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House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was right.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member's comments were thoughtful. I am awfully glad we brought this motion forward today because it shows we are alone in the House, defending the charter. Bloc members cannot bring themselves to say that we need to defend the charter. The NDP justice critic said that the charter did not need defending.

With all due respect to my friend, various speakers have said that they believed in the charter. It is almost damnation by faint praise because they have been drawn into the debate to affirm they believe in the charter. However, they squirrel it by saying that it is really just something that was built on existing constitutional mores and customs and it did not create new rights, which the hon. member suggested. He might want to think of talking to language rights warriors like Michel Bastarache and Michel Doucet, who very much appreciate having the charter that enforces language rights in schools in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which did not exist before, despite provincial and federal official languages acts.

I appreciate the sincerity of my friend's comments, especially with respect to property. However, why did it take a Liberal motion to have Conservative members stand and say that they believed in the charter, that it was pretty good? There was a Bill of Rights and there was the common law. I want to hear him say loudly and proudly that he endorses the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that it should last in its current state forever.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. I know he is very passionate about this. I think I have been quite clear in my comments that I am in support of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We have heard from other speakers today who said that it was a living, breathing document and that there was the potential to make changes and additions to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I stand behind today's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I spoke at length about how it came about. It is something about which this Parliament and all Canadians need to think.

I commend the member for bringing forward the motion today so we could have this discussion. I am happy to have had the opportunity to rise today and speak to this very important issue.

Those who might be sitting at home, having listened to much of my presentation, will say that Canadians believe in this.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my comments can be taken as comments or as a question, if the member wants to respond.

The fact is in Saskatchewan, on April 1, 1947, the CCF government of Tommy Douglas introduced the Saskatchewan bill of rights act, which was Canada's first general law prohibiting discrimination. It affirms the fundamental freedoms that Canadians now take for granted. It prohibits discrimination on account of race, creed, religion, colour or ethnic or national origin. It prohibits discrimination with respect to accommodation, employment, occupation and education. It prohibits publications that are likely to deprive someone of his or her legal rights on account of race, creed, religion, colour or ethnic or national origin.

That was the legislation in Saskatchewan on April 1, 1947. The fact is John Diefenbaker was from Saskatchewan, and 13 years later, in 1960, as the Conservative prime minister, he introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights, the precursor of what is now the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I have much more to say about this subject, but could the member take that idea and move forward on it to demonstrate that human rights are just not the purview of the Liberal Party, that they go back a long way, starting with the CCF in Saskatchewan and then John George Diefenbaker as Conservative prime minister of Canada?

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

Many people believe that the Liberal Party thinks it has a monopoly on these issues, but I do not believe that. I think they see, and I know all members in the House see, that the House of Commons, the Senate, along with provincial governments, with many Canadians over the whole history of our country, have all contributed to what we have today, a country in which we are all very proud to live. We are all proud we have our rights and freedoms, which the charter very much enshrines for us.

We also heard a little earlier from the member for Prince Edward—Hastings who spoke about responsibilities. Responsibilities as well as rights and freedoms is something my constituents also wish were addressed.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke so eloquently to the evolution of human rights in Canada, some of the important documents along the way and the fact that the charter was very important. However, we should not stop there and think that we have reached perfection. We certainly are not there, and I would like him to have the opportunity to elaborate a bit more.

He talked about private property rights and a number of other things. Perhaps he could elaborate in terms of where we can go, as Canadians, to continue this evolution of what is very important to all of us in the House.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think there is a feeling across the country that the charter and the Constitution are things we should not talk about because of some things that happened in attempts to amend the Constitution back in the late eighties and early nineties. However, these are discussions that Canadians should have in terms of improvement.

The hon. member said that there was always room for improvement. Maybe today's discussion will make Canadians think about that. We do have an excellent document. We have something that Canadians are proud of, that came together over many years through many processes.

Private property rights, as I spoke about in my presentation, are important to my constituents. These were not addressed in 1982. I know the constituents of many members understand the importance of enshrining private property rights. It is something of which I have been a champion. I know it is something that is not going to be easy to attain, but I am happy we are having this discussion.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member, during his speech and in response to questions, referenced a living, breathing document and also the evolution of the charter.

Section 1 says:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

It is the shock absorber, as it were, to take into account certain circumstances that may occur, or were not anticipated or may become public interest items.

Would he agree that the section 1 override that is available, and has been used from time to time, does in fact represent substantially the living, breathing document that we have, that it is in the interpretation of those principles and not a problem of the individual principles of the charter?

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, if we all look back at our history, I happened to be in Ottawa when the whole constitutional issue was at its peak, and as I spoke earlier, I was here on Parliament Hill when the Charter of Rights was signed into force.

If we go back to that time, we all know that had the notwithstanding clause not been included in that, we may well have never had the repatriation of our Constitution and the signing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was all part of that repatriation at the time.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Halifax, Health; the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, Infrastructure.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, to start with I would like to let the House know that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member from Brossard—La Prairie.

I want to thank my colleagues for the debate thus far. I think it has been a good one and a productive one. I have listened intently to some of the concerns. At times we slipped back into the political rhetoric of the day, but at other times we learned a great deal about what it is to be living in this age of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms given to us from 1982.

Back in the 1970s, if we go back and peruse some of the articles, some people had great concerns about adopting this type of charter from a societal point of view. A lot of people wondered if this would be an effective tool for people in a minority position, whether that be through race, creed, colour, religion, or sex. They wondered if this would provide them a tool by which they could feel within this country that they had the freedom to be Canadian citizens and throughout their lives feel free to go about as they saw fit, within the confines of the law, of course.

I want to touch on the history of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It came into force April 17, 1982. Section 15 of the charter and the equality rights came into effect three years after the rest of the charter on April 17, 1985. That gave provincial governments time to bring their laws in line with section 15.

The charter is founded on the rule of law and entrenches in the Constitution of Canada the rights and freedoms that Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society. It recognizes primary fundamental freedoms: the freedom of expression and of association, democratic rights, and the right to vote.

As well, there are mobility rights, the right to live anywhere in Canada. In Newfoundland and Labrador, at least in my riding, that certainly means a lot. There are a tremendous amount of people in my riding who have such great skills, especially in the oil and gas sector, that they are able to move across this country and around the world for that matter. This is proof of the fundamental right of mobility, and Newfoundland and Labrador stand as a great example of that.

The charter also protects official language and minority language education rights. In addition, the provisions of section 25 guarantee the rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. It deals with the interactions within the society, between federal, provincial, and territorial governments, and individuals. In some respects it is Canada's most important law because it can render invalid or inoperative any laws that are inconsistent with its provisions.

We have had this debate throughout the day. Some people have said that there are sections within the charter that go too far on that level, too far in the expression of freedom, and that there is also an air of responsibility that should be exercised as well.

Section 1 deals with that adequately. That is why this charter is a beautiful piece of legislation and a beautiful part of the Constitution, because it does allow that to happen. The responsibility and the right of an individual goes so far as to protect the public interest.

The charter has had a major impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in Canada. With respect to language rights, it has reinforced the rights of official language minorities. With regard to equality rights, it has led to recognition and enforcement of the rights of a number of minority and disadvantaged groups. In penal matters, the charter has clarified to a considerable extent the state's powers with respect to offenders' rights as well.

With respect to other human rights laws, there are many other laws protecting human rights within this great country of ours.

The Canadian Bill of Rights was enacted in 1960, and this has come up quite often here. It applies to the legislation and policies of the federal government and guarantees rights and freedoms similar to those found in the charter such as the ones that I spoke of earlier. Those would be: equality rights, legal rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association. However, the bill is not part of the Constitution of Canada. It was on April 17, 1982, that we were brought to that new level where the charter has become so essential for us.

The federal, provincial and territorial governments have adopted legislation on human rights and the codifying of human rights, prohibiting discrimination on various grounds in relation to employment, which, as I said earlier, is certainly important for Newfoundland and Labrador, the provision of goods, services and facilities customarily available to the public and accommodation. The legislation differs in its application from the charter's section 15 on equality rights in that it provides protection against discrimination by individuals in the private sector as well as by governments. So there we have other government levels.

Let me expand a bit further by going outside of our own realm. I will quote something that was noted in a publication some time ago. Bruce Porter from the Social Rights Advocacy Centre in the late 1990s said:

The Supreme Court has also emphasized that broadly framed Charter rights must be interpreted consistently with Canada’s international human rights commitments to social and economic rights. While international human rights are not directly enforceable as law, the Court has emphasized that international human rights articulate the values and rights that are behind the Charter itself, and that the reasonable exercise of conferred decision-making authority must conform with these values.

There we have it. The values the world is now accepting as fundamental human rights are now being exercised around the world and there is a common thread that runs through all of them. I had that experience earlier when I was at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, something my colleague would be quite familiar with. At the Council of Europe members have adopted the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This is a fantastic convention agreed upon by over 100 states. It was the establishment, first of all, of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but it sets forth a number of fundamental rights and freedoms: the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, no punishment without law, the right to respect for private and family life, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to freedom of expression. We see some of the common threads with our own charter, but at the same time it addresses others matters in volatile states where certain fundamental rights are stripped away from people: the right of mobility, the fundamental right of a person to defend themselves, and of course also protection for those forced into slavery situations.

The European Union sees human rights as universal and indivisible. It therefore actively promotes and defends them both within its borders, of the 27 nations of the European Union, and in relations with outside countries including this country, Canada. Although the EU has on the whole a good human rights record, it is not complacent. It is fighting racism, xenophobia and other types of discrimination based on religion, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation, and is particularly concerned about human rights in the area of asylum and migration, which has lately been a huge frontier as we become more mobile throughout the world and as we tackle issues such as one dear to my heart, human trafficking, or as some people call it, human smuggling.

In this particular context we see now that not only do we adopt some of these common threads, there are other countries that are adopting some of the measures that we have within our own charter. These countries, as mentioned earlier by my colleague from Leeds—Grenville include New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ireland and others. Anyone who believes his or her rights or freedoms under the charter have been infringed by any level of government can go to court to ask for a remedy. The person must show that a charter right or freedom has been violated. If the limit is one set out in the law the government will have an opportunity to show that the limit is reasonable under section 1 of the charter, which is what we talk about here when it comes to the right of responsibility.

As a final note, during the question and answer session I brought up the court challenges program. I fundamentally believe that we have missed a golden opportunity. Since the mid-seventies we had within our own government and within this country a program that helped people who were in dire need of exercising their human rights. For whatever reason they were the most vulnerable. They were not able to afford, whether it was through legal aid or other measures, to exercise their fundamental rights and as a result we have unfortunately gotten rid of a program that helped them greatly.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I did want to follow up on my last question to the member for Leeds—Grenville, as well, but I know the member can answer any question that is thrown his way.

The fact of the matter is that Saskatchewan, under Premier Tommy Douglas, the CCF leader, on April 1, 1947, was the first jurisdiction in Canada to pass a bill of rights act, and we assume because John Diefenbaker, later to become prime minister of Canada, was from Saskatchewan he would be certainly aware of the application of this law in Saskatchewan.

However, interestingly enough, during that period there was a campaign brought on by the Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada. They popularized the idea of the Canadian Bill of Rights that John Diefenbaker eventually brought in because they established numerous libertarian precedents before Canada's highest courts. In 1949, the Jehovah's Witnesses launched a national campaign for the enactment of a bill of rights. On June 9, 1947, they presented a petition to Parliament with 625,510 signatures. And that is very interesting because that amount of people in those days, when people lived on farms, would be an amazing number. Anyway, I asked the--

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I did not get the last part, but I could certainly comment on what he talked about.

I want to thank him for that piece of knowledge, that little nugget of knowledge about what has happened, as Saskatchewan has been the genesis and certainly the beginning of many programs that we have in this country that we hold so dear. We are certainly proud to have Saskatchewan in this confederation, whether it be because of health care, certainly because of Tommy Douglas, and also, as he just mentioned, because of the idea of a bill of rights.

I was not aware that the Jehovah's Witnesses had done that at that time. Certainly when they show up at my door, as they do, I will be apt to thank them, because I was not aware of that and I did not know that they played such a crucial role in creating the bill of rights.

So congratulations to them and I thank my colleague for bringing that up.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his wise words today and his passionate defence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The charter of rights was brought in, in 1982. I was 15 at the time and of course did not really understand or recognize the impact the charter of rights would have on my life. However, if Trudeau had not done what he did when he did it, I probably would not be doing what I am doing here today.

I think it is important to recognize that leadership on these issues makes a real difference.

After being elected in 1997, I sat in this House and had an opportunity to vote for same-sex benefits, pension benefits, for federal government employees. That was a charter issue that forced the issue here on the floor of the House of Commons. I watched as the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance, the predecessors to the Conservative Party, voted against it.

I then watched the same-sex marriage debate, again a charter issue brought to this House based on the charter of rights, and the Conservatives voted against it.

Then I saw the Conservatives, after the 2006 election, actually bring back to the House the same-sex marriage issue, once again a charter issue.

My question for my colleague is, does he find it a little odd that the Conservatives say they support the charter yet, in this House, every single time they have an opportunity--

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, that is a valid point. Sometimes, as this goes by, we do not say it often enough that when the defence of the charter is coming from that side, we have to question how sincere it is.

Several of the issues that came up today, as a matter of fact, were about how some people had certain problems with the charter but yet, to be specific, we have received nothing in return. Every time we have asked for a bit of specificity that was never coming in return.

I remember that issue quite well when he talked about it in 2005, about the same-sex marriage, when it was referred to the Supreme Court. There were wails from the other side talking about how it was just a bad thing to do, to get on with it, it is the will of Parliament and such. Yet we were not even allowed to explore the idea of how this was an issue of human rights in the charter.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor for preceding me in this debate, but it is with some sadness that I rise to speak here today on the motion moved by my hon. colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been enshrined in our Constitution for nearly 30 years, yet here we are still having to raise our voices to defend it. I find it extremely unfortunate that Canada, a country once recognized as a shining example of how to defend and exercise human rights, must now face censorship under the yoke of this outrageously undemocratic government. I especially object to this fear-mongering and blackmailing regime that is forcing the lifeblood of our society to choose between silence and survival.

The Canada to which I pledged my heartfelt loyalty and allegiance on April 17, 1982, is a Canada where freedom of expression and the right of dissent are intrinsic parts of our vibrant democracy. Coincidentally, I became a Canadian citizen the same day the Canadian Constitution was patriated, the same day the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enshrined in that Constitution, which is so fundamental to our democratic maturity.

This serendipity, this stupendous fact of my civic coming of age, has influenced and guided my whole and utter devotion to this country I call mine. As much as I have studied, read and learned about other democracies, none has ever reached for me the standard which I found so uniquely successful in Canada.

It saddens me to no end to stand in the House today to acknowledge the erosion of all that we have achieved as a country at the hands of a Prime Minister who has no other ambition but to exercise power for the sake of power. We do not see the slightest intention of offering Canadians the good governance for which our Constitution and the charter were the guiding principles.

We see no evidence of respect for the enormous effort it takes to reconcile the diversity of our differences while defending the most fundamental of human rights and freedoms. The bottom line is that all we see is a fanatical disregard for the principles of equality that took us so long to achieve.

It saddens me to stand here and defend the essence of Canada. Our charter sets us apart from other countries in the world. Many countries are democratic and have parliaments, presidents or prime ministers, but what sets us apart from them is our charter.

Afghanistan is supposedly a democracy. It just held elections and has a government, but without a charter that frames that government, there is not much in terms of human rights that could be rightly seen to be upheld.

Our charter is what guarantees rights and freedoms to our minorities. The Prime Minister says that we are in Afghanistan to help women and children benefit fully from their fundamental rights. However, here in Canada, he has no problem recklessly ignoring them. What is he doing to us?

It saddens me to no end that in 2010, after so many years of fighting to get recognition of the fact that we are all connected by our humanity, we are still here today debating the substance of our charter and the principles behind it. Instead of moving forward and raising the bar, this government is doing everything it can to set us back a few decades.

Fear is the new principle of governance, and the Conservatives know that the charter prevents them from building the fortress state that they have envisioned. The government has determined that Canadians are guilty until proven innocent. We have all become criminals hiding behind the charter.

It saddens me that more prisons and a tough-on-crime agenda are all that this government has to offer to Canadians.

It saddens me that it has come to this, that the government, the so-called Conservative Party, has set out to wedge our great country apart.

When the government that was duly elected by Canadians is the first to be found guilty of violating one of the freedoms entrenched in the Charter—freedom of thought, belief, opinion or expression—it becomes clear that our democracy is experiencing troubled times.

The charter protects and governs the right of all citizens to freely express their opinions. This also includes those who, in the name of accountability, ensure the proper governance of our institutions. Since January 2006, the Conservative government has not stopped dealing blows, each more vicious than the last, to the supervisory authorities Canada has put in place over the years. Here are a few examples.

Peter Tinsley, chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission from 2005-09, his contract not renewed because:

Too often, he said, political "horsetrading" and unelected staffers play key roles in hiring and firing watchdogs that serve at the whim of the government they are appointed to criticize.

The bottom line is that Mr. Tinsley became inconvenient when he started asking for documents that would allow him to do his job well.

Chief superintendent, Marty Cheliak, former head of the Canadian firearms program, was sent off to follow intensive French language courses, which was undeniably urgent, when his report on the effectiveness of the gun registry threatened to rain on Bill C-391's parade.

Linda Keen, former president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, was fired for acting on security concerns about the Chalk River nuclear reactor.

Paul Kennedy, former chair of the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, did not have his contract renewed for reasons that remain highly suspicious.

Robert Marleau, former Information Commissioner of Canada, resigned after just two and a half years of service when he realized that the Conservatives were making his work practically impossible.

I could give a number of other examples of the government's shameless acts of censorship since 2006. However, I believe that the argument has been established and shows, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Conservatives blatantly despise the most fundamental principles of freedom of expression.

The motion put forward by my party today is a warning to Canadian citizens: the government of this Prime Minister sees the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as an obstacle in its quest to conquer and divide.

It is up to each of us to insist that the government respect the Charter and all the rights and freedoms entrenched therein.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure how much Hansard caught of my last question but I did want to follow up and explain it in a little more detail.

Historically speaking, in 1947 the CCF government of Tommy Douglas passed a Saskatchewan bill of rights, which was the beginning of the bill of rights. That and John Diefenbaker's Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960 were inspired by the Jehovah's Witnesses who were fighting battles of religious freedom. They had established a number of libertarian precedents before Canada's highest courts.

In addition, in 1949, they launched a national campaign for the enactment of a bill of rights. On June 9, 1947, they presented a petition to Parliament with 625,510 signatures, which, I would say is pretty amazing given the rural nature of Canada at the time. That inspired John Diefenbaker, who later became prime minister, to introduce the national bill of rights that he introduced at the time.

The point is that the historical record would indicate that it all started in Saskatchewan under the CCF and that John Diefenbaker was inspired by that because he came from Prince Albert and became prime minister—

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. I would just remind all hon. members that when 10-minute speeches are being given, there is only 5 minutes for questions and comments. I would ask for the co-operation of all hon. members to keep their questions or comments concise and related to what has been delivered. Questions and comments is not an opportunity to make a speech by increments, but rather ought to relate to the speech that was previously made.

The hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I really do not have an answer to give to my colleague. Yes, it is wonderful information but I cannot provide an answer to that comment.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talked about a large number of senior public servants, and I could add to the list.

It paints a picture. It is a pattern and a culture of bullying. The next one coming, as the member will probably know, is the Parliamentary Budget Officer who has done his job and has been relegated to the Library of Parliament. He is not getting the budget he needs to do the job. He is so frustrated that he has already announced that he will not seek reappointment.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on this pattern of bullying.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I did not even mention the Parliamentary Budget Officer because it has not happened yet, but we do see it coming. Unfortunately, it does confirm the pattern and the will of the government to muzzle everyone who dares criticize or question its direction or intent. I fear for others who we will see in the future.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to read a quote to the House that I read earlier. This is from the Standing Committee on Public Safety where the former attorney general admitted that the charter protects individuals who are falsely accused. He stated on Power & Politics just a few days ago, that “The charter application is an application that applies generally to those who are falsely accused”.

There are other quotes from the past in 2000 and 1996. The list goes on regarding some of the accusations about the charter, but it seems that we have not received any specific reasons or indications of where the charter falls down from anyone who considers themselves to be a critic of it. I was wondering if the hon. member could comment on that.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I really do not have any comments to make. We have no evidence that any of these criticisms are actually based on concrete cases where the charter became an impediment to either the administration of justice or to the proper governance of our country. I have no indication whatsoever that one of those instances has been brought to light.

Opposition Motion—Charter of Rights and FreedomsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to participate in the debate regarding the Liberal opposition day motion.

I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver Kingsway.

This opposition day motion is definitely very interesting and most timely, and I thank the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe for bringing it forward. That being said, I must first take some time to remind my hon. colleagues in the Liberal Party of their track record, both historically and in the not so distant past, concerning the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The present often has a way of dimming the past, but I am surprised at how quickly my colleagues in the Liberal Party forget their own belittling of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I find it passing strange that they have decided to go forward with this motion considering that, this week alone, it became clear that their Ontario provincial counterparts completely ignored this ever-important statute.

The flouting of the charter was made clear in the Ontario ombudsman's G20 report. The ombudsman states that the actions taken by the government of Dalton McGuinty were illegal and unconstitutional. The actions by the Liberal Party of Ontario are an excellent example of a government belittling the importance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and removing rights and freedoms from the Canadian public. Worse yet, this was done behind closed doors and without public knowledge. Peaceful G20 protestors who had educated themselves on their fundamental rights had no way of knowing that the Ontario government had secretly removed these rights. It is painfully clear that the Liberals breached the rights of Canadians in Toronto just this past summer.

If we go back only about five years, we can find yet another example of the Liberal Party disregarding and undermining the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am speaking of the debate concerning marriage law in Canada, specifically, Bill C-38 and the rights of same sex couples to marry.

On February 21, 2005, my colleague from Mississauga South said this in House:

With respect, my view is that Bill C-38 should not be passed and that the notwithstanding clause under section 33 of the charter should be invoked to provide Parliament with the time it needs to make a fully informed decision.

I have two fundamental problems with this statement. First is the fact that the member and his party saw fit to entertain the use of the notwithstanding clause. I take serious issue with the notwithstanding clause. To be honest, I worry that this clause, which gives this House the right to remove the fundamental rights and freedoms from Canadians, exists at all. I find it shocking that the Liberal Party was considering its use in this situation. To quote from its former leader, former prime minister Trudeau, “There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”.

While I am on the topic of former prime minister Trudeau, let us discuss the actual creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Trudeau's respect for the rights of Canadians. I would like to draw the attention of the House to Trudeau's breaching of the fundamental rights of Canadians, which he said he so strongly supported. I am speaking of course of his enactment of the War Measures Act during the October crisis of 1970. While historically governments have used this statute during times of crisis, most analysis of Trudeau's use of the War Measures Act says that not only was it unnecessary but it was wrong.

In October 1970, Trudeau specifically targeted communities in Quebec, separatist communities, labour groups and left-leaning communities. He took away their rights of citizenship without any proof that they were involved in the events of October 1970. He presumed guilt without evidence of guilt. Regardless of the fact that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had not yet been signed, this is a complete breach of the fundamental rights of Canadians, the spirit of that charter.

Furthermore in 1981, the Liberal government cancelled a conference on women's equality. The women present were told that the government would take care of things. The response of these women was immediate and overwhelming. Doris Anderson, the head of the advisory council on the status of women, resigned the post, and a handful of influential Canadian women organized their own conference in Ottawa, calling everyone they knew to attend. On Valentine's Day, 1981, more than 1,000 women descended upon Ottawa to ensure that women were protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Through an unprecedented grassroots campaign, these women fundamentally changed Canadian history to ensure stronger equality sections in the newly patriated Canadian Constitution's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 15 and 28.

While I am indeed happy that sections 15 and 28 were included in the charter, it was disappointing that women had to lobby so hard to be included. It would seem that somehow, perhaps because of the court decision on October 18, 1929, women had the misguided notion that they were not only persons but were recognized as persons by the government.

However, that being said, I would like to turn my focus now to the Conservative government and its record.

The member elect from Vaughan has a highly questionable history when it comes to respecting fundamental freedoms. He has openly stated his opposition to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. During his law enforcement career, he flagrantly abused his power when he ordered illegal wiretaps to target minority communities. He demonstrated a complete lack of transparency as a public officer holder.

In 1992, internal police reports indicate that the member elect from Vaughan ordered a wiretap of a civilian member of the city of Toronto's police service board. This is a body that oversees police actions. These actions, for the new member for Vaughan, are highly questionable in a democratic society.

Later during the same individual's tenure as police chief in London, he authorized the now infamous and disastrous Project Guardian. This was essentially an anti-gay witch hunt. Although the originally stated purpose of the operation was to catch pedophiles and expose a child pornography ring, no child pornography ring was ever found. There were convictions for drug possession and prostitution, but no child pornography ring.

Unfortunately during his tenure as police chief in London, the new member for Vaughan had a history of targeting minority communities. The consequences of this behaviour were that it created great distrust of authorities among the people our police services are pledged to protect.

Likewise, during his tenure as police chief in Toronto, Now magazine reported that the same member showed his disdain for democracy by trying to require that the police approve public rallies. Various news articles indicate that the corruption scandals in the police force were shielded from public scrutiny in an amazingly unaccountable fashion by the newly elected member for Vaughan.

Controversy follows this member no matter what position he holds. It goes on and on. His apparent disdain for democracy, transparency, accountability and now the Charter of Rights and Freedoms leaves a chilling legacy.

As we have heard today from many members, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is vital because it protects minority groups. The Conservative government itself has shown its disdain for the charter in many ways, from disregarding its obligations to Canadian citizens like Omar Khadr to cancelling the court challenges program.

The court challenges program was an essential tool for Canadians to access protection under the charter. As we know, Canadians from minority groups often lack the fiscal resources to access the justice system and therefore are unable to seek protection under the charter.

The Conservative government chose to cancel the court challenges program for ideological reasons. The Prime Minister's former chief of staff, Ian Brodie, wrote extensively about the faults of the court challenges program.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women wrote a report in 2008 analyzing the impact of the cancellation of the court challenges program. The committee heard expert testimony that showed how the court challenges program improved women's equality in Canada. It upheld the rights of pregnant women and protected them in rape trials. It was essential in terms of making sure they were not revictimized.

Furthermore when it comes to the most vulnerable in our society, the court challenges program significantly changed the lives of aboriginal women. Women like Sandra Lovelace, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell and Sharon McIvor all used the court challenges program. We sacrifice and demean its authority at our peril.

As parliamentarians, we must respect the rights and freedoms of our citizens. Unfortunately at times the rights and freedoms of marginalized Canadians are forgotten and overlooked. The charter enshrines these rights and ensures that all Canadians are equal under the law. It is for this reason that the charter must be respected. It must be upheld.