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.


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4:55 p.m.


Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I leave aside the fascinating subject of procreation and ask the hon. member for Vancouver East questions concerning democracy.

The Conservative Party is the only party that is allowing a free vote on this issue. Our leader has had the courage to allow every member of the party to stand up and make a decision, a decision of conscience on this issue.

Could the hon. member address the circumstances in her particular party and why a free vote will not be allowed? It would seem to me this is a very important issue. It is one in which individual members should be allowed, as the Conservative members are, to vote with their conscience. I am very puzzled why the NDP would not allow a free vote of their members.

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4:55 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I feel very comfortable with the decision our leader has made, that this is not “a free vote” for the NDP. We have a party policy. The highest order of our party is a party convention. It was at a convention that our members democratically voted on a resolution overwhelmingly supporting same sex marriage. Therefore, when we run for the NDP, we do so on the basis of supporting our party policy and party platform. That is number one.

Second, we do not see this as a matter of conscience. We see it as a matter of being a member in this place, being willing and accepting our responsibility to uphold the rights of people. That is why I say we can be opposed to same sex marriage but still vote for the bill. I do not see that as a contradiction at all.

I feel proud of the fact that our leader has had the courage to stand up and say, because this is an issue of rights, we will not vote against those rights. He said to every one of us that we would be vote for the bill. That message also came from the membership of our party, so he has done the right thing.

The Conservative Party did it differently. I happen to disagree with that. I think it is a cop-out. I particularly feel that way with the Liberals. The Prime Minister said to Canadian to vote for him on the basis of equality, then he said to his own members that they would have a free vote. I do not like that and I do not think it is a good situation.

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5 p.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to partake in this historic debate. Let me congratulate the member for Vancouver East who just spoke very eloquently on the issue, as well as the member for Burnaby—Douglas. This must be a very happy occasion for them, as it is for all gays and lesbians in Canada.

When we talk about Canada we must recognize that we are a collection of minorities. There is no majority in this country. Everybody belongs to a minority group to the extent that we might be in the majority one day, and we could very easily be in a minority position the next.

This issue deals with the rights of a minority. It was not that long ago when Pierre Elliott Trudeau declared that the government had no business in the nation's bedrooms, and homosexuality was actually legalized. It is important when we talk about the context of Bill C-38 that we talk about it in terms of two particular issues. We talk about the legal aspects and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but we must also talk about why Bill C-38 is good public policy.

If we pass this bill, we will join two other nations in leading the world in inclusiveness. This is important because we are not talking about tolerance as we talk about this bill; we are talking about inclusiveness and what kind of country we as Canadians want.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has played such an important part in the debates on this issue and clearly the Supreme Court has ruled on the applicability of the charter. Let us consider why we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned some issues. Let me go through some of them.

We had the Asian exclusion act. We had the Chinese head tax. We had internment of Ukrainians and others from Austro-Hungary. We had internment of Italians and Germans. We had internment of Japanese Canadians. We had the almost forceful repatriation of Japanese Canadians after the second world war. We sent them back to Japan even though that country had been destroyed during the war and even though the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I mention that because many of those people were Canadian born.

Of course, we all know about the SS St. Louis , a ship that was carrying Jews looking for refuge. Canada along with other countries in North America and South America turned them away. We know that we had a policy of none is too many for the Jews. We know that the colour barrier existed on immigration until 1977. We know that there was cultural genocide against our first nations. We know what happened with the residential schools. We know about the ban on potlatches and that big houses were outlawed. We know that women were not given the right to vote until 1917, and it was not until 1929 that the English privy council recognized women as persons.

In talking about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is important to mention that Canada has a constitutional government. We are governed in terms of our Constitution. It is important to point out that subsection 52(1) of the Constitution states:

The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the in consistency, of no force or effect.

That is important to understand. It means that the interpreters of the Constitution in our constitutional democracy are the courts and we leave questions relating to the Constitution to them. It was the courts that made the ruling that same sex marriage is indeed something that is desirable and legal and that for us not to adopt it would be discriminatory. We would have to use section 33 of the Constitution which deals with the notwithstanding clause.

The reason our Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted on April 17, 1982 is that it dealt with the recognition of the evolution of this country. It dealt with the recognition of how minorities had not been treated very well. It dealt with making sure that we learned from the lessons of the past and that as we looked forward to the future in terms of evolving as a nation, that we used the charter and the past as a guidance to the kind of inclusive Canada we want to build.

As a nation we pay a very heavy price for intolerance. Gay bashing still exists. Gays are still attacked and killed. There is a high rate of suicide among gays and lesbians in our country. Hate propaganda still exists. I mention that because it is so very important for us to look at our country's history and a vulnerable group that has been stigmatized and victimized in the last 40 years has been allowed to come out of the shadows. We all know members of this House who are gays or lesbians. We know they are essentially the same kind of people as we are. We know they have the same kind of dreams that we have. We know that they have the same kind of love that we have, whether we are heterosexual or not.

When I talk about intolerance, let me use the example of Fred Phelps, the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. After 9/11 he stated:

The Rod of God hath smitten fag America! ....At left is the filthy face of fag evil. [Hijacked and murdered American Airlines pilot] David Charlebois. One of the hundreds of fags and dykes and fag-/dyke-enablers working for American Airlines--

Most of us very strongly reject that type of commentary. Because of that kind of commentary we passed Bill C-250 which dealt with hate propaganda. We did that to protect a minority in our country, a minority that has been a vulnerable minority.

When I mentioned the price of intolerance and I mentioned suicides, gays and lesbians are seven to eight times more likely to attempt suicide than are heterosexual Canadians. About 30% of suicides in Canada are gays and lesbians, approximately 818 to 968 deaths per year. This is about 15 times the rate for heterosexuals.

Let me talk about why this bill is good public policy. It is good public policy because it recognizes gays and lesbians as people of the same sex who are involved in a loving relationship. It is indeed good public policy. Any time there is stability in a loving relationship it is good public policy. It helps people with their self-worth.

We as a society very much have an interest in promoting stability among couples. It is in our interests to be inclusive. It is also in our interests to accept the children of those parents who are in same sex relationships. That provides a great deal of stability.

There is a dichotomy of views in Canada. As we have been engaged in this debate it has been interesting to look at young Canadians, particularly those young Canadians who have grown up with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There was a series of articles in the Globe and Mail in 2003 which resulted in the book called The New Canada . It talks about the new face of Canada. One of the conclusions in the book is that we in Canada have the most inclusive young people in the world.

For example, about a year ago people were asked if they were in favour of same sex marriage. Of the people in the age group 18 to 34, 65% said yes. For people 55 and older, it was 32%. In response to the question whether they believed in protection of the charter for gays and lesbians, 81.2% of the younger generation said yes, while it was down to 56.1% for the older generation.

The issue we are dealing with is so very fundamental to our well-being as a country. I can only conclude with some comments from people who have written to our national newspapers.

This was written by Marie Morrison and appeared in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record on February 17:

--same-sex marriage expresses concern about the well-being of children who are denied having both a mother and father. I feel the need to educate him and others who are concerned for the children of same-sex marriages or relationships. Research on this issue has found that children raised by same-sex parents develop and adjust just as well as those raised by opposite-sex parents. In 2002, the American Psychiatric Association released a position statement that optimal development for children is not based on the sexual orientation of the parents, but on stable attachments to committed and nurturing adults. My partner and I are the loving same-sex parents of a child and are very committed to his emotional, physical, spiritual and social well-being. He is surrounded by friends and family who love him and who accept and support his family. My greatest concern regarding the well-being of our son is that his exposure to biased and intolerant opinions and attitudes regarding family diversity will cause him to doubt himself and the validity of his family.

On Friday there was an opinion piece in the Toronto Star that was written by Matthew Eaton-Kent, 17 years old, a grade 11 honour student and an avid athlete. He lives with his two moms, 14 year old sister, two dogs and one cat in Halton Hills just outside of Toronto. I am going to read part of his submission:

That's how it has always been in my family. One of my mother's celebrates Mother's Day while the other celebrates Father's Day. Sure, it was a bit awkward at school but it didn't make my family any less of a family. In fact we kids thought it was a great way to recognize both of our moms.

However, there is something that makes my family different from a lot of families. The difference is that my parents have never been married. The reason my parents have never been married is not because they don't want to but because, by law, they couldn't. Their relationship was not recognized because marriage was defined as between a man and a woman.

It has been very hurtful to my parents, the gay community and believers in human rights that there has been so much opposition to same-sex marriage. It's been hurtful to my sister and me, too. Very hurtful!

Personally I am perplexed by the extreme opposition to changing the definition of marriage so it can include unions between two people, any two people. As someone born into a generation of political correctness and void of any blatant racism, sexism or xenophobia, it is hard to deal with the hateful nature of the opponents of same-sex marriage.

I am not sure why they don't view the love of my parents as equal to the love between two people of the opposite sex. If they question the commitment, they should note the 27 years my parents have spent together and the way they have cherished my sister and me.

I find a lot of the hate and opposition comes from many of the institutions that promote peace, love and understanding. Some churches have fought the right of same-sex couples to marry. I wish they would look back in history to a time when religious freedom was jeopardized. People who were historically persecuted are all too willing to be prejudiced, all in the name of God.

I am a teenager growing up in an era of equality, an era where blacks are equal to whites, where a man is equal to a woman. This era should include same-sex marriage and my parents. All of us are made in the image of God, are we not?

As we participate in the debate and as we deal with the legislation, we, as members of Parliament, have an opportunity to send a message to our fellow Canadians. That message is that people like Matthew Eaton-Kent, 17, and his 14 year-old sisters and all those other people in Canada who have felt stigmatized and discriminated against are welcome to our inclusive Canada.

This debate is about nothing more and nothing less. Are we, as Canadians, ready to step forward and become an inclusive country, not a tolerant country where we put up with others, but an inclusive country where we recognize and embrace each other's differences?

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5:15 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to pose a question to my colleague across the way.

One of the key points that he made as he built his argument at the beginning of his speech was that Canada is a constitutional democracy. I would like to point out to him that the Supreme Court, in one of its recent judgments, said that our charter and Constitution are living, breathing documents. In other words, if we take that statement at its value, it makes it absolutely clear that the Supreme Court feels the charter and Constitution can be changed easily. By that, I mean that it can be interpreted, depending on who does the interpretation.

I would like to point out to the member that one of the reasons we have a Constitution is to provide for stability, to provide for security in society, and to give people the assurance that changes that could be detrimental to society will not be easily invoked.

I would like to ask the member, is the reason that we have a Constitution and charter not to provide stability to those institutions on which society has been built?

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5:20 p.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, we always had a Constitution. The charter is a relatively new addition. However, sure it can be changed. Things can be changed. That is why we are here as members of Parliament.

The fact that we took away the colour barrier to immigration was a good thing. All Canadians recognize that to be the case. The fact that we would no longer intern Canadians because of where they came in time of conflict is a very good thing.

The Constitution is a living document and it evolves, just as our society has evolved. The fact that women have the vote, surely my colleague would agree with me that it is a good thing.

The real question in terms of our Constitution is who should make the decision when it comes to the question of rights. Should it be the politicians or should it be the courts? Our Constitution says it should be the courts.

When I named all those injustices that have occurred in the past, it is important to remember that it was done collectively by politicians. It was not done by the judiciary. It was done by politicians that can be referred to as the capriciously elected.

When the question comes to rights, we have to recognize and applaud the fact that we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and celebrate the fact that in our country it is the courts that are the guardians of rights.

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5:20 p.m.


Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary North Centre, AB

Madam Speaker, I wish to pose a question to my friend with respect to the subject of freedom of religion. I note that the bill in clause 3 states that it is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs. As we all know freedom of religion is referenced in section 2(a) of the charter.

I would ask my friend if he could elaborate on freedom of religion and how it relates to this legislation with respect to not only what is in the Constitution but also to what the Supreme Court of Canada has said about freedom of religion. It stated:

The right to freedom of religion...encompasses the right to believe and entertain the religious beliefs of one's choice, the right to declare one's religious beliefs openly and the right to manifest religious belief by worship, teaching, dissemination and religious practice...The performance of religious rites is a fundamental aspect of religious practice.

The protection of religious freedoms is one of the fundamental aspects of Canadian society. If one does historical research, it is clear that one of the very first statutes that was passed with respect to the British North America was in fact the freedom of worship act passed in 1774.

Therefore, protection of freedom of religion has always been a fundamental aspect of our constitutional arrangements. I think it is an important aspect of this debate. It is important that we all stand in defence of religious freedoms. I wonder if my learned friend would be able to address that subject in the context of his remarks.

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5:20 p.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, let me congratulate my colleague from Calgary Centre for his stand on this particular issue. I know it is not always easy to stand alone or to stand with very few people in his party because he is standing up for what he believes to be right. I congratulate him on that.

On the issue of religious freedom, I think it is imperative that religious freedom be maintained. The courts have done that. To me religious freedom is a very important issue. I will go back to my days when I was living in Hungary under a communist dictatorship. I used to rise and attend three masses every Sunday morning, even though the state frowned upon it. I looked upon Cardinal Mindszenty who was the real focus of resistance against Stalin and the communist dictatorship. Freedom of religion is something that I have greatly appreciated and will fight for.

There is no question that the ruling has protected freedom of religion. Essentially, this bill has increased freedom of religion. The reason I say that is because some religions believe that they should be able to marry same sex couples. The United Church has come to that conclusion. The Unitarian Church has taken that direction and today we have debate in many of the churches. The latest is the debate in the Anglican Church. Who knows, they might even expel the Canadian congregation because of this debate on same sex marriage.

I believe that Bill C-38 enhances religious freedom. It allows churches that previously were not able to marry same sex couples to do so. Also, it puts the debate where it belongs.

There is a limitation on what governments can do. This is where churches and other institutions become very important. By that, what I mean is we can pass laws that thou shalt not kill thy neighbour and that thou shalt not assault thy neighbour. However, we in this chamber can never pass a law that thou shalt love thy neighbour. That can only be done by other institutions in our society, churches being one of them.

People have no need to fear in terms of religious freedom. This bill is very consistent with religious freedom. It also enhances religious freedom by giving the churches, the temples, the gurdwara, and the synagogues an opportunity to debate if they are going to allow same sex marriage within their institutions, yes or no. The decision will be made by the congregation and that is where the debate fully belongs, not in terms of a secular government. We have to embrace all Canadians and also appreciate their differences.

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5:25 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I wish to congratulate the member for his very moving and eloquent speech. I also wish to express my appreciation for his support of the gay and lesbian community over many years, and also his outstanding work in terms of equality in general during his many years here in Parliament.

I want to ask the member a question about an issue that has come up. A number of members in the debate have suggested that Canada might be one of the few countries moving toward recognizing civil marriage for gay and lesbian people and that not many other countries have done that yet, and that somehow this represents a problem for Canada. They have suggested that this should be a reason that we hold back on this issue.

I wonder, given his comments about Canada leading the world in inclusiveness, if he might tell me if he thinks that leading the way on this particular issue is a problem or an opportunity for leadership?

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5:25 p.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, it is very much an opportunity to show leadership. It is a dramatic differentiation between ourselves and our neighbours to the south who have taken a different stance. In some parts of this world gays and lesbians are executed for no other reason than because they are gays and lesbians. In terms of us showing leadership, far beyond tolerance to inclusiveness is a good thing. I think it will help make for a better world.

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February 21st, 2005 / 5:25 p.m.


Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of my constituents to address one of the most important debates ever to take place in this Parliament. The bill before us concerns the meaning of marriage, but I will argue that it is more broadly about the meaning of language, the nature of our society, the power of the state, the welfare of children and the future of the central human community: the family.

The bill seeks to change fundamentally the meaning of an institution that has existed in every civilization through all of recorded history, an institution that predates the state itself. In so doing, the government undertakes a radical social experiment, whose consequences on children, social stability, religious freedom and civil society are both unseen and unknowable. It does so against the collective wisdom of millennia of human experience, which G.K. Chesterton called the democracy of the dead. It does so against the consensus of the family of nations, against the demonstrable will of the Canadian people and against the express will of this Parliament.

The onus is, therefore, squarely on the government to justify this unprecedented and illiberal imposition of state power to undo the ancient meaning of a universal human institution. I submit that the government has demonstrably failed to discharge this onus. In fact, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice have offered only one argument ad nauseam to justify the redefinition of marriage, namely, that the exclusivity of marriage as it has always and everywhere been known constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, therefore, requires that gays and lesbians be admitted to marriage.

The reason for its narrow defence is obvious. The government knows that the vast majority of Canadians, two-thirds in the most recent polling, intuit that the essence of marriage is about the complementarity of the sexes. Rather than trying to persuade Canadians that their deeply held understanding of human nature does not comply with the latest political fashions of post-modern liberalism, the government seeks to play a trump card called human rights, the desired effect of which is to de-legitimize any opposition to the radical project as contrary to human dignity and Canadian values.

This strategy, in my submission, cheapens the precious currency of human rights by seeking to inflate an ordinary political demand into a requirement of fundamental justice. Let me be clear. If I were to conclude that traditional marriage constituted a violation of authentic human rights and that fundamental justice required this change in the meaning of marriage, I would be a fervent advocate of this bill regardless of the political cost.

Indeed, the core principle of my own political vocation is this: the inviolable dignity of the human person and the transcendent obligation to do justice and to promote the common good. These principles admit no exception for people's sexual orientation.

I believe I understand the complex and often painful social reality faced by many gays and lesbians in Canada. I acknowledge that too many of our fellow citizens have faced injustice and prejudice because of their sexual identity. I realize that too often people of traditional religious mores bring dishonour to themselves and their faiths by harbouring hatred rather than love toward homosexuals, forgetting that all of God's children are created in His image.

I recognize that some of us, and I include myself in this, who have sought to defend the natural family in politics have been sometimes insensitive to the real social marginalization experienced by many due to their sexual orientation. For these reasons I can sincerely appreciate the motivation of many gay and lesbian Canadians to seek the social approbation that they believe will come with access to marriage.

I understand that they regard the exclusive nature of heterosexual marriage as denying them access to an important social institution. Indeed, if marriage were simply about the state granting recognition of intimate adult relationships, I believe I could probably grant the legitimacy of the argument from rights. However, I believe that marriage has an infinitely deeper and richer meaning, a meaning hard-wired into human nature, a meaning that is in its very essence about the complementarity of the sexes and their unique power to transmit life.

In sum, the social, cultural and historical evidence leads to one conclusion: that marriage is tautologically a heterosexual institution. It therefore cannot constitute, in my view, unjust discrimination to limit the application of the word “marriage” to those relationships which it essentially describes. There is no fundamental right to nomenclature, not in Canadian jurisprudence or anywhere else in the liberal democratic world.

In this respect, permit me to quote at length an important Canadian authority on the meaning of marriage and its relation to the rights claims that constitute the government's only argument for the bill:

(There is) a universal pattern of marriage that has existed historically and across cultures. This universal pattern demonstrates that the raison d'ètre of marriage has been to complement nature with culture for the sake of the intergenerational cycle. Across world religions and throughout small-scale societies, the universal norm of marriage has been a culturally approved opposite-sex relationship intended to encourage the birth and rearing of children. While there may be a few examples of “same-sex marriages” from some societies, there has never been a same-sex marriage norm. From a cross-cultural perspective, “same-sex marriage” is without a commonly understood meaning, as it lacks the universal or defining feature of marriage according to sociological (religious), historical and anthropological evidence...

Marriage is unique in its essence, that is, its opposite-sex nature. Through this essence, marriage embodies the complimentarity of the two human sexes, playing a foundational role in Canadian society. (It is) a pre-legal concept that has existed since time immemorial. Marriage is not simply a shopping list of functional attributes but a unique opposite sex bond that is common across different times, cultures and religions as a virtually universal norm. In effect, marriage is not truly a common law concept, but one that predates our legal framework, through its long existence outside of it. The Canadian common law absorbed this opposite-sex requirement of marriage to underpin the myriad of federal and provincial legislation relating to it....

Preserving the definition of marriage as the descriptor of this opposite sex institution is not discriminatory....

Same-sex marriage is an oxymoron, because it lacks the universal or defining feature of marriage according to religious, historical, and anthropological evidence. Apart from everything else, marriage expresses one fundamental and universal need: a setting for reproduction that recognizes the reciprocity between nature...and culture....

The legal definition of the word cannot be changed without creating “an unacceptable cleavage between ordinary usage and the legal meaning; moreover, such redefinition is in conflict with the normal use and development of language”....

As overwhelmingly demonstrated by the evidence, marriage is universally understood, across time, societies and legal cultures, as an institution to facilitate, shelter and nurture the unique union of a man and a woman who, together, uniquely, have the natural capacity to have children. The greatest number of children continues to be both the offspring of marriage and brought up by their parents.

The meaning of marriage seeks to recognize, by its very essence, a particular kind of relationship, albeit one that corresponds to the characteristics of a majority, as opposed to a minority group. Nevertheless, as a definition, it remains uniquely suited to, and corresponds with, the particular needs of that group. It would represent a formalistic approach to equality to require identical treatment with respect to the definition of marriage.

In sum, the definition of marriage does not infringe s.15(1) of the Charter...because the distinction it draws does not amount to “discrimination.” While the definition distinguishes on the basis of sexual orientation, the distinction is not the product of stereotypical categorizations or assessments of the relative worth of individuals. Instead, marriage differentiates only on the basis of capacity or need, and thus it does not come within the range of invidious distinctions which s.15(1) was designed to eliminate.

Every word that I have just cited comes from the factums filed by the government's Attorney General, the current Deputy Prime Minister, before the Ontario Superior and Appeal Courts in the Halpern case.

These arguments and this evidence constituted the official position of the government only 24 months ago, the same government that now claims that traditional marriage constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights.

I submit that this is cognitive dissonance writ large. These arguments amplify the last opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada on the constitutionality of marriage in Egan in which Mr. Justice La Forest, speaking for himself and four other justices, famously declared that:

Suffice it to say that marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal traditions, one that is itself a reflection of longstanding philosophical and religious traditions. But its ultimate raison d'être transcends all of these and is firmly anchored in the biological and social realities that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship. In this sense, marriage is by nature heterosexual. It would be possible to legally define marriage to include homosexual couples, but this would not change the biological and social realities that underlie the traditional marriage.

The marital relationship has special needs with which Parliament and the legislatures and indeed custom and judge-made law have long been concerned. The legal institution of marriage exists both for the protection of the relationship and for defining the obligations that flow from entering into a legal marriage. Because of its importance, stability and well-being of the family and, as such, as Gontier J. argued in Myron v Trudel, Parliament may quite properly give special support to the institution of marriage.

That was the last statement on the constitutionality of marriage by the highest court in our land.

The Supreme Court pointed out in Egan that the special status according to opposite sex marriage “does not exacerbate an historic disadvantage (of same sex couples); rather it ameliorates an historic economic disadvantage...” faced by married couples because of the transactional costs associated with raising children.

It would also be helpful to recall the insightful judgment of Mr. Justice Pitfield of the British Columbia Supreme Court in EGALE v the Attorney General rendered in 2001. While his judgment obviously does not carry the same weight as the Supreme Court precedent in Egan, his analysis I believe is trenchant. Judge Pitfield said:

While, in the recent past, same-sex couples have been accorded many of the rights and obligations previously reserved for married couples, the one factor in respect of which there cannot be similarity is the biological reality that opposite-sex couples may, as between themselves, propagate the species and thereby perpetuate mankind.

...Marriage remains the primary means by which mankind perpetuates itself in our society..., The state has a demonstrably genuine justification in affording recognition, preference, and precedence to the nature and character of the core social and legal arrangement by which society endures.

The legitimacy of the state's interest in marriage is beyond question. There is no need for scientific evidence. The importance of the essential character of marriage to Canadian society is a matter of common sense understanding and observation....

That was a brilliant assessment. Now it is true that Judge Pitfield's considered decision was later overturned at the B.C. court of appeals but it is equally true that the above cited Supreme Court declaration on the constitutionality of marriage stands as the last word on this question, notwithstanding the shockingly cavalier attitude of certain lower courts to reject the principle of stare decisis as manifest in Egan.

We now find ourselves at this bizarre impasse where the federal government is claiming that it is compelled to take complete ownership of a primordial, pre-legal institution that belongs to civil society and, I submit, not the state, and to fundamentally change its meaning by the warrant of a handful of replicated lower court decisions rendered in total disregard of the normal restraints inherent in the development of common law and disregard of the judgment of the Supreme Court and in disregard of the will of this Parliament.

Canadians ask how we find ourselves here at this point. The answer is clear. The government failed in its duty to ensure constitutional clarity on this question through its irresponsible decision not to appeal the Ontario Appeal Court decision in Halpern and in other critical cases such as Rosenberg.

Having so failed, the government then decided to frame a reference question that it hoped would elicit its desired outcome, namely a Supreme Court finding that marriage was unconstitutional, which would give the Prime Minister the ability to force the current bill on Parliament as a constitutional obligation while washing his hands of any political responsibility for undoing the meaning of marriage.

Of course, we now all know that the justices of the Supreme Court refused to be used in this political stratagem and pointedly declined to declare ex cathedra the unconstitutionality of marriage.

Now the government has been undone by this unexpected act of judicial restraint. Its response has been to dissemble and claim through tortured logic that notwithstanding the court's refusal to nullify marriage, the court did it anyway.

There has been much deliberate confusion on this point by the Minister of Justice, from whom I expect more. To set the record straight I want to read directly from the court's response. Question No. 4 reads:

Is the opposite-sex requirement for marriage for civil purposes...consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If not, in what particular or particulars and to what extent?

The answer reads:

The Court exercises its discretion not to answer this.

In its detailed reasons, the court effectively chastised the government for trying to pass the buck, pointing out that “the federal government has stated its intention to address the issue of same-sex marriage legislatively regardless of the Court's opinion on this question”. The court also openly speculates on the possibility of a yes answer to the question, which would affirm the constitutionality of heterosexual marriage, saying that this would “throw the law into confusion”.

Notwithstanding all of this, the Prime Minister refuses to take ownership of his decision to change the meaning of marriage and now he refuses to discuss the real issues at play, such as the impact of this decision on social stability and continuity, the relations between the sexes, the encroachment of the state into a sanctuary of civil society, and the ancillary effects on the free exercise of religion, et cetera.

What does he do? He creates a distraction and a bogeyman called the notwithstanding clause, arguing that the proponents of marriage secretly wish to invoke the clause in order to jeopardize all of Canadians' fundamental and acquired rights. There is one word that appropriately describes this cynical strategy on the part of the Prime Minister: demagoguery, defined as the impassioned appeal to the prejudices and emotions of the populace.

Let us be clear. Were Parliament to exercise its constitutional authority to define the limits of marriage as contemplated in this bill, but to define it in accordance with its essential and universal, i.e., heterosexual, sense, such a statutory declaration would immediately trump the various provincial court common law decisions that have redefined marriage.

Would the constitutionality of such a statute then be challenged? Almost certainly. Would it survive such judicial scrutiny? If the Egan court were to answer that question, yes, it would.

Some self-styled experts have argued that the unconstitutionality of marriage is now settled law, but these same experts, members of what has been called the court party, embarrassed themselves in predicting a clear negative answer to question number four in the reference.

I, for one, believe that the Canadian judiciary would exercise far greater care and restraint in nullifying a statute adopted by Parliament than it has in changing the common law.

I would also like to point out that indeed it was Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who in 1981 ensured the incorporation of the notwithstanding clause in the charter and its applicability to Parliament. They chose to do so. They also chose, parenthetically, to veto an effort to include the term sexual orientation as enumerated grounds under section 15 because of the ambiguity of definition of that term and the potential that it could be misinterpreted by courts to create positive rights such as the one enshrined in this bill.

Finally, the current Prime Minister, I submit, implicitly voted for invocation of the notwithstanding clause in this place in 1999. The motion that he and the rest of the government voted for read: “That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps” within the jurisdiction of Parliament “to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada”.

We heard the current Deputy Prime Minister quoted as saying that for the record the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriage in that debate, but here is the point. Some Liberal MPs voted against the motion at that time because they thought that “all necessary steps” implied invocation of the notwithstanding clause to preserve marriage. The Prime Minister nevertheless voted for it and therefore I submit ought not to make a phantom issue of notwithstanding on this issue.

I want to move on to the question of fundamental rights, because that is really what is at the heart of the government's argument. Nowhere in any of the principal human rights statutes of the world is there to be found a grounding for so-called same sex marriage, not in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not in the declaration of the rights of man, the bill of rights, the European Convention on human Rights, the Canadian Bill of Rights or the Organization of American States covenant on human rights. To the contrary, many of these foundational documents of human rights law enumerate a specific right to marriage in the exclusively heterosexual sense.

I know that I must draw to a close. I simply point out that if the government is consistent in its position, then it will have to take leave to seek to appeal the UN covenant on human rights and other major international human rights instruments because they speak explicitly to the heterosexual definition of marriage, which I believe--

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5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Questions and comments.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Mississauga South.

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5:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to start by saying how pleased I am that members have continued to come before this place in a manner which reflects their beliefs and their concerns about a very important piece of legislation which has the potential to affect all Canadians.

In the first part of my speech, I would like to deal a little with our charter. I want to then get into a case in B.C. in 2001 which reached one conclusion and then I will get into the Halpern case, which in fact reached quite a different conclusion. Then I want to look at some of the potential implications both on the family and with regard to religious rights.

Canadians are very proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When it came in in 1982 it became a document which, together with our Constitution, ultimately defines who we are in Canada. It defines our values. Included in it is a guarantee of rights and freedoms. Those fundamental freedoms, which I would like to read into the record, are as follows:

  1. Everyone has the following fundamental rights and freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

d) freedom of association.

The charter then goes on in section 3 to outline our democratic rights, our right to vote and the right for a Parliament to sit.

Section 6 deals with our mobility rights. This is extremely important and is very characteristic of Canada. It states:

Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.

We are mobile. It states:

(2) Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident in Canada has the right

a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and

b) to pursue the gaining of livelihood in any province.

We are free to move around this country and to enjoy all of the benefits that Canada gives us all.

Section 7 deals with our legal rights. It states:

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

It goes on to lay out more details with regard to those rights.

Then there are the equality rights under section 15. This is most specifically important to the case before us and the bill before us. It basically says that we are all equal under the law to its benefits and to its protection. I will get into that a little more.

The charter also provides that we are a country of two official languages. It also provides under section 23 minority language education rights.

In addition to the enforcement of this and the general provisions of the charter, there is section 33, which is also going to be important in terms of the assessment of the implications of this bill. It is one of the most misunderstood sections in the charter. It is called the notwithstanding clause. It is part of the charter and yet it has been described by some as being a draconian instrument, as somehow a bad thing. Yet it is in my view the only tool that Parliament has to make sure that Parliament remains the highest court in the land, even above the Supreme Court of Canada.

The charter protects all of us. Some have said that this is an issue of minority rights. We are all minorities in some way; it protects us all. That is its most brilliant feature: that we are all one.

As I mentioned earlier, subsection 15(1) is quite important to this debate. It states:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination....

There are, however, two substantive exceptions to that equality provision. The first, as I mentioned earlier, is section 33 of the charter, commonly referred to as the notwithstanding clause. It permits an act of Parliament or legislature to continue to operate for up to five years. It basically is a holding pattern. It says that we are not going to deal with the charter implications right away, that we are going to let this law continue until we can stand back and look at the substantive or broader implications that changing that law may have.

The second broad exception is found in section 1. Section 1 reads:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

It states very clearly that our rights and freedoms are guaranteed, but what if there is a conflict? And there is in this case: there is a conflict between the benefits to society of extending marriage to same sex couples versus the consequences or the implications of not doing it. What does it mean? What are the implications?

It is this section 1 which was used until 2003 to justify why the definition of marriage could exclude same sex couples; it is the section 1 analysis about the benefits versus the negative consequences of making that change.

For many years, cases have been fought before the courts to challenge the definition of marriage as being unconstitutional. In the fall of 2001, one such case was heard by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. I will lay out a couple of the points here.

In that case, the Attorney General of Canada argued the point that the objective of limiting marriage to opposite sex couples is sufficiently important to warrant infringing on the rights of same sex couples. The next point was that the purpose of marriage is to provide a societal structure for the procreation of children in order to perpetuate Canadian society.

It was also argued that there was a rational connection between the objective and the limitation of marriage to opposite sex couples, because it is by such relationships that procreation occurs. It also was stated, having considered the implications, that the law minimally impairs the rights of same sex couples.

The Attorney General also argued that denying the legal status of marriage to same sex couples deprives them of the marriage label but does not deprive them of other rights or other obligations derived from marriage, and that is a very important distinction. Finally, it was argued that the gain to society from the preservation of the deep-rooted and fundamental legal institution of opposite sex marriage outweighs the detrimental effect of the law on same sex couples.

These were the arguments laid forward by the Attorney General of Canada in the 2001 case. The presiding judge was the Honourable Mr. Justice I.H. Pitfield. In his judgment, he agreed with the arguments put forward by the Attorney General of Canada. He further noted that the authors of the Constitution--and this is important--recognized the inherent discrimination in marriage and divorce and comprehended that these matters were of such a pressing, substantial and national importance that they assigned exclusive jurisdiction over them to the federal Parliament. This basically said that marriage and divorce were so important to Canada, to our society, that their jurisdiction was going to be for the federal Parliament, the highest Parliament.

In his interpretation of the law, Justice Pitfield also opined that he did not understand the law to be that the charter could be used to alter the head of power under subsection 91(26) of the Constitution Act, so as to make marriage something it was not. He basically questioned whether or not the charter could be used to alter the intent, the understanding and the comprehension of the Constitution Act.

He went on to say that other than the desire for recognition and acceptance of homosexual relationships, there is nothing that should compel the equation of a same sex relationship to an opposite sex relationship when it is a biological reality that the two can never be the same.

In his opinion, the issue before the court really had nothing to do with the worth of any individual, but was rather whether marriage must be made something it is not in order to embrace other relationships, a very interesting way to put it. Concluding that the benefits associated with preserving marriage for opposite sex couples far outweighed the negative consequences of denying same sex marriage, the court ruled that the infringement on the equality rights of same sex persons is reasonably justified under section 1 of the charter.

In July 2002 in the Halpern v. Canada, the Ontario Supreme Court heard a similar case challenging the existing definition of marriage. Just a year earlier we had the same case come before the B.C. court. Now we are before the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Effectively, the case discredited heterosexual marriage by citing divorce rates and the growth of common law relationships. It also dismissed the importance of the ability to procreate, citing the availability of reproductive technology such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy and adoption, to name a few. By the flavour of the court case and the arguments being made, all of a sudden we are challenging what happened in the B.C. court decision by looking at marriage and the distinctive characteristics of marriage, and trying to discredit them to the point that it might tip the balance in terms of the section 1 analysis of the charter.

On June 10, 2003, the court concluded that the existing legal framework was discriminatory, since it failed to provide fair public recognition of gay and lesbian unions. The decision also stated that the infringement could not be demonstrably justified under section 1 of the charter, citing that the exclusion of same sex couples from the right to marry served no identifiable, pressing or legitimate government objective.

In my view, this view summarily dismisses the relevance of marriage to any aspect of the social well-being of Canadians, which in fact is one of the reasons why we are here. It is to protect the health and well-being of all Canadians, especially our children, so that I would absolutely disagree with the statement of the judge.

More specific, and I would like to read right from the decision of Justice Smith, in the first two points of the decision. He said first of all under:

--to declare the common law definition of marriage as the “lawful and voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” to be constitutionally invalid and inoperative...

We understand that. Here is one that really interests me. Then he said, “I would suspend the operation of the foregoing declaration”, that is the unconstitutionality of that definition, “for a period of 24 months to enable Parliament (and, where applicable, the provincial Legislature) to create its own remedial provisions in this area consistent with the requirements of the Charter”.

The Ontario Court of Appeal extended a 24 month period of abeyance on the unconstitutionality of the definition of marriage so that Parliament and legislators could sort out some of this. It was contemplating, it was begging us to look at this, because this was such an important change. Why the Department of Justice decided that it was not appropriate to appeal this decision or to address the point raised by the courts is beyond me. It was the biggest mistake that ever could have been made.

We should consider, for instance, what we go through in the referendums on Quebec separation. We have a referendum and the people and say no. We have another referendum and the people say no. Then we have another one, and if they say yes, then it is all over. There are no more referendums. That is exactly what I think has happened here. We have a series of court cases, all arguing the same issue about the constitutionality of the definition of marriage and the infringement on the equality rights of gays and lesbians. However, this one changed it, notwithstanding that there was a series of decisions that said it was a justifiable infringement on the rights, one decided to say let us have a look at this. That was the Ontario Court of Appeal.

At that very point, we should have appealed it or there should have been a mechanism whereby the courts across the land, all the stakeholders who had made these decisions, should have had an opportunity before the Supreme Court to argue their case with regard to the section 1 analysis. The issue is whether or not there is proportionality and whether or not the detriment to one party is offset by the gain to the other. Is it reasonably justified? Section 1 is all about that.

The court strikes down the existing law of marriage as discriminatory and redefines marriage as a union of two persons. Then, following that, there were six other provincial courts and another territorial court which came up with copycat decisions. It was not new and different. It was just a domino effect. Somebody had to make the statement. It shows that they were just waiting for someone to make the move.

That is why all those arguments should have been brought together under one umbrella, and a discussion should have taken place on what were the implications and what was the section 1 analysis. Parliament and every court across the land should have been involved in that very important decision.

In assessing the Ontario Court of Appeal decision, Justice Robert Blair warned that the legal redefinition of marriage would not be an incremental change but a profound one, with extremely complex consequences. These include touching the core of many people's beliefs and value systems, resulting in social, political, cultural, emotional and legal ramifications.

This ominous assessment calls for reasonable pause to consider the possible need to invoke the notwithstanding clause. Since the beginning of recorded history, the history of marriage has been an opposite sex social institution which has numerous defining characteristics beyond companionship and intimacy of two people.

Let me talk about marriage.

Marriage promotes the bonding of men and women and the creation of a stable and durable partnership of life and property. It recognizes the interdependence of men and women. It embodies the spiritual, social, economic and contractual dimensions. It reflects a commitment to fidelity and monogamy. It serves as an optimal societal structure for birthing and rearing of children, at least to the extent necessary for perpetuating society. It provides for mutual support between men and women, supports the birthright of children, promotes bonding between men and children, guides the transformation of children into young men and women who are readying themselves for marriage and the beginning of a new cycle, and grows the family tree and develops broad supports and securities for all members.

The potential change to the parent-child bond and the resulting effect on society is incalculable. Members should know that lone parent families represent 15% of all families in Canada, but they account for 54% of all children living in poverty. That is what happens when there is not have a mother and a father in the household. We also know the biological parents usually protect and provide for their children more effectively than non-biological ones.

There are also clear possible effects on religious rights which are now going to be more difficult to defend. Even though the religious officials will not be forced to marry them, there will certainly be court challenges. There are already hints that the courts are willing to privatize religion or restrict the values of religious institutions.

Finally, I believe that the redefinition constitutes a radical societal change. It may not have immediate societal consequences. but over time it could have enormous implications. This is not just about the infringement of rights of gays and lesbians. It is also about diminishing the relevance of the most important social institution of our society, and that is marriage.

In my opinion, the potential for material and adverse consequences is so great that we should take the time to more fully assess the broader implications of this fundamental change to families, children and religious freedoms.

With respect, my view is that Bill C-38 should not be passed and that the notwithstanding clause under section 33 of the charter should be invoked to provide Parliament with the time it needs to make a fully informed decision.

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6:05 p.m.


Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I commend my colleague opposite for his remarks. At the close of my speech I was cut short. I was trying to make an important point about the norm in international human rights law with respect to marriage.

I would like to offer a couple of citations and ask my colleague to respond to them. I will cite from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948, article 16:

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

I repeat that it says “men and women”.

The International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights of the United Nations in article 17 recognizes, “The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to raise a family”.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations recognizes in article 23(2), “The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family”.

The European Convention on Human Rights, article 12, says, “Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right”.

The covenant on the rights of the family says as well that there is a prior right for men and women to marry and to found a family.

I would like to ask my colleague opposite if this bill should pass and if it becomes the policy of the Parliament and the Government of Canada that the maintenance of exclusive heterosexual traditional marriage constitutes a violation of human rights, does he believe the government will then seek to amend all the major international rights documents which explicitly enshrine heterosexual marriage and define marriage as a union between a man and a woman?

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6:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I have listened carefully to the debate since the beginning. I must admit that this aspect of whether this is a human right has been used by some to suit their own purposes.

In these debates I have heard two different references. The first has to do with the Canadian Human Rights Act. It has to do with the document which we amended some time ago to include sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds for discrimination. If we are talking about Canadian human rights, we are not talking about what the member just asked. What we are talking about is international human rights, as we would understand it. No law, no covenant, no country recognizes this as an international human right.

Furthermore, one that has not been talked about enough, and I want to put it on the record, is that we have to consider children's rights, which are recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. More specific, do they have the right to know who their biological parents are and to be raised by them?

We should be talking about the rights of children, about the international human rights which are not applicable in this case.

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6:10 p.m.


Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member, I congratulate him on a pretty good speech.

We have heard a couple of things in the debate on this issue that I think have perturbed more people than anything else. The first is on rights, that we are depriving people of their rights if we do not pass this legislation. I would like to know what the member thinks about that.

The other is the fact that we look upon marriage as the union of one man with one woman. Throughout the world this is basically the accepted norm. Of all the countries that have looked upon same sex marriage and the possibility of introducing it, only two countries in the world have gone along with it. Does the member not think that if it is such an abuse of rights that more countries would have accepted the same sex marriage situation than has happened?

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6:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, certainly the question is valid with regard to rights.

We all understand that since the Constitution and the charter have come in, there has been an infringement on the rights of gay and lesbian persons because they have not had access to the institution of marriage. That is true. It always has been, right from the beginning. It is not something that was imposed as we went along. It is something that was enshrined when the Constitution was first crafted. The authors of the Constitution and the charter acknowledge that. They knew and comprehended it, but they felt that they were not going to put sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination even within the charter.

Yes, there is a rights violation. It has been acknowledged by every court in every case. The issue is whether or not the infringement on those rights is reasonably justified in a free and democratic society. This is a section 1 analysis. It is a question of what one does when virtually every mainstream religion defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It has some consequences when the laws of Canada will now say it is two people. It is a very delicate balance and the courts, until the Ontario Court of Appeal decision, basically said that on balance the infringement was reasonably justified. The Ontario court decided that the balance had shifted.

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6:15 p.m.


Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, the member is focusing on rights. I would like to pose question about something that has come to my attention. As I have travelled across the country people from all walks of life have approached me. This issue has seized the nation. It is divisive for the country as well as Parliament. Repeatedly people have told me that they are concerned about their rights to representation and the fact that the cabinet members are not being allowed to vote the wishes of their constituents on this issue. What about those people's rights to proper and accurate representation? Where is their voice in this?

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6:15 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I acknowledge the member's point. They have rights and those rights are not infringed upon. They have a choice to make.

Let me conclude in the remaining moments. Again I want to thank hon. members for being respectful and tolerant of the differing views of others, but I want to reiterate that in the analysis that I have done, the judgments I have read, the speeches I have heard, the feedback I have received from NGOs, special interest groups and everywhere else, there are some concerns not about the short term implications but the longer term consequences.

As a result, that is why my position is that Bill C-38 should not go forward but rather we should invoke the notwithstanding clause. We should take the time to properly assess the section 1 analysis ourselves and the other broader implications so that Parliament indeed can make a fully informed decision.

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6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Before we resume debate, I want to inform the House that all speeches are going to be 10 minutes in length with no questions and comments.

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6:15 p.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I must inform the House that it is a bit of a surprise for me to be speaking tonight. I was going to present my observations and views on this very important subject a little later in the month, but I have been asked to speak tonight. For those who may think that we have a party policy of vetting speeches, I can assure hon. members that is not quite correct. I will be speaking from the heart as I normally do in these situations. Since I am somewhat unprepared, I hope to structure my thoughts in such a manner that it makes some sense and I hope we can have a good dialogue.

I honestly agree with the approach taken in this important debate by all the speakers before me and hopefully the speakers after. All members of the House are conducting themselves in a respectful manner. If there has been no other subject debated in the House over the past two decades, this subject demands and deserves the respect of all Canadians and all parliamentarians. This is far too important an issue for anyone to make it into a political football. We have to speak our beliefs. We have to speak from our hearts. We have to speak to the issue at hand and some of the approaches that we have seen taken by the government.

I am disappointed in the approach the government has taken. I believe the government is abdicating its moral responsibility to speak to the issue from a moral and a personal standpoint. I believe that the government is hiding behind the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is something to be ashamed of or something to be stricken from the Canadian Constitution or the Canadian mindset. I believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; however, I do not believe that anyone should hide behind it as an excuse to bring down legislation. I think that is exactly what is happening in this case.

We have a number of examples. Hansard records that a number of people from across the House have spoken to this issue in years past. There are comments on record from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Both have stated without equivocation that they would support the traditional definition of marriage.

What has changed in the years since they made those statements? Have they had a change of heart? Have they come to see the light? Have they been persuaded by someone else's compelling argument that they should change their point of view? I see no evidence of that whatsoever. What I see is the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and many other hon. members stating, “We have in effect no choice. Our hands are tied. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms dictates that we must do this. The Supreme Court has ruled that we must do that”.

That is reprehensible. I have a great deal of respect for all of the members in the House. I see one hon. member across the floor who has been an eloquent speaker advocating the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry, and advocating the proper development of his belief that same sex marriage is something that should not only be accepted within Canadian standards, but also be promoted.

I have a lot of respect for a member like that because he is speaking from his heart for what he believes are his values. While I might disagree with the hon. member, I cannot help but respect his point of view, and I will respect his point of view. What I will not respect is any member in the House who stands and says, “We have no choice. Our hands are tied”, to give an implication to Canadians that the member does not really believe in this but he or she cannot do anything about it. That is disingenuous at best and I have no respect for members opposite who take that approach.

Let us talk about the charter. Let us talk about legalities. Let us talk about human rights. The government is stating that it must take this course of action, that it must introduce this legislation because the charter states that it must.

We all know the story. We know the four questions that were given to the Supreme Court for its consideration. This was the first step in the government's master plan for its members to abdicate their responsibilities as parliamentarians to turn the question over to the Supreme Court. They hoped the court would rule accordingly, in their view, to further hamstring the government and to state unequivocally that they must bring down this legislation.

There was one slight problem, one little bump in the road. That was question number four. The Supreme Court did not rule on the final question, whether or not the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional. That assembly, that august body of law makers--I should not say law makers because too many people tend to think that the Supreme Court makes the laws. It does not. No judge does. The court interprets and administers. Parliamentarians make the law.

The first problem was that the government decided to turn this entire question over to the Supreme Court. Much to its surprise, question number four came back from the Supreme Court. The court said that it would not rule on whether or not the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional. It left it for parliamentarians to decide. That might be the first hint that the government was off track, yet even though the Supreme Court ruled as it did on that question, the government still refuses to admit that this body should have been the body to determine the question of definition of marriage.

The Supreme Court also said a couple of other things. It said it is constitutionally correct, that we cannot rule against same sex marriages and that would be a constitutional provision. One could probably interpret by consequence that the traditional definition of marriage would be unconstitutional, but the court did not rule that.

My point is that there is room for honest and reasonable debate. I believe there is room for some interpretation not only of the Supreme Court's ruling but of the charter. We have heard from many speakers before me that other international bodies made decisions. I think it was the Doha resolution which stated that marriage is not a human right. Some may disagree with that, but if it was a human right, then as many speakers before me have stated, there would be countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands and others that would be viewed perhaps as human rights violators. I do not think that was the intent of any charter or any discussion concerning human rights. I do not think that those countries should be considered violators of human rights.

What we have here is a situation where we have to determine what is right and reasonable, legally, constitutionally and morally. I firmly believe that the approach taken by the Conservative Party of Canada addresses all of those issues in a manner with which obviously not all Canadians, but most Canadians would be happy.

I firmly believe that all Canadians should receive the same benefits in terms of equality when it comes to things like benefits and privileges. We have brought forward a compromise. The moderate position we have taken is to suggest that while we support the traditional definition of marriage, all the ancillary benefits and privileges that go with marriage should be afforded to same sex couples. Same sex couple should not be penalized. Survivor benefits and pension benefits should be given to same sex couples who choose to live together and spend their lives together in a loving and caring relationship.

What we are suggesting, however, is that this could be accommodated in forms of civil unions or other relationships such as those that are protected by law. The benefits and privileges of those individuals are protected by law, but not under the definition of marriage.

I know this is difficult for many members to appreciate and to understand. As a member opposite pointed out very eloquently on several occasions, to him and his partner marriage is something they feel strongly about. They want to be considered in the definition of law to be married.

I have to tell the House where I am coming from and how I was brought up. To me marriage is a religious ceremony. Marriage is, has been and always will be a religious act. I was married in a church. I believe that all married couples that I know at least feel strongly about the sanctity of marriage and the ability to swear their vows to their loved ones in a church.

While we talk about civil marriage, the opponents of our position and the proponents of same sex marriage say that this will not affect religious marriage because it is civil marriage.

To me marriage is a religious act. That is just my feeling. To me it is a very personal, a very heartfelt, and a very moral approach that I take to this equation. To me marriage and religion go hand in hand. For those who do not agree with that position, I respect their opinion, but I cannot agree with it.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

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6:30 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Madam Speaker, last Monday, a week ago today, I asked the member opposite about hepatitis C. The member opposite provided an answer that was completely unrelated which is disgraceful. The hepatitis C issue is very important to many people, yet the government decided not to address the issue but talked about a completely different issue.

A couple of days later I raised the issue of hepatitis C again. I conveyed my disgust and disappointment that the hon. member across the way was unable to answer or was not able to address the issue of hepatitis C and instead talked about on-line pharmacies. The member opposite suggested that his representative was provided with the wrong briefing notes on the Tuesday and then on the Wednesday suggested that I raised the wrong subject.

I would like to share with the member for the record the question which I asked and which led to last Monday's statement and tonight's issue. My question was posed on October 18, 2004 as follows:

The minister refuses to give Canadians an honest answer. Why is the government blatantly discriminating against the pre-1986 and post-1990 victims? Why will the minister not stand up in the House right now and tell Canadians that all victims of hepatitis C from tainted blood deserve compensation? Canadians know. Give an honest answer and do the right thing.

Clearly, this question had nothing to do with on-line pharmacies and had everything to do with hepatitis C. I hope that we can expect a better answer from the government side tonight.

I would also like to point out that on November 3 the Minister of Health failed to answer my question about the Prime Minister's connection to the tainted blood scandal. He was on the board of directors of the Canada Development Corporation, which was implicated in the tainted blood scandal. As a decision-maker on the CDC, the Prime Minister had a pure conflict of interest in this matter. I would like the hon. member to comment on that. I wonder if this had anything to do with the delay in compensation for these victims.

In the health committee, all parties unanimously agreed to compensate hepatitis C victims, but the government has still delayed on this. The last time we went though this $58.5 million was spent on lawyers. Are we going to go through this again and spend millions of dollars on lawyers and GST? How much will the lawyer review cost? Will their fees come out of the victims' pockets?

I would like the member to respond about the Prime Minister's conflict of interest and how much the legal proceedings will cost?

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6:30 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia


Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, the member raises again a lot of points completely unrelated to the questions he put to the House. He put them on for adjournment proceedings because he was not comfortable with the full answer that he received at the time.

However, he has taken advantage of that to raise a whole bunch of other points which are completely unrelated to his question just as he did last week when I came back with the Prime Minister after signing the historic accord with the province of Nova Scotia to provide it with the capability to invest in goods and services necessary for the good life of those people.

One question he raised was with respect to the CDC and the Prime Minister. It is true that the member raised that question in the House. I have never questioned the Speaker's ruling, but the Speaker said that the question was out of order because the Prime Minister's participation as a board member of the Canada Development Corporation predated his arrival in Parliament and the functions which we are currently discussing. The Speaker did not permit an answer on that question because he ruled it out of order.

With respect to his question regarding whether there could be a conflict with respect to the Prime Minister and the CDC, I certainly would not want to answer that question because it predates the Prime Minister's arrival.

When the decision was made on how to compensate victims, the Prime Minister was not in his current function. A recommendation was made supported by all parties of the health committee indicating that we look at the question of an eventual actuarial surplus within the trust accounts in which the federal government had put in $900 million. This was in accordance with the wishes of three courts of three provinces along with the agreement of all the provinces and with the participation of the stakeholders. The trust account was managed by an independent body. If there is an actuarial surplus, that could be one area to look in order to compensate the victims in the window from 1986 to 1990. The health minister said that would be one option for funding that we would look at but he did not limit himself to that.

When that decision was taken, I was not in the House. I submit there is no discrimination question here. It is not the responsibility of the federal government or the provincial government to compensate people because they get ill. It is our responsibility to provide a good health care service.

The government made a good decision at the time working with the provinces to provide funding for those people because they suffered great hardship and the evidence was within that window. Other tests could have been used, so there could be a question of whether everybody exercised due diligence. However, that does not mean there was discrimination. I do not believe there was discrimination.

I can assure the member that it is the full intent of the Minister of Health to work diligently to provide compensation for the pre-1986 and post-1990 victims.

Civil Marriage ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Madam Speaker, I find it very ironic that the member accuses me of going off track on the issue, but in the same vein he talks about some offshore deal in Atlantic Canada. It is very ironic.

The fact is the issue is about compensation for hepatitis C victims. The government has not done the right thing and it should.

On the issue of the Prime Minister's conflict of interest, the Speaker should have taken into consideration that the Prime Minister is involved in decisions now dealing with the administration of government. He is dealing with the compensation of these victims in his position as Prime Minister. The fact is that some of his activities in his previous life should be taken into consideration when he is making decisions today that may reflect badly on his previous actions. This is very concerning.

I would like to ask the member this question. Is the money coming out of the victims' pockets to do these reviews?

Civil Marriage ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Madam Speaker, I would certainly not want to lead the House into believing or the Canadian public believing that the Prime Minister would be exempt from any review for what he has done in past professional practice or in past positions. The Krever inquiry looked into that whole question of how the blood supply issue was handled. There was an investigation where there was a question of criminality. The courts were involved as was the RCMP.

The point I raised was that the Speaker ruled that a question could not be put in the House pertaining to the activities of members prior to their arrival in this place from other professions.

As far as the where the money comes from, that trust fund is not government money. That fund belongs to the trustees. It is managed in accordance to the agreement with the trustees that was submitted to the courts of three provinces working together with the provinces and territories. It is fully their money and fully employed for their benefit.

Civil Marriage ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, last December, I asked a question about employment insurance. I asked it because the Liberal government wanted to cut EI premiums by 3¢ and, in the knowledge that, if it cut premiums, this would result in $280 million less in the EI fund. So, obviously, many Canadians are wondering why the member for Acadie—Bathurst does not want premiums to go down, when the government had a $3 billion surplus in 2004, for example, and in previous years, this surplus was around $7 billion or $8 billion per year.

I asked the question for the simple reason that I wanted to know why the government is still listening to the Conservatives, who are demanding premiums be cut. When changes are finally made, there will be a point when there will no longer be a surplus. In my opinion, it is wishful thinking to believe that the government will pay back the $46 billion it took from workers without their permission and, if it continues to cut EI premiums, that it will turn around and say it will be making changes.

My question to the government was clear. The minister gave the following answer:

Mr. Speaker, we listen to them both. Neither one is excluded. We are also awaiting the opinion of the Auditor General, who has said the system needs to be better balanced. We are taking action now because the economy is doing very well.

However, we know that the Prime Minister of Canada sent Liberals across Canada to conduct a study. We know that changes must be made. Why change EI premiums when they are crucial? First we must wait and see if there is enough money for the necessary changes and not put the cart before the horse.

So, I want to ask the parliamentary secretary to clarify this for us.