Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-51, the latest omnibus bill from the government. I have to say it is a bit ironic that we are debating an omnibus bill, given the fact that when the Liberals were in opposition, they made so much noise and such a fuss about omnibus bills introduced by the previous Conservative government.
The Prime Minister and the Liberal platform called omnibus bills undemocratic and the Prime Minister pledged that a Liberal government would undo the practice of introducing omnibus bills. I guess, like so many promises made by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign, this is just another broken promise in a string of broken promises made by him. It really illustrates that the Prime Minister's platform for real change was not worth the paper it was written on.
This omnibus bill contains a number of different sections and parts that are unrelated and given the fact that it contains a number of sections that are unrelated, it then comes as no surprise that parts of Bill C-51 I strongly support and other parts I have real concerns with. I will start with some of the positives.
One aspect of Bill C-51 that I strongly support is the removal of unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Code. Canadians should be able to expect that the Criminal Code accurately reflects the state of the law, and yet Canadians who make that common-sense assumption would be wrong. They would be wrong because the Criminal Code contains dozens and dozens of sections that have been found to be unconstitutional.
The consequences of leaving sections in the Criminal Code that are unconstitutional can be very serious. That was most recently illustrated last year when Travis Vader's conviction for two counts of the second-degree murder of Lyle and Marie McCann was vacated after the trial judge applied a section of the Criminal Code that had been found to be unconstitutional 26 years earlier, all the way back in 1990, and yet there was the section in black and white in the Criminal Code purporting to represent the law on its face.
Lyle and Marie McCann, who were murdered, resided in St. Albert and members of the McCann family live in my community of St. Albert. I can say that the case really did have a profound impact on the community. It further strengthened the impact of the case after the family waited six years for justice. At the moment it seemed that justice had been finally achieved, we saw the injustice of having those two convictions for second-degree murder vacated.
What happened to the McCann family should never have happened. It was completely preventable. That is why, in December of 2016, I joined Bret McCann, the son of Lyle and Marie McCann, at a press conference to call on the government and the Minister of Justice to introduce legislation to repeal unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Code, often referred to as zombie laws.
To that end, I am pleased that Bill C-51 would remove sections of the Criminal Code that have been found to be unconstitutional by appellate courts. I am also pleased that the government introduced Bill C-39, which would remove sections of the Criminal Code that have been found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada.
However, I am very disappointed with the lack of progress the government has made in the passage of Bill C-39. Bill C-39 was introduced by the Minister of Justice on March 8. Nearly a year later, absolutely no legislative progress has been made. Indeed, it remains stuck at first reading. Bill C-39 is straightforward legislation, it is not controversial, and it could be passed easily, yet the minister continues to drag her feet.
I am baffled and the McCann family is baffled and frustrated about the failure of the Liberal government to move Bill C-39 forward so unconstitutional sections, as determined by the Supreme Court, can be removed from the Criminal Code, including the section wrongfully applied in the Vader case. The inaction from the minister and the government increases the likelihood that something like what happened to the McCann family can happen again. In the event that it does, as the result of the Liberal government's inaction, the government will bear partial responsibility. I urge the government to move forward with Bill C-39 in addition to Bill C-51.
One other positive aspect about Bill C-51 is the fact that the government has finally backed down from the removal of section 176 from the Criminal Code. One of the parts of the bill is to remove unconstitutional sections, as well as sections of the Criminal Code that, in the opinion of the government, are redundant or obsolete.
Section 176 of the criminal code makes it a criminal offence to obstruct or threaten a religious official or to disrupt a religious service or ceremony. Simply put, section 176 is not unconstitutional, has never been challenged in court, and is not obsolete. Indeed, a number of individuals have been successfully prosecuted under section 176. Also, it is not redundant in as much as it is the only section of the Criminal Code that expressly protects the rights and freedoms of Canadians to practise their religion without fear or intimidation, a freedom that, by the way, is not just any freedom. When we are talking about freedom of religion, we are talking about a fundamental freedom guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I am glad the government listened to the official opposition. More important, it listened to thousands and thousands of Canadians who signed a petition, wrote letters and emails, and made phone calls to MPs and the government to keep section 176 in the Criminal Code.
Bill C-51 would remove another section of the Criminal Code that I believe should not be removed, and that is section 49. Section 49 makes it an offence to attack or harm the head of state, Her Majesty the Queen. The government has not been able to provide any meaningful rationale as to why section 49 would be removed. It has not been able to provide a rationale in debate. It has not been able to provide a rationale at committee. It could not come at a worse time. This year marks the 65th anniversary that Queen Elizabeth was ascended to the throne. It makes no sense why the Liberal government seems intent on removing section 49 from the Criminal Code.
Perhaps the most substantive part of Bill C-51 deals with amendments to the Criminal Code related to sexual assault laws in Canada. There are a number of parts of the code that Bill C-51 would amend with respect to sexual assault provisions of the code. A number of the changes in Bill C-51 would clean up the Criminal Code with respect to codifying certain Supreme Court decisions, including the J.A. decision and the Ewanchuk decisions of the Supreme Court. I fully support the parts of the bill that would clean up the Criminal Code with respect to that.