Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mégantic—L'Érable, who is doing such a good job for his constituents.
However, I would first like a go at it.
This is a bill that everyone knows the Conservative Party of Canada is supporting. However, it is one of those bills that we are told is a question of modernization and to consider it to be somewhat technical. I was given this good advice long ago when I was a minister that whenever bureaucrats or officials tell us this is about modernization to start looking quickly because it is a Trojan horse; it is not all technical. Modernization is designed to wear down resistance, because anybody standing in its way clearly is somehow backward. This is a bill offered in that fashion. While there are indeed meritorious aspects of it and elements that represent a modernization, there are parts that give one cause to wonder why they are necessary or included.
There is certainly a difference between a Conservative and Liberal approach. The first of these is the very first provision in clause 1 of the bill, which proposes to repeal section 49 of the Criminal Code. This section of the Criminal Code states:
Every one who wilfully, in the presence of Her Majesty,
(a) does an act with intent to alarm Her Majesty or to break the public peace, or
(b) does an act that is intended or is likely to cause bodily harm to Her Majesty,
is guilty of an indictable offence....
Why would we want to say that is no longer an offence? I am sure the answer is that it is no longer an offence because there are already offences about intimidating people, harming people, or assaulting them, and Her Majesty can benefit from their protections. That is an interesting argument, except that in this very same Criminal Code they are maintaining, for example, the provisions on the intimidation of Parliament. Therefore, one wonders what the motivation is. It seems clear to many of us that the motivation is a hidden agenda of diminishing the very important role of Her Majesty in this place, and in this country. That is something that does cause us trouble.
Another example I find cute when we look at the difference between Conservatives and Liberals is that Conservatives say if something works well it is good. If the Liberals say something works well, clearly, it is irrelevant. A perfect example of this is the proposal to eliminate the provisions on duelling. Duelling is not a pressing social ill these days. I think we would all acknowledge that. The last fatal duel in Canada took place on June 13, 1833, not too far from here, in Perth, Ontario.
Therefore, I would say that tells us that those Criminal Code provisions are pretty good at doing what we want laws to do, which is to tell people what is right and what is wrong so they stay away from it. The Liberals say that since everybody is following the law we do not need it anymore. I am not sure that I agree with that. If we went through a great spurt where suddenly nobody was murdered, would they be eliminating the murder provisions from the Criminal Code? I would certainly hope not. It is a different approach. Although, it is not a great pressing social ill this day, I think it speaks to the odd approach of legislating that we have here by the Liberals.
There is another provision, which is the one that my friend from Yorkton—Melville was just speaking to, which is a Criminal Code provision the Liberals are proposing to repeal that deals with threats or force that, “unlawfully obstructs or prevents or endeavours to obstruct or prevent a clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service or performing any other function”.
Why would they want to get rid of that? They say there are other provisions that exist. There has been a debate about these things. We can think of two high-profile examples in recent years. One is the group in Russia with the interesting name Pussy Riot that launched a protest on stage during a Russian Orthodox service in Russia against the way that Vladimir Putin has essentially taken control of the Russian Orthodox church and made it an agent of government will and policy. That was generally celebrated in the west as an act of free speech and expression.
On the other hand, we have examples here in North America that we condemn. One thinks of the Westboro Baptist Church, a group that has made a habit of, I think very unfortunately, protesting at the funerals of dead American servicemen who have been returned. They have threatened to do the same thing in Canada. Their argument is that the death of these military servicemen abroad is evidence of God's anger at society's acceptance of homosexuality, so they traumatize families by disrupting these funerals and services.
I think we would all agree that is not necessarily a good thing and is a reason to have a good provision like that. My friend on the other side mentioned that there are other things that already protect this, and we will talk a bit later about the charter and the role of the charter.
If one is balancing the general question of disrupting an event, such as an assault causing discomfort, then something like the Westboro Baptist Church activity could be protected, as it is in the United States under its free speech provisions. It could be protected under our charter provisions. However, if we have a Criminal Code provision, as we have right now, that creates a specific offence for disrupting a religious service or ceremony, such as a funeral at a graveside, that might mean that the charter threshold is a little bit higher because of the specific nature of the offence. While free expression is a good thing under the charter, the right of people to worship is also important. Parliament has said that it is important.
What would a future court do? It would say that this Parliament expressed its intention by taking away that special protection. That would no doubt change how that charter argument plays in the future. Again, it is a reason I would encourage the government to consider removing those provisions from the bill.
There is another one I find interesting and am very puzzled about. It is the proposal to remove section 370, which creates an offence for fraudulently publishing a government proclamation or notice of appointment. It seems to me a pretty reasonable thing to do. If someone is creating false government documents that order people to do things, as proclamations do, why would we want to suddenly take away that offence? It just puzzles me. Why would we want to make it legal for people to produce false government proclamations that would mislead people?
Then, of course, there is section 365, which is the offence of fraudulently practising witchcraft. We all chuckle and laugh, but I can understand why the party of Mackenzie King would want to make legal the practice of witchcraft, sorcery, and talking with people who have passed from this world, as Mackenzie King enjoyed doing. The concern is, and we have all heard stories like this, that people use these kinds of fraudulent witchcraft powers to persuade people that, for example, if they put $10,000 in an envelope, which they say will be burned but they slide it under the table instead, he or she will be saved from whatever curse they say the person is under. These things really happen in our society, even in this day and age. Does that provision, as it exists right now, cause any harm? No. Does it give the police an avenue or resource in the case of those particular unusual offences? Yes, it does.
This is why I ask why we need to look around for things to change, in the name of modernization, for the sake of changing. Some people would say it is very simple: the government does not have much of a legislative agenda. I can appreciate that this might be the case. However, the Conservative approach is that if something works, and it is not causing any harm, why change it? If it might, in the past, have provided some demonstrable good and protection, perhaps it does not need to be changed. Absent evidence of some demonstrable harm, why would we need to go there?
The last thing I want to talk about is the question of the charter statement. This, as a lawyer, is something I find very puzzling. Proposed subsection 4.2(1) states:
The Minister shall, for every Bill introduced in or presented to either House of Parliament by a minister or other representative of the Crown, cause to be tabled, in the House in which the Bill originates, a statement that sets out potential effects of the Bill on the rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I thought that was the job of the courts. The courts are there to pass judgment on it. If the government is saying to the courts that it has already looked at it and it complies, and one should hope that it is only introducing bills it believes comply, does that create undue pressure on the court to treat it as being charter valid? We often hear people say that they are not going to comment on something because it is before the courts. A minister will say that, because we are not supposed to, as a government, be interfering in that fashion. Would this do that?
Even worse, what happens when a court starts striking it down? What is served by a notice like that if it is then proven repeatedly to be wrong? Does it prove that the Minister of Justice was not very clever or that the staff of the Justice Department really are not very good lawyers after all? Is that going to constrain the Supreme Court or any other court in the exercise of their judgment? I am puzzled as to what is achieved by something like that.
I know people want to say good things about the charter and that we are doing things in accordance with the charter. One presumes that the first duty of a government introducing legislation is to look at that. To put the statement on top of it is unusual and out of place in a place where it is not the minister's job but the court's job to pass judgment.