House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was murray.


Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.


Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on another point of order, discussions have taken place among the parties and I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development be the committee for the purposes of section 343 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 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 Nanaimo--Cowichan, Shipbuilding; the hon. member for Vegreville--Wainwright, Citizenship and Immigration.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-38, An Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to an issue which is contentious and divisive on both sides of the House, and within each party, and within Canadian society, and even within families. The issue is Bill C-38, a bill that seeks to redefine the traditional definition of marriage.

There is no doubt that there are sincere and deeply held feelings on both sides of this issue. In my own riding the overwhelming response has been in favour of the position taken by the Conservative Party of Canada. This is because my constituents, like the vast majority of Canadians, are somewhere in the middle on this issue. They believe that marriage is a basic heterosexual institution but that same sex couples also have rights to equality within society and that this equality should be recognized and protected.

We believe that the Conservative Party amendments speak to the majority of Canadians who are in the middle on this issue. Our proposal is that the law should continue to recognize the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. At the same time we would propose that other forms of union, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual, civil unions or registered domestic partnerships, should be entitled to the same legal rights, privileges and benefits as marriage.

The middle ground compromise we offer recognizes the valid concerns of those on both sides of the issue. Democracy requires compromise. Where there are differences of opinion and belief, people must come together to resolve the issues that divide them. Bill C-38 offers us an opportunity to meet the democratic requirement, to find a compromise solution through debate and discussion that best satisfies all those who are involved.

I believe that the proposed amendments suggested by the Leader of the Opposition provide the best ground to find a constructive compromise that the vast majority of Canadians will feel comfortable with.

There are clearly three bodies of opinion on this issue within the Canadian public. At one end of the spectrum there is a group which believes that the equality rights of gays and lesbians trump all other considerations and that any restriction on the right to same sex marriage is an unjustifiable discrimination and a denial of human rights. At the other end there is another group which thinks that marriage is such a fundamental social institution not only recognized by law but sanctified by religious faith and that any compromise in terms of allowing same sex couples equal rights and benefits is unacceptable.

Many of these types of unions are subject to provincial jurisdiction under their responsibility for civil law, but there are also federal issues related to rights and benefits. Our party will move amendments to ensure that all couples in provincially recognized unions are recognized and have rights and benefits equal to those of married couples under federal law.

We would ensure that same sex couples have the same rights and benefits as married couples when it comes to matters such as pensions, tax obligations or immigration matters. We would ensure that no federal law would treat same sex couples any differently from married couples.

We believe this approach will meet the needs of those Canadians who believe that marriage is and should remain an institution which, as Justice La Forest said in the Egan decision, is by nature heterosexual, and also those who are concerned to recognize the equal status of gays and lesbians under the law.

The approach is not only consistent with the beliefs of the vast majority of Canadians, it is also consistent with the emerging practice in many parts of the industrialized world. Around the world there are only two countries which have legislated same sex marriage at the national level, Belgium and the Netherlands. In both countries there are some areas related to adoption or marriage of non-nationals of those countries which still make them slightly different from opposite sex marriage.

Aside from that, same sex marriage has only been allowed through provincial or state level court decisions in several Canadian provinces and the state of Massachusetts. By far, the vast majority of jurisdictions have gone the route of recognizing civil unions, domestic partnerships or reciprocal beneficiaries.

Among the countries which have brought in these laws are France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Germany, Portugal and New Zealand. I do not think any of these countries, considered among the most progressive in the world, could be considered violators of human rights.

Similarly, in the United States only one state, Massachusetts, has recognized same sex marriage through a state court decision, even though the governor and a majority in the legislature opposed it. Yet in many states, among them Vermont, California, Maine, Hawaii, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, every one of these progressive so-called blue states have brought in civil unions or similar legislative recognitions. It strikes me as a perfectly reasonable compromise for Canadian society to accept exactly the same position as these countries and states.

This Conservative compromise option may not satisfy those who believe that equality rights for same sex 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. However, it will satisfy the vast majority of Canadians who are seeking common ground on this issue, who are looking for a reasonable, moderate compromise that respects the rights of same sex couples while preserving the time-honoured institution of marriage.

This compromise is the Canadian way and it is the option that only the Conservative Party is prepared to offer. We believe that if the government squarely and honestly put this option, preserving marriage while recognizing equal rights of same sex couples through civil unions or other means, it would be the option that most Canadians would choose.

The Conservative Party is not proposing a reactionary solution that would violate human rights, as the government alleges. We are proposing a moderate compromise position that would put Canada in the company of some of the most liberal and progressive countries in the western world. In fact, one could justly say that the position of the Liberal government insisting upon an absolutist approach on this issue is on the extreme, is not a reasonable approach and that the approach by most of us on this side of the House is more reflective of Canadian values.

There is no need to go to extremes in this debate. To accept a compromise that respects the will of the majority, upholds rights and preserves our deepest positions, we must accept the amendments that the Conservative Party has moved to this bill.

I have talked at great lengths with my constituents. I have surveyed and polled my constituents. The vast majority support the traditional definition of marriage. I have friends and even family members who are homosexual and even in that community they are divided on this issue.

I believe the Conservative Party is correct to offer a compromise that will satisfy the vast majority of Canadians while respecting the equality of all Canadians. I hope the Liberals and other parties will accept the Conservative Party's position so we can focus on more important issues, such as health care, education, taxation and government corruption.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the 12 years I have had the privilege of representing the people of Kootenay--Columbia as their member of Parliament, I have never had the volume of mail, e-mail, faxes or people simply contacting me on any issue as I have had on the issue of the Prime Minister's decision to redefine marriage.

The constituents of Kootenay--Columbia hold many valuable positions on this issue. They are not unanimous. However, most agree with the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada who has stated:

As Prime Minister, I will bring forward legislation that, while providing the same rights, benefits, and obligations to all couples, will maintain the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Most of my constituents see the Conservative Party leader's stand as middle ground. They insist on equality for all Canadians while they understand that the word equality does not mean same. Advocates of the change of definition base their argument on equality. My wife and I or you and I, Mr. Speaker, are equal, but who in their right mind would not acknowledge that we are not the same. We have equal rights and responsibilities under Canadian law. We are subject to the same rules and regulations.

Even within Canadian law and provincial statutes, there is an explicit understanding that some laws are customized for the protection of women and children or exclusively related to men. This does not change the fact that we are equal. We are simply not the same.

We cannot ignore the obvious differences based on sex, age or special status, nor should we. Difference does not imply superiority. It simply recognizes the obvious. While we are equal, we are not the same.

Let me be as clear as I can possibly be. This debate is not about equality or human rights. This debate is about the expropriation of an eight letter English word, marriage.

It is true that all languages evolve with use. Take the word gay for example. “Don we now our gay apparel” are words still sung at Christmastime, but when first authored the words had no relationship to homosexuality.

Many of our words have evolved, but some words carry far more personal and societal historic meaning and tradition than others. Marriage is one such word. The union of a female, wife, and a male, husband, is a marriage.

Heterosexual and homosexual relationships are equal before the law, but that equality does not describe a marriage. While the unions are equal, they are not the same.

That the word marriage is even up for debate, is an absurdity in my mind.

Marriage is a loving commitment between two people. To end the description there is to rob the word of its deeper meaning, giving a totally false impression of what is at stake in this debate.

Marriage is child focussed, creating intergenerational, permanent relationships.

Marriage's deeper symbolism relating to a heterosexual relationship is captured in words like bride and groom or husband and wife.

Marriage bridges the sexual difference between male and female and naturally creates a domestic contract. Laws govern and regulate that domestic relationship, but marriage creates the contract.

If Canada embarks on this uncharted social experiment, in a generation we will arrive at a destination we cannot possibly predict today.

Speaking of rights, what about the right to use the word marriage? Why should a person have to explain they are married to a person of the opposite sex when they use a word that has been defined for centuries?

I do not understand why advocates of gay pride would want to use a word to describe the union of persons of the same sex that has always described a heterosexual relationship. Why would they not want to have their own word to describe their own special relationship?

This debate is not about equality or human rights. Those issues are settled. This debate is about individual Canadians' most closely held values.

The distinction of what makes us human is acting on beliefs and convictions, those things that motivate and shape our daily existence. The essence of Canada is our right to act on our most closely held personal beliefs. This includes the right to be religious or not to be religious.

I have noted the number of constituents who have contacted me on this issue and who have made it clear that their objection to the government's proposed redefinition of marriage is based on what they believe is best for our society's future. They have stated their position is not connected whatsoever with religion or their religious beliefs. However, the government's proposed legislation purporting to protect religious freedom is a sham, a canard, a figment of the Prime Minister's imagination.

Advocates of the proposed redefinition legislation claim it protects religious officials. I emphatically do not believe the Prime Minister when he says pastors, priests, rabbis, monks, imams or other religious officials will not be prosecuted or, more accurately, persecuted.

Religious organizations as charitable organizations have tax status. Does the Prime Minister really believe their tax status will not be in jeopardy if those religions do not hold to the new Liberal government group think?

Will it be okay for a religion to keep its scriptural text but be prohibited from reproducing, distributing or speaking about the text? Has the Liberal's foreign affairs minister not stated that churches should butt out of this debate? Did he not say that it was none of their business? Has a Roman Catholic diocese in Calgary not already been threatened that they could lose their tax status because they are speaking out on this issue?

What about adherents to those religious beliefs? Do persons of faith have a right to hold the same convictions as their religious leaders?

Federal Liberals are saying that Canadians can believe what they want to believe, they can hold the values that they want to hold. They are just going to be prohibited from acting on those values.

This legislation is a frontal attack on the freedom of religion of Canadians. What about persons of faith who are marriage commissioners who object to the use of the word “marriage” applying to same sex relationships? Provincial marriage commissioners have already been fired and the federal justice minister has admitted that there is nothing he can do to protect them. He is powerless.

The federal Liberal government and the Prime Minister tell us that this proposed legislation will be the end of the problem. In reality, it is only the end of the beginning of the problem.

The clash between homosexual rights and religious rights is being fuelled. Twelve months ago, the Prime Minister said that he would use the notwithstanding clause if the Supreme Court determined that same sex marriage would be binding on religious organizations. Then last month he said, “I defend the charter. I will not use the notwithstanding clause”.

The Prime Minister's lack of clarity is alarming. Will the Prime Minister use the notwithstanding clause or will he not? It seems even he does not know.

What about charitable organizations that hold to specific values? Will they lose their status if they do not accept the new Liberal government group think?

The B.C. human rights tribunal is considering a case that involves a lesbian couple who booked a Knights of Columbus hall for their wedding reception in 2003. An agreement was struck, a deposit was made and invitations were mailed out to the couple's guests. However, when the Knights discovered the nature of the event, a clear violation of the moral tenets and beliefs of their faith, the Knights of Columbus cancelled their booking.

The Knights offered to return their deposit and give the couple an additional $500 for their expenses as long as the couple agreed to drop the issue. Instead, the women hauled the Knights of Columbus before the B.C. human rights commission stating that they had been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.

Which brings us back to the key question. If this legislation passes, how long will it be before churches are forced to allow gay wedding receptions and what risk does it pose to their charitable status?

As reporter, Michael Valpy, has written:

Their case points to what many legal scholars and religious leaders say is a murky area between protection of freedom of religion and protection against discrimination.

They say it could lead to religious organizations and individuals by the phalanx heading to courts and rights tribunals once the same-sex marriage legislation becomes law.

The B.C. Knights of Columbus case focuses on whether a church-related organization is the same as a church and whether freedom of religion extends beyond refusing to perform same-sex marriage to refusing to celebrate one.

The freedoms that Canadians enjoy are based in the democratic tradition that teaches us that, as individuals, it is possible to always have our say, though we do not always get our way. Democratic tradition has been built over centuries on a foundation of religious tolerance. In fact, without religious freedom there would be no democracy.

Religious freedom is ultimately the freedom to express one's most deeply held beliefs with the full protection of the law. From pure religious freedom come all the democratic freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and the right to vote.

The bill is unnecessary. It is as unnecessary as it is dangerous. It threatens not only the sanctity of marriage but our democratic rights. It must be defeated.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is real pleasure to take part in this debate on marriage, which is a civil and religious issue.

Our office has received a great deal of input on this bill. I am sure that most of the people of Nanaimo—Alberni prefer to keep the traditional definition of marriage. On September 7, 2004, some 500 people congregated in front of my office to show their support of traditional marriage. There are some people among us who think their own ideas are more profound than those of the Supreme Being, millions of Canadians disagree.

This subject, whether we like it or not, has a very deep and profound religious significance. The judges in several provincial jurisdictions have ruled that the common law understanding of marriage discriminates against homosexual and lesbian couples who wish to marry.

The Supreme Court ruled that while Parliament had the authority to change the definition of marriage, it did not demand that Parliament do so. The Liberals have claimed that this issue is about charter rights. Indeed young Liberals at a recent convention sported badges declaring “It's the charter, stupid”. Well let us talk about the charter.

In the opening statement the charter begins with a small but profound declaration: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.

Among the thousands of letters I have received on this subject, one writer stated, “I fear God, do you?”. I want to state to the House that yes, I also fear God. I am a Christian. Half a lifetime ago I became convinced of the reality of God and I committed my life to Him. I accepted Jesus, the son of God as my saviour and determined at that time to follow Him.

I am glad that the charter lists as the very first of fundamental freedoms, the freedom of religion and conscience. Therefore, I feel welcome as a Christian in my country and in this House, but I fear that the bill is a direct assault not only on marriage and on the family but on freedom of religion itself.

The Liberal government declares that freedom of religion is protected because religious authorities will not be compelled to perform marriages contrary to their faith. These assurances are empty. The foreign affairs minister says to the church to stay out of it. Bishop Henry of Calgary is told by officials from Revenue Canada to desist from criticizing the government or the church's charitable status might be revoked. Or, as I read just today, a news release from my own province from Quesnel, B.C., Dr. Chris Kempling, a school psychologist, has been suspended for three months by the local school board because he wrote a letter criticizing the government's same sex legislation. What about the charter rights of Bishop Henry and Dr. Chris Kempling?

Already marriage officers in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have been advised that they must surrender their licences if they will not perform same sex marriages. What about their fundamental rights? What kind of Prime Minister postures about protecting charter rights while overruling the very charter rights of his own cabinet and half of his caucus? Similarly, the leaders of the Bloc and the NDP are denying the rights of some of their own members by pressuring them to support a party line on this issue. I hope that Canadians are taking note of this issue.

I am proud to be a member of the only party and to serve with the only leader who will protect the rights of his own members, including his future cabinet on votes that involve matters of conscience. That party is the Conservative Party of Canada.

Parliament has already afforded recognition and benefits to other types of relationships. Changing the definition of marriage involves an institution that is the very foundation of society. That institution is the family. Marriage is an institution centred on the inherently procreative relationship between a man and a woman. The right of a child to have both a mother and a father will be negated.

It is almost universally considered a tragedy when a child loses a parent. There are fundamental and well established reasons why most people feel that way. Christians and others of faith already feel the attempts to intimidate and the pressure to keep their views private because the state has prescribed the correct view and what the state has now relegated as antiquated or politically incorrect views do not belong in the public sphere.

This anti-religious bias is not new in the world or unique in Canada. It is the foundation for religious oppression and persecution. When the government asked the Supreme Court to rule whether a pastor, a rabbi or a clergyman could be compelled to perform a marriage contrary to his or her religion, it clearly demonstrated that the Liberal government did not recognize section 2 which deals with fundamental rights. The question would never have been asked by a government that respects the charter. These are already clearly defined charter rights.

However, Christians have no confidence that this government or the politicized courts will act to protect their rights. We understand that the law without enforcement is of no effect.

The government failed the people when it failed to appeal lower court rulings. The court has failed the people by refusing to protect religious rights of Christians and other faiths to follow the teachings of their faith and their conscience when they contradict the new orthodoxy.

This country was founded by men and women of faith, from Champlain and Cartier to Father Brébeuf. Our schools and universities, our hospitals and our colleges were almost without exception founded on principles of faith.

Our own Fathers of Confederation found inspiration in the Bible for our national motto, which adorns our coat of arms to this day, A mari usque ad mare , from sea to sea. This is from Psalm 72, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea”. Until recently, this very nation was known as the Dominion of Canada for the same reason. It is taken from the Bible, from Psalm 72.

These words are inscribed in the arch over the Peace Tower, along with the words, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.

The same King Solomon who penned these words, renowned for his wisdom, wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.

The member for Kelowna, speaking to Bill C-38, referred to the prayer with which we open the House daily. In that prayer, we address almighty God and we ask for wisdom to make wise laws.

I assure members that I will not be supporting Bill C-38 because it is not wise legislation. It is contrary to the teachings of the Bible. It is contrary to the tradition and practice of Christians and other faiths. It will therefore lead to increasing conflict with those who adhere to religious beliefs and practices.

Over the door in the shadow cabinet room in the offices of the leader of the official opposition are inscribed the words “fear God”. These words have been a part of the foundation of our nation, part of our heritage, and a reminder of the principles of faith and belief in God and service to our countrymen that made our nation the great success that it has been.

It is possible that the Prime Minister and his colleagues may find an abundance of time to contemplate the writing on the wall, for the Conservative Party is committed to defending the traditional definition of marriage and we will certainly give Canadians that opportunity in the coming election. I urge all members to hear the voice of wisdom and stand for the traditional understanding and definition of marriage.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with mixed feelings that I rise today to speak to Bill C-38, the Liberal government's attempt to change the definition of marriage in Canada.

What pleases me is that I speak today at the end of a period of dialogue with the people of Essex on the bill. Not only have we received literally thousands of e-mails, letters and faxes but I have this past week completed a series of town hall meetings in Essex, the first of their kind in recent memory by an MP in this riding.

Twice before, in 1999 and 2003, the definition of marriage has come before the House on motions, and twice the previous Liberal member of Parliament for Essex toed her Liberal boss's line. I am pleased to state today that this tradition has been broken and will remain so for as long as I am privileged to serve the people of Essex.

What disappoints me, after the recent Supreme Court of Canada reference, is that we are here today by a policy decision of the Liberal government. Let us recall that the Supreme Court reference neither declared heterosexual marriage unconstitutional, nor did it direct Parliament that this institution be changed. Neither did the Liberal government campaign in the recent federal election that it would change the institution of marriage. Though this is a breathtaking volte-face by a Liberal government that has spent 12 years perfecting the art of dodging issues for which it was given a mandate and adopting those it concealed from voters, it comes as no real surprise.

I sit on Parliament's Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. Since October last year we have seen only two pieces of legislation: Bill C-7, a housekeeping bill to move Parks Canada from the Department of Heritage to the Department of the Environment, and Bill C-15, a bill on migratory birds. That is five months and only two pieces of legislation quickly dispensed with.

Bill C-38 is intended to distract from the fact that this Liberal emperor has in fact no legislative clothes. Canadians should forget what the Liberal government is telling them. While the Prime Minister wraps himself up in misguided Liberal notions of our charter and our maple leaf, the Conservative Party of Canada is instead doing the responsible job of a government from the opposition benches.

For 12 years, the best ideas of the Liberal government have been taken from the policy books of the two legacy Conservative parties and pathetically adopted in half measures. Sadly, the only idea that truly belongs to the Liberals is changing marriage. They should listen to the Conservative Party and to Canadians instead.

Canadians would do themselves a great favour by eliminating the Liberal middleman in the next election in favour of a Conservative government that has always stood clear and accountable on maintaining traditional marriage.

Last night I sat rocking my son, Elijah, to sleep. These are not only moments to treasure, as I continue on my journey to what I hope will be old age, but they are clarifying as well. Sarah and I are his mom and dad. He comes from the uniting of our flesh in the security of the lifelong covenant of marriage. The bonding of our life for life was intended from the foundations of the earth to bring forth life. It is rooted in the laws of nature. It is a defining characteristic of marriage that cannot be altered, even if all lower courts in all jurisdictions proclaim so from the rooftops.

Elijah developed in his mother's womb. He entered the world through her labour. She birthed him into her own waiting hands as I supported and encouraged her. Mom nourishes him from her body. He will get lifelong immunities from mother's milk. He also nurses for comfort. Such needs can only be met by his mom. As a man I cannot birth. I cannot nurse. Yet, Elijah is also part of me. While mom comforts him, I centre him. I am his anchor.

Heterosexual marriage has always benefited society, not just here in Canada, but all over the world and all across history. Scientific advances and legislative wordsmithing will never build a better family than that which has pre-existed both scientists and parliaments. The government has the power and duty to recognize this. It does not however have the power to change it.

Bill C-38 not only attempts to strike at society's stabilizing pillar of heterosexual marriage, it threatens to undermine the other stabilizing pillar, the rule of law. Law is stabilizing precisely because it has tradition, because it is rooted in natural law and because it is moral. Moses or Magna Carta, Hammurabi or Blackstone, the Supreme Court and its lower courts cannot look to the charter in 1982 as a break with the past. Nothing in the charter is revolutionary. Within its provisions, crafted by Canadians through their Parliament, there is no new jurisprudence. There is no kernel from which today's courts can produce tomorrow's new precedents.

In self-governments like Canada, the rule of law can only happen with popular backing or consensus. Parliaments and courts risk cleavage with the people if either or both break with history and tradition. Who will respect the law if the law does not reflect their values? Yet the Liberal government risks compounding the lower courts' mistakes by enacting a law which does not reflect the consensus of Canadians.

It is foolish to overlook 10,000 years of received wisdom known as jurisprudence. Lower courts in Canada, and nowhere else in history, threw out the common law recognition that marriage is the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of any other. The jurisprudential principle of stare decisis, to let decisions stand, was cast aside. The courts have ignored their own rationale and in the process have undermined their own security and credibility.

Heterosexual marriage has been self-evident, that is, not needing proof or defence, for thousands of years of human existence. It took until 1866 before Britain's highest court formally recognized marriage as it always existed. The British North America Act never felt it had to clarify gender in marriage; only it divided powers over it because of the need to protect the rights of women and children in divorce. Parliament has never since considered it needed a federal marriage act to tell the courts that marriage is between one male and one female. The courts have until recently held this interpretation as their own tradition.

It pains me to think that the fanciful notions of a few unelected judges have forced the need for presenting evidence of the nature of marriage. Since the courts have thrown their own common law tradition out the window, it falls to this Parliament to enact statute law giving strong and clear direction to the courts.

The Liberal government's Bill C-38 gives the wrong direction. It is up to members of Parliament with courage and backed by popular consensus to amend the bill to enshrine marriage as between one man and one woman. The courts must and will respect such direction.

A house is only as good as its foundation. The Canadian house has stood well on the firm foundations of traditional marriage and respect for the rule of law for over 130 years.

As I rocked my two year old, Elijah, finally to sleep, I wondered what I would be leaving to him. As a father I need to provide him security. As an MP I need to uphold the security and stability of the traditional definition of marriage and the rule of law.

I thank the people of Essex for expressing their firm defence of marriage and the rule of law. On their behalf, I call on colleagues of the House to amend the bill so that the courts will hear and respect that marriage in Canada will be the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of any other.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Inky Mark Conservative Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to take part in the debate on Bill C-38, the Liberal bill that proposes to redefine the definition of marriage. My first responsibility is to the people of Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette, and at this time I will say publicly that I will vote against Bill C-38.

Since Christmas I have received tens of thousands of e-mails and letters basically telling me to vote against this bill. Over the last couple of years I have surveyed the riding to seek out the views of the constituency. Overwhelmingly the people of Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette are opposed to changing the traditional definition of marriage, which they define as a union between one man and one woman. The people of Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette believe that the House of Commons, not the courts, should determine the definition of marriage and that this should be done in this place in a free vote.

Over the last two years on a couple of occasions I have met and have had round table discussions with the clergy in Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette. My riding is very large and there are hundreds of churches throughout the riding. The people in the riding are very religious.

I must say that the one church that never attended these meetings was the United Church of Canada. Obviously we can understand why, because it supports same sex marriage. In my view, supported by the clergy, there was no point inviting members of the United Church to the meetings and arguing with them over why the people of Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette should support same sex marriage.

The meetings were well attended. Almost 60 pastors and reverends attended the meetings. The first question was why the government was going down this path. That is a very interesting question. I think Canadians across this land are asking the same question. Why is the Liberal government using all its time and energy to deal with same sex marriage?

There are all kinds of other issues that challenge this country. Health care is number one in most people's minds. The waiting lists are very long. There is a shortage of doctors and nurses in this country, yet look at the time we spend in this House debating same sex marriage.

My response to the clergy was that the Liberal government had missed the boat. It could have dealt with this issue two or three years ago by putting in place a bill that recognized same sex unions. We would not be talking about same sex marriage today, but again the Liberals took the easy way out.

The Liberal government wanted the Supreme Court of Canada to provide the answer. It wanted the Supreme Court to rule in its favour, to make its job easy in terms of pushing forth the same sex marriage issue. It has not been easy and at this point in time Canadians are demonstrating that the Liberal government is going down the wrong path.

Another thing the pastors could not understand and they asked me about was how many countries actually have in place legal same sex marriage. I told them that at that time there were only two, the Netherlands and Belgium, and that Canada would be the third.

It is interesting that even liberal Europe and certainly the northern countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway would outlaw and not accept same sex marriage. In fact what they have is registered same sex unions. Even France's supreme court ruled that same sex marriage was illegal. It has same sex unions as well.

Prior to Christmas New Zealand passed a bill defining same sex unions, that marriage basically meant a union between a man and a woman. The world around us is sending a loud message that same sex marriage is in a very small minority position.

We must also say that gays and lesbians represent about 2% to 3% of the population. How is it that 2% or 3% of any population base can dictate to the rest of the population, the 97% or 99%? It is just unfair.

Another concern the pastors and clergy had was the business of protection of religion. They were very fearful. Our society has evolved in a way that we contest things. We go to court and if we lose, we appeal to the Supreme Court. We know that sooner or later this is going to end up in the Supreme Court. That is the fear. The churches, religious organizations and institutions really do not have any protection under the law, even if it is a law written in the House. The Supreme Court will rule against the laws of this House. It has in the past and it will in the future. There will be no guarantee of freedom of religion in the country if the bill passes.

In my riding the big concern is about agriculture. Agriculture is the backbone of my riding. People have to make a living. The BSE crisis has decimated a lot of the income. In fact, in Manitoba the cash flow from cattle was about $500 million over the past two years, but it has probably trickled down to $50 million. We will be lucky to realize $50 million with the border closed, yet instead of working on opening the border, the government is working on same sex marriage. So much for the concerns of the tax paying citizens, yet there is no shortage of time for criminalizing the law-abiding gun owners of the country. The government continues to waste money by the billions.

The clergy raised a lot of questions in terms of why the government is going down this path when it does not need to. The government still has time to turn the ship around. It could still deal with this through amendments. The best course of action would be to get rid of the bill and to start from scratch. Put in place same sex union legislation and leave marriage the way it always has been in this country, which is a union between a man and a woman.

The people of Dauphin—Swan River--Marquette want me to bring to this place the message that they do not support same sex marriage. I will certainly vote against Bill C-38.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

April 5th, 2005 / 5:20 p.m.


Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, the bill we are debating today carries the highest importance and significance for Canadian society, for aside from all the social changes that I believe that the bill would bring in, just as important is this: if the bill passes and is upheld, the state will have crossed a new frontier for government expansion.

Governments, both provincial and federal, do not even blush as they trample upon individual or local areas of responsibility. Private property rights, families, faith and religious groups, schools, and small and large businesses have all felt the effects of a far-reaching aspect of government intrusion. Now the government is expanding its reach even further, for it is attempting to alter a fundamental reality of our society.

Whatever is decided here on the bill, marriage itself will not be changed in reality. The government may force all Canadians to recognize homosexual marriages. It may force marriage commissioners to resign if they refuse to perform something that is against their conscience. The state may even threaten religious institutions and clergy who stand up against such actions.

Through it all, marriage will endure unchanged. Marriage will exist because marriage does not come from the state and does not depend on the government.

Abraham Lincoln has been credited with this quote, which goes something like this, “How many legs would a dog have if you counted the tail as a leg?” The answer is just four. Just because a tail is called a leg does not make it a leg. If Bill C-38 passes, governments and individual Canadians will be forced to call a tail a leg, nothing more, but that is not inconsequential, for its effect on marriage, such an integral building block of our society, would have far-reaching effects.

The ramifications of altering for legal purposes the definition of marriage, such an essential institution in our society, would be far-reaching. I believe that the onus lies on those who would change such an essential foundation to prove the necessity and prove the effects.

The Prime Minister has ignored the evidence of human history, the will of the Canadian people and recent decisions of this Parliament in bringing in the bill. His explanation has been but one line: that it is a “charter right”. I would like to discuss the legal arguments surrounding that issue.

The argument that it is somehow a charter right is perhaps the most prevalent legal argument being put forth today. I remind hon. members that the Supreme Court precisely did not rule that there is a charter right to same sex marriage. By silence, the court has upheld the status quo in law in Canada today.

Dr. Somerville, a source who has been quoted a few times by members giving speeches, put it this way:

Institutions have both inherent and collateral features. Inherent features define the institution and cannot be changed without destroying the institution.

I would also remind the House that even the United Nations, certainly no bastion of conservatism and traditional values, has categorically dismissed the claim that homosexual marriage is a right. Within Canada we have heard similar experts say the very same thing.

I know this passage has also been cited here before, but I think it should be heard again. Former Supreme Court Justice Gérard La Forest, speaking on behalf of the majority in the Egan decision, said the following:

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.

Let us note the phrase “by nature heterosexual”. He did not say “by act of Parliament heterosexual”. He did not say “by judicial decision heterosexual”. He said that it is a fundamental reality that marriage is an opposite sex institution, something, by the way, that the current Deputy Prime Minister argued for vociferously and quite passionately, and I might add quite articulately, when she was appealing a judicial case on behalf of the government.

This is the last ruling that the Supreme Court rendered on the constitutionality of traditional marriage. Justice La Forest is saying that marriage exists primarily for the procreation of human beings. It is the essence of marriage and its primary focus. There is nothing more important to society than the raising of children, for its very survival requires it.

Homosexual unions are by nature contradictory to this. There is no complementarity of the sexes. Two members of the same sex may use their God-given free will to engage in acts, to cohabit and to own property together. They may commit themselves to monogamy. They may pledge to remain in a loving relationship for life. In that sense they have many of the collateral features of marriage, but they do not have its inherent feature, as they cannot commit to the natural procreation of children. They cannot therefore be married.

I would like to add that the Prime Minister's hypocrisy on the issue of what the courts have said is really quite appalling. He tells us that we must endorse gay marriage because the courts have told us to. The Supreme Court did not tell us to. It rejected the idea that traditional marriage is against the charter. It refused to answer that reference question.

Why is the Prime Minister making this a false charter issue? Perhaps it is because he knows that this is contrary to the will of the vast majority of Canadians. Perhaps he needs an excuse to advocate this because he knows that Canadians are not behind him.

The Prime Minister then tells us not to worry because he will protect religious institutions. He has not done that with this bill. The Supreme Court did rule that only the provinces could do that.

On the one hand, he orders us to follow the rulings of the courts. On the other, he ignores the ruling of the courts. The Prime Minister's double-talk on these issues and his attempts to change the meaning of a word and an institution that are a fundamental reality of our society reminds me of a quote from Through the Looking Glass , by Lewis Carroll. It goes like this:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master--that's all.”

There are also grave concerns regarding the practical ramifications of this bill. We have seen religious organizations in British Columbia sued over their position on same sex marriage. I speak of course about the Knights of Columbus, who refused to rent out a hall for a same sex wedding reception. It was against their core religious beliefs to do so, yet they are being persecuted.

In Calgary, Bishop Fred Henry has found himself before a human rights tribunal because he dared to articulate his church's teachings on the matter. This is without a doubt one of the worst attacks on freedom of speech and freedom of religion that we have seen in this country in generations. To think that a Catholic bishop must answer to a civil authority over matters of faith is abominable.

It is abhorrent to me, to other Catholics and to every member of every faith community. It is abhorrent because the very essence of being a religious official is to teach the faith and instruct the faithful. There is an inherent right for religious officials to do so.

These developments cause me to warn the House very seriously of what will happen if this bill is passed. The provisions in this bill to protect religious officials are meaningless. These provisions touch on the only area that the Supreme Court has ruled as outside the scope of the federal government.

It is worth repeating that the last judgment on the matter of marriage by the Supreme Court was to uphold the traditional definition of marriage. That has not changed with the recent court answers to the government's reference questions. It has not changed because the Supreme Court was silent on that reference question. In our common law tradition, in the absence of a new ruling or a new statute, the previous judgments stand.

I would like to congratulate my leader for his courageous stand in defence of marriage. Throughout this entire debate, while the pro-same sex marriage lobby has resorted to personal attacks, charges of bigotry and twisted judicial arguments, my leader has remained consistently clear and has refrained from making any arguments based on personal attacks.

When this bill comes to a vote, I will be casting my ballot according to my conscience, on behalf of my constituents and for what I believe will be for the good of the nation. I can say with some authority that the vast majority of my constituents want me to vote in favour of traditional marriage. I will therefore be voting against this bill. I will be casting my vote freely, with no coercion from my leader or my party. I am proud to be able to do so. I hope that all members will vote freely on this matter.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to private members' business..

The House resumed from December 10 consideration of the motion.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Bernard Cleary Bloc Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, from the outset I want to say that the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of the notice of motion by this House calling on the government to acknowledge the inequality of treatment and compensation for first nations, Métis and Inuit war veterans and take action immediately to give real compensation to these veterans in a way that truly respects their service and sacrifice.

We must not forget that almost 10,000 free, brave and generous aboriginals fought under the Canadian flag during both world wars and the Korean War. During these wars, some 500 aboriginals tragically lost their lives.

Aboriginal soldiers experienced serious culture shock when they joined the army and many of them had very little contact with the British and Canadian regular forces or militia.

The perceptions and skills of a good number of aboriginals came from their history and culture. They viewed the death of an individual as a vital loss to the entire social group. Accordingly, the heavy losses they suffered were a major blow to Canada's aboriginal communities.

Yet, aboriginals were exempt from conscription during the first world war. They enlisted freely, without any obligation and in a spirit of generosity.

Aboriginal soldiers took part in every major battle, including the Dieppe landings and the Normandy invasion.

Many aboriginals distinguished themselves as scouts, the first soldiers to face the enemy. Since their enemies did not speak their languages, these soldiers were able to transmit confidential information without the enemy understanding it.

Finally, they received military decorations: 17 medals for acts of bravery during the second world war.

Beginning in the 1920s, the Last Post Fund burial privilege and pension relief were discontinued, as aboriginal veterans on reserves were treated exclusively as treaty Indians. This policy was subsequently modified.

Families of aboriginal soldiers received the same allowance as other servicemen, but in 1941-42, some allowances were placed under the control of the local Indian agent, and aboriginal soldiers and their dependants were urged to invest in Indian trust funds if they wished to receive maximum benefits.

On June 21, 2002, the Minister of Veterans Affairs offered $20,000 per person to 1,800 aboriginal veterans or their surviving spouses. This amount is approximately 12 times lower than the aboriginals had demanded.

However, the trustee for the Indians of Canada has imposed one condition: aboriginal veterans must give up their Indian status to be entitled to veterans' benefits. So they must agree to forfeit their ancestral rights.

Initially, they had no intention of agreeing to the underhanded dealings of their trustee, but they were too old to wait much longer, so the aboriginal veterans resigned themselves to accepting Ottawa's offer.

However, the Supreme Court of Canada, in numerous rulings, claims that the collective ancestral rights of aboriginals can only be extinguished by a treaty made between Canada and the aboriginal nations concerned.

Thus, they cannot be extinguished unilaterally by an act, a regulation or an administrative measure of the Government of Canada.

How do we explain that the trustee for the Indians of Canada required aboriginal veterans to extinguish their ancestral rights simply in order to receive something to which they were entitled? How do we explain that the trustee for the Indians of Canada ignored section 35 of the country's Constitution and a number of Supreme Court decisions?

Aboriginal soldiers who did not agree to extinguish their ancestral rights, who continued to claim their Indian status, received $2,320 each. They were forbidden to purchase land off reserve and were excluded from free training programs, employment or spousal benefits which were offered to non-aboriginal veterans.

There must be about 150 survivors of the 2,600 Métis who fought under Canada's flag. Métis veterans are excluded from the first nations veterans package made public in 2002. Why would the current government not respect section 35 of the Constitution of Canada, under which the Métis are one of the three aboriginal peoples of Canada, and decide not to include them without pettiness in the regulations?

The government's strategy, which it is now using on the Indians who attended aboriginal residential schools, is to drag its feet so long that people give up or die. Such a machiavellian strategy ought to fly in the face of decent Canadians. How can we, as members of the House of Commons, accept that our own government, which is, moreover, the trustee for Canada's Indians, treat the least privileged among us so badly?

The aboriginal veterans gave their lives or might have done so in wars which were of no concern to them. They did so generously for this country, which continues to mistreat them, as was shown in the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996.

However, aboriginal soldiers, like the other members of the Canadian Forces, simply want to be respected and recognized for what they have done for this country. They want to live out their days in peace, as they deserve to. They want to forget—as quickly as possible—all pettiness of their trustee and guardian. Is that not reasonable?

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place among all parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent that should the debate on this private member's motion collapse, that the vote be deferred until 3 p.m. tomorrow.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is it agreed?

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a former soldier, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the historic inequality of treatment and compensation for first nations, Métis and Inuit war veterans.

When Canada committed itself to fight in the three wars of the 20th century, Canada's first inhabitants responded quickly with impressive numbers. Many thousands of natives joined the armed forces and fought in the first world war, the second world war and the Korean war, just like large numbers of their fellow citizens.

However, upon their return from the wars, they were not treated the same as their fellow veterans, and that is the issue I wish to raise today.

Let me say at the beginning that I believe all Canadian war veterans should be treated the same regardless of race, colour, creed or sex. If people are willing to put their life on the line to defend our territory and our values, they have offered our society all that a human can offer. Upon returning from a war, it is incumbent upon Canada to acknowledge its responsibility to its veterans regardless of who they are or what their racial roots are.

This acknowledgement does not have a time limit since the country continues to benefit from the veterans' effort. However, in practical terms, the veterans or their spouses are all getting older and as the time period from the second world war and Korea war continues to expand. If they are to benefit, action must be taken as soon as possible.

Those who have either lived or read the history of the middle of the last century will know that we live in quite a different time than during the war periods. Our world view has changed from a very insular society to one that is open to the world and all the differences it brings. Anyone less than 50 years old may find that it is hard to believe that Canada was not always the multicultural, multiracial society it is today.

If we go back to the beginning of the wars, aboriginal Canadians faced distinct disadvantages in joining and participating in the military. At the time, a large number lived in remote communities and spoke neither English nor French. For many, joining the Canadian military marked their first exposure to the dress terminology and unique customs of Canadian society. Before leaving the reserve, many had not been on a train, had never seen a large transport ship and had not seen large cities. It was a dramatic cultural change for them.

Serving one's country in war time is both the highest honour and the most profound duty for a young man or woman. It demonstrates their willingness to assume the most demanding and dangerous obligations of citizenship and creates a debt of gratitude owed by the society they fight to protect. For the natives, volunteering confirmed their right to choose or not to choose the military and was valued because it was freely undertaken.

However, voluntary enlistment by the first nations was controlled by the recruitment rules of each of the three services. The Royal Canadian Navy posed the greatest hurdle. Until 1943, it only accepted people of pure European descent and of the white race. The Royal Canadian Air Force had its own colour line but in 1940 decided to accept North American Indians.

Nevertheless, the stringent health and education standards were challenges that very few native men or women could get past given the terrible state of health care and education provided on reserves prior to the war. The various restrictions meant that in practical terms the only avenue open to the first nations was the Canadian army. It accepted many thousands into its ranks of whom a large number served with distinction.

Late in the second world war, the government decided to institute conscription because of the heavy army casualties in the European campaign. The conscription of native men raised a number of questions. Compelling men to serve clashed with the essentially voluntary nature of military service in most native cultures, as well as their sense of place in Canada. Even more than the voluntary military service, the conscription of an individual was linked closely to his membership in the society requiring his service. From the point of view of natives, if the defence of the state was viewed as a duty demanding compulsory measures, then those called to duty had to belong and have a stake in the society and the state.

However status natives were considered wards of the state under the Indian Act of 1927 and, as such, legal minors. They possessed none of the rights of citizenship, most especially the right to vote. However they were considered British subjects and as British subjects they were legally in the same position as other Canadian citizens. Consequently, most native men were subject to conscription with the only exception being those who were in bands that possessed treaties that specifically exempted them from conscription. In the event, a number of natives were conscripted even though they did not have the rights of citizens.

The challenges of the natives continued at the end of World War II and the Korean War. Aboriginal natives, upon returning home, could not access the same re-establishment benefits as their non-aboriginal comrades. This was caused by either discrimination and/or bureaucratic inefficiency.

Non-aboriginal veterans of the military were offered the choice of educational opportunities, land benefits or funds paid on the basis of a certain amount of money per day of service. These benefits were not extended to natives.

Native soldiers were told to return to reserves after the war where they were to apply for benefits through the agents rather than directly with veterans affairs, unlike other soldiers. This extra layer of bureaucracy added confusion, delays and complications for a large number of native veterans and as a result they were denied the full extent of benefits to which they were entitled.

Compared to their non-native compatriots, native veterans were at a distinct disadvantage. They had limited access to information on veterans programs and benefits. Many reserves and aboriginal communities did not have radios and high illiteracy rates in English and French meant limited access to newspapers.

As was the custom at the time, most information on veterans programs was circulated through the Canadian Legion halls. At that time natives were prohibited from entering Legion halls due to the liquor prohibitions under the Indian Act. Therefore they did not have the information that passed around the Legion halls to other veterans.

As everyone knows, governments work very slowly. However, in the case of aboriginal veterans, progress was glacial. In 2000, some 45 to 50 years after the wars, the government convened a national round table on first nations veterans issues to study the treatment of first nations veterans. The round table report of 2001 confirmed that aboriginal veterans had not received equal opportunity upon their return from the wars.

In 2002 the federal government offered living first nations veterans and their spouses up to $20,000 each for benefits denied during the second world war and Korea. In return, these veterans had to sign away their rights to sue for further compensation. More than 1,700 took the offer but a large number did not ,and this offer did not address non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis.

One area that was in particular dispute was the situation of the Métis. The former veterans affairs minister promised acknowledgement and compensation for Métis veterans. However the current Indian affairs minister announced in November 2004 that the government would limit its actions to spending $100,000 to promote Métis contribution to Canada's war effort. The money will be used for a Métis outreach program to produce a report and a video. It will not go to the veterans.

Let me say that I firmly believe that equality of treatment of war veterans seems fundamental to this issue. I find it difficult to understand that we continue to shortchange war veterans from their due compensation. They are a diminishing number and their youngest are in their eighties. If the government were dealing with a demographic that was growing in number, then I could understand hesitancy on whether the nation could afford the cost because, in a practical sense, once a benefit is given it cannot be taken away.

However this is not the case with respect to veterans. The amount they are seeking is relatively small in today's terms. The federal government consumes approximately $200 billion annually. The need of a few aboriginal veterans or their spouses could hardly make a dint in this vast amount of money.

Our veterans defended our democracy when we need them and, in a large part, their efforts against the great scourges of the 20th century Nazism and Communism have permitted us to enjoy the benefits of democracy and capitalism that we have today. In some ways we act like spoiled children who appreciate the benefits we have but we do not want to acknowledge the efforts of the generations that preceded us.

Today Canada is a rich country in terms of wealth and values. We are not the same country that native veterans went to war to protect. Through their commitment and outstanding performance, along with our other veterans, they helped change Canada for the good.

With the values we hold today, it is clear that native veterans were subject to unfair discrimination. If people are considered good enough to serve their country in war, then they are good enough to be compensated for their services. In the trench no one cares about race, religion or colour. Bullets are indiscriminate.

It is time for Canada to step up to our responsibilities. We must acknowledge that our actions more than 50 years ago were not just and that time is well overdue to provide the appropriate compensation to our aboriginal war veterans.

Therefore I would ask the House to acknowledge the historic inequality of treatment and compensation for first nations, Métis and Inuit war veterans in a way that truly respects their service and sacrifice. We must do the right thing.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Sydney—Victoria Nova Scotia


Mark Eyking LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade (Emerging Markets)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the second hour of debate, although I must confess, as I re-read Motion No. 193 in its entirety, I was a little surprised by the words chosen by its sponsor in formulating the motion. On the surface they would seem to reflect a lack of understanding of the history of veterans' compensation. Given a lengthy and substantial debate on this matter in the House and before the standing committee, clearly this is not the case. Nor do I doubt the sincerity of my colleague's intention. What thoughts are we left with?

With respect, the wording of the motion seems simplistic and the subject matter is far from simple. It states a generality on the subject matter that can only be reasonably dealt with by discussing the specifics. It makes assumptions that are not borne out by the facts. It confuses by implying that none of the aboriginal veterans named in the motion received real compensation. I am not sure how the hon. member can define real compensation, but the very phrase suggests something is patently not true. The end result is that serious issues are done a serious disservice.

Let us retrace the ground we have spoken and let us start with some big picture fundamentals.

After demobilization following the wars, every veteran who was honourably discharged was entitled to war service gratuity and a clothing allowance. In addition, they also received a choice of one of three benefits: first, re-establishment credit, that is money in the amount of approximately $450; or second, educational assistance; or third, assistance under the Veterans Land Act. All too often there has been a misconception that non-aboriginal veterans received education assistance, land and money upon their return from the wars and aboriginal veterans did not. This is simply not the case. All veterans could choose only one benefit to the exclusion of others and nobody was given land.

My hon. colleague wishes acknowledgement of what the motion refers to as historic inequality of treatment and compensation for first nations, Métis, and Inuit war veterans. The government has long since acknowledged and spoken about the fact that the administrative process for first nation veterans who returned to reserves was different. In these instances, a veteran could not deal directly with Veterans Affairs, but instead dealt with an Indian agent. This meant that veterans on reserves encountered an extra layer of bureaucracy which may have resulted in some not receiving full benefits.

Following the national round table process that was established jointly with the first nations veterans, the federal government offered payment of $20,000 to each living first nations veteran who returned to a reserve following the war, or to their surviving spouse. The amount of the payment, that is $20,000, is consistent and is reasonable and fair when we compare it to past offers made to the merchant navy veterans, Hong Kong prisoners of war, who suffered the most deplorable conditions in POW camps, and more recent to veterans who participated in chemical warfare experiments.

It is a little perplexing that the motion implies a similar inequality of treatment of Métis and Inuit war veterans. I must point out that the situation was very different for Métis and non-status Indian veterans, so we should not lump all aboriginal veterans together.

It is at this stage of the discussion where I must reaffirm the mandate of the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a matter of law and morality, the department does not distinguish between client groups on the basis of racial and ethnic background. It provides benefits to veterans strictly on the basis of their wartime or eligible service and their individual needs. That is why it has files on individual veterans, who are not then sub-indexed by gender, race, religion or any other sort of categorization. Each file contains information pertaining to an individual's service and subsequent benefit eligibility.

Why do I raise this at this point in the discussion? A motion that suggests a discriminatory treatment of, say, Métis veterans, suggests that we would even have a list of files of groups under a general heading “Métis”. Why would we? To repeat, from the government's point of view, it is about service, not race or lineage.

Nonetheless, the government takes serious any sort of concern about inadequate treatment. That is why separate processes were undertaken with the National Métis Veterans Association and the National Aboriginal Veterans Association to deal with issues concerning Métis and non-status Indian veterans respectively.

Veterans affairs shared its file review findings with the National Métis Veterans Association, and has continued to encourage them to share their names of other veterans and will examine them on a case by case basis. For now, based on reviews, we can say unequivocally that Métis veterans now receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

We continue and encourage those who feel otherwise to come forward and provide us with the names of veterans who they feel did not get the benefits that they were due.

In similar fashion, I believe the minister has talked to many hon. members about these issues and has made a personal commitment to have the file thoroughly reviewed so they can be reassured that our veterans have been fairly and appropriately treated.

What is the bottom line here? Surely it is to be fair, equitable and fiscally responsible in the treatment of all veterans, including of course first nations, Métis and non-status Indian veterans. The steps the government has taken to date have met that standard, perhaps not in a perfect way. Redressing any wrongs that might have taken place in the 60 years with a one size fits all solution is difficult, for all the reasons that we have already covered.

Our government recognizes the service and sacrifice aboriginal veterans made during the wars. It has already contributed approximately $500,000 toward the construction and unveiling of the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument here in Ottawa as a tribute to the Canadian aboriginal peoples military service. Contributions of $1.15 million were made to establish the aboriginal veterans scholarship trust fund.

Veterans Affairs has developed its aboriginal outreach strategy aimed at easing and improving communications, and ensuring that aboriginal veterans and their spouses are benefiting from the full range of department programs and services. As part of the strategy a senior officer within the department will be at the first point of contact for the aboriginal veterans spouses and organizations.

I believe the sum of the total of these efforts makes the underlying assumptions made by Motion No. 193 unsupportable. We have offered a package for the first nation veterans and many have accepted the offer. The argument may well get down to how much is enough. With respect to this it is an area where we may have to agree to disagree. I hope that everyone would agree, however, that for consistency and fairness, the amounts should be in line with similar payments offered to other groups that I previously mentioned. We are trying to rectify any double standards, not add to them. What could be fairer than that?

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the attempt of the member of the government to try to make a defence for what really should not even be defended. There should just be an acceptance of this request.

The member said that there was no way there was a designation from the government in terms of Métis or any other designation. Yet in November of 2004 the then minister of Indian Affairs said, after a significant lobbying effort by the National Métis Veterans Association, that the government would try to do something for the Métis whose benefits had not been recognized.

He is saying there is no delineation between any particular group. Veterans Affairs has said that it has identified 174 Métis who qualify or could qualify for veterans benefits. Therefore, it has in fact designated a certain group, in this case Métis. The National Métis Veterans Association says that there are some 2,000 veterans. The member should not come into the House and say that there is no discrimination or designation, that nobody is seen as Métis or anything else, when in fact there has been identification. The identification has fallen short.

Historically, in the first world war, the second world war and the Korean war, first nations, Métis and Inuit stepped up. They joined the effort in these great and terrible wars. They fought shoulder to shoulder with other Canadian soldiers. There was equality on the battlefield when it came to putting one's self in harm's way, when it came to fighting for freedom. However, when they got home the equality ended.

Other veterans were able to approach Veterans Affairs for benefits that included a variety of educational opportunities and land benefits in some cases. In some cases assessments were made in terms of the number of days, weeks, months and years of service and financial benefits were paid out. However, first nations veterans were told to go home and apply through their Indian affairs agent. That is not equality. That is not treating everybody the same, those who had come home from putting life and limb on the line.

In fact first nations, Métis and others were at a disadvantage in that process. Many of them did not have the educational opportunities even to understand the forms and the layers of bureaucracy that they had to work through. Then they were told, even recently, that they should have known to apply through the Legions where all that information was available. We forget there was a period of time when they were not allowed to go into the Legions. Rules prohibited them from doing that. They were at that time at a distinct disadvantage.

Some have even raised the question of why they are coming forward now, that it was so long ago and if it was that important to them, they should have done something a long time ago. The fact is they were either directly prohibited from making those claims in certain places where they wanted to go or it was a de facto denial because they simply did not have the capability or the means to work through the process.

People who are educated in bureaucracies have difficulties working through the bureaucratic levels. Imagine, that, in many cases, young veterans returned from war, having defended our nation and having fought with others. However, when they arrived home, they were faced with the bureaucratic morass to go through. It would be discouraging, in the sense they had been shoulder to shoulder, watching their comrades fall on either side of them, in some cases, treated as equals but when they came home they did not find that same equality provision.

For these reasons, we are asking the government, through this motion, and I commend my colleague for bringing it forward, to acknowledge that inequality.

The one thing that disturbs me a little is I am hearing the same thing about this request as I have heard about those requesting compensation for hepatitis C, and that is, “Bring it to us and we will consider it”. Veterans, like the rest of us, are getting older every day. As a matter of fact, more and more have reached the end of their life and pass on. That is one less person who would be eligible for benefits.

I would hate to think, to presume, or even have in anybody's mind that it could possibly be one of the reasons that benefits are being delayed or denied. In fact, the more we delay and the more we deny, the less people we will have applying simply because the reality of the cycle of life overtakes us.

I commend my colleague for bringing this forward. I would just like to read something. It is a quotation from the Conservative Party policy related to this issue. It states:

A Conservative government will treat all veterans with respect and will create a Veteran’s Bill of Rights to ensure that all disputes involving veterans are treated quickly, fairly and with the presumption in favour of the rights of the veteran.

A Conservative government will ensure the veterans of Canada’s wars and peacekeeping operations receive their veterans’ benefits and health care in a timely fashion.

That is for the past. We also want to look to the present and the future. We want our first nations people, Métis and Inuit, to know that not only can they proudly serve today in either peacekeeping or peacemaking operations but when they do, when they are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice, pay the ultimate price, put it all on the line, and then come home that, in fact, they will be treated equally.

This is a message for what has happened in the past. It is a message for the future as well. We ask all colleagues to join in support of this good motion.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by reading the motion again. The Liberal member for Halifax West seems to have a real issue with the motion. He is indicating that the Liberal government has an issue with the motion. I want Canadians to hear the motion and let them judge why the government should have an issue with this motion. The motion says:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should acknowledge the historic inequality of treatment and compensation for First Nations, Métis and Inuit war veterans and take action immediately to give real compensation to these veterans in a way that truly respects their service and sacrifice.

How could the Liberal member for Halifax West, how could the Liberal government, how could the Liberal Prime Minister who says he is out there to make things better for first nations people, that he is going to treat them fairly, and how could the Indian affairs minister come out there and say he is going to treat first nations and aboriginal people fairly and then have a problem with this motion? How is that possible?

Obviously there is an issue with the unequal treatment of aboriginal war veterans. It is recognized. Numerous studies have been done and reports have come out that have recognized that there was not fair compensation given to all war veterans. Those who did not receive fair compensation were the aboriginal veterans. Yes, some may have received fair compensation. The reality is that a good number did not.

When there is an issue with the words “real compensation”, I guess “real compensation” would be the rightful compensation that other non-aboriginal veterans received. One would simply say they should have received the same type of compensation and the same respect that was due.

For a variety of different reasons, the first nations members went back to a reserve and to their Indian affairs agent. Quite frankly, anyone who would stand in this House and justify the actions of Indian agents and the treatment of first nations people is unconscionable.

If we look historically at the wrongs that were placed on first nations people by the Indian agents acting on behalf of the Canadian government, it was unacceptable. To somehow not accept responsibility for that as a government is wrong.

The Liberal member for Halifax West, who has issue with this motion, is saying that the government offered them a package of $20,000 and a good number took it. Quite frankly, if a person is lying on the ground and two hours away from death, and someone is going to put a little bit of water in that person's mouth, that person will take it because there is no fight left in that person. It should not have reached that point.

I say to the Liberal member for Halifax West, who has an issue with this motion, that he needs to consider why they took it and be honest about it. A person would have to be really misreading the situation to think it was all right, that 1,700 have taken it because they thought it was a good package.

That was not the reality. It was because these people had no choice and they were reaching the point in their lives when they were not going to have that much longer to live. They wanted to have some quality of life with their families.

How many of those aboriginal veterans, that have taken what little they had been given at this point in their lives, are living in luxury? How many have the health that a good number of us have who do not live in aboriginal communities? How many have had their families receive the same education that others have? That is the realistic view of why they would have taken that compensation. It was the last drops of water that they might get before their death in order to give something back to their families. It is unacceptable to somehow suggest that this compensation picture was acceptable.

My riding has a good number of first nation communities. I have met with a number of aboriginal veterans who very willingly gave of their lives at the time. For some, as with many people, it was an experience. It seemed like an exciting time to go and fight for one's country. Others felt they had no choice because it was a situation that was deplorable.

It is difficult to imagine, but some actually left their reserves because they found those conditions more deplorable than going to war and putting their lives on the line. There were a variety of reasons why people went. I would be willing to say that the majority went because they believed in Canada and they wanted to fight for their country.

I grew up in the community of Labrecque for most of my life. I picked up a Labrecque history book and there was a speech that had been given by the head priest at the Labrecque Residential School to the Regina Canadian Club one year. In it he mentioned that these Indian men were going off to war to fight for their country because they were committed to their country. When they came back, he said they would expect to be treated as equals.

The fact that they would want to be treated as equals was a problem for the priest and a problem for the government. Heaven forbid. Why should they not be treated as equals? Somehow in the mind of the government of the day and in the mind of those running the residential school, they were not equals, but to their colleagues on the battle lines they were equals.

I have spoken to a number of aboriginal veterans. My father-in-law fought in the war along with numerous relatives of his. There was no issue when individuals went to fight.

I recall a Métis fellow who worked on what was called the Labrecque Inuit and Métis farm which had been set up by priests in Labrecque to give work to Inuit and Métis. This fellow had fought in the war. He was injured and became disabled, but he was able to work. He had to fight to get compensation. After years of having worked, he finally realized that he should have been given some benefits, but he had to fight for them. My father was involved in this. This man had to fight for benefits that others had been given freely because they were white, not aboriginal. That is unacceptable.

How can anyone sit in the House today and not agree with the motion before us? How can we not go beyond the rhetoric of saying we will treat aboriginal people fairly and then do nothing? Why would we not provide compensation to these individuals and at least provide them with an opportunity to have some quality of life?

I am not surprised by this. I have also had numerous conversations with people who were in residential schools. I dealt with a first nation family that was trying to get compensation for their mother who has unfortunately passed on.

If the Liberal government keeps this up, enough of these people will be gone, so it will not have to pay out anything. More money will be available to spend on Liberal ad scams or whatever. The money will be gone and the government will not have to pay out. That is unfair, unjust and unconscionable.

There is support among all opposition parties for this, but the Liberal government is responsible for making this happen. There has to be more than just rhetoric for aboriginal veterans and residential school victims.

Imagine being part of a family whose parent went to war and the children were put into a residential school. Imagine suffering grave abuse.There have been those who told me they suffered no physical abuse, but those individuals were few and far between. More have had issues with residential schools. Imagine being the parent who went off to war and upon arrival back not being treated equally. Imagine being mistreated at a residential school. Imagine not receiving any compensation. That is unacceptable.

The Prime Minister, all members of his Liberal cabinet, and all Liberal members in general have a responsibility to ensure that compensation is paid fairly, timely and justly.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can assure our colleague who just spoke that in the annals of the history of this country there is no more respect that can be paid to any group than to those veterans who have given us the freedoms we enjoy today. There is no question that at any time it is appropriate to reassess where grievances have been made, from any source, with respect to the issues that have been raised on compensation of those who were demobilized, came back and were seeking to be part of the fabric of a country they protected and perpetuated.

I do think that when we are going through that process we should attempt to look at facts and use facts that have been established by a dialogue that was entered into, which really established with clarity what the situation is as it exists with respect to our Métis and our Métis veterans.

I do not want to repeat the remarks about the programs and the accessibility to those programs that my colleague from Halifax West has elucidated. I might remind the House that those were benefits that were available to all Canadians and all Canadian veterans returning from the wars, including aboriginal veterans.

Having said that, let me say there is no denying that for decades many aboriginal veterans, that is to say, first nations, Métis and non-status Indians, have alleged that they were not treated fairly by the Government of Canada after the wars.

In light of that, the government did respond. Four years ago, the government decided to bring all the stakeholders together to the table to investigate those concerns that are the subject of this bill, frankly, and that were expressed by the aboriginal community.

Let me say to my colleagues that in November 2000, and it probably has not been stressed enough, there was an effort to better understand and respond to the concerns of the first nations veterans. The federal government launched the national round table on first nations veterans issues, chaired by Grand Chief Howard Anderson.

The federal government established separate processes with organizations representing Métis and non-status Indian veterans to determine their post-war experience. The federal government provided over $400,000 to support that round table process. A key element of its work included individual file reviews conducted by Veterans Affairs Canada. The research centred on any difference in value between benefits paid to first nations veterans and non-first nations veterans and the value any discrepancy would have today.

While the file reviews, research and national round table discussions found that first nations veterans did receive demobilization benefits after the wars, those first nations veterans who returned to their reserve communities after the wars had to deal with an extra layer of bureaucracy in order to receive their demobilization benefits.

They were unable to deal directly with Veterans Affairs. Rather, they had to go through the Indian agent. For some, this differential treatment may have meant that they did not receive the benefits they should have received, so on June 21, 2002, the government announced its response to the national round table and the grievances of first nations veterans related to their treatment after the wars.

To that end, $39 million was set aside to offer up to $20,000 in tax free payments to first nations veterans who settled on reserves after the wars or to their surviving spouses. The payment was also available to estates where the veteran or surviving spouse passed away after February 1, 2000, the date the national round table process began.

The first nations veterans package was offered as a gesture of goodwill. The Government of Canada believes that it was a fair offer and is comparable to other payments offered to merchant navy veterans, the Hong Kong prisoners of war and so on.

Following the 2002 announcement, Veterans Affairs Canada, with support from the Indian and northern affairs department and the national round table working groups, carried out a comprehensive advertising campaign to ensure that first nations communities were aware of the payment package and the application process. A toll free number was also established to provide information about the payments and application process. To date, 1,195 of these payments have been made.

In order to address current and ongoing issues, Veterans Affairs Canada is developing an aboriginal outreach strategy aimed at facilitating communication and ensuring that eligible aboriginal veterans and their spouses are benefiting from the full range of VAC programs and services.

The Government of Canada, and it should be an understatement to say this, is grateful to aboriginal veterans and indeed to all veterans for their wartime sacrifice and is committed to fairness and equity in providing for all Canadians who serve their country.

As I said at the outset, I believe, in looking at this file, that the government has responded fairly to the concerns raised in the motion. I also would like to add that this is not where the story ends in capturing not only the substance of what the motion is identifying but its spirit.

We wish to advise members of the following. As part of our year of veterans' activities, the government has made a commitment to provide the National Métis Veterans Association with partnership funding to explore the history and the contributions of Métis veterans during and after the wars of the last century.

Veterans Affairs Canada is currently broadening its aboriginal outreach strategy to ensure that Métis veterans and their spouses are benefiting from the full range of VAC programs and services. The government has invited the National Métis Veterans Association to share a list of approximately 2,000 names of Métis veterans so the department can review their files and ensure that they are receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. This will also identify any Métis veterans who did not actually receive a demobilization benefit.

I would like to close by just simply saying that the Minister of Veterans Affairs has assured the Métis that the Government of Canada will follow through on these commitments.

President Chartrand of the Métis National Council said:

We are hopeful this will be Canada's important first step as a partner with the Métis Nation towards ensuring our Veterans will be properly respected for their service to our country and for their personal and family sacrifices.

He went on to say:

After the years of neglect and virtual abandonment of many of our service men and women there is some government action. The government has acknowledged that this issue must be dealt with fairly and quickly....

Because there may be no veterans in the future who will be the beneficiaries.

As for the motion, I think that while it is well-intended and we welcome these kinds of motions in spirit, I hope this debate has satisfied all in this House that the government has followed through on both the spirit and the substance of the motion in terms of the actions it has taken.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The member moving the motion has a five minute right of reply to conclude the debate.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit War VeteransPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Jeremy Harrison Conservative Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the members who rose in support of the motion, both today and in the first hour of debate.

I am proud to rise today, in the year of the veteran, as the sponsor of my private member's motion, Motion No. 193, to recognize and fairly compensate the service and contributions of aboriginal war veterans.

Before I get into the text of my remarks, I would like to address a couple of the points just made by the hon. member opposite.

First, he talked about Grand Chief Howard Anderson, who chaired the national round table. I will inform the hon. member that I spoke to the Grand Chief not that long ago and he expressed to me his profound disappointment at the outcome of the process. He was very disappointed that the government essentially handed a take it or leave it offer to the individuals representing the aboriginal war veterans, on National Aboriginal Day, of all days, and told them that was what they were getting, that or nothing.

I do not think that is much of a choice for veterans who are in their eighties now. The youngest are in their eighties. Handing them a take or leave it offer is giving them very little choice. It is no choice at all.

The other point I wanted to address as well is that the hon. member said that so far of this take it or leave offer there have been 1,195 payouts made. It was three years ago that this program was put into place. Hardly over 50% have even been able to take advantage of this. Talk about the strategy to contact people: obviously it has been an abysmal failure.

During World War I and World War II and in the Korean war, first nations, Métis and Inuit individuals fought shoulder to shoulder with their non-aboriginal counterparts in the Canadian armed forces. During wartime, aboriginal and non-aboriginal soldiers trained together, fought together and all too often died together. Regardless of race or ethnicity, their contributions were viewed equally in the eyes of the nation.

Upon returning home, however, aboriginal veterans found themselves treated differently than their fellow comrades were. For a variety of reasons, including discrimination, paternalism, bureaucratic inefficiency and a lack of opportunity, aboriginal war veterans found they could not access the same re-establishment benefits as their non-aboriginal counterparts. In theory, all Canadian soldiers had access to the same veterans' benefits. However, the reality proved something else entirely.

Non-aboriginal veterans were given a choice between educational opportunities, land benefits or funds paid on the basis of a certain amount per day of service. First nations veterans who returned to live on reserve were not eligible for Veterans' Land Act grants. In order to obtain grants, first nations soldiers had to move off the reserve. Even at that, many encountered problems borrowing the necessary funds, sometimes due to systemic discrimination and often because of a lack of the requisite credit rating.

Clearly, on the whole, first nations veterans did not receive benefits equivalent to those awarded to their non-aboriginal comrades. This is a fact acknowledged by this government. In large part, this was due to the Indian Act and the federal jurisdiction over reserve lands, but those aboriginal veterans living off reserve, including the Métis, did not generally fare much better.

Approximately 2,000 Métis soldiers fought in World War II and Korea, but only a reported 3% of these veterans received either the land, education or re-establishment grants offered under the veterans charter. Many Métis veterans faced access barriers to benefits similar to those faced by first nations members. Often, information on veterans programs and benefits was non-existent in small, rural and often remote Métis communities. Furthermore, Métis veterans did not have an Indian agent to rely on for the dissemination of information.

These aboriginal soldiers, first nations, Métis and Inuit have served Canada proudly overseas. They nobly defended our values, our nationhood and our ideals. They all sacrificed for Canada's future, too many of them unfortunately paying with their lives. During the wars, they were afforded the respect and equality they deserved among their fellow soldiers, but they found out when they returned home that they were once again on an unequal footing.

In the years that have passed since, the Canadian government has failed to properly address this inequality and give these veterans the recognition they deserve.

It is for these veterans that I have proposed the motion. I want them to know that we in this place have heard their voices and that we appreciate their sacrifices. I believe they should be meaningfully and equally compensated for their efforts and for their valour.

When the motion comes to a vote tomorrow in this chamber I would ask all hon. members to lay partisan issues aside and stand up for what is right. Let us recognize the awesome contributions of our first nations, Métis and Inuit war veterans and act to rectify this inequality now.