Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me a chance to speak to Bill C-51, which we are debating today.
First of all, I want to thank my colleague from Durham for doing such a great job of explaining the Conservative position, which is unequivocal in both the House and the other place. Our position is that we are in favour of a clear bill that benefits victims.
Sadly, 29 years ago, there were too many victims at the engineering school of the Université de Montréal, known as the École Polytechnique. Today is the 29th anniversary of this tragedy, which occurred in a learning institution where women were targeted. Today, we condemn violence against women, and all the members of the House believe that we need to take meaningful action and look to the future, but also look back on this extremely tragic event.
At the time, I was just graduating from the engineering school in Sherbrooke, and some of my female engineer friends, who have very successful careers today, came within a hair of getting shot by this killer. I want to salute these women, who have been working in engineering for 30 years, and all the women who followed in their footsteps by studying engineering. I think they responded to this killer in the best possible way by showing that women have a place in any sphere of our society where their talent leads them. In particular, I am thinking of my colleague in the House who also used to work as an engineer and now has an amazing career. I want to commemorate this tragic event, but I also want to salute the remarkable work these women have done.
The justice bill before us today targets one of the worst forms of violence against women: rape. That is more or less why the bill was returned to the House, and that is also why our position has not changed. We support legislative clarity.
Bill C-51 has been the subject of much debate by some of our colleagues, who are experts. The bill would simplify Canada's Criminal Code and remove redundancies. It is a housecleaning bill. It was passed in the House and sent to the Senate, and now it has been sent back to us. To maintain the bill's clarity, we intend to support the bill in its original form, as it was sent to the Senate. We want to ensure that it is crystal clear on the subject of violence against women.
Several provisions in the bill serve to remove outdated measures. This reminds me of our former justice minister. At the time, there were outdated provisions in the Criminal Code dealing with witchcraft and duelling. We are always drafting new legislation but sometimes forget to take out the old parts that are no longer relevant, so that is what this bill does.
What matters most to our party is bringing forward legislation that always put victims first and at the core of our initiatives. This bill pertains to sexual assault provisions in the Criminal Code surrounding consent, legal representation and expanding the rape shield provisions.
As members know, thanks to the efforts of our colleague in the other chamber, Senator Boisvenu, the Conservative Party created the Canadian Victims Bills of Rights and we intend to continue our work in that regard.
One provision in Bill C-51 is at the heart of today's debate. Clause 273.1 states that individuals cannot give consent if they are unconscious. It is very clear. Someone who is unconscious cannot give consent.
As my colleague from Durham just said, we need clear laws, not confusing ones. That is the purpose of this section. We want the version of the bill that we originally sent to the Senate to be passed. This is what my colleague from Durham and I are advocating for. I should point out that our Conservative colleagues in the Senate agree and do not want the bill to create confusion or create a grey area. This is why, and I repeat, we want section 273.1 to remain as is, meaning that a person who is unconscious is unable to give consent.
Some may say that this is obvious and goes without saying. If it is so obvious, why not put it in the act, so it will be clear to legal experts? This way, when they are dealing with these situations, they cannot submit various excuses. Sometimes, unfortunately, defence lawyers are good at using tricks to get the accused out of the charges. What we want is an act that supports victims, which is why we want the bill to remain unaltered.
This bill touches on other provisions that seem equally valid to us, such as section 176. Thanks to public support, we managed to save section 176. This section essentially provides protection for religious services.
The reason I bring it up today is that thanks to the work and dedication of my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, our justice critic and his team, we succeeded in reintroducing section 176, which the Liberals had tried to repeal. They put it back in, but then they diluted it by making it a lesser offence.
The government seems to have a systematic bias in favour of criminals and against victims. That is what we saw with section 176, which made it an offence to disturb a religious service. Ironically, as we were debating that bill, tragedy struck in a small town. A shooter burst in on a religious service and shot worshippers. Closer to home, in Quebec City, members will recall the tragedy at the Quebec City mosque. That is why we feel it is important to keep these provisions in the bill and strenuously defend them. I will continue my remarks after question period.