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House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Madam Speaker, at the beginning of my hon. colleague's question, she talked about the ability to debate a bill. I would remind her that this is a private member's bill, not a government bill, and that it actually was the NDP that filibustered my even having the ability to speak last Wednesday.

That being said, I think it is very important that Parliament is not scared to have an open, honest, respectful debate on the important issues of our country. That is what engages the citizenry of our country.

I met with My Canada this week, which is a great youth group in our country with over 5,000 participants. They strongly endorse my bill and they endorse the ability to engage in the freedom of speech in this country and change the fundamental values of our country to mould it to the way that they see it, to the way the youth see it moving forward in our country. That is very important, because it is very true that the only real way to fight ignorance and bigotry in our country is by enhancing the fundamental freedoms, like freedom of speech, so that we can be a true and democratic society that continues to grow, thrive and foster.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I commend my colleague, the member for Westlock—St. Paul, for this courageous and principled initiative, which many of us in the House have known for some time, has been a necessary step to protect our inheritance of freedom of speech, which is a fundamental principle of our constitutional inheritance of our country's political values.

I wonder if the member could comment on some of the groups that have long called for the repeal of this much abused section of the Human Rights Act. I understand that there others, such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Muslim Canadian Congress and organizations that span the entire political spectrum, from the Toronto Star to the National Post, that have all called for the repeal of this legislation.

Could the member please comment on the breadth of support and consensus that seems to exist for this bill?

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. minister not only for his gracious words but his dedication to freedom of speech, freedom of religion and assembly, which he has fought for his entire political career.

He is absolutely correct. Bill C-304, protecting freedom, is not about left versus right. This has support from the Muslim Canadian Congress, civil libertarian groups and journalists across the political spectrum. The only thing lacking today is support throughout the House of Commons. I would like to see all members of Parliament set their partisanship aside and vote on an issue like this with their own principles rather than what the party whip wants them to do.

At the end of the day, it is debates like this that we need to have in a respectful fashion, but Canadians also expect us to vote our consciences when it comes to these types of issues. That is why it is so very important that we not only keep this debate respectful but that we also engage in an open, honest and transparent debate.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I am not really convinced by my colleague's answer to my question, but I am very open to debate in the House, to open and willing debate by those who wish to express their opinion about an issue. A number of important questions were raised in the House and they were all quickly dismissed by the government.

I am willing to believe that this bill is sponsored by a member who is not a minister, parliamentary secretary or other government member, but that does not mean there is not a problem in the House. People are constantly being prevented from debating. I was just informed that we will be voting tomorrow, once again, to limit debate at third reading. We come to the House and are told that we will be debating a certain issue. Bills are introduced. Sometimes the bills are very lengthy and require examination from different perspectives. However, as soon as there is an objection, limits are imposed on the time for debate. At second reading, we are told that we can debate the bill during the clause-by-clause study in committee. I just came from a committee meeting studying Bill C-10. We are practically being subjected to closure again in order to end the clause-by-clause study. We are talking about 208 clauses in a bill that will fundamentally change many things.

We have been told this evening by someone opposite that Bill C-304 is being introduced to protect freedom of speech. I have a great deal of difficulty believing words like that coming from anyone on the government bench and believing in their sincerity.

The people watching us are entitled to know what Bill C-304 is all about. Basically, it repeals section 13 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibits hate speech.

This section was deemed to be consistent with the law by the Supreme Court. A few years ago there was a decision by a commission. It would follow the normal course. Since then, it seems to have put a chill on everyone. However, the Supreme Court had already ruled in Taylor that section 13 was within the law and that it was required in a free and democratic society.

It is important to understand that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms imposes limits on each right and each freedom. For one person, it is a right and for another, their right ends where the other person's begins.

The government has to stop scaring people, which is another one of its specialities. It is scaring people and leading them to believe that good citizens will be cheerfully brought before the courts to have their right to freedom of expression challenged and that it will cost them a fortune. There have not been tons of grievances. It is not as though everyone is running to the Human Rights Commission to file a grievance against someone for hate speech under section 13. I repeat: hate speech. The law also defines hate speech. It is not a small burden of proof. It is not just telling someone that you do not like the way they look. That would certainly not be considered hate speech.

However, I received a tweet asking me what I was going to do as the member for Gatineau about an issue that involved my former leader, who unfortunately passed away this summer, being compared to a member of the Gestapo and to Hitler by an Internet site called Park Avenue Gazette—not to give it publicity. It is so disgusting; it makes me sick to read things like that. People dig things up and use symbols from things that happened during the second world war and attribute it to people who are human beings. Imagine how those people or their families feel when they see such things.

We are always being told by the members opposite that the Criminal Code already provides for certain things. The member for Westlock—St. Paul did not answer my question.

He did not answer it, because the problem is that the burden of proof is significantly different if we rely strictly on the Criminal Code. The fact that there are remedies under a “permissible” provision and under the Criminal Code, which means indictments or summary conviction offences, as well as civil remedies or remedies under the charter is nothing new. That is the case here.

The Criminal Code is based on a different system of evidence. We can require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, while under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the burden of proof is somewhat less. There is a lot of window dressing involved to protect the freedom of expression. However, the freedom of expression does not give me the right to strongly criticize someone for any reason, to make that person feel like he is a nobody who does not really deserve to live.

Would that justify a remedy under the Criminal Code? I have serious doubts about this. Our crown prosecutors already have their hands full and they will have even more work with the government's Bill C-10. Therefore, I have a hard time imagining a crown prosecutor taking an interest in issues whose interpretation can vary depending on a number of things. The Canadian Human Rights Commission was a specialized organization responsible for examining a case and determining, before the matter would end up in court, whether there were grounds for complaint under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We do not want that because many friends of the government—I am exaggerating here, let us just say some friends—not to mention reporters from western Canada, tried to get some things through and have been complaining for a long time that section 13 prevents them from saying everything they want to say. We live in Canada and I always thought that we should be respectful of one another, that we could disagree, but that we were not allowed to denigrate an individual. That is what this is about. Making someone feel like a nobody, sometimes in a systematic way, has nothing to do with freedom of expression.

I cannot believe that the Conservatives want to have anything to do with these sites that disparage francophones, people who believe in bilingualism and in the French language, and people who believe this country exists thanks to two nations, including the aboriginal nations. I cannot believe they want to wash their hands of this and allow people to say whatever they want. It would be like me saying my colleague here is a so-and-so, but it is no big deal because I have freedom of expression.

I agree that it is important to have this debate and I would never want to stop it from happening. I hope that as many people as possible will stand up and talk about this and reiterate loud and clear what the Supreme Court of Canada said in the Taylor decision.

When Chief Justice Dickson upheld the constitutional validity of section 13 in Taylor, he spoke on behalf of the Supreme Court. I will close on this, but I have so much more to say. Again, my freedom of expression will be kept in check because of the limited amount of time we have to talk about this. The following is an excerpt from that ruling:

Parliament's concern that the dissemination of hate propaganda is antithetical to the general aim of the Canadian Human Rights Act is not misplaced. The serious harm caused by messages of hatred was identified by the Special Committee on Hate Propaganda in Canada, commonly known as the Cohen Committee, in 1966. The Cohen Committee noted that individuals subjected to racial or religious hatred may suffer substantial psychological distress, the damaging consequences including a loss of self-esteem, feelings of anger and outrage and strong pressure to renounce cultural differences that mark them as distinct. This intensely painful reaction undoubtedly detracts from an individual's ability to, in the words of section 2 of the Act, "make for himself or herself the life that he or she is able and wishes to have". As well, the Committee observed that hate propaganda can operate to convince listeners, even if subtlety, that members of certain racial or religious groups are inferior.

I could go on about this at length. It is a great debate to be had and I hope Canada will not repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, the notion implied in the private member's bill seeks to repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act on the grounds that the sanctioning of hate speech dilutes and diminishes freedom of expression, which as I said elsewhere, is the lifeblood of democracy. I agree with the hon. member that this is a bedrock principle and I have always so affirmed.

However, the premise underlying the bill, while well intentioned, is misinformed and misleading. It seems to suggest that freedom of speech is an absolute right, but it does not admit to any limitation, ignoring that all free and democratic societies have recognized certain limitations on freedom of expression. The United States, for instance, is the home of the most robust protection of freedom of speech under the first amendment doctrine. As well, my mentor and professor, the then dean of Yale Law School, Abraham Goldstein, said that freedom of speech is not an absolute right, although people continue to persist that it is.

All free and democratic societies, including the U.S., have recognized certain limitations on freedom of expression in the interest of protecting certain fundamental human values. For example, there are prohibitions against perjury, to protect the right to a fair trial; prohibitions against treasonable speech, to protect national security; prohibitions against pornography, to protect the human dignity of women and children; prohibitions respecting libellous and defamatory speech, to protect privacy and reputation; prohibitions against misleading advertising, to protect consumers. I could go on. Simply put, the provisions against hate speech partake in this genre of limitations to protect the rights of individuals and minorities against group vilifying speech, to protect against those discriminatory hate practices that reduce the standing and status of individuals and groups in society thereby constituting an inequality, and this may surprise the member who sponsored the bill, to protect the very values underlying free speech itself.

I will cite the Supreme Court of Canada cases of Keegstra, Smith and Andrews, and Taylor. In full disclosure, I appeared as counsel in these cases and did so as a proponent of freedom of expression, as one who has advocated for this bedrock principle before the courts. I have written extensively upon it. Hate speech itself constitutes an assault on the very values that underlie freedom of expression.

This promotion of hate speech actually constitutes an assault on that bedrock principle of freedom of expression. Moreover, this is of particular relevance respecting any proposal to repeal section 13. I made this point before the Supreme Court of Canada in the trilogy of cases I referenced earlier.

Hate speech is an equality issue as well as a free speech issue. The promotion of hatred and contempt against an identifiable group results in prejudicial harm to the individual and group targets of that hate speech. This harm-based rationale, as the Supreme Court characterized it, supports the sanction of hate propaganda as protective of equality. As the court put it, the concern resulting from racism and hate mongering is not simply the product of its offensiveness, but from the very real harm it causes. The member for Gatineau illustrated this in her remarks this evening.

Further, referencing international law, these anti-hate provisions were themselves implemented as a domestic implementation of our undertakings under international law, under international treaty provisions, to combat hate speech. Again, I cite the Supreme Court, which said that the protection provided for freedom of expression in international law does not extend to cover communications that advocate racial or religious hatred.

Similarly, the court invoked section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to argue that hate messaging as well constituted an assault on our multicultural heritage and normative principle.

Accordingly, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-304. The bill would repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Its effect would be to prevent claims from being brought before human rights commissions, such claims as might protect against group vilifying speech while upholding the freedom of speech and the values that underlie it as well.

I understand that the government has concerns with section 13, but the response should be not to repeal the legislation on the alleged ground that it constitutes an assault on freedom of expression, a principle which I and many members in the House are long-standing advocates, while ignoring the countervailing protective need to protect against group vilifying speech.

Simply put, the solution is not through repeal of the legislation whose constitutional validity has been upheld by the Supreme Court, but to address the concerns and to offer proposals to modify the regime that is now in place. I would urge the government to consider the possible reforms to address any valid concerns which I will outline in my remarks as preferable to outright appeal.

As members may be aware, this very section of the Canadian Human Rights Act is now under review by the Supreme Court of Canada. This debate therefore, if I may say parenthetically, is somewhat premature. We should wait for guidance from this nation's highest court on the scope and ambit of freedom of expression before entering into this debate.

That said, the Supreme Court has already provided much guidance in this area. It has ruled that as a matter of constitutional law, hate speech constitutes an assault on the very underlying principles respecting freedom of expression. The search for truth, the protection of individual autonomy, democratic debate and stability, while protecting vulnerable groups from hate messages, it promotes and protects the fundamental principle of equality.

Even if it should be found to prima facie infringe on freedom of speech, as former Chief Justice Dickson put it in these cases, the infringement may be characterized as a reasonable limit prescribed by law demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. It is in that context and spirit that I offer the following recommendations.

First, the Criminal Code to which reference has been made with regard to its hate speech derivatives, has a built-in filtering mechanism through the requirement of the consent of the Attorney General of Canada for launching the prosecution. I would recommend a similar filtering provision with regard to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Second, procedural protection could be put in place to limited complainants to one jurisdiction at a time, rather than having as we now do a barrage of federal and provincial complaints that are instituted against the same individual or group, thereby serving as what has been called a strategic lawsuit against public participation, SLAPP, that can understandably serve to chill speech.

Third, we could add a statutory definition of hatred and contempt in accordance with the definitions offered by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Taylor case itself.

Fourth, we could include a provision under section 41 to allow for the early dismissal of section 13 complaints when messages do not meet the narrow definition of hatred or contempt.

Fifth, we could repeal the provision that allows for the assessment of a punitive sanction.

Sixth, we could implement better procedural safeguards in terms of the trial process and evidentiary standard.

Finally, other reforms the government might consider include allowing commissions to award costs, thereby dissuading persons from bringing forth frivolous matters. As well, the commission could also remove the possibility of an anonymous submission so that the right to face one's accuser is better respected.

In closing, we should be awaiting the Supreme Court decision before debating this. Nonetheless, given the Supreme Court decisions that we do have, the debate we should be having tonight should be regarding how we might reform and structure the human rights commissions to protect freedom of expression while protecting vulnerable individuals and minorities from hate and group vilifying speech rather than committing ourselves to abolishing the entire regime because it has produced results which can be addressed through positive reforms, as I have indicated this evening, which would address the member's concerns.

I would urge the government to rethink its approach and consider some of the reforms I have outlined in my remarks that are intended to protect the bedrock principle of freedom of expression and the values that underlie it, as well as to protect individuals and groups and vulnerable minorities from group vilifying speech.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a great privilege for me to stand in this House today and speak to Bill C-304, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom).

I fully support this bill as it protects one of our most important rights as Canadians, that being the freedom of speech. In my years on our House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights, we often spoke out against repressive regimes around the world that trample the rights of their own citizens in the most severe ways, and yet, the fundamental right to freedom of speech is threatened here at home.

I am pleased that this bill proposed by the member for Westlock—St. Paul seeks to remedy just that. As members heard from my colleague before me, freedom of speech is a fundamental right that provides the basis for all other rights to thrive and succeed. Without free speech, citizens could not assemble publicly to peacefully demonstrate their opposition to government policies, an act fundamental to our democracy.

Taken further, one could say that without freedom of speech, we could not worship God, we could not practice our faith, we could not join unions or speak out during elections or at other moments of democratic participation. These are some of the very criticisms we have of totalitarian regimes.

We need only think of the recent events in Egypt and Libya, and the ongoing Arab spring, to understand that in the end freedom of speech must always prevail. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is a direct attack on freedom of speech that is guaranteed to us under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act allows the Canadian Human Rights Commission to prosecute anyone allegedly to have said or written something likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt, whether there is a living, breathing victim or not. In essence, this is like charging someone for the likelihood of breaking a law but not yet breaking the law.

For those who have seen the 2002 Hollywood blockbuster, Minority Report, some might say it is starting to go down that path. The movie stars, amongst others, are three psychics called precogs. It depicts an eery fictional future where the precrime department, along with super computers, labels criminals criminals before they even commit a crime. However, the system ignores its own flaws or minority reports, in the end labelling innocent people and marginalizing a whole subclass who fall outside of the societal norms as directed from the top.

While the movie is fictional, it takes the point to the nth degree. What is true in reality today is that section 13 is inconsistent with our democracy and our Criminal Code, which abides by the principle of charging someone after they commit a crime, not before.

If that is the principle our Criminal Code is governed by, why is this not the principle also central in the Human Rights Act? That is what this bill from the member for Westlock—St. Paul is aiming to do, bringing the principle of our tried and tested justice system to human rights, and consequently to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

For a clear example of section 13 hindering free speech here in Canada, we do not have to look far. As the member for Westlock—St. Paul previously alluded to, the Canadian Human Rights Commission investigator, Mr. Dean Steacey, was asked what value he gave freedom of speech in his investigations. To me it was shocking that Mr. Steacey replied, “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value. It's not my job to give value to an American concept”.

I take umbrage with that. Freedom of speech is very much a Canadian concept, one that we should be very proud of and, most importantly, in this second week after Remembrance Day, let us never forget the ultimate sacrifice made by thousands of Canadians from the trenches of Europe to the hills of Afghanistan so that we could enjoy so many freedoms, not the least of which is the freedom of speech but also so millions suffering in Europe during the two world wars and in other conflicts since could also be free.

The list of those affected and stifled by section 13 is long and encompassing. Every journalist, writer, webmaster, blogger, publisher, politician, and private citizen in Canada can be subject to a human rights complaint for expressing an opinion or telling the truth on any given issue.

With the ambiguity of section 13, it is virtually impossible for any person to determine whether they might be in violation of section 13. This, in a nutshell, creates a culture for censorship and punishment for those who dare speak their mind. This is wrong and cannot be justified in the free society that Canada credits itself to be. This is also unimaginable in a digital world that has reshaped how our society communicates. Is it possible that the 140 characters of a tweet could be misconstrued? Is it possible that a blog could be unduly censored?

Bill C-304 can and would fix this and that is why I am standing in this House today to support it.

There will be some who say that getting rid of section 13 of the Human Rights Act would open the floodgates to hate speech and the like. As the member for Westlock—St. Paul noted, sections 318 through 320.1 of the Criminal Code already prohibit hate propaganda, including paragraph 320(8)(e) which states “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide”.

There is nothing more vile in the world than hate propaganda. I have worked over the last few years to draw attention and take action on the rising threat of anti-Semitism for this very reason. Will some people say or continue to say things that are nasty, things that everyone in this House would find offensive? Certainly.

However, so long as it is not hate propaganda, should we not defend the right to say it, so that we are preserving the right of all people to speak their minds and, in doing so, thereby preserving our right to speak out against unsavoury speech?

In closing, I iterate the importance of free speech here in Canada. Our country was built on free speech. Our veterans have fought for free speech. Let us together as a House ensure that free speech is not hindered the way section 13 does today.

God bless Canada.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that the Conservatives constantly talk about their desire to make our communities safer, yet, they appear determined to weaken restrictions on hate crimes. This seems contradictory to me.

We all know that the Conservative government has had a love affair with right-wing, George Bush-type Americans. It was the Republicans who supported mandatory minimum sentences and the elimination of pardon applications in the 1980s. As a result, the prison population soared, but public safety did not necessarily improve. It is these same Republicans who cling to the Constitution's first amendment: unconditional freedom of speech. Unfortunately, extremist groups of all kinds use it to spew homophobic, racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic beliefs, while claiming protection under the first amendment. This American standard goes against certain international conventions, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibit hate speech.

The Conservatives love to talk about victims and show empathy for their situation, as we all should, in fact. However, in this case, they are completely blinded by their ideology. They are forgetting the people who are already marginalized, such as racial or religious minorities or the gay, lesbian and transsexual communities. They are forgetting the dramatic effect that hate speech can have on someone who is already marginalized. They are forgetting the suicide epidemic among gay, lesbian and transsexual teens in the United States and Canada. They are forgetting the attacks on visible minorities. Expressions of hatred and intolerance are the main causes of these tragedies and that is why we must, at all cost, maintain protection against such expressions of prejudice.

I heard the member on the other side say in his speech that there is not always a victim on the receiving end of hate speech. That is not necessarily the case. If someone writes something hateful and there is no one yelling and saying that it hurts, it does not mean that it is not the case. You never know what effect it can have to write something about someone.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has seen many cases based on section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Those cases have included many related to white supremacy, holocaust denial and other forms of anti-Semitism.

The Conservatives' argument against section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is that it infringes on their right to freedom of speech, protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They also maintain that Canadians are already protected against hate speech by subsection 319(2) of the Criminal Code. On both points, total devotion to their ideology is giving the Conservatives a case of amnesia and making them deliberately ignore the facts.

Let us be clear and honest in this House. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act does not infringe upon the Charter-protected right to freedom of expression. How do I know this? Because in 1990, in Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Taylor, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled to that effect. It worries me when the federal government chooses to completely ignore Supreme Court decisions.

As for the government's second argument, which is that the Criminal Code already protects Canadians against hate speech, they are conveniently forgetting to consider the important differences between subsection 319(2) of the Criminal Code and section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. These differences are significant. In fact, they are extremely important for victims of hate crimes.

I would like to enlighten the members across the floor regarding some of these differences. First of all, the complaint procedure is different. The Canadian Human Rights Act allows individuals to file complaints. If the commission finds that the complaint is major, the matter goes before a tribunal. Under the provisions of the Criminal Code, criminal proceedings can only be brought against someone with the consent of the Minister of Justice. Victims of hate crimes should not have to wait for crown attorneys to prosecute a case only after the Minister of Justice has given the green light.

Now I would like to talk about the standard of proof. The Canadian Human Rights Act sets out a different standard of proof of guilt. A criminal case requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, while a case before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal requires proof on a balance of probabilities. That constitutes a big difference for victims and perpetrators of hate crimes.

As members know, O.J. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court because the prosecution was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the murder. But he was found guilty in civil court, based on a balance of probabilities. The complaint process and the standard required to prove guilt differ in section 13 and subsection 319(2) of the Criminal Code. They have very different implications for victims of hate crimes. As the Canadian Human Rights Commission has already said, they complement each other and are not in competition.

The most important thing to point out here is that we must strive to live in a society without hate crimes or intolerance. The victims of hate crimes should not need the authorization of the Minister of Justice—who is partisan, I should point out—to go after the perpetrators of hate crimes. Furthermore, it is not always easy to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in the case of hate crimes. That is why we need another mechanism outside the Criminal Code to ensure that visible minorities are able to defend themselves against hate crimes.

When will the Conservatives in this country realize that hate crimes are real and that the Minister of Justice should not have the power to decide which ones are real and which ones are not?

I urge my colleagues to vote against this bill.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to rise and speak in favour of Bill C-304, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom).

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right enjoyed in all free and democratic societies.

I have listened carefully to the three members opposite who have expressed concern about my friend's bill, the sponsor from Westlock—St. Paul. Parliamentarians enjoy unfettered freedom of speech. In fact, Parliament is derived from the French world “parler”, meaning to speak. In this chamber and in its committees, we parliamentarians and any witnesses who appear before those committees have unfettered freedom of speech. It seems to me somewhat hypocritical that we would not offer to society, to people who write, to blogs and websites on the Internet, which falls under federal regulation, the same rights and privileges that we here enjoy in the Parliament of Canada.

My friend from Mount Royal, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is correct when he says that there are limits to freedom of speech.

There is no doubt that members are aware of the already workable remedies and workable limits with respect to freedom of speech. There are laws against perjury, the torts of libel and slander and, most important and most germane to this debate, sections 318 to 320 of the Criminal Code. Those are all real hate speech protections.

A distinction must be drawn between hate speech and hurt speech or the so-called counterfeit right of hurt feelings. One does not have a right against having his or her feelings hurt. I am sorry but that is not a right that exists in common law and it is not a right that exists in free and democratic societies.

The Criminal Code sanctions regarding free speech found in sections 318 to 320 require something more than hurt feelings. They require real and actionable hatred. If a person advocates genocide, destruction of a group's property or harm or damage to the person of that group, then that person has fallen offside the hate provisions of the Criminal Code, and, I would submit, rightfully so. However, that is something quite different than the so-called freedom not to be offended, or what my friend referred to as hurt speech.

Free speech, if it is to exist, cannot be subject to some bureaucracy. There is no such thing as government regulated free speech. Either there is free speech or there is not.

It is the very offensive speech that requires legal protection. This debate probably would not be occurring if there were not situations where individuals have said things that were truly politically correct, offensive and sometimes abhorrently so, but individuals have attempted to avail themselves to the charter protected rights in section 2(b) of freedom of expression. I would submit that it is that very offensive speech that requires protection.

Everything in life that is provocative is controversial. If we were to get into an intelligent debate about religion, Christianity versus Islamism, abortion, gay rights or even climate change, it would be impossible to have a thorough and meaningful debate without running the risk of offending somebody somewhere along that process.

A free society requires freedom of speech so that we can have a fluid marketplace of ideas, so that we can have give and take and exchange. Some of the ideas in that marketplace of ideas will not be popular and they will not be politically correct but they are important to further the debate. Society is actually moved forward over time because of freedom of speech.

Some things were politically incorrect in their time. For example, hundreds of years ago, when Galileo opined that the world was round, that was thought of as heresy at the time. However, he said it, people debated it and argued it and eventually they proved it.

It is because of the very freedom of speech that we are fighting for today by repealing section 13 of the human rights code that society can enhance itself with respect to enlightenment and with respect to determining truth that may not appear to be true at the present time.

So the very human rights commission that--

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I regret to interrupt the hon. member. He will have about five minutes when the bill returns on the order paper.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, we are gathered here to talk about infrastructure. When we think about infrastructure, we think about the bridge that we cross every day, the road network, public facilities or sometimes the water system and waste water treatment facilities. It is something close to home. That is what most people think about when the word infrastructure is mentioned.

But here, in the government, we are supposed to think differently. Infrastructure is a network and that network has economic spinoffs, not only in terms of employment but also in terms of the growth of the GNP.

We have to think strategically and have a broad vision for the future. This government has not shown any proof that it has developed a long-term vision and strategy. It therefore does not come as a big surprise to see the Auditor General criticize the government's accountability.

Clearly, there is no way to measure the effect that the billions and billions of dollars have had on the infrastructure deficit, which is currently estimated at $123 billion. The minister responsible is not the only one to blame. There are many guilty parties—both Liberals and Conservatives—who have neglected our infrastructure network. We hope to at least see an improvement in the government's planning and strategy.

However, the facts do not inspire confidence. Take the Champlain Bridge for example. Yesterday in the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, we heard from witness Michel Labrecque. He asked the government to carefully plan public transit on the new Champlain Bridge. We could also call it “the bridge that must not be named”, a little like Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. Perhaps the Conservative members find this bridge particularly frightening. I do not know why, but they cannot call it the new Champlain Bridge.

The Conservatives announced a new bridge without any details about how public transit would be incorporated. This is a problem. The government had at least five months to plan something—a vision, a strategy. I am not just blaming the minister. The Department of Transport has been a revolving door: there were five ministers in five years. That is not a very good recipe for success. It does not inspire confidence.

One must assume that these ministers did not hand off the baton but rather dropped it. Therefore, I do not fault the present Minister of Transport. He did not know how much his predecessors hid from him. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. He seems like an honest man.

The problem with the federal infrastructure in Montreal, the Champlain Bridge in particular, dates from the time of Lawrence Cannon in 2006, followed by the present Minister of Foreign Affairs, followed by Reform member, Chuck Strahl, each successively dropping the baton. What kind of record is that?

The former member for Fraser Valley, Chuck Strahl, who is now speaking against the government's position on asbestos, needs to explain to Canadians why he kept a report secret that showed that the bridge had the possibility of falling apart and left the present minister out in the cold.

Questions were asked in the previous ministry but a question remains? Why did the government hide the engineer's report from January to March of this year and what will it do to advance a true strategy for infrastructure in the coming days?

7:30 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, it is a great honour for me to speak about this issue, which is important to the people of greater Montreal and Quebec and all Canadians.

As the hon. member knows, our Conservative government has taken action on this file.

On October 5 of this year, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, who sits in the seat in front of me, took leadership and announced in Montreal that our government would proceed with the construction of a new bridge across the St. Lawrence to replace the existing Champlain Bridge.

The Champlain Bridge is the busiest bridge in Canada, with over 100,000 people using it twice a day. It is also an important economic enabler for the Montreal region and, indeed, for all of Canada.

As an estimated $20 billion in goods cross the bridge each year, it is also a gateway and a major economic component of the continental gateway. It is a very important piece of infrastructure and we intend to see it replaced with a new plan.

The Champlain Bridge is safe at present but requires maintenance work. To that end, our Conservative government has invested $380 million in work to ensure the continued safety of the bridge. This money was allocated in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 budgets. I would like to remind the House that my colleague and his party voted against these measures. They opposed investments to maintain this bridge and now they are complaining about the poor condition of the bridge. It cannot be said, as the NDP is trying to say, that the bridge should have been better maintained, because the NDP has opposed all investments for that purpose.

It is important to understand that, with our government's continuing investments, the Champlain Bridge is safe and will remain safe until the end of its useful life.

That being said, it is clear that we need a plan to replace the bridge as it cannot be repaired and repaired in perpetuity. This infrastructure project will be one of the most important of the decade ahead. We are working to have the new bridge built as soon as possible, but as the hon. member knows, with a project of this magnitude, it is essential to ensure it is done correctly.

Our objective is to build the new bridge at no cost to taxpayers. Details will be studied, but our government clearly prefers a public-private partnership and implementing a toll to cover the cost of building the new bridge. The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and his team have been working on this file since their first day on the job. The minister has already initiated consultations in Montreal and on the south shore about this important project. We will continue to work on behalf of Montrealers, Quebeckers and all Canadians.

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I am certainly glad that perhaps the government has learned lessons from the Auditor General's report, when it said that it should have engineers and architects right at the beginning, rather than involving them somewhere in the middle.

However, the government took leadership and action five years after the fact when it knew this bridge was probably in need of replacement. This process has been talked about since 2006. Minister Cannon mentioned it. Leadership is taking action when action is called for, so this is too little too late.

We have long recognized the economic importance of the bridge and the economic importance of infrastructure in general across the country. When other governments were cutting their infrastructure spending, NDP governments in the 1990s maintained their infrastructure spending and actually weathered the storm at that time.

The government knew this bridge needed to be replaced. When it hides a diamond in a pile of manure, presents the manure to us and then says that it does not like diamonds, it is disingenuous.

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I have to admit hesitation in addressing that rather tortured metaphor.

However, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in tackling one of the great infrastructure challenges of our time. This enormous bridge, with its exceptional importance to the region, to the province and to the country, is a challenge that most ministers would never have to face because it comes along only once in a generation. However, he has put forward the beginnings of a plan to replace the bridge with something that will be of little or no cost to taxpayers, that will serve the region, that will continue to grow our economy and that will build upon our low tax plan for jobs and growth.

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, today, I would like to come back to the question I asked in the House on June 21 about small and medium-sized businesses. We know that businesses with fewer than 100 employees represent over 98% of Canadian businesses. I therefore asked the Parliamentary Secretary to explain what concrete action the Conservative government intended to take to support the businesses that create approximately 70% of jobs in Canada.

The Conservatives have a tendency to give tax breaks to businesses that do not need them—those that are making huge profits. A good number of SMEs in Canada are still being affected by the economic crisis, which is rooted in stock market speculation and commercial paper. The businesses affected do not have any more working capital.

It is true that, since then, the Conservatives gave small businesses a 1% tax break and increased the tax rate threshold from $300,000 to $500,000. This is a first step that we could have taken together—we agreed with this measure—before we asked the government to work together to take things one step further and support job creation and the development of our small businesses.

However, in three years, this government reduced the taxes of large corporations, which did not need help at all, by 2.5%, which is equivalent to almost $6 billion in tax cuts in the past three years alone. All these credits in exchange for what? Absolutely nothing. No guarantees of job creation. We in the NDP believe that tax cuts should not be given out blindly. What the government must do is to do more for small businesses, particularly those that create jobs. Public investment must be targeted and the effects must be measured. It is key.

The Parliamentary Secretary told me, unfortunately, that I did not vote in favour of a budget that supported small business. The problem is that the measure that I just described was buried in a mishmash of budget measures that we could not in good conscience accept.

We know today that it is not small businesses but the friends of the Conservatives that are reaping the benefits of the massive tax breaks. After rereading the previous budget, we saw that the Conservatives are supporting big oil companies operating in oil sands and mining developments. However, these companies are moving manufacturing jobs to Asia, among other things. In my riding, 600 employees of White Birch Paper are living in uncertainty because of this government's complacency.

The parliamentary secretary subscribes to laissez-faire economics. This shows in his strategy to support the family business model and in his full commitment to dismantle government structures and leave people, including entrepreneurs, to fend for themselves.

This government lost 72,000 jobs last month. Is he going to keep shirking his responsibilities as parliamentary secretary for much longer?

7:40 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I am proud to be here today to talk about the actions the government has taken to support small and medium-sized businesses. Small and medium-sized enterprises employ 6.8 million Canadians, or 64% of private sector employees. These businesses form the economic bedrock of our nation, and this government will continue to create the conditions they need to succeed.

Since taking office, we have been steadfast in our efforts to reduce the tax burden for Canadian small businesses. We have eliminated the corporate surtax, eliminated the federal capital tax, raised the small business tax threshold to $500,000 and lowered the small business tax rate to 11%. To help business become more productive, we have eliminated some tariffs on imported machinery and equipment. We also extended the accelerated capital cost allowance for business investments in machinery and equipment to assist Canada's manufacturing and processing sector.

As the member opposite well knows, since the end of the recession, we have created nearly 600,000 net new jobs.

To further support job creation, in budget 2011 we extended the temporary hiring credit for small business. This provides a credit of up to $1,000 against a small employer's increases in its EI premiums in 2011. This new credit will be available to approximately 525,000 employers, saving them about $165 million. Yet, sadly, the NDP continually votes against these important measures that we put forward to help Canadian SMEs.

In recent years the government has also allocated $475 million for the Business Development Bank of Canada's venture capital program to help finance innovative start-ups. We have also raised the maximum loan amount under the Canada small business financing program to allow SMEs to access the capital they need to grow their business and create jobs here in Canada.

For younger entrepreneurs, we boosted the budget of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation to connect them with mentors, business resources and start-up financing.

The Conservative government also understands that we must reduce the paperwork burden. We have already fulfilled our commitment made in 2009 to reduce the paper burden on Canadian businesses by 20%. Last year we created the Red Tape Reduction Commission, headed by the Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism. The commission listened to SME owners across the country and will soon recommend ways to permanently reduce the paperwork burden on business owners.

Budget 2011 also announced $3 million in annual funding to modernize and make permanent the bizpal program, which gives businesses one-stop, online access to information on permit and licence requirements from all levels of government.

The government is also providing $15 million for the Canada Business Network to help small businesses get the reliable, up-to-date information they need and to obtain quick referrals to government programs and services in every province and territory.

Thanks to the hard work of the Minister of State for Finance, we have also tabled legislation to establish pooled registered pension plans. This will provide a pension option for the many workers, like those in small businesses, who currently do not participate in a company pension plan.

These are just some of the many proactive measures that we have taken in support of Canadian small business. Our Conservative government has continually stood up for small business, while the NDP members continually vote against and oppose measures to help small businesses in Canada.

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, along with a few measures that might be valuable, there are unfortunately many empty slogans and figures being bandied about. Again, giving corporations tax cuts is like giving a case of gin to an alcoholic instead of helping him with his addiction.

The tax credit the hon. member was bragging about can apply, unfortunately, to a company that does not create a single new job if the employer fiddles with its contributions to the employment insurance fund.

As far as the Red Tape Reduction Commission is concerned, it has been years since any red tape has been reduced. This is looking a lot more like a public relations operation.

The cherry on top is that our future retirees are being invited to gamble their retirement funds on the stock market. What kind of future is being offered, exactly?

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Madam Speaker, let us take a look at the facts on jobs and economic growth in the country. Since July of 2009, we have created nearly 600,000 net new jobs. We are the only G7 country to have regained more than all of the output and jobs lost during the downturn. Both the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development forecast that Canada's economy will be among the strongest in the G7 this year and next. Recently the credit rating agency Moody's renewed Canada's triple-A credit rating, based on, in its words, Canada's “economic resiliency, very high government financial strength and a low susceptibility to event risk”.

Our government remains committed to continuing to build a strong economy and helping small and medium-sized businesses strive and succeed. We hope the NDP will start supporting us in that.

7:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:49 p.m.)