House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was religious.


Business of Supply

11 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 81(14) to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That the House call upon the government to implement the measures recommended in the latest Auditor General's report to improve the framework for the accountability of foundations, in particular, to ensure that foundations are subject to performance audits that are reported to Parliament and that the Auditor General be appointed as the external auditor of foundations.

This motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Medicine Hat, is votable. Copies of the motion are available at the Table.

It being 11:06 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Bev Oda Conservative Clarington—Scugog—Uxbridge, ON

moved that BillC-333, an act to recognize the injustices done to Chinese immigrants by head taxes and exclusion legislation, to provide for recognition of the extraordinary contribution they made to Canada, to provide for redress and to promote education on Chinese Canadian history and racial harmony, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to Bill C-333 today, the Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress Act. I thank the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette for his work on this important bill.

As early as 1788, the first Chinese to Canada were 50 carpenters and craftsmen who built a fort on Canada's west coast. Seventy years later the first Chinese gold miners arrived in British Columbia to join thousands of gold miners travelling up the Fraser River. Their arrival marks the establishment of a continuous Chinese community in Canada. In 1861 a Chinese baby was born in Victoria, the first to be born in Canada.

In 1872 the British Columbia Qualifications of Voters Act denied both the Chinese and first nations people the right to vote. This discrimination based on one's race continued to plague the Chinese in Canada for the next 75 years.

Between 1880 and 1885 thousands of Chinese were employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway to construct the iron bridge that brought this country together. In total, 15,700 Chinese were recruited to work on this endeavour, one that played a large part in bringing British Columbia into Canadian Confederation.

Once that feat was completed in 1885, the federal government introduced an act to collect a head tax of $50 per person to restrict the entry of Chinese immigrants to Canada. After 1902 the head tax was raised to $100 and then in 1903 raised again to $500. Despite this burden, more and more Chinese made Canada their home.

By 1919, 6,000 Chinese, over 210 families, were living in Vancouver. In Toronto, 2,100 Chinese were making a way of life in Canada. Across Canada almost 37,000 Chinese were part of our communities and towns.

Even after a dozen Chinese served in the Canadian army in the first world war, in 1923 the Chinese Immigration Act was introduced. This exclusion act prohibited Chinese immigrants from entering Canada with few exceptions. This meant that wives and children were not able to join their husbands and families and all Chinese, even those born in Canada, had to register with the government.

Despite this blatant racial discrimination, they continued to make a life here in our country. Their efforts included some 500 Chinese Canadians fighting in our armed forces during World War II. The Chinese Canadian community was also diligent in raising money for our war effort.

Finally, in 1947 the exclusion act was repealed and Chinese Canadians were given the right to vote in federal elections. Ten years later, in 1957, Douglas Jung was the first Chinese Canadian elected to the House of Commons. However not until 1967 were the Chinese given the same immigration rights as any other group seeking to make their life in this country.

The Chinese Head Tax and the Exclusion Act are the two most known acts of discrimination in the history of this community. They are acts of a government that says it is rooted in democracy and of a country that is proud of its multicultural heritage.

The Chinese Canadian community was one of the first diverse cultural communities to come to Canada. After over a century of its presence we have left this mark of racism in our legacy.

Today, despite a history of racism, struggle and alienation, the Chinese Canadian is a thriving, contributing community across Canada. They are great contributors to all segments of our society. I am asking the House to support Bill C-333 as recognition of these acts of government that were based solely on race and to signify that despite their hardships the Chinese Canadian community has historically played a key role in the making of this country.

I am proud to be a member of the House and, almost 50 years after Mr. Jung, the first Chinese Canadian to serve here, to have an opportunity to redress a wrong that for over a century has never been recognized by our governments.

No one person or groups of persons should be lessened by their race or heritage. Racism is not and should not be a part of my community or my country, Canada. Racism and prejudice are not acts in which anyone or any country can take pride. They are embedded in attitudes, comments, slurs and acts of ignorance. We must always be vigilant to ensure that racism is not allowed to overtake our own acts and attitudes.

We can be vigilant, but every generation must be made alert and aware of its insidious presence, and so, in Bill C-333, I propose both recognition of the racism under which the Chinese community has become a part of Canada and redress for this country's part in its racist acts to this community.

Bill C-333 will provide for the recognition of the historical injustices that were brought to the Chinese community as well as its extraordinary contribution to our country. Bill C-333 will also provide for education on the Chinese community and its history in our country and the promotion of racial harmony.

We must all take responsibility in making Canada the truly multicultural country we are so proud of. Yes, today we are responsible for what happens tomorrow, but I believe that we must remember our history and learn from it. By recognizing our past, we can move on with increased vigour and a sharper eye if we recognize our wrongs and enable increased vigilance in the future.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to say how much I appreciate the fact that the member has raised this important issue in Bill C-333.

I believe it follows in the tradition of a former colleague of ours, Margaret Mitchell, from Vancouver East, who raised this issue a number of years ago in the House. I must say it is sad that we are still debating it all these years later. We need to take responsibility for this terrible and racist chapter of our history. I strongly support the idea of redress on the issue of the head tax and the Chinese immigration act.

I have questions for the member about her bill. Why has the member chosen to limit the consultation, limiting it only to one organization representing the Chinese Canadian community when in fact there are a number of fine organizations that represent members of the Chinese Canadian community? Why is there a limitation on the consultation process in the bill?

Could the member also tell us why she has placed a limitation on the kind of compensation that might be negotiated as a result of the negotiations around Bill C-333? Why, for instance, has she not made it possible for individuals who were directly affected by these terrible acts to be compensated?

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Bev Oda Conservative Clarington—Scugog—Uxbridge, ON

I thank the member for his support and his questions. The act has been crafted in such a way as to ensure that the bill is recognized by the House and gains the support that it needs. I believe that over almost a century of injustice we have to make the first step, which is the recognition of the injustice, and we also have to recognize the contribution of the Chinese Canadian community to Canada and to our history.

I believe we have to recognize diversity even within the Chinese Canadian community. The organization I have noted in my bill is one that is an umbrella organization and represents a grand diversity of all the communities involved right across the country.

As well, this offers the government an opportunity to stand up and take the initial first steps in working with the community, not only to find a way that is agreeable and compatible with the government's will but also with that of the communities, finding the way so that, first of all, the recognition is there and also that there will be some form of redress which will be negotiated to the satisfaction of the communities.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canada is a country of openness, proud of its diverse heritage, where values of fairness, generosity, respect and caring have shaped its history. It is a country of opportunities that respects and celebrates the cultural, racial, ethnic and religious diversities of its population. As Canadians, we have a collective responsibility to make every effort to sustain a society that values all of its members and treats them with dignity and respect.

Our history records that at times these values have been violated. Early in its history, Canada had slavery on its own territory. It was not until 1834 that slavery was abolished in Canada, ending this inhumane treatment. We have witnessed immigration practices in the past that were not in line with our Canadian values of today. During the two world wars, members of some Canadian ethnocultural communities were detained and their loyalty questioned.

The Government of Canada understands the strong feelings underlying requests for redress for incidents in our nation's past. As Canadians we all share in the responsibility to learn from the lessons of the past.

Some ethnocultural communities continue to press the government for an official apology and financial compensation as essential elements of redress. Other communities have signalled their willingness to accept a non-monetary resolution as long as no other community receives financial compensation.

As with many other social issues, there are no simple solutions. The needs of individuals in specific communities cannot be separated from those of the broader society. Resources are limited and must be applied where they can have the greatest impact.

Perceptions and views are often divergent and require thoughtful deliberation to find common ground. The issue is whether to attempt to address the past or to invest in the future. The federal government believes the best approach is to uphold the 1994 policy on historical redress and use limited public resources to create a more equitable society today and a better future for generations to come.

The Government of Canada remains committed to strengthening the fabric of Canada's multicultural society. In the October 2004 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada pledged to pursue its objectives “in a manner that recognizes Canada's diversity as a source of strength and innovation”. It also pledged “to be a steadfast advocate of inclusion and to demand equality of opportunity so that prosperity can be shared by all Canadians”.

In line with these commitments, the government is now advancing a number of multicultural and anti-racism initiatives designed to cultivate an even more equitable, inclusive society.

The Government of Canada has a multifaceted approach to combating all forms of racism and discrimination. We have a comprehensive framework that includes legislative practices and programs.

I will focus on the activities and role of the multiculturalism program of the Department of Canadian Heritage in addressing issues of racism and discrimination. Under the mandate of the program, the Department of Canadian Heritage is committed to ongoing priorities that include fostering cross-cultural understanding, combating racism and discrimination, promoting shared citizenship, and making Canadian institutions more reflective of Canadian diversity.

Under the mandate of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and policy, the Department of Canadian Heritage and other government departments address issues related to racism and discrimination by focusing on public education, capacity building, institutional change and research initiatives.

This broad-based approach aims to combat all forms of discrimination and is designed to respond to the diverse demographic reality of Canadian society. Analysis of the 2001 census and the ethnic diversity survey released in 2003 underscore two strong realities: the extent of ethnoracial diversity in Canada and the significant number of people experiencing racism and discrimination.

In regard to policy approaches, the multicultural program has a central role in helping shape a progressive, inclusive Canada by advancing multiculturalism within the federal government and working with key stakeholders. For example, the multiculturalism program is responsible for preparing an annual report on the implementation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Under the act, federal institutions are required to outline how they have changed and refined their policies, programs and services and to respond to increasing Canadian diversity. The annual report for 2003-04 was tabled in Parliament on February 7.

Canadian Heritage has also done a considerable amount of research on discrimination in Canada, using data from the ethnic diversity survey. The survey has been used to examine the different levels of discrimination among different visible minorities and religious groups. In addition, the department has examined the level of discrimination within visible minority groups in terms of immigrant generation and the city that respondents live in and has analyzed the data to consider the potential impact discrimination might have on social capital variables and civic participation variables.

In 2003-04, through a joint research initiative with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the multiculturalism program identified three key research priorities, one of them on indicators of racism. Results from last year's research call are not yet available, but this demonstrates a commitment to research on racism and anti-racism.

In addition, the Department of Canadian Heritage continues to work with the metropolis project and its five joint centres of excellence. Through these centres, all types of research are produced with respect to migration and diversity, including racism, anti-racism, and social, political and economic inclusion.

In regard to education and promotion, under the multiculturalism program, the unit responsible for promoting diversity and respect places a broad emphasis on public education and outreach for advancing the program's overall objectives and assisting the government in its commitment to promoting cohesion in Canada through year round programming.

This essential element of the multiculturalism program places a special emphasis on targeting youth. For example, to commemorate March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Department of Canadian Heritage launched its first federal awareness campaign in 1989. Over the years, the campaign has evolved to include the “Racism. Stop It!” national video competition, which has provided a means of engaging youth in the commemoration of March 21. The competition invites youth aged 12 to 18 to express their thoughts on the elimination of racial discrimination.

In 2003-04, the multiculturalism program funded 268 initiatives. Of these, approximately 133 are aimed at engaging communities and the broad public in informed dialogue and sustained action. For example, through the multiculturalism program of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Chinese Canadian National Council will receive more than $400,000 over three years for a project to help this community combat discrimination by building stronger networks among organizations working on Asian Canadian issues and by developing the awareness and capacity of Asian Canadian communities to respond to hate and racism activities, with a particular focus on youth.

The Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic will receive almost $600,000 over three years as trustee for the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada. The National Anti-Racism Council, a coalition of more than 50 anti-racist and human rights groups from across Canada, including the Chinese Canadian National Council, will undertake a multi-year initiative to help build a Canada-wide community based capacity to address issues of racism and related intolerance through the use of domestic and international human rights principles, standards and instruments, and through the development of effective national and community based response mechanisms.

As well, it will engage in community, public and media education concerning racism and related intolerance and provide input and advice on anti-racism principles and related initiatives to government agencies, foundations, public and private sector institutions, community groups and civil societies.

The Interdepartmental Committee on Public Education and Outreach, under the multiculturalism program, works with federal public servants to increase their awareness of the growing diversity of Canada so that the needs and realities of Canada's diverse population are reflected in federal policies, programs and practices and to help remove barriers experienced by members of ethnocultural communities.

The committee also supported projects promoting cross-cultural and interfaith understanding among Canadians and among members of the specific target audiences such as public servants and youths.

Some of the initiatives supported through the multiculturalism program include the development of educational materials, tools that are used in schools and youth centres, conferences, workshops, other learning events that bring together different segments of the Canadian population such as ethnocultural communities, religious organizations, researchers, public institutions and other researchers.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity today to rise in the House to speak to the issue put forward in Bill C-333. I would like to thank the member for Durham for bringing it forward. I also would like to recognize that the member for Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette had originally put forward this bill in an earlier Parliament.

In speaking to the bill today, first, I want to say that the NDP agrees that this is a very critical issue. We are talking about a history of 62 years of legislative racism in the country, from 1885 to 1947, when Chinese Canadians had to pay the $50 head tax and then between the period of 1923 and 1947, when they had to face the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited immigration from China to Canada. We are talking about a very dark mark on Canada's history.

I would point out that if the head tax today were repaid to the approximately 81,000 people who paid it, we would be talking about $23 million. If that head tax today were put into a 2005 dollar value, it would be about $30,000 per person. We begin to get a sense of the enormity of that head tax and the financial cost and burden it imposed on families and on workers who came to Canada during that period.

As was noted by my hon. colleague from Burnaby--Douglas, I also want to recognize the work of Margaret Mitchell, the former member of Parliament who first raised this in the House around 1984. It was as a result of a radio program in Vancouver in the Chinese Canadian community when Hanson Lau put out a call, which is very well documented in the film In the Shadow of Gold Mountain by Karen Cho, a wonderful film that gives the history of this issue. It was because of that radio program that members of the community came forward to Margaret Mitchell and asked her to raise it in the House, which of course she did. She raised it many times in the House with really no response from the government of day, and never since that time.

I myself put forward a motion in Parliament in March of 2001. I reintroduced that motion in this Parliament. I want to talk about this issue. We are very concerned that the bill before us, while its intentions are good, does not deal with the issue as it is being debated and how it is being articulated in the whole community. Unfortunately, the bill does not reflect the debate and the position taken in the whole community.

We know for example that the Chinese national congress had an important class action case, with a number of individuals seeking compensation. Although that case was not won, the decision in July 2001 was important because part of the decision clearly put it back to Parliament. Part of the decision from the Ontario Superior Court was that Parliament should consider providing redress for Chinese Canadians who paid the head tax or who were adversely affected by the various Chinese immigration acts.

There has been a history within the community of various positions. I know the NCCC has advocated for about 4,000 claimants who want to see this issue dealt with. They want to see an official apology by the Government of Canada. They want to see a negotiation process take place whereby the issue of individual compensation can also be addressed. Unfortunately, the bill before us today does not deal with that aspect, which is very troubling.

Regrettably the member for Durham did not answer the questions put forward by the member for Burnaby--Douglas. We want to know why the bill singles out one organization when other organizations like the NCCC have been very active on this file and in bringing it forward. Why would the bill only specify one organization ? Why would we have a bill that really does not reflect the position of the whole community? That is very important to do.

We want to put those questions to the member because this is the first hour of debate. We will go through a second hour of debate and then there will be a vote. We are very interested to know how the member intends to respond to the very real concerns in the community.

At a press conference today, members of the NCCC made it clear, and these are leading members of the Chinese-Canadian community, that in its current form the bill is not supportable. We want to get some indication from the member about these concerns as we approach the vote and what may happen in terms of the bill going forward to the committee where we would have an opportunity to look at some amendments to reflect what is going on in the community.

My motion, for example, talked about establishing a framework that would include a parliamentary acknowledgement of the injustice of these measures. It would include an official apology by the government to individuals and their families for the suffering and hardship caused. It would include individual financial compensation as well as community driven compensation through, for example, an anti-racism advocacy and educational trust fund. We need to look at these elements.

While I appreciate the member bringing forward the bill, I want to put it back to her in terms of responding to these concerns that have come from the community. We would agree, though, that this is a very urgent issue.

For example, Mr. Daniel Lee, an 84 year old World War II veteran lives in East Vancouver. In a recent story in the local press, he said that while he was still alive, he would like to receive one thing from the federal government, and that was an apology for the imposition of the head tax on his father and grandfather when they arrived from China.

We also have Mr. Kwan, who is now in his nineties and is one of the survivors. We should recognize that the group is getting smaller and smaller. As people become elderly, it becomes a very pressing issue. I know that Mr. Kwan as well has maintained a constant campaign and struggle to have the issue recognized, to have an apology, to have redress and to deal with the issue of compensation. It was very well laid out in the movie, In The Shadow of Gold Mountain .

I come to what is the position of the government. I know there has been a lot of debate about this. There is a concern about the precedents that will be set. The fact is we already have precedents in the country. The Japanese-Canadian redress is one where an historical injustice, based on a racist legislation or policies, has been recognized. It has been formally acknowledged, an apology given and redress and compensation provided.

What is important with the bill is that the government deal with the issue on its merits. What we have heard from the parliamentary secretary has not given us a lot of hope that the issue will move forward. I would implore the government, from our perspective in the NDP where we have worked on the issue now for more than two decades, and say to it that this really demands a response. It demands that the government be proactive.

The most important first step is for the government to sit down with representatives of the individuals and families involved and different organizational representatives in the community to begin a negotiation process. It is not up to me to say what it should be or what the compensation should look like, whatever it might be. The process has to be entered into in good faith between the Government of Canada and the community.

Negotiation means that we have to look at the issues. We have to look at where we can agree on certain aspects and what are the principles. If we had a commitment from the Liberal government that this could happen, people would see that as a step forward.

The member should respond to the concerns of the community about her bill and whether she is prepared to look at amendments to broaden its scope to reflect those concerns. I would implore the government to send a message that it will sit down and begin a negotiation around a framework that includes representatives of the communities and the families so we can finally deal with the issue of the terrible injustice done many years ago in a just way.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to speak to this motion tabled by my colleague from Durham on Bill C-333, an act to recognize the injustices done to Chinese immigrants by head taxes and exclusion legislation, to provide for recognition of the extraordinary contribution they made to Canada, to provide for redress and to promote education on Chinese Canadian history and racial harmony.

As the House now knows, at the end of the last century, Chinese immigrants were employed in western Canada to a large extent in mining, but especially in the construction of a major Canadian symbol, the Canadian Pacific Railway. This was certainly a very expensive project, economically speaking, but it had a much higher cost in terms of the treatment of the railway construction workers and their families.

The contribution of the Chinese community needs to be recognized, and this dark chapter in Canadian history needs to be redressed. When economic conditions deteriorated toward the end of the 19th century, an anti-Asian sentiment developed in Canada. This led to the introduction of a tax to limit immigration by Chinese people, in particular.

The first measure of this kind was a $50 tax per person introduced in 1885. This tax would then increase twice going from $50 to $100 in 1903. Then, three years later, it was increased to $500. It goes without saying that for most people, $500 at the time was as much as two years' salary.

These immigrants, not all of whom had a choice about coming, had to work like slaves and neglect their families to repay this huge sum, which took them many long years to do.

Because immigration from China continued, despite the fact that anti-Asian sentiment did not wane, on July 1, 1923, the Dominion passed legislation known as the Chinese Immigration Act, restricting immigration from China. This legislation, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, was viewed as a terrible humiliation by the Chinese community living in Canada.

It is not surprising that, for over 20 years, the Chinese community, specifically, the Chinese Canadian National Council, has been demanding that the government redress the past injustices that Asian immigrants were subjected to. That is the purpose of the motion by my colleague from Durham. Furthermore, the Bloc Québécois is happy to discuss this alongside him, because it is a matter of righting a past injustice.

I want to remind the House of a 2001 decision by the Ontario Superior Court. This decision noted, among other things, that Canada should consider providing redress and apologizing to the descendants of the Chinese Canadian community, as a result of these disgraceful acts committed during the last century.

Canada has already shown such wisdom in the past, under Brian Mulroney. It issued an apology to Japanese citizens who were interned or deported or had their land expropriated during the second world war.

However, the Chinese community, which built Canada and its railroad, is still waiting for such redress. We must not be afraid of words: discrimination by Canada against these immigrants is unacceptable, particularly for a country founded on immigration and proud of its fundamental values of humanitarianism and tolerance.

These immigrants were forced to come here. They were used to accomplish an extraordinary feat. This incredible undertaking shaped the future of our country, but once completed, these people were no longer wanted. They were subjected to unthinkable acts. We must also remember that we denied these immigrants the right to bring their spouses to Canada, under legislation adopted in 1923, which remained in force for 25 years.

I want to acknowledge the determination of the Chinese community in holding its head high, despite this despicable and shameful situation.

I would like to point out to the House that something equally reprehensible, though without the scope of the actions taken in the last century, was said recently at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It was the suggestion that Chinese immigration be limited for reasons relating to financial capacity. From this, we can only conclude that we will never be free of discriminatory comments. I would just like to see this House recognize the errors of the past and recognize clauses that discriminate against any nation of this world when it is enacting legislation on citizenship and immigration.

Sooner or later, the darkest moments in Canadian immigration policy must be recognized. It is time to acknowledge the actions taken by the politicians of the day against the entire Chinese community. The first of these date back more than 120 years, and were only attenuated some 60 years ago, so there were 60 dark years in Canadian history the harmful effects of which need to be acknowledged.

As long as this is not settled, Canada will bear the stigma of these questionable actions of the past. This House has had several opportunities to acknowledge the injustices committed against the Chinese community. Similar bills have been introduced on several occasions since 2002, but have always died on the order paper.

Now, however, it is time for the government to act responsibly and to make a formal apology for its past behaviour. The Chinese community is now an integral part of the Quebec and Canadian mosaic, and it is most reprehensible that this matter has not yet been settled by Canada.

It is my heartfelt wish that the government will be in favour of this bill. I also hope that it will recognize, along with the official opposition and the Bloc Québécois, that such behaviour is unacceptable in the society we have built together.

It is never too late to do the right thing, and I would therefore call upon the government to respect its own principles and defend minorities that have been neglected in the past. Granted, this reprehensible behaviour was not the responsibility of the present government, but it is responsible, on several occasions in more recent history, for having stifled bills similar to this. It has a responsibility not to miss the opportunity given it this time.

Two decades ago, the Canadian government offered compensation to the Japanese for the wrongs and abuses they suffered during the second world war. A bill is currently before Parliament on the subject of the Ukrainians. It is time to do the same for the Chinese immigrants at the turn of the century.

While in many matters the present government will be recognized for its failure to act, at least here, when it comes to making reparations for past errors, it has an opportunity to leave its mark. That is still better than nothing, and I suggest the government should not let it slip by.

The House should deal swiftly with this bill so that it will get to committee as quickly as possible and we can determine the exact form the reparation should take. The House has the moral obligation to recognize that such actions are part of its past and that it is time to turn this dark page in our history—a dark cloud that for too long has cast its shadow over the fundamental Quebec and Canadian values of tolerance, openness and welcome, which built our shared cultures and keep them moving forward.

The Bloc Québécois will continue the fight for democracy by supporting the differences in our communities. Whether the issue is to defend the right of the Chinese community to be given apologies for being made the victim of racist policies, to continue to demand more international aid, to denounce the antiterrorism legislation that discriminates more against certain people than others, to propose bills that offer progressive solutions to problems of employment in our communities, or to fight for a more inclusive society: I ask my colleagues to vote in favour of Bill C-333.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Inky Mark Conservative Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is truly a great honour to rise today to debate Bill C-333.

I am a proud Canadian of Chinese descent. I am a third generation immigrant to Canada. First I want to thank the member for Durham for introducing Bill C-333. The bill has been tabled in the House at least three times. I also thank all the members of the House for their support of this bill.

For over 20 years, that is, over two decades, the Chinese community has been seeking redress. Bill C-333 has been in the works for seven years. It reflects the will of the National Congress of Chinese Canadians and other national organizations. I want to acknowledge the executive members who have led the charge over the last two decades: the president of NCCC, Ping Tan from Toronto; the chairman of the GTA Chinese Community Association, Hugh Eng; secretary David Lim; Jack Lee from Montreal; Dr. Joseph Du from Winnipeg; Gordon Joe from Toronto; Frank Chui from Toronto; Fred Mah of Vancouver; Dr. David Lai from Victoria; and Albert Tang of Ottawa. I also want to thank Hansen Lau for all his work in Vancouver over the head tax issue.

The purpose of Bill C-333 is to acknowledge the past history which includes the head tax and the exclusion act. No apology is being asked for. We do not believe that an apology is necessary, but we certainly need to recognize the past. Also we need to establish an educational foundation for the purpose of telling the history of the Chinese immigrants to this country.

The Chinese landed on Vancouver Island long before Captain Cook did. In fact, as the member for Durham indicated in her speech, in 1788 British explorer John Meares landed at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island with 70 Chinese carpenters he had brought from the Portuguese colony of Macau. They built him a boat and then it is thought that those 70 Chinese married into native communities on the island and their cultural traces were soon lost. They were the first Chinese to set foot in Canada and the last for the 70 years following.

Much has been said this morning about the head tax. Both my grandfather and my father paid the head tax. In fact, I still have my father's head tax certificate at home. It is time for me to tell my story.

My grandfather came to this country to work on the CP Rail in the late 1800s. Members may know that 17,000 Chinese were imported to build the railway which, as Canadians agree, united this country. Over 700 lost their lives principally around the Fraser Canyon area. They were paid half the wages the white workers received. This was the norm until well into the 1930s. The Chinese were tolerated in Canada only because they were a cheap source of labour.

After 1885 the head tax was imposed for the purpose of discouraging immigration. That was the very purpose. They were finished using them to build the railroad and did not need them any more so they found a way to keep them out.

About three years ago I went to Europe with the hon. Sheila Copps, the then minister of heritage. We visited a number of Canadian cemeteries. Sheila was looking for her lost uncle who had fought in World War I. Lo and behold we did find her uncle's headstone, but Sheila also noticed that not far from her uncle's headstone was a headstone with Chinese characters written on it. We both wondered how that Chinese person had ended up in Europe in the battlefields of World War I.

Canadians do not know that Chinese labourers were at the centre of a little known chapter during the first world war. For a year beginning in April 1917, close to 80,000 men were shipped from China to British Columbia, transported across the country by rail, and dispatched from east coast ports to the trenches in France. One of the governments ruling China at the time had joined the war on the side of the western allies and offered some of the labourers it had in spades to the war effort.

After the armistice the Chinese labour battalions were repatriated along the same route in both directions. They were transported in sealed railway cars lest they try to jump the train and avoid the $500 head tax levied at the time against Chinese immigrants. Very few Canadians know that part of Canadian history.

This country was very discriminatory against the Chinese after 1885. Discriminatory laws were passed in many of the provinces, particularly British Columbia. This demonstrates that at that time Canada had an apartheid system, one for regular Canadians and one for Canadians of Asian descent, whom Canada was trying to get rid of.

It is hard to believe that as recently as 1950 the Chinese were prohibited from shopping in the Eaton store in Winnipeg. That is an astounding piece of Canadian history.

The Chinese had been disenfranchised. They had no vote. They basically had no status in this country, even though 500 Chinese had enlisted in the second world war and fought for this country. Upon returning to Canada they had no vote and no jobs. They were discriminated against. I am sure they wondered which country they had really fought for.

My father was 12 years old when he arrived in Canada in 1922. He arrived here by luck because in 1923 the exclusion act was put in place. He came to join his father in a place called Russell, Manitoba, where my grandfather had started a laundry, and ended up working in a restaurant.

The exclusion act created great hardships for Chinese families in this country. There were virtually no female Chinese in Canada at the time. The only way Chinese men could get married, raise a family and have kids was to go back to China. That is what they did. Every few years they would make a long journey by ship back to China. In essence, that is what happened to my family. I could say I have two families, one pre-World War II and the other post-World War II. I am a post-World War II baby.

My mother, my younger sister and I did not join my father until after the repeal of the exclusion act in 1947. In 1955 the immigration doors opened up. I was six at the time. I have been very fortunate ever since. My sister and I grew up in a little village called Gilbert Plains, where the whole community was concerned and involved in raising us two little Chinese kids. That is how I ended up in this place.

I want to thank the member for Durham and all members of the House for their support in this matter. We need to deal with this Chinese redress. It is long overdue. Bill C-333 simply asks for an acknowledgement of the past. Surely Canada is not afraid of its past history. We as a country must learn from our past.

There are possibly one million Chinese Canadians in Canada today. As we have read and heard, Chinese is the third language spoken here. There can be absolutely no excuse to delay the resolution of the Chinese redress. The government has to sit down with the Chinese community and work things out. We are not asking for a huge amount of money, just enough to set up a foundation to tell the story about the Chinese immigrants who came to this country. It is time for the government to sit down with the community and work this out.

A year ago the Government of New Zealand recognized this injustice and formed a charitable trust and took other initiatives. That country apologized to the Chinese community. That country knew it was long overdue and that it had to deal with the redress issue.

I thank all members for their support. I am sure that the Liberal government will act on this bill.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Don Bell Liberal North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canada's experience with diversity distinguishes us from most other countries. Our 30 million inhabitants reflect a cultural, ethnic and linguistic makeup found nowhere else on earth. Over 200,000 immigrants a year from all parts of the globe continue to choose Canada, drawn by its quality of life and its reputation as an open, peaceful and caring society that welcomes newcomers and values diversity.

From Confederation through the boom years of immigration prior to World War I, and to the inter-war years and the current post-war era, our immigration policy and legislation have helped shape the Canada that we have today. Over time Canadian governments have reflected society's increasing willingness to accept differences within the population, specifically, the legitimacy of rights of minorities to maintain their culture and traditions.

Throughout our history there have, however, been instances of laws that would be considered regressive today. Among other things, many Canadians of Japanese descent were lawfully stripped of their citizenship rights during World War II. There were also measures which limited the number of Chinese immigrants through imposition of a tax to be paid by each immigrant on being admitted to Canada.

In cases like these, certain minorities were not provided the opportunity to participate fully in society. The Government of Canada understands the strong feelings underlying the requests put forth by all communities related to historical incidents.

The hon. Sheila Finestone stated in the House of Commons in 1994:

In the past Canada enforced some immigration practices that were at odds with our shared commitment to human justice. Canadians wish those episodes had never happened. We wish those practices had never occurred. We wish we could rewrite history. We wish we could relive the past. We cannot. We can and we must learn from the past. We must ensure that future generations do not repeat the errors of the past. We believe our obligation lies in acting to prevent these wrongs from recurring...We honour the contribution of all those communities whose members, often in the face of hardship, persevered in building our country.

Canada in 2005 is a very different Canada. Tremendous steps have been taken toward making our country a better place. Specifically, the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 was repealed in 1947 and beginning in 1950, with the report of the Massey-Lévesque commission, ethnocultural diversity gradually came to be understood as an essential ingredient of a distinct Canadian identity.

In 1960 the Canadian Bill of Rights recognized and declared that certain human rights and fundamental freedoms existed without discrimination on the grounds of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex. In 1962 new immigration regulations were tabled to eliminate all discrimination based on race, religion and national origin.

In 1967 the government amended Canada's immigration policy and introduced the point system for immigration selection. In 1970 Canada ratified the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. As a party to the convention, Canada has undertaken to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms.

In 1977 the Canadian Human Rights Act proclaimed that all individuals should have equal opportunity with others without being discriminated on the grounds of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.

In 1982 section 15 of the newly adopted Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms also recognized that every individual is equal before and under the law, and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. Section 15 came into effect in 1985.

The multicultural character of Canada gained constitutional recognition in section 27 of the charter. It specifies that courts are to interpret the charter “in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canada”.

In 1988 the Canadian Multiculturalism Act affirmed multiculturalism as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society. On September 22, 1988, after 10 years of negotiation, the Government of Canada announced the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement, which was aimed at compensating members of this community for the actions taken against them during World War II under the War Measures Act. This agreement included official acknowledgement of past injustices, sums of money paid to individuals and their community, and the undertaking to establish a race relations foundation. The total cost of implementing this agreement reached $422 million.

It should be noted, however, that the Japanese Canadian case was unique and unparalleled when compared to other communities affected by measures under the War Measures Act or other laws based on the following factors: first, the large scale of the deportation program, relocation and internment; second, the extension to an entire class of persons based inherently on their race or national origin; third, the high proportion of Canadian citizens in that class; fourth, the maintenance of the measures long after the hostilities had terminated; and finally, the acknowledgement by successive governments that the treatment of Japanese Canadians at that time was unjustifiably harsh, albeit strictly legal.

Following the signing of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement, six communities, Italian Canadians, Ukrainian Canadians, Chinese Canadians, Jewish Canadians, Indo-Canadians, being the Sikhs, and German Canadians put forward similar redress proposals seeking compensation for actions taken against their members either in times of war or as a result of immigration restrictions.

In 1994 the government adopted a policy on historical redress that: first, reaffirmed the uniqueness of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement; second, confirmed that no financial compensation would be awarded to individuals or communities for historical events; third, committed to a forward looking agenda to ensure that such practices did not recur; and fourth, noted federal resources would be used to create a more equitable society. The establishment of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation demonstrated commitment to this agenda.

The Government of Canada is committed to learning from the past, and acknowledging the unique and significant contributions of ethnoracial and ethnocultural groups to shaping Canada's history. The government is making strategic investments in addressing racism, given the continuous evolution of diversity in Canada.

We have worked and will continue working with the Chinese Canadians and other ethnocultural communities to document their history and experiences through a range of commemorative projects, including films, books and exhibits, that enable them to tell their stories to other Canadians. For example, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, on the advice of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, has designated two national historic sites and one national historic event to commemorate achievements directly related to the Chinese Canadian community.

These designations have been commemorated with bronze plaques. One of the sites is at Yale, British Columbia, and commemorates the role of the Chinese construction workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization has for more than 30 years supported a full curatorial program on east Asian Canadians, including research, collecting, and program development. One of the opening exhibits at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1989 was “Beyond the Golden Mountain: the Chinese in Canada”. At the time, this was the most comprehensive museum exhibit on the Chinese Canadian experience ever mounted.

I have spoken with many of my Canadian friends of Chinese ancestry about this bill and they explained to me that they would prefer to see us take a forward looking approach to this. On that basis, I encourage the hon. members of the House to vote against Bill C-333 because it asks the Parliament of Canada to focus on actions taken by a previous government as opposed to looking toward the future.

While we can learn from past actions, we cannot rewrite history no matter how much any of us may want to. We should be expending our energy on ensuring similar situations do not happen again and by celebrating the contributions all Canadians have made to the building of our country.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Redress ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from February 18 consideration of the motion 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, and of the amendment.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member for Scarborough Southwest has eight minutes left for questions and comments.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am aware that the member who will be responding to my question has a pretty good knowledge of constitutional law. It is in his background. I believe the member to be an honest man. I have these quick questions that I will put forward. Hopefully, we will have some enlightenment from him.

According to Tim Williams, a spokesperson for Saskatchewan justice minister Frank Quennell, in a meeting with provincial justice ministers, the federal justice minister said he was not going to try any longer to protect the religious and conscience freedoms of marriage commissioners because it was not in his jurisdiction. He said that he could not do anything about protecting those freedoms for marriage commissioners.

Now that the federal justice minister appears to have washed his hands, according to the Saskatchewan justice minister's office and Mr. Tim Williams to be exact, I would like to know from the Liberal member opposite, in respect to civic officials, how hollow is the justice minister's rhetoric about religious and conscience protection in the legally empty preface to his same sex marriage bill?

Second, I would appreciate the member responding to my question as it seems that both the Prime Minister and the justice minister are intending to violate the conscience of their friends and colleagues in the cabinet. How much more should we be concerned about the Prime Minister and justice minister violating the freedom of conscience and freedom of religious protection of Canadians?

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12:05 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my remarks on Friday I went through the bill at great length to talk about section 3. I said:

It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

That section would not apply to marriage commissioners because I do not believe they necessarily are members or officials of religious groups. However, whether I am right or wrong in that interpretation, my point on Friday was that section 3 has been improperly put into the bill.

The Supreme Court of Canada clearly stated that the section is utterly ultra vires, which is that it is beyond the power of the federal Parliament to indicate what it would do, how it would act or how provinces should act in matters within their own exclusive jurisdiction and that the solemnization of marriage is within the sole jurisdiction of the provinces.

The Supreme Court even went further in the reference case. It specifically said that no matter how well intentioned, no matter how supposedly noble a declaratory statement is, it is of no force and effect whatsoever if it pertains to the powers granted to a province under the British North America Act, now known as the Constitution.

That section should not even be there because it is beyond the legislative capacity and competence of the Parliament of Canada.

As far as the preamble is concerned, I pointed out that the preamble has even less relevance or less weight than an actual section of an act. I want to remind hon. members that the courts have already shown us that they are quite prepared to overturn the common law of the country, which had traditional marriage as the definition, and it has been overturned. They are quite prepared to declare legal, acts that have been declared illegal in writing in the Criminal Code of Canada with the stroke of a judicial pen. They are also quite prepared to ignore sections of acts passed by the House, in this case section 1.1 of the Pension Benefits Act which specifically states that the Parliament of Canada passed an act saying that marriage is the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

If the courts are prepared to ignore acts of Parliament, if they are prepared to ignore the common law of long standing and are prepared to ignore and change the Criminal Code by judicial fiat, what confidence can we have that the preamble, which is not legally binding, would be followed in any particular event?

To answer the member's second question, I want to go back in history to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the Conservative prime minister. When he brought in his abortion legislation he required his cabinet ministers to vote in favour of that legislation. I say required because no one can be forced to violate their own conscience. There is no such thing as a button that will electrocute somebody if they vote the wrong way. Only an individual member can violate his or her own conscience.

However there are consequences for every vote that individuals take or give in the House of Commons. It may very well be that if one votes against a particular piece of government legislation the consequences would be that one would no longer be in cabinet. However that is hardly forcing someone to violate his or her own conscience.

Brian Mulroney was roundly criticized by many people in the House, no more loudly than by us, the Liberals, for forcing his cabinet ministers to vote in favour of legislation that dealt with a moral matter. I personally disagree with the Prime Minister's decision to call upon his cabinet to do so in this case. I have told him that and he is of a different view. It is his call. He is the Prime Minister and it will be up to him to justify his actions.

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12:10 p.m.


Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on what I thought was an excellent speech on this issue. However, as he is well aware, those who speak on the other side from his point of view basically say that they do so because the legislation ensures that the people involved have rights, that their rights are protected and that we should not be taking away their rights.

The member addressed that very clearly in his speech but I wonder if he would elaborate a little bit because the crux of the matter seems to be that we are depriving people of rights if we do not support the legislation.

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12:10 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I probably spent at least 10 minutes delving into that point so I cannot do the question justice, but I do thank the hon. member.

In brief, I would say there is no absolute right to get married in Canadian law. We have to abide by the rules that society has set out in order to marry, including age restrictions, mental capacity restrictions, bloodline restrictions and, up until now, couples had to be of the opposite sex.

Indeed, we can only marry one person, notwithstanding that at least one, huge, major world religion, with hundreds of millions of adherents across the globe, believe that it is quite proper to have more than one spouse. This is not a matter of rights. This is a matter of abiding by whatever society decides are the rules for engaging in a marriage.

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12:10 p.m.


Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important public policy issue and I am privileged to have the chance to enter the debate today. I am honoured to be the second speaker for the Conservative Party. I thank my fellow caucus members for their support. I also congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on his forthright speech on Wednesday.

I am proud to be a member of a political party that respects rights and tradition and has taken an honest, moderate, compromise position in such an important public policy debate.

I have had the opportunity to listen not only to the initial debate on Bill C-38 but, most important, to listen to my constituents in West Edmonton, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain and Parkland county.

While opinions have varied, I continue to be impressed by the honesty, candour and care with which Canadians are approaching this debate. Canadians have been thoughtful on this issue and most have come to believe that a compromise position would be the best position that the Government of Canada could take. It is, in essence, the Canadian way.

The issue of same sex marriage is not about denying rights. It is not about jeopardizing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as the Prime Minister would like us to believe. It is a complex public policy issue and one which has an impact on every Canadian.

I would like to begin my comments on a personal note and say that when I think of the people in my life who I love, some of whom happen to be gay and lesbian, I know clearly, both in my heart and in my mind, that I would never support a public policy position that violated their rights and in any way violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court of Canada has asked us to consider a range of ideas. As legislators, it is our responsibility to consider and represent the views of Canadians in this House.

The debate has been framed in a variety of ways and each adds to the complexity of our deliberations. Today I hope to address this debate in a manner that discusses the various ways Canadians have approached Bill C-38.

The debate has been framed, in terms of rights, within the framework of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; in terms of marriage and what it means legally, as well as within the context of historical tradition and as a social institution; and in terms of religion and the interplay between church and state, not just how religion affects politics but also in terms of how politics affects the activity of churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.

The debate has also been framed as one of competing interests, the, at times, different views of younger Canadians versus older Canadians, the supposedly different views of rural versus urban Canadians, and the alleged different views of people who come from different provinces. However the reality is that this debate is important to all of us, all generations, both sexes, across the country.

In my mind the debate is primarily about rights and recognition, and about how to best recognize the rights of homosexual couples within our society while at the same time upholding and respecting institutions that have great social importance to Canada, such as the traditional definition of marriage. In short, it is about responding and respecting the competing interests in this debate in a reasonable, compassionate and moderate way.

In my comments today I would like to touch upon a few subjects. First, I would like to review, not just the Supreme Court reference, but all the court cases that have brought us to where we are on the same sex marriage issue.

Second, I will focus on the main point of my address, which is that in any debate it is Parliament's job to find a compromise and consensus that defends rights and, specifically in this debate, offers recognition to homosexual couples and takes into account the views of Canadians.

Third, I would like to discuss the legislation that other countries around the world have brought forward after engaging in this very exercise that we are about to undertake. In addition, I will refer to the legislation Alberta brought forward two years ago to extend rights and privileges to same sex couples.

Finally, I would like to specifically focus on the very ways in which Canadians have discussed same sex marriage as a rights issue.

Marriage cases ruling in favour of same sex marriage began in 2002. In 2002, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman represented a charter infringement. La Cour supérieure du Québec also ruled that the characterization of marriage as a heterosexual institution represented a violation of charter equality rights.

In 2003, the British Columbia Court of Appeal reversed a lower court judgment that upheld the common law bar to same sex marriage.

On September 16, 2003, an opposition motion expressing Parliament's support for the traditional definition of marriage was defeated in the House of Commons by a vote of 137 to 132. It was only four years earlier, in June 1999, however, that the exact same motion passed, with large support from many Liberals for the traditional definition of marriage.

After several provincial courts had ruled that the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional, the Liberal government prepared draft legislation that would permit same sex marriages, but instead of allowing the House of Commons to vote on the legislation, the Liberals referred it to the Supreme Court and asked the following questions.

Question 1: Is the annexed Proposal for an Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes within the exclusive legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada? If not, in what particular or particulars, and to what extent?

Question 2: If the answer to question 1 is yes, is section 1 of the proposal, which extends capacity to marry to persons of the same sex, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Question 3: Does the freedom of religion guaranteed by paragraph 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect religious officials from being compelled to perform a marriage between two persons of the same sex that is contrary to their religious beliefs?

In January 2004 the government referred an additional question to the Supreme Court. Question 4 asked the following: Is the opposite-sex requirement for marriage for civil purposes, as established by the common law and set out for Quebec in section 5 of the Federal Law-Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

The fourth question was an important question. The Prime Minister had hoped that the Supreme Court would return with the imperative that Parliament must pass a law sanctioning marriage for homosexual couples. However, the Supreme Court did not do that and mandated Parliament to examine, debate and potentially legislate on this issue.

In its decision released on December 9, 2004, the Supreme Court said that the federal government has the jurisdiction to redefine marriage to include same sex couples.

It also said that churches are protected under the Charter of Rights in maintaining the traditional definition of marriage, but that legislation that would specifically protect religious organizations is beyond the constitutional power of the federal government.

What this means is that the federal government determines the definition of marriage but the provinces determine how a couple can marry.

The court did not answer the question of whether the traditional definition of marriage in the common law violates the Charter of Rights. Instead of declaring the traditional definition of marriage unconstitutional, the court has made it clear that it is Parliament that must define the word marriage.

This is where we are today. We have received direction from the Supreme Court of Canada that if Parliament wants to change the definition of marriage it would be within our purview to do so. We are free to define it as a union between a man and a woman or as between any two persons. Either definition has been deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court.

However, the courts did not force the vote or the debate that is before us, because it did not compel Parliament to change the definition of marriage. It simply stated that if Parliament wanted to, it could. This is a political decision that the Liberal government has taken on its very own.

While the Liberals have attempted to shroud their politics by misquoting and misusing the language of rights, I, along with the Leader of the Opposition, will seek the moderate compromise that Canadians are asking for.

We may ask why a compromise is so important. Many members have suggested that deciding upon whether or not to change the definition of marriage is difficult; it involves issue of personal conscience, religion and the views of our constituents as well as perceptions of the traditions and institutions of our society.

Because of the difficulty of this issue, I am proud to be a member of a party that has allowed a free vote on this issue. It is an issue of personal conscience and one of accountability to my constituents, and it is important that members are granted the ability to vote in as free a manner as possible without the threat of recrimination by party leaders.

It is wise, and it is also decent, that this party has allowed a free vote. Nobody in this party finds themselves in an uncomfortable position due to this legislation. Members are accountable not to their party but to their own consciences and to their constituents. It is a position that I wish all members of the House could share.

Importantly, the majority of people who oppose this legislation favour the insurance and the protection of equal rights for homosexual couples and they favour formal state recognition of committed homosexual relationships.

So at some point we have to ask ourselves why the government is not following the lead of most Canadians and searching for a middle ground that will protect the rights of all Canadians equally, recognize homosexual unions and respect tradition at the same point. The government, after all, likes to talk about Canada's ability to broker resolutions. It likes to talk about Canadians as being the sort of people who search for compromise and search for the middle position.

Canadians have done that. The Leader of the Opposition has done that. The government, on the other hand, has labelled these Canadians intolerant and bigoted. This language is unhelpful, and the government is fighting the national consensus on this issue.

The government has refused to look beyond its own vision on this issue. It has refused to seek the middle ground, and in doing so, it has refused to take seriously the considerations and views of Canadians.

The Leader of the Opposition is the only leader in the House who has discussed the matter with Canadians and has searched for a compromise in order to give all Canadians a voice.

In December, the Leader of the Opposition announced three proposals for effectively considering the marriage question. These are as follows. The first proposal would retain the traditional definition of marriage. The second proposal would ensure that same sex couples are afforded equal spousal benefits. The third proposal would include substantive provisions in the legislation to protect not only religious organizations but also to protect public officials who have objections due to reasons of religion or conscience.

With regard to the first proposal, I am proud to be voting the wishes of my constituents, one of which is to support and maintain the traditional definition of marriage. I am also proud to be able to vote in favour of providing equal rights to gay and lesbian couples, something my constituents have also been clear in their support for.

My constituents reflect the majority of Canadians who believe in a balanced approach: legislation which accords equal benefits and status to same sex couples in a recognized union, with an understanding that to do this we do not need to change the definition of marriage.

There is no need or imperative to reject the middle ground put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. I support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court has not said that we must change the definition of marriage. The Supreme Court has not said that the traditional definition of marriage is in violation of the charter. The Supreme Court has not said that recognition of same sex marriage as a union is in violation of the charter. The Supreme Court has said none of this despite the arguments put forward by the government.

With regard to the third proposal, by protecting the rights of religious institutions Parliament can support the rights of churches, mosques, synagogues and temples to recognize, perform and solemnize marriages on their own terms.

Parliament can ensure that churches have the right to privately and publicly preach their beliefs related to marriage. Parliament can ensure that justices of the peace and civil marriage commissioners are not forced to solemnize marriages against their own consciences. Parliament can also preserve the charitable and economic benefits that churches enjoy as public institutions and recognize the right of public officials to act in accordance with their own beliefs.

I know that these proposals will not make everybody happy. Some will want a strong endorsement of gay and lesbian marriage. Others will want a vote that recognizes traditional marriages only and with no recognition of gay and lesbian relationships whatsoever. Each of these positions is born of strong convictions, making compromise the only tenable position that we can take.

The need for a compromise stems from the need to reconcile the interests of societal beliefs, law and tradition in a manner that all the majority of Canadians would recognize as just. This should be Parliament's goal.

The position taken by the Leader of the Opposition is the compromise position. It is the moderate position and it accords with the general thoughts and beliefs of the majority of Canadians. While there are Canadians on both sides of this issue, we live in a society that prides itself on the ability to compromise and find solutions which take the concerns and positions of everyone into account. That is what we are attempting to do by putting forward a compromise position.

Some across the way would charge that if we do not change the definition of marriage we will in fact be denying rights to homosexual Canadians. Several European countries have shown that this is not the case.

A quick survey of countries in Europe shows that while the Netherlands and Belgium have adopted same sex marriage legislation, registered domestic partnerships are available in Sweden, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland and parts of Italy. Civil pacts are available in France. Finally, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Switzerland are considering introducing legislation to provide protections, rights and benefits to gay and lesbian individuals in committed relationships.

Thus, other nations, and more important, other western democratic and constitutional nations, have found ways to deal with this issue. Their solutions are middle ground solutions and they are accepted by a consensus of the population in those countries.

The questions of rights in the states I have mentioned above have been settled by the legislation and arrangements which govern same sex relationships. The laws that are in place in these European countries are similar to the amendments put forward by the Leader of the Opposition.

The Leader of the Opposition has also called attention to recent legal developments in New Zealand. In New Zealand, which does not allow discrimination based on sexual orientation, courts still ruled that the opposite sex requirement for marriage was not a basic human right.

Closer to home, the Government of Alberta has also found a new arrangement that both retains the traditional definition of marriage and provides benefits, rights and privileges to homosexual couples. Alberta's Adult Interdependent Relationships Act balances the desire to promote the concept of marriage as an institution and the need for fairness for those who choose non-marital but interdependent relationships.

In this arrangement, Alberta defends all human rights and provides non-married couples the benefits that couples in a traditional marriage enjoy, so it is clear that there are arrangements that can be designed to both protect rights and retain the definition of marriage as that between one man and one woman.

Today marriage is seen as an institution that involves a union between one man and one woman. Societal institutions are by their very nature the products of convention and they owe their existence to society's recognition of the importance they hold. Those who see same sex marriage as a right are attempting to change this institution.

However, given the competing interests within society, the differing outlooks that citizens bring to the political arena, and the often difficult decisions regarding competing visions of what our laws ought to be like, it is our obligation as legislators to find a middle ground.

The key distinction here is recognition. Since 1977 gay and lesbian Canadians have benefited from increasing legal and legislative measures which have ensured that they are afforded equal status in the eyes of the law. During the 1990s, gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships or in “marriage-like” relationships, to use the B.C. court's term, have seen an increase in the rights and benefits that they are afforded.

In short, by the beginning of the 21st century, gay and lesbian Canadians in committed relationships could not legally be denied practical spousal rights and benefits. In this sense, the rights debate has been solved.

The debate over allowing gays and lesbians to access the institution of marriage, on the other hand, has not been resolved.

As I said earlier, the Supreme Court stated that the definition of marriage is a parliamentary responsibility, meaning both that it is federal in jurisdiction and that it is up to Parliament to decide whether or not the institution of marriage should be changed to allow access to gay and lesbian couples.

While the court did not rebuke lower courts that declared the traditional definition of marriage to be unconstitutional, it also did not endorse the position that the current definition of marriage is unconstitutional.

By suggesting that Parliament should decide, the Supreme Court made an implicit statement about the difference between rights and recognition, namely, that courts exist to protect and uphold the rights of groups and individuals and Parliament exists to express the national will regarding how those rights will be enshrined in legislation and recognized.

Same sex marriage, in a nutshell, is a recognition issue. As stated earlier, the rights component of this debate has largely been resolved and few Canadians are of the mind to reverse those decisions. Their opinion reflects their belief in equality for all Canadians under the law. They merely want the word “marriage” to remain as the union between a man and a woman.

The rights issue has been settled and the equality provisions continue to be settled. Simply put, the law sees heterosexual relationships and same sex relationships as equally significant and equally able to access spousal rights and privileges. The Conservative Party supports this view.

The question, therefore, is not about rights or equality. It is about marriage and whether Canadians would like to change the definition of marriage. It is about how Canadians would like to recognize legally equal, committed same sex relationships.

It is up to Parliament to decide the manner in which these rights are recognized. We believe these rights should be recognized fully, and all of the rights of marriage ought to be formally recognized in civil unions.

However, I believe that we do need to find a compromise by recognizing committed relationships between gays and lesbians as civil unions and retaining the traditional definition of marriage.

The majority of the letters that I have received from my constituents ask me to vote to retain the traditional definition of marriage. The majority of those same letters also ask that I work to protect the human and spousal rights of gay and lesbian individuals and couples. I agree with this position.

During this debate the Liberals have attempted to hide their politics by invoking the language of rights and accusing our party of not believing in rights. This could not be further from the truth. The Conservative Party has approached this issue as one where a reasonable compromise can be found. We have spoken honestly with Canadians and it is my hope that the House follows our lead.

I am proud to work with my constituents on such an important issue. I am proud that I can vote freely on their behalf.

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12:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the authors of our Constitution, and indeed of our charter, fully contemplated the infringement of the right of gays and lesbians to be married, but it would appear that even if Bill C-38 is passed the infringement of their rights will continue because of the competing interests of the equality provisions and the rights of religious freedoms.

In her speech, the member raised an alternative. This question of religious rights and whether we can fully protect rights is also another issue to be discussed. Would the member agree that what is necessary now is for Parliament to have the time to more fully assess the broader implications of the various points that are being brought out? Also, what would be the position of the member or her party if in fact religious rights and freedoms were struck down by the court in favour of the equality rights of gays and lesbians?

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12:35 p.m.


Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Madam Speaker, it is the opinion of the Conservative Party and myself that the government has not substantively protected religious freedom in its draft legislation, particularly in reference to reference case. The court ruled that the clause of the draft bill that was designed to do this was unconstitutional. It dealt only with the solemnization of marriage, which is under provincial jurisdiction and not federal.

In essence, all the government has done really is restate this clause already deemed unconstitutional by the court in the bill that it has tabled for debate. It has provided no specific statutory protection of religious freedom in the areas of its own jurisdiction, being federal.

Therefore, promises from the Liberals to defend religious freedom cannot be trusted. In 1999 the prime minister also promised to use all necessary means to defend the traditional definition marriage and that the government had no intention of changing the definition marriage or of legislating same sex marriage. Those were the words of the prime minister at the time. In that case one cannot trust a government that has so blatantly violated past promises.

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12:35 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have two questions for my hon. colleague from Edmonton—Spruce Grove.

First, she seems to be glossing over the decisions handed down by the various appeal courts that ruled on this issue, focussing only on Supreme Court decisions, or rather the reference to the Supreme Court. The fact of the matter is that decisions having the force of law have been made by the Quebec, Ontario and B.C. appeal courts, among others.

To be very clear, I will read an excerpt from the decision of the Court of Appeal of Ontario, in the language in which it was originally written:

--it is our view that the dignity of persons in same-sex relationships is violated by the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. Accordingly, we conclude that the common-law definition of marriage as “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” violates s. 15(1) of the Charter.

The court decision goes on to state that this violation of section 15 is unjustifiable under section 1 of the Constitution.

My first question is the following. What of the law in those provinces where the courts have already ruled very clearly, absolutely unequivocally, that the so-called traditional definition of marriage is contrary to charter equality rights?

Second, reference is commonly made to the so-called traditional definition of marriage. Obviously, marriage has evolved. Once again, the hon. member seems to be glossing over that. Marriage has evolved especially during the 20th century: we have gone from a time when, in many jurisdictions, upon marrying, women lost their status as adult persons and fell under the responsibility of the man they married to a time when women have become fully equal partners with men. So, within the institution of marriage, women have gone from second fiddle to equal partner.

In the light of this, how can the hon. member say that the institution of marriage has not evolved and could not evolve in a direction that would allow it to include same sex partners?

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12:35 p.m.


Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Madam Speaker, in regard to the member's first question, it is important to remember that we have been tasked with the issue of defining the definition of marriage.

The Supreme Court of Canada has not ruled on the traditional definition of marriage and the court has handed the issue back to Parliament. It is our obligation and responsibility as legislators to deal with the issue, and that is what we will do over the coming months.

The courts have never ruled on legislation of the type that we would propose, which would ensure equal rights and privileges for same sex partnerships while affirming the traditional definition of marriage. I am confident that ensuring equal rights in this way, in conjunction with legislation on the traditional definition of marriage, would represent a reasonable compromise and a firm expression of Parliament's view on the issue. I have confidence that the courts would respect the democratic will.

Again, I believe strongly that our position is the reasonable compromise position and it is the moderate position that is reflected in the general will of Canadians.

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12:40 p.m.


Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her well thought out and researched comments. The issue of the definition of marriage has been one that has kept our staff, our faxes, e-mails and Internet connections very busy. When we go home for the weekend, we meet with the people in our ridings. This weekend some issues were brought forward to me, and these are some examples. The trucking industry facing is serious problems. It needs some redress by the government to help it get through a bad time. Another issue is related to immigration where a family is trying to get their relatives out of a camp in Jordan. Stay-at-home parents have asked me if there will be tax cuts in the budget for them. It goes on and on. Farmers do not have money to seed their crops this spring. They have asked me where is the government on a motion that was passed to get rid of the cash deposits in the CAIS program.

All these issues have come forward, and they have never stopped. They ask why the government is so consumed with this issue that it will not address the things that affect them on a day to day basis.

Could the member comment on the fact that the government seems to have a one-trick pony with this legislation and nothing else is happening.

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12:40 p.m.


Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Madam Speaker, I agree with the member. It is very concerning that this is one of the only pieces of legislation we have seen introduced by the government in this session. It is particularly concerning because it is not legislation for which Canadians have asked. It is not legislation for which any of the opposition parties have asked. It is legislation that the government seems obsessed about and clearly is not reflective of the democratic will of the House or of Canadians.

I agree, going back to my constituency, that this is a very important issue for us to consider as legislators, and my constituents have strong views on it. However, there are many other issues in my riding such as homelessness, poverty, violence against women and many important social public policy issues with which we are not addressing. I hear the frustration from my constituents as well every day as to why, particularly coming up to budget week, we are not discussing issues of the economy.

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12:40 p.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, let me congratulate the member on a good speech. I thought it was very well presented. There was one point that caused me concern though, and if I heard it correctly, I would like to ask her about that.

She seemed to indicate that a same sex relationship was equally valuable to society as a heterosexual marriage. If I heard it correctly, I would take issue with that. I would quote Judge Gonthie who stated in his ruling that “The fundamental nature of marriage inheres in, among other things, its central role in human procreation”.

I would note for her that her colleague from Calgary Southwest, with whom I completely agree, has indicated that while there can be recognition in law for same sex relationships, it is quite a stretch to suggest that a same sex relationship, which can never result in procreation without the unnatural involvement of a third person, is as socially valuable to us as heterosexual relationships. Could she clarify that?

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12:40 p.m.


Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Madam Speaker, it is my view that our proposed amendments reflect the fact that gay and lesbian couples should be accorded all the same rights and benefits under the law as marriage rights are accorded under the traditional definition of marriage. That is my view.