House of Commons Hansard #237 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was s-7.


The House resumed from March 5 consideration of the motion.


Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Calgary East Alberta


Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to support my colleague, the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.

This is an issue of great importance to me, both in my role as a member of Parliament and as parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs. I am very pleased to be able to take a few minutes to discuss this motion that speaks to the question of human rights and to Canada's uniquely placed role in standing up for those who are prosecuted based on their religious belief.

It is clear that our government has been incredibly vocal on the issue of freedom of religion or belief around the world. We have made it a key objective of our foreign policy to protect and promote this universal right. As the Prime Minister has said:

There is a crucial and historical link between respect for religious pluralism and the development of democracy itself.

To this end, our government has spoken out consistently, and we have spoken out emphatically.

During the most recent UN General Assembly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs co-sponsored a high-level side event entitled Freedom of Religion or Belief: An Individual's Choice.

This past December, through our High Commission in London, Canada co-hosted the third meeting of the Istanbul Process with the U.K. and Wilton Park, which examined best practices in domestic implementation of the Human Rights Council resolution 16/18 on combatting intolerance and promoting freedom of religion or belief for all through inter-religious co-operation.

We are proud to have been a co-sponsor of the EU-led United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly resolutions on the elimination of religious intolerance.

The repression of religious freedom is widespread, and it is increasing. We are deeply concerned about the situation in various parts of the world where individuals, including Ahmadis, Baha'is, Chaldeans, Christians, Copts, Falun Gong practitioners, Jews, Muslims, Rohingyas, Sufis, and Zoroastrians, among others, experience difficulty in their ability to worship and practise their faith in peace. We strongly condemn all attacks on places of worship, whether at temples, synagogues, shrines, mosques, gurdwaras, or churches. Canada cannot and will not condone such cowardly acts. It is of utmost importance that every individual is able to practise their faith in safety and security.

Our advocacy on the issue of religious freedom has been steadfast and ongoing.

As others have already mentioned, we have established the office of religious freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Under the leadership of Dr. Andrew Bennett, as Canada's first Ambassador of Religious Freedoms, the office will promote freedom of religion or belief as a core human right. It will encourage protection of religious minorities, and it will promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance around the world.

The office will advance policies and programs that protect and promote freedom of religion and belief, and it will focus on advocating for Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad. In other words, it will reflect the very best of Canadian society, and it will show the world that we are determined to work for the day when everyone enjoys the rights and privileges that come with living in a free and democratic society.

In addition to creating the office of religious freedom, our government will also continue to stand by those who strive to make a difference in the world. It is why we established the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award, to recognize individuals who have shown exceptional leadership in defending human rights and freedom.

As members may know, the award was bestowed last year on Shahbaz Bhatti, a tireless defender of religious minorities in his homeland of Pakistan. Tragically, Mr. Bhatti paid the ultimate price for his dedication and courage. However, his life should serve as an example that, despite the risks, we must defend the rights of the afflicted and give voice to the voiceless.

The world needs to hear that voice, today more than ever. Time and time again, Canada has spoken out against discrimination and violations of freedom, including freedom of religion. We will continue to stand for what is right, not for what is easy, and to defend the principle of freedom of religion and conscience both in Canada and around the world.

I thank the House for the opportunity to discuss this motion, which I am very proud to support.

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, the election-minded legislative measure currently before the House gives us food for thought. It makes us think about the tactics used to avoid public debate on major issues of creating and enforcing government policies and instead focus on topics with the potential to indoctrinate and brainwash the masses.

I will refer today to some concepts, such as trademarks and the political approach taken by the Conservatives in their current mandate. I will also talk about target audiences and the ensuing lobbying that is at the root of many amendments and legislative measures introduced over the past few years.

Members will agree with me that the Conservatives are in damage control mode right now and that Canada's rating is in free fall according to international authorities, including the United Nations, to name just one.

Over the past two years, whenever UN rapporteurs—on food safety or housing—have come to Canada, they have received a cold reception. These are major social issues. Those types of measures are excluded from debate and are neither up for discussion in the House nor subject to reasonable amendments by the government.

As we have seen over the past few months, everything is just for show. I have heard some rumours about a reality show on immigration to Canada and many other topics primarily chosen for being dramatic and introduced with great fanfare.

I will also talk about the advertising for Canada's economic development plan, our economic action plan, I should say, for which ads are broadcast during prime time. In short, everything is planned. It is a whole media operation. They try to show people smiling.

If we take a close look at the economic action plan ads, we can almost think that Canada is selling rolls of sod, since all we see is green space, trees, people smiling and people drinking water from the river as they canoe. Really, we even wonder if the Conservatives chose the green theme, because we know that our economic development actually relies primarily on natural resource extraction. That is the engine being promoted. This bill is no exception. The goal is to appeal to a specific segment of the population, with an eye on the election.

The Conservatives conducted market studies before undertaking these initiatives to ensure, first and foremost, that this would meet the needs expressed by one segment of the population and to please one sector of the Canadian electorate that has already shown an affinity for these things, but also to please certain newcomers.

I have a very clear message for newcomers. In fact, their allegiance and loyalty are of very little importance to the Conservatives. Their economic situation is what matters when it comes to assessing whether they can come to Canada. That is what I would like to tell them today.

Let us not kid ourselves: religious freedom for newcomers is enshrined in the Constitution. That is one of the backbones of our country. It is simply being reiterated. This is stating the obvious, and the Conservatives are reiterating something that is well rooted in Canadian tradition.

While inclusive ideals should be promoted in all public policies, the ostentatious aspect of the bill submitted for our consideration points to the vote-getting objectives and preconceived notions that characterize many initiatives brought forward by this government, which is abusing its majority.

When a government insists a little too much on its majority, when it tries to sell itself or boast excessively, quite often this is really to hide a lack of confidence or, at the very least, a weakness in its arguments.

It is my reflex as a practising lawyer to look for the weaknesses in an argument and continue to chip away at them non-stop in order to expand on and really expose all the details of those weaknesses, as well as the motivations behind these kinds of bills and amendments.

To the Conservatives, political action is akin to selling a product or coming up with a marketing plan to appeal to the target audience. We have seen it before. Many of the government's public appearances are a way of getting media attention. We see it often with aboriginal issues, to use an example I am familiar with. When historic meetings are held, the government always makes sure to have good representatives who are accommodating and submissive, who will make them look good in the photos and will help sell the product and help then gain an advantage. That is highly objectionable and is not limited to freedom of religion or to aboriginal issues. It can be seen in other areas as well.

There was a time when the government also did photo ops with fighter jets. Now that the Conservatives are in hot water on that topic, photo ops are a little more rare, but we used to see them. This issue is no exception.

It makes no sense to focus on freedom of religion, as it is already well established in this country. The whole point of this is to promote an agenda and detract the public's attention from important, essential and serious identity issues before us today.

Identity issues are often addressed privately or in secret. The public is kept far away from these issues and the government tries to distract them, much like a reality TV show. Instead of giving people things to think about, the government would rather spoon feed them. It simply puts dinner in the microwave and says that dinner is served, so there is no need to think because everything is done.

That is what we are seeing with freedom of religion. The government decides what the public should focus on instead of focusing on the oil sands or other potentially incendiary—no pun intended—social, environmental or cultural issues. The bastions of our identity are in jeopardy today.

Using a major identity issue as a distraction for short-term political gains only masks the many ethical inconsistencies and shows that a biased agenda is dictating this country's economic and policy directions.

The government knows that Canadians are fully aware that religious freedom is already enshrined and that it is one of the bastions of Canadian identity. There is a strong possibility that this religious freedom initiative is meant to appeal to new Canadians, who will not necessarily know that religious freedom is already protected in Canada.

As I said, the main message is that the Conservatives do not care that much about the faith of new Canadians. The deciding factor in whether or not they are accepted to become Canadian citizens is their economic situation, which is unfortunate. However, that is how things work in 2013.

I submit this respectfully.

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the statement from the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex is actually a good statement that is worthy of support on the part of our collective here. It highlights a couple of things that need to be brought forward in a place of debate such as this.

I will take it from two points. The first has to do with its impact as a domestic, aspirational statement. The second is with respect to its positioning in our foreign policy.

The first point, with respect to our own domestic society, is that we live in a pluralistic society, a far more pluralistic society, Mr. Speaker, than when you and I were growing up, in which the religious divide was essentially Catholic and Protestant. Now the religious divide is multi-faceted. I point to my own riding as an example. At Markham Road and Highway 401, to the left is the Armenian place of worship. On the right is the Taiwanese cultural centre. Further down that street is a huge evangelical community, where literally hundreds of people worship on a Sunday morning. On the left-hand side is a substantial Tamil community. On the right-hand side is the Salvation Army. Further down on the left-hand side is a huge mosque.

This may unintentionally act as a message to our own society that we have to practise pluralism. We have to not just believe in it, talk about it, think that it is a good idea and just tolerate one another; rather, we have to actively encourage it and actively participate in our society. In my riding, many of my constituents come from communities where that is not a belief and where a particular religion is the dominant religion and the belief is that all other religions need to be expunged or moved out of that country.

This is an aspirational statement, but it is an aspirational statement for our own society in particular.

The second point is its positioning in the greater panoply of human rights, particularly as we express our human rights in foreign affairs. We can literally go on a world tour. The government's initiative, particularly the Office of Religious Freedoms, is important. How it is going to play through with other equally if not as important initiatives, particularly rights initiatives, has yet to be seen.

Religious rights conflicts around the world are complicated. For instance, this week we are receiving a delegation from Myanmar. Some of us just returned last month from Myanmar. The conflict there is between Muslims and Buddhists, in a country where poverty and corruption are rampant. Is it a religious, economic or ethnic conflict?

Iran seems to be a source of conflict for the Kurds. Is that a religious conflict, or is that a conflict involving their aspirations to have their own country, even though the people share the same Muslim faith. Similarly, in Iran, there is Shia versus Sunni. Again, we see the influence of Iran and Iraq. The only thing they actually seem to agree on is that they should run all the Christians right out of the country.

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Brian Jean

There are also the Baha'i.

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Baha'i is another example.

In Syria, there is a conflict between the Sunni and Shia but also a conflict between the Alawites and the rest, and a conflict between the Christians and the Druze. Is that an expression of religious conflict, ethnic conflict or economic conflict?

If we move on to Israel, there is a conflict between Judaism and Islam. The Coptic Christians are not doing very well in Egypt, in spite of the so-called Arab Spring. While the Muslim Brotherhood might like to eliminate Christianity from that part of the world, it is still a conflict of ethnicity and an economic conflict.

While I congratulate the government on its efforts to bring these kinds of conflicts to the fore and actually speak to the religious component of these conflicts, I do not know how it is going to speak in a way that is coherent and respectful of a variety of other aspects of these conflicts, whether it is ethnic, racial or religious. If we just focus on the religious conflict, I do not know whether it will move the ball forward or have no impact whatsoever.

Mr. Speaker, as you know, I am substituting for my colleague, the member for Mount Royal, who is far more articulate than am I. Had he been able to be here, he would have read into the record his own views. His point is that this motion does not, frankly, go far enough. He states:

M-382 makes no mention of any of the other fundamental human rights contained in Articles 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the two documents to which this motion makes express reference. Freedom of speech, the freedom to peacefully assemble, the freedom to marry—or choose not to marry— the freedom to participate in civil society and to take part in the government of one's country, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to be free from discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Indeed, this motion appears to be unnecessarily limited when considered in relation to the very international documents to which it refers. Mr. Speaker, I want to emphasize that I support this motion without hesitation because the principle of religious freedom should without a doubt be a foundational element of Canadian foreign policy. It is a fundamental human right and it must be such.

Then he introduces the big but, and goes on to state:

But, Mr. Speaker, our foreign policy must take a broader view—we must not elevate one human right above all others.

In that respect, I agree with him that we must not emphasize one right above all others. We are in kind of a strange situation in our own, so to speak, post-Christian society. We are a pluralistic society. We are post-Christian, and 20% to 25% of our population says that it does not identify with anything, so the promotion, understanding and application of pluralism is foundational to the success of our society.

The hon. members presenting this motion are right in the sense that in the process of recognizing that we are a post-Christian pluralist society, we should continue to recognize the importance of faith as a core component of many people's lives, not only in our society but in the broader foreign policy context.

A lot of the conflicts I enunciated over the past couple of minutes are core to the belief system, the value system and the cultural expression of those people. To live in kind of a western blindness to the importance of faith to many of the people living in those countries, many of whom come from those countries to our own, is quite naive.

As I say, this is an aspirational statement. It is an important statement to support. I congratulate the hon. member for bringing it forward, and I hope that other members will see that the expression of religious freedom is, in fact, something we need to practise.

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

I am speaking in support of this excellent motion. I generally agree with much of what my colleague has said on this and many other issues. However, today I want to take issue with something he said when speaking on behalf of another member, who was not able to be present today. I take issue with the assertion that this is one right among many.

I maintain that freedom of religion, of conscience, and of thought, including the right to be an atheist and have no religion, is a fundamental right, and all others stem from it. If we cannot believe that which seems to be the truth, which to a religious person is God's own truth, and if we cannot express that and try to convert others from what we believe are mistaken beliefs to our beliefs, then no other freedom is of any meaning. That is the foundational belief.

I have always believed that. I have a great and intense personal interest in freedom of religion and religion in general, which perhaps comes from my own background. My father was raised a Baptist. My mother was Jewish. I was raised as a Unitarian. I like to sometimes joke that I am perhaps the world's only Unitarian fundamentalist, which means that I take very seriously the idea of looking into other faiths and trying to understand what they have to say, on the theory that there is something worthwhile in all of them.

With that in mind, I have a bookshelf in my office devoted exclusively to texts on religion. I have brought some of them to the House today. I have a couple of copies of the Koran, one in verse and one in prose; a Bible; a Book of Mormon, and a whole shelf of books on Buddhism, including an excellent one entitled What the Buddha Taught, by a Theravada monk, Walpola Rahula, which, according to my notes, I read back in 1988.

My very first Standing Order 31, back in 2001 when I was first selected, was on the issue of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese government. I chaired the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism in 2010-11, which included looking into our chairing an international meeting on anti-Semitism.

For five years, I have been the chair of the human rights subcommittee of the House of Commons, which gives me a chance to look at that giant smorgasbord of human rights abuses that goes on around the world. There is so much to choose from. However, by consent of all the parties, our committee has agreed to look at, among other things, rights persecutions in Burma, which are partly ethnic and partly religious; the persecution of the Copts in Egypt, on which we are just now examining a draft report; the persecution of Christians in a number of Muslim states; the persecution of Tibetan Buddhists, and one could dispute whether it is religious or national persecution, but I think it has a bit of each; the persecution of the Falun Gong; and the persecution of a variety of religious groups, including Christians, Jews, Baha'i, and other forms of Muslims in Iran, on which we have spent a bit of time.

All of this causes me to want to focus on section (b)(i) of the motion put forward by my colleague from Lambton—Kent—Middlesex

Section (b)(i) urges the Government of Canada to:

support...the opposition to laws that use “defamation of religion” and “blasphemy” both within states and internationally to persecute members of religious minorities,

I want to spend the rest of my presentation making seven points on why this is an excellent proposal and why we should be opposed to this idea.

First, based on all of the experiences I have had, it seems clear to me that religious persecution is the most pervasive and widespread form of human rights abuse worldwide. There are many other forms of abuse, such as racial, gender-based, and the abuse of sexual minorities and national minorities. However, the number one form of persecution, by far, in terms of the number of people persecuted worldwide is persecution, on the basis of religion, of those who practise a faith the state does not approve of, and more particularly, of those who try to convert others to their faith when the state does not want that to happen.

Second, all major religions and some minor religions, such as the Baha'i, face at least some persecution in some parts of the world. The only exception I can think of to this rule is Shinto, which is practised exclusively in Japan.

If our goal is to assign guilt, and this is point number three, then it is also true that advocates of all major religions are, or in the past have been, guilty of repressing others.

Atheists have been and continue to be among the world's worst oppressors of religious minorities. I draw the attention of the House to North Korea, an atheist regime, and the People's Republic of China and its oppression of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslims in the Uyghur region and Falun Gong practitioners to make the point. That is probably the world's largest source of human rights abuse right there: atheism. We might want to look at Stalin's Russia, Pol Pot's Cambodia and so on.

The reverse is also true, and this is very important. Members of each faith have done much to assist others to carry on their own faith. If we want to see how true that is, we should go to the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles in Jerusalem to take a look at the people who are commemorated there. We will see members of all religions, including atheists, many Christians, some Muslims and some people who are members of none of those religions.

In a debate such as the one we are having here, I do not think there is any value in looking at it in terms of which group is being defended or which group is being attacked as we go through the discussion. It is important to understand the principle involved.

Point number five is this: religions are explanations of how the universe works. It is conceivable that every religion is wrong, but it is objectively impossible that all of them are right. How we who are involved in the system of drafting laws deal with this and with the fact that advocates of each version of the truth feel themselves morally compelled to defend their own version of the truth and to speak on its behalf is the real subject of this debate. This includes particularly how we deal with attempts to convert members of one religion to another.

To make this point, two of the books I have brought today, the Koran and the Book of Mormon, may both be wrong, but they cannot both be true. It may be the case that advocates of the one will try to convert members of the other faith. They may feel themselves compelled to try to convert members of the other faith to theirs, even see it as their highest moral duty. They cannot do so without saying, “The faith you currently hold is false to the extent that it is inconsistent with the faith that I hold”. It is impossible for them to do that.

However, the United Nations Human Rights Council looked at making that illegal and tried to incorporate into international law a forbidding of engaging in that kind of fulfilment of one's own moral duty.

On March 27, 2008, UNHRC passed a resolution—which was not endorsed by Canada, I should emphasize—that stated as point 12 that “...everyone has the right to freedom of expression, and...the exercise of this right carries with it special duties and responsibilities, and may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but only those provided by law and necessary for the respect of the rights or reputations of others...”, by which it means other religions.

“The rights or reputations of others” means not saying another individual's religion is false to the extent it is inconsistent with one's own religion. That means the jailing, in some cases perhaps even execution, of people who are merely expressing their own religion as they believe they are compelled by God's law to do, and the authorization of that oppression by international law. That is what Canada must take a stand against.

I feel that way. I hope the entire House feels that way. I will point out that if so, we will not be alone. In 2009, another resolution of a similar nature was condemned by more than 200 civil society organization from 46 countries, including members of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, secular, humanist and atheist groups, and similar condemnations have continued since that time.

I will make a final point. If anyone believes that their belief system is the absolute truth, whether it is their religion or whether they are atheists who believe that all religions are false, then they must, by necessity, also believe that in a free marketplace of ideas, their views will prevail in the end. If a person believes that their views will prevail in the end because they are the views expressed by God himself or because the person believes they are a logical conclusion of reason, then the person must believe that there is no need to oppress others. Indeed, it is counterproductive.

On that basis, I encourage all members to vote for this motion.

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, this motion before us for discussion today is an odd one. Perhaps instead of calling it “odd”, I should refer to it as “curious”.

I would like to read the first few lines of the motion and, in all likelihood, my colleagues will wonder why we are debating this kind of motion this morning. I know I did. It states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) continue to recognize as part of Canadian foreign policy that...

You do not need to have a degree in linguistics to know that “continue to recognize” means that it is already happening. If necessary, perhaps we could reaffirm the fact that we will continue to do what we are already doing, but that seems to me to be a given. The motion goes on to state:

...continue to recognize...that (i) everyone has the right to freedom of religion and conscience, including the freedom to change religion or belief, and the freedom to manifest religion or belief in teaching, worship...

In my opinion, that is already guaranteed by the charter. A bit further on, the motion states:

...continue to recognize...that...(iii) Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights be supported...

Again, it is a question of continuing to support something that we are already supporting.

The motion goes on to say:

...(b) support (i) the opposition to laws that use "defamation of religion" persecute members of religious minorities, (ii) reporting by Canadian missions abroad in responding to incidents of religious violence...(iv) the maintaining of a regular dialogue with relevant governments to ensure that the issue of religious persecution is a priority, (v) the encouragement of Canadian embassies to seek contact with religious communities and human rights organizations on gathering information related to human rights abuses...

One of the problems with this motion is the use of the word “support”, which seems much too weak for this kind of situation.

This motion contains a series of revelations confirming what we already knew in whole or in part and what we were already doing, I hope. Why, then, does the government need to politicize the concept of religious freedom or any other freedom, for that matter? Are these freedoms not all universal?

Great periods in the history of western society have gone a long way toward entrenching these fundamental principles in modern society. Typically, pondering such matters has been the pursuit of philosophers, not politicians. To rediscover the genesis of these freedoms, let us review the milestones that led to our concepts of modern freedom.

Greek thinker Plato, whom many consider to be the father of philosophy even though many had gone before him, wrote that the only way to ensure public happiness was to ensure equality. Therein lay the seed of our great liberties, at least in spirit.

Nicholas of Cusa, an early proponent of humanism, was famous for being the first to say that men are born free and equal. Then came the Enlightenment and Voltaire, who wrote about religious tolerance and gave us the great universal principle: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” He argued that, according to that principle, one man could not say to another: “Believe what I believe and what you cannot believe, or you will perish.”

Still, the pages of history are filled with unacceptable stories of people who suffer and die because others believe they themselves possess the truth. There is nothing more dangerous than those who believe they possess the truth, no matter which organization they belong to. Around the world, people destroy temples, forbid the construction of minarets, confiscate belongings, engage in ethnic cleansing and, worst of all, kidnap, rape and kill their fellow human beings, all in the name of religious truth.

No one who considers himself to be religious or a humanist can support such actions. All the major religions, when they are not being exploited, condemn these actions, which fly in the face of love and respect for others. I would even go so far as to say that, in my region at least, people are unanimous on this issue. For that reason, we are wondering why this motion was moved this morning.

I would like to come back to the motion before us today. Why do the Conservatives feel it is necessary to politicize an issue that is generally or unanimously supported?

In 2011, the Conservatives promised to create, within the Department of Foreign Affairs, an office of religious freedom with the mandate of fighting religious persecution in the world. That is quite the challenge. How will this be done? No one seems to know the specifics. I was told that the office will have three key priorities, which are, first, to protect and advocate on behalf of religious minorities under threat; second, to oppose religious hatred and intolerance; and third, to promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad.

I am eager to see how much money will be allocated to such important measures. The Conservatives cannot simply move motions that are all smoke and mirrors if they do not intend to then take action. Let us be clear: no one can oppose virtue.

However, we are concerned about the influence of the religious right within the Conservative Party and, by extension, within the government and even within this new office. I will not go so far as to make a direct link between the two, but it is rather interesting to note that the Conservative government recently made the decision to reduce the funding for hiring non-Christian chaplains in prisons. When I was young, I was always told that charity begins at home. Before preaching to others, we need to make sure that we are a credible role model.

What is more, it remains to be seen how separate the office and the Department of Foreign Affairs will be. If the government decides to focus its foreign policy on religious freedom, it cannot do so to the exclusion of other rights.

Here again, the age of enlightenment opened our eyes and showed us the way through the writings of John Locke, who provided an excellent explanation of the need to separate church and state. In keeping with his social contract theory, Locke said that a government does not have authority over matters of individual conscience since a rational person cannot transfer control over such matters to a government. According to Locke, individual conscience is a natural right that must be defended against all government authority.

In that respect, the NDP will ensure that the principles entrenched in the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief are upheld. Freedom of belief also means that an individual has the right to not hold religious beliefs and to profess this on his own or with others.

The NDP supports this motion and will ensure that defending religious freedom does not conflict with other human rights such as women's or workers' rights.

If freedom of religion were to take precedence over other freedoms, I would already be worrying about the hierarchy of such rights. With all due respect, I have to admit that I find it very difficult to prioritize religious freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association, among others. Much of the persecution of our fellow human beings is directly related to religious strife where the majority dominates a minority.

Do we really need religious freedom or do we need to prevent the abuses of these religious majorities?

No major religious organization has provided unqualified support for the Office of Religious Freedom. Like us, they are reserving judgment on the merits of the office and its work.

This is an ambitious challenge and the motion is certainly commendable. However, I fear that the Conservative government's concern for human rights is more about being re-elected than about the professed noble and altruistic motives.

However, today I will simply express my fears, and I will not launch into a diatribe that could diminish my arguments.

Mr. Speaker, time is flying and I will stop now. I would like to thank you for your attention and reiterate that I am very pleased to participate in the democratic life of a society such as ours, where the freedoms I spoke about at length are part of our everyday life.

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, it has been an honour to have presented this bill and to have heard the diversified speeches throughout this House. I also want to thank my colleague from Cypress Hills—Grasslands, who has not only supported the motion on the floor but has been a great support as we moved forward with it.

As we have all acknowledged throughout the debate, Canada is one of the greatest countries because we have the freedoms and prosperity that, for many of the countries we are going to talk about, this motion would support. The motion is based on those values that contribute to a society, values that in Canada we just take for granted. It is a society that is built upon the fact that one can have a belief in one's religion without persecution. It is a society where one can have one's religion, and we have spoken about the variety, or decide to change it without being persecuted. This motion is about human dignity, which is something that should be afforded to anyone in any country.

The motion does not politicize, but it helps us understand the responsibility we would have as Canadians to help citizens in other countries through persuasion. We do not have legislative authority in other countries, but we can join other free democracies, like the United States, Germany and European countries. We can help influence and show what is so good in Canada, and we would like to see that for those citizens who get persecuted in other countries.

I would also like to acknowledge the appointment of Dr. Andrew Bennett to the Office of Religious Freedom. He has been charged with an incredible responsibility, and it will not come without its challenges.

When we reach out across the globe, 70% of the population within countries actually have high restrictions on their religion or their ability to change it. There are governments that say what religion is to be followed, and if one opposes it, one becomes persecuted. It is not like Canada, where there may be some discrepancies or words that are said. We are talking about countries where people are beaten and tortured, women are raped and people are killed because of the religious belief they have or want to change.

In Canada, freedom of conscience and religion has been enshrined in many of our covenants, and those have been mentioned today. We want to promote these values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in other countries to help protect and allow people in those countries who have a belief to have the same abilities and freedoms we have in our democracies.

I will wrap up by thanking those who have taken the opportunity to speak. I want to thank those who have stood up and said that they would support Motion No. 382. I would like to thank Dr. Bennett for his charge of carrying this forward. I would also like to thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs and others who have taken on this initiative, as well as the Prime Minister, who announced that this was going to happen in the last election. I am thankful and I look forward to the support of all parties in this great place in Canada.

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Is the House ready for the question?

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

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

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members



Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

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

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Religious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, April 24, 2013, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Suspension of SittingReligious FreedomPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The House will now stand suspended until 12 noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:53 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

The House resumed from March 28 consideration of the motion that Bill S-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act, be read the third time and passed.

Combating Terrorism ActGovernment Orders


Portage—Lisgar Manitoba


Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill S-7, the combatting terrorism act.

As the world unfortunately witnessed last week, terrorism is still a very real evil threat that continues to threaten the world. The horrific bomb blast at the Boston Marathon and the terrifying aftermath that crippled the city have again demonstrated what terrorists strive for, which is the deliberate infliction of death or suffering upon innocent people to further some misguided cause. These horrendous acts of violence must stop, and the perpetrators who commit them must be punished to the furthest extent of the law.

It is precisely to prevent the scourge of terrorism from wreaking havoc in Canada that all members of the House need to stand together and support the enactment of Bill S-7.

The enactment of Bill S-7 would bring back the investigative hearing, which is a procedure whereby a peace officer may apply to a judge for an order for a person to attend before the judge and be questioned in order to gather information or to produce a thing before the judge. The order can only be made where the judge is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a terrorism offence has been or will be committed. Thus, it applies to past as well as future terrorism offences.

This power contains numerous safeguards, such as the right to counsel and strong protections against self-incrimination. The bill adds safeguards that are not present in the original legislation. One of the key new safeguards is that in all cases, before granting the order to gather information, the judge must be satisfied that reasonable attempts have been made to obtain the information by other means. This is an important safeguard.

Bill S-7 also proposes to re-enact the recognizance with conditions. This is intended to disrupt terrorist activity from occurring. This provision would allow a peace officer, who believes on reasonable grounds that a terrorist activity will be committed and suspects on reasonable grounds that the imposition of a recognizance with conditions on a person is necessary to prevent the carrying out of a terrorist activity, to go before a judge to have the judge compel the person to attend before him or her. At a hearing the judge then determines whether to impose the recognizance on the person. This tool is a modified variant of other peace bond provisions found elsewhere in the Criminal Code.

The bill also proposes to create new terrorism offences that are designed to focus on the problem of Canadians going abroad to commit terrorism outside Canada. Unfortunately, we are all too aware in recent months of examples of such heinous behaviour.

Bill S-7 proposes to create four new terrorism offences to help address this issue. These are the following: leaving or attempting to leave Canada for the purpose of knowingly participating in or contributing to any activity of a terrorist group, for the purpose of enhancing the ability of any terrorist group to facilitate or carry out terrorist activity; knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity; committing an indictable offence for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group; and committing an indictable offence that constitutes a terrorist activity.

These are very important new laws that need to come into place, as we have seen what has gone on over the last week in Boston as well as even here at home. These are really important amendments that need to happen. Bill S-7 would bring these amendments forward.

These new measures are intended to prevent a person from leaving the country to participate in certain terrorism offences. It would make more robust the legal authority to arrest and prosecute a person who has left Canada or who is attempting to leave Canada for the purpose of, for example, attending a terrorist training camp.

Communities are asking us for this. Communities across the country are concerned when young people are being radicalized and leaving the country for this purpose. They want Canada to have strong laws in place to stop this. We really appreciate the fact that communities are working together with us.

The penalties for these offences would send a strong signal that leaving the country to engage in terrorist activity is unacceptable.

Bill S-7 also proposes amendments to fulfill parliamentary recommendations that were made following a parliamentary review of the Anti-Terrorism Act, and amendments to the Canada Evidence Act that are proposed in order to bring the act in line with court rulings. The provisions in Bill S-7 have been drafted with due regard for the Constitution of Canada. For example, the new terrorism offences found in the bill have stringent requirements, such as proof as purpose to do wrong.

The investigative hearing and the recognizance with conditions have several due process guarantees built into them and require annual reporting on their use by all governments, federal and provincial. As well, Bill S-7 requires Parliament to review the investigative hearings and the recognizance with conditions. We can see that there are strong and numerous safeguards built into this important piece of legislation.

In closing, I would like to express my deepest condolences to all of those who have suffered as a result of the despicable acts that occurred in Boston this last week. I hope, as I know all members of the House hope, that Canada will never have to suffer as Boston as suffered over the last week. We can only hope, though, that if such a terrible event were to happen in Canada, or if Canada were to become a target of terrorism, we would act as Bostonians have, with great courage and great resolution.

The way that the city has come together has been an inspiration for all of us. They have shown the world that fear would not define them. I would hope that Canadians, if such a thing would happen, would do the same thing. I would like to commend the Bostonians and honour them for what they have done, as a city and as our American neighbours.

At the same time, I would like to say that it is so important to ensure that Canada has the necessary laws and tools to prevent such a heinous attack. We want to make sure we are fully prepared and that we can combat terrorism and possible future terrorist acts, as well as making sure that anyone who has been involved in terrorist acts in Canada is dealt with. We have to ensure that the evildoers are met with the justice that they deserve. Otherwise, we as parliamentarians have failed our most basic duty, and that is to protect Canadians.

Therefore, I urge all members of the House to support the immediate and long overdue enactments of this important bill.

Combating Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, thinking about my dear friends in Boston, as people all over the world are thinking of Boston, I would like to refer my hon. colleague to the editorial in today's Globe and Mail. It says the two-day debate in Parliament on the government's proposed anti-terrorism legislation “smacks of political opportunism, and it is regrettable that it will take place. The debate politicizes the Boston Marathon bombings when few facts are known [...] The sole apparent purpose of the debate is to attempt to embarrass [the new political leader], and to cash in on any public fears caused by the bombings”.

The Globe and Mail calls on Parliament to take the time to reflect on this bill and not to use it just to embarrass the fuzzy thinking of the Liberal leader.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague to work with us in ensuring that the bill is reviewed properly instead of it being used for political fodder.

Combating Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed that would be the first question my colleague would ask me. I am not surprised, but I am disappointed.

The fact is, as we have seen over this last week in Boston, as well as in London, Ontario, and there are other examples, we know that terrorism and the threat of terrorism is not something that only affects countries far away. It has had a terrible effect and terrible consequences right here in North America. Our neighbours have suffered terribly.

Our job as parliamentarians, and we as Conservatives take our job very seriously, is to make sure that Canadians are protected and to make sure law enforcement have the tools they need, whether it is CSIS, RCMP or investigators locally. That is the job that Canadians have asked us to do.

This is an important amendment. It is an amendment that was part of the original legislation. Again, the Liberals recognized that it was important. At this time, when a lot of the threats are not known, when police and law enforcement are investigating, they need these tools. There are strong safeguards, but they need the tools to be able to question potential threats. They need to be able to stop these potential threats, which is the recognizance with conditions portion, again, only with the approval and the consent of a judge, and they need other safeguards in place.

It is too bad that the NDP does not seem to understand that terrorism is a threat. We have seen it over this last week. It is not just a notion. It is not just something for academics to talk about.

It is time right now for parliamentarians to act, to give law enforcement the tools they need, to bring back important provisions into the Anti-terrorism Act, including the new laws that would make it an offence to leave the country to engage in or be trained in terrorist activity. These are important and timely measures. It is extremely disappointing that the NDP does not see this.

I am hoping I will hear that the Liberals will continue to support this. I know they have indicated previously that they would support it.

It is disappointing, not surprising, that the NDP will not support it. The legislation was before committee and we did study it thoroughly. I know that some of my NDP colleagues, and other colleagues, the critic for public safety, were there and they asked questions. We heard over and over that this was an important piece for law enforcement.

If the NDP members have more technical questions about the bill, we understand that. We would be happy to answer those questions. We are prepared, because we believe it is a good piece of legislation. However, to out and out say they are not going to support it then I would say that if they want to talk about who is politicizing something they need to look in the mirror.

Combating Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I first want to echo the comments made by my colleague from Timmins—James Bay, for I too believe that the Conservative government's decision to bring this debate back to the forefront smacks of partisanship.

What we have before us is a government that is using the terrible tragedy that took place in Boston for partisan purposes. On the one hand—and this ties into the question I want to ask my Conservative colleague—I will demonstrate that this government is not very proactive on terrorism.

It cut $143 million from the Canada Border Services Agency budget, and 325 jobs were lost at border crossings across the country. The intelligence branch lost 100 jobs and 19 sniffer dog units, which could have protected Canada by preventing terrorists from entering our country.

Why does my colleague think the government is, on the one hand, using the terrible tragedy in Boston to try to boost its image, while on the other hand quietly eliminating the jobs of inspectors who could prevent terrorists from entering Canada?