House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.


Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for the member from Westlock—St. Paul.

The protection that existed under section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which also provided protection against hate messages and discrimination against women does not exist within the Criminal Code, despite the supposed protection of section 319. What does the member think of that argument?

There is a huge hole that his bill will only make worse.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her question. I have appreciated the opportunity to work with her on several issues in regard to my private member's bill. As I have done in the past, I once again offer to sit with her and address any of the concerns that she may have so that we can help work these out.

At the end of the day, it is truly important that we realize what the bill is fundamentally about. It is about regaining the total freedom of speech that is so important in our country.

As I have said before, this should not be an issue that is balanced between opposition and government. This is a private member's bill. I am willing to work with the opposition, as I have all along. I have the support of some members of the opposition party. I hope that on third and final reading we will have more support, because this is an issue that is important to all Canadians. As I have travelled across our country, I have noticed that no matter which political party people support, they support freedom of speech and the protection of freedom.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. friend from Westlock—St. Paul for his effort in putting forward the bill.

My initial reaction to any human rights code is that we have to defend it. I have also, though, had a number of constituents come to speak with me who are very supportive of this private member's bill. I want to declare myself as open-minded. I have to confess that I do not know how I am going to vote on this private member's bill.

I would like to ask my hon. friend who has put this motion forward if he can persuade me that when we change the legislation, as he is proposing in this private member's bill, we would have adequate tools to deal with the very issue that was just put forward by my colleague from the official opposition. Would women's rights or hate speech against women be inadequately protected if we changed the legislation?

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her open-mindedness. It is truly the spirit of democracy in which we are all sent here.

I believe what the bill would do is move hate speech provisions to the Criminal Code. This is something that is very important to realize. I believe this would actually enhance protections against hate speech. These are serious crimes. These are not crimes that a bureaucrat should be investigating through the back alleys of quasi-judicial bodies. These are crimes that should be investigated by police officers. Both sides should have access to lawyers, and the trial should be presided over by a judge. This is a serious issue and a serious crime.

I believe that moving hate speech to where it belongs in Canada, which is the Criminal Code of Canada, would actually enhance hate speech provisions in our democracy and at the same time enhance freedom of speech on the Internet and in other means of communication, which are now being used more and more by youth today to enhance our democracy.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

May 30th, 2012 / 6:30 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I am privileged to rise tonight to speak to Bill C-304 which is before us. My main purpose in speaking today is to ask the question of what happens after this bill, if it passes. I suggest we need to indeed fill a gap, not simply with respect to the fact that gender protection will be lost unless something is done in a hurry, but some of the distinct benefits of civil remedies in this area will also go by the board. We cannot simply rely on the Criminal Code. That is my main message.

It is important to remind ourselves that section 13 has been part of the Canadian Human Rights Act since its enactment in 1977. It was designed to address at the beginning what we now call robocalls, automated repeat calls that disseminate hate messages on the grounds that are protected in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Afterward, Internet websites and their capacity to disseminate, on a grand scale, hate messages were added. As well a problematic section, which everybody agrees is problematic, was added to include, among the remedies under the Canadian Human Rights Act, the possibility of imposing a financial penalty of up to $5,000. That is what we have at the moment.

The question is whether this is consistent with freedom of expression. The Supreme Court of Canada in the Taylor case, an earlier version of section 13, has made clear it is. However, equally important is a second directly related question of whether or not the regulation of mass or repeated hate dissemination is required or at least strongly encouraged by the right to non-discrimination or by the human rights values of equality and dignity that underlie the charter and international human rights law. In that respect, we would do well to remind ourselves of a passage from Chief Justice Dickson, as he then was before leaving the court, in the Taylor case, where he said, in part:

—messages of hate propaganda undermine the dignity and self-worth of target group members and, more generally, contribute to disharmonious relations among various racial, cultural and religious groups, as a result eroding the tolerance and open-mindedness that must flourish in a multicultural society which is committed to the idea of equality.

I was also struck by the testimony of Mr. Mark Freiman, the just-past president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who appeared before our committee. Among a number of insights that I commend to all colleagues to have a look at, if this issue goes forward after the vote, in terms of what we would do with respect to civil remedies, his testimony is extremely valuable. One of the things he said:

It is my view that subsection 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act is an important resource in protecting vulnerable communities from the harm caused by hate propaganda.

He went on to say:

Is hate speech dangerous? To ask the question is to answer it. History provides the clearest examples of the mortal dangers—that is, dangerous to life—that hate speech can carry. Study Nazi propaganda in the thirties. Study Cambodian propaganda in the seventies. Study anti-Tutsi propaganda in Rwanda in the nineties. Study racist propaganda in the former Yugoslavia of the nineties. You will get your answer.

Therefore, it is really important that we keep in mind that kind of backdrop as to why section 13 was there in the first place and what would be lost in the process of repealing it.

My colleague who has sponsored the bill has been arguing, and has been arguing with a great deal of passion and consistency from his point of view, that the Criminal Code, especially section 319, is all that we need. It is partly where it should be for various reasons and by implication he seems to be suggesting it is effective. Although in committee he did acknowledge that he rather hoped that something might be done with section 319 to make it more effective.

However, before going on that route of accepting that repeal of section 13, the civil remedy side under the Canadian Human Rights Act can be replaced solely by a Criminal Code provision, we should again remind ourselves of the words of Chief Justice Dickson in Taylor.

He said:

It is recognize that, as an instrument especially designed to prevent the spread of prejudice and to foster tolerance and equality in the community, the Canadian Human Rights Act is very different from the Criminal Code. The aim of human rights legislation, and of s. 13(1), is not to bring the full force of the state's power against a blameworthy individual for the purpose of imposing punishment. Instead, provisions found in human rights statutes generally operate in a less confrontational manner, allowing for a conciliatory settlement if possible and, where discrimination exists, gearing remedial responses more towards compensating the victim.

I will not argue with a lot of the evidence to suggest that may indeed not be how section 13 has been functioning under the Canadian Human Rights Act. I do agree that there have been procedural abuses to the point that many seem to be willing to give up on section 13. However, as my colleague, the justice critic, said on numerous occasions in the committee, we should not be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Therefore, I, and I hope most of my colleagues, will be opposing this private member's bill, but I recognize that it is likely to pass. Therefore, I think it is extremely important that we keep the record of witnesses firmly in mind for purposes of going forward.

If the bill does pass, we all should be open to some kind of revisiting of this issue to build back up the appropriate protections within the Canadian Human Rights Act or possibly be open to some other civil remedy at the federal level with respect to the telecommunications issues that section 13(1) deals with. Given that there is a one-year delay in the private member's bill before us, we could have some time and some space for that kind of approach, especially if the government were to co-operate. I would personally be very happy to commit resources and time to working in a multi-party way and treating seriously the kinds of suggestions we heard in the committee and the other suggestions that we know must also be out there to make a new federal civil remedy work.

In this respect, it is really important to note that no witness before us, not a single witness, referred to the content of section 13 itself or decisions made by tribunals under section 13 as being the problem. All were supportive of the fact that the actual phraseology and what the tribunals had done with it, almost always limiting themselves to extreme cases of hatred, was fine. However, everybody focused on different versions of a set of procedural problems that had led to abuse, which people felt was very real.

We are in the situation, I believe, of being about to repeal something without anything adequate to replace it. Frankly, the Criminal Code provision, section 319, is not adequate. We heard that in committee. We know that from a bunch of studies. It is not doing the job. Very little is prosecuted under it for a variety of reasons. Basically, the result is we will have a repeal of a civil remedy and a completely inadequate criminal replacement.

It is important to reiterate the point made by one of the witnesses from B'nai Brith, Mr. Kurz, legal counsel, who in one of our sessions was probably the most convinced that this was a fait accompli, that it would go ahead. Therefore, he saw no mileage in trying to have a more complex amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act through the sponsor with the assistance of the government. However, he did want to emphasize that every section 13 decision was “unassailable” from his point of view. That is really important because some of the questions being asked from within the committee, and I think some of the tenor of my hon. colleague's presentation here tonight, suggests that the real problem is section 13 itself and how it unduly infringes on freedom of expression, which frankly I feel is the incorrect argument. I think it is the procedural and institutional flaws in how section 13 has been enforced that is the problem and that needs to be what we seek to rectify after this bill passes.

We would also do well to recall and heed the words of Mr. David Matas, who also appeared on behalf of B'nai Brith, when he said:

My view is that in order to combat hate speech effectively, you need a range of remedies. The first is simply education and advocacy and information. The notion that it has to be either the Criminal Code or nothing I think gets us to a situation where nothing ends up being done, because the Criminal Code is too draconian.

It is not simply the fact that the Criminal Code may be ineffective for what it is intended to be, but that it may not go to the heart of the kinds of reasons we have human rights codes in the first place.

I would like to end by saying that there was quite a bit of goodwill toward the last part of the committee sessions about looking forward to possibly rebuilding a civil remedy. Almost all of the witnesses from B'nai Brith and Mr. Freiman spoke in those terms. I know the government is focusing mostly on possible changes to the Criminal Code, but I think we have to keep open the possibility of a new civil remedy.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, we are here tonight to debate Bill C-304, a bill which, if passed, would repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, thereby eliminating civil remedies for protection against hate speech in this country, particularly as regarding the exploding and assaultive hate speech and incitement on the Internet, of which insufficient reference, understandably given the limitations of time, has been made at these debates.

I do not wish to reiterate that which I have elaborated upon previously in the House and in committee. Suffice it to say that I believe that this initiative, while well-intentioned, is nonetheless ill-considered, uninformed and a prejudicial move in the wrong direction. Simply put, without effective recourse against hate and group-vilifying speech, we are both ignoring and betraying the lessons of history regarding the dangers of assaultive speech. The arguments of some in this place in support of a repeal, frankly, have made a mockery of our constitutional law, arguments regarding free speech and, indeed, the related jurisprudence, in particular Supreme Court jurisprudence.

I note that this debate takes place at an interesting confluence of events. It is the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, when we celebrate a doctrine that rightly enshrines freedom of expression. The mover of the bill rightly characterized it as a cornerstone of democracy, but the Supreme Court has held, and this is the important point, that it is not an absolute right, although very often the mover has spoken of it as if it were.

It is one where the freedom of expression has to be read in the light of and in relation to section 1 of the charter and the limitations on hate speech and, as the Supreme Court put it, that are demonstrably justified to promote and protect equality, and that is the purpose of this civil remedy: to guard against violations of section 27 and assaults on our multicultural heritage; to implement our international legal obligations where racist hate speech is held to be outside the ambit of protected speech; most important, and this has been missing entirely from the member's appreciation and those supporting the bill, to guard against assaults upon the very values underlying free speech itself, as the Supreme Court has put it, the search for truth, individual autonomy, equality and democratic participation.

We are also in the aftermath of the month of April, which T. S. Eliot famously described as “the cruellest month”. Indeed, we marked in April the anniversaries of the Rwandan genocide, Yom ha-Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, as well as the anniversaries of the Armenian genocide and the Srebrenica massacre, all of which began in April. In the United States and other jurisdictions, April has been designated as a genocide awareness and prevention month.

Indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada has itself recognized the dangers of hate speech in the three causes célèbres of the Supreme Court in the Keegstra case, the Smith and Andrews case and the Taylor case, all of which spoke of the danger that this hate speech can take us down the road to such atrocities, reminding us that the Supreme Court recognized that the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers; it began with words. As the court put it, “These are the catastrophic effects of racism. These are the chilling facts of history”.

Moreover, B'nai Brith's 2011 “Audit of Antisemitic Incidents” concluded that in the last 10 years there has been an almost threefold increase in reported hate-related incidents in Canada since 2002. I raise this because, as history has taught us only too well, while it may begin with Jews, it does not end with Jews. Anti-Semitism is the canary in the mine shaft of evil which can threaten us all, and so does assaultive speech against vulnerable and targeted minorities, whoever these identifiable groups may be.

While the government insists that these are so-called victimless crimes, the truth is, the courts have found in their harms-based rationale for upholding the constitutionality of such legislation, and indeed, that includes the Cohen commission. The mover spoke as if the Cohen commission did not support this civil remedy. I want to put it on the record that the Cohen commission did support this civil remedy, as it did support the criminal remedy, but realized that these are different remedies by the way in which we address and redress the fundamental threat of assaultive speech, that there is pain and suffering, discrimination and exclusion among those vulnerable communities who are so targeted.

Accordingly, if we are not vigilant in guarding against such assaultive and group-vilifying speech, words can become actions and these actions may themselves have harmful, if not deadly, consequences.

It has been suggested in this debate that somehow free speech is an absolute right or that it ought to be.

I would remind colleagues that even in the United States, the home of the First Amendment doctrine, 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.

Know that those who have moved this appreciate that in supporting the criminal law remedy they are themselves acknowledging that free speech is not an absolute right.

Therefore, what we are arguing about is not the issue of protecting free speech. We all agree about the protection of free speech. We all agree that it is the cornerstone of democracy. The question is: How do we counteract assaultive hate speech? The criminal law remedy is one remedy but the civil remedy, a 35-year-old remedy, is yet another.

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 and to protect against inequality, and here the civil remedy comes in, resulting from the discriminatory hate practices that reduce the standing and status of targeted individuals and groups in society and indeed to protect, as I mentioned, not only the very values underlying free speech but the very values, as the Supreme Court put it, that constitute a free and democratic society such as Canada.

Some listening may wonder why the Criminal Code provision is not enough. Simply put, a criminal remedy is not a one-size-fits-all option. It is, in fact, a remedy that should be used restrictively and sparingly. In fact, it is only sparingly invoked.

Most important, in addition to the fact that it should be used sparingly, the problem is that it does not allow for alternative, creative or adaptive remedies, such as those requiring education, outreach or engaging with those affected, what I would call a restorative justice approach to combating hate speech, unlike the criminal law remedy which characterizes it as a crime against the state but where the civil remedy can characterize it as a demonstrable harm to the targeted community as a discriminatory practice, as an equality rights issue and that which can only be addressed within the framework of a civil remedy.

None of this is intended to suggest that section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is ideal, appropriate or effective in its present form. Indeed, I and others have identified numerous flaws with it and have made suggestions for its improvement, including amendments I tabled at committee.

However, the issue is that the government refuses to even consider any reform or amendment. Indeed, it asserts that repeal is the only option, ignoring why the section was enacted to begin with, why it is still necessary today and in what ways it might be reformed and improved through principled amendment.

I will outline just a few such options. We could exclude frivolous claims by requiring the consent of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada before proceeding, not unlike what we do with the criminal law remedy at this time. We could restrict actions so as to allow the commission to dismiss matters that are before it and another tribunal so as to prevent SLAPPs and vexatious efforts, including those of persons who presently, regrettably, under the present law, file the same claim in multiple jurisdictions. We could establish different rules of procedure and evidentiary considerations for the commission to address the concerns that the member who has moved the bill has properly raised. We could change costs and allow for certain types of orders to be mandated. We could appreciate the important role of section 13 in the Internet age.

Indeed, there are a panoply of options on the table but the government flat out refuses to consider any of them.

I want to be clear why I am using the word “government”, as I move to a close, when debating what has been presented as a private member's bill.

It is clear that this has been a government initiative, an element of the party platform as affirmed last June. Government members voted as a block always in committee. They refused to engage on the issue as a whole and refused to accept any amendments.

Indeed, I have to ask why the government advanced this as a private member's bill and not as a government bill. Perhaps it had certain misgivings about gauging this in the matter of public opinion and the like, arguably something it attempted it in relation to Motion No. 312, while also limiting discussion and debate throughout the introduction of this initiative as a private member's bill.

Simply put, the government is, to use the somewhat cliched expression used by my colleague, throwing the baby out, regrettably, with the bathwater. There are many principled reforms that could be made to section 13. Hate speech and incitement are increasing problems in Canada, particularly on the Internet, as a series of scholarly studies remind us, and we must ensure that there are both civil and criminal recourses at our disposal to address and redress these wrongs, as Mr. Matas and Mr. Freiman set forth in committee.

I will conclude by saying that, at the end of the day, the criminal law remedy is in place. It should and is only used sparingly. The civil law remedy is necessary for the protection of all the other values: equality, non-discrimination, protection against targeted minorities and the like. That is how we should go forward—

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the private member's bill introduced by the member Westlock—St. Paul. I am humbled that the member would ask me to speak to his bill. It is not often that one gets a chance to speak to a private member's bill because of the procedural rules, so that the member would express his confidence in my views in allowing me to speak to his bill is humbling and an honour. I thank him for that. It means a lot to me that he would ask me to do that.

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that everyone in Canada has the fundamental freedom of expression. However, this freedom, while fundamental, is not absolute, as the member for Mount Royal has said, because in section 1 of the charter it states:

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

That is an important context in which to place this debate.

Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is an unreasonable limit in a free and democratic society on this fundamental freedom of expression. I believe there are three reasons that it is an unreasonable limit. First, section 13 is too vague. Second, section 13 subjects this fundamental freedom guaranteed in the charter to a quasi-judicial process. Third, section 13, in my view, is an overly expansive interpretation of the harm principle.

I will elaborate on the three reasons that section 13 should be struck from the Canadian Human Rights Act. First, section 13 is too big. The wording of section 13, such as the terms “hatred” and “contempt”, is not clearly defined in the act. I think this opens up section 13 to the possibility of an overly expansive interpretation that would unreasonably limit free expression.

The second reason that I think section 13 should be struck is that by placing a limit on free expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act in such a vague manner, we are subjecting this fundamental freedom enshrined in the Canadian charter to a quasi-judicial process. In my view, a quasi-judicial process such as this, with its vagueness, is too informal a place to arbitrate such a fundamental freedom. These fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the charter should be arbitrated in the courts with their checks and balances assuring an appropriate level of protection for these cherished freedoms.

The third reason I think section 13 should be struck is that it has an unreasonable limit on free expression in that it rests on an overly expansive interpretation of the harm principle. I acknowledge that there is no absolute right to free expression. That is why we have Criminal Code provisions, for example, on yelling “fire” in a theatre, on uttering a bomb threat in an airport, on perjuring oneself in a court of law and on libelling another in the public sphere.

Why do we have these limits on free expression in these four instances and many others? It is because they would harm others. Yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre of a thousand people could cause a stampede and could create deaths on the way out of people who are trampled underfoot. Uttering a bomb threat in an airport or on an airplane could put the lives of passengers and travellers at risk. Libelling another in the public sphere is also a reasonable limit on free expression. Perjuring oneself in a court of law, obviously, is a reasonable limit. Restrictions on perjury is a reasonable limit on free expression. Obviously we need people to speak the truth in court because we need to establish the facts.

These are reasonable limits on free expression. However, section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prevents someone from expressing something that is likely to expose a person or a group of persons to contempt or hatred is, I believe, an overly expansive interpretation of this harm principle.

I am not alone in my concerns about this section of the act. Many others have voiced concerns about section 13 and this bill addresses those very concerns.

For example, in 2008, the Canadian Human Rights Commission commissioned Professor Richard Moon to conduct an independent analysis of section 13. In his report he recommended that section 13 be repealed.

A year later the Canadian Human Rights Commission itself undertook an investigation. In its report of 2009 it found problems with section 13 of the act in that it was inconsistent with the charter.

Former Liberal MP Keith Martin voiced concerns about section 13. In 2008 he tabled Motion No. 446 to repeal section 13(1).

Organizations such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Journalists have also voiced concerns about this section, as have articles that have appeared in papers such as the Toronto Star and the National Post.

When we reach further back into the intellectual traditions that underpin our North American democracies both here in Canada and south of the border, we find that people like John Stuart Mill voiced concerns about unreasonable limits on free speech. In his famous book On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued that free discourse is a necessary condition for progress. I think he would have argued that section 13 is an overly expansive interpretation of his harm principle.

I would like to quote what Mill said about how important it is not to unreasonably limit free expression:

[T]he peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

Free speech and free expression are fundamental to a free and democratic society. This is a reasonable bill that would remove an unreasonable limit on free expression. It is not by force but by free speech that we will counter hatred and prejudice. That is why this bill is so very important.

The bill would strengthen the fundamental foundation of a free and democratic society, the fundamental foundation of Canadian society, namely, freedom of expression. I urge all members in the House to support it.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise again to speak about Bill C-304, which Kathleen Mahoney, a professor in the Faculty of Law of the University of Calgary and a member of the Royal Society of Canada, called a bill on the freedom of hateful expression.

We need clarification, because to associate this bill solely with freedom of expression is to forget what is protected by section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It is sometimes good to remind ourselves of this, and I like to do so.

It must be the lawyer in me that likes to refer specifically to acts and bills. When I examine and analyze legislation, I always go over it with a fine tooth comb, and with an open mind, which is what my colleague from Westlock—St. Paul asked members of this House to do as they consider his bill.

At first glance, everyone who reads the bill tends to agree with it because it amends the Canadian Human Rights Act in order to protect certain freedoms, including the freedom of expression.

However, once again, the devil is in the details and in the drafting of the bill. We came across several problems during our in-depth consideration of the bill in committee. The witnesses drew attention to a number of problems. I think my colleagues from Mont-Royal and Toronto—Danforth did a good job of highlighting the problems. Nobody said they disagreed with the protection against hate speech because that is what section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is trying to prevent. I do not think that anyone in this House is against this, even on the government side. Ultimately, their responses to our concerns always brought us back to the Criminal Code, specifically to section 319, which already provides for criminal charges against anyone engaged in this kind of behaviour.

Section 13 was not a major problem in the opinion of the witnesses, which really struck me, and, to use the words of the previous member, the section was not too vague. No witness said that it was. One only need read the jurisprudence developed by both the Supreme Court and the Human Rights Tribunal. Nobody came and told us that the decisions were inadequate or that people who had not engaged in hate speech had been found guilty under Canadian law.

What people invariably told us, which made them feel like giving up when it came to solving the section 13 problem, is that it required time and was very costly. They added that if somebody were to file an obviously futile, frivolous or completely ridiculous complaint, that there would be no tools in the legislation to enable the commission to dispose of the case swiftly.

According to those who specialize in defending people charged with uttering hate speech or encouraging this kind of speech as defined in section 13, the process can take five or six years and huge amounts of money.

I explained to the committee that I thought we were throwing out the baby with the bath water. That often happens with bills, whether they are government or private members' bills. To avoid one type of problem, the section is deleted in its entirety. That creates an enormous hole. I asked the member about that and the Green Party member asked the very same question. To date we have not had a response. This bill would repeal section 13, which states:

13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, 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.

Section 3 reads as follows:

For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

I repeat: it clearly mentions sex.

Let us now look at the Criminal Code, since the defence of the government and the Conservative Party at every stage has been based on the Criminal Code. Section 319 of the Criminal Code pertains to public incitement of hatred. I will not get into all of its shortcomings. It is not clear how crimes are prosecuted under section 319. What is worse, the identifiable groups are only those distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. What about cases involving hate speech based on sex, on gender? They are not mentioned at all.

One element of protection for women has just been taken away—one that was essential because of how difficult it is to enforce a section of the Canadian Human Rights Act. I find that totally unacceptable. In committee, we made some progress with the Conservatives but not enough for them to listen to reason, to decide to wait before passing this bill or to decide to address the bill's shortcomings before continuing the debate.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank all colleagues who participated in this vigorous debate. I would also like to mention that I have tried very hard to avoid any kind of partisanship in this debate because this is something that has reverberated in all political parties across the country, certainly from the grassroots. I feel it is important to reply to some of the debate today.

My Liberal colleague is a valued member of the House and is often seen as above partisanship and reproach. However, the fact of the matter is his debate is stuck in the time of 10 years ago or 4 years ago. The amendments he brought forward were brought forward four or five years ago. He is more than happy for them to stay there because he likes section 13 the way it is now.

He talked about partisanship and how it is a government bill. While I would like to thank the grassroots members of the Conservative Party who identified this as an issue years ago, this is not a government bill. This is a bill that was brought forward by me. It is a bill that is supported by B'nai Brith, the Muslim Canadian Congress, PEN Canada, the Toronto Star, Egale Canada, the National Post, and I could go on, as my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills did. The fact of the matter is these are organizations that absolutely span the political spectrum. These are not about one political point or another. In fact, my hon. colleague should look to his own caucus. It was a Liberal member of Parliament who brought this forward in 2008. It is a Liberal member of Parliament who is still supporting and voting for it, and I thank him for that.

When it comes to members of the official opposition, they raised some excellent points. The Minister of Justice has already put forward amendments to the Criminal Code that would ensure there are no gaps when it comes to the protection of minority rights in this country. Hate speech is a serious crime. It is something that real police officers should be investigating, with real lawyers and judges presiding over these cases, not a quasi-judicial body in a backroom doing things in the dark, which nobody ever gets to see. That is not justice.

The NDP has been putting forward a two-tiered approach to hate speech. I do not fundamentally understand how a party such as the NDP could support a two-tiered approach to hate speech, equivocally saying that some forms of inciting hatred and harm against identifiable groups are worse than other forms of inciting hatred and harm. My belief is that it is a serious crime and we need to address it.

I will close by saying that freedom is too precious to our society to entrust to the bureaucracy to enforce a vague, over-reaching act inhibiting our freedom. Freedom is our most precious gift that we can pass on to our children and the next generation of Canadians.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It being 7:12 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

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

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Some hon. members



Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Human Rights ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 6, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

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

Rights & DemocracyAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, today I would like to follow up on a question that I asked in the House on February 28 when I inquired whether the minister was aware, prior to the tragic death of Rémy Beauregard, of the serious crisis within Rights & Democracy.

Unfortunately, the minister's answer at the time was not quite satisfactory, to say the least. Nothing about recent management of Rights & Democracy was anywhere near satisfactory. It was actually quite troubling.

Rights & Democracy was created in 1988 by an act of Parliament that received unanimous approval. The non-partisan organization intervened in troubled regions to promote respect for human rights and further democracy. Rights & Democracy was respected by the international community. It was achieving its goals and working well.

Now, our Prime Minister's government has taken this non-partisan organization that ran smoothly and made it into a partisan organization that runs poorly. The Conservatives have poisoned the organization. Not happy with just poisoning it, we were told on April 2 that the government had decided to go a little further and to shut down Rights & Democracy. What reason did they give for shutting down the institution? According to the minister, it is because the institution had problems. Unfortunately, the institution's problems were the ones that the government had created. As they say, if you want to hang your dog, first give him a bad name.

Rights & Democracy had its head office in my riding. The agency’s employees learned they were out of a job when the minister sent out his press release. The minister did nothing to thank them for their excellent work and the services they provided for more than 20 years. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to do so. I would like to thank them for their work. It is time to recognize the positive contribution made by the people who ran the agency, people who deserved better treatment than they got from the government.

Finally, I would like to say that I think it is worrisome that, just at a time when Canada should be providing assistance to emerging democracies, the government has closed down a centre that was in the best position to do exactly that.

I have a number of questions that I would like to ask the government today about Rights & Democracy, but I will limit myself to three. Was it always the government’s intention to close the centre? Why close the agency instead of just removing the troublemakers from the board of directors and appointing qualified people to run it? Finally, coming back to my first question, when will a member of the government have the courage to speak up and apologize to the family of Rémy Beauregard?

Rights & DemocracyAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta


Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, the world has witnessed some remarkable changes in democracy in the last two years. Nobody would have predicted the exceptional circumstances that took place in many countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Burma. Who would have thought that the foreign minister would this year be able to talk freely with the General Secretary of the Burmese National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Canadian government is actively supporting these and other remarkable democratization movements, but we are doing it in an environment that is quite different than what it was when Rights and Democracy was established in 1988.

On April 3, it was announced that the Government of Canada would be including Rights and Democracy as part of its efforts to find cost efficiencies and savings. Given the challenges of Rights and Democracy, which have been known to all for some time, it was decided it was time to put the organization's past challenges behind us and move forward.

On April 5, the government announced the appointment of a number of senior government officials to the organization's interim board of directors in order to oversee the organization's closure. Under the interim board's direction, Rights and Democracy is developing a plan to guide the timely, orderly termination of its programming abroad while seeking to minimize the impact on the ground.

This decision does not change the commitment of the Government of Canada to promote not only democracy, but also freedom, human rights, and the rule of law around the world.

I should mention that from Canada's ambassadors and embassy personnel around the world to our staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Canadian International Development Agency in Ottawa, Government of Canada officials work hard every day to support democracy and human rights internationally.

In 2010-11, the Department of Foreign Affairs spent $21 million to advance democracy around the world. DFAIT's democracy support is complemented by a much larger envelope for long-term good governance, human rights and the rule of law. This support, managed by the Canadian International Development Agency, totalled over $204 million for the year 2010-11.

Given the challenges that Rights and Democracy faced and the new conditions that we are working under today, it is clearly time to move forward. The government is now looking at different tools that exist today so that, drawing on Canadian experience, we can effectively support those remarkable and courageous people around the world who are working to claim their basic democratic rights.

To add a personal touch to this, I was on the foreign affairs committee when the issue of Rights and Democracy was brought in front of the committee, and we spent numerous hours listening to testimony.

First of all, to answer the member's question, the government had no intention of closing Rights and Democracy at that given time. However, as things have evolved now and as I have stated in my intervention, it is cost-cutting measures and efficiencies that we are seeking, and with the problems that have occurred, we felt this was the best course of action to take.

Rights & DemocracyAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to point out again that the problems of Rights & Democracy were created by this government.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs tells us that diplomatic staff do the work of promoting democracy. Of course they do. That is not new; it has always been the case. In the past, the staff did this work. Staff who, because of the cuts, will be fewer and therefore able to do less of this work.

In addition to the work of diplomats, this specialized institution had the necessary expertise and could do work that the government was unable to do. It could work in extremely difficult areas. We have lost an additional and important asset; Rights & Democracy was an organization that was on the forward edge of promoting democracy. We have lost it at a critical time in modern history.

The parliamentary secretary is talking of moving forward. I see it as moving backward.

Rights & DemocracyAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, that is her opinion, but I can say very clearly that this government has made a decision taking everything into account.

As I pointed out to the hon. member, I was on the committee for foreign affairs when we did a thorough study of Rights and Democracy. However, as I have stated, things have changed. There has been a tremendous movement toward democracy around the world, and therefore the Government of Canada, having the commitment to promote democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law internationally, will continue to work in close coordination with partners around the world to further these objectives.

The decision has been made to close Rights and Democracy, but that does not mean no promotion of democracies around the world.

Parks CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Madam Speaker, something truly frightening is happening within Parks Canada, which is also responsible for many historic sites.

We have heard about the government's decision to eliminate nearly 1,700 jobs at Parks Canada. As a result of this decision, across Canada and especially in Quebec—where 300 positions are being eliminated—there will be an irreversible loss of fundamental expertise in the understanding of our past.

Archeologists, historians, conservators, interpretive guides, specialists in the understanding of our past—from New France to the Forillon expropriation. Some will see their jobs disappear, while others will have their ability to do their jobs seriously undermined.

As pointed out by the archeology professors of the Université Laval in an open letter:

The Government of Canada—as the owner of this research and conservation infrastructure and these historic sites that play a central role in our Canadian identity—must assume its responsibilities. It must not limit itself to merely the static management of these sites, but it must renew their heritage content by documenting them, studying them and animating them, based on new knowledge so that Canadians can become more familiar with them.

The Association des archéologues du Québec shares those sentiments:

Following a Canadian government accounting procedure based, in our opinion, on a narrow interpretation of what heritage represents, Parks Canada conducted a self-mutilation exercise that is having a profound impact on the qualified and dedicated staff... This is an attack against Quebec's identity. We can only empathize with them over the inhumanity of these cuts.

This makes me think of the people who were forced out of Forillon when Forillon Park was created in 1970, who had to leave their homes and their villages to make room for a national park. This park, leased to the federal government for 99 years, was still full of items belonging to the former residents, objects that have been kept in Quebec for the most part. The Conservative government is now adding insult to injury by taking these objects and sending them to storage in Ottawa despite the fact Gaspé Peninsula residents had asked that the objects be transferred to the Musée de la Gaspésie, which already has an exhibit on the Forillon expropriation.

Again, according to the archeologists:

When the time comes, we will be there to remind elected officials of this dogmatic management based on a clear lack of knowledge and vision. Parks Canada made an unexplainable decision to centralize all the collections in the Ottawa area, including those kept at the Service de la Gare maritime in Quebec City... Faced with the real possibility of a confrontation with the Government of Quebec, the [federal] government has backed down to some extent and is now saying that the collections of artifacts and items of ethno-historical significance will not leave Quebec and will be stored on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River.

This clarification may have somewhat defused the possibility of a conflict between Quebec and Ottawa, but this situation remains a terrible injustice for the regions of Quebec, particularly Quebec City, which is being stripped of its own material culture. Is it normal for researchers who are interested in collections of precious pieces of world heritage to have to travel over 400 kilometres to consult or study them?

Well, Madam Speaker, allow me to respond to the Association des archéologues du Québec. No. It is not normal. The federal government is stealing Quebec's historical artifacts. The CBC even reported that the government was trying to sell artifacts to collectors and private museums. It is outrageous.

Back home in the Gaspé, the Musée de la Gaspésie called for the repatriation of artifacts to do with the expropriation of Forillon. The Quebec government, which has other fish to fry—as we all know—was concerned about this decision and requested a meeting with the minister. Here are my questions for the minister.

Did the minister intend to meet with Quebec’s Minister of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women? Can he commit to keeping the artifacts in their current location, surrounded by the appropriate experts? Will the government entertain the request by the Musée de la Gaspésie and leave the Forillon artifacts in a place that suits the people of the Gaspé? Finally, when does he intend to stop attacking Quebec's history?

Parks CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta


Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to address this important question for the first time in the House.

The member spoke about the identity of Quebec being tied into its natural heritage and parks. I agree with him. It has been my pleasure to visit many national parks. I believe that the natural heritage that is maintained through Parks Canada binds us together as Canadians. I would like to take the opportunity to correct the record on the location of some of the artifacts that he talked about and perhaps alleviate some of his concerns.

The collection currently located in Quebec City will remain in Quebec. The portion of the national collection that is housed in Quebec City, which includes artifacts originating from Quebec, as well as objects from Forillon National Park, will remain in the province of Quebec. As part of our government's efforts to reduce the deficit, Parks Canada is consolidating its national collection and conservation laboratories in the National Capital Region. The part of the national collection currently located in Quebec City will remain in the province of Quebec in a facility to be determined. This is part of Parks Canada's overall effort to consolidate into one reduced structure, which will streamline services and improve internal efficiencies to reduce costs.

Overall, there are 44 positions. My colleague spoke of the number of staff. I want to reassure him that there are 44 positions that will take care of, manage and restore the collections of Parks Canada: 15 people will work in the collections and curatorial section and 29 people in the restoration section. Scientific, professional and technical services, including archeological and artifact restoration expertise, will continue to be provided by Parks Canada and through partnerships with other organizations. Professional capacity will remain. In addition, there will be no change with respect to the display or use of the valuable collection by national historic sites in Quebec.

I would like to remind the member for the riding of Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia that Parks Canada is not permanently closing any national parks or national historic sites. Our government is acting responsibly by improving the efficiency of our operations and ensuring Parks Canada can continue to focus and deliver its core mandate to protect and present our national treasured and protected places.

I had some representatives from Parks Canada come to my riding last week. I am very blessed to live just about an hour away from Banff National Park, the first national park in Canada. I was really pleased to see the amount of work that the park staff are doing to ensure that visitors to our national parks have a great experience, certainly this summer as we are about to ramp up.

I share my colleague's concern. I loved his comment that our national parks are core to our national identity. It is something that our government is committed to ensuring: that the visitor experience and the ecological function of Parks Canada are maintained but that we are also being wise stewards of taxpayer funding. We feel that we have that balance right.

Parks CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment responsible for Parks Canada for her answer.

Despite her answer, however, I still have a number of concerns about the conservation of Quebec's artifacts. It is important to understand that the most common approach in archaeological circles is to keep artifacts as close to their place of discovery or of origin as possible. Keeping collections from Quebec or Forillon in a warehouse in Gatineau will not make these relics of our history and our past more accessible to the community.

I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment to think about whether it is appropriate to house this collection in places that are not accessible, when the collection is important to the history of Quebec. The minister should respond to the request made by the Musée de la Gaspésie to repatriate these artifacts from the Gaspé to their place of origin, in Forillon.