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House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was religious.

Topics

Question No. 76Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Anders Conservative Calgary West, AB

For each year since 1997, was any funding provided to the Carleton University Norman Patterson School of International Affairs and, if any, from which department, agencies and Crown corporations was the funding requested?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 77Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Anders Conservative Calgary West, AB

For each year since 1997, was any funding provided to the University of Calgary Centre for Military and Strategic Studies and, if any, from which departments, agencies and Crown corporations was the funding requested?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 77Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

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

Question No. 77Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 77Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 77Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Windsor West.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege to address a very important issue. As the member of Parliament for Windsor West, I feel that my privileges were breached by a mailing that was sent to several areas of my constituency. I received complaints from my constituents about it. It not only lied about my record as a member of Parliament, but it also lied about the role of Parliament.

The mailing was sent under the franking privileges of the member for Medicine Hat. I do not know if the member authorized it or saw it prior to it going out. I have now given him a copy of it. The return address on it is to the leader of the official opposition.

The mailing was quite shocking because it indicated that I did not support the RCMP. What was really disgusting and disturbing about the mailing was the fact that it arrived on the doorsteps of my home and others on the very day the country was mourning the loss of four RCMP officers.

There are ways to revoke mailings at the last minute. As a member of Parliament, I have done it myself, and I believe that should have been done.

The document itself is a breach of parliamentary privilege. Specifically, the mailing said, “In November your Member of Parliament had the opportunity to transfer $20 million from the gun registry to the RCMP”.

There was no vote in November, Mr. Speaker, in which I could participate. There was a vote in December in which I did oppose further supplementary money going to the gun registry. I voted with the Conservative side and other members of different political parties at that point in time. The mailing is factually wrong on that instance.

Procedurally, I would like to have this matter sent to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for examination. The mailing misleads the constituents of Windsor West about the procedures of the House of Commons. We cannot take money from one budget and put it into another on a whim, as the document indicates.

The document stated, “Instead of supporting Canada's hard-working Mounties, your M.P. voted against this proposal”.

I found that also disgusting. As a former municipal councillor and in my current role as a member of Parliament, I have always supported the police department as well as the RCMP.

The information in this mailing is wrong. It lied. It spread the wrong information to my constituents. It was not factual with respect to my voting record as well as with respect to the role of Parliament.

A series of questions were also included in the mailing such as: “Do you think the gun registry should be scrapped? Yes or No.” “Do you support the Conservative plan to ensure front-line officers are properly funded to keep your streets safe? Yes or No.” This is ironic because one could take the argument that I support the gun registry so therefore I would take RCMP officers off the street. One could argue that the Conservative Party has been pushing for tax cuts for corporations and taking RCMP officers off our streets. There is a double standard that is not acceptable.

It is important that this be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. An apology should be issued to the residents of Windsor West. Cards containing personal information will go to the data bank of the leader of the official opposition for whatever kind of distribution. This information will be accumulated under misleading and false pretences.

I do not have a problem with the government mailing information to my riding. For example, it recently mailed out literature with respect to farms even though I have only one farm in my community of 118,000 people. The government was speaking its voice. The information was not misleading. It did not state anything not factual about my record.

This case needs redress. The Conservative Party should pay back the taxpayers of the country for misleading information.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think my friend's outrage is a little over the top. The truth is that there was a vote in November in the justice committee where Conservative members proposed that $20 million be transferred from the firearms registry to the RCMP. The NDP actually opposed the transfer of that money. My friend may not have participated in that vote. He may have found a way, through proxy, to have other members oppose that particular motion.

He says that Parliament does not have the authority to make proposals like this. Of course Parliament has the authority to do that. We make motions all the time. We can make proposals. Whether or not the government decides to go ahead with them is really up to the government. In private members' business we can pass all kinds of private members' bills in the House that never see the light of day because, unfortunately, the government often decides to bury those things. However that does not mean we should give up and not show up for a vote or not participate in these things. We have an obligation to do that.

Finally, my friend says that he and his constituents were somehow intimidated by this literature. When I think of the word “intimidated” I think of the word “threatened”, that they were somehow threatened physically or frightened into a particular course of action. I fail to see how this ten percenter could frighten anybody into doing anything.

I would argue that the member is engaging in nothing but hair splitting and that this is not a question of privilege. This is simply debate.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the point of the matter is that I was not in the justice committee and I am not a member of that committee. The issue is that this specific document claims actions that did not take place.

This is about parliamentary privilege and the use of taxpayer money to spread lies and mistruths about members and that is not acceptable. On the issue of intimidation, it is a fact that members in the community would be replying to information that is not factually correct and having their private information accumulated based upon that and documented and stored with the Conservative Party of Canada based on mistruths.

PrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I think we have heard enough on this. I will review the submissions of hon. members on the point. I want to thank the member for Windsor West and the member for Medicine Hat for their helpful comments and suggestions.

The hon. member for Windsor West was kind enough to send me a copy of the document in question with the letter indicating notice of his question of privilege, so I do have that in possession. If the hon. member for Medicine Hat has any other copies that he thinks may be different, I would be more than happy to see any of that kind of material from him. However no one is offering to table anything here today so I will work with the copy I have.

I will get back to the House in due course on this matter.

The House resumed 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

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this matter today. I would like to underscore from the outset that I will not digress into name calling nor will I offer condemnation of others who may not share my views on this topic.

I firmly believe that we should debate ideas in this chamber and that it is both acceptable and expected that people of good faith will from to time have legitimate differences of opinion.

Accordingly, to help succinctly outline my thoughts on this contentious and complex issue, I will endeavour to subdivide my remarks into two categories: first, my personal thoughts; and second, the Supreme Court ruling.

First, let me take a moment to share my personal thoughts. I strongly believe that the institution of marriage should remain confined to opposite sex couples. I strongly support the stand that federal lawyers took in the Ontario court when they said that marriage embodies the complementary of the two human sexes. It 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.

Marriage is a relationship that is as old as time itself. It existed prior to our laws and is a core building block of modern society that must be preserved.

All in all, retention of the traditional definition of marriage is not about discrimination against same sex partners. After all, same sex couples already have all the tax and societal benefits extended to opposite sex couples.

Let us for a moment examine the recent ruling of the Supreme Court on the subject. While this particular aspect is complex, I would like to attempt to offer clarity with respect to what the court said and did not say.

Essentially there are two points that should raise concern: the impact that redefinition of marriage could have on religious officials and institutions, and the impact that it could have on non-religious officials who perform civil marriages and issue marriage licences.

Third, the court did not answer the question of whether the opposite sex requirement for marriage is consistent with the charter. The Supreme Court did not say that to maintain the traditional definition of marriage would be unconstitutional. It said that to change the definition would be within the power of the federal government. There is a distinct difference.

Now, to break down the concerns surrounding each of these important points.

Issue number one: Protection of religious officials and institutions from being forced to perform same sex marriages. For many opposed to changing the definition of marriage to include same sex marriages, the main point of contention is the impact this decision could have on religious institutions and officials.

The federal government has most recently, through the statements of the Prime Minister, stated that the guarantee of religious freedom in section 2(a) of the charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled to perform civil or religious same sex marriages that violate their religious beliefs.

The clarity with which these assurances have been given was echoed in material circulated by the Liberal Party. Specifically, last December 11, in a document received by my office, the Liberal Party stated that the Supreme Court decision upheld the guarantee of religious freedom in section 2(a) of the charter. It further stated that the said protection was broad enough to prevent religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same sex marriages that were contrary to their religious beliefs.

What the document omitted was the statement included in the Supreme Court's decision which said that religious freedoms would be protected unless there were unique circumstances with respect to which it would not speculate.

At the same time, the government, again through the Prime Minister, has been stating that the consequences of enshrining same sex marriage will not impact religious institutions or religious officials.

While the court has been emphatic with respect to the generally held right under the charter which will ensure that religious officials cannot be compelled by the state to perform marriage ceremonies against their faith and that the same applies to the use of sacred places, there remains an open question related to unique circumstances.

Also, we have no absolute definition of what constitutes sacred places. I would like to know if that would include a reference to all church or ministry held properties, some of which are made accessible to the general public. This question comes to mind because, even as I speak now, the the Knights of Columbus in B.C. is being forced to defend itself against charges of discrimination.

The Knights of Columbus recently refused to permit a gay couple to use its facility for a same sex wedding and, as a result, it has been called to account for its actions by the B.C. human rights tribunal. It seems that its religious beliefs may not be enough to protect it against a charge of discrimination based upon the sexual orientation of its rejected clients.

Issue number two: Of the individuals duly empowered by the civic authority or provincial governments to perform marriages, would they be able to avail themselves of the charter protection of their religious beliefs?

The court in its opinion has indicated that under certain circumstances there would appear to be limits on religious freedom. In its ruling, the court clearly indicates that where a collision of rights occurs, that collision must be approached on the contextual facts of actual conflicts. The court went on to state that where the rights cannot be reconciled, a true conflict of rights is made out. In such cases, the court will find a limit on religious freedom and go on to balance the interests at stake under section 1 of the charter. The application of this limit was said to apply principally to individuals who are not religious officials but are empowered to perform marriages yet refuse on the grounds of religious freedom.

In essence, the court is saying that it would override the personal religious freedoms of citizens if they came into conflict with other more fundamental rights. In such circumstances, the court felt that it would be improper to assess whether the proposed act, if adopted, would create a collision of rights in otherwise undefined spheres.

Again there is a recognition of as yet unanswered questions which may arise in the future.

The charter states the following with respect to religious freedom:

  1. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

The operative word, of course, is “everyone”.

In response, the attorney general said that the interest engaged and protected by subsection 2(a) of the charter is freedom to hold one's religious beliefs. This freedom has been characterized by this court as the absence of coercion or constraint. If a person is compelled by the state or the will of another to a course of action or inaction which he would not otherwise have chosen, he is not acting of his own volition and he cannot be said to be truly free.

He went on to explain that freedom means that, subject to such limitations as are necessary to protect safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, no one can be forced to act in a way contrary to his or her beliefs. To me, it would appear this reference would possibly include marriage commissioners and other civil servants expected to perform marriage ceremonies who express opposition on religious grounds to doing so. Even certain ministers and members of the House have said that will be the case.

Issue number three: What does it mean if the court has not answered the fourth question related to whether opposite sex marriages are consistent with the charter?

As to the need to answer the question, the court explained that the government's stated position is that it will proceed with legislative enactment regardless of what answer we give to this question. The court felt that the government had clearly accepted the rulings of lower courts and had adopted their position as its own. Justices believed that, given the government's stated commitment, an opinion on the constitutionality of an opposite sex requirement for marriage serves no legal purpose.

Again what this means is that the Supreme Court did not rule on whether or not the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional because, by not appealing the lower court decisions on the matter, the government had already indicated that it intended to make same sex marriage legal.

At a minimum, the points to which I have referred have given rise to more questions. I believe that in the absence of clarification from either the courts or the Department of Justice, we as legislators must step to the plate and make certain that no stone is left unturned on this matter.

If the points raised have any substance, there is no blanket protection for religious institutions or officials. If the points raised are accurate, there certainly will be no protection provided to civil officials who are currently empowered to perform marriages who attempt to use the provisions of subsection 2(a) of the charter.

Until these points are given further clarity or there is an adequate explanation as to why the concerns outlined above are without merit, it would be impossible for me to support the proposed legislation as I now understand it.

Let me be crystal clear. I support the charter but, while I believe the charter is a fine document with lofty ideals, I do not accept that it is being interpreted by the courts in a manner consistent with its intended premise.

On the matter of rights, I should also point out that there is not an authority in the world, including the United Nations or the Supreme Court of Canada, that has declared the right to marry to be a basic right or has suggested that maintaining the opposite sex only definition of marriage is discriminatory. I point this out only to show that this is not a matter of discrimination but rather a public policy debate that has been selected for advancement.

In closing, I am not prepared to vote in favour of same sex marriage for the reasons I have set upon the table today. Moreover, when I surveyed each household in Huron--Bruce with the question “Should same sex marriage be legalized?”, a resounding 83% told me no. As the representative of the people and as a man of faith, I have no alternative but to vote against this particular bill.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Speaker, the federal government is the sole arbiter of the definition of marriage, yet the Liberal government and its predecessor chose to ignore this fact. They made no moves toward enshrining the definition of marriage in law. Instead, they chose to abrogate their responsibilities. They let a number of lower courts rule against the common law definition of marriage without contending the action.

To add insult to injury, when the government finally crafted marriage legislation, it sent it to the Supreme Court for review before it was presented to Parliament. It hoped that the Supreme Court would tell it what it must do, so that it could claim that the courts and not it ordered the redefinition of marriage. Thankfully this did not happen and now it has to stand up and be counted.

I support the traditional definition of marriage; that is, the legal union of a man and a woman. I do not agree with the proposed definition of the union of two persons. I say this with no intention of taking away any perceived benefit from anyone.

It matters not to me in this debate whether an individual is sexually oriented heterosexual or homosexual. In the main, both orientations are a matter of birth and are unchangeable. Sexual orientation is not in dispute here. It is the attempt to use sexual orientation as a fundamental rights issue where it does not exist.

I do not perceive the call for the redefinition of marriage as a fundamental rights issue, but one where Parliament is considering changing the meaning of marriage to such an extent that it loses its essential purpose. Marriage has been a fundamental concept of societies for thousands of years across all continents and cultures involving the union of men and women for the implicit purpose of generating children and establishing the family as one of the building blocks of society.

Marriage not only serves the interest of the two individuals but also the interest of their children and society. This is why, through a series of administrative privileges, states choose to support heterosexual couples that marry.

The proposal to change the concept of marriage as currently understood is so dramatic an adjustment that its fundamental purpose, the generation of children within a family setting, is being set aside. The change being proposed is equivalent to saying that society does not need children because a same sex arrangement cannot and will not produce children.

I firmly believe that dignity and equality do not depend in any way on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or marriage state. One's dignity and equality before the law is based on the fact that we are all human. As humans we are entitled to fundamental rights and depending upon our circumstances conditional or legislated rights. There are fundamental rights like the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the security of the person et cetera. Other rights that we enjoy are conditional and granted through legislation. Marriage is one.

People have the right to marry as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 16, as long as they fulfill the conditions inherent in this right. In this particular case, heterosexuality is recognized as the inherent condition for marriage because its implicit purpose is the generation of children. Marriage is not and has never been a basic human right. Marriage is a social and religious practice in which people join together their lives in emotional and economic ways through the forming of a household.

Because it holds the future of society, it has been conferred with rights and obligations with respect to raising children, holding property, sexual behaviour, kinship ties, and the relationship of society, inheritance, emotional intimacy and love.

Marriage establishes the legal father of a woman's child, establishes the legal mother of a man's child. It gives the husband and wife control over each other's sexual services, labour and property. It also establishes a relationship between the families of the husband and wife.

As I have just noted, there is a contractual element to the current definition of marriage which is consequential to the arrangement. Most importantly, it should be noted that the contractual aspects are not the fundamentals of marriage. It is the generation of children within a family that is at the heart of marriage.

Marriage has traditionally been the prerequisite for starting the family which serves as the building block of society. The ceremony in which the process of marriage is enacted and announced to the community is called a wedding.

A wedding in which a couple is recognized in the eyes of the law is in effect a civil or contractual union conferring legal benefits and obligations of the state. Religious weddings occur according to the beliefs of a particular religion. States do not normally recognize religious weddings from the point of view of legal obligations and benefits unless a civil ceremony took place at the same time.

To state the obvious, there are two sexes: male and female. Humans evolved as two kinds for a purpose, otherwise there would have been a self-generating unisex human. We are not unisex. We are male and female. It takes the egg from the female and the sperm from the male to generate new life. Once the child arrives, it must be nurtured and supported until it is an adult. The best arrangement for this is the family with a mother and a father.

At this time, there are a large number of single parent families in Canada. Single parents provide their children with the vital support and nurturing they need to grow, but the children do not have the guidance and support of the missing parent. Nearly everyone would agree that although this is the current reality, it is certainly not the preferred situation.

There are also heterosexual marriages that do not generate children for physical or emotional reasons, or because they choose not to. Regardless, the implicit purpose and conditions of marriage as currently understood exist.

For practical reasons, not every family will have two parents, but why does the Parliament of Canada want to pass a bill that will exacerbate the problem?

Canadians need to feel that the state gives a prime importance to the institution of heterosexual marriage and that it is ready to support it in a privileged way those who take this step. This encouragement can only benefit the state and society as a whole. To decide to place marriage and same sex unions on an equal footing would bring about a harmful devaluation of marriage as we know it.

The government has placed one clause in its bill that states that religious officials will not be forced to solemnize same sex marriage. This is disingenuous. The federal government has no jurisdiction in this area of law. It is the responsibility of the provinces to offer protection to those who conduct the marriage ceremony. The government has placed this clause in the bill for public relations purposes.

If the government's bill were to be enacted, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, religious institutions that oppose same sex marriage would come under attack. They would come under attack from two sources: Revenue Canada on their tax free status in a situation where they are opposing the government's political will and the courts if there is a perceived conflict between religious and same sex rights.

To conclude, marriage as currently defined, that is between a man and a woman, is based on nature. Its purpose is the generation of children and the future of society. Same sex unions, by their physical nature, cannot generate children and, therefore, do not meet the essential purpose of marriage.

Those who support same sex marriage cannot claim it as a fundamental right equivalent to freedom of speech or freedom of association. There is no credible jurisdiction that claims marriage as a fundamental right.

Marriage from the point of view of the state is a conditional or legislated right. The government, in attempting to radically redefine marriage, has turned marriage into a mere matter of contract law and away from its purpose as the generator and building block of society. Marriage for me is more than contract law.

I cannot support this government's legislation and I intend to vote no.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Don Valley West Ontario

Liberal

John Godfrey LiberalMinister of State (Infrastructure and Communities)

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise to speak in defence of minority rights, in defence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in support of the government's legislation allowing for the civil marriage of same sex couples.

This is a historic debate and I say this as somebody who was once a professor of history. These debates, when the private conscience is in dialogue with public policy, are actually rather rare in our parliamentary history. They occur perhaps once every parliamentary generation.

I can remember sitting in this gallery in June 1977 during an all night debate and vote when the House came to a conclusion on the subject of capital punishment. That was one of those historic moments and there was a sense of history in the House that night. In the 1980s there was an equally impassioned debate in this place on abortion. Now, in our time, it is our turn to think about where we stand on this very important matter. This is a historical debate on same sex marriage.

I fully recognize that this is not an easy matter for members. I recognize, as have others, that people of good faith and conscience can genuinely disagree with each other on this matter, as I do respectfully with the hon. member for Huron—Bruce and the previous speaker, the hon. member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills.

It is also important to say that I have not always thought this way on this subject. In 1999 the opposition put forward a motion which stated “marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. I was not one of the 12 Liberal members of Parliament who voted against that motion, but quite simply, I had not given it much thought because it seemed to me a self-evident proposition at that time.

What caused me to change my mind? I can be quite precise about that as well. I read the 2003 Ontario Supreme Court judgment of Justices McMurtry, MacPherson and Gillese. I read passages about human rights which said:

Human dignity means that an individual or group feels self-respect and self-worth. It is concerned with physical and physiological integrity and empowerment. Human dignity is harmed by unfair treatment premised upon personal traits or circumstances which do not relate to individual needs, capacities or merits. It is enhanced by laws which are sensitive to the needs, capacities, and merits of different individuals, taking into account the context underlying their differences. Human dignity is harmed when individuals and groups are marginalized, ignored, or devalued, and is enhanced when laws recognize the full place of all individuals and groups within Canadian society. Human dignity within the meaning of the equality guarantee does not relate to the status or position of an individual in society per se, but rather concerns the manner in which a person legitimately feels when confronted with a particular law. Does the law treat him or her unfairly, taking into account all of the circumstances regarding the individuals affected and excluded by the law?

I read further passages about the legal component of marriage, clarifying what I would call my previous misunderstanding that religious and civil components were inextricably bundled together. Here is what the judgment said:

Marriage is a legal institution, as well as a religious and a social institution. This case is solely about the legal institution of marriage. It is not about the religious validity or invalidity of various forms of marriage.

I read and was reminded of the historical discrimination, disadvantages, and vulnerability experienced by the minority in our society of gay men and women and same sex couples:

Homosexual couples as well as homosexual individuals have suffered greatly as a result of discrimination. Sexual orientation is more than simply a “status” that an individual possesses. It is something that is demonstrated in an individual's conduct by the choice of a partner…Studies serve to confirm overwhelmingly that homosexuals, whether as individuals or couples, form an identifiable minority who have suffered and continue to suffer serious social, political and economic disadvantage.

By the time I had finished reading this 30 page judgment, I had completely changed my mind. I was persuaded that same sex civil marriage was overwhelmingly a human rights issue and that I knew which side of history I wished to be on.

Equally important, I saw clearly for the first time the crucial distinction between religious marriage and civil marriage. There are these two kinds of marriages in Canada right now, religious and civil. There are many couples who do not get married religiously but who do get married at city hall and we are allowed to call them married.

It strikes me, on the civil side, that this is exactly what the role of the state is really about. It is our job and the job of the provinces to declare when people are married legitimately from a civil point of view. The religious part, whether it is legitimate to recognize same sex marriage in a church, mosque, temple or synagogue setting, is not up for debate, at least not by us in this place. Each religion is currently being challenged by this issue as each government on the civil side. It is not for us legislators to determine what religious institutions can or cannot do; in fact this bill explicitly protects religious institutions for that reason.

My own church, the Anglican Church of Canada, is grappling with this issue. The debate is global within the Anglican community, with the African Church strongly opposed to positions taken by certain diocese in Canada and in the United States. As a member of my church, that is a separate debate and I have a separate role to play in that debate.

I was also in a mosque in my riding about a month ago. I have one of the highest numbers of Muslims of any member of Parliament in my riding. I spent an evening with those people of faith discussing Bill C-38, explaining to them that as rights were important for them in this society, so they were important for other minority groups. It was an impassioned and difficult debate for everyone, but it was a respectful one. I think it was useful for everybody.

I am absolutely committed to the notion that if it is possible for the state to recognize people in a civil marriage, then that privilege needs to be extended to gay people as well.

As for those who would therefore propose that we withdraw the word “marriage” from civil union, what they are in effect asking the state and us a legislators to do is to withdraw a right that has already been accorded to opposite sex couples. We do not extend rights to one group by withdrawing them from another. We on this side of the House and many on the other side of the House are not in the business of withdrawing rights from Canadians. We are in the business of defending them, for that is what the most lasting and noble duty of democratic leaders can be.

As a former member of the House once noted in a debate in another place, the National Assembly of Quebec, rights are rights are rights. That must be our battle cry.

One of the great national projects in Canada over the past 50 years and essentially within my own lifetime has been the huge and satisfying increase of tolerance and understanding for other people in Canadian society. This has been a great evolving and continuing national project extending human rights over the past years. There was a time, and we can remember it, when people who spoke French in this country, people who were Roman Catholics in this country, people who were Jews, blacks, and women were discriminated against. We have, as part of our increased understanding of what it is to be Canadian, extended rights to those people.

Even if we pass this bill, as I hope we do, our work will not be done in the field of extending human rights. There are rights for disabled people which have to be dealt with. There are rights for children. The great human rights project of this country which is Canada must continue.

What Bill C-38 is really about is this ever growing sensitivity to the rights of other groups we may not have thought about very much before. It is about standing up and being counted when the tides of history demand it. Ultimately it is about building the Canada we all want.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Forseth Conservative New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-38, the civil marriage act to change the definition of marriage is before us at second reading, which is the first chance to debate the bill in the House.

Much will be said about the bill by others, but I have reproduced the complete bill itself for distribution to every household in my constituency. I encourage everyone to always check primary sources rather than just rely on the so-called experts about what is claimed the bill says or will do. Especially unreliable is the current justice minister who has abandoned basic truth, sound legal reasoning and obviously his faith. Little of what he says can be believed any more in view of what he has purported about this bill. In contrast, I have provided an unfiltered primary source for evaluation by my community. They can read the full bill for themselves.

The outcome of this landmark sociological proposal remains far from certain. The government would like to say that this bill is a done deal. However, on February 1, just 139 members of the 308 in Parliament surveyed said they would vote in favour of the bill.

There will be votes after second reading debate and votes at committee, if it gets that far. The bill could fail at any stage. There could then be a report stage vote in the Commons and then third reading debate and a vote on the final version of the bill.

The Liberals may be tempted to use closure or time allocation rules to shut down the House of Commons debate and forge ahead, but if they do that, they will be transparent in their utter contempt for average Canadians. If the bill gets that far, it would then have to go to the Senate for its consideration and votes.

Over the next while the Liberals will try to persuade those on the fence to rally to their cause.

The NDP and the Liberals are officially promoting the bill as their party policy. Make no mistake. Support or a vote for the Liberals or the NDP is to directly support changing the definition of marriage. It is what those parties are about, and if they get their way with this one, who knows where they will take us next. They are whipping their members to vote along party lines.

In contrast, the Conservatives are giving all their MPs a free vote. Officially, the Conservative leadership will be trying to introduce amendments along the way to find some halfway ground. Conservatives will never impose what Canadians do not want.

In my role as community leader and parliamentary representative, I give respect to all points of view, provide the best democratic representation possible and ultimately vote the constituents' wishes. It is people in the community who let me know very quickly and strongly about which topics are of sufficient concern to them that they want direct supervisory involvement of my vote. For the seat I occupy in the Commons is not owned by the party or by me; it is owned by constituents.

Although I am undecided about the bill until my community tabulation is done, I am not personally neutral as I provide leadership. I believe that all Canadians should be able to examine their own conscience and then vote.

Since we will not have an election on the issue and since the government will not permit voters to have their say directly at the ballot box, it falls on me to strongly engage the community. I provide advice and information and promote respect rather than rancour.

It is my advice to the community that this bill is not about minority rights, but about social structure and the democratic ability of the community to determine that structure.

We do not elect governments by telephone survey. We use ballots. I am doing the same in my constituency on this matter.

Canadian parliamentary democracy has rules. Parliament is not the government, but it is where the government comes to obtain permission to tax and spend the people's money and to get legislation passed. Governments propose but Parliament as a separate entity must finally vote the appropriation.

In addition, Parliament has an oversight role to hold governments accountable. That is why it is the constitutional duty of the opposition in Parliament to challenge what the government proposes and critique how the government administers. The government has now proposed to change the definition of marriage. It is the constitutional duty of the official opposition to test and challenge that proposition to see if the government can make a convincing case to the country.

The Conservatives are not obsessing about Bill C-38, but the media is.

It is the government that has brought Bill C-38 to the House of Commons at this time and many ask why. Many are asking why the Liberals have given the country this issue now when there seems to be so many other pressing needs to deal with. The Liberals may have calculated for political posturing purposes that through this debate they might find an opportunity to smear the Conservatives with the label of intolerance et cetera in order to play schoolyard bully politics in the next election.

Nevertheless, I hope constituents will just keep their heads and calmly follow the democratic approach and vote their conscience. I am giving them the opportunity to vote directly. If we stick to time honoured democratic principles instead of trying to turn them on their head with so-called arguments about the tyranny of the majority, we as a society will be able to handle any challenge, even corrupt Liberal governments.

We need more democracy in Canada, not less. Voting is the only civilized way for our country to make basic decisions about how the community may want to be organized. The nation is having a conversation about Bill C-38 and we must be respectful and sensitive to all views. Then in conclusion we must vote and gracefully accept the democratic result.

One cannot espouse democracy only when one calculates that the result might go one's way. A democrat protects the process so that it is fair, then engages fully, but regardless of the outcome, accepts and defends the democratic result. In view of that basic principle I will vote the democratic majority view within my electoral district.

About the marriage issue, first we deal with discrimination. In Canada we have already dealt fully with discrimination against alternative lifestyle choices. There are legal protections everywhere in our law, and social benefits are fully provided to individuals in relationships. Outside of marriage the law is replete with social protections and that is where same sex arrangements are covered. If there is any discriminatory administrative policy left, we can deal with it properly. Then we can move forward to provide whatever is needed to those in a variety of domestic relationships.

However, about marriage, my community has been very clear about what constitutes a marriage and what does not. No trickery of law or of sociological prescription or sentimental plea seems to change what people in my community say. They tell me that these other arrangements that we may accommodate in law are just not marriage. They are something else. People know it is not marriage.

Voters recognize that there are rights in law and from that basis we generate respect and equal treatment. However, the law of equality cannot be stretched to make something into something else, which it inherently is not. For example, we can respect and defend the reality and value of an apple and an orange, but the charter law of equality cannot be misused to make an apple into an orange. The charter provision of equality does not require cookie cutter sameness, and it was never meant to.

The principle operates for applying for a marriage licence. There are all kinds of limiting and discriminatory rules for its proper operation such as age, sex, consanguinity, multiple licences, et cetera, which are in the Criminal Code and elsewhere. Even within Bill C-38 which claims to end discrimination, it reinforces the discriminatory provision that one may marry a person of the same sex but cannot marry a person of the opposite sex if they legally discover to be technically brother and sister through adoption even though there is no blood connection. That discriminatory provision is in the very bill before us.

The points seem absurd to the average clear thinking person and only become confused when we have arcane legal arguments brought forward by lawyers who have a social engineering agenda. People must discriminate every day to make choices and to be able to function. The charter accommodates proper discrimination while maintaining equality. The average person is not confused about how equality and fairness that is guaranteed in the charter does not demand automaton sameness. They also know that the premise of the Prime Minister's speech is a fiction. They do not buy it.

In conclusion, the overwhelming ballot evidence from people in my community so far is that they are directing me to vote against the bill. They should receive no less.

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4:10 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak on this subject.

On February 1 the government tabled the civil marriage act in the House of Commons to extend the right to civil marriage to same sex couples and reaffirm the independence of religious institutions.

We began this process by acknowledging that this is a difficult issue for many Canadians, one involving personal beliefs and religious convictions. Canadians have responded overwhelmingly to the legislation, both in support and in opposition. They have asked many important questions that will inform the debate and I commend them for joining in the dialogue, for contributing their opinions and, of course, their concerns.

While I am personally predisposed to support a bill that provides equal access to civil marriage for all Canadians, I cannot do it if it fails to uphold religious freedom. We must ensure that the rights of the church are protected and, as I have said in the past, I will not extend my unequivocal support to a piece of legislation without first hearing the concerns of my constituents and participating in a constructive debate to address these concerns.

I trust that this process will allow us to discuss the bill's provisions for upholding religious freedom. I want to assure my constituents that the government has done all it can to protect and uphold these rights, and I am confident to move forward on this important issue.

One of the greatest challenges of being a member of Parliament is facilitating an agreement between groups with seemingly opposing points of view, all of which are fighting for the best interests of those concerned. This is the essence of democracy and the beauty of the Canadian way. We are a country that is defined by a plurality of cultures, beliefs and ideas, a country that has entrenched the principle of equality in our constitution and a country that is guided by these values.

It is my responsibility to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in my work on behalf of the people of West Nova and all Canadians.

The charter states explicitly, “every individual is equal before and under the law”. Each and every Canadian, regardless of sexual orientation, has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law. The legislation would respect and defend the rights of all Canadians. We cannot be indiscriminate in our use of the law, choosing to protect the rights of some groups and failing to protect the rights of others.

Furthermore, we must abide by the charter to protect the rights of minority groups. One example that has been cited by my colleagues effectively demonstrates the progress that has been made to advance equality in the country. Until 1929, women were not considered persons under the law and were denied the right to vote. The Persons case is an example of the efforts of Canadians to achieve equality and justice for a group that was not formally recognized under the law. Times have changed, our beliefs have evolved and our laws must reflect significant changes in Canadian society, otherwise we undermine the values of our entire system.

Bill C-38 is based on draft legislation that was referred to the Supreme Court of Canada on July 17, 2003. In December the court expressed that the matter of fundamental equality under the Charter of Rights of Freedoms, same sex couples have the same right to civil marriage as do opposite sex couples.

The reference to the court reflects the government's view that we must allow for the broadest discussion possible, especially since we are talking about a proposed change to a significant social institution. Ultimately, Parliament has the final say on the issue, but the ruling of the court has determined the legal parameters by which our discussions must be guided and has ultimately allowed for a fully informed debate in the House.

We must agree, understand and express to Canadians that the only way we can do it in a meaningful way is to use the notwithstanding clause, if that is what we choose to do.

In my opinion, it is not a matter of using the notwithstanding clause to take away or diminish the rights of any individual but rather to uphold rights.

Many Canadians argue that we should, instead, pursue the option of civil union. However the Supreme Court recognized same sex civil marriage as constitutional and declared “civil unions are relationships short of marriage”. While civil unions would allow same sex couples many of the rights of a wedded couple, it is not marriage and is therefore less than equal. Only equal access to civil marriage will fully comply with charter equality guarantees.

The Supreme Court's ruling mirrored court decisions in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Yukon. In these provinces and territories, the highest courts ruled that restricting civil marriage to opposite sex couples was unconstitutional under the equality provisions of the charter.

Therefore, Bill C-38 would make universal across Canada a right that is already accepted as law in eight jurisdictions, including Nova Scotia.

On September 24, 2003, Justice Heather Robertson of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia ruled that the current law governing marriage in the province was unconstitutional and changed the common law definition of marriage to the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others. This ruling has not been challenged. It has been 18 months and Nova Scotia has had no social upheaval , no change to the family and men are not becoming pregnant.

As a result of the court's ruling, the government moved forward and introduced the civil marriage act in the House. A non-marriage option, such as a civil union, would eventually be overturned by the court. Where we stand, we can either proceed with what we believe to be just and equitable or we can overrule the courts by using the notwithstanding clause and continue to do this every five years.

The Prime Minister has clearly stated that he will not use the notwithstanding clause. He will not deny Canadians their charter rights because we have worked too hard to build a modern, progressive nation that is respected around the world. We will never achieve a tolerant, inclusive society if we fall back on our values. This government believes in the charter and we will do all we can to defend it.

As I mentioned in my opening statement, my work as a member of Parliament is guided by our Constitution, of which the Charter of Rights is an integral part. I believe in the equality rights of Canadians and I want to ensure that this legislation fully protects the rights and freedoms of our religious institutions.

Of those who oppose Bill C-38, many do so in accordance with their religious beliefs and are fearful that the new bill may trump the rights of religious officials and institutions. I respect the opinion of those who oppose this legislation for religious reasons. We hold diversity in the highest regard and respect and tolerance are the glue that binds Canadian society. Out of respect for my constituents and for the position that I hold, I want to be certain that this legislation will uphold religious freedom.

In its response to the government, the Supreme Court declared “the guarantee of religious freedom in section 2(a) of the Charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same sex marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs”. The government has stated, explicitly, that Bill C-38 respects the charter.

The Government of Canada is guided by the Constitution and the charter, and the church is guided by beliefs in tradition. The government's proposed legislation is about civil marriage as a legal institution and not religious marriage. To reiterate, the bill provides for equal access to civil marriage and preserves the rights of churches to decide who has access to religious marriage.

Therefore we have a guarantee that the bill would not affect religious freedoms and that no church, synagogue, mosque or temple can be forced to perform a marriage that goes against its religious beliefs. However we cannot stop there. We need to look beyond the guarantees and to consider the practical implications of this legislation.

Canadians want assurances that religious freedom will be protected. There is the concern that religious groups will be forced to rent spaces for the celebration of same sex marriages. Currently there is a case before the B.C. human rights tribunal in which a lesbian couple is claiming discrimination against a Catholic organization over its refusal to rent out the hall for a marriage reception. Some religious groups fear that if Bill C-28 passes there will be many more such cases.

The government has acknowledged that most situations involving religious freedoms would fall within provincial or territorial human rights legislation. As such, the outcome would depend on the specifics of the case. However the Supreme Court was clear that religious freedom is fully protected by the charter and that human rights tribunals must also consider how to protect fundamental freedoms.

The Supreme Court has stated that this ruling applies to other concerns of religious groups, such as being forced to rent sacred spaces for the celebration of same marriages and religious officials being forced to celebrate civil marriages.

In conclusion, I must say that, as both an Acadian and a francophone, when I am asked to use the notwithstanding clause to take rights away, I cannot. I would do so if it was to preserve the rights of our religious institutions.

I encourage all members of this House to support this bill, if only to refer it to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, which will hear testimony from the general public.

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4:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to thank the leader of my party for his strong leadership here in Parliament and for giving me the opportunity to represent my constituents in a free vote on this bill.

I have worked hard to come to a decision on how to vote on this issue of how to govern the historic institution of marriage. I have carefully gauged my constituents and used my judgment as to what is best for Canada.

To begin with, I strongly believe in the traditional definition of marriage, a definition that was drawn from religious institutions long ago and entrenched in our common law, a definition overwhelmingly supported by the constituents of Selkirk—Interlake.

I want to stress that tolerance should be at the centre of this debate, the Constitution and the Charter of Rights. However tolerance is a two way street. We must not only tolerate , but respect the opinions of both sides of this debate. We have to determine how to best address all minorities within this House in interpreting the charter and our Constitution.

The Supreme Court refused to take the judicial activist approach of redefining marriage for Parliament. Instead, it made it clear that it was indeed the job and purview of Parliament to define marriage.

The Supreme Court did recognize changes in provincial common law but ultimately left it up to Parliament to determine how best to deal with this matter, otherwise we would not be having this debate at all.

When we talk about the kind of tolerance we want, we can choose to be tolerant on both sides of this debate. This can be done by recognizing the traditional definition of marriage and the equality of same sex civil unions.

Clearly, the government has not taken a tolerant approach but instead is using this vote to divide Canadians. Even the government's own MPs are divided on the government's approach to the legislation.

I ask the Prime Minister, once again, to make this important issue a free vote for all his MPs, including his cabinet ministers. If this is not a purely free vote, Canadians will never, and I mean never, be truly satisfied that the democratic process has prevailed.

The strong-arm legislation the government has introduced will increase the intolerance in our society. Examples of this intolerance that this government is promoting have already occurred in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

In Manitoba, 11 commissioners have been told that they are no longer welcome to work as marriage commissioners if they refuse to also marry same sex couples. Two more commissioners have refused to quit and are taking this to the Human Rights Commission to defend their freedoms and their rights from being imposed upon by the state.

They were sent a letter on September 16, 2004, telling them to either perform same sex marriages or to turn in their licences. One marriage commissioner, Kevin Kisilowsky, a constituent of mine, was granted a licence by the Province of Manitoba to be a marriage commissioner. His entire purpose in seeking to be licensed was to continue his outreach ministries to perform religious marriages outside of mainstream religious institutions.

Kevin is part of a biker and youth outreach ministry that is not specifically affiliated with any single denomination. The people he attempts to reach include gang youth, street people, prison inmates and outlaw motorcycle gangs.

From Kevin's religious perspective and by his own conscience and lack of ordained qualifications, he stated clearly during his application that he could not and would not marry non-Christians or other groups that he is not qualified to minister to if they are of a different faith.

Kevin made it clear that he only wanted to perform Christian marriages when he applied to be a marriage commissioner. He was encouraged to continue with the application, being told that he would be placed on a private list rather than the general list of marriage commissioners. Manitoba clearly accepted the fact that he would not have to serve all of the public to be a marriage commissioner. A person could, as Kevin did, perform marriages as part of an outreach to those not belonging to an organized church.

In Bill C-38 only clergy from religious institutions are recognized as needing religious freedom protection. People, such as Kevin, are completely left out of this bill's protection of religious freedoms.

Licensing Kevin to perform traditional marriages does nothing to prevent the province from hiring other marriage commissioners who could perform equal same sex civil unions for those who want them. It also does not stop religious institutions from choosing to recognize same sex unions within their own churches.

Marriage commissioners in the past could always choose who they want to marry and could refuse to perform a service. However, now, if they refuse to perform a same sex service, they will have their licences revoked. This is not tolerance and it does not in any way respect different and divergent views in our society or respect individual freedoms of religion or conscience guaranteed under our charter.

The firing of these marriage commissioners is the unnecessary and completely avoidable result of the government's failure to defend the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion guaranteed to all citizens of Canada under the charter.

There is a clear solution that would guarantee all individuals freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. The solution is for the government to continue to allow these individuals to have government licences to perform marriages that do not violate their conscience or religious faith. At the same time, the government can license more of those who are willing to perform same sex civil unions. This would be the tolerant approach.

The government has taken a very narrow view of the freedoms of conscience and religion and is allowing individual freedoms to be trampled upon, just as these marriage commissioners have had their charter protected freedoms trampled upon by the state since Manitoba began sanctioning same sex marriage. It is clear that this government has no intention of defending the freedoms of religion or conscience or it would be defending them right now in Manitoba.

This is also a debate on whether the bill closes the doors on our Constitution rather than opening them to minorities who hold both diverse and traditional values. The debate should carefully analyze whether we want a nation and a Constitution that allows us to accommodate minorities within a multi-cultural society or do we want a purely secular society that insists that all groups fall in line and agree with the government of the day without individual freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

What we are seeing in the legislation is the abandonment of one group of minorities supporting traditional values and traditional marriage to embrace another minority that justly seeks greater equality and fairer treatment. There is no doubt that both sides have a right to seek recognition from government and have their freedoms protected. However, it is not necessary to sacrifice the values instituted in law for traditional couples while expanding legal benefits for others.

People of faith long ago allowed their institution of marriage to be recognized in law for the economic protection of families, spouses and children upon death and divorce, but these religious institutions never relinquished the fact that marriage was their institution and not that of the state.

Marriage as an institution has historic value, just like the Parliament buildings in which we sit. We would not tear down these buildings to make way for a bigger house when more room was needed. We would simply add another fine building to this great collection. What we have today is many private churches interested in protecting their domain and authority over marriage from any further infringement by the state.

Going back to King Henry VIII, the separation of church and state has always been about keeping the state out of the church and infringing on religious beliefs. I am afraid the state has now crossed that line.

Most people are reasonable and recognize that the state may choose to introduce its own institution allowing civil unions that would give same sex couples equal benefits to those of traditional marriages.

A clear majority of Canadians support what our leader has proposed as a simple, possible compromise that Canada should implement to satisfy both sides of the debate.

The compromise is simple. We continue to recognize the traditional definition of marriage while introducing a legal same sex civil union for all others, a union with equal benefits to those that were historically granted by the state only to couples that embraced the traditional definition of marriage. Such a compromise would help avoid the kind of intolerance of religious minorities we have seen in Manitoba with marriage commissioners being denied the right to continue their outreach ministries and forced to stop performing marriages.

This is a clear violation of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion caused by the government's lack of leadership and attempt to sidestep the tough decisions of governing through deference to the Supreme Court, hoping that the Supreme Court would make the decision for it.

As we have seen, the Supreme Court refused to rule on this issue without first hearing the will of the people, the will of Parliament. It is our job and not the Supreme Court's to decide this issue. That is why the court has declined to answer whether the traditional definition of marriage is constitutional.

The government should further reconsider the present proposed legislation and how it is not only insensitive to religious minorities and individual freedoms but also its potential to hamstring our nation's ability to respond to the needs of a diverse multicultural society.

I encourage all members of Parliament to support the amendment proposed by the leader of the official opposition.

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4:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Durham, Broadcasting Industry; the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, Citizenship and Immigration; the hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, Human Resources and Skills Development.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I will be opposing Bill C-38, an act respecting the legal capacity for marriage which was tabled by the Minister of Justice on February 1. However, I have appreciated hearing from and truly respect the opinions of all those who have contacted me over the past year.

This has been an incredibly difficult issue for all parliamentarians. We believe in the principle that the protection of the rights of individuals is in the higher public interest and it is central to our desire for an inclusive civil society. Throughout my many years in public life and in my private life I have applied this principle in decisions affecting both the public good and balancing the needs of individuals and minorities with the collective needs of society as a whole.

That link between individual rights and those of minorities is an exceptional difference in the Canadian democratic tradition, and this aspect is given further expression through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In addition, successive generations of Canadians who seek a society that embraces them and cherishes their customs and culture continue to nurture this principle and the result has been a spectacular Canadian mosaic.

Many then have found it surprising that it is these same people, Canadians who are liberal in nature, who now look for support from their government to reaffirm their values with respect to the definition of marriage. It is not surprising to me, for it is these very same people, many of whom are my constituents, who value the traditional definition of marriage as being consistent with beliefs that spring from the world's major religions.

The good news is, at the same time, most of those same people continue to believe, as I am sure we and most members of the House believe, that a tolerant civil society requires that lifestyle choices such as same sex unions should have legal entitlements consistent with precedents established in courts of common law.

It cannot be overstated that the Canadian experience of respect for individuals and minorities has been made possible because the majority of Canadians throughout our history have given their consent and support. In fact, the charter itself would not have been possible without the consent of the Canadian people through our parliamentary process.

Many Canadians are now telling their member of Parliament that they would prefer a resolution that would respect the traditional definition of marriage while at the same time protect the civil rights of those engaged in same sex unions.

In this high stakes issue I do not believe we have tried hard enough to balance the protection of individuals and minorities while at the same time respecting the values of a large majority of Canadians. If indeed our Constitution is as the court has stated, a living tree, then it must be considered that this tree is rooted in fundamental and historic values, one being the traditional definition of marriage as the basis for family life.

Critical decisions must be made on the basis that a cohesive society can only be maintained when the rights of the majority are at the very least given fair consideration when the government intends to change these fundamental and historic values.

It is my position that the government's legislation is incompatible with the sensibilities of the majority of Canadians in terms of both process and substance and that the bill presented by the government should not be supported.

My fear, as others have said, is that should the bill pass in its present form in the face of reasonable, continuing opposition from across the country, Canadians will emerge as just a little less tolerant and a little more cynical at a time in the history of both our country and our global community when we should be going in exactly the opposite direction.

This forced march toward altering values against the will of the majority is a slippery slope. It will undermine our image and our vision, both at home and abroad, that in such matters Canadians have always been able to achieve a consensus based on the reasonable middle way.

Up to this time, the legitimacy of same sex marriages has been decided on the basis of court rulings. I truly believe that matters of values, such as changing the traditional definition of marriage, are more appropriately the domain of the people. It appears, however, that it will be Parliament through its MPs, who will exercise their delegated responsibility, to grant the consent of the people for changing the traditional definition of marriage.

It is clear to me, and I believe to most Canadians, that we in the House have allowed the issue to pass the point of no return by leaving it to the courts to decide this issue for all of us because of parliamentary obfuscation. I truly regret that it is necessary to characterize the issue as an end run around legitimate and democratic consultation, but that is exactly what many Canadians believe has happened.

A fundamental and widely shared value such as the traditional definition of marriage should not be changed in the manner in which it has been presented to Canadians. As a result, after careful consideration, I will use my voice and vote to reflect what I believe to be the value of the majority of residents in York South--Weston.

Additionally, let me state that this also represents my own view that the protection of the traditional definition of marriage should not be incompatible with the protection of individuals who wish to enter into a civil union relationship.

To conclude, this issue is of such profound importance that those issues raised by all sides deserve, and indeed demand, further exploration. For this reason alone, defeat of this bill would signal to Canadians that for this issue the search for common middle ground is worth trying for.

Justice not only can be done with respect to protecting both minorities and the traditional definition of marriage, but if we are to maintain a continuing tolerant and civil society, justice must be seen to have been done.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Randy White Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I suppose it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-38. I am very disappointed that we are in the House of Commons deliberating this issue. I have been here since 1993, speaking about many issues in the House of Commons, and I thought I had seen all of the issues we were going to deal with, yet here we have facing us one with very serious consequences.

In the official opposition I am responsible for looking at the issue of illegal drugs in this country. People ask me why we are not dealing with that issue as it is such a cancerous problem in our society and why we in the House of Commons are talking day in and day out about same sex marriage.

I wonder what kinds of answers can be given to people who walk into my office with their children who are addicted to crack cocaine and other drugs. Really, it saddens me. In addition to that, a subcommittee of the justice committee is looking at the idea of legalizing prostitution.

I wonder why all of these values issues are even here. If anything, as I prepare to leave the House of Commons in my last term, I truly wish the government could in its own way respect Canadians for what they are and not for what the government wants them to be. I think that is one of the biggest problems with governments. They tend to think that Canadians will do and be whatever governments want. In this case it is not so.

My dear Aunt Frances from Lakeside, Nova Scotia, who is watching this with bated breath, is trying to understand why we in the House of Commons are changing something that has been near and dear to her heart for 80-some years. I think a lot of people are thinking about that.

Same sex issues have been around for 20 years and have been rife with judicial, political and legislative activity. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited in all Canadian jurisdictions. Section 15(1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms 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 and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

A lot of people have said that we should not get into the rights discussion. For many people it is not just about rights; there are other issues facing them in this issue.

Opponents of same sex marriage say same sex marriage undermines the traditional family and family values. They say there are unique benefits that monogamous heterosexual marriage provides to the husband and wife, their children and society as a whole. They say society benefits when its communities are characterized by strong, stable, monogamous heterosexual marriages. They say the current concept of marriage has been a right to those who practise that institution and that changing the definition is a removal of their right.

Let me quote some average, ordinary Canadians who have written to me about this issue. Gary Wiens of Didsbury, Alberta, says this:

It bothers me how the word intolerant has been thrown around in the controversy over same sex marriage. Any thinking person would realize that as soon as a party uses the word they themselves become intolerant. They have imposed their own arbitrary standard on another. As long as standards are arbitrary, the product of our own reason and bias, both parties are doomed to be intolerant of each other.

That is good advice from Alberta.

In another letter, Alice Mcgladdery, of Abbotsford, British Columbia, in my riding, asks all politicians to consider her point of view. Alice says this:

Marriage between one man and one woman is a natural institution as it predates all recorded, formally structured, social, legal, political and religious systems. In so far as it is a social institution, marriage is concerned with the common good, not individual rights. The State must strengthen and protect marriage between a man and a woman because it assures the survival of society by creating the next generation.

Alice also says that she asks:

--the Government of Canada to implement legislation that will recognize, protect and reaffirm the definition of marriage as a voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

She also asks:

--that should the Government of Canada want to address the concerns of other adult interdependent relationships, it do so in a way that respects human dignity but does not redefine and thus void the vital, irreplaceable, natural and social institution of marriage.

Those are reasonable, good, well thought out words from just an average person in this country.

These kinds of words go right across the country. Some are from John and Nancy Church of Woodstock, Ontario. When I read these words, I thought about how long I have been married as well and just exactly what John and Nancy are going through while we in this House deliberate these things. They said:

Having been married to each other for almost 39 years we are alarmed that the marriage bond that we have enjoyed could be depreciated by the legislation that has been introduced into something that will become increasingly meaningless.

I have heard that time and time again in so many words from people across this country who are wondering just what the heck politicians are doing in the House of Commons. They are average Canadians who hope politicians will get control of the agenda of the judiciary, Canadians who hope politicians will preserve their way of life, Canadians who believe the people they send to Ottawa will stand up for what they believe in and leave partisan politics aside.

I must say this about partisan politics. I just cannot believe that we in this country would send people to the House of Commons, deliberate such an important issue and then have some parties turn around and say, “While we are deliberating it, while we are debating these things, we are going to tell the following people how to vote”. Is it any wonder that people are saying there should be a referendum on such an issue? Is it any wonder that people say they send their representatives to Ottawa to do what they think is right for their community, but they go to Ottawa and say that regardless of whether that is right or not, they have been told to vote a certain way?

How could we possibly let people in Canada down by taking that position? That is not democratic in any way, shape or form. It is a problem.

For my part, I have always been and will continue to be a family man who strongly supports the traditional definition of marriage, that being “the voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”, and I am darn proud to say that, darn proud. To this end, I dedicate this speech to Marty, my wife of 34 years, and to the people of my community, who expect me to support them and stand up for what they believe in as well.

I want to reaffirm a statement I made earlier. Why is it that in this country year in and year out the government and politicians cannot respect us for what we are today? Why do they want to make us into something else? What is the propensity behind this? What is the motivation to change people who do not want to be changed into something else?

Recently I did a press release called, “Pssst...don't tell the Liberals”. I was referring to several changes again coming from Holland. It seems like we fall into a mess in this country when Holland makes a change over there because somewhere in the bureaucracy of Canada they want to move us into this.

This is Canada. We are unique. Our citizens are unique. Our Parliament is unique. Our definition of marriage is unique to us in Canada as well as virtually every other country in the world. I say do not change it.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-38, the civil marriage act. For many in the House, including me, the decision we must make on this legislation is one of the most difficult that we have been called upon to make as members of Parliament, namely, to support or oppose same sex marriage.

As we are all aware, on December 9, 2004 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction to decide who has the right to get married in our country, while making an appropriate qualification that religious groups or clergy are not obliged to perform same sex unions against their beliefs, a very key exception.

The court's advice will assist parliamentarians in their deliberations; however, most important, it does not undermine the democratic role of Parliament. Parliamentarians in the House of Commons will make the final decision on the issue of extending civil marriage to same sex couples. Whether one is for or against same sex marriage, the decision will be made in a democratic way through full and transparent public deliberations followed by a free vote.

Over the past decade there have been several federal legislative changes to ensure legal rights on the basis of sexual orientation. These were emotionally charged debates as well. I supported every one of those initiatives and voted in favour of the legislation which enacted them.

In 1996 Bill C-41 amended Criminal Code sentencing provisions, setting out an aggravating sentencing factor for crimes motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on listed personal characteristics, including sexual orientation. That is section 718.2 of the Criminal Code. Parliament also enacted the act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, which added “sexual orientation” to the CHRA's prohibited grounds of discrimination.

In 1999 Parliament adopted the first federal legislation to provide explicitly for same sex benefits. The Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act replaced opposite sex surviving spouse entitlement to benefits with gender neutral survivor entitlement in the major public service pension statutes. A survivor is one who establishes that he or she was cohabiting in a relationship of a conjugal nature with the contributor for at least a year preceding the latter's death.

In 2000 the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act was adopted. It amended 68 federal statutes to effect their equal application to unmarried heterosexual and same sex couples. The legislation adds the gender neutral designations “common law partner” and/or “survivor” to those statutes and restricts the term “spouse” to married couples. It is interesting to note however that the government added an interpretive amendment stating:

For greater certainty, the amendments made by this Act do not affect the meaning of the word “marriage”, that is, the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

In 2002 immigration and refugee protection regulations under the 2001 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act authorized family class sponsorship for same sex couples under two new eligible gender neutral categories: a common law partner of a sponsor must fulfill a cohabitation requirement, while a sponsor's conjugal partner need not. In each case, the couple's conjugal relationship must be of at least one year's duration.

Since 1993 the government and I as a member in the House have taken very seriously the responsibility of protecting the rights of all our residents.

Canadians will not tolerate harassment of homosexuals or discrimination against same sex couples. At the same time many Canadians have difficulty, in good conscience, of accepting same sex marriage. Some have suggested the sanctioning of same sex civil unions, registered domestic partnerships or life partnerships which are equivalent to common law unions between heterosexual couples. I agree with this approach. Critics feel it falls short of true equity. By working with the provinces I do not believe it is necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to accommodate equality issues around same sex partners.

The common law definition of marriage was until recently undisputed as the union of two persons of the opposite sex, the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Indeed this very House considered and supported a motion on June 8, 1999 which stated:

That, in the opinion of the 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 one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.

That motion passed 216 to 55. I supported it then and I support that position today.

Indeed, over the years our courts have supported this position, as was confirmed when former Supreme Court Justice LaForest speaking for the majority in the Egan case stated:

Marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal tradition, one that is itself a reflection of long-standing philosophical and religious traditions. But its ultimate raison d'être transcends all of these and is firmly anchored in the biological and social realties 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 is interesting to note that this pronouncement of the Supreme Court was made in 1991, 10 years after the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Some of us have advocated a compromise position that would draw together those on the one side who assert that any restriction on same sex marriage is discriminatory and a violation of human rights with those on the other side who assert that any recognition of homosexual relationships is intolerable. I firmly believe that most Canadians are most comfortable with a middle position recognizing the traditional and distinct definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, while recognizing that same sex couples should be entitled to all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage, but that it should not be called marriage.

Opponents to this compromise position claim that anything less than full equality would continue a systemic discrimination of the homosexual community. I recall very clearly receiving this admonition from one of my constituents in the Township of Wainfleet. The thought of such an unintended consequence lingers in my mind and contributes to the difficulty of my decision.

I also recall a presentation on same sex marriages to the justice committee in rural New Brunswick when a United Church minister made an effective intervention in support of gay marriage with his desire to some day perform a marriage for his gay son and his partner. This presentation was in stark contrast to many other interventions from religious groups and made it abundantly clear that even the religious community is divided on this issue.

Most members in the House have received literally thousands of interventions on this issue, including conversations, telephone calls, e-mails and letters. I have been approached by constituents in coffee shops and churches, in the street and in stadiums, at community dinners and in restaurants. Many people who would ordinarily not come forward in these public areas have not hesitated to give me their views.

A tabulation of the positions of my constituents in Welland riding who have contacted me on this issue oppose this legislation as proposed on a 10:1 ratio. When asked their opinion on the middle ground, most would agree with it.

The stark reality of the same sex marriage debate is that today seven provinces and one territory have recognized the lawful union of two people of the same sex. It is already the law of those jurisdictions. For all intents and purposes the definition of marriage has been changed. This legislation will give it national application.

The real debate now must centre on whether the federal government should invoke the notwithstanding clause. My position is yes.

The courts see the issue as a rights issue, a charter issue, that it is the right of gay persons to be married. I see it as a social policy issue. My opposition centres around one word, marriage, when applied to gay unions.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the many constituents who have contacted me on both sides of this issue. They have contributed to the consideration and debate. Some do not appreciate the position I have taken but we have agreed to differ with mutual respect. That is the Canadian way.

However, if this legislation is to pass, there must be a healing period for Canadians to adjust to a new reality of civil marriage. The government's legislation affirms the charter guarantee of religious freedom, that religious officials are free to perform or not to perform marriage ceremonies in accordance with the beliefs of their faith. The response to the reference by the Supreme Court of Canada has made it patently clear that section 2(a) of the charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same sex marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

As a consequence and in the words of the Prime Minister, “no church, no synagogue, no mosque, no temple, in no religious house will those who disagree with same sex unions be compelled to perform them”.

I have heard people express concerns that religious freedoms may be eroded even with assurances to the contrary. However, I want to point out that religious protections already in some cases take priority over other charter rights. the Catholic Church continues to refuse the ordination of women in a post-charter world. Many churches already refuse to marry people, particularly those who are divorced. I have yet to hear of any charter challenges on any of the foregoing. The assurances of religious views by the Supreme Court are very sound.

Many Canadians are struggling with this complex and difficult issue as I did. We are talking about changing one of the central and longstanding institutions of society. It is something that will bring out strong feelings on all sides. Notwithstanding, Canadians are tolerant and will respect a balanced and reasoned debate and further, when the decision is finally made will respect that decision. I appreciate the points of those who do not agree with me and hope that they can respect mine.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

March 21st, 2005 / 5 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, this issue has moved Canadians to action and to become involved, reinvigorated as active members of the Canadian democratic process. I have had interventions from several thousand of my constituents, more so than on any other piece of legislation, even Bill C-68, and we know how controversial that has been and how many people have come to the fore on that. Several thousand of my constituents have told me that they are also against the purpose of this bill. They also wonder why we should be occupied by this matter rather than the more pressing issues that affect millions rather than a few hundred Canadians.

It reflects the nature of our modern age, perhaps even the corruption of our legal system, that a very vocal minority can put their issue on a national platform even when the vast majority of Canadians have better things to do. And they still claim they have no voice.

I know the Prime Minister will feign outrage at this, but we are pretty tired of his phony moral stances over here. It has taken him only a few years to run completely from poll to poll, from one side of an issue to the other. He has now exhausted every position he can hold on every issue. He has nowhere left to run.

Speakers on all sides of the House have articulated the background to the introduction of Bill C-38, but not everyone has been playing with a full deck of facts. The former justice minister said in the House that the traditional definition of marriage was safe and secure and that the Liberals had no intention of changing anything. Not that long ago, like every Liberal promise, those words disappeared after the election.

Despite voting to take every action necessary to protect our foundational institution, those same Liberals stood by while junior court after junior court defied the Supreme Court and Parliament and thousands of years of history to claim they have discovered words in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that are not actually there at all.

The Prime Minister claims to hold the charter sacred while he lets judicial activists distort this document into radical new shapes. He says nothing while judges claim they find words where none exist. This is not progressive. This is radical and there is always a danger to the overall common good when a few radicals hijack a national document and use it to push their own agenda.

A few of my colleagues in the House circulated a letter in which they claimed no one was behind the push for same sex marriage. It just sort of sprang up from the ground. We are not sure how it came about. The radicals we are concerned with are a group that wants to overthrow the institution of marriage because it does not conform to their social view. But they are not the only radicals at work. Greater conflicts are coming. When a democratic government participates in the breakdown of its own foundations, it cannot know where that process will end and neither can the radicals who are pursuing this narrow agenda.

The Prime Minister said that this bill is about minority rights. He is wrong. The Supreme Court has said that he has a choice to legislate on marriage because the definition is up to Parliament. It did not say he had the right to establish or create a right for marriage. No one has a right to get married. When we believe we have found a mate that we want to spend the rest of our lives with, there are a number of options. Some will shack up, as the saying goes, and not care about government or parental approval. Some will seek government approval after a time and get benefits and pension rights. That option is open to everyone now.

Some will enter into what they hope is a lifetime commitment. They will look at the list of prohibitions contained in the marriage act and finding they qualify, will get a licence and undergo a solemnization ceremony at city hall or in a church. They will promise to stay together for life and raise their children in a loving household. Not everybody makes it through their whole lifetime, but no one regards divorced individuals as second class citizens which is one of the spurious complaints of these radicals.

If I had a right to be married, I could ignore the rules set out in the marriage act, ignore any rules of solemnization in my province and certainly reject any fees they try to charge me for that process. If I had a right to get married, I would tell the clerk that I am not paying for the licence because it is my right. What about divorce? My wife can never divorce me because that would contravene my right to be married. That is how spurious this is.

Many people are miserable after divorce and it is not because they lose half their income. If the government shared the court's preoccupation with people's feelings and dignity and actually believed it was guaranteeing rights, surely it would bring in legislation to force people to stay together, or maybe provide a spouse to anyone who still wanted to exercise his or her right to be married. It is a lot of nonsense of course.

Society, not courts or governments, created the institution of marriage to provide security to men and women in a relationship they could both understand and count on and to create a unit that nurtures and protects vulnerable children as they grow and learn about their heritage. We know this breaks down often in our society and it is tragic when it does, but people do cope. Children can be and are raised in a variety of environments and turn out well. We are not talking about what everyone must do, but about what society has come to understand as to what is best for the most people most of the time.

The radicals would have us believe that because the guidelines do not include every possibility, they are flawed and must be rewritten. They have obviously convinced the Liberal cabinet, apparently, in the last few months that by rewriting the rules of society, all will be happy and we will not have to rewrite any more.

It is ironic that the Prime Minister now wants to paint himself as the great defender of minorities. We know the gun registry is an onerous document that targets a law abiding minority in this country. We know that Bill C-68, as written, tramples on at least a dozen rights from the Constitution and, as it is clumsily applied, violates a dozen or so more. So far, no Prime Minister has stood up for this minority.

We have had language laws imposed in this country that the United Nations has recognized as illegitimate, but not one Prime Minister has seen fit to help minorities where votes are at stake. So much for fundamental rights.

Our primary food producers are abused by trade disputes, hammered by unreasonable restrictions and taxed off their land. Their crops are seized and sold, and they get nickels back while somebody else makes millions.

There is the ongoing case of single income families that the Supreme Court admitted are discriminated against, but apparently they do not have much of a lobby over there. There is not a single Liberal standing up for their rights.

The whole process is pretty selective and clearly more about what is fashionable than what is right. The methods used by selfish radicals and their Liberal allies to manipulate discussion are reprehensible. Just because we say it is about minority rights does not make it so, especially when the rhetoric can never match these actions.

The Liberals claim to stand for a repressed minority, but this minority, which is really a small part of a minority, seems to have access to government and courts that most Canadians cannot even dream of. I have heard some Canadians say that we should just throw in the towel and give in whenever someone makes enough noise. Often they reflect a level of frustration about the lack of control they feel in the political process. Sometimes they are apathetic and do not realize that what is at stake is more than marriage and more than the demands of one politicized section of one minority.

To give up would be a mistake for two reasons. What the Liberals are pushing here is illegitimate and giving in will only make things worse, paving the way for more demands for so-called rights. They are prepared to let a few activist judges not interpret the Constitution but to continuously remake it without any input from the people who have to live with those consequences.

Canadians who let the government get away with that are guilty of putting their future into the hands of a smaller and smaller group of radicals whose demands we cannot imagine at this time.

What about marriage itself? Some people say, since they will still be married afterwards, what is the big deal? The same sort of dismissal greeted the change in divorce laws, and probably the insanity and lack of debate that passed for abortion laws in this country. The fact is, when a group manages to alter an institution that affects all of society, then many other changes creep in, whether we object to later consequences or not.

We are not talking about changing marriage here. We are talking about changing society. Professor Thomas Sowell points out that marriage is not an institution that grants rights. On the contrary, it imposes responsibilities. He writes:

Marriage laws have evolved through centuries of experience with couples of opposite sexes--and the children that result from such unions. Society asserts its stake in the decisions made by restricting the couples' options.

Society does not tell individuals what to do; it only provides a framework to carry on that society for posterity. It is ironic that the radicals would invite the government into their bedrooms to take away their rights under the guise of claiming new rights for themselves.

Journalist John McKellar, who founded HOPE, Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism, reports that the January 2001 same sex wedding in Toronto was an embarrassment for most gay communities, not a triumph. He said, “Better to stay at home and clean out the fridge when your public image is so embarrassingly represented with such maudlin specimens of martyrdom”.

What Mr. McKellar objects to and what every thinking Canadian should object to is the Liberal's knee-jerk reaction to every claim of discrimination and hurt feelings. He also said, “This is no time for the modern, feel good, pop culture mentality that stands behind C-38”.

He counts himself among the happy, successful and independent gays and lesbians who do not wake up every day finding hate, bigotry and discrimination under the bed, and go running to the courts, governments and human rights commissions for a lifetime of therapeutic preferences.

McKellar is describing the heart of what is so objectionable about Bill C-38 and, of course, last year's Bill C-250, for that matter. There is a disturbing trend today to bend the purposes of society and democracy to the will of the few with the hope of making one group feel good about itself. In the meantime, everyone else's right to free speech and opinion, everyone else's right to a dependable social order, and everyone else's right to enjoyment of property is trampled in the misguided rush to satisfy the perceived feelings of a minority of a minority.

In closing, I have always personally supported the traditional definition of marriage. I will continue to support and fight for the rights and freedoms of all Canadians to order their lives as they see fit, and I unequivocally reject the false assertions in Bill C-38.

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5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to take part in the historic debate on Bill C-38, an issue that, to a certain degree, has polarized our nation.

Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, has evoked many emotions. I understand the sensitivity and complexity of the issue. Therefore, I will base my position in such a fashion that it will be respectful to all the parties involved.

However, let me be crystal clear that I support Bill C-38 based on the premise that it is a charter issue; an issue that protects freedom of religion and also extends civil liberties under the equality provision of the charter.

Let me begin by addressing the role of religion in this debate. We live in a secular society where the state and religious institutions are separated. What makes Canada unique and the envy of the world is that we recognize the importance and the significance of religion that is reflected in our charter and is codified in section 2(a). The Supreme Court has declared unanimously:

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

I want to take this opportunity to talk about my personal experiences with religion, specifically the Sikh faith.

As a proud Canadian born in Toronto and raised in Mississauga—Brampton South, I grew up in an environment where I never fit the status quo. At a young age I decided to keep my hair and recall the moral support provided by my school teachers. I remember playing soccer and feeling mortified because I was the only one with a turban. I thought my turban was going to fall off when I headed the soccer ball, but the coach always went out of her way to make me feel part of the team.

I remember the first time I wore my distar, also known as the turban, to high school and recall the compliments I received from my classmates. I also remember taking amrit in university, and being praised by my professors and the student body for making an outward commitment to practise my faith.

I share these experiences because it tells a story of a Canadian growing up in Canada during a time period when the charter was part of the Constitution. It is this charter that enabled me and so many others to follow our faith, and form an identity that today I can say with a great deal of pride is a strong part of the Canadian mosaic and fabric.

One would ask what the charter has to do with me practising my faith. Let me share one small example. I remember I was in high school and Mr. Dhillon was going through much undue hardship for wearing a turban and wanting to join the RCMP. I recall that Sikhs at that time came together and looked to the charter to protect their identity and, may I add, an identity that did not conform to traditional norms.

I also recall when the courts decided that Mr. Dhillon was allowed to wear his turban as an RCMP officer. At that moment, I was not only proud to be a Sikh but I was proud to be a Canadian, and live in a country where I was treated as an equal member of society, knowing full well that if my beliefs were ever challenged, I would have the charter to protect my rights.

Therefore, based on my experiences and historical decisions by the courts, I have full faith that the charter has demonstrated time and time again the importance of protecting religious freedoms.

The second component of the bill examines the enforcement of subsection 15(1), which indicates that everyone is equal before the law. The issue of equality under the law in Canada has been a constant struggle ever since Confederation. There are many examples of individuals and minority groups that have been regarded as citizens not fully worthy of equality under the law.

For example, women's groups had to fight relentlessly for the right to vote ever since they were excluded from voting at the time of Confederation. The first province to allow women to vote was Manitoba in 1916. It took two more years before women had the same right as men to vote in a federal election. Just imagine a society where women were not viewed as equal under the law. I cannot.

Aboriginal people were also excluded from the right to vote without condition until 1960. Technically they had the right to vote but only if they gave up their treaty rights and Indian status through a process that was defined as the Indian Act.

Today some have suggested the government extend gay and lesbian rights to civil unions. This would give some same sex couples many of the rights of a wedded couple, but their relationships would not legally be considered marriage. In other words, they would be equal but not as equal as the rest of us Canadians.

The courts have clearly and consistently ruled that this option would offend the equality provisions of the charter. For instance, the British Columbia Court of Appeal stated:

Marriage is the only road to true equality for same sex couples. Any other form of recognition of same sex relationships fall short of true equality.

We have three options here today: we could conduct a national referendum, we could use the notwithstanding clause, or we can uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Liberal Party, including myself, has been clear that we will not let the majority decide the right of minorities. We will not take away their rights, but we will extend civil liberties.

The issue today is not of civil marriage. The debate here today is not whether to change the definition of marriage. It is being changed in seven provinces and one territory. The issue is something much greater than that, the charter. I am a byproduct of the charter and live in a country where everyone is treated the same and where individual freedom is the cornerstone of our society.

I am reminded of a former Prime Minister who stated:

The Liberal philosophy places a highest value on the freedom of the individual, and the first consequence of freedom is change. A Liberal can seldom be part of the status quo.

It was the Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau who made this statement over 30 years ago. I understand today, in the 21st century, we are confronted with a major consequence of freedom, change. As the former Prime Minister indicated, a Liberal can seldom be part of the status quo. Therefore, I stand here today to fight for freedom and respect change.

In closing, based on the fact that the issue today is to defend the charter, make no mistake about it. I will do everything in my capacity as an elected official to uphold the principles and the values laid out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Kildonan—St. Paul I will be voting against the Liberal Bill C-38.

The bill was introduced by the Liberal government for the sole purpose of redefining marriage. My constituents in Kildonan—St. Paul have told me, by way of over 14,000 faxes, e-mails and feedback sheets I sent out, that the definition of marriage should remain between a man and a woman, excluding all others. These responses have come from people from all walks of life, all religions and all cultures.

Out of all these factions there have been only 20 constituents who differed in that opinion in this matter. Never in the history of Kildonan—St. Paul have the people responded so clearly, so vigorously and in such a concerned way.

As their elected representative, I have heard their concerns and I stand in the House of Commons today to voice my concerns on their behalf. I ask the government, why, after defending the definition of marriage just a few short months ago, did it flip-flop and bring forth a bill that the majority of Canadians did not want? Why did the Prime Minister refuse to hold a referendum on the issue? Why did he refuse to go to the Canadian public and hear their concerns?

In 1999 the Prime Minister promised to use all necessary means to defend the traditional definition of marriage. That was only five years ago. The Prime Minister is in his latter sixties. He has believed in this concept for approximately seven decades. This is a curious time in life for anyone to change his or her mind on such a critical social issue as redefining the definition of marriage. What is the motivation for this? I believe Canadians need an answer to the question.

The Liberal government was elected because the Canadian public remembered what the Prime Minister said in 1999. They believed him. At the same the current Deputy Prime Minister also stated that the government had no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages. How can the Canadian public trust the government?

Before the last election there was not a word of this to the public. Clearly the government was elected under false pretences. Again, I ask the question, what the government's motive is for this? Why is it being pushed through without going to the Canadian public first? Does it take the public eye away from the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery commission? I would say, indeed it does.

A well known political trick is to bring forth legislation that diverts the public's eyes from the ongoing daily stories coming from any other controversial issue about which the government is not keen on having the public hear. It is a diversion tactic with a far-reaching impact on the Canadian public. The findings from these hearings have been virtually pushed back in the public media and Bill C-38 has taken over the story of the day. The government has succeeded in what it is trying to do. It is a shame because the ongoing sponsorship scandal has proven to be even worse than we first thought. The story will come out.

Canadians are beginning to see that there is a difference between the current Liberal government and its opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada. The Conservative Party of Canada believes in a democratic society and the right of every individual to have choices. The Conservative Party believes that each individual has the right to choose what lifestyle that individual wants with all the equivalent rights and benefits that go along with it. The Conservative Party of Canada believes each individual has the right to choose a religion or not choose a religion. The Conservative Party of Canada believes each individual has the right to freedom of speech and respects the rights of all people.

The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada has taken a responsible, compromise position which is in accord with the views of the vast majority of Canadians. The option to retain the traditional definition of marriage along with the legal recognition of same sex partnerships with equivalent rights and benefits represents the middle ground position that allows for democracy to grow and flourish in our great nation. This issue is an important matter of social society on which Parliament should have the final say because parliamentarians are mandated to reflect the wishes of their constituents.

Since the changing of the definition of marriage is a matter of personal conscience, all Conservative Party members will have a free vote on this question. The courts have never ruled on legislation of the type we propose, which would ensure equal rights and privileges for same sex partners while affording the traditional definition of marriage. This is not only a moderate position, but a reflection of the democratic society Canadians have enjoyed over the decades. It is a moderate position, one that is supported by citizens across our nation.

There is nothing moderate or reasoned or democratic about the Liberal position. The definition of marriage is a question of social policy as opposed to a rights issue and, as such, is a matter for Parliament to decide. We do not believe that supporting the traditional definition of marriage is an infringement on anyone's rights. If we legislate the traditional definition of marriage along with equal rights and benefits for same sex partnerships it is a reasonable compromise. The Prime Minister does not get to decide if same sex marriage is a fundamental right. The Canadian people decide.

The Supreme Court has refused to answer whether the definition of marriage is constitutional. In doing so, the court has decided that this is a matter for Parliament, which represents the Canadian people, to decide.

No wonder the current Prime Minister is confused. He has so many irons in the fire and so many fires to put out that he neglects the issues of health care, crime and taxation and seems to be driven to distraction. Clearly his need to travel the world and seek out photo ops has garnered him the opportunity not to face questions in question period.

In past Canadian history the law usually reflected the social consensus within our society. Since the last election, the agenda has changed. The law is being used now as an instrument for social engineering by the Liberal government. The government has presented a bill that has no protections for religious freedoms in relation to income tax and charitable status, even though the Prime Minister has promised to protect religious freedom.

The Prime Minister is using the law now as an instrument for social engineering. He knows very well that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled already that the provision in the draft legislation pertaining to the rights of religious officials to refuse to perform marriages is outside the jurisdiction of the federal Parliament.

Until now there has been no federal statute defining marriage, democratically passed by Parliament, for the courts to deal with. Therefore, all the decisions that have taken place have been in a legislative vacuum. By filling the legislative vacuum, we would be providing Parliament's guidance to the courts about this matter of social policy.

The Prime Minister will not hold a referendum. Calls for a referendum stem from the feeling Canadians have been left out of this debate. The Supreme Court has left the matter for Parliament to decide. The majority of the Liberal members of Parliament are voting against the traditional definition of marriage and are supporting Bill C-38.

On our side of the House, we are allowed a free vote so we can vote according to the wishes of our constituents and according to our consciences. Unlike members opposite, our leader firmly believes in the democratic process and in the right of the individual to choose. Democracy is all about that. This is Canada.

I will be voting against Bill C-38.

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5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this important bill, the civil marriage act, here in Parliament where so many other historic debates have taken place in years past.

Many members have spoken about how difficult this decision has been for them and how much difficulty they have had during this process of discussion. This debate has occurred in many places, in our communities, our churches and our families. Now it takes place where it should, in Parliament, where legislation is subjected to its most legitimate and democratic test.

I was asked recently if I wished that the legislation, as emotional as it is, could have been avoided, and I said no. We do not stand for election to this historic and important place in order to make easy decisions, but to debate and decide those that most matter to Canadians. We come to this place to discuss difficult issues, to debate the merits, to make decisions and to make law.

In my view this is a law whose time has come. I am pleased to tell members why I feel this way, as I have discussed this with my constituents back home. For me, the discussion revolves around two basic principles. The first is the issue of justice and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The second is an issue of personal faith.

First, our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is something of which Canadians are justifiably proud. It guarantees 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. I believe this bill follows that principle. I believe anything less than the right to marriage and the right to use the name marriage would be unlawful and would be unjust.

I also believe that it is right to protect religious freedoms and the bill clearly does that. How much clearer can it get than clause 3 of the act where it says:

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

I cannot imagine why that would be anything but clear in its protection of the rights of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to choose whether or not to sanctify marriage. As well, the Supreme Court of Canada has indicated very clearly that Parliament must create uniformity of law across the country. This follows the precedent of eight other jurisdictions in Canada that provide equal access by same sex couples to civil marriage.

From the point of view of justice and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the answer is clear. This is a law whose time has come. I support the legislation because I think it is right and because it is both just and moral. It is consistent with both the Charter of Rights and with my own personal faith.

That is not to say that the issue has been without difficulty. Many people whom I respect greatly oppose my view, some in particularly strong terms. Though my view has never changed, I have struggled to find the words to express my strong support for the legislation. I found them in the words of Dr. Peter Short, the moderator of the United Church of Canada. He has expressed that the legislation does not represent an abandoning of faith, but rather an embracement of faith. He further reminds us that the literal interpretation of scripture has been used to justify actions that none of us would advocate: slavery, apartheid and the repression of women.

From my own faith, I take heart in the notion of informed conscience, that as Catholics we need to combine the teachings of the word with our own objective judgments and make wise decisions. This concept have been the tenet of many lives, including my late parents, of people who have made this world a better place. There are many people of faith who feel differently, but there are many who feel as I do and have indicated it to me. It does reinforce the importance of religious protections so clearly delineated in the bill.

I have had many telephone calls, written exchanges and visits with people who feel differently. I respect their right to their opinions and have in fact come to understand some new views of my own. I recall a meeting with a Baptist minister who strongly opposed my view but with whom I was honoured to share a prayer in my office, and I thank him for that privilege.

I must confess though that there is one concept with which I am simply unable to identify. That is the concept that extension of marriage rights to gays and lesbians diminishes marriage rights to others. I simply do not think or believe that the extension of rights to others diminishes our own. Why would it?

Why is it acceptable for those in our society who have committed the most egregious crimes against children, men who abuse their wives, murderers, war criminals and terrorists, that they can be married without diminishing the institution of marriage but gays and lesbians cannot? It does not make sense. Likewise, the idea that same sex couples cannot be a family is absolutely wrong.

There is much rhetoric on both sides of this argument. There are some who say that same sex couples are in fact better parents, more loving, understanding and more sensitive. I would simply suggest that there are both good and bad parents who are both homosexual and heterosexual.

I happen to be the godfather to a little girl who has two mothers. I can simply say without any fear of contradiction that no one would be better parents to Emily and her sister Rosie than her parents Jane and Vicki. They are a family in every respect and deserve to be recognized by their country and their fellow citizens as the family they are.

On every level, legal, personal experience, personal faith and family, I believe this is the right thing. It sits comfortably in both my head and my heart.

It does however leave one issue that troubles some people. Am I here to reflect my own views or reflect the majority view of my constituency? Leaving aside the fact that there is no clear way to know for certain the accurate view of my constituents short of a referendum on this issue, would it be appropriate for me to vote according to the majority view?

I have a responsibility to consult with my constituents actively and openly. I have done this and I will continue to do this. However at the end of the day I need to make a decision that I believe to be right and I will. I suspect it will cost me votes.

The only polling I have seen on this subject indicates feelings are mixed in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour on civil marriage, but those who oppose the bill are probably more inclined to vote against me rather than the reverse. This is democracy and I fully accept that fact.

However the fundamental issue of importance to me is that human rights and equality of minorities cannot be left to majority favour. Over the years, minority groups of every faith, race and sex have suffered at the hands of majorities. The fundamental principle of equality is the protection and even the enhancement of minority recognition and rights.

I support Bill C-38 for those reasons. I believe a time will soon come when we will look back on this debate with great national pride. The evolution of social justice, however, is seldom easy. I have respect for those who are uneasy with this legislation and I certainly hold no ill feelings.

I thank all my constituents who have expressed opinions. Nothing is more democratic or important. However the legislation passes every test for me, legally, morally and ethically. It affirms our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It supports issues of equality and, most important, it feels right in my heart. This is a law whose time has come.

I support the legislation as introduced by the government.