Mr. Speaker, let me first reiterate that the Canadian Human Rights Act only applies to the federal government and to federally regulated businesses like banks, railways, airlines and telecommunications companies, and governs employment and the provision of goods and services in each of these sectors, which covers only 10 per cent of the Canadian workforce.
The rest of the Canadian workforce is covered by the provincial and territorial human rights codes. I am also satisfied that the act does not apply to religious, cultural or educational institutions; they are not under federal jurisdiction.
In 1995 royal assent was given to Bill C-41, an act to amend the Criminal Code and other acts in consequence thereof. In section 718.2 of that act, the words sexual orientation were added. The act contained many beneficial changes, but what some members of the House focused on was the inclusion of the words sexual orientation in the list of grounds for discrimination. These two words have created a lot of concerns on the part of many people who understandably have brought them forward in various ways.
This debate is here again with the inclusion of sexual orientation in Bill C-33 which is to protect those who work under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Act. As we know, this inclusion will prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians. This discrimination is already prohibited in seven provinces and one territory, and B.C. is one of these provinces.
Many Canadians are concerned that the amendment will open the door to other demands, such as same sex benefits. I would like to comment that nothing earthshaking has happened in the above provinces since the legislation was introduced. There was no request to include the same sex benefits.
For me it is a matter of human rights. I believe that everyone in the world should be treated equally. I also believe that I must protect those who suffer discrimination yet have no voice. My role as parliamentarian is to give them a voice. I do not think it is up to me to judge people or the way they behave.
We are also talking about the family, and I would like to say I believe in extended families. Families that include everyone whose presence means comfort and compatibility. Those we are compatible with are not necessarily those closest to us.
The family has changed in recent decades. When I was in Italy, I belonged to a large family. I have only one brother, but my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my uncles and aunts, my cousins and my friends were part of the family. I got along very well with many of them.
My father and my mother were always in the picture. In Canada, my family simply includes a son who is now 28. All the rest of my family is in Italy and I often find comfort in my friends. Believe me, many people in my riding are in the same situation so what is the family? A nucleus of people who choose to be together and rejoice in each other.
If we have concerns about the family, we show little faith in the family because the family has always taken care of itself and has survived through thick and thin. In fact, there is nothing more meaningful or more comforting than a family and its members in the manner in which we choose them. Families are resilient. Families are as strong as their members are.
Let me add that Roget's International Thesaurus on page 884 uses the following synonyms for family: kinfolk, race, brood, lineage, offspring, community; quite a wide choice of synonyms. Is the world not a large family?
Let me add that the proposed legislation will not change the definition of family, marriage or spouse. It will, however, do something extremely important. It will send a message that discrimination is unacceptable under all circumstances, a message that Canadians have been upholding all along.
It is a message which we heard loud and clear when in October 1994 an Angus Reid poll told us that 81 per cent of respondents said they would be bothered if a lesbian or a gay colleague experienced discrimination in the workplace; 81 per cent also indicated their belief that gays and lesbians experience discrimination in the workplace; 48 per cent of Canadians said they personally knew someone who was gay or lesbian; 36 per cent stated that they had a gay or lesbian friend; 12 per cent stated that they had a gay or lesbian co-worker; and 12 per cent said that they had a family member who was gay or lesbian.
Because of these statistics and my convictions, I believe in this bill, which respects the rights of individuals. After all, we are talking about human beings, about people who face serious and often threatening difficulties and who, at the same time, must pretend to be different from what they are because of the consequences.
Why do we permit this hypocrisy in a country like ours, where families are separated because of immigration, life situations or other reasons? We should be able to accept and understand everyone without discrimination. The rights of all our fellow citizens must be protected, and we must understand that, the day after this bill is passed, nothing will change. We will, however, be able to count on a law that will enable us to put a stop to all discrimination and to help those who need help. It is too bad there will still be people who will not enjoy the same rights.
In conclusion, in my opinion all the amendments proposed to the legislation were a travesty because this bill addresses the concerns of people discriminated against and nothing else. Therefore, I support the bill and I have been voting in its favour.