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House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was banks.

Topics

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, the truth is that the government has had a lot of important legislation come before the House since we were elected. There are a number of priorities that we have been moving forward on.

We appreciate the fact that we have a very sound financial system here in Canada and Bill S-5 would continue to keep Canada's financial system strong and secure. We have a lot to be proud of as Canadians with a great banking system.

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, does the member opposite believe that this legislation goes far enough in preventing the possible calamities that went on in the more recent past with banks, including banks in Canada, investing in speculative and derivative ventures that lost an awful lot of money for Canadian banks? Does he believe it is necessary to include that in this legislation and, if not, why not?

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, I think we all agree that Canada has probably one of the most stable financial systems in the world. The fact that we have a chance to review the financial system every five years is a good indication. If we look at what happened recently with the challenges around the world and their financial systems, how well Canada did is a testament to how strong Canada's financial system is as we continue to move forward.

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, a government report released under access to information and mentioned in the Journal de Montréal today says that our financial sector is vulnerable to organized crime. This is a government report. The journalist who got the report had to make an access to information claim.

Therefore, how would this bill answer the very serious questions of the involvement of organized crime in the financial sector? Are there any provisions in the bill for protecting ordinary Canadians from the activities of organized crime within the financial sector?

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, the financial system review act, or Bill S-5 , would continue to ensure that our financial system continues to be secure for Canadians and is a fundamental strength for our economy. If we look at some of the things the bill includes, it includes measures to update financial institutions legislation, to promote financial stability and to ensure Canada's financial institutions continue to operate in a competitive, efficient and stable environment.

The bill would also fine-tune the consumer protection framework, including enhancing the supervisory powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. The bill would also include measures to improve efficiency by reducing the administrative burden on financial institutions and by adding regular flexibility. These are just some of the things that the bill includes.

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is good to have you here as we enthusiastically finish this part of the House of Commons day. This is an interesting debate that we have had with regard to the banks.

The first thing we want to note is that the bill s not thorough enough in its current form. We will support it to get it to committee but we will be looking for amendments. A lot of things are missing in this, such as an opportunity to address some of the unfairness that is happening in the Canadian financial institutions. I think that is important to recognize because it is actually affecting how we compete as a country. It is not just the individual elements related to user fees, ATM fees, credit rates and all those different things. It is also about how the use of capital is not being spread across this country, and where the priorities of the government are.

I would note that this industry getting this attention right now is rather interesting, coming late in the day, given the amount of profits and excess bonus fees that have gone to CEOs and the institutions, as well as the record tax cuts they have had. It is quite significant because it affects other parts of the Canadian economy. We lose money through our coffers.

This also gives an indication of where the priorities of the government are. It clearly has been to give the banks the upper hand, not only at the consumer level but also an economic advantage versus other industries that are suffering.

I would point out that we have not seen an action plan, for example, in the manufacturing sector. One of the things that is really critical to note is that in 2005, when the government came to power, we had a $16 billion trade deficit when it came to exporting and importing manufactured goods. So, a $16 billion deficit already behind, and now it has climbed to $80 billion. It is because of a number of successive trade deals that have taken place that have cost Canadian manufacturing, and we have not addressed many of the significant issues.

It is unfortunate because, as we were seeing the record tax cuts happening, we were witnessing hundreds of thousands of Canadian jobs being lost across Ontario and Quebec, whether it be in the forestry sector, the auto industry or the textile industry. We saw those industries, which were not profitable because of the downturn that took place and the lack of government policies, actually subsidizing the profits in the corporate tax cuts going to banks and other institutions.

As the corporate tax cut rate was being lowered and lowered, if companies were not making a profit it did not matter. While they were witnessing their opportunities diminish, the banks were getting benefits.

It is interesting that the oil companies and the banks in particular would get corporate tax cut reductions. The way it works in the United States is that it taxes on worldwide corporate profits. Therefore, our tax dollars out of Ottawa that were going to these profitable institutions that were making record profits were actually being taxed in Washington. It was getting our money. We were basically sending cheques from Ottawa to Washington. That is a strange economic way to improve a country. It is a strange way to actually benefit, even when we had the challenge in the United States with buy America.

We need to wonder what the Americans think about us over here, as we are actually handing them cash and, in the meantime, they are telling us that we cannot be involved in the buy America plan despite signing the NAFTA.

I would remind members of something that is very important. In a previous debate in this House, a member actually thought that the auto pact was in existence right now and that it came about because of the NAFTA. No. After we signed the NAFTA , one of the repercussions was that Japan took us to the WTO and the WTO ruled against Canada. We lost the auto pact. We lost all those jobs. We went from number two in the world in automotive manufacturing to number eight now, which is unfortunate. Those are value-added jobs.

When we see what is happening here in this sector, we need to wonder why we did not get certain things into the actual study. Part of it is that there was very little consultation. We note that there were only 30 submissions and 27 respondents with regard to this issue because it was not really promoted. If it does not get out there, people do not notice it.

That was the same type of approach we saw when the government did the deal with regard to the Canada and U.S. enhancement of the border perimeter security stuff that was recently announced. It was thrown up on a web site but there was no dialogue with the people presenting evidence and no expanding of the discussion.

It is the same problem we have had from this initial response. Hopefully, we will see that at committee because that is very important. It all depends upon the committee as whether there will be fairness with regard to witnesses, whether they will be heard and whether it will be done out of camera.

For those who follow the things that are happening on Parliament Hill, again today many committees met in camera, which means in secrecy, in private. Only the members who were at that meeting or another subsequent member sworn in later can go back and listen to that testimony again and get that testimony. Everything that is discussed in camera, unfortunately, never becomes part of the public record. We hope there will not be people in camera as witnesses, which would be unfortunate. However, I do not think it will go that far. We would like to see enough witnesses to ensure we will have proper hearings and a proper analysis.

One of the things I want to touch on is a consumer aspect because I have done a lot of work in the past on consumer issues. It is a good example of what we have addressed with regard to the changing world and our banking industry and financial institutions and privacy. In the United States, the patriot act was enacted and it is structured in such a way that when it goes to a company and asks for information about a person who has done business with that company, the company must provide that information to the U.S. government services and law enforcement. That information is used for whatever purposes. People do not have any ability to know that is happening because it is against the law for that company to disclose it.

Why is that important here today? Many of our financial institutions have data assembled in the United States. Therefore, because they are assembled in the United States, like my CIBC Visa, my Visa is now vulnerable to the patriot act without my knowledge and CIBC does not even know. It is used for whatever purposes. That is a good example of why we need an international treaty on the use of information. I do not think it is fair for Canadians to have their documents spied upon by Americans without a warrant. The way the PIPEDA works in Canada is that a warrant is needed to get that information. There is a check and balance through our justice system here. They can go after the cases where they think there are significant issues to look at but at the same time there is e the balance in review so tat people are not just having fishing expeditions done on them.

Why is that important? We have seen cases in the past, such as the Maher Arar case. He was deported but we did not know what information was assembled about Maher Arar. Some of it could have been his financial records or information. However, we had a lead government agency in the United States and a lead government agency in Canada conspire against a Canadian citizen and send him to a known torture state. We do not know, because of the patriot act, how all that took place and what information, if there was, was actually used. I believe we need an international treaty with the United States on how to share and disclose information because it has never been addressed. That took place in 2004. Our Privacy Commissioner has raised it, as have a number of different other people. It is important to recognize that.

Another important issue is the credit card fees. With regard to the honorary system we have now, it is simply outlandish. We cannot have this proprietary notion and predatory rates on credit cards, especially some of those that are the third party lenders. It is very significant. Some of them are at 25% to 27% and that is just wrong and should not happen. Some of the user fees, whether it be ATM or credit cards, all those are affecting our economy because the banks have not been re-investing that capital back into Canada to the degree where that money, if we stretch somebody's budget, would pay the rent, buy some clothes or send our kids to school, and would expand our purchasing power. We could do so on a more even basis if we were to look at those things because there is an economic opportunity for all of us.

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, this failure of the government to deal with credit cards and other bank fees touches more than just consumers. I would like my friend to comment on how this would impact small businesses in this country as they deal with banks. I am aware of one small business owner in my riding who was just advised that the banking fees for a small business with a bank, because there is nowhere else to turn as they cannot just go someplace else to get this done, would go up by 68% in one day. How does that impact a small business' ability to stay healthy in this country?

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have seen this in my community, in particular, in the auto industry, where they were denying loans. A lot of these companies were paying such high interest rates that they were not profiting, costing good Canadian jobs that were competing.

I did not say it in my speech, but it is important to recognize the history. The Liberal government and John Manley attempted to Americanize our banks. The Liberals said that they had to come together to compete in the global atmosphere to ensure we could compete in America and move some of necessary services and lending systems. The NDP stopped that. A small group of us at that time pushed back and stopped that from happening.

Therefore, when the banks talk about how great they are and what a great system they have for Canada, it is absolutely wrong. It is not true. They were forced to do that. In addition, lending practices still have not been fixed for small businesses, at all.

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, although the legislation touches upon measures to stop tax evasion, we have said that perhaps we do not have enough time to explore the idea that maybe penalties for tax evaders should be enforced in a greater way or in a more severe way to recoup the money that Canada's economy loses every year because of tax evasion.

Would my hon. colleague address the issue of tax evasion in the legislation?

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, tax evasion costs the Canadian economy. It costs us our ability to compete. It is simply nonsense.

We are moving toward more agreements that include tax evaders as part of our international treaties, for example, Panama. We are looking at doing free trade with Panama. Even President Sarkozy was very clear at slapping down Panama recently in terms of it being a tax haven.

Some new information is coming out about tax havens in a book entitled Treasure Island. It is unfortunate. What ends up happening is that if tax cheats are allowed, it costs ordinary citizens because we have to make up the difference.

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments offered by my colleague from Windsor West. He was not far off in regard to the merger being supported by some members of the government at the time. John Manley was a big advocate. However, to say the NDP stopped the merger, it is a little far off. The NDP had 19 members in the chamber at the time and the Liberals had 161.

Could the member reach back into the NDP playbook to find out what those 19 members did to stop the mergers and perhaps get some advice from them as to how we can stop the government proceeding with things like time allocation?

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, we all know that the NDP punches above its weight. It is as simple as that.

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want thank all the hon. members for the debate today. I think members have endeavoured to bring some ideas to the floor today. After the bill passes second reading, we will go to committee and we will continue to have more discussion about how we can continue to ensure Canada's sound financial system, which is a model for countries around the world. We are praised by countries around the world for our strong banking and economic and financial system. That needs to continue and get stronger. The financial system review act would ensure our financial system continues to be secure for Canadians and a fundamental strength for our economy.

Let us just quickly remind ourselves what is in the bill.

The bill includes measures to update financial institutions' legislation to promote financial stability and ensure Canada's financial institutions continue to operate in a competitive, efficient and stable environment. It proposes to fine-tune the consumer protection framework, including enhancing the supervisory powers of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, and improve efficiency by reducing the administrative burden on financial institutions and adding regulatory flexibility.

This is a good bill. It needs to go to committee and it needs to come back. We need to get on with the statutory review, as required under the law, and continue Canada's strong financial services sector.

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 5:45 p.m., pursuant to an order made earlier today, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Financial System Review ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 22, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-304, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

When the House last took up this question, there were five minutes remaining for the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

The hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and a pleasure for me to continue my comments with respect to Bill C-304, an act to amend the section 13 of the Human Rights Code.

I will briefly sum up some of my observations. The last time I spoke, I commented on the importance of freedom of speech and how freedom of speech was one of the fundamental concepts that we enjoyed in western democracies such as Canada. However, some of the members opposite talked about the limits of freedom of speech, which I acknowledge they are there and they are important. The torts of slander and libel, criminal prosecution for perjury and the hate provisions of sections 318 to 320 of the Criminal Code I believe adequately form a check and balance on free speech that crosses the line, especially 318 and 320, which talk about hate speech.

What section 13 of the Human Rights Code purported to do was create a counterfeit right against hurt feelings. The sponsor of the bill has talked at some length about that not being a true right.

We need to be concerned as legislators of mechanisms that are designed to protect liberty which actually themselves become a threat to liberty. In my view, that is what we have with respect to section 13, which was intended to protect against hate speech on telephonic and electronically communicated messages. By that, we are really talking about the Internet in the modern age, which in and of itself has become a threat to free speech.

Ironically, there are media reports today of a situation in Saudi Arabia where a 23-year-old blogger has been sentenced to death for comments he blogged, partially on Twitter and in a blog, where he fancifully described an imaginary relationship that he had with the Mohammed. He described Mohammed more as a friend to him than as a deity. That offended the clerics in Saudi Arabia and this individual, for expressing those thoughts through his blog, has been sentenced to death.

Thankfully, the sanctions under section 13 of the Human Rights Code are much less tragic and severe than that which are imposed by the clerics in Saudi Arabia, but by analogy, members should be concerned that speech which some might find offensive is sanctionable. It is very much a difference of degree, not a difference of kind.

This place, Parliament, where we have unfettered free speech and cannot be subject to prosecution, has to deal with difficult issues from time to time. In fact, the last time the bill was before the House, almost at the exact same time there was a court case in British Columbia, where the Criminal Code sanctions against polygamy were under assault by an individual who had been charged with them.

The court in that case upheld the Criminal Code provisions banning polygamy in Canada, and in my view rightfully so, but it might have gone differently. The point is this chamber has to, from time to time, deal with contentious issues, issues that people believe strongly and they believe so because of their religion. Polygamy is an issue that some people subscribe to because of their faith.

If we are to have a fulsome debate on the definition of marriage, like this chamber had approximately eight years ago, it is impossible to do so without perhaps offending people and their religious values.

We have protection in this place, but what about the outside world? As we all know, the Internet and the social media have become the fluent marketplace of ideas, where people talk and comment and everyone who has a blog suddenly becomes an amateur journalist and an editorialist.

Almost all members of Parliament participate in these social media forms. I am on Twitter and Facebook, and I think most members are. These social media mechanisms have become important as we exchange ideas and engage public opinion to things that we are debating in the House.

It is hypocritical for members of the House not to support the bill. Section 13 prevents bloggers and people on the Internet from engaging in free speech as they could face prosecution simply because they offend somebody else's deeply held personal beliefs, such as freedom of religion.

I will close with a quote from one of my favourite prime ministers, the 13th prime minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker. When he introduced the Bill of Rights, he said:

I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country.This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold to myself and all mankind.

A Canadian free to speak without fear; that freedom ought to be extended to people who communicate via the Internet.

I encourage all members to support Bill C-304 and repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us today unfortunately threatens the preservation of our flourishing pluralistic society. I say this because we can only truly have freedom when every individual of every community is able to participate in the public sphere without fear of confronting violence. This is the purpose of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It does not impose unreasonable limits on the freedom of expression. Rather, it is a balance of each individual's freedom to live in society without fear.

Hate speech insidiously reinforces prejudices. It is a practice of inequality that is inconsistent with freedom. That is, it inhibits individuals from reaching their own full potential, and therefore, I argue, inhibits our society from reaching its potential.

Disseminating messages of hate via telecommunications technology is dehumanizing. It reinforces prejudice, encourages hate, and may even prompt or be perceived to justify physical violence. Not just that, but messages of hate are themselves a sort of violence, a communication of widespread violence that causes harm to us all by dividing us through the act of dehumanizing others.

This is why it is necessary that we maintain section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The commission deals with hatred, not with criminal acts of violence, and gives society's most vulnerable minority groups access to a mechanism of defending their rights as equal human beings.

Religious minorities, women, queer folk, visible minorities, persons with disabilities, recent immigrants, they are the ones who are most often targeted by the dissemination of hate, and are often the people who suffer from multiple forms of systemic inequality, including poverty and exclusion from the legal justice system. They may lack the financial and legal supports to persist in a legal case, and in the meantime, without section 13, their victimization would be allowed to continue unhindered.

This is why we have the Canadian Human Rights Act. It provides precipitous protection from dangerous violations of human rights abuses. It would not exist if those who needed protection were already being effectively protected.

Section 13 protects against images, words and opinions of hate, which is to say racism, targeted discrimination, homophobia, and grotesque and misleading imagery or information. This is a kind of violence and we need to be able to say as a society that we cannot accept this.

There needs to be a balance struck between the principles of free speech and protection from hate speech and propaganda. This is why we have a tribunal to inquire into reported incidents.

The law is specifically structured to account for the moral grey zone that can occur in cases of hate. When weighing the rights and freedoms of one person or group against another's, there must be room for variance and for each case to be adjudicated in its specificity. The Canadian Human Rights Act, including section 13, is a vehicle for exactly that process. If we allowed it to be disabled by Bill C-304, in cases where violence is being perpetrated victims would be unable to protect themselves using the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Freedom of speech is not an unlimited freedom. The pursuit of liberty understood as self-realization requires the balancing and limiting of other freedoms, in this case, that of speech.

This debate is about the balance of freedoms and duties that we have as citizens. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act represents a duty that we have to other citizens to not limit their freedoms. That is, it allows for people to not be discriminated against and therefore to realize their own purposes.

This is a form of liberty, and it is precisely the act of balancing this liberty with the freedom of speech that gives us the opportunity to live as a truly free and pluralistic society.

Yes, the Constitution protects freedom of expression, but it also protects the safety and liberty for all. Hate groups terrorize, threaten, stifle public participation and target the most vulnerable members of society.

I urge members of the House to consider the needs and rights of their constituents who are targeted by hate crimes before voting in favour of this legislation.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-304 and offer my thoughts on why I oppose the repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, an opposition rooted in the collective responsibility of parliamentarians to eliminate hate speech in Canada. This responsibility does not begin and end with the prosecution of criminal cases of hate propaganda and incitement to genocide, as the member for Westlock—St. Paul and the Minister of Justice have suggested. The promotion of equality and minority rights obligates us to also ensure that an appropriate civil remedy exists for cases of hate speech that do not meet the criminal definition.

I am not suggesting that section 13 is perfect. Indeed, that section is problematic.

The main point I would like to make here today is that the principle behind maintaining section 13 deserves the support of all members. However, instead of repealing section 13, we should make the necessary changes to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, as that organization and the Canadian Bar Association have suggested.

We should be seriously asking ourselves why the Conservative government refuses to make the proposed changes and prefers instead to repeal section 13. I would also like to add that this debate is premature anyway, since the matter is still before the courts.

That is not to say that section 13 as currently written is without problems; it is not indeed. However, the central point I would like to make today is that the principle behind retaining section 13 is worthy of the support of members, and that rather than voting to repeal section 13, we should be making the necessary changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act, as suggested by various groups, including the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Human Rights Commission itself.

The summary of Bill C-304 explains:

This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act by deleting sections 13 and 54 to ensure there is no infringement on freedom of expression guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I note there is nothing in the bill about the promotion of equality and minority rights.

In its written submission to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in January 2010, the Canadian Bar Association, CBA, explained the vital role that human rights commissions play in eliminating discrimination based on race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and other groups, and in advancing equality. The brief remarked:

Leading media outlets in this country have advocated the abolition of section 13 with no acknowledgement of the value the provision brings to enhancing civic discourse in Canadian society.

Of greater concern to the CBA is the fact that the debate surrounding the expediency of section 13 has become the proxy for an open assault on the very existence of an administrative framework to protect human rights in the country. Critics have decried human rights proceedings as “kangaroo courts” which provide only “drive through justice” and advocated that human rights tribunals and commissions should no longer be permitted to operate. We reject attacks of this kind and reiterate forcefully our support for the continued importance of the work undertaken by these human rights bodies to foster human rights in Canada.

When the member for Westlock—St. Paul spoke to this bill on November 22, 2011, he argued:

Freedom of speech is the bedrock upon which all other freedoms are built and, therefore, is too precious to leave under the thumb of censorship imposed by this system. Without freedom of speech, what good are our other freedoms, we may ask.

This argument, however, ignores the fact that there is no hierarchy of rights, as Barbara Hall, the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, has said.

For its part, the CBA has explained that freedom of expression in Canada is not an absolute value and that the CBA endorses the view that a properly drawn civil prohibition against the propagation of hate speech is also a reasonable limitation on freedom of expression.

Put another way by my colleague, the member for Mount Royal, all free and democratic societies, including the United States, have recognized certain limitations on freedom of expression in the interest of protecting certain fundamental human values.

As members consider Bill C-304, they should remember three points.

First, as I have established, freedom of expression exists within the context of limitations. The charter itself in section 1 allows for limits on rights.

Second, the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled on the constitutionality of section 13 in its 1990 decision in the Taylor case, in which the court concluded:

[Section] 13(1) is a justifiable limit on freedom of expression within the meaning of s. 1 of the Charter. Hate propaganda undermines the dignity and self-worth of minority racial and religious groups and erodes the tolerance and open-mindedness which are essential in a multicultural society. The purpose of s. 13(1) is to promote equality and to prevent the harm which hate propaganda causes to targeted groups. This is a pressing and substantial concern. It is of heightened importance because it is supported by other sections of the Charter, namely ss. 15 and 27, and by international human rights instruments to which Canada is signatory.

Third, while the Minister of Justice has argued that section 13 is not an appropriate or effective means for combatting hate propaganda and that the Criminal Code is the best vehicle to prosecute these crimes, the Criminal Code sections on hate speech and section 13 are intended to be complementary and serve different purposes.

Here is how the CBA explains it:

The criminal prohibition in section 319 of the Criminal Code sets an extremely onerous standard. This is appropriate since a criminal conviction for hate speech, like any other criminal offence, carries with it social stigma and a criminal record. Section 13 is for a different purpose (providing remedies to target groups for harm, fostering greater respect for target groups, and changing behaviour), and also applies to conduct that falls short of criminal behaviour but nevertheless poses harm to vulnerable groups.

The CBA concludes:

Given the importance of freedom of expression, it is appropriate that there be a range of options for society to respond to expression that causes harm. Criminal sanctions should be reserved for the worst cases, rather than the only option.

For these three reasons, I believe that a civil remedy for hate speech must continue to exist within human rights legislation. However, as I mentioned at the outset of my remarks, there are indeed legitimate concerns about section 13 as currently written. While there is not sufficient time to explain each one, I feel it is important to list the various amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act that have been suggested.

As my colleague from Mount Royal has suggested, the CHRA could be amended to include a built-in filtering mechanism through the requirement of the consent of the Attorney General of Canada for launching any prosecution, as currently exists in the Criminal Code, to ensure that only the most serious cases go forward.

As the CBA suggests, complaints should only be made in one jurisdiction at a time instead of the current practice of simultaneous federal and provincial complaints.

Moreover, as the CHRC has suggested to Parliament, we could add a statutory definition of hatred and contempt in accordance with the definitions offered by the Supreme Court in the Taylor case, as well as a provision to allow for the early dismissal of a section 13 complaint that does not meet this definition.

An additional amendment could also allow for the costs to be awarded in cases of abuse of process. The right to face one's accuser could also be added to act. Finally, the current provision that allows the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to assess penalties should be removed in order to retain the remedial, and not punitive, nature of human rights law.

I urge the members to chose this path and ask the government to amend section 13 rather than repeal it.

Last month, an intern in my office from Toulouse, France, Olivia-Kelly Lonkeu, gave a presentation on Bill C-304. In her remarks, she said the freedom of speech did not give the right to vilify and had to be used wisely without undermining Canadian values of equality, tolerance and fairness. To be free meant to be respected as well as to respect others, and in that sense one's freedom should not harm the freedom of another citizen. Simply put, one's personal freedom ends where another's begins.

I could not agree more.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Beauce Québec

Conservative

Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of State (Small Business and Tourism)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to support Bill C-304, introduced by my hon. colleague from Westlock—St. Paul. I would like to congratulate him on this bill. This member is standing up for our freedoms, particularly freedom of opinion and freedom of expression.

I can say that my political career has been somewhat tumultuous, but my goal has always been to defend individual freedom and responsibility. I am proud to be from Beauce, a region that promotes these values, which form the foundation of western society. Today we are speaking about individual freedom, and I am pleased to support this bill.

Freedom of expression is the essential foundation of a free and democratic society. We cannot reject this freedom of expression simply because we do not like what someone is saying about us or about society. We judge a society by its constitution and by its laws. I am proud to be Canadian. I am proud of the Canadian Constitution. In my political activities, I always try to act in a way that respects our Constitution.

We also have a charter, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Paragraph 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms defends and promotes freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. We need to listen to Canadians. Canadians care about respecting freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. If someone stands up and says something that I do not agree with, the most important thing for me, as a politician, is to be able to have a critical, open and honest debate and to inform the public. In our society, some people engage in hate speech and say discriminatory things about certain groups. Section 319 of the Criminal Code prohibits hate propaganda. The Criminal Code is the best tool for this. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act will not achieve this.

I just heard the opposition member say that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, had declared that section unconstitutional and had said that it would like to see changes to section 13. We would like to repeal it, because we know that the Criminal Code contains a provision, section 319, that will reassure Canadians when it comes to hate propaganda against particular groups.

Section 13 is too subjective. It does not give Canadians a general or a specific idea of what they should or should not say. The civil and criminal courts should determine that.

We have a provision that assures Canadians that hate propaganda will always be dealt with as it should be, under the Criminal Code.

Why repeal section 13? It is not a matter of criminal law. In the case of hate speech, you must prove that there was the intent to harm a group, the intent to incite violence, the intent to disturb the peace, and the intent to incite commission of a crime. Inciting violence against a group is a crime. Under section 13, the intent of the individual engaging in hate speech is not considered. For that reason, as a free and democratic society, we must repeal this section, which has been challenged in the courts on a number of occasions. Several cases have been cited in these debates. It is time to abolish this section, and it is our role, as legislators, to introduce legislation that promotes freedom of expression and to ensure that the courts have the tools to fight groups or individuals that communicate hate towards other groups.

Under the Criminal Code, it is an offence to incite hatred by communicating statements in any public place against an identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace. It is also an offence to wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group, other than in private conversation. That is why I feel very comfortable supporting my colleague's bill to repeal section 13 and to depend solely on the Criminal Code.

This is an important day for freedom of expression, and I hope that many of our colleagues opposite will share this point of view. We must promote freedom of expression, and it is possible to do so by repealing section 13. I am convinced that perpetrators of hate crime in Canada will be brought to justice under the Criminal Code.

A number of complaints have been filed under section 13 in an attempt to restrict freedom of expression. With the passage of this bill, we will be able to reassure Quebeckers and Canadians that their freedom of expression will remain protected. No one will be able to use section 13 to restrict their freedom of expression.

We must also reassure Canadians that hate speech against other groups will still be dealt with under the Criminal Code.

It is important to promote freedom of expression. That is an important part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I have a very hard time understanding why some of the opposition members do not support this bill. This bill is critical to a democratic society, and our society depends on freedom of expression. We have to express ourselves here every day. We can express different points of view in the House. The opposition certainly shares different points of view on its vision for this country. We have useful debates, debates that Canadians need to be able to have in public without a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. They should not fear being the subject of a commission inquiry because they have said things that some consider hateful but that are not hateful under the Criminal Code.

Today and in the days to come, by voting in favour of this bill, we will show Canadians that freedom of expression is important to us and that we will continue to protect it. As a politician who believes in individual freedom and responsibility, I certainly support my colleague's work and congratulate him on it. He is standing up for his constituents and defending values and principles underlying Canadian society. I am very proud to support his bill, as are the other members of my party. Today is a great day, and I hope that this bill will come into force as quickly as possible.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to speaking on Bill C-304. I have a great deal of experience with this in a number of ways, both here as a parliamentarian and at one period of time in my professional career as a lawyer.

In its simplicity, although Bill C-304 has other sections in it, it is really about the repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Members have heard this from a number of speeches so far. Clearly on the part of the mover, and I would say generally by the Conservative Party, it is an attempt to appease some of their right-wing ideologues, in the media in particular. It is also in keeping with their right-wing ideology of a society that has no government intervention.

For those of us who support section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, it is about recognizing the nature of what Canada is, what it always has been. At its best, section 13 is what Canada is really about.

We hear demeaning comments from the right wing in this debate that it is really about minor sensitivities that are being offended. However, that is not what section 13 is about. It is about giving the Canadian Human Rights Commission the right to regulate and impose sanctions against people who are prepared to make statements in public, and the big debate more recently has been around telecommunications, statements that are on, and I quote from section 13(1):

...any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

It is talking about statements in writing, over the Internet and electronically communicated that will identify groups and draw hatred and contempt to those groups. That is what section 13 is about. It is about prohibiting that type of behaviour.

We hear from the Conservative side that we can deal with this by the hate propaganda sections of the Criminal Code, specifically section 318. I know that section very well. To my knowledge, there has only been six cases that were ever prosecuted under that section. I successfully defended one of the charges.

I have to say that it is relatively easy to use section 318 in defence of all sorts of heinous types of conduct. However, depending on that section to protect vulnerable groups who are the subject of contempt and hatred is like using the mace to tap in a small nail. It is a gross overreach.

Section 318 came into effect sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It has been in existence for over 40 years now, but has only been used six times, and the penalties are quite severe. It requires that every case be approved by the attorney general of the province to allow it to be used.

In defence of section 13, it is a mechanism to help protect vulnerable groups in our society. I think of members of the Jewish community who have historically been a target for anti-Semitic attacks. More recently, members of the Islamic community has been subject to attacks because of their faith. I think of members of Afro-Canadian communities who have a lengthy history of being attacked because of the colour of their skin or continent that they come from. We can go down the list.

There are problems with the Canadian Human Rights Act, but they can be fixed. Amendments could be brought forward that would reform it. We need to develop the jurisprudence around this section. We have not done that very well up to this point, I will admit, but that can be remedied.

We need two levels. We need the Criminal Code for the more severe types of hate propaganda and so section 318 should remain. It is working for the purpose for which it was designed. However, it is not designed to deal with this type of hatred or contempt brought against identifiable groups. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is to be used for that purpose. We should be supporting it, maybe with some reform.

We need two tiers in order to have a free society for individuals who are regularly targeted by anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic people. We can include homophobia as well. There are a number of areas where the language used draws hatred and contempt to an identifiable group. Canadians as a society are saying no, that it not the kind of society we want. We want an organization or tribunal to be able to express our contempt for those who are prepared to do that, put a stop to the use of that kind of material and impose some type of penalty to express the revulsion that society feels for people who are prepared to use discriminatory, hateful language against other identifiable groups in our society. We need both tiers.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I am finding it very distracting.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I agree with the hon. member. There are many conversations going on. I am sure there are a number of members who would like to hear what the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh is saying. I would ask for indulgence. If members wish to have conversations, they could perhaps use the exterior lobbies.

The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh.