Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak against Bill C-38 on behalf of the constituents of Selkirk—Interlake.
Today I want to talk about how the Liberals have been misleading the House and Canadians on their commitment to the charter. They say that they want to defend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but then they sit on their hands when it is being threatened by provinces forcing marriage commissioners to resign or surrender their religious freedoms and freedom of conscience.
The Liberals say that they care about these rights, but they are unwilling to take action to correct this grievous violation. This is happening in Manitoba as we speak. It has also happened in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
The province of Manitoba informed all marriage commissioners that they had to perform same sex marriages and if they refused, they would have their licences revoked. Right off the bat, 11 marriage commissioners resigned. Two more refused to quit and have taken this matter before the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
I want to challenge the government to explain to the Canadian people why it is still failing to defend the individual religious rights and freedoms of conscience that it promised to defend.
Just last fall, on December 3, 2004, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada said in response to my question on marriage commissioners:
--clearly something like this is inappropriate as we would see it. That is why we went before the Supreme Court of Canada to ask what its interpretation would be on our reference and to see whether freedom of religion would be protected.
Clearly, that member has forgotten the statement because more recently he has not acted concerned about the inappropriateness of the firing of these commissioners at all. Instead, the parliamentary secretary said:
--if any additional specific protections for religious freedom are desired in the terms of civic marriage officials, commercial provision of services, hall rentals, et cetera, they must be made by the provinces and territories.
On the one hand the government wants to pretend it is defending the Charter of Rights of Freedoms and has shouted slogans at every opportunity. On the other hand it is unwilling to take action to ensure that a province is not trampling upon the individual's charter rights.
One day the charter is all important to the government, but then it turns around and wants to pick and choose which part it wishes to protect. That is the height of hypocrisy, even for this government, with perhaps the exception of the Prime Minister claiming to be the great crusader against government corruption after turning a blind eye for a decade to Liberal corruption as the finance minister.
Yes, these are provincial civil matters, but these are people who have their rights guaranteed to them under the charter, which is a federal responsibility. It is up to the federal government to stand up for these people and ensure that they have the opportunity to access their freedom of religion or freedom of conscience.
Not everyone has a particular religion, but they do have strong personal beliefs and do not agree with the approach being taken by the government. Therefore, I ask the government one more time to take a stand for individual rights and freedoms in response to these provinces. It has the responsibility to oversee what the provinces are doing and can ensure that they are enforcing what we have as a charter.
We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, yet the government has not stood up for these individual's rights. The freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience of these individuals are being lost because the government is failing to address decisions made by the Governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, decisions that have forced the resignation of marriage commissioners unwilling to perform same sex unions because of their religious beliefs and conscientious objections.
I want to ensure that the federal government will stand up for the rights of individuals. We cherish our charter in the country. We believe strongly in the freedoms that we enjoy as individuals. Yet the federal government has not come to the aid of those individuals. It should be standing side by side with them, defending their rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience and ensuring that their voices are heard by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
The government should tell the province of Manitoba and the other provinces that are doing this to take a solid step back and allow individual freedoms to reign.
One of the two people who are fighting this in Manitoba is a constituent of mine, Kevin Kisilowsky. He got his marriage commissioner licence from the province of Manitoba because he wished to sanction marriages outside of a church.
He is a Christian who has an outreach ministry for outlaw biker gangs as well as a youth ministry. He is trying to reach out. The people he is trying to help do not belong to a church. He is not affiliated with any particular religious organization, but is a Christian. In order to legally marry people who decide to accept his performance of Christian ceremonies outside of organized religion, he needs to have a licence.
When Kevin applied for his licence he informed the Government of Manitoba that he only wished to perform Christian ceremonies through his outreach ministry. He was told to go ahead with his application and that he would be put on a private list. Unfortunately, Kevin is now in a situation where he refuses to perform same sex marriages and therefore his entire licence is being revoked.
Essentially, I want the government to explain why it has not supported all the other commissioners in Manitoba. I want the government to make sure that they can still perform traditional marriages. This does not prevent the Province of Manitoba from hiring other marriage commissioners to perform same sex unions.
Let us defend the rights of individuals who are born and raised in Canada and also those individuals who came to Canada because we have such a great charter. Let us not trample on those rights.
I want the government to explain why it has not supported the individual rights and freedoms of religion and conscience, or is the claim by the Prime Minister and Minister of Justice that freedoms are protected just another Liberal promise made, Liberal promise broken?
Let us talk about what equality is. The Liberals have been saying that the compromise proposed on this side of the House would not satisfy equality requirements under the charter. This is just not true. There are many examples where we distinguish between genders and age groups for good reasons in our society because there are differences between them. It does not mean that all people are not equal but that society recognizes differences between people's situations.
An example of this is that young people have to wait to vote, drink, join the military, drive, form contracts, et cetera. Women and men are also treated differently although they are still equal within our society. When women received the vote and achieved greater equality with men they did not change the definition of woman or start calling women, men. They simply recognized women as persons and citizens entitled to equality with their male counterparts.
All that is really being asked is that the traditional definition of marriage be maintained in law. The equality of treatment for same sex partners can easily be achieved with another institution that recognizes their uniqueness within society. The law can deal with both the traditional definition of marriage and civil unions while recognizing the reality that they are innately a different type of relationship.
Canada decided in the past to be accommodating to religious and ethnic minorities. The RCMP has recognized the need to allow ethnic groups and religious groups to retain their symbols of faith while wearing the RCMP uniform. This kind of religious tolerance dates back to 19th century when Great Britain welcomed Sikh soldiers into its military and the Queen granted them the right to wear turbans because of their religious significance in their culture. This is an example of where our societies have grown to recognize that we can be different in beliefs and how the state respects those beliefs but still be equal as the laws are applied.
I cannot imagine anyone wanting the state to force them from their calling or chosen profession because of the state's narrow approach accommodating equality. The same would be true for an agnostic or atheist. The state should respect their opinions and not impose its will upon another.
However there is no reason that the state cannot recognize all of these diverse people through legislation, including those who want to retain the traditional definition of marriage at the state level out of respect for its origins. That would be the path in our law to a truly diverse and multicultural society, one that allows different viewpoints to be accepted within the law and recognizes cultural uniqueness.
I think all members of the House should take a good, hard look at the legislation for what it really is. It imposes upon all Canadians one kind of social institution and changes an institution that existed long before it was entrenched in our common law. This does not respect the differences in faith, cultures or multicultural society Canadians value.
The Liberals want to impose one value over all of us and ignore our differences. To me that sounds a lot like discrimination we are hoping to prevent by granting same sex couples equal treatment under the law.