Mr. Speaker, as we all know, Canada is a country of immigrants. I dare say that every member in this chamber either came to this country him or herself or is the son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter of someone who came to this country at some point in the last 200 years. Of course, there are also the first nations people who have been on this land for far longer. However, I think we can say that the vast majority of people are in this country today because they or their relatives came to Canada as a freely chosen place.
We need to remind ourselves why people came to Canada. They came to this country because they were seeking freedom. In many cases, they came to this country because they were fleeing persecution. However, in all cases people were attracted to this country because they thought there was a promise of human rights, civil liberties and a chance to pursue happiness in a secure environment where their lives, property and security were guaranteed by the state.
Of course, we also live in a country that is a multicultural model to the world. We have managed to create a peaceful country where people from every corner of the world, of every religion, every political persuasion, every cultural group and all ethnicities can come together and build a tolerant society where we respect each other, live together, work together and prosper together.
One of the linchpins of this whole dream is a foundation of respect for basic human rights. A very important feature of those basic human rights is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which represents Canada's codification of that dream.
We have already heard that the genesis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be traced back to the New Democrats. In 1947, a year before the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the CCF government in Saskatchewan, led by Tommy Douglas, passed the Saskatchewan bills of rights act, showing once again something that Canadians know all too well, which is that New Democrats are often at the forefront of progressive social change in this country.
The Saskatchewan bill of rights was a forerunner to the Canadian Bill of Rights enacted by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's government in 1960 and, of course, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. The Saskatchewan bill of rights was the first general law prohibiting discrimination in Canada. It is important that Canadians understand that in this country the party that first brought in laws prohibiting discrimination was the New Democratic Party.
This is in a country where federal governments, Conservative and Liberal, passed racist legislation and legislation that discriminated against Chinese Canadians, Japanese Canadians, first nations and women. The New Democratic Party was the first to insist that legislation be passed guaranteeing the rights that are the foundation of all of those dreams that every new Canadian brought with him or her when settling in this country.
To this day, the Saskatchewan bill of rights broke new ground in Canada and protected civil libertarian values. It is the only legislation in Canada to this day to extend this protection from abuse by powerful private institutions and persons.
That courage was extended in 1970 when Tommy Douglas, again leading the New Democrats, spoke out about the need to protect our rights and freedoms, especially in the face of violence and in the case of civil insurrection. He stated:
We have all been appalled and disgusted by the abduction of two innocent men who are being held as hostages.
He was referring to the 1970 abduction of Pierre Laporte and James Cross. He further stated:
We are not prepared to use the preservation of law and order as a smokescreen to destroy the liberties and freedom of the people of Canada. I say to the government that we cannot protect democratic freedom by restricting, limiting and destroying democratic freedom.
Those words, spoken 40 years ago, are as instructive today as they were then. That is because it is easy to protect rights when it is easy to do so.
However, the true measure of a country and the commitment of a government is to protect fundamental human and democratic rights when there are challenges to doing so.
I want to take the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms document and t focus a moment on what it does. This is what the charter enshrines in law in Canada. It says:
Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press...;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote...and to be qualified for membership therein.
And to seek office, including in this chamber.
I will stop there. Many countries of the world make it impossible for citizens to vote in elections and make it impossible for people to seek office. We enshrine that in our founding document.
The charter continues to say:
Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.
....has the right
(a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and
(b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
Legally, it says:
Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.
Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
Everyone has the right on arrest or detention
(a) to be informed promptly of the reasons therefor;
(b) to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right;....
Any person charged with an offence has the right
(b) to be tried within a reasonable time;
c) not to be compelled to be a witness in proceedings against that person in respect of the offence;
(d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing...;
In certain serious cases, people have the right to “trial by jury”. People have the right to be protected against ”cruel and unusual punishment”.
Under equality rights, it says:
Every individual is equal before and under the law...without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
The equality rights specifically enshrined in law, the equality between men and women in this country.
It enshrines official languages and respect for educational instruction in minority language educational rights.
Those are not just words. This is the codification of that dream that attracts people from all over the world to come and want to settle in Canada.
I have heard some disturbing comments, particularly from the government side of the House, about words like “balance”. When it comes to fundamental rights, some of those rights must be balanced, it is true, but some must never be comprised.
There is no balance when one speaks of having the right to be told charges against oneself when one is arrested by instruments of the state. There is no balance when it comes to having the privilege or the right to call a lawyer upon being arrested. There is no balance when one has the right as a Canadian to be safe from cruel and unusual punishment.
Those are not things that are equivocal. Those are things that every citizen of this country has the right to expect, and there is no balance about it whatsoever. Those are fundamental rights that no one has the right to take away. They are basic fundamental human rights.
I am concerned when governments start saying that it is not in every circumstance. Yes, it is in every circumstance. If people are walking the streets of this country, they have a right not to be stopped and searched and have their goods seized without due process of law. People have the right to walk these streets safely, if they are minding their own business, and not be thrown into a prison cell and left there for a week or two weeks without being told the reasons.
Certain members of the government seem to suggest that sometimes it might be the case where, in exceptional circumstances, that might be okay. It is never okay, and this is not just theory.
In Toronto, just four or five months ago, we saw Canadians who had those very rights abridged. Canadians who had simply gathered peacefully, exercising their charter rights to assemble peacefully and to express themselves publicly, had those rights egregiously violated. Members of the government have said nothing. They stand and talk about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but none of them have stood and said that was wrong. They say that those people can make a complaint to the Police Complaints Commission. It is every citizen's right and every citizen's obligation to defend the charter of rights in this country. As parliamentarians, it is our duty--