Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to be joining the debate on Bill C-51, this late in the night.
Before I go too far, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Durham, whom I am very pleased to be hearing from again today.
I was so pleased today to hear you, Mr. Speaker, mention in the House Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin, who is one of my favourite authors.
Everybody in the House knows I am a big lover of Yiddish proverbs, and I have one also for this legislation. It speaks to our pinch points. Everyone knows where his or her shoes pinch. I will explain the pinch points I have in this legislation.
Many members on the Conservative side, including New Democratic members as well, have mentioned that they agree with the majority of the provisions in the bill having to do with increasing protection for victims of sexual assault. Nobody disagrees with it. It is a great idea. Clarifying the law is way overdue, but we do have pinch points.
There are proposed Criminal Code provisions that will be eliminated, and we simply disagree with that. Either we disagree or we think it is not in the right method. Abolishing laws in general, getting rid of Criminal Code statutes, and less government regulation is typically something I am all for. The less of it we have, the better. Not adding new laws to the statute books is a sign of restraint on the part of parliamentarians, and we would show greater restraint if we tabled more laws calling for the abolition of sections of different laws and reductions to the Criminal Code. That type of behaviour is laudable and it should be congratulated when it is practised in the House. Let us admit another thing too. This is an omnibus justice bill, and I have concerns about certain parts of it.
Why would we remove certain sections of the Criminal Code, like section 49? Why remove that part in the sesquicentennial of our country? That is Confederation, specifically, because Canada existed much before that. Is that not an odd provision to be eliminating during the 150th year of Confederation? The Crown is just as much a part of the history of Canada as the red ensign, the maple leaf, the Bill of Rights, Vimy, and countless other images and symbols we have in Canada. Section 49 only affects an incredibly small group of people, people who are intent on committing a malicious act against the Crown, in Her Majesty's presence of course.
As I said before, I completely support the amendments proposed in Bill C-51 to strengthen and protect the victims of sexual assault. They are timely and needed. As members heard from the Conservatives' justice critic, we are more than willing to expedite those portions to committee so they can be considered fully.
On removing the Criminal Code section on duelling, I have mixed feelings, not because I think duelling is right but simply because there is a long history in Canada of it being used as a deterrence tool. The last fatal duel in Canada was June 13, 1833, in Perth, between John Wilson and Robert Lyon, both law students. One was the son of a Scottish officer in the British army, the gentleman who passed away in this duel. John Wilson, who was acquitted of the crime, later was elected to the legislative assembly of the Province of Canada, became a Queen's Counsel, a QC, and was elected three times to that assembly. He was, of course, a Conservative.
There are also other provisions that covered those types of crimes, such as bodily harm, but it was also that extra prohibition on duelling and it was a big problem at the time. Nowadays, it is not so much. One of the members from Simcoe mentioned his views on duelling.
I understand the removal of section 143 of the Criminal Code, and I am surprised it is illegal. I see these types of ads all the time in my community, such as “Stolen bike, no questions asked, could you just return it to me”, or an open question about a lost cat, lost dog, or an RV is stolen. I have never known that this was an illegal act, that there was a prohibition on advertising the fact that someone would give a reward. Therefore, ending the prohibition on the use of such words in public advertising and offering a reward is probably very wise. It is eminently reasonable and wise for the House to do so.
The one I want to focus on, which has been the source of many questions I have asked in the House, is clause 14 on Criminal Code section 176, the prohibition against disrupting a religious service or interfering with a minister of a cult, a person who is in the service of others during a religious assembly of any sort.
I have serious concerns with removing this section. I have heard other members say we have other Criminal Code provisions that cover this. The difference is, section 176 gives extra protection. I will make a comparison in a bit between that and Bill C-305 because they are very much comparable.
Section 176 of the Criminal Code protects the clergy, and all those responsible for leading members of their faith in a service. Removing this particular provision is my pinch point in Bill C-51. It adds extra protection for individuals, serves as a deterrent, and protects religious services from disruption, including funerals. I am concerned what it could mean without this for those who are in the business of providing funeral services to others and the incentives therein.
I do not think anyone feels incented to disrupt a funeral. This type of provision serves as an additional deterrent. Subsections 176(1) and 176(2) also protect religious assemblies from wilful disturbance and interruptions. It does not talk about something accidental, it talks about something purposeful and wilful, when one is aiming to do something for the sole reason of disrupting a religious service. Most importantly, surprise.
As I mentioned before in a previous question, we went through the trouble in the House of passing a mischief improvement provision in Bill C-305, where we actually gave greater protection to property and communal spaces against vandalism motivated by hate. It was a very reasonable proposal as a private member's bill that was passed in this House. In that situation, we already had provisions to disincentivize and deter people from vandalising property. This was an additional charge on top of that which would be separate from it because we said communal spaces and crimes motivated by hate are special and deserve extra attention paid to them, and further punishment should one be found guilty of them.
We already have all those provisions on protecting property. The same idea in principle applies to section 176 of the Criminal Code that clause 14 proposes to eliminate; my pinch point in this piece of legislation.
We know there are other Criminal Code assault provisions to protect the person in the bill. There are provisions against interfering with persons and provisions preventing people from going into a sports match and disrupting it for the sole purpose of committing some type of mischief. I believe that clergy, Imams, leaders of any faith, deserve special protection. Why does the government not believe that as well?
Disrupting a sports match, an assembly for charity purposes, or a bingo game is mischief, most definitely. However, it is not the same as interfering with a religious service, not the same thing as interfering with persons who are leaders of a faith, and trying to look after members of their congregation, temple, mosque, or synagogue.
Just this week, Statistics Canada reported that there has been an uptick in certain hate crimes and crimes motivated against religions. Why would we then, two days later, consider Bill C-51, clause 14, which would eliminate that additional protection for leaders of a certain faith or religion who lead rituals, give services, and conduct funerals on behalf of community members?
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 2 just lays it out. Fundamental freedoms include: freedom of conscience, freedom of belief, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and freedom of peaceful assembly.
Does section 176 not actually grant that extra protection for these freedoms to be practised in Canada? Why can we not have section 176 to assure ourselves that there will be an extra provision in the code to punish those who wilfully interfere with a leader of a faith conducting a service or a funeral?
I want to bring up one or two additional points. It was just this past May that an arsonist in Hamilton, who targeted a mosque, received 25 months in prison. Had the same person targeted the mosque during a service or had wilfully blocked assembly, section 176 could have been used in that particular case.
The last example is from my home province of Alberta. Father Gilbert Dasna was a Catholic priest who was murdered at his residence in St. Paul on May 11, 2014. Had Father Dasna survived and had there been an assembly at the local cathedral that had been disrupted by the gunman who murdered him, that person would have been eligible for an extra charge under section 176. Why is it so wrong to give individuals like Father Dansa extra protection from criminals?