House of Commons Hansard #249 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was code.

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of good components of this bill relating to changes in the sexual assault laws, including codifying the Ewanchuk decision to make it absolutely clear that the defence of mistaken belief based upon a mistake of law cannot be put forward. The bill is also positive in that it codifies the J.A. decision to make it clear that under no circumstances can a complainant be found to have given her consent when in an unconscious state. These and other changes are positive aspects of the bill.

That said, I do have serious concerns about the defence disclosure requirements. These are very real concerns. They are substantive concerns. They raise charter issues. They go to the heart of trial fairness.

At the end of the day, it is fundamental that complainants be protected in our system. However, it is also fundamental to our justice system that accused persons have the right to make a full answer in defence. That is fundamental to getting to the heart of the proof in a particular case, and to guard against wrongful convictions.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member could speak a bit to section 176, which this bill had initially proposed removing, and on which there now seems a willingness on the part of the government to back away from doing. This was not a concession that came easily. Obviously, the member will know that he and other members of our official opposition worked very hard, and many Canadians became active and mobilized across faith communities, to show the government that it does not make much sense to, on the one hand, talk about a rising climate of hate and fear and the risks that faith communities might face, but on the other hand to propose removing the one section of the Criminal Code that specifically provides protection for the practice of faith in Canada.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend and colleague, the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, for that important question. I want to acknowledge the work he did as one of the first members to flag the government's proposed removal of section 176 in its initial draft of Bill C-51.

The member is quite right that it took a lot of pressure for the government to come around to do the common-sense and right thing with respect to a section of the Criminal Code that is not unconstitutional, that is not redundant, and that has been used in several cases, including most recently in the case of an Ottawa woman who vandalized a religious statue. He is quite right when he speaks about a climate of fear and hate, in which persons, churches, synagogues, and mosques have been targeted by hateful people. We have seen that recently with a number of acts of vandalism at Ottawa area synagogues and mosques. We have seen many instances of this.

Not only was the proposed removal of section 176 substantively the wrong thing to do, the timing could not have been worse. It is really inconsistent with the government's purported commitment to ensuring that measures are taken to deal with and address serious issues around hate being perpetrated and individuals being targeted on the basis of their religion or other characteristics.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the very legalistic approach taken in my hon. colleague's remarks. I come from a similar professional background and a similar vintage as the hon. member.

However, one of the things I have been privileged to do since I arrived in this place is to serve on the status of women committee. When we did the study on ending violence against women, particularly against young women and girls, some of the testimony that we heard was about the dramatic under-reporting of sexual assault in Canada, and how ill-equipped our legal system is to deal with those who do muster the courage to come forward.

I view this bill as a positive step that will both encourage more young women who have been victimized by and survived sexual violence to report it and potentially result in more convictions when sexual assault is reported. Does my hon. colleague agree or disagree that it will lead to more convictions in circumstances where sexual assault has been committed?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe that certain parts of Bill C-51 help clarify the law around sexual assault.

One example of that is the evidence tendered with respect to the twin myths. In that regard, the bill makes it clear that evidence cannot be tendered under any circumstances. That is good because there has been some confusion in the case law with respect to subsection 276(1) and then another subsection, 276(2), and subsection (3), which has resulted in trial judges basically having a balancing test in some cases. This bill would eliminate that and make it clear that under no circumstances can evidence be tendered on the basis that a complainant, as a result of her sexual history, is less believable or more likely to consent. That is a positive step.

The problem with this bill is that it is an omnibus bill. It relates to matters that are unrelated to each another. Therefore, there are parts of this bill that are very positive, but there are other sections that, frankly, are very problematic, including with respect to defence disclosure.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on the comment by my colleague across the way that this is an omnibus bill.

We have a number of changes before us in the bill. Those changes come, in good part, as a result of court decisions and reviews that have been done of the Criminal Act. When we take a holistic approach in making some of these changes, would it not be best to incorporate them into one bill in order to have these changes take effect?

Some of these changes deal with completely vain and unnecessary things. For example, who duels nowadays? That is an example of what is being repealed.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, it might have made sense for the government to introduce one bill related to changes to the sexual assault laws. However, this bill does more than that. It would, among other things, require the Minister of Justice to introduce a charter statement with any bill a minister introduces in this House. It would remove unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Code, something that I fully support. It would remove sections of the Criminal Code that are redundant, which I fully support, but again that is totally unrelated to the changes to sexual assault laws. Also, it would remove sections like section 49 dealing with protecting Canada's head of state, Her Majesty the Queen, which is again totally unrelated to sexual assault laws.

Therefore, this is an omnibus bill. It is exactly what this government campaigned it would not do, and here we are debating an omnibus bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-51, which is important legislation. I do not necessarily agree with my colleague across the way when he talks about the omnibus nature of legislation. In fact, a very thorough review has taken place. This legislation is a reflection, as I made reference to in my question, of court decisions that have been made. along with a review from bureaucrats and others who have been involved in trying to update or modernize our Criminal Code.

I have had the opportunity to look at the Criminal Code, and it is a fairly wordy document. We need to modernize it or make a genuine attempt to make changes like these. Sometimes legislation or law needs to change. I cannot recall the details right off hand, other than the fact that one of the changes would get rid of duelling. I am sure people would have to look long and hard to find the last time there was an actual duelling of swords in Canada. There is legislation that, because it is never repealed or taken out of the Criminal Code, just becomes somewhat dated. Therefore, it is necessary for us to take a look at it and make changes.

My colleague across the way made a couple of references on which I want to pick up, for example, the charter statement. For years I sat in the opposition benches. We would look at government legislation and quite often question if it was charter proof, or if there was a legal opinion with regard to legislation, that it would go through the court system and meet the charter. On many occasions, I have stood in the House and talked about the importance of the charter and different perspectives. Canadians have responded, over three decades-plus of having the charter, that the charter is part of our Canadian values. Often, when I sat in opposition, the government would talk a fairly tough line on criminal matters.

At times, the government would bring in ideas and we questioned whether it had a legal opinion on whether it would be successful if it went to a Supreme Court. We would challenge the government to ensure legislation would be vetted to ensure it would be in compliance, as much as possible, if not all of the time, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A very positive aspect of the legislation before us is the charter statement. It would require government to have that charter statement for legislation it introduced to the House. That is a very strong positive, and I am very supportive of it being in the legislation.

I want to pick up on an issue about which the Conservatives have spoken. The Conservatives are leaving the impression that a change to the legislation with respect to the repeal of section 176, as originally suggested in the legislation and is no longer happening, is because of the fine work of the Conservative Party. That is a false impression. I too had had constituents of mine in Winnipeg North and others express genuine concern about why section 176 of the Criminal Code would be repealed.

For those following the debate, like me, who were not part of the committee discussions but may be interested in exactly what members have already said today, section 176 was originally going to be repealed. When the bill was introduced to the House at second reading, it was proposed that section 176 of the Criminal Code be repealed. It currently states:

Every one who (a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling...

The response to the proposal to the repeal of that section, which many individuals came to know somewhere between first reading and second reading, was brought to my attention. I was really quite glad to see the system works. I do not believe I was alone. I suspect other members of Parliament on both sides of the House were approached on this issue. From my perspective, that demonstrates the system works.

After second reading, the bill went to committee. Members on all sides of the House recognized, whether it was through the committee chair or the committee membership, that high sense of co-operation and understanding of the things that needed to be done. Presenters came forward and recommended, in essence, what many of us were hearing in our constituencies.

I was not surprised that an amendment brought forward to keep section 176. In fact, I believe it was improved upon in the Criminal Code. The standing committee addressed the concerns to repeal section 176 and amended it. It also added more strength to it by expanding it so it went beyond only ministers to include spiritual leaders and so forth, which was a positive change. Had it not even been in the original legislation, that aspect would not have been changed. Therefore, we have a stronger section 176 of the Criminal Code.

I want to emphasize that clause, because it gives me room to let my constituents know that when we talk about trying to improve legislation, we have a process that allows for that. Bill C-51 is a very good example of this.

From what I understand, at least one opposition amendment was approved. As well, a number of government members brought forward amendments to improve the legislation. That clearly demonstrates that second reading is a great opportunity to get a good understanding in principle of what the legislation is about. It then goes to committee where experts are afforded the opportunity to provide their thoughts. Members of Parliament are able to reflect on the clauses, and caucuses, either directly or indirectly, are able to feed their thoughts into the need for change, and we saw amendments. This amendment was a very strong positive, because constituents of mine wanted to see that happen.

I applaud the efforts of the standing committee and the fine work it did in returning the legislation to where we are today. Today we have fairly good support for it coming from all political parties. I understand that many inside and outside the chamber see this as strong legislation, which will further advance the important issue of sexual assault.

We often underestimate just how serious sexual assault is in Canada. In 2016, some 20,000-plus incidents were reported. Those number are far too high. I do not know how it compares to previous years, all I know is that it is an unacceptable number.

When we look at the 20,000-plus incidents reported in 2016, we can anticipate that for every one reported, many others were not. We need to talked about this more. The government and the House need to look at ways in which we can ensure individuals who are victims feel comfortable in knowing society as a whole encourages them to come forward. We all understand and can appreciate the consequences of this type of violent crime. The numbers are significant and very upsetting. It affects all communities.

We can talk about bringing in the legislation and trying to improve it, but it is going to take more than just legislation. There needs to be a national-led approach on how we can deal with the issue sexual assault. I am very happy to hear that different departments, in particular Public Safety and Status of Women, are engaged and are on top of this. We need to promote this dialogue.

I have always thought we vastly underestimate the roles our school divisions throughout the country can play on the issue of violence, in particular sexual assault. I would like to see different stakeholders provide more ideas and have more dialogue. What takes place in our schools is of critical importance.

I used to be the education critic in Manitoba. We often talked about setting the curriculum for our schools and the important role the provincial government had with respect to that curriculum. Likely some areas in the country have better practices. This is where a national government can play a leadership role by looking for better practices and trying as much as possible to encourage and promote those practices in other jurisdictions. That is one of the reasons why I believe in the importance of having interprovincial discussion groups, having a government and its ministers taking these important issues to the many different tables they sit around.

The legislation is important, we recognize that, which brings me right to the bill itself. It proposes to remove and repeal the passage of provisions of the code that have been ruled unconstitutional in many ways by our courts or raise concerns under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the passage of provisions that are obsolete, redundant and/or quite frankly no longer in place in criminal law itself.

I want to clarify that strengthening the criminal law of sexual assault is expected to assist in enhancing a better understanding of the law and addressing concerns about the law's application. I believe that the better the understanding of the law, the simpler it is made known to victims, the greater the likelihood that we would have victims approving and coming forward to report what has taken place in their particular situation.

I would suggest that the proposed changes to the Department of Justice Act and Criminal Code reflect the government's unwavering commitment to promote respect for the charter and the rule of law. I made reference to the years we sat in opposition and how important it was that when government brought forward legislation that we in the opposition ensured there was a charter test applied to it. This legislation does just that.

Repealing provisions that are very similar to those found unconstitutional by the courts will help avoid expensive and time-consuming litigation. Avoiding unnecessary litigation will also help to prevent court delays and backlogs, which is so critically important.

We can see that the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights did an outstanding job in reviewing the bill, and making the amendments I have made reference to, which were of the utmost importance.

The government is committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system protects Canadians, and holds offenders to account for their actions, that it upholds the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and shows compassion to victims. We have to ensure that the confidentiality and privacy of victims are protected as much as humanly possible. It is critically important. This includes the unwavering commitment to ensuring that victims of sexual assault are treated with the utmost dignity and level of respect.

During the study, we heard from many individuals who came before the committee on the importance of clarity of what sexual assault laws are. The feedback provided was most welcomed for us to have a better understanding of how a person has given consent, and the need to recognize that if someone is unconscious that person is not capable of giving consent. Therefore, it provides more definition and clarity in that area.

Based on what I am hearing from the members opposite, I believe there is fairly good support for the legislation. With respect to those areas that were repealed, for the most part, with one or possibly two exceptions, the House seems to be fairly supportive. The one greatest exception, section 176, has been dealt with in an appropriate fashion. I know I was quite grateful that it was repealed.

I see that my time has expired. I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts on this piece of legislation.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, oftentimes we see the arms waving and flailing but the fact that there is all-party support for the changes in this legislation perhaps led to the tempered comments that we heard today.

I want to bring up section 176 because it is important to understand that it was the member for Niagara Falls who really highlighted the fact that the changes were not in the bill, that there were significant issues with religious freedoms and religious institutions practising. The member for Niagara Falls brought up that it was not in fact advertised as part of the changes to this piece of legislation. Why was it not highlighted when the bill was tabled? In all the press releases and the correspondence that were put out by the government subsequent to the releasing of this piece of legislation, it neglected to put these changes with section 176 of the act, and again it was the member for Niagara Falls who highlighted those.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is one of the reasons why I started the speech in the manner in which I did, focusing specifically on section 176. There have been a number of my colleagues, members across the way, who have talked about Bill C-51 and the many different advantages of the passage of this piece of legislation, especially when it comes to sexual assault. There is no way I can articulate in the same manner in which some of our colleagues have in terms of the actual benefits in that whole area, so that is why I focused a good part of my comments on talking about the issue of process.

I looked at the section 176 as a fairly positive experience. What we saw was not just one member of the House because I believe this thing was being driven, in most part, by Canadians to say, “Let us just wait a minute here.” I know I have had calls on it, and people felt that this was an important aspect of the Criminal Code. Whether or not it was being used very rarely, it definitely provided a disincentive for individuals to go into a mosque, a gurdwara, a Christian church, or whatever it might be, in an attempt to disrupt. It was a positive aspect to the Criminal Code.

How it ultimately came into being and appearing in Bill C-51, I suspect had a lot more to do with reviews that were being conducted. As I indicated, some of the stuff that is within Bill C-51 is because of court decisions; others are because of bureaucratic decisions; others would be because of other stakeholders' decisions. Which category that one falls under, I'm going to choose to believe, was the bureaucratic review in terms of how many times possibly it was being utilized in our courts and as a result it appeared there.

However, the good news is that we have a process in place, we have individuals who were listening to the constituents, and we were able not only to get rid of the repeal but we also amended it in the Criminal Code so that it went to include faith and spiritual leaders. I think that would make the Criminal Code that much better.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, during one of my visits in my riding, Jonquière, I had the honour of visiting La Chambrée, a women and children's shelter. It welcomes women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. I had the opportunity to speak with some of them. There were women from all walks of life there; it is a safe haven.

Of course we want to support the amendments relating to sexual assault, but let us be clear: they cannot be simply symbolic. We need to provide legal aid funding for victims of sexual assault, most of whom are women, so that they can exercise their rights.

I would like to know what my colleague thinks about that.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, for me, personally, this legislation is important. It is the sexual assault aspect of the legislation that I believe makes it so very important, and one of the reasons why this government needs to move forward with it as soon as possible. I suspect that's the reason why most individuals are getting onside supporting that aspect of the legislation.

What it does, at least in part, is to amend section 273(1) to clarify that an unconscious person is incapable of consenting, which reflects the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. J.A., 2011. It amends section 273.2 to clarify the defence of mistaken belief and that consent is not available if the mistake is based on the mistake of law, for example, if the accused believed that the complainant's failure to resist or protest meant that the complainant consented. This will codify aspects of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Ewanchuk back in 1999.

More specifically, in terms of the importance of our shelters, I think that if the member was to look at the national housing strategy which is, from my perspective, a historical document that the minister of housing has done an incredible job on, he will find that there are significant amounts of money being allocated to ensure that we continue to support an area in which there is a need.

It is also important that we work with provincial entities. In my area it is Osborne House, which does a fantastic job at meeting many of the needs of women and others in our community who unfortunately have had to endure sexual assault and many other harms.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, just before I pose my question, a comment was made earlier about my hon. colleague waving his arms on occasion. When he spends as much time in the chamber as this member does, there is very little time for exercise. I know where he comes from.

I do want to ask something on a more serious note. This bill includes important measures dealing with the importance of consent in terms of criminal law around sexual assault. I want to recognize some of the points made from different members from different parties on the issue of the circumstances across different sectors of society and the battle that we need to fight to ensure the victims have the support that they need.

In addition to those systemic supports, this particular bill proposes certain revisions that clarify the importance of consent in sexual assault cases. They ensure that, for example, communications are now subject to the rape shield laws that have long protected the use of a person's sexual history to impugn their credibility, for example, or imply consent in a certain circumstance.

Does the hon. member think that this particular bill is going to enhance the number of women who actually are able to come forward and restore their faith in the justice system to report a crime of sexual assault when it takes place in our communities?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I suspect that is one of the greatest motivating factors as to why the government is willing to move forward on this particular issue.

If I conclude just on the rape shield provisions, “to include communications of a sexual nature or communications for a sexual purpose”, these Criminal Code provisions provide that evidence of a complainant's past sexual history cannot be used to support an inference that the complainant was more likely to have consented to the sexual activity at issue, or that the complainant is less worthy of belief. That is often referred to as the “twin myths”. This is one of the greatest motivating factors for the government to move forward on this particular piece of legislation, along with the charter and the concerns that I have raised earlier.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place once again to speak in the debate around another Liberal omnibus bill, which this time happens to be a justice bill. I will be splitting my time with the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan

It has been mentioned already today that in the past election campaign, the Liberals promised there would be no more omnibus bills. They also campaigned against the use of time allocation, and yet time after time the government has used time allocation to move legislation forward.

I am pleased to speak to a bill that received so much input from my constituents over the summer, especially those with strong religious beliefs. The bill does not pick and choose one religion; it will affect all religions.

Bill C-51 was originally introduced by a Liberal government with a section containing what many people thought was an assault on religious freedom and beliefs. As we have heard today, the Liberal government planned to repeal section 176 of the Criminal Code pertaining to the protection of religious officials and the freedom to worship peacefully without disturbance.

Canadians know that Conservative members have always supported religious freedom, and the protection of those freedoms. It was the Conservative government that brought forward the office of religious freedom. That office promoted religious freedom around the world. Andrew Bennett served as ambassador after a long period of time with Foreign Affairs, and he did amazing work for our country and for the whole concept of religious freedom.

In Bill C-51, the Liberal government proposes to repeal section 176 of the Criminal Code pertaining to the protection of religious officials. There was a response in my constituency office and across the country, and pastors and others involved in religious freedom expressed their deepest concerns.

I am very pleased with the work of Conservative members of Parliament who sat on justice committee during the hearings on Bill C-51, including the member for St. Albert—Edmonton and the member for Niagara Falls. Many other Conservative colleagues put considerable effort into the issue of protection of all religious officials and the freedom to worship peacefully without fear of disturbance during religious services. The member of Parliament for Cypress Hills—Grasslands does great work on the whole religious freedom file. I want to thank the many witnesses who testified before committee and provided submissions. I want to thank them for standing up and defending religious freedom in Canada. Their voices were heard.

I commend the Liberal government for backing down on its attempt to repeal section 176. The government realized where amendments should be brought forward and accepted them, so we commend it for that.

It was disconcerting to note that the current government included in Bill C-51 a dismissal of the importance of religious freedom in Canada. The Liberals announced their belief that the disruption of a religious service was not serious enough that it should be protected in this legislation. Consequently, people responded again. At committee, the government tried to ignore it and said it was not going to happen. By November of this year, Liberal members on the justice committee agreed to allow section 176 of the Criminal Code to remain operable.

This was a victory for all faith communities in Canada. It was an important victory, because hate crimes with respect to religious communities happen all around the world.

Hate crimes are on the increase and, unfortunately it is the same here in Canada, whether it is the Jewish faith, Judaism, attacks on synagogues, the Christian faith, or the Muslim faith.

Bill C-51 was introduced by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada just days before the parliamentary recess, on June 6, 2017. Clause 14 of Bill C-51 proposed to repeal section 176 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which makes it a crime to unlawfully obstruct, threaten, or harm a religious official, before, during, or after performing a religious service. Again, we heard about it all summer. Later, I will read what section 176 did.

Why is this important? I want to go back to a quote from former Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker. It is a quote that all of us should take note of and appreciate. He stated:

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

His pledge was to stand up, not just for direct assaults on religious freedom, but against the erosion of religious freedom. This is the way that Canadians have lived for decades.

The Liberal government has been very selective of its new sunny ways in who it respects. Worse, the Liberal government tried to reduce the security of religious Canadians by burying its repeal of section 176 deep in an omnibus justice bill. More than 65 interfaith fellowships or leaders, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, one of the 65, sent a joint letter to the Minister of Justice on October 31, 2017. It very much brought forward the concerns it had.

I will very quickly read part of section 176 in the act, because it is important for Canadians to get the perspective of it. It states:

Every one who

(a) by threats or force, unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function in connection with his calling, or

(b) knowing that a clergyman or minister is about to perform, is on his way to perform or is returning from the performance of any of the duties or functions mentioned in paragraph (a)

(i) assaults or offers any violence to him, or

(ii) arrests him on a civil process, or under the pretence of executing a civil process

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Disturbing religious worship or certain meetings

(2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

This provision protects the pastor, the clergyman, the rabbi, the imam in leading, and it protects the individuals who participate in such services. It is important to note, again, that Liberals felt this was unacceptable. In unison, members from all faiths came together.

Bill C-51 has other points. First, it deals with sexual assault provisions. It would clarify and strengthen certain aspects of sexual assault related to consent, admissibility of evidence, and legal representation for the complainant. It would repeal or amend a number of provisions in the Criminal Code that have been found unconstitutional by appellate courts. It is a housekeeping measure. As the previous member suggested, it is good to see that there is support in this place for some of those measures.

I will close by saying that this is the way it should end up. It should end up where Canadians first of all stand up for what they believe is an assault on their way of life, where we take it to committee, make those amendments, and where governments are then willing to allow those amendments to come forward.

I thank the Conservatives for bringing forward the amendments, and all other parties for accepting them. Although the bill may not be perfect, we hope that the measures that have been amended and are coming forward will pass.

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4:30 p.m.

Mississauga Centre Ontario

Liberal

Omar Alghabra LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Consular Affairs)

Mr. Speaker, I want to add that I am relieved that faith leaders had the opportunity to offer their perspective. I am pleased that the minister and our government have reinstated that clause in the legislation.

I want to congratulate my colleague on his speech about protection of religion freedom. Would he share his opinion on a woman's right to cover her face because of her religious beliefs? The previous Conservative government wanted to deny women that right. Would he please comment on that?

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question, but the question is absolutely not true. We have never said that we would not allow a woman to cover her face, her head, or to do anything such as that. The only question is, if someone is taking a pledge of citizenship, or having their picture taken for a driver's licence or some form of identification, should they be able to conceal their identity?

I know there are massive concerns around that, but, as far as accommodation, we recognize that people have differences of opinion within their faith. I will stand and defend the right of Muslims to worship in the way they choose, the Christians, the Jewish faith, the Sikhs, and Hindus, whoever. I may not understand all their forms of worship, but I will defend their right to worship, as long as it adheres to the law in a peaceful way.

Common sense also asks us what we would expect. I have a Hutterite colony in my constituency, whose members took great offence to posing for a picture for their driver's licence. They felt that they should have driver's licences, but they would not be willing to pose for a picture so that an officer could identify them if they were caught. They said it was a religious thing. We have to find balance somewhere. We have to be able to find common ground. The member is wrong in saying that we do not believe in a woman's right to cover her face.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, in talking about the bill, my colleague touches on a number of different aspects of it dealing with sexual assault, with religious freedom, with a range of different things that are, frankly, disconnected. Aside from the particulars of the provision, I am curious for his thoughts on whether this constitutes an omnibus bill, and how he feels about the fact that we are seeing many omnibus bills from the government members, who railed against omnibus bills when they were in opposition.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, sometimes there may be reason for an omnibus bill. I do not believe that this was one of those times. Sometimes there may be other measures that are brought into a budget. The problem was that in the last election, the Liberals railed against the few times that we brought forward omnibus bills. They said they would not bring forward omnibus bills. They are now bringing forward bill after bill that are omnibus bills.

They said time allocation or closure was a measure that should never be employed in the House of Commons, yet how many times have we seen the government do exactly what they said they would not do in the last election? They said in the last election that they would have a very small $10-billion deficit; it is over a $20-billion deficit. It is the broken promises that are the issue.

Is this an omnibus bill? Yes, I believe it is. The Liberals brought different measures into the bill. There are other omnibus bills that they have brought forward and will bring forward, and the public will judge them. On whether it is a bill worthy of passing, it is one thing to make a promise and live up to it, but if they are not going to promise it, it is pretty hard to ridicule someone later on for doing it. The Liberals are backing down on their word once again.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Edmonton Strathcona, The Environment; the hon. member for Peace River—Westlock, Justice.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity today to join the debate on Bill C-51. It is quite clearly an omnibus bill dealing with a wide range of different provisions with respect to justice. I am going to comment on some of those provisions, but at the outset let me quickly comment on the fact that what we have before the House is an omnibus bill.

I am not one of those people who says that any omnibus bill represents the end of the world, but there are some people on the other side of the House who took at least something close to that position in the last Parliament. I remember being asked about this during election forums in my riding. I said very clearly that there is an appropriate use of bills containing a number of different kinds of provisions, but also an inappropriate use of them, and that, ultimately, we cannot necessarily codify exactly what these will look like in every case. It is the kind of thing that reasonable people should look at it and judge.

The principle is that as many opportunities as possible should be created for debate and votes that are particular to specific individual issues. We should not have a situation in which we have a whole bunch of different, contrary, unrelated things in the same bill that are not in any way part of an overall plan moving in the same direction.

When the government does that it creates a situation in which there may be some aspects of the bill that are positive and some not, which creates a particular challenge for members of Parliament who are trying to decide how to express their support for certain provisions in the bill they may like, and their opposition to things they may have concerns about. However, it also creates an opportunity for the government to bury things in the legislation that actually deserve particular scrutiny.

I am going to talk about the changes to section 176 of the Criminal Code that were proposed. That provision was an example of one that would have had a very substantial impact, but was buried within a larger bill. It did not figure prominently in the government's communications about the bill. It was only because of the activism of the opposition raising awareness about this section that we were able to have it discussed at committee and, ultimately, see what seems like the willingness of the House to remove that proposed provision. However, regardless of one's views on the principle of omnibus legislation, we should hold the government accountable for the fact it has failed to live up to the standard it set for itself with respect omnibus legislation.

One of the provisions we see in the bill, I understand, removes the sections from the Criminal Code dealing with witchcraft. It makes sense for the government to do this. Witchcraft may be its only chance at balancing the budget in the near term. Some members may think this is uncontroversial. I actually discussed it with Mackenzie King this morning, and he has some concerns about this section of the bill. Ultimately, we decided it would only have a medium impact going forward, so I think we will just leave it there.

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4:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Don't give up your day job.

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December 11th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Do not worry, because I intend to be here a long time.

The particular focus of public debate on the legislation concerned section 176 of the Criminal Code, which presently still exists. Section 176 specifically made it illegal to disrupt a worship service, or attack a “clergyman or minister”. The original version of Bill C-51 sought to remove that section. That would have removed the only section in the Criminal Code that provided specific protection by criminalizing attacks on religious services or religious leaders. We heard a number of arguments in the course of the debate. Of course, the general thrust of the legislation, from the government's communications about it, was that the bill removes redundant or unnecessary sections of the Criminal Code. Some argue that these specific protections for religious officials and religious services were not necessary, because any of the things that are identified within that section in particular are already illegal. Disrupting a worship service might have been captured under trespassing provisions. Vandalism, obviously, is illegal anyway. Assaulting someone, whether a religious figure or not, is illegal anyway. Therefore, the argument was that section 176 of the Criminal Code is redundant.

Why do we disagree with that on this side of the House? We recognize in law that even things that are already illegal may need extra legal recognition to ensure that they are treated by the law in a proportionate way. That is, after all, why we have laws with respect to hate crimes. Anything that is not permitted under hate crimes legislation is probably something that is in fact already illegal, but I think all members of the House agree that it is still important to have hate crimes legislation recognize the proportionality of an offence, recognize that there is something much more serious, that should be treated more seriously, when individuals are targeted because of their background or identity.

There is something more serious about that than a purely random act of vandalism or violence. That is not to downplay the seriousness with which the law should treat a random act, but when individuals, institutions, or groups are targeted specifically because of their identity, that has a different and arguably much greater social effect, because it seeks to impede the practice of that faith, impede the living-out of that identity, and to create a climate of fear for people who are part of that identity. Therefore, when we have specific sections that deal with crimes that target specific groups, they help us to ensure that the law is treating crimes in a proportionate way that reflects the social effects of those actions. We can see on that basis that section 176 is not redundant at all but reflects an important social purpose of the law, which is to ensure proportionality.

Another reason why section 176 was not redundant is the that fact of this being in the Criminal Code sends a clear message that the law not only has practical effects but also pedagogic effects in demonstrating our commitment to religious freedom and to the protection of the practice of faith in Canada.

We also had people objecting to the section on the basis that the language implied that the section might only apply to certain faith communities. The section uses the language “clergyman” or “minister”, which obviously is gender specific but also implies that it only refers to a particular faith. Those who raised this objection were being somewhat disingenuous, because the reality is that this section is clearly interpreted as applying to men and women and to people of all faiths. Certainly, it probably makes sense to update and clarify the language with respect to that, to change the wording to ensure that there is no misunderstanding, but in reality there never really was a misunderstanding the way in which the law applies. Therefore, those objections were incorrect.

Many people over the course of the summer and early fall were actively engaged on this issue, signing petitions, and lobbying their MPs. I was involved in Edmonton in organizing a round table for our leader to meet with religious leaders from different faith communities. It was a great opportunity to get leaders from different faith communities together as part of a common round table talking about the issues in Bill C-51.

Of course, we were glad to see the government's backing down on this. However, it is important to ask the question, why was the removal of section 176 in this bill in the first place? Whose idea was it to put it in there, buried in a long list of provisions with respect to all kinds of other issues? The government, in certain instances, maybe talks the talk about protecting certain minority communities, at least, and certain faith communities, but when it comes to walking the walk, in the initial draft of the legislation, the Liberals tried to remove this critical protection for faith communities. When they were caught and communities became engaged, the government eventually backed down.

This speaks to the importance of vigilance. The government talks the talk on the one hand, but when it thinks people are not looking, and the changes involve small provisions within large omnibus bills, it tries to get away with things that most Canadians would see as unacceptable. This is then a call for continuing vigilance on the part of members of Parliament and Canadians to hold the Liberal government accountable.

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4:45 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I disagree with my colleague across the way who, I believe, is trying to give a false impression. Canadians from different regions of our country contacted their members of Parliament. With respect to section 176, I was but one member of Parliament who was contacted after the bill was introduced. Like the person I talked to, I expressed concerns regarding it.

We had a very productive committee meeting, and there seemed to be a lot of commonality among the members after the committee started to debate possible amendments. I understand that it was even a Liberal amendment brought forward that enhanced that particular clause and made it more up-to-date to spiritual leaders and faiths of all natures.

Does my colleague not agree that credit is not necessarily owed to one individual, but to the various individuals who took the time to call members like me and other members of the House, those who took the time to get a good understanding of it at committee, those who made presentations, and those members of all stripes at committee who did fine a job in repealing this particular aspect of the proposed legislation?

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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is not about anyone claiming credit here, although I will note parenthetically that the government is rarely shy about claiming credit, even for things that happened under the previous government. However, let us be very clear. The question I posed in my speech, and I pose again, is why was the removal of section 176 there in the first place? Someone decided to include it as part of this legislation. The recommendation may have come from somewhere in the public service, but it was the minister tabling the legislation who presumably looked at the legislation when it was initially proposed and said that the provision to remove section 176 was okay being in there as well.

It is worth asking the question why that was done. Yes, of course, through the activity of many different communities and the work of members of Parliament, attention was brought to this section and we ultimately were able fix the problem. It does not change the question. When we see the government doing all kinds of things with respect to religious freedom that might concern Canadians, for example, its decision to eliminate the office of religious freedom and various other actions that have raised concerns, it just begs the question.

Maybe the member for Winnipeg North will want to answer it at some point. Why was the removal of section 176 from the Criminal Code included in the initial draft of this bill?