Madam Speaker, on June 5 the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada introduced Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another act.
Bill C-51 seeks to make changes to a number of matters within the context of this one bill. This justice omnibus bill seeks to amend or remove or repeal passages and provisions that have been ruled unconstitutional or that raise risks with respect to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as passages and provisions that are obsolete or redundant or no longer have a place in the Criminal Code. I would suggest that this seems fairly subjective to the government's agenda when we are saying “no longer have a place in the Criminal Code” at this point in time.
It would also modify certain provisions of the Criminal Code relating to sexual assault in order to clarify their application and provide a procedure applicable to the admissibility and use of the complainant's or a witness's record when in the possession of the accused.
It would also require, for any bill tabled in either the House of Commons or the Senate, a charter statement outlining each bill's potential effects on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The portion that clarifies and strengthens the sexual assault provisions in the Criminal Code, helping to support victims of horrific sexual assault crimes, is certainly the right thing to do. I am very pleased with that portion of this bill. Unfortunately, it puts many of us in an angst situation, because although we support that portion of the bill, other sections make it very difficult to support the rest.
This provision is victim-centric. That portion of the bill is good. It is sensible and reasonable, and it is certainly appropriate.
It is unfortunate that Bill C-51 is attempting to require a charter statement for all future government justice legislation. This would be a redundant process that is not necessary.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been in force for 35 years now. Many governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have introduced justice legislation without a charter statement. To require charter statements on all new bills would not, nor should it, pre-empt controversial legislation from being challenged in our courts by groups and everyday citizens. After all, it is the responsibility of legislators to create law, the courts to interpret law, and the right of Canadians to challenge that law.
The Liberals were very supportive of Motion No. 103, which protects Muslims from an undefined term, “Islamophobia”, yet Bill C-51 proposes to remove the only provision in the Criminal Code that protects all religious communities and all religious officials. I am very concerned that the government has decided to remove section 176, which specifically states:
(1) 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 this 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.
(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.
(3) Every one who, at or near a meeting referred to in subsection (2), wilfully does anything that disturbs the order or solemnity of the meeting is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
This section protects the rights of religious clergy and their members to practise their faith at an event or ceremony in safety without interference or disruption.
Last evening, I attended the sixth annual Iftar dinner at Ottawa City Hall, hosted by the Progressive Muslims of Canada. President Mobeen, whom I met at an Embassy Connections Canada event earlier on, kindly invited me, and I was really pleased to attend.
I am a Christian, not a Muslim. My faith does not celebrate Ramadan or Iftar dinners. However, we do fast and pray, gather together for mutual encouragement, teaching, worshipping, prayer, and meeting the needs of those who are marginalized or hurting in our midst, our communities, and the world.
My question is this. Why would the government want to remove a piece of legislation that speaks to all faiths' right to the freedom to worship and to gather without fear of reprisal? Why would the Minister of Justice want to take away legislation that affirms the safety of all clergy and protects from the disturbance those who gather in mosques, gurdwaras, synagogues, sweat lodges, churches, schools, homes, camps, cemeteries, prayer rooms, and chapels in hospitals, and in public spaces, like Ottawa City Hall, and want to replace it with a singularly focused no trespassing at night law?
I cannot fathom the rationale behind this decision. It makes no sense to me. Have the Liberals consulted their constituents, the faith communities in their ridings, to hear what their feelings are on removing section 176 from the Canadian Criminal Code?
I am very confident that this is not what Canadians or landed immigrants in our country expect from the government. This should not be part of Bill C-51. It should be removed. That being said, to make sure that I am not just expressing my own views, I will be sharing this with faith leaders in my communities and through social media, and I will make them aware of what this section says and what the government is expecting to do. I will ensure that they have every opportunity to express their concerns over what I see as a dangerous and dismissive decision to remove section 176 through Bill C-51. I will be encouraging them to contact directly the Minister of Justice.