Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to this latest bill introduced by the Minister of Justice, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act. Our colleagues are right when they call this the justice omnibus bill, and this is one of the discussions I have had with my colleague, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, on all the different areas that are covered by this bill.
One of the things I have notice in question period is that any time Liberal cabinet ministers get up, they always thank the members of the Liberal Party for all their hard work and support. I wanted to use that precedent to thank the hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton for all the work he has done in the justice area.
He is correct, and my colleagues are correct when they call this an omnibus bill. I believe it was in March of this year, the government House leader introduced a paper on the whole subject of omnibus bills, and stated:
Omnibus bills can be defined as a bill that contains separate and unrelated themes packaged into one bill. Members are then forced to vote for or against a bill that could have elements that Members would support or oppose. The only recourse for Members has been to seek to divide omnibus bills in committee, but these motions rarely come to a vote or are agreed to by way of unanimous consent.
Bill C-51 fits that description, because rather than dealing with one issue, the bill proposes to tackle at least four different matters at once. First, the bill sets out to clarify and strengthen certain aspects of sexual assault, relating to consent, admissibility of evidence, and legal representation for the complainant; second, the bill repeals a number of provisions in the Criminal Code that have been found unconstitutional by appellate courts, and other provisions that, in their opinion, might likely be found unconstitutional; third, the bill repeals several obsolete or redundant criminal offences; and fourth, it introduces a requirement of a charter statement to go along with any new government bill proposed by the Minister of Justice in the future.
In addition, as the government House leader's paper reads, “Members are then forced to vote for or against a bill that could have elements that Members would support or oppose.”
The bill has elements that we support, but there are some elements that we oppose. First, let me be very clear. We strongly support what Bill C-51 does in terms of clarifying and strengthening the sexual assault provisions. I appreciate the comments from the parliamentary secretary when he said that Kim Campbell introduced these in the early nineties, when I had the privilege of being her parliamentary secretary. It was great to work with her. There were so many different elements that we had to move on in the Criminal Code, and of course, this had the support of the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney throughout, and our efforts to stand up for victims and to protect law-abiding Canadians.
We support the provisions that the government has put in, among other things: to clarify that an unconscious person is incapable of consenting; to clarify that the defence of mistaken belief in consent is not available if the mistake is based on a mistake of law; to expand the rape shield provisions to include communications of a sexual nature or sexual purpose; to provide that a complainant has a right to legal representation in rape shield proceedings, that is an excellent idea; to ensure that an individual's previous sexual history has no bearing on questions of consent; and to create a regime to determine whether an accused can introduce a complainant's private records at trial that are in their possession. These are all very important. I believe they are all changes that we as Conservatives support.
In addition, we are supportive of Bill C-51 where it repeals and amends a number of provisions of the Criminal Code that have been found unconstitutional by appellate courts . We have seen before the risks and hurt that can be caused when sections of the Criminal Code have been ruled unconstitutional and are not removed.
One does not have to look any further than the Travis Vader murder in Alberta, during which the judge convicted the accused under an unconstitutional provision. Consequently, and unfortunately, the case had to be re-tried, causing difficult hardship, and unnecessary pain for the victims' families. Removing provisions that had been ruled unconstitutional by the courts is an important measure to take.
With that said, we take issue with some parts of this legislation. For one, we disagree the government needs to introduce a charter statement for every new piece of government legislation that is introduced by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. Although the required charter statement sounds like it might be a good idea, Canadians know that many safeguards already exist. First and foremost is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself. Coming into effect 35 years ago, the charter's objective is laid out in section 1:
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
The Canadian governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have been introducing justice legislation since 1982, after the charter came into effect. It has never been a requirement that the government create a charter statement for every justice legislation. It is simply not necessary.
Any legislation that is controversial can be challenged by citizens or groups in court. This will always happen regardless of this new charter statement. I have no problem with the idea of charter statements in general. In fact, if this minister so desires, I would welcome her attaching this to all the legislation that she puts forward. However, to require these as statements by law is another matter. I think it is unnecessary.
If she wants to put out a statement that she believes it complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, she should also include that it complies with the Canadian Bill of Rights that has been in place in this country since 1960, since John Diefenbaker was prime minister. She could do that, but it is unnecessary to bind all future governments and justice ministers by putting that in.
Lastly and most importantly, the Conservatives disagree with some of the sections that the government claims are obsolete. In particular, I want to bring to the attention of the House our opposition to clauses 1 and 14 in Bill C-51.
First of all, in clause 1 of Bill C-51, the government is proposing to repeal section 49 of the Criminal Code. This is what that section currently says:
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 and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
I do not really get why the Liberals are doing this. I was thinking about this on Sunday. I was in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the 225th anniversary of St. Mark's Church. The sermon was given by Bishop David Ralph Spence, who said there were three themes he wanted to talk about. One was the 225th anniversary of St. Mark's Church, and all the good that that church has done, and all the good that has come from the people who attend that church, and what an asset that has been. That church goes right back to when Governor Simcoe was the governor of Upper Canada, back in 1792. That was one of the themes he wanted to talk about.
Then he said he wanted to talk about the 150th anniversary of Canada, and what an asset our country has been since Confederation in 1867. Then he also made a very interesting point. He said that this year is also the 65th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne. He talked about, and I was thinking about it at the same time, what a wonderful individual she has been in terms of public service to this country as our head of state. Why would the Liberals decide in her 65th anniversary on the throne that it is a good idea to get rid of the section that specifically protects our head of state against anyone threatening or attacking her? It makes no sense to me.
I am also disappointed about the proposed clause 14 in Bill C-51, which would repeal a number of sections and replaces them with something entitled “Trespassing at night”. In short, that clause would get rid of section 176. One of my colleagues raised this matter with the parliamentary secretary.
This section does nothing other than protect the safety and well-being of religious clergy and ministers against dangers and threats. This section also deters someone from disturbing or interfering with a religious worship and ceremony. By repealing this section, the government would be removing the only provision in the Criminal Code that directly protects the rights of individuals to freely conduct the practice of their religion, whatever that religion may be. At a time when news stories are increasingly reporting attacks on religious communities, this concerns me. I have to stand up for the rights of my constituents and all Canadians to practise their religion without fear, recrimination, violence, or disturbance.
The irony of this is that we had a number of debates in the House when the Liberals were telling us how concerned they were about people's right to practise their religion without fear, intimidation, hatred, or prejudice. That is what they said. I did not get into the debate with the parliamentary secretary. This is not obsolete, it is not unconstitutional, it is very important. It is important enough, I can tell the House, that just this year a woman was charged under this offence for allegedly breaking the statue of Jesus at Saint Patrick's Basilica in downtown Ottawa. That section is being used right now, so I cannot imagine why the Liberals would want to repeal it.
I suggest to the Liberals that when they go home this summer, they should tell members of their clergy and people in their ridings that they are removing the section that protects people's right to conduct religious ceremonies, and getting rid of the section that specifically outlaws people who disrupt a religious service. I would be very interested in the feedback they will get on this.
I will be talking to my constituents about this, because they have a right to know that this is the proposal from the Liberal Party. In September, I am going to ask my colleagues what their constituents said and whether they thought it was something they have to get rid of, that anybody who causes a disturbance or threatens somebody is the same thing as a fight in a bar somewhere. I am willing to bet that their constituents will say that it is very serious for anybody to threaten a member of the religious community, or in any way disturb a religious service.
I am hoping the Liberals will reconsider both of those provisions. They are both important to continue. In keeping with the comments I made earlier with respect to this omnibus legislation about how we support some sections and do not support others, I move that notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, when Bill C-51, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another act, is referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, it be an instruction to the committee that during its consideration of the bill, the committee be granted the power to divide the bill into three pieces of legislation, one bill containing clauses 1 and 14, one bill containing sexual assault provisions, and one bill containing the remaining provisions of Bill C-51.