Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Trois-Rivières. I have only one river and he has three, but we will still share the time equally.
Today's motion states, and I quote, “That the House remind the government that it is solely up to Quebec and the provinces to decide on the use of the notwithstanding clause.”
The notwithstanding clause refers to section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It gives elected representatives of the people in the Quebec National Assembly, the federal Parliament and the provincial and territorial legislative assemblies the ability to pass legislation that could contravene one or more provisions of the charter.
Section 33 reads, and I quote:
Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.
Then it goes on to say that the effect of the act in question is independent of the provisions of the charter, that the act will have to be renewed every five years or it will expire and that all of this is legitimate.
Others will tell me that that is obvious. They may say that all that has already been settled, that it has been enshrined in our legislation since 1982, so for 41 years now, and that, ultimately, in principle, we are now speaking to no purpose. I wish this motion did not have to be moved in the House today, because I too believe the matter has been settled.
However, we have heard the Prime Minister suggesting for some time that the notwithstanding clause can only be used after the courts have overturned a law.
This Prime Minister is suggesting that we allow people to waste their time and money pursuing needless legal proceedings only to ultimately be told that, win or lose, they have lost. They will have to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars seeking a judgment from the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. If they are lucky enough to win, the government will say too bad, because with the notwithstanding clause, even when they win, they lose. That seems totally illogical to me.
Our courts are currently overloaded. They are so backed up that it can often take years before a trial begins. Who would want to make the backlog even worse? I have no clue. We should ask the Prime Minister why he is saying that. It seems so absurd to me. However, I would say that it is a fascinating position in some ways.
First, the Supreme Court ruled in Ford in 1988 that the National Assembly of Quebec is perfectly free to include the notwithstanding clause in any law it passes, if it wants to. It can do so pre-emptively, without waiting for a court to overturn the legislation first. The court does not have authority to judge the substance of the legislation or the legitimacy of invoking the notwithstanding clause. The court's only role is to determine whether the notwithstanding clause adheres to the prescribed form. In other words, it must be explicit and indicate the section of the charter from which it intends the legislation in question to derogate.
As we all know, the government of René Lévesque enacted the Act respecting the Constitution Act, 1982, which introduced, again in a pre-emptive manner, notwithstanding clauses for all Quebec legislation. In short, the act is clear, it has been in force for 40 years, and it has faced few or no challenges.
The Supreme Court has upheld the interpretation, but for some reason, the Prime Minister does not seem to be aware of it. I cannot wait to see how our Liberal colleagues will vote on this motion, especially the Prime Minister.
In a 2016 research note, University of Sherbrooke law professor Guillaume Rousseau counted 41 laws passed by the Quebec National Assembly that included at least one mention of the notwithstanding clause.
At least 11 of those laws are still in force. Furthermore, nine of the total 41 included exemptions from both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
In total, there were 32 exemptions from the Quebec charter and 18 exemptions from the Canadian charter. These are all statistics.
It is interesting to see some of the examples, including the Act respecting La Financière agricole du Québec, which provides for financial assistance to be granted to young farmers aged 40 and under. We agree that this is discrimination based on age. It is terrible from the point of view of the charter, but it makes sense to Quebec society. Therefore it was decided that the act would apply despite the provisions of the charter. The notwithstanding clause was invoked without any shirt rending whatsoever.
The employment equity act directs the government to give preference to people from under-represented communities. Again, this violates both charters; it is a form of discrimination. However, since Quebec society thought it made sense, the act was passed despite the provisions of the charter, by invoking section 33, the notwithstanding clause.
I also want to talk about small claims court, which was set up to ease the court process in cases that are less financially significant, with claims of $15,000 or less. The idea was that it does not make sense in a case with a $10,000 claim, for example, for people to have to wait years in court and pay a lawyer $20,000 or $30,000 to maybe get a ruling for $15,000 or $10,000. In small claims court lawyers are not authorized to represent clients. People represent themselves. The court makes a decision after having heard all the parties and looked at all the evidence. This goes against the charter, which recognizes the right to a lawyer. As a society, we thought it made sense. It was adopted with the use of the notwithstanding clause.
The Court of Quebec's youth division protects children's anonymity. In Quebec, this was considered important. I believe that it is the same everywhere in Canada. However, anonymity goes against the charter because trials are public. Recently, we saw a case that proved otherwise, but I will not talk about it, because I only have 10 minutes, and it would take me 20 minutes to talk about it. I was saying that under the charter, trials must be public. The youth division was created using the section 33 notwithstanding clause.
These are all choices made by the Quebec National Assembly. It had the opportunity to do so because of one thing. Although the federal government decided to pass the Constitution Act, 1982, behind Quebec's back, without Quebec's sign-off, it still had the decency to allow Quebec to get out of it using the section 33 notwithstanding clause. That was the agreement reached in 1982 between the Prime Minister of Canada and the premiers of the nine other provinces, without Quebec.
I would like to point out that in 1982, our current Prime Minister's father was there. Although he was not always considered to be a decent person in some ways, he did have the decency to say that even though he was doing this behind Quebec's back, he would give it an escape hatch.
Why is the current Prime Minister now questioning decisions made by his father back then? Why is he trying to undermine the autonomy of the provinces and of Quebec? I think that is appalling.
I was listening to my colleagues talk about various pieces of legislation in Canada that they do not agree with. I might not agree with decisions made elsewhere either. The fact remains that democracy is all about the right to pass legislation, and that includes the right to be wrong. We must not forget that.
A democratic state does not pass laws that suit the citizens of other states. A democratic state passes laws that suit its citizens, who are the subjects of that democracy.
I want to respect the democracy that allows the Ontario government or any other government to pass laws that may not suit us Quebeckers. I respect that. It is up to their citizens to decide. They hold elections there as well.
In Quebec, we want to avail ourselves of our right to democracy. We want our government and our National Assembly to pass laws that fit with our values and reflect who we are, without having to impose standards that the federal government has decided to impose on everyone, once again behind Quebec's back, without our consent.