Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Peace River—Westlock, who I think did a great job of expanding on this bill. It is indeed a real privilege for me to stand and speak about Bill C-51.
I think the last time I spoke about Bill C-51 was about two years ago when the Minister of Public Safety introduced it as an anti-terrorism measure. I was very happy to work on the public safety committee at that time and to be part of the committee work that brought that bill forward. It was indeed a wonderful piece of legislation, which I may remind the Liberals they wholeheartedly supported.
Today, Bill C-51 is an omnibus bill, as was previously mentioned. I Googled it just for the sake of understanding maybe what an omnibus is. It could be a four-wheeled bus. That is not the case here. It says “items previously published separately” is what constitutes a bill as being omnibus. Certainly this is an omnibus piece of legislation, something that the Liberals railed against during their time as the third party in this House.
From that perspective, we are going to talk about it a little more. It means that we are going to have to cover a bunch of unrelated items, but they are all stuck in this bill. The first part of the bill I would like to speak about is found in clause 14 of Bill C-51. It was introduced to remove section 176 of the Criminal Code.
For the benefit of the folks watching these proceedings, I would like to read the section as it is being presented. Subsection 176 (1) of the Criminal Code says:
(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,
Section 176 provides explicit protection in the Criminal Code. It makes it a crime to unlawfully obstruct, threaten, or harm a religious official, before, during, or after they perform a religious service. It also makes interrupting or disturbing a religious service a crime.
In a time when there is an increasing amount of violence directed against religious groups and religious gatherings, removing this section made little sense. Yet, for some reason, the Liberal government wanted to get rid of the only protection for Canadians performing and participating in a religious service.
The Liberals said that attending a religious service was no different than attending a lecture. However, the many and varied religious groups which exist in Canada came forward in one collective voice, speaking one collective message. The message was simple: religious services and members of the clergy require protection under the law because they are different in kind from other sorts of public gatherings.
Removing section 176 would treat the disruption of a religious service as a mere mischief charge. To religious Canadians, a religious service is more than just an event to attend; it is a formative experience to their individual and community identities. Disrupting such a ceremony is not a small matter, but an act which offends their most fundamental right to gather in a peaceful assembly while sharing their most cherished beliefs.
A mere mischief charge in a time of growing intolerance would not have been sufficient. Indeed, repealing section 176 seems to show an intellectual disconnect on the part of the Liberals.
I am wondering what they were thinking by removing section 176, at a time when we see religious persecution all over our globe. We have seen attacks on religious institutions here in Canada, and the Liberals want to remove the only explicit protection that members of faith institutions have while they are conducting a worship service.
I want to talk a little about my own personal experience, because I grew up as the son of a clergyman. I have a pretty good idea, at least in the Christian faith, of what a clergyman does, and what part of his duties are. I am sure it is similar in all faiths.
That is the beauty of section 176. It is not explicit to the Christian faith. This is protection for clergy and for worship services that applies to all faiths. Whether they are Christian, Jewish, Sikh or Hindu or Muslim, this provides protection for members of the clergy. It provides protection in the Criminal Code for all forms of worship services.
I remember clearly as a young person, growing up and into my early adulthood, the time when my father was a pastor. My father died at the age of 51 from the same rare throat cancer that one of our colleagues passed away from earlier this year. He too had a son by the name of Theodore, as did my father. My father passed away at an early age, but I do remember the work that my father was engaged in and some of the things he did. One of the things he was obviously called upon to do as a pastor was to conduct worship services on a Sunday morning for his congregation, and that is something that section 176 of the Criminal Code clearly identifies will be protected.
Some of the other things were that when he had parishioners or members in the community who had experienced tragedy in their lives, who maybe had encountered some personal difficulties, found themselves in the hospital with a debilitating or life-threatening disease or facing death, often the clergy are called to administer comfort to those individuals. In my father's case, he was able to share the saving grace and power of the knowledge of knowing Jesus Christ with the individuals who were facing imminent death. It gave them reassurance and comfort to know they could put their faith in Jesus and have security and eternal life. These were functions that my father performed on a regular basis. I remember hospital visitation was very important to my father. Section 176 is something that would provide protection for clergy as they go to visit their parishioners, or members in their community who may be suffering from illness, or the illness of a family member.
Something else my father did was to conduct marriage ceremonies. It is an important part of everyday life when a man and woman decide they are in love and want to commit to spend the rest of their lives with each other. They call a member of their clergy and say that they would like to get married.
It is an exciting part of life, a new part of life, so the clergy are called upon to perform marriage counselling, which is part of the work that clergy do. They give marriage counselling, and it is a very important part of the work of the clergy. In the coming and going of their particular duties in performing marriage counselling, but also in performing the actual ceremony, the Criminal Code, through section 176, would provide protection.
One could ask how often that protection is required. People have been successfully prosecuted under section 176 for interfering in a religious or worship service, or also interfering with or obstructing clergymen in the dispatch of their duties. It is kind of like an insurance policy. The comfort of knowing it is there to provide protection for people and their loved ones is very reassuring, even though they obviously hope they do not need it. Certainly our hope, as Conservatives, would be that we would never have to experience a situation where section 176 of the Criminal Code is used. However, it certainly provides a deterrent for individuals from seeking to disrupt clergymen in the dispatch of their duties, disrupting a worship service, or disrupting worshippers and parishioners as they are in a gathering where they are encouraging one another and expressing their deeply held faith convictions, and worshipping the creator they serve.
There are lots of good reasons to support Bill C-51. Through many efforts of Canadians right across our country, who made their voices heard and their opinions known to the committee, to the justice minister, and to the Prime Minister, the Liberals listened. and they amended the bill. They are going to keep section 176 in Bill C-51. I am happy, as a Conservative, to support that bill.