This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.

Topics

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition today from citizens concerned about the disappearance of 1.5 million sockeye from the Fraser River last summer. They are concerned that the ongoing inquiry which the government has commissioned is unable to get to the bottom of the problem.

The fisheries committee was on the west coast and conducted its hearings. The new committee the government has formed will not be able to get to the root of the problem because it cannot subpoena witnesses and will not take testimony under oath, which the petitioners would like to see.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to present two petitions on behalf of the Canada Family Action Coalition.

The petitioners request that Parliament use all possible legislative and administrative measures, including invoking section 33 of the charter if necessary, to preserve and protect the current definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

The second petition reads the same way, that Parliament use all possible legislative and administrative measures, including invoking section 33 of the charter if necessary, to preserve and protect the current definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I would like to present a petition today from people concerned about the plans to begin taxation of post-secondary funding for first nations people. We know how difficult it is for so many first nations students to get post-secondary education. The petitioners are very concerned about the efforts to tax them.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present two petitions in the House today.

The first one is signed by residents of Downtown Eastside in Vancouver who are very concerned about the rise of homelessness in the city of Vancouver. They call for a major investment in delivering social housing to meet the needs of the city of Vancouver and to reinvest in CMHC's surplus funds into social housing.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the second petition the petitioners call on Russia and the U.S.A. to end their launch on warning posture and to take all their strategic nuclear armed missiles off hair trigger alert status. The petitioners calls on Parliament to take action to make sure that happens.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

February 16th, 2005 / 3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present to the House of Commons this afternoon.

The first is from residents in my riding of Prince George—Peace River, specifically from the city of Fort St. John and the surrounding areas, including Charlie Lake, a small community outside Fort St. John.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to recognize that child pornography is condemned by the clear majority of Canadians, that Liberal Bill C-20 does not adequately protect our nation's children, and that the Liberal government has not prevented artistic merit from being used as a defence for the production and possession of child pornography. Therefore, the petitioners call upon Parliament to protect our children by taking all necessary steps to ensure that all materials that promote or glorify child pornography are outlawed.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is concerning, as so many are, the very historic debate that is about to get under way concerning the redefinition of marriage. The petitioners are from Fort St. John, Charlie Lake and Chetwynd, communities in my riding.

The petitioners wish to note that marriage is the best foundation for families and for the raising of children. The House passed a motion in June 1999 that called for marriage to continue to be recognized as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Marriage is the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament. Therefore, the petitioners call upon Parliament to pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being a lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a petition from Langley residents. The petitioners state that the majority of Canadians support the current definition of marriage and they are calling on Parliament to provide legislation to preserve and protect the current definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a second petition from the Langley-Surrey area. The petitioners are asking Parliament to include autism as a required treatment and to create academic chairs at universities in each province to provide training for autism.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition from a large number of women in my riding.

The petitioners point to promises which were made 15 years ago following the tragic events at École Polytechnique in Montreal. They point out that more must be done to end violence against women. For example, women among many others should have a place they call home, affordable housing. They should have a chance to learn, a full opportunity throughout their lives to education. They should have a chance to care for their children. Things such as a living wage for women; safety for women with disabilities; a safe place to work, free from harassment, abuse and violence need to be considered. Women should feel safe in Canada. Policy reforms are needed to protect domestic workers; to abolish the head tax; and to include gender and sexual orientation as grounds for claiming refugee status. Women around the world should feel safe.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, more than 200 people from my region, the Acadian peninsula, have signed a petition in support of the Sentier Péninsule bicycle path project. This path is part of the NB Trail and needs to be maintained for the benefit of future generations.

Therefore, these petitioners call on Parliament to provide funding to revitalize this project in the Acadian peninsula.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I have the honour of presenting a petition on behalf of the good people of the Caronport Community Church who reside in my riding of Palliser.

The petitioners wish to call to the attention of Parliament that marriage, defined as the lifelong union between one man and one woman, is the best foundation for families and the raising of children. This definition of marriage has been changed by the courts, but it is in the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament to define marriage.

These constituents petition that Parliament define marriage in federal law as being a lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to present two petitions on behalf of my constituents.

My constituents feel that it is wrong that the courts have been involved in defining marriage. They believe that is a responsibility correctly left to the elected people in the House of Commons. Further, they believe it is the responsibility of the members of this House of Commons to uphold the current definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition on behalf of my constituents, who would like to draw to the attention of the House that the majority of Canadians believe that the laws of Canada should be determined by Parliament, not by our courts.

The petitioners state that it is the duty of Parliament to ensure that marriage is defined in the manner in which Canadians wish. Therefore, they call upon Parliament to use all possible legislative and administrative measures, including the invocation of the notwithstanding clause, section 33 of the charter, to preserve and protect the current definition of marriage as being the legal union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motion for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers be allowed to stand.

Motion for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Motion for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin Liberalfor the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-38, the civil marriage act. I rise in support of a Canada in which liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law.

This is an important day. The attention of our nation is focused on this chamber in which John Diefenbaker introduced the Bill of Rights, and in which Pierre Trudeau fought to establish the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Our deliberations will not be merely about a piece of legislation or sections of legal text. More deeply they will be about the kind of nation we are today and the nation we want to be.

This bill protects minority rights. This bill affirms the charter guarantee of religious freedom. It is that straightforward and it is that important.

That is why I stand before members here today and before the people of our country to say that I believe in and I will fight for the Charter of Rights. I believe in and I will fight for a Canada that respects the foresight and the vision of those who created and entrenched the charter. I believe in and I will fight for a future in which generations of Canadians to come, Canadians born here and abroad, have the opportunity to value the charter as we do today, as an essential pillar of our democratic freedom.

There have been a number of arguments put forward by those who do not support this bill. It is important and it is respectful to examine them and to assess them. Let me do so now.

First, some have claimed that, once this bill becomes law, religious freedoms will be less than fully protected. This is demonstrably untrue. As it pertains to marriage, the government’s legislation affirms the charter guarantee: that religious officials are free to perform such ceremonies in accordance with the beliefs of their faith.

In this, we are guided by the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, which makes clear that in no church, no synagogue, no mosque, no temple—in no religious house will those who disagree with same sex unions be compelled to perform them. Period. That is why this legislation is about civil marriage, not religious marriage.

Moreover, and this is crucially important, the Supreme Court has declared unanimously:

--the guarantee of religious freedom in section 2(a) of the Charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same-sex marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

The facts are plain. Religious leaders who preside over marriage ceremonies must and will be guided by what they believe. If they do not wish to celebrate marriages for same sex couples, that is their right. The Supreme Court says so and the charter says so.

One final observation on this aspect of the issue: Religious leaders have strong views both for and against this legislation. They should express them. Certainly, many of us in this House, myself included, have a strong faith, and we value that faith and its influence on the decisions we make.

But all of us have been elected to serve here as parliamentarians. And, as public legislators, we are responsible for serving all Canadians and protecting the rights of all Canadians.

We will be influenced by our faith but we also have an obligation to take the widest perspective—to recognize that one of the great strengths of Canada is its respect for the rights of each and every individual, to understand that we must not shrink from the need to reaffirm the rights and responsibilities of Canadians in an evolving society.

The second argument ventured by opponents of the bill is that government ought to hold a national referendum on this issue. I reject this, not out of a disregard for the view of the people, but because it offends the very purpose of the charter.

The charter was enshrined to ensure that the rights of minorities are not subjected--are never subjected--to the will of the majority. The rights of Canadians who belong to a minority group must always be protected by virtue of their status as citizens, regardless of their numbers, and these rights must never be left vulnerable to the impulses of the majority.

We embrace freedom and equality in theory. We must also embrace them in fact.

Third, some have counseled the government to extend to gays and lesbians the right to “civil union”. This would give same sex couples many of the rights of a wedded couple, but their relationships would not legally be considered marriage. In other words, they would be equal, but not quite as equal as the rest of Canadians.

The courts have clearly and consistently ruled that this option would offend the equality provisions of the charter. For instance, the British Columbia Court of Appeal stated that, “Marriage is the only road to true equality for same sex couples. Any other form of recognition of same sex relationships... falls short of true equality”.

Put simply, we must always remember that “separate but equal” is not equal. What is more, those who call for the establishment of civil unions fail to understand that the Government of Canada does not have the constitutional jurisdiction to do so. Only the provinces have that. Only the provinces could define such a regime, and they could define it in 10 different ways, and some jurisdictions might not bother to define it at all. There would be uncertainty. There would be confusion. There would certainly not be equality.

Fourth, some are urging the government to respond to the decisions of the courts by getting out of the marriage business altogether. That would mean no more civil weddings for any couples.

It is worth noting that this idea was rejected by the major religions themselves when their representatives appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2003. Moreover, it would seem to be an extreme and counterproductive response for the government to deny civil marriage to opposite sex couples simply so that it can keep it from same sex couples. To do so would simply be to replace one form of discrimination with another.

Finally, there are some who oppose this legislation who would have the government use the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights to override the courts and reinstate the traditional definition of marriage. And really, this is the fundamental issue here.

Understand that in seven provinces and one territory, the lawful union of two people of the same sex in civil marriage is already the law of the land. The debate here today is not about whether to change the definition of marriage—it has been changed. The debate comes down to whether we should override a right that is now in place. The debate comes down to the charter, the protection of minority rights, and whether the federal government should invoke the notwithstanding clause.

I know that some think we should use the clause. For example, some religious leaders feel this way. I respect their candour in publicly recognizing that because same sex marriage is already legal in most of the country, the only way—the only way—to again make civil marriage the exclusive domain of opposite sex couples is to use the notwithstanding clause.

Ultimately, there is only one issue before the House in this debate. For most Canadians, in most parts of our country, same sex marriage is already the law of the land. Thus, the issue is not whether rights are to be granted. The issue is whether rights that have been granted are to be taken away.

Some are frank and straightforward and say yes. Others have not been so candid. Despite being confused--

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

An hon. member

Who's confused?

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

You are.

Despite being confronted with clear facts, despite being confronted with the unanimous opinion of 134 legal scholars, experts in their field, intimately familiar with the Constitution, some have chosen to not be forthright with Canadians. They have eschewed the honest approach in favour of the political approach. They have attempted to cajole the public into believing that we can return to the past with a simple snap of the fingers, that we can revert to the traditional definition of marriage without consequence and without overriding the charter. They are insincere. They are disingenuous. And they are wrong.

There is one question that demands an answer, a straight answer, from those who would seek to lead this nation and its people. It is a simple question. Will the notwithstanding clause be used to overturn the definition of civil marriage and deny Canadians a right that is guaranteed under the charter?

This question does not demand rhetoric. It demands clarity. There are only two legitimate answers: yes or no. Not the demagoguery we have heard, not the dodging, not the flawed reasoning, not the false options, but simply yes or no. Will we take away a right that is guaranteed under the charter? I, for one, will answer that question and I will answer it clearly. I will say no.

The notwithstanding clause is part of the Charter of Rights. But there is a reason that no prime minister has ever used it. For a prime minister to use the powers of his office to explicitly deny rather than affirm a right enshrined under the charter would serve as a signal to all minorities that no longer can they look to the nation’s leader and to the nation’s Constitution for protection, for security, for the guarantee of their freedoms.

We would risk becoming a country in which the defence of rights is weighed, calculated and debated based on electoral or other considerations. That would set us back decades as a nation. It would be wrong for the minorities of this country. It would be wrong for Canada.

The charter is the living document. It is the heartbeat of our Constitution.

It is also a proclamation. It declares that as Canadians we live under a progressive and inclusive set of fundamental beliefs about the value of the individual. It declares that we are all lessened when any one of us is denied a fundamental right.

We cannot exalt the charter as a fundamental aspect of our national character and then use the notwithstanding clause to reject the protections that it would extend. Our rights must be eternal, not subject to political whim.

For those who value the charter yet oppose the protection of rights for same sex couples, I ask them: if the Prime Minister and a national government are willing to take away the rights of one group, what is there to say that they will stop at that? If the charter is not there today to protect the rights of one minority, then how can we as a nation of minorities ever hope, ever believe and ever trust that it will be there to protect us tomorrow?

My responsibility as Prime Minister, my duty to Canada and to Canadians, is to defend the charter in its entirety, not to pick and choose the rights that our laws will protect and those that are to be ignored, not to declare those who shall be equal and those who shall not be equal. My duty is to protect the charter as some in this House will not.

Let us never forget that one of the reasons Canada is such a vibrant nation, so diverse, so rich in the many cultures and races of the world, is that immigrants who come here, as was the case with the ancestors of many of us in this chamber, feel free and are free to practice their religion, to follow their faith and to live as they want to live. No homogeneous system of beliefs is imposed on them.

When we as a nation protect minority rights, we are protecting our multicultural nature. We are reinforcing the Canada we cherish. We are saying proudly and unflinchingly that defending rights, not just those that happen to apply to us, not just those that everyone else approves of, but all fundamental rights, is at the very soul of what it means to be a Canadian. This is a vital aspect of the values we hold dear and strive to pass on to others in the world who are embattled, who endure tyranny, whose freedoms are curtailed and whose rights are violated.

Why is the charter so important? We have only to look at our own history. Unfortunately, Canada's story is one in which not everyone's rights were protected under the law. We have not been free from discrimination. We have not been free from bias or unfairness. There have been blatant inequalities. Remember that it was once thought perfectly acceptable to deny women personhood and the right to vote. There was a time not so long ago when if one wore a turban one could not serve in the RCMP. The examples are many, but what is important now is that they are part of our past, not our present.

Over time, perspectives changed. We evolved and we grew and our laws evolved and grew with us. That is as it should be. Our laws must reflect equality, not as we understood it a century or even a decade ago, but as we understand it today.

For gays and lesbians, evolving social attitudes have, over the years, prompted a number of important changes in the law. Recall that, until the late 1960s, the state believed it had the right to peek into our bedrooms. Until 1977, homosexuality was still sufficient grounds for deportation. Until 1992, gay people were prohibited from serving in the military. In many parts of the country, gays and lesbians could not designate their partners as beneficiaries under employee medical and dental benefits, insurance policies or private pensions. Until very recently, people were being fired merely for being gay.

Today, we rightly see discrimination based on sexual orientation as arbitrary, inappropriate and unfair. Looking back, we can hardly believe that such rights were ever a matter for debate. It is my hope that we will ultimately see the current debate in a similar light; realizing that nothing has been lost or sacrificed by the majority in extending full rights to the minority

Without our relentless, inviolable commitment to equality and minority rights, Canada would not be at the forefront in accepting newcomers from all over the world, in making a virtue of our multicultural nature—the complexity of ethnicities and beliefs that make up Canada, that make us proud that we are where our world is going, not where it’s been.

Four years ago I stood in the House and voted to support the traditional definition of marriage. Many of us did. My misgivings about extending the right of civil marriage to same sex couples were a function of my faith and my perspective on the world around us, but much has changed since that day.

We have heard from courts across the country, including the Supreme Court. We have come to the realization that instituting civil unions, adopting a separate but equal approach would violate the equality provisions of the charter. We have confirmed that extending the right of civil marriage to gays and lesbians will not in any way infringe on religious freedoms.

Where does that leave us? I believe it leaves us staring in the face of the Charter of Rights with but a single decision to make. Do we abide by the Charter of Rights and protect minority rights or do we not?

I urge those who would oppose the bill to consider that the core of the issue before us today is whether the rights of all Canadians are to be respected. I believe they must be: justice demands it, fairness demands it and the Canada we love demands it.

In the 1960s, the government of Lester Pearson faced opposition as it moved to entrench official bilingualism. But it persevered, and it won the day. Its members believed it was the right thing to do, and it was. In the 1980s, the government of Pierre Trudeau faced opposition as it attempted to repatriate the Constitution and enshrine a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But it persevered, and it won the day. Its members believed it was the right thing to do, and it was.

There are times when we as parliamentarians can feel the gaze of history upon us. They felt in the days of Pearson and they felt in the days of Trudeau. We, the 308 men and women elected to represent one of the most inclusive, just and respectful countries on the face of this earth, feel it today.

There are few nations whose citizens cannot look to Canada and see their own reflection. For generations, men, women and families from the four corners of the globe have made the decision to choose Canada as their home. Many have come here seeking freedom of thought, religion and belief, seeking the freedom simply to be.

The people of Canada have worked hard to build a country that opens its doors to include all, regardless of their differences; a country that respects all, regardless of their differences; and a country that demands equality for all, regardless of their differences.

If we do not step forward, then we will step back. If we do not protect a right, then we deny it. Together as a nation, together as Canadians, let us step forward.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

The Speaker

Order. It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, Health; the hon. member for Vancouver Island North, Sable Island; the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, Agriculture.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, before I turn to my formal remarks I would like to begin with just a brief reply to the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister spoke at length, as we just heard, about rights in the Charter of Rights. I remind the Prime Minister that in our system of government, the Prime Minister does not decide or define our rights. The Prime Minister does not interpret the Charter of Rights. The Supreme Court of Canada does that. He asked the Supreme Court of Canada to endorse his interpretation and it just refused.

I also want to express today my disappointment in a sense that we are having such a debate. As we all remember, the expectations for the Prime Minister during the leadership race were very high. I will refer to that leadership race in a few moments.

What do we have today? We have no agreement on child care. We have a phantom deal on infrastructure. We have missing policy reviews on defence and foreign affairs. We have none of that famous fixed for a generation in health care. We have holes in federal agencies, the same old democratic deficit in the Senate, unaccountable foundations and, on the first day of a major environmental and economic accord to which the Prime Minister committed this country, we have no plan whatsoever and the Prime Minister does not speak about it. His only speech is on his new-found passion for same sex marriage because it is the only proposal of significance he has been able to lay before the House of Commons.

The greater tragedy is the greater message in his speech, that if we do not accept his particular views on this legislation, then we are not truly Canadian. That is something that this party will never accept.

In the course of the debate I will be very critical of the government for many of its statements and actions in its attempts to abolish the traditional definition of marriage in Canada.

However I want to take this opportunity to thank the government, or maybe, ironically, I should be thanking the Supreme Court of Canada for at least one thing. At long last the question of marriage has been returned to where it should have been from the beginning: in the Parliament of Canada.