Mr. Speaker, I rise to intervene on behalf of the residents of my constituency of Mount Royal, a great, diverse and committed constituency, and I will seek to reflect and represent their concerns and hopes as they have conveyed them to me.
As my constituents would put it, a budget is not simply a financial statement, it is a statement of values. It is not simply a balance sheet but constitutes a set of priorities and principles underlying those priorities.
Accordingly, what I would like to do, in addressing the budget, is not only to address what the budget says but what it does not say, and also, how interspersed in the budget and comingled with it are a series of government initiatives that may in fact exclude the very instruments that are necessary for purposes of protecting the concerns of people in my constituency and beyond. I will give one example of the many I can give in this regard.
On May 14, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal government was obliged to apply the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to proposed development projects within traditional aboriginal territories. In this case, the Quebec government filed an action seeking to exclude the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act from being applied to mining projects in the province because the province claimed jurisdiction over the development of those resources.
Similarly, the Supreme Court of Canada recently held and confirmed the important roles that environmental assessment and public participation play in development projects when it denied federal permits for the Red Chris mine in British Columbia.
In a ruling this past January, the court determined that the federal government violated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act by limiting the environmental assessment to a small component of the mines while avoiding assessment and wider public scrutiny.
Taken together, what these two judgments demonstrate are both the importance of public participation and environmental assessment and how the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act authorizes and allows for both public participation and environmental assessment. Yet, the federal government is now attempting to weaken this important legislation.
If one goes through the 900 pages of the federal budget, it will not leap out, but buried in those pages are a series of amendments that would effectively grant the environment minister broad discretion as to how and in what fashion the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is to be applied to development projects.
As well, in a related amendment, there is a proposal to authorize the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to assume responsibility for environmental assessments of large energy projects, where these responsibilities would now be held by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
I bring these forward as case studies of where the budget has interspersed matters, comingled with the budget and in fact buried in the budget a series of initiatives that would marginalize the power with regard to both public participation and environmental protection, and imbue the executive authority with broad and discretionary power that would undermine both objectives of public participation and environmental assessment.
I will now address the budget with respect to those matters that are not covered, just as they were not covered by its overseer framework, the throne speech. For example, if we look at the throne speech, it was replete and well stated with a series of commemorative anniversaries.
However, if we look at the present budget, we find that with respect to those commemorative anniversaries, there is no reference to the fact that 2010 is the 25th anniversary of the coming into effect of the equality rights provision of the charter, which is effectively an organizing principle for the building of a just and egalitarian society.
Indeed, in 2005, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the coming into effect of section 15 of the charter, at the time that I served as minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, we proclaimed 2005 as the year of equality and, to that end, ushered in a series of exhibits, initiatives and events, all intended to convey the importance of equality as an organizing principle, as I put it, for a just society.
As we said then and I reaffirm now, the test of a just society is how it treats the most disadvantaged in its midst, how it treats its children, its violated women, its immigrants, its refugees, its poor, its elderly and its sick. That was the cause for proclaiming 2005 as the year of equality. I regret to say that this anniversary is being passed over in silence in 2010 and finds no parallel budgetary expression in the budget itself. Nor is there any reference in the budget of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself, even though this has a transformative impact not only on our laws but in how we live our lives.
As I said in the beginning, the budget is not just a financial statement. It is a statement of values. It is not just a balance sheet. It is a statement of principles and priorities, and these have been somehow airbrushed out of the throne speech and then, correspondingly, airbrushed out of the budget.
Indeed, if one looks at the budget in terms of referencing the concerns and providing for them, there is only passing reference and mention to the issue of women's rights. There is no mention, for example, of the compelling need, as continuously represented to me by my constituents, of restoring and giving budgetary expression to the court challenges program, which became a bulwark for the protection of women's rights and minority rights in this country.
Nor is there any mention in the budget or provision, and this, too, is a matter of fundamental principle and policy, for a comprehensive and sustainable civil as well as criminal legal aid program, identified unanimously by all the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice at their annual meeting in 2005 as a priority for the justice agenda. The lack of such a program, I might add, also impacts adversely on the most vulnerable of our society, on women, on children, on minorities, the elderly, the poor and the like, therefore further exacerbating their plight and further exacerbating the concern of inequality.
I will now turn, in the second half of my remarks, to the compelling concern, again as conveyed to me by my constituents, of violence against women, which I trust will find expression in the upcoming meetings of the G8 and G20, in that we hear referencing to the matter of violence against women as being a persistent, pervasive and pernicious evil.
Seventeen years ago, at the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the clarion call at the time was that “women's rights are human rights and there are no human rights that do not include the rights of women”. Indeed, the women's movement energized the conference, not only with their advocacy of women's rights but with their compelling concerns for human rights as a whole.
Seventeen years later and in the aftermath of the 100th anniversary of the founding of International Women's Day, it is tragic to note that not only are women's rights still not seen as human rights, not only is the promotion and protection of women's rights still not a priority on the national and international agenda, but discrimination against women remains, as UNESCO characterized it even then, as a form of gender apartheid, that violence against women is a pervasive, persistent and pernicious evil, and therefore should be put on the agenda at the G8 and G20 summits.
As women's rights leader, Charlotte Bunch, put it on the occasion of the Beijing Declaration, and astonishingly enough the situation has not improved since, she said:
Vast numbers of people around the world suffer from starvation and terrorism, and are humiliated, tortured, mutilated, and even murdered every year, just because they are women.
Indeed, as the new UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, put it:
Violence against women violates human dignity, as well as numerous rights, including the right to equality, physical integrity, freedom and non-discrimination.
I believe that equality and equal protection doctrines demand that we address violence against women, in all its manifestations, as discrimination against women.
As I have stated in this House before, violence against women is a multi-dimensional assault on women's equality and human security. Women cannot achieve equality if they are subjected to violence in their daily lives. The opposite is also true. Women's inequality increases their vulnerability to violence and limits their options for leaving abusive situations and relationships.
It was this narrative of discrimination and violence against women, indeed, the nexus between the two where inequality is a precursor to violence and violence is an assault on women's equality that inspired and underpinned the first ever G8 international conference on violence against women held this past September in Italy, and which I trust deserves to be revisited in the course of the G8.
The conference brought together victims and witnesses to violence, NGOs engaged in combatting violence against women, scholars, journalists, human rights advocates, and, most important, the ministers involved in that conference, many of whom came from African, Asian and Middle East countries.
What struck me then, and what I wish to share with this House now, was the moving witness testimony, particularly as put forward by the victims of violence and witnesses to violence, and on the issue, for example, of domestic violence, which they spoke of as being too often ignored, marginalized or sanitized as a private issue, something to be hidden, something to be ashamed of, something to be contained within domestic walls.
At the G8 conference on violence against women in Italy, it came out of the shadows. In coming out of the shadows, it reminded us of the pernicious and pervasive assault. It reminded us of why this must be seen a universal human rights issue and why it should be put on the agenda of the G8.
Accordingly, may I briefly address two case studies of this violence and its underlying assault on women's equality. First, the evil of trafficking in women and girls, and second, mass sexual violence in armed conflict.
In the matter of trafficking, what we are dealing with is the commodification in human beings, of treating human beings as cattle to be bonded and bartered or as goods to be bought and sold, what I would refer to as the global slave trade, and which, again, is an issue that should be addressed within the framework of the G8.
We know that this grotesque trade in human beings now generates upward of more than $12 billion a year. It is the world's fastest growing international crime. We know that the majority of victims who are trafficked are women and girls under the age of 25, and that many trafficking victims tragically also include children.
We know that the victims of trafficking are desperate to secure the necessities of life and that exploitation is at the core of the crime and the evil of trafficking. We know that no matter for what purpose they are trafficked, all trafficked persons suffer deprivation of liberty and physical, sexual and emotional abuse, including threats of violence and actual harm to themselves and their family members.
Accordingly, if we are to develop a comprehensive and cohesive strategy to combat trafficking, we need to stop thinking in terms of abstract silos, of thinking of human trafficking as an abstract or faceless problem, of thinking of it only as an international law concern, a criminal law problem, a law enforcement problem, an immigration problem, public health problem or an economic problem. It is each and all of these and more.