Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise on behalf of my constituents to speak to Bill C-38 at report stage.
It is interesting that over the course of presenting petitions there were a number of petitions where constituents were calling on Parliament to recognize and to affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. To put it another way they were calling on Parliament to affirm marriage in the traditional sense or in the sense that it is universally applied across countries, across cultures, across religions. When I attended various events in my riding, people asked, “Why are you going back next week? What is going on? Why the virtually unprecedented extension of the sitting of the House?” There is only one government bill on the projected order, Bill C-38, which in effect will change the legal definition of the word “marriage” in Canada”.
If Canadians are so concerned, so divided and so upset about changing a fundamental basic institution in our country, why is the Liberal government embarking on this approach? Why did it not look for alternatives that could have accomplished some of the concerns that were being raised?
This has not been the approach that other jurisdictions have taken. In France and Australia, for example, there has been a recognition of the rights of other couples but preservation of what the word “marriage” means.
It has been interesting to see over the last couple of years how the language has changed. This takes to me one of the amendments. In 1999 members across the way, including the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and many members on that side and many members in this House, overwhelmingly assured Canadians that Parliament would not only affirm the traditional definition of marriage but would take all steps necessary to protect that definition of marriage in Canada. It was some time later, in 2000, when in the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, a clause was inserted which stated:
For greater certainty, the amendments made by this Act do not affect the meaning of the word "marriage", that is, the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.
The then justice minister and current Deputy Prime Minister spoke at length about the uniqueness of the institution of marriage and that how, as she said, Parliament and the Liberal government had no intention of changing what the word “marriage” meant in Canada.
The reason it is interesting to note that particular clause in the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act that was passed by this House 2000 is that in Bill C-38, clause 15 states:
Section 1.1 of the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act and the heading before it are repealed.
It is just that simple. Is it any wonder that there is cynicism out there? Those on the other side give assurances that religious freedoms are going to be protected, that freedom of expression is going to be protected, that changing what the word “marriage” means in our country is not going to have any impact on our country, is not going to have any impact on those that come after us. With a bit of revisionist history however, the Liberals in the year 2005, reach back to the year 2000 and pretend that Parliament at that time did not insert that declaratory clause on what the word “marriage” means. This brings me to one of the amendments. Remember, it states that for greater certainty the bill does not impact on the definition of marriage and then sets out what that definition is.
I sat on the legislative committee studying Bill C-38. I have heard the parliamentary secretary say a few things today that I would take issue with. One is that this issue has had a good hearing among Canadians. As members know, we on this side had to fight tooth and nail to get the number of witnesses we did. Theses were witnesses that the parliamentary secretary quoted, witnesses that he now acknowledges were good witnesses. The Liberals fought against including them on the witness list.
It is interesting that, through that committee, one of the amendments to Bill C-38, and this bill can only be described as smoke and mirrors, other than changing what the word “marriage” means in law in Canada, nothing else in the bill is of any legal effect. It does not offer any protection or is of any consequence to Canadians, other than the fact that it changes the definition of marriage.
I would like members to listen to the familiar words and see if this sounds familiar. Clause 3.1 says “For greater certainty”. Again, another assurance using the exact same language. The expression “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” comes to mind. Once again we have members on that side saying “Don't worry about it; this won't impact on you”.
It is just like a couple of years ago when the Liberals said to Canadians not to worry. They indicated that this would not impact on what the word “marriage” meant and that it would not have that effect. Anyone with any common sense would know that was the ultimate conclusion that they were leading to. Now with the same conviction, those on that side are saying “For greater certainty”. I would like to read this provision. It says:
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.
That sounds pretty good to me. To someone who is perhaps not a lawyer or to the average Canadian who might read this bill would say that sounds good. That sounds like the government has it covered. Canadians should know as well, as I do, that in law this is a declaratory provision that is not only unconstitutional but it does nothing to protect Canadians. That was the evidence we heard in committee.
We heard a justice department lawyer explain to us, and it is obvious if a person takes a close look at the provision, that this is simply restating that we have certain rights under the Canadian charter of rights. We heard where those rights can lead us. I heard witness after witness give testimony that their rights had been impacted because of the definition of marriage.
We heard at length about Bishop Fred Henry. We heard about marriage commissioners whose livelihood is being affected. We heard about the Knights of Columbus. Here is a real life example. The Knights of Columbus are a religious order of the Catholic church. They are being brought before a human rights tribunal in British Columbia because they will not sanction a same sex ceremony because it violates their religious beliefs. This is not some hypothetical down the road. This is happening right now. Bill C-38 does absolutely nothing to protect religious beliefs.
If we look at Bill C-38, the first clause says it is called the civil marriage act. I want to speak and support the amendment put forward by my colleague from Calgary Southeast that this clause be amended. The reason it should be amended is that there is no civil marriage in Canada. There is no distinction between civil marriage and marriage. There is only one definition of marriage. By even raising that concept that there is somehow two kinds of marriage in Canada is misleading to Canadians. It is creating more smoke and mirrors and clouding the issue. I support taking that out.
Motion No. 2 states that clause 2 be deleted. It says:
Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.
I have heard sufficient testimony that leads me to the conclusion that if we change the definition of marriage, it will have an impact on other rights. I am also confident that there are ways to address equality concerns without changing the definition of marriage. That is the Canadian way. That is what Canadians support. They support equality, but they also support this basic institution.
Motion No. 3 would delete clause 3 which says:
It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
We know that the Supreme Court of Canada considered this bill and came to two very ironic conclusions. First, it said it would not say the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional and did not rule it unconstitutional. Yet the Liberals will lead us to believe it did. Second, it said a provision like that is ultra vires, outside the jurisdiction of Parliament, and it cannot act to protect religious freedoms. I will be opposing this bill. I urge my colleagues to do so and look for a Canadian compromise.