Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament October 2000, as Bloc MP for Beauharnois—Salaberry (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2000, with 42% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Rcmp Investigations May 5th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, an investigation into the infiltration of the Canadian immigration office in Hong Kong by Chinese triads was apparently covered up by RCMP officials.

Robert Read, in charge of the investigation until 1997, was apparently sidelined after discovering weaknesses in Immigration Canada's computer system that might pose a threat to national security.

How can the solicitor general allow such a situation unless he is covering up another blunder by the government?

Crimes Against Humanity Act May 4th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois to speak to Bill C-19, an act respecting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and to implement the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

This is a bill of vital importance, not just for this House, but also for the international community as a whole. The purpose of this bill is to implement the Rome statute of the international criminal court, adopted on July 17, 1998 in Rome, after decades of debate and deliberation on the appropriateness of creating an international criminal jurisdiction with the authority to bring to justice those who have committed international crime.

The efforts of the international community finally came together in Rome in the summer of 1998, after repeated attempts had been made to agree upon an instrument to fight international crime, be it war crimes, crimes against humanity or the crime of crimes, genocide.

I would like to draw particular attention to the contribution made by Canada and some of its officials. I am thinking, among others, of a friend, a distinguished jurist, Philippe Kirsch, who chaired the plenipotentiary conference that led to the Rome statute, and of a number of individuals whose services were drawn on and whose hard work during preparatory conferences and the Rome conference helped bring this statute to life.

I am thinking specifically of John Holmes, Alan Kessel, Darryl Robinson, Dominic McAlea, Kimberley Prost and Don Piragoff, public servants I have met, at least some of them, who certainly played a key role in having the Rome statute adopted for the creation of an international criminal court.

I must, moreover, mention in this House, as I have in the case of other debates pertaining to bills implementing international treaties, that it is not entirely satisfactory to have a treaty as important as this one, which we are asked to debate through an enabling act, the ICC statute, not formally approved by this House and not the subject a significant debate before Canada signed.

It is true that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade spent one sitting reviewing the draft bill, as it was worded at the time, and I was able to take part in that exercise, since I was then a member of the committee. However, hon. members probably did not have enough time to look at the content of the statute, to express their opinions and to state their views on it before it was adopted by the conference and signed by Canada, before its ratification.

Again, it would be very desirable for the House of Commons and its parliamentary committees to review international treaties and proposed treaties during negotiations, so that in future members of parliament can have some influence on negotiators, on the content of these treaties and proposed treaties, before Canada makes a commitment or expresses, through its signature, its intention to comply in good faith with the international treaties that it ratifies.

There is currently before the House a private member's bill, Bill C-214, which I introduced last year. Its purpose is to give a more extensive role to parliament, to the House of Commons, when it comes to international treaties, so that such treaties are approved and then better promoted, introduced and published by government authorities after their ratification, that is after Canada has agreed to be bound by them.

There will be a third hour of debate on Bill C-214. I hope that members of this House will allow the bill to be referred to a committee and that they will support it at third reading stage.

As for Bill C-19, which I have examined closely, the short title is the Crimes Against Humanity Act, a title which could be made much more rigorous by including a reference to war crimes. This bill focuses on prosecuting war crimes, which are not included in the definition of crimes against humanity, unlike the crime of genocide, which these crimes can be considered to include. If I could make a suggestion, a more appropriate short title would be the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

The purpose of the bill is to implement the international criminal court statute provisions requiring implementation in Canadian domestic law. It seems that this bill is viewed, internationally, as adequate implementation of the Rome statute. It is sometimes cited as a model of effective implementation of the international criminal court statute. At the present time, a number of parliaments worldwide must pass enacting legislation before states can agree to be bound by it and the statute can be implemented. It cannot take effect until 60 states have tabled their instruments of ratification.

The bill has to do with offences committed in Canada. The provisions in clause 4 are intended to correct, to a certain extent, the situation in Canadian domestic law, which right now does not permit prosecution of individuals for the crime of genocide per se.

This bill repeals some provisions of the Criminal Code, namely sections 3.71 and following, which allowed individuals having committed the crime of genocide, as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes, to be prosecuted for murder under international law. However, clause 4 addresses a shortcoming of Canadian law by bringing it in line with international obligations and allowing prosecution under domestic law for international crimes as defined under international law.

Besides, clause 4(3) refers to definitions provided in the Rome statute, which are implemented under international treaty law and which are inspired by customary international law.

Clause 6 of the bill, which is a very important provision, gives Canada, through its courts, extraterritorial jurisdiction that will allow judge people alleged to have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide to be prosecuted in Canada.

All this is in line with the Rome statute and customary international law, which allows Canada and any other country, to assume extraterritorial jurisdiction to prosecute people for such serious crimes, so that they do not go unpunished.

Clause 6, which is both prospective and retroactive, contrary to clause 4, which only applies to crimes committed after the bill becomes law, will allow Canada to prosecute people for serious crimes in its own courts of justice, which is absolutely in line with the spirit and the letter of the Rome statute.

Besides, those provisions will be protected, despite their retroactive nature, by section 11( g ) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, pursuant to which people may be prosecuted for crimes recognized under international law, even if the prosecution is of a retroactive nature.

I would like to draw the House's attention to something that would allow for a review of the contents of this bill. It is the provision that clearly gives Canadian tribunals jurisdiction over crimes committed outside the country. Clause 8( a ) recognizes that Canada has jurisdiction when crimes have been committed by Canadian citizens or when the victims are Canadian citizens. Clause 8( b ) also provides that Canada may prosecute a person if, at the time the offence is alleged to have been committed, Canada could, under international law, exercise jurisdiction over the person with respect to the offence on the basis of that person's presence in Canada and, after that time, if the person is present in Canada.

This is an example of the kind of universal jurisdiction that may be exercised by the various states under international law, but it could be broader. This ought to be debated and discussed since, in this case, universal jurisdiction could only be exercised over a person who is present in Canada.

For example, this would prevent Canada from prosecuting someone who is not present in Canada. It would prevent it from prosecuting a person who is alleged to have committed international crimes—whether it be General Pinochet, who returned to Chile without having been brought to justice for crimes of this type he allegedly committed. It would prevent Canada from prosecuting other war criminals or persons who have committed crimes against humanity or genocide, for example soldiers from Rwanda not present in Canada.

It would be interesting, in examining the bill, to broaden the scope of this particular provision so it is not limited to persons who are present in Canada. Canada—like other jurisdictions such as France, Spain and Belgium, I think—should claim jurisdiction over persons even though they are not present in Canada.

Extradition proceedings could help in this regard and allow Canada, as we asked in this House in the case of General Pinochet, to request the extradition of a person alleged to have committed serious war crimes and perhaps to prosecute that person.

Consequently, the Bloc Quebecois could, in due time, present an amendment extending the scope of clause 8( b ) so that Bill C-19 would allow a broader, universal jurisdiction. Canada could then have jurisdiction over serious crimes such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, thus ensuring that these crimes will not go unpunished.

It is also interesting to note that the bill deals with a number of defences that may be used by those accused of international crimes covered in the bill. Clause 14 provides that obeying orders of a superior is not a defence. This seems to be consistent with existing international law and compatible with the letter as well as the spirit of the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court. Criminal Court

The purpose of many of the bill's provisions is to ensure that certain obligations under the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court be given effect in Canadian domestic law.

There is, for example, the part concerning the proceeds of crime, clauses 27 to 29 of the bill. There is also the part concerning the Crimes Against Humanity Fund. This fund, if my memory serves me right, was established under the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court. It is designed to help the victims of crimes against humanity. It would give the Minister of Public Works and Government Services in particular a chance to pay into this fund the net proceeds from the disposition of any property and fines collected in relation to proceedings for an offence under the Criminal Code.

By and large, this bill is a clear reflection of the obligations that will flow from Canada's agreement to be bound to the Rome Statute and the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In addition, the Bloc Quebecois reserves the right to examine fully the provisions of this bill and to propose, if required, amendments to ensure full conformity of the Canadian internal law with the international criminal law, as modified by the hopefully soon to come Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The bill contains a number of consequential amendments to many federal acts. For example, the Citizenship Act is greatly affected by this bill. The Extradition Act is also greatly modified. In the light of the Finta decision, a number of amendments contained in this bill in relation to the Extradition Act will clarify the situation arising from a controversial decision that, according to some people, was enough to justify corrections and amendments to the Extradition Act.

This bill also contains a part on conditional amendments. These are amendments to the Citizenship Act. This act is currently before this House since Bill C-16 is a rewrite of the Citizenship Act.

This overhaul of the act and the introduction of this new proposed legislation would require additional conditional amendments, in light of Bill C-19 on immigration, which at the same time is under consideration in the House.

No doubt consideration should also be given to bringing forth conditional amendments to another act also under consideration in the House, an act that should be amended not in accordance with provisions contained in other parts of Bill C-19, which are in relation to the old act, that is Chapter I-30 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, but in accordance with Bill C-31, which is the proposed new Immigration Act presently before the House and which we have examined earlier this week.

The international community is in the process of giving itself a tool absolutely essential to ensure justice and the supremacy of international law, especially international criminal law. The action that Parliament will take by passing an act to implement the Rome Statute will allow for the ratification of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Bloc Quebecois hopes for speedy ratification. It will help ensure justice, peace and international security.

This is an important bill for the entire international community.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act May 1st, 2000

Mr. Speaker, this question gives me the opportunity to remind this House that, despite the latest administrative arrangement between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec relating to immigration and the selection of foreign nationals and of refugees, Quebec controls only 40% of its immigration and of the refugees admitted.

Despite the implication that Quebec is totally autonomous in this area, it has a real impact on only 40% of persons coming from abroad to live within its territory.

This means that the independence the present constitution is prepared to give to Quebec is certainly insufficient, and unsatisfactory, for a state such as Quebec, which has such a great need of powers relating to immigration if it is to maintain its present demographic balance.

A little over 80% of the population is French speaking Quebecers, with English speaking Quebecers and those of other origins, combined with the aboriginal nations, making up approximately 18%. This is, overall, a totally acceptable proportion and one which makes possible a rich, diversified and pluralistic society, one with self-respect and with the right to choose French as its common language.

This is why immigration is so important to Quebec. Enhanced powers relating to immigration are so important to Quebec in order to ensure that, when immigrants, even refugees, arrive in Quebec, when they choose Quebec as their new country or their place of refuge, it is made clear to them that they will have to adopt French as their language of work.

This way of looking at things is very difficult in a country with two official languages, one trying to convince people that immigrants may choose either of the two without distinction. That is one of the reasons why it is a known fact, in my opinion, that Quebecers are going to choose sovereignty one day, because they will be convinced that control over all aspects of immigration is a key to the survival, the maintenance and the development of the French language in Quebec.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act May 1st, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I want to take this opportunity to say that all the members of the Bloc Quebecois are very proud of all the work he does as our party's immigration critic.

Canada had its share of constitutional debates. Some people seem tired of it. They are so tired of those debates that they do not dare confront those who still think that the Constitution of Canada should be amended. At this very moment, the Prime Minister is inaugurating an exhibition on Canada's constitution. When looking at the different exhibits and stands, we realize to what extent the Constitution of Canada has been imposed upon Quebec, be it the constitution of 1840, or Union Act, or the Constitution Act, 1982, which was patriated without Quebec's consent.

One area where there was a breakthrough is immigration. An administrative arrangement was made, not thanks to the generosity of the Canadian government, but because such an administrative agreement is possible under the current constitution, since powers regarding immigration are concurrent. The federal and provincial governments and legislatures can exercise these powers concurrently if the federal government and parliament so desire. It is provided that in this regard the federal government has precedence.

Whether or not there is an agreement with the provinces, especially Quebec, and whether or not the provinces exercise certain powers in the area of immigration depends on the good will of the federal government.

The first agreements reached on this issue—the Andras-Bienvenue agreement, if I recall, followed by the Cullen-Couture agreement, and now the McDougall-Gagnon-Tremblay agreement—were the result of negotiations.

To answer my colleague's question, the status of such agreements is always precarious. If a government no longer wanted the provinces to exercise powers in the area of immigration, it could prevent them from doing so.

This is why immigration agreements were to be enshrined in the constitution under the Charlottetown accord, so they would no longer be precarious, but protected through a constitutional amendment process preventing the government from unilaterally modifying them. This is always a worry for us as the federal government, at least the Liberal government, has often acted unilaterally with regard to the constitution.

If these agreements were protected by a federal statute, the current agreements would be less precarious, even if this protection were incomplete, since the government would always be in a position to amend or repeal the supplementary protection referring to the intergovernmental agreements and working agreements between the federal and the Quebec governments.

This is why our party, which wants to defend the interests of Quebec right now, before the Quebec people democratically chooses sovereignty, believes that it would be timely to grant some protection, which will never be sufficient, since the only useful solution would be to enshrine it in the constitution.

As things now stand, it is hard to believe that we would want to enshrine in the constitution something that would be in the best interests of Quebec and all Quebecers, since it is believed that the Quebec people have enough protection as it is.

Our party does not believe this to be the case. This is why, even if we act in a constructive way in our analysis of Bill C-31, we strongly believe that if Quebec is to prosper in the international community, it has to gain control over the immigration process to guarantee that it will in the future develop into a French speaking country that will still be generous without adopting the bad habits of a government which, pretending to be very generous to refugees, is once again trying to be very hard and to crack down on refugee status claimants. This is a tendency that a sovereign Quebec will not want to adopt once the Quebec people decides that it should achieve sovereignty.

Immigration And Refugee Protection Act May 1st, 2000

Madam Speaker, I too rise on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois at the request of my colleague, the member for Rosemont, our immigration critic. I am pleased to present the views of our party on Bill C-31, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.

As a professor of international law, I am especially pleased to deal with this legislation since, when I had the privilege of teaching public international law at the Université de Montréal, on numerous occasions I had the pleasure of talking about the 1976 Immigration Act, to see it evolve, to see the many amendments made to it and the many regulations aimed at gradually implementing the act and its provisions.

I understand that with Bill C-31 the government intends to overhaul the provisions regarding the issues of immigration, asylum and protection of refugees in Canada.

After reading the bill and the presentation made by the minister on April 6, the Bloc Quebecois, and on this I share the views of my party and its critic, is of the opinion that the government is taking a hard line, no doubt to appeal to a certain electorate, probably the right wing electorate the Liberal Party wants to win over from the Canadian Alliance.

In this respect, this bill seems to reinforce prejudice against refugees and immigrants.

This is legislation that tends to take a hard line toward immigrants and refugees. Choosing the hard line toward immigrants and refugees can exacerbate division, xenophobic or racist feelings within a society that claims to be welcoming. We see sometimes that it is less welcoming when immigrants come in large numbers into this country or when people from various countries claim refugee status.

Our party has pointed out several times over the last years that the Canadian refugee status determination system should have two essential features. It should be diligent and fair toward the bona fide asylum seeker in accordance with the rights recognized by the international conventions Canada is party to. It should also be dissuasive toward people clogging the system with unfounded claims, people who are, for example, economic refugees and people who do not meet the refugee criteria as set out by the 1951 Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees and its additional 1967 protocol.

The slowness in the processing of claims is also something that deserves to be corrected because it has led, in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, to unacceptable human tragedies. It has put people and families in very difficult situations as evidenced by the number of immigrants or refugee claimants who sought refuge in churches and in other places where these people who were requesting, and rightly so, that they be granted refugee status knew they would be protected.

Talking about the administrative process that is too slow, for example, just for the Montreal office of the Immigration and Refugee Board, the average processing time is ten months. At the end of December 1999, just a few months ago, over 7,000 refugee claimants were awaiting a hearing, that is one third of all cases in Canada. We know that Quebec is very generous to refugees. It is now and must stay that way should it become a country one day, as members of my party wish it would. It will have to continue to open its doors to refugees.

We, in the Bloc Quebecois, also believe that the new immigration bill does not reflect explicitly enough the scope of Quebec's powers in the area of immigration. As we know, this is a shared jurisdiction under the Constitution Act, 1867, which allows provinces to have jurisdiction over certain areas if so agreed by both the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada.

According to the Quebec Minister of Relations with the Citizens and Immigration, Mr. Robert Perreault:

The law must include firm commitments on this. Provisions need to be added to the present bill, particularly in order to ensure that Quebec's powers are respected relating to the selection of temporary workers and the continuation of a distinct program for investor-class immigrants.

The bill, which I have had the opportunity to read carefully, does not include such guarantees, such assurances. Moreover, all provisions relating to ensuring that Quebec assumes jurisdiction over immigration, particularly immigrant selection, is contained in an administrative arrangement, the McDougall-Gagnon-Tremblay agreement, the latest in a series between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec.

The arrangement is still precarious because the agreement involved has never been enshrined in the Constitution, despite attempts to do so, particularly the failed attempts at Charlottetown.

It would have been, and still is, desirable for there to be recognition, as a certain resolution of this House of Commons suggests, that the distinct society which Quebec is or would be would deserve to have a very concrete mention in a federal immigration statute, in which the particular and distinct status of Quebec would be recognized, as far as immigration issues and the selection of immigrants and temporary workers are concerned, or the responsibilities Quebec wishes to assume as far as asylum is concerned.

Apart from the issue of Quebec's powers, it must be noted that the bill proposes changes to claims to refugee status, but nowhere does the government agree to pay for the administration of the system.

Actually, if the federal government believes in the effectiveness of the provisions contained in the bill, it should be ready to assume the costs and to do so until the people involved have been recognized as convention refugees, obtained permanent residence or left the territory.

In this connection it should be noted that last February Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia joined forces to condemn the federal government's management of the asylum seekers or of their movements. These provinces were asking that significant corrective action be taken and that the federal government, as solely responsible for this whole refugee status determination process, assume all the costs related to the services provided to those people, whether for income security, legal aid or education.

In fact, I think that members should be reminded that in Quebec, and the situation is probably the same in some other provinces, proportionally, it costs more that $80 million a year to take care of those awaiting a ruling from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

The Bloc Quebecois is also concerned with the fact that many rules provided for in this bill, or rules that will apply to immigration and refugee protection, will be established through regulations, through subordinate legislation. Such rules are not, at least at the moment, included in Bill C-31.

This means that the government is basically excluding these rules from the scrutiny of the House and that parliamentary review of these important rules will be very limited. This also opens the door to many changes, at the whim of the government, or because of public pressure or discontent with a court decision.

Like other parties, the Bloc Quebecois also deplores the fact that the government would not take politics out of the appointment process of people who will be selected or will continue to sit on the Immigration and Refugee Board. This critique is shared not only by opposition parties, but also by the civil society, which considers that it is inappropriate for the government to have sole control over the appointment and selection of people who will be called to make major decisions on immigration and refugee status determination.

As my contribution to this debate I would like, on behalf of my party, to point out some difficulties raised by the government's desire to put into effect through this bill international obligations arising from treaties Canada is party to, obligations the bill is intended to fulfil, as clause 3(2)( b ) of the bill provides.

I would add that this bill is no doubt intended to get a jump in a way on implementing the provisions of a draft treaty currently under negotiation, that is the draft protocol against the smuggling of migrants currently being negotiated by an ad hoc committee on the drafting of a convention against international organized crime, which accordingly is intended to set rules on the smuggling of migrants by land, air and sea and which is a protocol supplementing the United Nations convention against international and transnational organized crime.

In a recent study, lawyer Philippe Tremblay, who thoroughly examined the relationship between the revised draft and Bill C-31, intimates that Bill C-31 is a precipitous incorporation of evolving international law.

I cannot help but point out that, while this parliament considers this bill, it has not had the opportunity, in truth, either through this House or in committee, to examine the negotiations underway being reported to the members of this House, Canada's position in this matter and the progress of discussions on this draft protocol.

This leads me to say that parliaments, and in particular the House of Commons, must be party to the drafting of treaties before they are asked to pass legislation to implement these treaties, since, if they are not involved in the process of implementing treaties through legislation, they end up having to subscribe to the rules as negotiated and signed, without having the right to vet the standards in the conventions, which a country such as Canada in this case would have approved for its signature.

This is all the more important since, when it comes to conventions that have already been signed and ratified, a parliament that was not able to take part in the discussions on these treaties and that did not approve these treaties before they were ratified is not really in a position to understand and to adequately participate in their implementation.

Is this not the case here, since Bill C-31 explicitly seeks to implement two treaties, namely the Refugee Convention and its optional protocol, and the Convention Against Torture, two conventions that have already been signed and ratified by Canada without a true parliamentary debate on them, while a third convention which is not mentioned in the bill, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, should also have a real and significant impact on the legislation before us?

As regards these three conventions, which I will discuss one by one, it seems to us, in the Bloc Quebecois, that there are major flaws which could still be corrected to ensure that Bill C-31 adequately fulfils Canada's international obligations in this regard.

Let me begin with the Refugee Convention and its optional protocol. Explicit reference is made to that convention in clause 2.(1), where that convention is defined and described. That was also the case in the 1976 act, which preceded this legislation. The bill's schedule also refers to certain provisions of the Refugee Convention.

However, when we examine the bill, when we read it carefully, we realize that it probably goes against the spirit, if not the letter of the Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol.

For example, when we look at the provisions on inadmissibility, when we read together clauses 29, 30 and 33 of the bill, when we look at the provisions that allow increased use of the power to detain refugee claimants—I am referring in particular to clause 50 of the bill—and when we see that this bill restricts access to the refugee determination process, we cannot help but think that it does not respect the spirit of the Refugee Convention, a convention which seeks to make it easier for bona fide refugees to have access to the territory of a state and which seeks to protect these refugees.

The tighter provisions, which are very restrictive, much more so than those agreed to in the earlier legislation, in the view of the Bloc Quebecois, probably undermine certain guarantees of the Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees and its protocol.

Having examined the Convention Against Torture, we feel that it has not been fully and appropriately incorporated. This convention includes an absolute ban on the removal of persons likely to be tortured in the country to which they might be removed. The reference to the Convention on Torture in clause 90(2)( a ), is a useful one and is lauded in certain quarters. But clause 91 tends to limit the protection of persons likely to be tortured and does not seem to correspond appropriately to the exceptions in paragraphs (e) and (f) of the Convention on Refugees.

The principle of non-removal, which is incorporated into clause 108 of this bill and which is also intended to confirm acceptance of the principle of non-removal in article 33 of the Convention on Refugees, which deals with torture—and this is something positive—is not reassuring in this regard because a total ban on the removal of persons likely to be tortured is not guaranteed.

Finally, I wish to point out that, in the opinion of our party, the best interest of the child, as protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is certainly not the primary consideration in this bill, since it provides that a minor child could be held and that this could be limited only by regulation.

Our party therefore feels that the government should give very serious thought to better implementing its international obligations and making the necessary improvements to Bill C-31.

A “Canadien” Afield April 13th, 2000

Mr. Speaker,

A “Canadien” afield Far from his hearth and home Through foreign land and weald Blundering he did roam. Through foreign land and weald Blundering he did roam. Pensive and serious, Sitting along the shore Of Lake Tiberias Did he the waves implore: Of Lake Tiberias Did he the waves implore: “Should you my country see, my country all in dread, Please inform all my friends That 'tis on eggs I tread. Please inform all my friends That 'tis on eggs I tread.” These days the gaffes abound, Out there for all to see, My party at this frowned, Will have no more of me, And my dear home, oh zounds, Is quite upset with me.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act April 11th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, it is true that marriage is defined in both the Civil Code of Quebec and Canadian common law. This is a definition that can evolve, that has evolved in other national jurisdictions, that can do so here in Canada, and in Quebec.

I would like, however, to be able to believe that the whole issue of the definition of marriage, even if addressed in this bill, will continue to be debated. I believe that our societies are undergoing such changes that not only will common law unions be recognized but also that partnerships between persons of the same sex will be given more formal recognition.

In my opinion, this is debate that is not over. It ought not to be, because there are those who support a more formal recognition of common law unions between persons of the same sex. There are others who wish to see marriage reserved for people of opposite sexes.

The debate will progress as our society progresses. I trust that this change will take place within the context of respect for institutions and also of respect for convictions. I hope that it will, above all, take place with respect for the equality of men and of women.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act April 11th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would say to the member that it should be noted that in Quebec, as elsewhere in Canada and indeed in the world, there are various positions on the equality of persons with different sexual orientations, which are sometimes rooted in religious beliefs and sometimes in prejudices that a healthy upbringing could perhaps eliminate.

These differences must be noted, but the will of parliaments here and elsewhere in the world to end discrimination must not be thwarted.

I believe that this bill is the culmination of many efforts made by those with the most interest in these issues, those who have often been the victims of discrimination. This bill will finally give them true access to equality and the right to benefits they have been denied.

The question of marriage and its definition is touched on in this bill. The Liberal government has decided to include an interpretation clause that may be along the lines of recognizing that marriage is reserved for opposite sex couples. This debate will have to continue. It is one that the Canadian Alliance will perhaps, and quite legitimately, wish to pursue.

As for us, the fact that this question is not necessarily definitively resolved in this bill should not prevent us—at least not most of us—from being in favour of a restorative bill that will grant a too-long-denied equality on same sex couples.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act April 11th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve in this final part of the debate on Bill C-23, the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act.

I will remind the House that this bill was introduced on February 11, 2000 and that it is basically designed, for reasons of equity, to modernize certain benefits and obligations in order to guarantee that partners in a common law relationship, whether of the same or opposite sex, are treated equally under the law.

The changes proposed in this bill must guarantee, in keeping with the supreme court decision of May 1999 in M v H, that same sex couples in a common law relationship have the same advantages and the same obligations as opposite sex couples in a common law relationship, and the same access as other couples in Canada or Quebec to the benefits to which they have contributed.

I would like to point out that I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, who will be speaking on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois after me.

I would also like to point out that this bill is the culmination of multiple and long-standing efforts by people who have been long engaged in the battle to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is a battle in which Quebec has played a lead role, as it was the first to enact legislation incorporating sexual orientation among the illegal grounds for discrimination. It did so by amending its charter of rights and freedoms, back in 1977.

Bill C-23 is therefore the culmination of a lengthy battle by many members of society, regardless of their own opinions about sexual orientation or their personal choice of orientation. It is the culmination of numerous attempts to change federal or provincial legislation. It is also the culmination of successes at the provincial level, for several pieces of legislation have been passed to put an end to discrimination in various Canadian provinces where benefits were concerned.

I think that as the debate at third reading of Bill C-23 draws to a close it is important to remember how this legislative saga began and to put this bill into context. Like many members of my party, I hope it will be passed by the House of Commons.

I would remind the House that the Parliament of Canada had decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults more than 30 years ago, in 1969. Seven years later, in 1976, the Immigration Act removed homosexuals from the category of persons denied entry into Canada.

Until recently, there were hardly any other federal legislative initiatives with respect to the legal aspects of homosexuality. Numerous private member's bills to prohibit discrimination based on orientation were introduced in the House of Commons between 1980 and 1992, but none of them made it past first reading. Nor did the proposed amendments to other statutes with a view to eliminating certain forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation succeed either.

In December 1992, then Minister of Justice Kim Campbell introduced Bill C-108, which would have added sexual orientation to the prohibited grounds in the Canadian Human Rights Act and defined a married individual in strictly heterosexual terms.

The purpose of Bill S-15, introduced in the Senate by Senator Noel Kinsella, was to add sexual orientation to the prohibited grounds in the same Canadian Human Rights Act. This bill was passed in June 1993.

However, when parliament was dissolved in September 1993, after a general election was called, this bill, as well as Bill C-108, died on the order paper.

In 1995, parliament passed Bill C-41, an act to amend the criminal code. The bill provided that evidence establishing that a crime was motivated by hate or by bias based on a number of personal characteristics was an aggravating circumstance that should lead to the imposition of a harsher sentence.

The inclusion of sexual orientation in these personal characteristics generated a great deal of opposition. That was in part due to the opinion expressed by some that this would lead to the inclusion of the sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, or that it would otherwise lead to the erosion of traditional family values.

In spite of that opposition, Bill C-41 received royal assent in July 1995 and came into effect the following year, in September 1996.

In February of the same year, just a few months before the coming into effect of Bill C-41, Senator Noël Kinsella came back with Bill S-2, which was similar to Bill S-15 and which sought to add sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination under section 3 of the federal act, and under section 16, which deals with equal access or affirmative action. The bill was adopted by the Senate in April 1996.

I should also mention a private member's bill, Bill C-265, introduced by the member for Burnaby—Douglas, whom I salute for the personal fight that he has been leading on these issues— which did not go beyond first reading stage in this House.

On April 29, 1996, the Liberal government of the day, through the Minister of Justice at the time, introduced Bill C-33 to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding sexual orientation to the list of illegal grounds of discrimination based on sexual orientation. This bill was finally passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate and received royal assent on June 20, 1996.

I must also not fail to mention the efforts of my colleague, the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, or party's critic for these matters. He too introduced bills in November 1994, May 1996 and again in February 1998 and March 1999 to end this discrimination in federal legislation. These bills, like many private members' bills, came to nought.

Today we reach the final stage of the passage of this bill. Its passage follows on the unanimous adoption by the National Assembly of Quebec of a bill with similar goals amending various legislative provisions pertaining to common law spouses and putting an end to the discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation found in the laws of Quebec. Ontario has done the same thing.

It is therefore high time that the Parliament of Canada, and this House of Commons in particular, followed the path taken by other lawmakers, that is the path of equality, and gave real meaning to the concept of equality contained in our charters.

External Affairs April 10th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister of Canada has just stated in his visit to Palestine that the Palestinians were doing well to hold on to the option of a unilateral declaration of independence in order to put pressure on Israel in the current round of negotiations.

Could the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs explain the bases for the Prime Minister's new position? What are we to understand from his remarks?