I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on February 14, 2008 by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians concerning committee amendments to Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act.
I wish to thank the hon. parliamentary secretary as well as the hon. members forArgenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, Nunavut and Winnipeg South Centre for their submissions on this matter.
In his intervention, the hon. parliamentary secretary indicated that he was seeking a ruling as to whether two amendments to Bill C-21, adopted by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, are in order. He argued that these two amendments are beyond the scope of the bill and should not be allowed to stand.
The hon. parliamentary secretary went on to describe the main components of Bill C-21 as follows: a provision for the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, a statutory review provision and, finally, a transitional provision with respect to aboriginal authorities. In essence, he stated—in my view, correctly—that the principle and scope of the bill therefore relate to the repeal of section 67.
In his submission, the hon. parliamentary secretary further contended that in reviewing the legislation which has received the approval of the House at second reading, committees are limited to making amendments that respect the principle and are within the scope of the legislative proposal. Here as well, the Chair shares the view expressed by the hon. parliamentary secretary.
However, before going further, it is perhaps useful to review what the two contested amendments seek to achieve. The first is a non-derogation clause added as a new clause 1.1. This amendment indicates that the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from existing aboriginal treaty or other rights or freedoms that pertain to the first nations peoples of Canada and goes on to list certain rights or freedoms.
The hon. parliamentary secretary argues that this amendment adds a new purpose to the bill and is therefore beyond the scope of Bill C-21.
The second amendment that is in dispute is an interpretive clause added as a new clause 1.2. This clause mandates that in relation to human rights complaints, the act be interpreted and applied with due regard to “first nations legal traditions and customary laws”.
This amendment was ruled by the chair of the committee to be inadmissible because it was beyond the scope of the bill. Following a successful appeal of the chair's ruling, the amendment was subsequently adopted by the committee.
In her submission, the hon. member for Nunavut expressed the view that these amendments represent an improvement to Bill C-21, inspired by the desire, in her words, “to make sure that the rights of people are protected”.
The Chair has examined the two amendments in question, as well as the proceedings on this bill in the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development with reference to the text of Bill C-21 as adopted at second reading. There is no doubt that this committee’s lengthy deliberations reflect the seriousness with which members have approached this issue.
In cases such as this one, the Speaker may be asked to review, on strictly procedural grounds, what went on in committee with reference to the correctness of a chair's ruling, or even the overturning of a ruling in committee.
As I explained when the matter was first raised:
...the Speaker acts as a court of appeal, as it were, from decisions of committees in respect of admissibility of amendments for certain purposes that they can be arguably beyond the scope of the bill or beyond the principles of the bill that was sent to committee at second reading.
In this case, I am simply being asked whether or not the two amendments in question are admissible, more precisely, whether the two amendments in question are within or beyond the scope of Bill C-21.
I said earlier that I agreed with the hon. parliamentary secretary that the principle and scope of the bill relate to the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Now, after due consideration of the procedural issues involved, I have concluded that neither of the disputed amendments, namely new clauses 1.1 and 1.2, interfere with that principle.
In the view of the Chair, the two amendments neither restrict nor expand nor conflict with the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which we all seem to agree is the principle of Bill C-21.
New clause 1.1 describes the existing aboriginal rights framework. New clause 1.2 refers to the due regard that is to be given to first nations legal traditions and customary laws in the adjudication of future complaints made possible under the act by the repeal of section 67.
In the words of the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre, “The bill, as amended, still proposes to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act; it still proposes a review and a transitional period for the said repeal”. In short, neither amendment introduces conditions whereby the repeal of section 67 would not take effect. Rather, both amendments provide guidance of a general nature and in a context specific to first nations.
For these reasons, I find the two amendments to Bill C-21 adopted at committee stage to be admissible. I thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this matter.