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House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Public Works and Government ServicesOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, Accenture, a U.S. based research company, recently released its global study on leadership and customer service, and for the fifth year in a row Canada is being recognized as a world leader in government service online delivery.

Could the Minister of Public Works explain how this leadership in government service delivery will benefit rural Canadians?

Public Works and Government ServicesOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Kings—Hants Nova Scotia

Liberal

Scott Brison LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, for the fifth consecutive year the Government of Canada online initiative, headed by Public Works, has been ranked first out of 22 countries surveyed in North America, Europe and Asia. Canada has outranked the United States, Denmark, Singapore and Australia.

Government online is giving Canadians in all parts of the country the ability to access government services anywhere, anytime, in either of Canada's official languages. Further, we are leading the world in electronic delivery of government services of public works, and this is great news for Canadians.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I would like to draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of one of this year's recipients of the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award, Ashraf Ghanem.

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 motion that this question be now put.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, my comments today commence with the metaphor relied upon by Pope John Paul II in 1988 in his encyclical letter which said:

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth--

The bill involves the balancing of two of the fundamental personal freedoms which are protected under the charter: freedom of religion on the one hand and individual equality rights on the other. The legislation therefore, by definition, takes us into the realm of both faith and reason.

I speak today on behalf of the people of Calgary Centre-North, and in so doing I point out that this issue is one on which there is a wide divergence of opinion because of the unique geography and demography of my riding.

I have learned though extensive consultation with the constituents of Calgary Centre-North that there is a diversity of opinion on this question. I will attempt today to reflect in my comments what I have heard. The vast majority of my constituents do not wish to see this as an issue which divides Canadians.

I would also like to recognize in the House the courage of our leader, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest, who had the strength and integrity to allow Conservative MPs vote freely on this motion. In fact, at the last Conservative Party policy convention, members adopted a policy authorizing a free vote on moral issues such as this.

The Liberal Party and its leader have neither the courage nor the faith in their own MPs and parliamentarians to do likewise.

Let me begin with the province of faith, for I am a Christian and there are strong communities of faith in my riding, both Christian and otherwise. Even among Christians there are strong disagreements on this matter. I emphasize that freedom of religion is central to who we are as a nation.

Subsection 2(a) of our charter provides that freedom of conscience and religion is a fundamental right of every Canadian. Freedom of religion lies at the heart of our free and democratic society.

This freedom was guaranteed under the British North America Act, even before this country was founded. In 1774, shortly after the British conquered North America, the British House of Commons adopted the Quebec Act, which ensured freedom of religion.

The Canadian Bill of Rights of 1960 provided protection for freedom of religion and throughout our history, whether it be beneath the shelter of the charter, the bill of rights, or the freedom of worship legislation of which I speak, we have stood as Canadians in defence of freedom of religion. In my own riding strong Christian congregations, such as the Centre Street Church, flourish in the shelter of freedom of religion.

Bill C-38 is limited to civil marriage. It has no bearing upon religious marriage or its solemnization. Clause 3 of the bill provides:

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

In the marriage reference decision of 2004 the Supreme Court of Canada concluded in clear language that any attempt to compel religious officials to perform same sex marriage almost certainly runs afoul of the charter and would violate the charter. The court also stated that the same holds true for any attempt to compel the use of sacred places for same sex marriage.

In my opinion, this observation by the Supreme Court sufficiently clarifies the distinction between religious marriage and civil marriage under federal legislation.

However, provincial legislation must still be amended; this is no small task. Legally, the provinces are responsible for issuing marriage licences to couples, be they heterosexual or homosexual.

I am somewhat surprised by the absence of attention to the provincial ramifications of this federal bill. In the marriage reference even the Supreme Court pointed out that the provinces will have to pass legislation relating to the solemnization of marriage so as to protect the rights of religious officials while providing for the solemnization of same sex marriage.

In my view provincial legislation needs to be adopted in each province to address the following issues: first, the right of religious officials to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies with which they disagree; second, the right of religious groups to refuse to make real property which they own or control available for the performance of marriage ceremonies or celebrations with which they disagree; third, the right of public officials to decline to perform marriage ceremonies with which they disagree; and fourth, the right of religious groups to maintain their charitable status irrespective of the beliefs which they hold in respect of marriage.

I am of the view however that the proposed bill does not violate freedom of religion or to the opposite sex requirement which many, although not all, religious groups believe is a precondition to religious marriage.

I return then to reason, accepting that it can never be entirely divorced from faith. Clause 2 of the bill provides that:

Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.

Let me be clear. I have been married to the same woman for 21 years, reflecting my own personal definition of a marriage. It is not however the personal definition of many of our fellow citizens who are homosexual and who have sought the protection of the charter to obtain civil marriage licences from the government. In a constitutional democracy, such as Canada, what should we do about such a conflict?

This begs the fundamental question: what right do we have, as a society, to deny homosexual Canadians something the rest of us are entitled to, namely a civil marriage licence?

As hard as it is to admit, the answer is quite clear, in my opinion. We have no such moral authority because relationships between individuals, of any gender, do not concern the government as long as these individuals are not harming anyone.

I am a Conservative and this is the philosophy that guides me in public life. I have previously referred to John Stuart Mill who commented that “over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”.

The recognition of same sex marriage does not discriminate against nor harm opposite sex married couples. Recognition of the equality rights of one group does not violate the rights of another.

Many of my constituents are concerned about the risk of societal harm and I understand the fervour with which they hold that point of view. Others see little or no such risk. As a member of Parliament I have attempted to weigh these concerns, noting that my constituents are completely divided on the subject.

In the end, I have decided to defend the constitutional right of homosexual couples to civil marriage. The proposed legislation is consistent with the Constitution, the charter and our history as a tolerant nation.

I will be equally vigilant in defending religious marriage and religious freedom, for it is equally clear that neither the Christian community nor the other communities of faith can be compelled to accept or perform same sex marriage. That freedom, to quote the Supreme Court, “will be jealously guarded by the courts”, and I say today that it must be jealously guarded also by this House. Religious freedom must stand sacrosanct and religious marriage must stand as the exclusive preserve of our communities of faith.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased again to speak to Bill C-38. I had an opportunity to speak on the amendment which, unfortunately, was defeated. I think the vote on that particular amendment, which was that the bill not pass a second time, showed that this House is divided. Indeed, Canadians are divided on this question.

There have been some very eloquent speeches about the issue of granting marriage. I know in my own speech I spent a fair bit of time talking about the charter and how important the charter was, and reviewing cases up to the Ontario Halpern decision in which something had changed.

Up until that time the courts had ruled that section 15 of the equality provisions of the charter were in fact being infringed, and under a section 1 analysis, which permits infringements of some of the charter provisions, it dealt with it on the basis of whether it was demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. It was not until the Halpern decision that the courts started to focus in on marriage as an institution. Unfortunately, the panel of three looked at marriage in a very mechanical way.

The court said that marriage as an institution was a declining institution. It pointed out that marriage breakdown or divorce was very prevalent and that obviously society at large was not very much interested in the institution of marriage.

The court also went on to look at the number of people who are seeking common law relationships rather than married relationships. That again is a precise indication that marriage as an institution is a declining institution. Those numbers are continuing to rise. Indeed, Statistics Canada has projected that the number of common law relationships on the current trend line will in fact exceed married relationships within about 10 years.

As an institution marriage has come under attack. I know that many members are quite concerned about the social tendencies. The court went even further. The argument about children in marriage has been a matter which has been debated in this place substantively. The court basically said that there are situations where people can rely on reproductive technologies for instance to have children. There can be artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and adoption. In fact, a same sex couple can indeed have a child from a previous heterosexual relationship. The existence of children within a same sex couple is not necessarily unusual.

The court literally trashed the institution of marriage as having relevance. The court basically said, under the section 1 analysis of the infringement, that it was no longer a reasonably justified infringement on the equality provisions and that the definition of marriage was indeed contrary to the charter.

Here is where we are now. There is the Ontario court decision and then there were these copycat decisions in other provincial jurisdictions. Here we are in Parliament and I have heard petitions day after day reflecting what Canadians wanted to hear from parliamentarians. It was that the definition of marriage is in fact the responsibility of the Parliament of Canada. Parliament is still the highest court in the land, even above the Supreme Court of Canada. We now have this instrument in Bill C-38.

I find Bill C-38 a very peculiar bill. It is a bill which includes a variety of whereases. As well all know, the courts have indicated that whereases have absolutely no basis in terms of law.

There also is a clause in there which makes some peculiar reference to religious freedoms being protected. If we took everything away and left that one clause in, it absolutely has no result or consequences. The responsibilities vis-à-vis solemnization of marriage are, according to the Supreme Court decision ultra vires, a responsibility of the provinces not of the federal government. To have a statement recognizing that the solemnization of marriage is going to be taken care of is not within the jurisdiction of the Government of Canada. In fact, clause 3 has absolutely no relevance whatsoever in the legislation.

Ultimately, if we take out all the whereases and we take out clause 3, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything, we are left with one line and it says that marriage is the union of two persons. Bill C-38 is all about that. If we take the definition of marriage and we reduce it down to the union of two persons, it has no distinctiveness whatsoever. It has absolutely no defining characteristics. The debate has been about this. What are the defining characteristics?

We know what it is throughout history. We know that marriage pre-existed even religions. It is an institution which historically has been viewed as an institution which fosters an environment for the fundamental responsibility of all species, and that is to survive, to procreate. Marriage is that institution which has played this role. It has given people hope. It is why young people now are flocking back to marriage, and the numbers are changing. They see this as a stable institution.

We have had so many debates in this place about problems of domestic violence, poverty and problems in other social areas. The conclusion in all of those debates and all the research have been that the basic unit of society, the family, mothers and fathers, the children with the biological mother and father is the safest place for children and for women. It is the most nurturing environment to ensure that healthy, well-adjusted children are raised in our society. This is a good thing.

When we go through this debate, how often have members who want to defend the traditional definition of marriage been characterized as being homophobic? I believe we have to remind people that one can be for something without being against something else.

There are many people here who have absolutely no problem with homosexual couples having relationships and considering other forms of it. However, to say that it has no impact, that it will not change anything, from my standpoint, the member for Mississauga South, the bill is an affront to me. It is an affront to my religious beliefs. It is an affront to the holy books of virtually every mainstream religion, of which I know, dealing with the institution of marriage. It is something that is so sacred to so many people across Canada.

With such a divisive issue, why, when we have so many people across the country who are upset about this, should we have a bill that will not be sensitive to those needs? We did not look for an opportunity to have some sort of compromise. The bill did not look at civil unions. Many people feel that is a reasonable compromise.

However, marriage is an institution which has a history. It has a tradition. It has a purpose. It is known. It is respected. What we are going to do now is take that tradition, that institution, and we are going to reduce it down to something as simple as a union of two people. How bizarre, how unfortunate and how sad for Canada.

This is not a good bill. It is a bad bill and it should be defeated.

I know most of the members in this place. I have a great deal of respect for this place and a great deal of respect for the members who have put themselves forward in public office to do the best job they can.

I do not know how all this will work out, but I want Canadians to know that all the people in this place who have fought so very hard to defend the traditional definition of marriage have done so in favour of the traditional definition of marriage and not against some other lifestyle choices. There is a high degree of respect and integrity in this place and I am very proud to be here.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I support the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

In 2003 the Liberal government's position in support of the traditional definition of marriage was clear and unambiguous. Department of Justice lawyers argued in the Ontario Court of Appeal that the definition of marriage predated our legal framework and had a meaning and life independent of any act of Parliament or court decision.

The government lawyers led expert evidence to show the existence of the universal definition of marriage across cultures and across religions, that marriage has always been and continues to be understood and defined as a particular kind of human relationship, a publicly committed, monogamous, heterosexual union. The Department of Justice stated:

The fundamental meaning or essence of marriage can only be derived in reference to its history, including its religious origins. It is not merely a legal status, or a creature of the common law, but a social practice and institution that has an independent and ordinary meaning, which is universally, understood–that is, the union of a man and woman.

Now the government would have us believe that Parliament ought to fundamentally alter the definition of marriage and that the Supreme Court of Canada compels it to do so. That is not the case. In fact on December 10, 2004, the Supreme Court refused to give an opinion on the constitutionality of the traditional definition of marriage and implied that it was Parliament's job to legislate with regard to marriage, not the court's.

Neither the absence of an opinion nor the observation that Parliament is the custodian of the definition of marriage can be construed as a Supreme Court mandated obligation to alter the definition of marriage.

Interestingly, when it has addressed the definition of marriage, the Supreme Court has rejected claims that the traditional definition of marriage defined as the union of one man and one woman was contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 2003 the Supreme Court of Canada in the Egan decision 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 realities that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship. In this sense, marriage is by nature heterosexual.

Further, the court noted that the importance of marriage to the stability and well-being of family and society. Heterosexual marriage, it said is, “a social unit that is fundamental to society” and “is unique”. It differs from all other couples including homosexual couples.

This was also the position of the Liberal Government of Canada in the Ontario courts. It said:

Marriage has never been defined merely as one context for producing or rearing children, both of which can occur–and often do–without marriage. Marriage has always been defined as an “ideal” context for producing and rearing children.

There is concern that if same sex marriage is legalized by Parliament, there will be significant intrusions by the state into the lives of ordinary Canadians of faith. The National Post in an editorial, entitled “Freedom of religion under threat”, speculated about where such a change would take us as a society. The editorial referenced cases which gave some credence to its concern.

First, a same sex couple in B.C. is trying to force a Catholic men's organization, the Knights of Columbus, to provide space in its hall for their marriage ceremony. Second, in Saskatchewan, a evangelical Christian was charged for placing an ad in a Saskatoon newspaper that cited four scriptural passages denouncing same sex relations.

The National Post editorial concluded that “gay rights are now taken to trump every other freedom”.

In its same sex legislation, the government has failed to ensure that substantive protections are available for people of faith and religious institutions. The bill before Parliament has a one sentence clause the government claims protects religious freedom. This clause which states that religious officials will not be forced to solemnize same sex marriages has already been ruled invalid by the Supreme Court of Canada. Parliament, the Supreme Court stated, lacks the constitutional authority to enact such a provision because the Constitution gives provinces exclusive responsibility for the solemnization of marriage.

The government claims that same sex marriage is a fundamental right. The highest courts in other countries and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have rejected such claims.

For example, the New Zealand supreme court found that the opposite sex requirement of marriage was not discriminatory, noting that the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman was not based on an act of Parliament or a court decision, but was a recognition of the fundamental nature of marriage itself. The New Zealand court saw it as no more discriminatory than prohibitions against marrying someone who was underage, marrying a sister or a brother, or marrying someone who was already married, prohibitions contained in the New Zealand marriage act.

Following the New Zealand ruling, the UN Commission on Human Rights heard a complaint that the decision violated the international covenant for the protection of human rights, to which New Zealand, like Canada, is a signator. The commission rejected this complaint in 2002, in effect upholding that same sex marriage was not a basic universal human right.

The Liberal government's same sex legislation is seriously flawed and a threat to religious liberty. Neither the Supreme Court of Canada nor the UN Commission on Human Rights would compel the government to rewrite the traditional definition of marriage.

The government now raises questions about the validity or appropriateness of religious based contributions to the debate about same sex marriage. At least one minister of the government misrepresented the notion of separation of church and state to mean that there was no room for a religious based view in a discussion of what constitutes marriage. That was not the position of the government in 2001.

Expert evidence presented for the Government of Canada in the Ontario courts identified religious communities as stakeholders within the institution of marriage. In her testimony, the government's expert witness, Suzanne Scorsone, made clear the following:

  1. Every political issue is necessarily addressed from the perspective of ideology, that is a general belief set. Among these, we find religious...belief sets. Every individual has an ideology, whether that ideology is consistently integrated or not, and whether it is “religious” or not.

  2. Societies that function harmoniously reconcile, insofar as possible, the values and norms of their stakeholders and constituencies.

  3. Religion is an important model of and for society in that it articulates and frames the conceptualization of its members as to what relationships and behaviour are and/or should be.

  4. Religion and religious communities constitute an essential “voice” in Canadian society which is secular, diverse and eclectic. Organized religion has always played a particularly important role in the Canadian community. The state has always interacted with organized religion, in the context of special guarantees for religious freedom.

  5. Given the historical roots of marriage, the strong “religious” attachment that Canadians have to marriage and the long history of responsibility undertaken by religious bodies with respect to the celebration of marriage, religious communities have an important historic and current stake in the institution of marriage.

Every one of us has a core set of beliefs, an ideology which guides our decision making. The beliefs of some may be religion based. For others it may not be. However, just because one's core set of beliefs is religious based does not disqualify him or her from participating in a discussion, especially a discussion as fundamental to our society as marriage.

The Government of Canada, through the expert testimony of Professor Shorter of the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, cautioned against a fundamental alteration in the definition of marriage. He said:

Marriage represents an institution of incalculable importance to society...That single enduring meaning that has been as a union of a man and a woman for the bearing and nurturing of children. If we begin inserting players into legal marriage whose own values may be at odds with this core mission, we may be undermining that sense of mission for all. We shall be undermining this task privately... And we shall be undermining this task publicly as well, diminishing a core institution that has offered the most stable environment for childbearing...Tampering with it in the name of well-meaning but untried experiments could have a negative outcome for our society.

While the government's expert witnesses were consistent in their observation that marriage between a man and a woman was a universal norm, they rightly urged respect for those who, for whatever reason, entered relationships inconsistent with that universal norm.

Professor Young, on behalf of the Attorney General of Canada, advised the court in Halpern, “All societies must deal with the inevitable anomalies and exceptions. The mark of a healthy society is to have not only strong norms but also humane ways of evoking tolerance for those who either do not or cannot adopt them”.

We in this party have proposed a legitimate and sensible alternative to changing the definition of marriage.

We should not forget that all individuals, because of their inherent human dignity, are entitled to our respect and, furthermore, all are entitled to express their point of view.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Betty Hinton Conservative Kamloops—Thompson, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to one of the most controversial bills we will see in this 38th Parliament. It is also gratifying to see so many Canadians speaking out on the bill. Regardless of whether they are in favour or opposed to it, it is generating an outpouring from Canadians, and that is positive.

This is a bill that they feel so strongly about that my office is being inundated on a daily basis with hundreds of letters and faxes, and they are not just from my riding. They are from all over Canada. They are from young and old alike. If we could get this kind of response during an election, we would have a 90% turnout at the polls.

I must be clear from the beginning that my approach to any emotionally charged issue has always been the same. I take the emotion out of the argument, examine the facts and reach a sound conclusion based on logic. I remain open-minded to any and all arguments presented and am prepared to shift position if new information is revealed.

My husband and children lovingly refer to this method of thinking on emotionally charged issues as Spock mode, so named for the famous Vulcan character from Star Trek. I make no apologies. It has served me well in both domestic situations and in 20-plus years of public service.

Based on that preamble, let us examine the facts.

There is no federal law defining marriage in this country at this point. That is precisely what we are about to establish. Yes, it is true that government has developed other laws and protections pertaining to citizens who fall under the categories of traditional marriage, common law marriage and same sex relationships, but that has been in reaction to pre-established levels of commitment by couples outside the purview of federal rule and should not be confused with today's debate subject, the federal definition of marriage.

One might reasonably ask why the federal level of government has not established a definition of marriage after more than 100 years. To me the answer is fairly clear. The ceremony of marriage is not the creation or the intellectual property of any government. It is the creation and intellectual property of religious institutions.

Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples of the world established the meaning of marriage and the ceremony that formalizes it in response to a need to establish boundaries in accordance with the fundamental beliefs derived from the text adhered to by their religious followers. Logic dictates that marriage is therefore the intellectual property of religious institutions, not the intellectual property of government. Changing the definition of marriage without the express formal consent of those who created marriage, as in this case, is therefore logically unjust. This train of thought leads to some interesting observations.

While members of the Liberal and NDP Parties might passionately defend the intellectual property of a photographer, performer, writer or painter, they somehow have conveniently overlooked the intellectual property aspect of religious institutions when it comes to the subject of the marriage ceremony. This could be a simple oversight dictated by emotion, or perhaps it does not meet their personal criteria as intellectual property, or they just might find it convenient and acceptable to discriminate against religious property rights but not artistic property rights. The latter conclusion would be an interesting double standard debate that would merit stand alone debate on its own.

Although the water may be muddy on this last point, one thing is clear: it is the mandate of the Canadian government to protect the charter right of religious freedom in this country. The proposed legislation fails to do so.

The government has made an attempt to ignore the facts and to shift the ground on these debates. Many have stood in the House of Commons and argued that this is an issue of human rights. This debate is not about human rights. Those who resort to using this argument do so because it strikes an emotional response. It is the fallback stance for anyone who is unable to justify or support a position based on fact.

I offer some examples in support of my last statement for the House's consideration.

In the same sex reference case, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to rule on the constitutionality of the traditional definition of marriage despite a clear request from the government to answer this question. Why? Perhaps it was because in 1996 the New Zealand court of appeal rejected the recognition of same sex marriages despite the fact that New Zealand's bill of rights explicitly listed sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination.

When the New Zealand decision was challenged before the United Nations Human Rights Commission as a violation of the international covenant of civil and political rights, the UNHRC ruled in 2002 that there was no case for discrimination simply on the basis of refusing to marry homosexual couples.

In fact, to this date no international human rights body and no national supreme court have ever found that there is a human right aspect to same sex marriage.

I could cite more examples for the perusal of the House but time is limited and there are some things, personal points and clarifications, that I intend to have recorded on this issue.

Let me begin by saying that this is often an ugly world and those who find someone to love and commit to should count their blessings. Love requires no permission or endorsement by law, not in Canada or any other civilized nation.

The issue before us does not infringe on anyone's right or ability to love another human being. What it does threaten is one of Canada's basic fundamentals contained within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that all Canadians whether born here or brought here hold deal: freedom of religion.

We have welcomed generations of Canadians from a myriad of ethnic and religious backgrounds to become citizens of this great country. They have played a major role in our success and development, whether they came to us in 1898 or in 2005. Part of our promise to them was to guarantee their right to practise their faith openly without government interference, to honour the jurisdiction of religious ceremony and to not impose the threat of reprisals for views that do not conform to the shifting whim of the ruling party in Canada.

In other words, we promised them democracy. Many came to Canada to escape the very oppression that this legislation threatens to impose. Many also came to enjoy the freedom of not having to belong to any practising religion.

The cabinet responsible for this legislation is aware that cross-jurisdiction with provincial governments makes it impossible to guarantee freedom of religion under the current wording. It will simply shrug at some future date that the ramifications are not its fault, that somebody else is to blame, that it did not know, that it did not do it.

It seems to be a consistent theme with the Liberal government: promises made, promises broken.

The people of my riding have spoken clearly by mail-in ballot in which 82% told me to uphold the traditional definition of marriage and the sacred promise to protect the fundamental rights of all Canadians. I for one will not break the promise this country made to its citizens and I will not betray the trust of those who sent me here.

I supported the proposed amendment suggested by the Leader of the Conservative Party because it was a constructive compromise all Canadians could be proud of and because it was clearly the majority opinion of the constituents I swore to represent.

This will be an issue that will be very hard to resolve. I ask indulgence by all in the House for all points of view and I wish us all the very best of luck.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-38. I appreciate that so many of my constituents took the time to share their concerns with me. The issue of same sex marriage is an emotionally charged one with people on each side of the issue expressing their sincere, deeply held beliefs.

After carefully considering the views of the majority of my constituents who have contacted me on this issue, as well as my personal beliefs, I am in support of the traditional definition of marriage. I voted in favour of the motion that reaffirmed that definition in September 2003 and I will continue to take this position in the future.

I, like many on this side of the House, believe in the traditional common definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Not everyone shares this view. Because there will be a true free vote in my party on this issue, it makes me proud to be a Conservative. I very much respect my colleagues and, indeed, fellow Canadians who do not share my views on the issue and think respectful debate on the matter is genuinely good for democracy.

This House, including the current Prime Minister, voted to uphold the definition of marriage in 1999 and in the amendments to Bill C-23 in 2000. In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister, who was then justice minister, led the defence of marriage from the government side.

The following is what the Deputy Prime Minister said in 1999 in support of her defence of the traditional definition of marriage. She said:

We on this side agree that the institution of marriage is a central and important institution in the lives of many Canadians. It plays an important part in all societies worldwide, second only to the fundamental importance of family to all of us.

“—unions of persons of the same sex are not 'marriages', because of the definition of marriage”.

Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages.

Marriage has fundamental value and importance to Canadians and we do not believe on this side of the House that importance and value is in any way threatened or undermined by others seeking to have their long term relationships recognized. I support the motion for maintaining the clear legal definition of marriage in Canada as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

This was the Deputy Prime Minister speaking less than six years ago. What she said was true then and it is true now.

The Supreme Court itself has still not addressed this issue despite a clear request to do so from the government. It is important to note that the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on December 9, 2004 did not declare the traditional definition of marriage as unconstitutional. The court made it clear that it believes the issue is for Parliament to deal with.

What is unconstitutional is any kind of discrimination against members of any minority group. We must work hard to ensure that a same sex couple entering into a loving, committed relationship via a civil or domestic union is afforded the same protections, benefits and status as married couples receive under the law.

All law-abiding Canadians must be able to conduct their lives and contribute to society without fear of discrimination. I believe that the proposed amendment suggested by the Leader of the Opposition would have provided the best ground to find a constructive compromise that the vast majority of Canadians would have felt comfortable with.

I want to congratulate the leader of the Conservative Party for advocating a very wise and reasonable position. The majority of Canadians are looking for a middle ground compromise that would recognize the valid concerns of the partisans on either side.

On the one hand, some Canadians seek to preserve the traditional definition of the term marriage, which predates the creation of the nation state. On the other hand, there is a belief that by broadening the definition of marriage to include same sex couples, Canadian society will take an important step in the direction of tolerance and respect of homosexuals. I believe we can achieve this kind of tolerant, respectful society without changing the definition of marriage.

I am entirely supportive of state recognition of same gender civil or domestic unions, bringing with them all the same protections and benefits as marriage, but for the same sex couples. A same gender couple in Canada wishing to enter into a loving lifelong committed relationship must be afforded the same protection and status as married couples under the law.

We can be tolerant and respectful to all parties in this matter without changing the definition of marriage. This is the kind of compromise that should be reached.

The rights of all minority groups must be strongly protected, and it would be wrong to marginalize homosexuals. Any type of discrimination directed against the homosexual community is completely unacceptable. I want to be clear about that.

For me, the issue is not an issue of human rights. It is about freedom of religion. Just as we must protect minority rights, we must also protect religious freedom in Canada. Finding a fair balance can be difficult.

The Conservative compromise option may not satisfy everyone. It would not satisfy those who believe that equality rights for same gender couples are an absolute, which cannot be compromised by accepting anything less than full marriage, or that the heterosexual status of marriage is an absolute, which cannot be compromised by recognizing equal rights for other kinds of unions. But it would satisfy the vast majority of Canadians who are seeking common ground on the issue.

There is no need to go to extremes in this debate. Accepting a compromise that respects the will of the majority and upholds rights is exactly what the amendments proposed by the Conservative Party represent.

Conservatives would propose that other forms of union, whether heterosexual or homosexual, whether called common law status, civil unions or registered domestic partnerships, should be entitled to the same legal rights, privileges and benefits of traditional marriage.

Conservatives believe that same gender couples should have the right to be treated the same as married couples when it comes to matters like pensions, tax obligations or immigration matters. Any federal law that would treat same gender couples any differently from married couples is completely unacceptable.

This is not a reactionary solution that would infringe on any Canadian's human rights as the government alleges. The Conservative position represents a moderate compromise position that would keep Canada in the company of some of the most tolerant and progressive countries in the western world, a Canada we can be proud of.

The overwhelming majority of my constituents believe that marriage is a basically heterosexual institution, but that same gender couples also have rights to equality within society that should be recognized and protected.

Michael Whitehouse wrote me from Stratford, “I am not opposed to people choosing their own way of life, nor am I opposed to seeing civil unions being given benefits. I am opposed to changing the definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman”.

Marguerite and Oscar Schill of Alma said, “We believe that the definition of union would be an appropriate title for same sex couples to own and would give them honour and dignity and their own definition of being united in love. This would not interfere with those of us who own the definition of marriage”.

Mrs. Inez Haid of Listowel passed this along, “I have no bias when it comes to homosexuals. I respect them. Since they have had the courage to declare their lifestyle, why is there not a vocabulary and a ceremony which would apply to their situation? Give them the same rights and obligations as the traditional married couples but don't call it 'marriage' or a 'wedding ceremony'”.

Winnifred and Norman Dow from Mitchell added, “We are not against some kind of union for such couples but feel the traditional definition as the sacred union of a man and a woman must be respected and maintained”.

One of the problems throughout this debate has been the media's habit of interchanging the terms “same sex marriage” and “same sex union”. The media often starts out using the term “marriage” and then switches back to “union”. Let us be clear here. I am in favour of defending the traditional definition of marriage, and in favour of supporting same gender unions. People should at all times be honest and transparent. Trying to confuse voters is not the answer.

If the government honestly put forward legislation that would preserve marriage while recognizing equal rights of same gender couples through civil unions or other means, then this is the option that most Canadians would choose. This compromise is consistent with Canadian traditions, and it is the option that only the Conservative Party is prepared to offer.

I thank all of those who wrote and e-mailed me on this issue.

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3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak again on behalf of my constituents of Langley on the government's plan to change the historic definition of marriage. Thousands of Langley residents responded to my request for input and 96% said they want me to vote to uphold the traditional definition of marriage being between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. That is exactly what I will do.

The Prime Minister's plan to change the definition of marriage is an attack on Canadian society and on religious freedoms. His comments on marriage have been dishonest and need to be challenged.

The people of Langley have plenty to say about marriage. I have received thousands of letters, e-mails and cards. Here is a sample:

I want to thank you for your vote in favour of the amendment to Bill C-38. Your support for marriage between a man and a woman is very crucial at this point in Canadian history and I encourage you to remain steadfast in your efforts. As Bill C-38 works its way through the parliamentary process, I ask you to work to persuade your parliamentary colleagues who may still be undecided about traditional marriage. As you know, every vote will count when this bill gets to third reading. Thank you again for standing on behalf of marriage. In the next election, I will be certain to support a candidate who shares my convictions about marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Parliament voted on the definition of marriage three times in the past six years. In 1999 the Prime Minister and many of the current cabinet members supported a motion that defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. It passed 216 to 55.

Two years ago the Prime Minister promised Canadian religious leaders that he would never permit the definition of marriage to be changed. Then in 2003 the Prime Minister and many of those same cabinet ministers voted against the traditional definition, causing it to be defeated 137 to 132.

During the last election many of his cabinet ministers were again promising Canadians that they would defend traditional marriage. Promises made, promises broken.

On April 12 the House voted on the Conservative motion to “protect the traditional definition of marriage, to provide the same rights and benefits to same sex unions, and to protect the religious rights of all Canadians”. That motion represented the democratic wishes of the majority of Canadians. Tragically, the Prime Minister ignored those rights of the majority and whipped the vote of his cabinet. The democratic rights of Canadians were defeated in a vote of 164 to 132. That was a sad day for democracy.

The Prime Minister and his Liberal government have been dishonest and have been misleading Canadians in three major ways. They have been saying that redefining marriage is a human rights issue. That is wrong. They have said that redefining marriage is required in the charter. That is wrong. They have said that the civil marriage act will protect religious freedoms. That is wrong.

Let us start with human rights. Same sex marriage is not a fundamental human right. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights upheld a New Zealand court decision that same sex marriage is not a basic universal human right. No national or international court or human rights tribunal has ever ruled that same sex marriage is a human right.

The Prime Minister knows that the decisions of the United Nations and international courts do not support what he has been saying. Why is the Prime Minister being dishonest and whipping his cabinet? Because without manipulated support the bill would fail.

The second way that the government is misleading Canadians is with regard to equality rights. The Liberal government said only equal access to civil marriage would fully comply with the charter. It has said that any institution other than marriage is less than equal. That is utter nonsense. Same sex unions have equal rights.

The Liberals have also misled Canadians by saying that the Conservative Party is against equality rights. To the contrary, and let me be absolutely clear, the Conservative Party supports equal rights and benefits for same sex couples. We are the only party that believes in the charter rights of all Canadians, not just a select few. Gay and lesbian couples have equal rights to central social institutions, such as legal unions, and have equal rights.

The justice committee began studying same sex marriage in November 2002. Many members and witnesses at the committee thought that the civil union option for same sex couples should have been explored further. We need to openly debate the potential for creating a civil union which could provide equal rights and benefits in accordance with the will of the majority of Canadians.

Equal rights do not equate to same rights. Canada has many examples and instances where Canadians have fought for equal rights, but not the same rights. For example, the child tax benefit cheques normally go to the mother, not the father. Quebec says it is equal, but not the same, therefore suggesting its distinct society clause. Men and women are equal, but not the same.

The Supreme Court has not ruled that marriage must be redefined. The Supreme Court has not ruled that the definition of marriage must be changed to allow civil unions. The Supreme Court has said that Parliament has the authority to redefine marriage if it so wishes.

The majority of Canadians do not want the definition of marriage changed. The power hungry, undemocratic Liberal government is bent on changing marriage, ignoring the rights of the majority of Canadians. The government could not care less about the consequences of its agenda. It is misleading Canadians and forging ahead with its social experiment, changing the Canada that we all know and love.

The Liberals want to change the historical religious definition of marriage which predates our government. They also plan to legalize marijuana, legalize prostitution and take away the charitable status of faith based organizations. This is not the Canada that Canadians want. The Prime Minister's values are not Canadian values.

The third way that Canadians are being misled is the protection of religious rights. Bill C-38 does not protect religious rights. The third clause is merely a recognition and has no teeth whatsoever. Saying that the civil marriage act will protect religious freedoms is dishonest and misleading. The solemnization of marriage is in the provincial jurisdiction. This is very clear and the Liberals had their hands slapped by the Supreme Court.

If the Prime Minister really wanted to protect religious freedoms, he would have drafted amendments to the Income Tax Act on charitable status. Before tabling Bill C-38 he had the time to make those changes, but he chose not to.

Bill C-38 is not about human rights, but about the Liberals attacking religious rights. Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and other faith based organizations are all vulnerable to activist attacks in the courts and human rights tribunals.

Canada's judicial courts and human rights tribunals have a near perfect record of finding against religious rights. We have seen this in Oshawa, where a Catholic school was charged with discrimination for not allowing Marc Hall's boyfriend into the graduation dance. In greater Vancouver, the Knights of Columbus were charged for cancelling a booking for a same sex wedding reception. More than 50 marriage commissioners have resigned or been fired because of their religious freedoms and rights.

This is just the start. One of Pope John Paul II's appointed bishops, Bishop Fred Henry, formerly of Windsor, who celebrated the mass at the funeral of the hon. Paul Martin Sr., and is now the Bishop of Calgary, is being brought before the Human Rights Commission for his defence of marriage. Who is next? Teachers in faith based schools will have to resign or be forced to lecture against their religious beliefs.

Members of the Liberal government are describing religious institutions as being discriminatory and have argued already that their charitable tax status should be revoked. This would cause the closure of churches, synagogues, mosques and any faith based organization that disagrees with the Liberal government.

The attacks have just started. Marriage is a historic religious union that predates government. From time immemorial it has been a union of one man and one woman. It is more than just two people uniting. It is God being part of it in joining the union according to His will.

The government should not change the traditional definition of marriage. I will be voting against the government's Bill C-38.

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I too will be voting against Bill C-38. The Prime Minister has one thing right. At stake is the kind of nation we are today and the nation we want to be.

There is no other issue that has come across my desk in the time I have been a member of Parliament that has generated as great a degree of correspondence by telephone, fax, email, and letter writing as the issue of marriage. It seems that, regardless of a person's position or their religion or their faith, they have come together in my constituency of Souris--Moose Mountain as one, asking me to oppose this particular bill. We find people opposed to it across Canada.

The legislation invites Canadians to go down a road they do not wish to go and to accept as a nation a fundamental change to the traditional definition of marriage, a change the majority of Canadians do not wish to accept. This does not bode well for our country. I have received numerous letters and I will read from a few of them to capsulize the feeling of my constituents. One from my home city of Estevan states:

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 government tried to define this thing as a rights issue. It is not a rights issue; it is a public policy issue. It is an issue of a definition and that issue should be settled, and has been settled in history by common law. It is time now for Parliament to restate its position by way of legislation that is appropriate. The letter further states:

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.

I ask 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. I also ask 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.

I stand against our Government's efforts to destroy the definition of traditional marriage.

That has been espoused by many people. Another letter from Whitewood, in the north part of my constituency, reads:

I would like to express my views that marriage should be protected and remain as “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”.

Marriage is of critical importance to our society. It is perhaps the most important societal institution we have because it provides for the upbringing of children and is a foundation for strong, healthy families. Marriage ensures children have the best chance to have both a mom and a dad in their lives. Marriage also ensures the continuation of society and provides family stability for future generations. Marriage between a man and a woman is a unique relationship that simply cannot be replicated by any other relationship.

This issue is too big and too important for the justice minister, the Prime Minister and his enforcers to decide. They have not even given members of the government the free opportunity to vote on this issue but have actually asked them to support the bill, whether their personal convictions or constituents would like to see it otherwise, in a very close vote in the House.

Ultimately, it will be decided by the people of this country, and perhaps sooner than later, if we have an election. The people will speak loud and clear when the time comes for them to decide who will be representing their interests in this House.

As I said before, the Liberal government and the Liberal Party of Canada would like to describe this as a rights or equality or dignity issue. It is not. If anyone is confused on this, it is the Prime Minister. Focus on the Family has stated that the fundamental question is whether marriage has a continuing role in our modern society and, if so, should this be reflected in our laws?

It really is a public policy issue that belongs to all Canadians. The debate and the nature of marriage belongs to the realm of public policy and not basic human rights.

Many countries and organizations have held this view and it is not something that is unique to Canada. In fact, on June 8, 1999 it was the opinion of the House that it was necessary, in light of public debate around the court decisions, to state that marriage was and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament should take all steps necessary within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve the definition of marriage.

What has changed since that time? There have been a number of court decisions, but they have been made in a vacuum. They have been made based on common law and not statute law. They have been made because the House has not defined marriage, when the Constitution states that the House has the ability to define the capacity to marry. The Prime Minister has chosen not to address that issue in advance of court decisions and has decided not to appeal court decisions when they were made based on the common law definition of marriage. He now tries to use that as a justification for inaction in the preservation of the traditional definition of marriage.

Where was the Prime Minister when those courts were struggling to make a decision on their own based on common law and without any guidance from the House or from a legislated body?

It is not an issue of whether gays and lesbians can vote or serve in the military. It is not an issue of whether they are discriminated against or not because discrimination has no place in our society, in our party or in the House. However, to compare that to the issue of whether the traditional definition of marriage should be maintained is something all together different.

The core issue here is the redefinition of a known term, so as to include someone who would by the very nature of the fundamental meaning of the term not be included. By reformulating, redefining or diluting the definition of marriage, it has made it to mean something other than what it is and was. Marriage is essentially the union of two people, a man and a woman, who consummate the relationship by sexual relations with the potential to procreate. Anyone fitting that description is entitled to marry. Anyone who does not, is not. We cannot simply change the definition to suit the whims or needs of anyone, whether it is catering to current political thought or what the current fad is.

Marriage is what it is always said to be and there are legal precedents for that. Justice La Forest in Egan v. Canada, a 1995 Supreme Court of Canada case, stated in reference to the traditional definition of marriage:

But its ultimate raison d'être transcends all of these and is firmly anchored in the biological and social realities that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationships, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship. In this sense, marriage is by nature heterosexual.

Another letter from a legal counsel in my constituency stated:

I urge you to oppose the redefinition of marriage to include same sex couples. Marriage has been and should remain, by its very nature, a procreative relationship. That is not to say that all marriages procreate, but that its primary purpose is procreation. Same sex couples may have their relationship legally recognized in some other manner without redefining marriage.

Again, if we start redefining terms, we can make it anything we want it to be. The basis of the traditional definition of marriage was the Hyde v. Hyde case and a quote from that case that is not often quoted states:

--marriage has been well said to be something more than a contract, either religious or civil to be an institution.

The Prime Minister has attempted to define civil marriage as something else, but when we change the meaning of civil marriage, we affect all of marriage. I think we must and should take a stand against it.

The leader of my party said in the House:

There are fundamental questions here. Will this society be one which respects the longstanding basic social institution of marriage or will it be one that believes even our most basic structures can be reinvented overnight for the sake of political correctness?...there are some things more fundamental than the state and its latest fad.

That is the definition of marriage. He went on to say:

--marriage and family are not the creature of the state, but pre-exist the state.

We must as a state uphold and defend the traditional definition of marriage. It truly is a significant time in the history of our country and indeed it is a time where at stake is the kind of nation we are today and the kind of nation we want to be.

As the Prime Minister has stated, “the gaze of history is upon us”. Whose vision of the future of our nation is the correct one? There is no doubt about that, the people of Canada will see to it. The Prime Minister has it wrong. The people of Canada will set the record straight at the ballot box.

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4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is so much that could be said on this subject, a lot of studies that could be quoted, a lot of profound statements from philosophers and theologists, and other realms as well.

I will quickly recap the last time I spoke with respect to an amendment on Bill C-38, the same sex marriage bill. I talked about how we need to support traditional heterosexual marriage, first of all, for the sake of the children. They are the most vulnerable members of society. If there are competing rights, I remember Margaret Summerville, the ethicist, saying that one ought always to defer to the weaker and more vulnerable. Instead of talking about adult dependent relationships, as tends to be the case in respect of those advocating for same sex marriages, we tend to forget about the children, the more vulnerable members of society, and the progeny or the offspring that come out of a biological heterosexual union.

I made referred to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Article 7 says that it is the right of children to know and be cared for by their parents, obviously a reference to the biological progenitors of the children who have come into this world.

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the children shall be a primary consideration. That is in article 3 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Somehow that gets overlooked and too easily swept to the side when in fact it is the children that this debate should be about in a major and significant way. It should be in their interests that we defer.

I was not only for the sake of the children but also for the sake of free speech. I was beginning to make the point of the imposition there would be in schools and places of learning and so on, if there were to be the legalization of same sex marriage.

With the legalization of homosexual marriage, it is my deep concern that every public school in the nation will be required to teach homosexual coupling as the moral equivalent of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. We have already seen examples of such pressures that schools face in your end of the country, Mr. Speaker, in Surrey, B.C., where a school board in fact had to fight through the courts to retain its own curriculum in respect of this particular issue.

I am concerned, as buttressed by this very case in point in Surrey, that even in conservative regions in the country textbooks will have to depict man-man and woman-woman relationships and stories written for children as young as elementary school or even kindergarten, and may have to give equal space and emphasis to homosexual unions. How can a child fresh out of toddlerhood comprehend the meaning of adult sexuality? The answer is that they cannot, nor should they have to, and nor should we be forcing that on them at that very young and tender age.

Among those changes will be “diverse” textbooks that will include same sex couples as role models, even for little children. To refuse such content will be considered “discrimination” and those dissenting school boards will be taken to court.

Furthermore, the provincial teachers' federations will sue on behalf of any teachers involved. Increasingly, activist liberal courts will model themselves after the Supreme Court judges, and those judges at the lower court levels are pretty likely to rule in favour of such plaintiffs.

It is not only for the sake of children and free speech but also for the sake of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Does anyone honestly expect Canadians to believe that the Liberal government will protect their rights in respect of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience when only a few years ago the Deputy Prime Minister as well as the Prime Minister assured Canadians that they had no intention of changing the definition of marriage, and in fact promised to take all necessary steps to protect marriage?

The Liberals have already blatantly broken the promise that they made some time ago, also they reiterated a couple of times here. They have broken those promises of protecting freedom of conscience. We have seen what has happened to marriage commissioners across the country. In my province of Saskatchewan, in Manitoba and in various other provinces those individuals have been sidelined. They have been imposed upon. There is an attempt to violate their conscience.

I ask members gathered here today why should Canadians believe that the Liberals will protect those freedoms of religion and conscience when they have broken promises in respect to that already?

Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham says:

We have been given bland assertions by the Justice Minister that religious freedom will be protected with the redefinition of marriage but there is absolutely no evidence of this...Already we have seen marriage commissioners forced to resign in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba over this issue. Mayors have been forced to resign in Newfoundland. A human rights complaint has been heard against the Knights of Columbus for refusing to rent their hall for a lesbian wedding reception....This is just the beginning of the types of religious freedom violations we anticipate from the redefinition of the institution of marriage.

She goes on to say:

With more than 75 percent of marriages in Canada solemnized by clergy, it is clearly a deeply religious institution. It is naïve and impossible to say that you can change civil marriage without it having an impact on religious marriage and religious institutions.

She says, “The Prime Minister has said that this is an issue of fundamental rights. He has said that in redefining marriage, he is defending the Charter”. However, no international body has actually said that it is a matter of human rights. We look at the various conventions that we have internationally but none on planet earth have said that is an issue of human rights that must be foist on the Canadian public. “If that is the case, there is no room for those of us who have a different vision of family life in Canada. We are already being pushed to the margins of Canadian life”, she says, and “we are already being made to feel unwelcome”.

She continues:

This is not tolerance and it is not upholding the Charter.

The assurances the Justice Minister is making are empty promises. The Supreme Court of Canada said that any protection for religious freedom in this legislation will be struck down by the courts because the federal government does not have the legislative power to make such a law.

Under the Constitution Act, 1867, only the provincial governments can legislate to protect religious freedom relating to the solemnization of marriage. But we have not seen any action by provincial governments to protect religious freedom.

Religious freedom is a political football that is being tossed back and forth between the federal and provincial governments.

Churches and religious institutions are being set up for endless court cases. It will be death by a thousand cuts.

We call on the Justice Minister to tell Canadians how he will ensure that religious freedom is protected before he proceeds to force the redefinition of marriage on all Canadians.

Not only for the sake of the children, not only for the sake of freedom of religion and conscience in our country and our society, but also for the sake of free speech and for the sake of integrity and honesty in public figures.

We have the Deputy Prime Minister the member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre, making statements that are now a total about face with plain statements she made before. If we allow public figures to get away with that, then we have sunk to new lows in what we allow public figures.

The Deputy Prime Minister once said, “the definition of marriage is already clear in law as the union of two persons of the opposite sex. It “is a unique institution. It is one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. She said, “Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages”. She said, “This definition of marriage, which has been consistently applied in Canada and which was reaffirmed last year to a resolution...it has served us well and will not change.

Those blatant untruths and contradictions are another reason why we need to turn this back. For the sake of integrity and honesty in public figures, if politicians can get away with such blatant untruths and contradictions, we have sunk to new lows in what we allow public figures. For these very good reasons, I would appeal to colleagues across the way and to the public why do we need to support traditional marriage.

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4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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 Selkirk—Interlake, Natural Resources; the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, National Revenue; the hon. member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, Official Languages.

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I last spoke on the bill on April 11, my parent's 70th anniversary. Unfortunately, Dad did not make it because he passed away two years earlier, but it is still a day that we remember in our family.

When I last spoke on the bill, I addressed the issue of the value of marriage, the serious breach of the democratic process used by the Liberals in advancing the homosexual agenda, the issue of equality and the issues of religious freedom. Today I would like to focus my attention on the implications for children. I also want to talk briefly about the framework of the debate.

When I gave my speech on April 11, I mentioned how important it was to me to have been raised in a loving, caring family. I know that the proponents of so-called same sex marriage claim they too are capable of loving children, and I will not argue that. However, I will argue that there is a large difference between simply having two adults love a child and being raised by a loving Mom and Dad.

Like most people, I have had many people in my life who have loved me. Besides my parents, I had a brother and a handicapped sister who loved me, numerous aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, youth leaders in the church and in the community and even strangers. The definition of love that I like the most is this one: love is doing what is best for the other person without regard for any self-benefit. Notice that it is unselfish and it is unconditional. It is not based on feeling and it is not based on what pleases or benefits the giver.

In the context of this debate, I contend that the very best we can do for our children is for them to have the loving care and unconditional commitment of their natural parents. This is not just an opinion either. There is a great deal of evidence to show that, on average, children do best academically, health-wise, psychologically and socially when they are being raised by their biological parents. I do not have the time to give the bibliography here, but many documented studies have been done to show this, and the results are persuasive.

I must hasten to add that it is not always possible for this to happen. Unfortunately, sometimes one of the parents is taken away by death. Sometimes the children are caught in the crossfire of a divorce. At other times, and I know of some of these cases, the children are abandoned by their mothers. All these situations are sad and can do immeasurable harm to the well-being of the children. When it happens, it is true that all involved try to make the best of it. Other family members rally around them and the wider community is supportive, but let us never kid ourselves into thinking that this is the best for the children. The best is for them to be raised in the loving environment of their own father and mother.

I have encountered a number of people who were adopted shortly after birth. During my time as a member of Parliament, I have had several ask me for advice on how to find their birth parents. I remember one in particular who had a total obsession with finding out who his biological parents were. He had been raised in a wonderful, adoptive family and had received an excellent upbringing. I will never forget the absolute excitement he expressed when he finally got to meet his birth mother and found out the circumstances that had led to her giving him up for adoption.

I think it is universal. The tie to one's biological roots is huge. I do not think it is a stretch to say that it is a human right to know who one's parents are. Yet when we think of same sex couples having children by the use of so-called anonymous sperm donor and/or egg donors, we are saying to the children that they will never be able to find out their biological roots. Whose rights are being violated when we do this?

Let me now address the question of the framework of the debate on this issue. Frankly, I have been appalled at the low level of our debates in the House and, in general, in the political arena in which we operate. I am speaking not only about this debate, but also on other issues.

I learned many years ago that in framing an argument, one should stay on the issue and never attack the person on the other side. Yet in this debating club here, we often find debaters, like the Prime Minister, yelling at and attacking the other side personally. These ad hominem arguments do not help the debate. I am sick of being called names and of having innuendoes about my character being put forward as fact.

I remember one of the public forums we had during the election campaign in which false accusations were made against me and against the leader of my party. The attacker was extreme in the statements made, attributing attitudes and names which are simply not true. I also remember the response I gave. I replied, “Anyone who knows me knows that what my opponent has just said is not true. Why would a person consider voting for someone who has so little regard for the truth?” I got a standing ovation from the crowd assembled and, frankly, my opponent hung his head in shame.

I have a deep love for all humans. I learned that from my parents. My wife and I have tried to teach that attitude to our children. Why else would our son have spent six or seven years of his life in service in Thailand, Africa and the former Yugoslavia, bringing help to downtrodden and unfortunate people, as he worked for World Vision, Samaritan's Purse and Compassion Canada? Why would he and his new wife have spent a year running an orphanage for some 400 beautiful black children in Rwanda whose parents were killed or missing?

Indeed, if I did not truly love him, why would I offer a ride in my rental car to one of our colleagues in this House who has declared his homosexuality on a day when it was raining and he had neither umbrella nor coat? If I had any inkling of contempt for him, why would I have invited the former member from British Columbia, who was a self-declared homosexual, to join me at my table at McDonald's on one occasion a number of years ago?

The charge of prejudice and bigotry is false. I reject the charge. Notwithstanding the charge, I will continue to love, to the best of my ability and strength, the people making these false accusations.

This debate has been framed as a human rights issue. It is most assuredly not a matter of rights. People arguing for same sex marriage state unfairly that if we do not support that notion, it proves that we are against human rights. How absurd. Why can we not recognize, as the Deputy Prime Minister did in her 1999 speech, that we can be against changing the definition of marriage, and still promote and support equality and rights of individuals.

We are suggesting that same sex and other couples should have equal access to government programs and benefits. Surely we cannot argue that using the word “marriage” in describing their relationship is a human right. Human rights have to do with right to life and liberty, freedom of beliefs and speech, and we demean those fundamental human rights when we try to include other, albeit worthy, facets of human existence in the definition of rights.

I plead with all members of the House to reject this bill. Canadians are counting on us to do the right thing. The right thing is to address the issues of equality at the same time as we preserve the definition of marriage which has served mankind for millennia.

Let us keep marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Let us aim for the very best for our children. Let us keep the debate rational and respectful. Let us respect the democratic rights of Canadians to be heard when these kind of decisions are made. Let us respond positively to the thousands of petitions, letters, faxes, emails, phone calls and visits that we have had from our citizens. Let us respond positively to all those who have organized literally hundreds of public forums and gatherings across this country in promoting the keeping of the definition of marriage.

These people care very deeply about this. We need to respect them. As I said in my previous speech, politics is the art of reconciling irreconcilable differences or at least competing differences. The government has done an exceptionally poor job. It is ready now to totally trod on the rights and the wishes of by far the large majority. It has shown an inability to look after the human rights aspects of that, as was suggested by the Deputy Prime Minister now some six years ago.

I urge all members to vote against this bill. Let us do everything that is right and good.

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the second reading debate on Bill C-38, the same sex marriage bill. To say that this legislation has caused a controversy or generated public interest would be an understatement.

I want to be very clear at the beginning of my remarks and say that I will not be supporting the bill. I support the definition of marriage that has worked in our society for centuries, that being that marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.

I said that the legislation has created a great deal of controversy, which actually surprises me somewhat. If I had been asked 15 years ago when I was in Parliament that this would be the number one social issue facing us at this time, I would have been quite surprised. I would have said to those individuals who would want to change institutions within our society that marriage was definitely off their radar screen.

I remember, when I was the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, some groups contacted us wanting to know why the federal government was still keeping divorce records. Inasmuch as divorce is a federal matter, the Government of Canada did keep statistics on divorces. The groups felt the government was wasting time and effort.

The implication was very clear. In their own mind marriage was basically irrelevant. Whether one was married, unmarried, living together, or whatever, it was irrelevant, so they wanted to know why we were keeping divorce statistics. I did not share that particular view of marriage and I certainly do not share it today. I thought it was perfectly within the government's right to keep that information. That is why I am somewhat surprised that this is the number one issue for those individuals who want to change institutions within our society.

I support the institution of marriage as it has been comprised for centuries in our society. It is one of the basic institutions of our society and is the foundation upon which we have built our culture.

I noted with interest when a government minister asked why the churches were getting involved in this issue. I was fascinated by that remark. It is a fact that well over 90% of the marriages conducted in this country are conducted under the auspices of churches and other religious institutions. That alone would make one think that they might have a passing interest in something that they almost exclusively handle in Canadian society.

Marriage is not something in which the churches and other religious institutions just became involved over the last couple of months or years. For centuries the Churches have taken an interest in this, have refined this and have made rules and customs on this. I am not overstating the fact that churches have had an interest in marriage for thousands of years. It seems to me that alone would mean they have a vital interest in marriage since we are trying to alter the definition that has worked for them.

When I talk about this subject I want to make it very clear that I am not in the business of trying to deny rights to other individuals. I have no problem with legislation that is designed to ensure people are treated fairly in society and treated with respect.

Members can check the record back in the late eighties when the legislation was introduced to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. I remember speaking in this Parliament, one of the first speeches I am sure I made, and made the point that within the federal jurisdiction it would be a terrible thing if somebody was, among other things, fired from a job because of his or her sexual orientation. I could never support anything like that and I welcomed this Parliament moving ahead on that.

At the same time, though, I have to say with respect to this issue, that does not mean that we have to start altering the institution of marriage which has worked well and has been a part of our society for so many years. It is not necessary, in my opinion, to change that.

This position was overwhelmingly endorsed by the House of Commons in 1999. It was not just the members of the Conservative Party or the Alliance Party or the Progressive Conservative Party. They were not the ones who were standing up. It was members of the Liberal Party. Hon. members can check it out. In 1999, members of the Liberal Party said that they would defend the traditional definition of marriage, that they would not be introducing legislation that would threaten that and that they endorsed that. There was no suggestion among the members of the Liberal Party that somehow people's fundamental rights were being violated or taken away from them because indeed they were not.

This is just something that the Liberals have come up with in recent years, and it is very disappointing that it is the case. It was something that was supported in the last Parliament and something that people would expect when they went to the polls. If people were to ask if their member supported the traditional definition of marriage, they would see from the record in 1999 that their member did. They were all in favour of it. I am sure this has come as a rude awakening to some voters across this country that this was not something that they particularly believed in or something on which they could not have changed their minds.

I also am disappointed by the position of the federal cabinet. I cannot believe there is unanimity among the approximately 40 cabinet ministers. I know of no other group of 30 members of Parliament in which there is unanimity on this particular subject.

Even the members of the New Democratic Party who are, of course, no defenders of traditional values in this country, but even within that group one member dissented on this.

The members of the federal cabinet do not have the privilege of being a part of a political party that gives them the freedom to do as they believe they should do on a subject like this, which is one of the reasons I am so proud to be a member of this political party, the Conservative Party of Canada, where on an issue like this we are truly given a free vote, which is fair on moral issues and issues that touch people deeply like the marriage issue.

I have been asked on a number of occasions whether we have, as a federal Parliament or the House of Commons, the right to legislate in this area. I say, yes, of course we have. It is very clear that while the solemnization of marriage is within the jurisdiction of the provinces, divorce and marriage are clearly within the federal sphere.

We have not legislated on the marriage issue in the federal sphere because we did not think it was necessary, quite frankly. We have used the common law definition, which has been around for centuries, on the subject of divorce. We have altered the rules and laws with respect to divorce several times over the years but we have gone with the traditional definition. Now that has been challenged in the courts and therefore it is perfectly within our rights to come up with a federally legislated definition of marriage. I believe it will withstand court challenges because the Constitution gives us this right to do that.

The first step in this debate is to defeat the bill. I want people to know they can count on a Conservative government. We will introduce legislation, as we have the right to do, that will protect the traditional definition of marriage.

This has created quite a bit of interest and quite a bit of controversy. Mr. Speaker, you have seen me stand in the House on a number of occasions presenting petitions from the people of Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Fort Erie, the greater Fort Erie area, including Ridgeway and Stevensville. Hundreds of people took the time to forward these petitions and I have been proud and pleased to present them on their behalf. They want to see that traditional definition of marriage preserved and I am prepared to tell them that when the Conservative Party becomes the government of this country, and that day will be much closer, we will do what the Liberals said they would do in 1999.

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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, we look forward to two things: forming government and defending the definition of marriage in the country.

I have the distinct privilege to stand and speak on behalf of my riding. The bill is definitely not a priority for Canadians. We saw that on the Hill just a few weeks ago when 15,000 to 20,000 individuals came to say to Canada and to Parliament that we should be careful in what we do, that changing the definition of marriage is an experiment that has not gone well wherever it has been introduced, only in two other countries in the world, and we should tread very carefully when it comes to this.

People are angry and upset at the bill, and rightfully so. They do not buy what the Prime Minister is claiming with regard to the bill being all about human rights. We all believe that human rights should be protected but this is not about human rights. This is about changing a definition of an institution that has been cherished for many generations in this country. In fact, it predates the state itself.

This could have major consequences, not only for the institution of marriage but for children, for religious freedoms and for society itself.

I will not be supporting the legislation and I will do everything in my power to stop it. I will do that on behalf of the people of Yellowhead and I will do it as aggressively as I possibly can. I believe that most members of our caucus are feeling the same way about this issue.

What is marriage? Marriage is an inclusive union between one man and one woman and it has been recognized as that for thousands of years. It is an institution that predates the modern states and is recognized in most of the world's cultures and religions. Marriage serves as a bond between a man and a woman and between the generations. It provides the ideal environment for raising children. Marriage is the pillar of our society and, like I say, we trample on it at our peril.

Contrary to the Liberal claim, same sex marriage is not a fundamental right. The Supreme Court of Canada did not recognize it as such and gave it back to this Parliament to decide and to deal with. In fact, no nation or international court has recognized same sex marriage as a basic human right. Marriage as a union of a man and a woman has stood the test of time and place and many Canadians are willing to extend benefits and, I should say, are willing to extend benefits to other kinds of domestic partnerships. Most people in the House recognize that as well but they recognize marriage as something distinct. It is a unique bond or covenant between a man and a woman.

The other aspect to this legislation is religious freedoms. I also oppose the bill because the redefinition of marriage threatens religious freedom and conscience. Religious freedom is already under attack in this country and I think that we can expect worse to happen if we pass the legislation.

The government says that religious officials would not be compelled to perform same sex ceremonies. That is very generous of it but this is only one of the many possible impacts on religious freedom flowing from the redefinition of marriage. That is the law of unintended consequences of this legislation. In some of the provinces, marriage commissioners right now are being compelled to affirm same sex marriages or lose their licences.

The bill would not protect these officials because it cannot. The solemnization of marriage is under provincial jurisdiction. It is not under federal jurisdiction. Therefore we should not be saying that we can protect something that we cannot.

It seems like the government's deputy House leader thinks that it is fine for marriage commissioner's to lose their licences. I do not believe that should be the case at all.

What else can we expect? Churches or temples may be forced to rent out their halls for same sex marriage receptions, which is exactly what is happening in British Columbia. A branch of the Knights of Columbus has been taken to the B.C. Human Rights Commission for refusing to rent out its hall for a same sex marriage reception.

The charitable status of religious institutions in which same sex marriages may be performed could be revoked. Religious schools or charities may be forced to hire and retain employees of same sex couples.

Last but not least there is a concern that religious officials may one day be ordered by the courts to sanction same sex marriages and allow them to be performed in our churches, mosques and temples.

The bill includes a declaration claiming that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs. However, this declaration carries no legal weight because the solemnization of marriage, as I have said, falls under provincial jurisdiction.

Freedom of religion and conscience is the lifeblood of an open society. Bill C-38 moves us further away from that standard, posing further harms to religious freedoms in Canada. As I have said, marriage commissioners are already being fired. Charitable status may already be taken away, potentially, and the outlook for religious officials and institutions to maintain their teachings and practice on marriage remains uncertain. For these reasons, too, I oppose the redefinition of marriage and this bill.

Let us move forward and look at what else might happen. The Supreme Court has not ruled on the traditional definition of marriage. In fact, it handed that back to this Parliament, which is the highest court of the country. We should do our due diligence. That is what I hope we are doing here today. Seriously concerned about this, as members of Parliament we must stand up and represent the people of Canada on this important issue.

The Prime Minister and the justice minister have turned their backs on marriage. I can tell members that we will not. A Conservative government would introduce legislation to preserve the traditional definition of marriage and would also extend the same federal benefits enjoyed by married couples to same sex unions. Our approach represents a reasonable compromise that is accepted by the majority of Canadians.

Marriage as the union of a man and a woman is a cherished institution in Canada and around the world. Not all marriages are perfect, of course, but on balance marriage is an institution that richly benefits men, women, children and society. That we would trample it and tamper with it, I would suggest to this Parliament, means that we would be on dangerous grounds and into a very dangerous experiment.

Redefining marriage would have numerous consequences. Some of them are already with us. Others will surely emerge with the passage of time. Among them is likely to be the ongoing erosion of religious freedoms in Canada.

This actually happened not long ago in Australia. Australians had the same sort of debate. The issue was in the courts and then the government was under pressure to act. There was a groundswell of support for traditional marriage in that country, just as we are seeing today. In response, the Government of Australia passed legislation preserving the definition of marriage. This government and this Parliament can and should do the exact same thing.

I urge all members of Parliament to carefully consider what is at stake. I urge my colleagues not to rush headlong into the reinvention of marriage, making our country just the third in the world to do so. I urge the Prime Minister to show true respect to his cabinet ministers and their constituents by not binding them on this bill. I urge Parliament to affirm marriage and to protect freedom of religion in Canada.

It is very important to think of the Prime Minister and some of his words over the last year, when he talked about coming in and reforming this House by giving the people of Canada a stronger voice through parliamentary reform. That is what he talked about. He ran in the last election pledging that he was going to do that when he became the Prime Minister of this country. He has been Prime Minister for a year. It took this Prime Minister six days to break his promise with regard to whipping his backbenchers into a whipped vote. Our past prime minister was notorious for whipping his caucus, but with him it was a month or two before we saw that sort of thing start to happen. It took six days in this case.

Here we are on same sex marriage, one of the most important issues that we have faced as a Parliament and as a nation. We have a Prime Minister who claims to have democratically reformed this House so that the people of Canada truly have a voice in this place, yet he stands in his place over there and whips his cabinet on an issue like this. It is not respectful to his cabinet. It is not respectful to the people of Canada those members represent. It is an abomination to this House on an issue like this.

I would implore him to change his mind and I ask this House to change its mind with regard to allowing this piece of legislation to go through.

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4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a preliminary comment to start off my discussion today. I found the Liberal convention very interesting this year. I place a whole lot of value on parliamentary democracy and having democracy determine our public policy. I also place a whole lot of value on our heritage, values, traditions and our social institutions such as marriage.

If someone would have told me 40, 30, 20 or even 10 years ago that a national political party, one that has been here since Confederation, would have a convention in which most of the delegates would be wearing “stupid” buttons telling people in Canada that if they believe in Parliament deciding the laws of this country they are stupid or if they believe in a social institution such as marriage they are stupid, I would not have known what to think.

This says in spades where this Liberal Party and this Liberal government have drifted in their positions on policy. They are very quickly becoming irrelevant to the Canadian public. I think that in the next year or two they are going to find that out in a very resounding way.

I used to teach high school. I taught history for four years to grade 10, 11 and 12. I always used to tell my students that we live in Canada and we live in a democracy that emphasizes representative democracy. We hold elections every three or four years and we elect our members of Parliament to a democratic institution. On issues of conscience and moral decision making and so on, what an MP has to do is read the wishes and the minds of his constituents on those issues and represent them in Parliament in Ottawa. That is a very basic principle, one as old as the hills.

I have received thousands upon thousands of messages from people in my riding who have let me know what their position is on this issue. Over 90% of these people have said that they want me to represent the traditional definition of marriage in this chamber. That is resounding. It is not a question of what I believe on this issue. When I get that sort of resounding message from my constituents, it is not a question of what I believe. That becomes irrelevant. My job as a member of Parliament is to represent that point of view in this House.

I am appalled and disappointed with the position of the other three leaders in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister has basically beaten his cabinet into taking his position on the issue. As for the NDP, of all parties, the party of Tommy Douglas, prairie populism, democracy and so on, the leader says no, that all of his MPs have to take his position and vote the way he wants or otherwise he will kick them out of the party. I am not sure what the position of the Bloc is, but I get the feeling that there is a good deal of pressure applied by that leader as well on this issue.

In the last election there were ridings in the country in which 50% or more of the people did not vote. What were they saying? They said, “It does not make any difference. We can send MPs to Ottawa but they are not going to listen to us anyway. The party leaders are going to make them toe the line”. The numbers of voters are dropping. If we do not fix this problem in this country, our parliamentary institutions and our democratic way of doing things are going to be at serious risk.

I would like to speak on a couple of related topics. I have heard both Liberal members and NDP members say that in Canada we have separation of church and state. When we probe them on that, what does that mean in their way of dealing with things? It says to church leaders that they must shut up on the issues of the day, that they have no right to speak on those matters, and that they should stay in their churches and not speak on the issues of the day.

To me this shows a profound ignorance of that concept of separation of church and state. In Canada and the United States we have built our societies largely on people leaving other countries and looking for freedom of religion. They were fleeing from countries in which the state persecuted them for their religious beliefs. Now, in this day and age, we have a government that says those people should shut up and not talk about the issues of the day. This is indeed a frightening proposition.

On that issue, let us remind this Liberal government of a few basic concepts. Section 2 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees every Canadian, without exception, the right to freedom of speech or freedom of expression. Section 2 also says that religious freedom is a “fundamental freedom”. When the state in this country goes around telling people that they have to shut up, it is seriously violating the most fundamental rights in our Constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Let us look at the great reforms in history. Let us put this to a historical test and see how educated some of these ministers on the other side are on this issue. Let us look at the great reforms of the last couple of hundred years: the elimination of slavery, the end of child labour in Great Britain, public education reforms and the end of racial discrimination and segregation in the United States.

Who led those causes? Not politicians. Those leaders were people of religious conviction who saw things that were sinful and immoral from their point of view and they wanted public policy and reforms to address those issues. They were successful. That led to some great reforms. What a travesty for history if we had lived in a society in which the government had told those people to shut up or else and they had not led us to those great social reforms. Would we have made the progress that we say we have?

For my friends in the NDP who spout this point of view, let me say that most of them show a profound ignorance of the founding of the CCF movement. The people who created the CCF movement had strong religious beliefs. They believed in the social gospel.

One of the most powerful people in that movement was Tommy Douglas. I am from Saskatchewan and I know what his election campaigns were about. He said to the people of Saskatchewan, “Vote for me. We will take care of you. We will create a new Jerusalem in Saskatchewan. We will take care of the people. We will eliminate poverty and the need for private health insurance.” So it went. But he was preaching religion. I say to a lot of the educated people on the other side of the House, to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Justice, that they should go back to school. I think they missed something when they were going to school.

Where would we be today without people such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Garrison, Lincoln, Woodsworth, Ernest Manning, T.C. Douglas, Bishop Tutu, Malcolm X and William Wilberforce? They were people who were motivated by their religious beliefs and were successful in leading great reforms in their societies. As for members opposite who are saying that this is wrong, that somehow people speaking out on the issues of the day because they have religious points of view are wrong, I say to them that they are wrong.

I want to make another observation. Members opposite say that there is something wrong with the majority deciding public policy, that there is something wrong with democracy and the democratic system because both of those things are dangerous to minority rights. I want to point out a few facts. None of the charter points existed in this country in 1982. They all came from the British system.

The British system stands on one principle and only one principle in its constitution: that parliament is supreme. It is the democratic parliamentary system that gave us freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the democratic principles that we have in our society, the criminal justice principles, and equality under and before the law. It protected these rights for hundreds of years before we ever put it into a written Constitution.

For members opposite to say that a democratically elected Parliament is a threat to minority rights shows the ignorance of the government.

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5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, before I get into my speech, I do want to thank the people of Brandon--Souris for their input on this issue. I know that for many of my colleagues and, I suspect, for many of the members in this House, this subject was part of the election issue in the last campaign. I believe that if we were truly honest with ourselves and told people what we felt, that should be reflected in the votes.

I have received many calls, many letters, many e-mails, mostly against the legislation but also some in support. I have tried to deal with all of my constituents with the same level of respect and willingness to hear their points of view.

This is arguably the most controversial and divisive piece of legislation to come before Parliament in a generation, and it does not have to be so. A clear majority of Canadians favour the proposal put forward by the Conservative Party of Canada, namely providing for same sex unions while maintaining that the term “marriage” will continue to apply to opposite sex couples. That is a position which is very Canadian in its compromise. I believe it is the position that most Canadians are putting forward. It is respectful of both the gay community and its desire for equal benefits under the law, and of those people who agree with maintaining the current definition of marriage as that between a man and a woman.

This divisive debate, in my opinion, is an attempt by the current government to detract from its shameful record of governing and trying to paint those who disagree with its view as intolerant or un-Canadian. It does not have to be this way. Our party's proposal keeps the term “marriage” and provides for recognition of homosexual couples.

I believe I am like most Canadians. I have friends who are gay and I have friends who are still uncomfortable with homosexuality. I think that I am also like most Canadians when I say that gays, lesbians and straight couples should be able to enter into civil unions if they so desire. I do not think we would find many Canadians who would disagree with that position. I have to stress, however, that because someone agrees that the term “marriage” should be preserved for a man and a woman, it does not make that person intolerant, but wrapping oneself in the charter and calling everyone who disagrees stupid does.

It is the tolerant and mainstream position of this party in regard to civil union that the majority of Canadians agree with. In fact I would go so far as to say that the majority of the industrialized world agrees with our position. This is shown by looking at comparable legislation enacted by countries around the world which Canada often compares itself to. France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Germany, Portugal and New Zealand have all brought in laws that allow couples to enter into civil unions, unions that provide all the same benefits of marriage while maintaining the important and accepted term “marriage” as that between opposite sex couples.

Only two countries have legislated same sex marriage at the national level, Belgium and the Netherlands. Before some say that this proves it is possible to grant same sex couples what they call equal rights, I would add that in both of these countries there are some areas related to adoption or marriage of non-nationals which still make the relationship different from opposite sex marriages.

Even in the so-called progressive countries, same sex couples are treated differently from opposite sex couples. I am certain that the Prime Minister would not call the leaders of those countries stupid for not giving same sex couples the exact same legislation of the traditional definition.

It is true that several Canadian provinces and one territory have same sex marriage. Add to that the American state of Massachusetts and we have all the jurisdictions in North America that allow it. It should be noted, however, that all of these jurisdictions have had the decisions dictated by the courts, not by their parliamentarians.

Some jurisdictions have enacted civil union on their own initiative, including uber-liberal Hawaii and Howard Dean's Vermont. These states have always been viewed as forward looking by Canadian liberals. It should be stressed that neither state has brought in same sex marriage. That would be called intolerant by the government. I am sure Mr. Dean would find it amusing that Canadian Liberals would find his views intolerant, views that, I may add, reflect exactly the position of this moderate mainstream Conservative Party.

The Conservative position is one that is in line with the views of most Canadians. It is a compromise between those who will stop at nothing until same sex couples have marriage even if it means potentially trampling on religious rights in the process, and those on the other side who believe that same sex couples are illegitimate and deserve no recognition at all. Let us respect the views held by mainstream Canadians and enact legislation allowing civil unions and keep the term “marriage” reserved for those who are of the opposite sex.

Canadians agree. So does most of the industrialized world. In December New Zealand passed civil union legislation that is open to both same sex and opposite sex couples. It allows for same sex couples to obtain the benefits of marriage while leaving the term “marriage” for a man and a woman. It is true that the left of centre, progressive, tolerant, forward looking, inclusive, moderate and mainstream Labour Party of New Zealand has the same position on marriage as the Conservative Party of Canada.

It is not the Conservatives who are out of touch with Canadian values or those of the international community. It is the Liberals across the way.

The civil union bill was brought before the New Zealand House of Representatives on June 24 last year by the Labour-led coalition government. It sparked a huge national debate there, very similar to what we are seeing with the civil marriage bill in Canada.

Speaking to the civil union bill in New Zealand at first reading, the hon. Chris Carter, an openly gay Labour MP and minister of conservation said that he supported the legislation because it was an opportunity to publicly register his relationship with his partner and to obtain proper legal protection for their rights.

When responding to the fact that the bill did not allow for same sex marriage, Mr. Carter said:

The irony is that this bill does not allow couples like Peter and I to marry. I am often asked whether I am comfortable with this--and, actually, I am.

I accept that marriage has a traditional and religious heritage, which is why our churches are so protective of it.

I recognize that those churches often cannot include same-sex couples in their world view.

Therefore, I accept that it could be difficult for the State to apply the institution of marriage to same-sex couples until the majority of our religions have done so.

That sounds so familiar to the debate taking place in Canada. Talk like that in this country would have one branded as being intolerant or worse, against the charter, by the Liberals across the way.

The bill provides public recognition of same sex relationships while at the same time respecting the beliefs of those who think marriage, often due to religious beliefs, is between a man and a woman. That is reasonable and fair. We on this side cannot understand why the Liberals on that side do not get it.

Georgina Beyer, a post-operative transsexual Labour MP also voiced her support of the legislation, saying:

This is no more or less than we are asking for with the Civil Union Bill--for the sake of enhancing the lives of New Zealanders, not for destroying the institution of marriage, which we stand here in this House today to acknowledge and respect for what it is.

My party shares the same views as the Labour Party of New Zealand and yet is labelled intolerant by Liberals because we want to give equality of status to homosexual couples while respecting those who believe in the current definition of marriage. Canadians are willing and ready to accept this. I believe we represent the majority of Canadians.

I will be opposing the bill presented as it is. I will continue to support the values as presented by the Conservative Party of Canada.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to expand on some comments that I made in the debate when it began a couple of weeks ago surrounding the issues of religious freedoms, specifically the lack of any genuine protection of religious freedoms in the legislation before the House.

The lone clause included to protect these freedoms, a clause which states that religious officials will not be forced to perform marriages, has already been ruled as falling within provincial responsibility by the Supreme Court of Canada. Thus it is beyond the federal government's power.

Moreover the legislation does nothing to accommodate or even grandfather those civil officials throughout the country who serve as marriage commissioners, even though the justice minister himself has suggested the religious freedoms of these officials should and would be protected. He remarked in a recent interview, “No one should be compelled to perform a same sex marriage contrary to their religion or belief. We believe we can reach accommodations so that those who do not want to perform that same sex marriage, religious officials or civic officials, by reason of religion or conscience will not be required to do so”.

Yet presently some of the provinces are forcing marriage commissioners to perform these marriages, even when doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs. This has led to a wave of resignations and human rights complaints from civil officials who have refused to perform ceremonies on religious grounds.

In my home province of Saskatchewan, provincial officials have taken one of the hardest stands with regard to civil officials. Marriage commissioners, regardless of their deeply held religious beliefs or tenure of service, were informed that they must perform same sex marriages or be stripped of their responsibility.

Yet the justice minister, who once stated that protecting the religious freedoms of such officials was desirable, now bizarrely dismisses this as a provincial matter, no longer a concern of the federal government. It is bizarre because the government has included a clause, as mentioned earlier, stating that religious officials will not be forced to perform marriages, clearly a provincial matter.

Nevertheless, the minister is apparently content to disregard the genuine concerns of people like Regina marriage commissioner Orville Nichols. Mr. Nichols simply wants a balance. He is simply requesting that his religious belief systems be tolerated and accommodated in the same manner as others would expect their views to be upheld. If the federal government is intent on altering the definition of marriage, it should ensure protections are in place for people like Orville Nichols.

For anyone who suggests this balance is unfeasible, I refer them to the case of Ontario. Instead of taking a rigid line, like my home province, it sought and achieved a balance. When Ontario updated its laws to accommodate court rulings that legalized same sex marriages, the province was silent on rights and obligations of civil officials. Effectively this has ensured that these officials would not be obliged to perform a marriage contrary to their religious belief system.

This is the proper course of action to take. This is a thoughtful balance. Indeed, even the Toronto Star has admitted as much, stating in a recent editorial, “Sensibly, Ontario has taken a laissez-faire attitude, allowing cities and towns to accommodate staff who do not wish to perform same sex weddings for religious or other reasons”.

The government has failed to achieve such a sensible and balanced approach in this legislation. This legislation teeters too far in one direction.

Traditional religious belief systems and secular values must be recognized in an equitable and thoughtful manner. We must achieve a proper balance.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House a representative sample of the views of my constituents on this issue. People in my riding have devoted much time looking at this issue and have developed some well thought out opinions worthy of our consideration. It is important that their voices be heard.

Joe Jeerakathil of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a strong advocate for maintaining the current definition of marriage, reminds us that:

Marriage, as currently defined, predates governments, states, courts and charters of rights.

The Christian Church's definition - 'a union of a man and a woman' - comes from the legal Digest of the Roman Emperor Justinian.

Marriage existed in pre-Christian civilizations and has always been a union between a man and a woman.

The Catholic Church declared marriage a sacrament in the Council of Trent.

The Roman Catholic view of marriage is based on the Aristotelian principle of natural law.

Although Aristotle originated the concept, Thomas Aquinas, the giant of Christian philosophical thought, gave it theological shape. He defined natural law as participation in the eternal law of the universe by rational creatures with a built-in commitment to doing good.

A union of a man and a woman fulfills the natural law or God's law because it leads to procreation and, hence, does not fall within the term 'marriage'.

Another letter I received from a constituent, Pastor Daryl Olson of Outlook, Saskatchewan, yet another supporter of the traditional definition of marriage, reminds us of the important role marriage has in our society. He writes:

The institution of marriage is not a planned invention of human society.

Rather, it signifies a particular relationship between a man and a woman,...

...a unique way of life that has emerged from human existence and experience during the history of humanity with two obvious goals:

...the mutual support of the partners and procreation of children.

By nature, this particular lifestyle has the capacity to fulfill both of these goals...

A same-sex union, however, by its particular and unique nature is incapable of procreation.

This particular illustration of the uniqueness of these two kinds of relationships alone begs for a respectful and separate treatment for both.

In other words, ... just as the institution of marriage has been recognized and protected based on its uniqueness and merits, ...

...similarly, some form of legally formalized same-sex partnerships could be recognized and protected based on its uniqueness and merits.

The institution of marriage and a possible form of legally regulated same-sex partnership, should name and safeguard their unique rights and duties with corresponding laws and regulations.

Those were just two examples that illustrate the strong desire among the vast majority of my constituents to maintain the traditional definition of marriage. Although some in my riding have just as passionately argued the opposite position, I must defer to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of my constituents.

As a result, I would like to state that while I believe the federal government must fully recognize that same sex relationships possess equivalent rights and privileges as opposite sex ones, I am unable to support the legislation. Moreover, I base this vote not only on my own personal convictions but also, if not primarily, on the fact that the majority of the constituents I represent across my province have expressed similar reservations.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Werner Schmidt Conservative Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was my delight and fortune a couple of days ago to meet a scholar and person of great skill in the art of communication. She was able to expose some of the most apparently plausible yet false positions advanced by the supporters of same sex marriage against those wishing to retain the traditional definition of marriage.

She is Margaret Somerville, Samuel Gale Professor of Law and Professor, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University. She states that the case for same sex marriage is “based almost entirely on equating being against homosexuals, disrespecting them and thereby breaking their human rights”.

The debate about the definition of marriage raises fundamental issues of mutual respect. Somerville asks, “What is required to respect homosexual people and their committed relationship and to respect people for whom marriage institutionalizes and symbolizes the inherently procreative relationship between a man and a woman?”

The least intrusive of both streams of respect response is to legally recognize same sex partnerships and keep marriage as the union of a man and a woman. “Why is this the best approach?”, she asks. “Because it is ethical. Ethics requires taking the least intrusive alternative that is available and likely to be effective in achieving the goal”.

To deny same sex marriage is to show that we have no respect for homosexuals and their relationships is unacceptable from an ethical perspective and discriminatory from a legal perspective. Not only is recognizing civil unions established under the laws of a province with the same benefits, rights, obligations and protection as those who are married, one man and one woman, ethical and legal, it is also consistent with a fundamental Canadian value of equality.

That is a matter of great interest to our current Minister of Justice. In the proposed legislation we are dealing with committed adult relationships. These relationships are different. Men and women are different. Despite those differences, men and women are equal before and under the law. Yet no one would dispute that they are different.

I would argue that same sex couples as civil unions and marriage as the union of a man and a woman while different are equal before and under the law provided the same benefits, rights, obligations and protections are accorded to both. Thus, they are different and equal.

In recognizing same sex unions and according them the same rights, privileges, protections and obligations as heterosexual couples, the equality argument falls away. It is perfectly consistent with the provisions of Canada's Constitution because it shows respect and tolerance and is therefore clearly non-discriminatory. The recognition clearly accepts that while different, same sex couples are and should be treated the same as heterosexual couples.

The House resumed from April 14 consideration of the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order. It being 5:30 p.m., pursuant to order made on Thursday, April 14, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion relating to the business of supply.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I declare the motion carried.

It being 6:04 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from February 11 consideration of the motion.

Gasoline PricesPrivate Members' Business

April 19th, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this House on a topic that affects many people. The skyrocketing price of gasoline in the past few years, and even in the past few weeks, affects our fellow citizens in particular.

It is interesting to see that the price of fuel can vary considerably by several cents in a single region. I think it is important for the government do something about this problem as soon as possible.

First I will give you an outline of the current situation before discussing possible solutions. The current situation already has a direct impact on the price of transporting building materials, on prices in the food industry, and on the price of home heating. In short, no one is spared. It goes without saying that the only positive consequence of the increased price of gasoline is that, in some cases, people are driving their cars less or using other modes of transportation that do not use fuel. However, the increase in the price of fuel has an impact on the transportation industry and is putting small businesses on the verge of bankruptcy.

Coming from a resource region, I see the direct effect on the trucking industry in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean where truckers have to cover large distances to deliver their products. When forced to raise their prices, the truckers become less competitive in comparison with other carriers in large centres.

Finally, the price of gas has such serious consequences that people are getting together to find solutions. In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean for example, there has been a consumers defence coalition for more than five years concerning the increased price of gasoline. This coalition brings together about 14 very active members in the area who decry the situation. At the present time, the price of gas varies from moment to moment. Take Ottawa and Montreal for example: the difference runs between 81.9¢ and 99.4¢ a litre.

So what are the reasons for these differences in price? We will answer this question in a moment. But we see the oil companies making staggering, outlandish profits. Compare, for example, Petro Canada's first quarter in 2002 and in 2003. There was an incredible $88 million leap to $584 million. Insofar as Esso is concerned, the company let it be known that the first quarter of 2003 was the best in its history. The explanation for the variation in gasoline prices can be found within the oil industry.

Two things are mainly responsible for the increase in oil profits. First, the oil industry is not faced with any competition. The three largest refiners have 75% of the market. It is therefore easy for the companies to dictate the price to consumers or to fix the market price. In addition, according to the Association québécoise des indépendants du pétrole, the oil companies increased their base profit on refining from 3¢ to 7.2¢ a litre between 1998 and 2003, which explains the outstanding sales figures of the two companies, namely Petro Canada and Esso. What is the government waiting for?

The report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology submitted in November 2003, proposed two solutions, which the Bloc Québécois strongly supports.

First, a petroleum monitoring agency must be set up. The oil companies are not non profit businesses.

However, the motion before the House calls on the government to oversee the petroleum sector. The federal government has never done anything to help consumers and has a fine opportunity here to set up a system to monitor the petroleum industry.

In November 2003, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology strongly recommended the creation of this agency to monitor the sector. In addition, the creation of such an agency would enable us, the government and legislators, to keep a close eye on the industry.

The committee also recommended strengthening the existing legislation. The Competition Bureau, for example, must have greater freedom to act.

The Liberal government, citing all sorts of reasons over the past two years, chose not to establish measures that would have minimized the impact of rising gasoline prices for many. So, today, we face the same situation as two years ago.

I hope all members of this House will support the motion, which would put a real system in place to deal with the problem of gasoline prices, a system that would include the creation of an agency to monitor consumer gasoline prices.