Madam Speaker, today's debate proves the importance of having the Bloc in the House of Commons. It is clear that the Liberals and the NDP are going to get behind this motion primarily for partisan reasons, in other words, to highlight the fact that the Conservative government does not like rights and freedoms, something we totally agree on. However, we cannot adhere to this Canadian consensus on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because the process leading to its adoption was deeply flawed. I will come back to that.
What is more, the charter addresses individual rights to the detriment of collective rights and interprets the few collective rights included in the charter in the same way, coast to coast to coast, as our colleagues from Canada say. The indiscriminate interpretation of collective and individual rights has resulted in the butchering of the Charter of the French Language, which is the fundamental legislation in Quebec for the protection and promotion of our common public language, French.
Despite how much sense this motion might make to Canadians, it does not make sense to Quebeckers and we cannot support it. I will read it:
That the House recognize the vital role played by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in ensuring justice, liberty, equality and fairness for all Canadians and call on the Government to reject the views expressed by several members of the Conservative Party of Canada that belittle and criticize the Charter’s impact on Canadian society.
This motion moved by the Liberal Party has two parts. The first part is a sort of eulogy or appeal for the charter, which would be extraordinary. This charter is not all bad, but to Quebec, it has had and always will have many negative aspects. The second part might tempt us into supporting the motion. It points out the fact that the Conservatives do not like what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms defends, namely ensuring justice, liberty, equality and fairness for all Canadians, newcomers and Quebeckers.
We will therefore not support this motion. The defence of rights must not be confused with the unconditional defence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: they are two different things. I will come back to this. My colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin gave a brilliant presentation this morning. The Quebec charter does not have constitutional status like the Canadian charter, but it does have quasi-constitutional status since it goes one step further and recognizes collective rights that are not recognized by the Canadian charter. This is one thing that makes the Quebec charter unique.
I am not going to focus on the differences between the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as did my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin this morning. Instead, I am going to review the positions that the Bloc Québécois took on some issues and defended by standing up to the Conservative government, positions that defended the fundamental rights that any democratic society should have. We are of the opinion, like the Liberal Party, that the Conservatives do not adequately defend rights and freedoms.
I would first like to remind the members of the circumstances under which the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into being. The charter was imposed as part of a constitutional debate on the repatriation of the Constitution. My colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber spoke about it earlier. At the time, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was the head of the Liberal Party and the government. He wanted to repatriate the Constitution, which, at that time, was a British law, the British North America Act. Everyone agreed that, in order to do so, the consent of all provinces, particularly Quebec, was required. We know what happened next: the other Canadian provinces ganged up on Quebec.
The Constitution was unilaterally repatriated, without the approval of the Quebec government or the National Assembly. I remind members that the 1982 Constitution has still not been signed by Quebec. That is an extremely long period of time between 1982 and today, and during that time, Quebec has alternated between federalist and sovereignist governments. But none of these governments, not even the government of Jean Charest, the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, dared sign that Constitution, which includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The charter was forced on us and we did not want it. We wanted it in terms of the rights and freedoms, but we did not want it to be forced on us like that. As a nation, we were not able to make any concrete contributions. Of course, some of the values in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are values shared by the Quebec nation and society, but they were forced on us through a Constitution that was unilaterally repatriated.
Louis Bernard, who was secretary general of the executive council of Quebec at the time and who participated in the talks when Quebec was led by René Lévesque, wrote, on February 6, 2007:
The Constitution Act, 1982, gave birth to the Canadian charter and plunged Canada into a constitutional crisis that it is not about to climb out of. There were attempts to repair the damage with the Meech Lake accords, but they did not work, since some provinces reneged, once again, on their initial commitment. Any kind of constitutional progress became impossible.
In the same piece published in Le Devoir he said:
Therefore, we cannot do anything about either the charter or the rest of the Constitution. If the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ever evolves, it will not be by legislative amendment, but only by judicial interpretation, which I believe shows the charter's limitations.
It could be said that the point made by Louis Bernard is shared by the Conservative Party. When we see the Conservative Party trying to make changes to the Senate through the back door because it is not able to do so through the front, that is, constitutionally, it is obvious that the Canadian Constitution effectively paralyzes the development of Canadian society and the Canadian nation. Obviously, if it paralyzes the Canadian nation, it also paralyzes the Quebec nation.
Later on in that same article he said:
Adopting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 was part of the strategy of the federal government of the day, a strategy that consisted of solving the problem of national unity by focusing on individual rights rather than collective rights, and by hoping that, with time, the former would substitute for the latter. Adopting the charter was motivated by political factors that irreparably tainted its image in the minds of many Quebeckers, especially because of the illegitimate and immoral way in which it was adopted.
This paragraph is an excellent summary of the Bloc Québécois's attitude towards the Liberal Party motion. The very birth of the charter is problematic and so is its content. Clearly, Louis Bernard agrees with our conclusion that there is an imbalance between individual rights and collective rights, and that certain rights are not being explicitly recognized and in fact are not recognized at all.
As I mentioned, my hon. colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin very clearly explained the difference between the two charters this morning, so I will not repeat that. The important thing to remember is that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is what made it possible to butcher Bill 101. There is a debate right now in Quebec regarding Bill 103, which would correct a Supreme Court of Canada decision concerning so-called bridging schools, which allow wealthy people to send their children to unsubsidized, unregulated, English private schools temporarily, only to later transfer them to the subsidized, regulated, English public system.
This is a serious breach of the Charter of the French Language, all made possible by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
My hon. colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin is definitely in a better position to talk about that. We know of at least 15 or so instances of interference with Bill 101 since it was adopted, always based on the Canadian charter.
When the Charter of the French Language was adopted, Pierre Elliott Trudeau's reaction was reported by Lise Bissonnette in Le Devoir on April 6, 1977, a few days after Bill 101 was adopted.
He believes that [the charter] “takes Quebec back centuries” if not to “the dark ages”, and he...slammed the “narrow and backward” way in which the government of Mr. Lévesque has protected a culture, and generally found that the Parti Québécois was finally showing its “true colours”, as a party that wants to establish an “ethnic society”...that even goes against freedom of speech and expression.
That was Pierre Elliott Trudeau's view of the adoption of the charter by the National Assembly, as proposed by the Parti Québécois party led by René Lévesque. That is how he felt about this charter for which, I would remind you, just like Bill 101, there is support among all political parties in Quebec, and which, for many, is surely one of the jewels in the body of fundamental laws of Quebec society.
At the time, no one in Quebec, especially among the sovereignists, was deceived by the justification put forward by Pierre Elliott Trudeau for the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In June 1981, in his inaugural speech at the National Assembly, René Lévesque said:
Under the pretext of giving citizens a new charter of rights, Ottawa's project is in fact an unprecedented attack on the powers of the National Assembly of Quebec, which it would limit and oversee, especially in the areas of language of education.
I gave the very recent example of bridging schools, which were legalized by a Supreme Court ruling. There is currently debate about Bill 103, the response by Quebec's Liberal government to the Supreme Court's concerns. It is a completely unacceptable response for the vast majority of Quebeckers. It explains, in part— although it is not the only explanation—the success of the Parti Québécois in the riding of Kamouraska-Témiscouata for the first time since 1985. We would like to congratulate the newly elected member, Mr. Simard.
I would now like to talk about the second part of the motion, which is a motion we can all support. At the beginning of the debate we proposed an amendment to try and find some common ground. This amendment conceded that the charter has had positive effects on some levels, but that its negative effects—notably on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction—should not be forgotten. In this respect, I would refer to the previous quotation from René Lévesque's June 1981 inaugural speech in the National Assembly, about Quebec's areas of jurisdiction, particularly in terms of its language laws.
As for the Conservatives' and the Prime Minister's attitude towards the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I would point out that the Prime Minister has already said that human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society, and that they are in fact totalitarian.
In my opinion, this statement from the current Prime Minister is an accurate reflection of this government's general attitude towards rights. For example, when Canadians have problems overseas, whether or not they are defended depends on whether they are considered to be good or bad Canadians. I am referring to the attitude that the government has had towards a certain number of Canadians who were imprisoned or even sentenced to death. It refused to help them at all., even though, traditionally, the government would try to help them avoid the death penalty and repatriate them so they could finish serving their sentences here.
Since the Conservative government has been in power, such transfers have been drastically cut or slowed down. In my own riding, there are cases of people who have committed relatively minor crimes in the United States. I wrote to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety, but I did not even receive an acknowledgement from them. When I have received one, it has usually been after the person has finished serving their sentence in the United States and has returned to Canada or Quebec.
It is abundantly clear that this government is not a fan of rights and freedoms. Its vision of justice is repressive and will not result in safety and social cohesion. The Conservative government is following the American model, which has proven ineffective. Crime and incarceration rates are much higher in the United States than in Quebec and Canada.
In fact, if the current prison population in the United States were taken into account in calculating the country's unemployment rate, there would be 3% more unemployed people. The rate would not be 9%, as it is now; it would be 11% or 12%. Most of the people in jail are black African Americans.
Behind their repressive brand of justice is social and political bias. That is what the Conservative government is trying to do.
The government introduced the idea of security certificates in a bill. We do not disagree with the idea, but there has to be at least some balance between the rights of an individual listed on a security certificate and the state's responsibility to ensure public safety. In general, a person listed on a security certificate does not have access to the evidence or the reasons for which the government requested the security certificate. As a result, the person does not have an opportunity to plead innocence. This is a totally unacceptable reversal of the onus of proof. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with us and with those who oppose the existing security certificate mechanism.
Following a Federal Court of Appeal decision, the Supreme Court said that the constitutional rights of Omar Khadr, a young Canadian who was captured by the Americans at 15 years of age as a child soldier in Afghanistan and who ended up in Guantanamo, were being violated and that the Government of Canada had an obligation to make reparations and compensate him. The Supreme Court did not go as far as the Federal Court, which said that the only way to compensate Omar Khadr was to repatriate him. The court said that his constitutional rights had been violated and that Canada was responsible for repairing the damage that had been caused.
Yet the government did not respond and refused to listen to its own courts. That is how the Conservatives view justice, rights and equality. That is unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois and to the vast majority of Quebeckers and Canadians. The Conservatives are in no position to teach us anything about justice.