Madam Speaker, I have a few comments that I would like to make prior to getting into the substantive debate. The member indicated that he had not heard of anyone who had been disciplined or brought before commissions or courts because of their views in respect of marriage or the nature of homosexual or heterosexual relationships.
I do not know where this member was, but we heard it constantly. Not only did we hear it constantly before the justice committee, but we heard it constantly before this legislative committee. We have heard about Bishop Henry. He is facing two hearings in front of the Human Rights Commission in Alberta. We have heard that the Knights of Columbia in British Columbia are being taken before the Human Rights Commission because of their refusal to rent their property to celebrate and gay and lesbian marriage.
We have heard about Camp Arnes in Manitoba which has been brought before the Human Rights Commission because it refused to rent its church-sponsored facilities to a gay and lesbian choir. We have heard about the Brockie case, and here we are talking about individuals who for reasons of conscience refuse to do certain things, that has been brought in front of human rights commissions and in fact disciplined.
We have heard about the Saskatchewan bumper sticker case. We have heard of a number of cases. Some of these are still pending, but the point is that these cases are being brought before human rights tribunals on a regular basis. We have heard about Chris Kempling. The B.C. Court of Appeal said freedom of religion only goes so far and upheld the discipline of his losing his job for three months.
I want to move on, however. The issue that this is somehow a human right is something that I find very curious, given the Liberal government's position on this matter.
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice say this is a matter of human rights. If this were a matter of human rights, would the government give its backbenchers the right to freely vote on this issue? If this were a fundamental human right, it would stand up and insist that every member must vote because this is a matter of fundamental human rights.
This is a social policy issue that is being dressed up under the charter of rights. The court in the reference case never characterized this as a fundamental human right. To characterize it in that fashion is a fraud. Quite frankly, the approach that the Liberal government has taken by saying that this is a human right but not demanding that its members vote that way demonstrates what kind of a fraud this is.
In respect of the evidence that was heard, we have heard it said there were about 500 witnesses. In fact, the justice committee, which was never allowed to report back because the government put a stop to those hearings, heard approximately 450 or so witnesses, but it never dealt with the bill. It dealt with the general principle of whether or not there should be same sex marriages. So that dealt with not a legislative focus but indeed on the entire concept of same sex marriage.
At second reading this House accepted in principle that there would be same sex marriages and passing it to the committee. In committee, my focus, and many of the members' focus, was not as much on the issue of how we redefine marriage, but how to protect those who for reasons of conscience and religion had concerns about this change. We had approximately 40 witnesses, and it was stated that would be it. It was through the Conservative efforts that another 20 witnesses, and I might say significant witnesses, were brought forward.
We were only allowed to bring 20 witnesses forward because an agreement was made that those 20 would be allowed to appear if we agreed to some kind of closure. That was not my preference, but that is in fact what happened.
In respect of this bill, and the significance and the consequences of this bill, we have heard less than 60 witnesses. This idea that we have been talking about this bill for the past three or four years is simply not correct.
I want to talk about how Bill C-38 approaches the problem. This bill is full of unconstitutional provisions. The reason those unconstitutional provisions are put in there is to give the people of Canada hope. Unfortunately, it is false hope, dealing both with the preamble section which talks about the freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the right of religious officials to refuse to perform same sex marriage. Clause 3 states:
It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court of Canada, in the reference case, specifically held that whether that section is substantive or declaratory it is unconstitutional. What the Government of Canada tried to do is hoist this on Canadians and said that it is protecting our religious freedoms and that Canadians do not need any more protection other than what is stated in that.
Clearly, a proper reading of the Supreme Court of Canada decision says this is unconstitutional. I am surprised that the Minister of Justice has not moved his amendment to remove that now that this fraud has been exposed. It is better to have the plain truth staring at us, than to sugar coat it in this type of a fraudulent manner.
The next point I would like to make deals with clause 3.1. Again, this deals with exactly the approach that the Liberal government has taken to this issue. The amendment reads:
For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.
The charter of rights is a constitutional document that protects citizens against the government. We do not violate the charter of rights, as some Liberals have suggested, by expanding the rights given under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a floor. It is the lowest common denominator that is accepted as the floor of our guarantees.
It says that we can have no greater right of freedom of religion or freedom of conscience or freedom of expression than that which is guaranteed by the charter. It establishes a floor and this section confirms the lowest common denominator.
What many have found out, as Mr. Kempling found out by the B.C. Court of Appeal and others have found out, by saying that we have freedom of religion and freedom of expression, is that what was said or what a person's religious beliefs are, they are beyond the scope of that freedom of expression. It is freedom that goes beyond what is entrenched in the charter.
It gives no more rights and freedoms that are already guaranteed in the charter of rights. That charter has been hollow in terms of protecting rights and freedoms of people like Mr. Kempling. It simply has not granted them.
What needs to happen, if this is to have any substance, is to have the reference removed limiting that right to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and saying Canadians have the right to their freedom of religion without this kind of limitation which we know that the courts consistently put into second place when religious rights collide with equality rights.
This will essentially confirm the continued practice of the courts to affirm equality rights at the expense of religious freedom whenever those two rights collide. It is because equality rights are the new religion of the courts and the Liberal government. They will stomp on religious rights at every opportunity and the courts have demonstrated that in a number of cases.