, which states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should add “social condition” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

This would be in addition to the already prohibited grounds of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.

I have to say that this is a very exciting idea. It is an idea whose time has come and in fact is long overdue.

In 1998 the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission said:

Poverty is a serious breach of equality rights which I believe has no place in a country as prosperous as ours. Human rights are indivisible. Economic and social rights cannot be separated from political, legal or equality rights. It is now time to recognize poverty as a human rights issue here at home as well.

She said this in an annual report to Parliament in 1998. That is quite a while ago.

We all know that poverty is one of the greatest barriers to equality in Canada. There is no question when we look at what is happening around us that poor people are losing their rights. Discrimination is growing. We are witnessing a growing homelessness that is now of crisis proportions in Canada. There is an increasing environment of poor-bashing. We are even seeing municipal bylaws that discriminate against poor people, such as anti-panhandling bylaws.

There is a growing environment in the country of discrimination against poor people. What exactly do I mean by this? How does this really look on the ground for the people who are experiencing it? I can think of many examples. I will put out only a few of them right now in terms of my own community.

This means that a landlord denies a single mom an apartment because she is on social assistance or because her family has been on social assistance. This means that a landlord denies a person an apartment because he or she does not have a stellar credit rating or even a credit rating at all.

Many people in my riding are discriminated against every day of their lives because they are poor. Because they are poor, they cannot access housing, credit, banking services, businesses and other services, even some public services such as schools and recreation facilities.

Recently school resumed. Students went back to school across the country. A couple of students in Dartmouth were turned away from a high school because they did not have the registration fee to get into high school. The registration fee pays for lockers and agenda books and a number of other things. I am not sure what the situation was. They may have just forgotten their cheque that day; they may just not have brought the money.

Or they may not have had the money. They may not have had the money to pay this fee that would open the doors of a public institution to them so they could get an education.

It is appalling. It was appalling to people in Dartmouth to realize that young people were in fact apparently being denied access to the school because they could not pay that $25 or $50 fee or whatever the going rate was for their registration. It is things such as this that young people are coming up against.

There are so many user fees now for everything. This is another topic, really, but many children in my community cannot afford to play sports. They cannot afford fees for soccer, basketball, volleyball or hockey. Because these families cannot afford fees, they are in fact being discriminated against because of social condition. They are being excluded from services and privileges that they would benefit and grow from.

These are only a few of the hundreds of examples of discrimination that occur daily for poor people in a community, people who do not have the economic resources to participate in many things.

My colleague from Winnipeg has just found out that the last bank is leaving her community. Why? Because it is a poor community. The money is not there and the bank has decided to leave because it just simply is not making the profits that it wants from that community.

Banks discriminate against poor people all the time; they charge special fees to people who are trying to cash their social assistance cheques. There are many ways that money talks. If we do not have money, we are invisible and we are silent.

There is another very important way in which people are discriminated against because of social condition and unfortunately that is happening at the public policy level in our government.

I will go back to 1989, to a very good day in the House of Commons, when the House unanimously passed a resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, something for which all members stood and voted. It was a very noble gesture. People here felt very good about it.

The question is, what happened? In 1993 the federal government abandoned social housing, one of the key issues that determines health and poverty in this country. In 1995 we saw the loss of the Canada assistance plan, which laid out basic rights and conditions in terms of social entitlement. In 1996 we saw the era of the Canada health and social transfer that abandoned and eliminated those universal rights in Canada. For the first time we saw a massive downloading and slashing of social programs, which now has ballooned out of sight.

A debate was just held here, just before this one, on cuts to the employment insurance program. The fact is that years ago I think it was 82% of Canadians who were unemployed who were covered by unemployment insurance and that is now down to something like 42%, so of course poverty is deepening in this country. It is being egged on and has been exacerbated by our federal government. We see it with the cuts to the disability tax credit. We see it with the cuts to the Canada pension disability plan. We see it everywhere we turn and we hear about it in every call we get in our ridings.

These cuts to crucial programs, the changes to eligibility and the changes to base rates for eligibility are deepening the poverty, the inequality and the growing stresses in Canadian families and creating a climate of division, where poor people are unfairly divided into categories such as deserving or undeserving of assistance or compassion. This climate of division creates an environment where poor-bashing is tolerated and even perpetuated by the federal government with such things as means testing.

By including social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act we can end this climate of poor-bashing, but I think we can do even more. As I already mentioned, there was a landmark day and a landmark motion in this House in 1989. At that point the House unanimously said no to child poverty. Members voted in favour of a resolution introduced by Ed Broadbent, then the leader of the New Democrats, which sought, unanimously, the elimination of child poverty as an achievable goal in a wealthy society.

We should all think about that for a moment. Eliminating child poverty is an achievable goal in a wealthy society. If ending child poverty is possible, why not all poverty? What a revolutionary thought.

In closing, let me say that any revolution starts with one small action. Adding social condition to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act is a small action this House can take to start acting upon the unanimous resolution from 1989.

Social ConditionPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to thank the Bloc member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve as well as my hon. colleagues from the Progressive Conservative Party and the NDP.

The House will understand surely that I am completely floored by some of the comments made by the Liberal member and my colleagues from the Canadian Alliance. These people are basically wondering what social condition and grounds of discrimination or even discrimination could mean.

In fact, during the first hour of debate, the first Liberal member to speak on this bill had basically said the same things, showing how ignorant he was about social condition and discrimination.

I realize of course that the federal government is totally disconnected from the reality and the concerns of Canadians and Quebecers. That is why they cannot even define the terms “social condition” and “discrimination”.

It is so simple, really. One only has to visit the web site of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec to find a clear definition of the two terms which were a complete mystery to the Liberal member.

Social condition is defined as “a specific place or position in society as a result of particular facts or circumstances”. These can be income, occupation or education. For example, it can apply to socially underprivileged people including welfare recipients or the homeless.

Prohibited discrimination exists when an individual or organization uses a personal characteristic as grounds for refusing a job, housing, access to a public place or the exercise of any other right under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

I hope these definitions will enlighten my colleagues. I also remember clearly the remarks made by the Liberal member. He stated that the government had no intention of making hasty, special or piecemeal changes to any legislation, including the Canadian Human Rights Act.

I believe the member was not referring to any particular legislation or policies of the federal government. Let us look here at the employment insurance fund. To eliminate its deficit and then increase its surplus, the government did not hesitate to make drastic cuts in benefits and in the number of people eligible for EI benefits. This also creates difficult social conditions and often forces people to rely on welfare, which means that Quebec and the provinces have to bear the costs.

When the federal government refuses to make full retroactive payments of the guaranteed income supplement, that creates particular circumstances.

In Quebec, this also applies to housing. In Canada, Quebec and seven other provinces already have social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination. Obviously, it does not apply to the same sectors and the same activities. For people in general, it applies mainly to banks and telecommunications.

After introducing my motion, I got a huge number of letters confirming that those who are less well off are discriminated against. Today it is difficult to be without a bank account. Some people are denied accounts because of their social condition. They are not applying for credit, just for a service. Moreover, increasingly, banks do not want to deal directly with people. They want us to use automatic tellers. They want to see people as little as possible, and they deny access to the disadvantaged.

As for telecommunications, we know Bell is very quick to cut off people's service. And we also know that this is a service essential to the less fortunate.

In this connection, because Quebec has made social condition a prohibited ground of discrimination, Hydro-Québec has been forced to negotiate with people and thus to allow them a little dignity.

Social condition as a ground of discrimination ought, therefore, to be prohibited.

Social ConditionPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the question on the motion is deemed to have been put and the recorded division is deemed to have been demanded and deferred until Wednesday, October 1, 2003, at the end of the period provided for Government Orders.

It being 7:20 p.m.,the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:20 p.m.)