Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Nunatsiaq.
It is with some impatience that I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-33. I say impatience because the policy embodied in this legislation has long been supported by the Liberal Party of Canada.
Some 20 years ago the Liberal Party of Canada agreed that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should be prohibited. The Liberal Party passed a resolution in 1978 that urged a revised Canadian Constitution to guarantee fundamental human
rights in order to prohibit discrimination by virtue of, among other things, sexual orientation.
In 1985, just over 10 years ago, the Liberal Party participated in an all-party House of Commons committee that unanimously endorsed the resolution that this amendment should be made. More recently, at the 1994 biennial convention of the Liberal Party a resolution supporting this amendment was passed.
The amendment was promised during the federal election campaign. I campaigned on this promise. The Prime Minister has put his commitment behind this both during the campaign and in putting forward this legislation through the justice minister.
Speaking of the justice minister, he has repeatedly promised in the House that this commitment would be honoured. The Star Phoenix , the home newspaper in Saskatoon, wrote an editorial on March 26 with the caption that this protection was long overdue.
It also urged politicians to take the risk of doing the right thing even if it might not be the most politically expedient thing.
If everyone agrees that this is long overdue what has been the hold up? Why did this amendment not pass years ago? It is my belief that the biggest obstacle to this amendment is lack of information. Misinformation is sometimes deliberately put and it can be a complicated issue in terms of legislation and legalities.
Let me take this opportunity to set the record straight. Let us look at exactly what Bill C-33 does and does not do. This section applies to federal legislation. It applies to employment in and the provisions of goods and services delivered by the federal government and federally regulated businesses such as banks and airlines. These organizations employ approximately 10 per cent or 11 per cent of the workforce. Most employers such as schools, small businesses, religious and cultural organizations are regulated provincially and will not be affected by this proposal.
This proposal is not particularly earth shattering either. The amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act merely brings the federal legislation into line with most corresponding provincial and territorial laws, with court decisions that have provided gays and lesbians with the same protection from discrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as other Canadians, and with the unanimous recommendations of the 1985 all-party parliamentary subcommittee report.
Eight provinces and territories, including my home province of Saskatchewan, have already amended their human rights legislation to include sexual orientation.
Why is the amendment needed? This is a question we constantly hear from the members of the Reform Party. Why do we need this protection for this group in society? As it stands right now there are two ways individuals can be protected from discrimination in this country. The first is under the Canadian Human Rights Act to the extent that it applies to the individual in question. The second is under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The difficulty is that when there is a gap in either of those pieces of legislation the Canadian who is a victim of discrimination must resort to the judicial system. We all know that resorting to the judicial system can be both expensive and risky.
I cite as an example two recent court decisions on the matter of sexual orientation. First, the Ontario Court of Appeal has suggested that sexual orientation ought to be read into the legislation when it is not present. Second, the Alberta Court of Appeal stated that is indeed not the case. The only way to resolve that discrepancy is through the Supreme Court of Canada which may or may not hear the case.
A more simple approach would be to codify this protection in federal legislation, which is what this bill is here to do today.
No one in this country should suffer discrimination because of their sexual orientation. This is a matter of fairness and fundamental justice. It is not up to us to judge people's homosexuality or heterosexuality, but we must protect all Canadians from discrimination in our society.
Both the courts and the people of Canada have recognized that gays and lesbians are a group at risk. They have been disadvantaged historically, stereotyped, they have suffered considerable prejudice and discrimination in our society. No one should be considered any less than a full member of society because of their homosexuality.
As I said earlier, the greatest impediment to passing this legislation is ignorance of the facts. The controversy surrounding this issue particularly in the media, which is fuelled by the party opposite, has resulted in many of my constituents being confused. They have written to me with questions about what this legislation will do. We cannot be disrespectful of the emotional side of this issue or of the deeply held feelings of many Canadians, including some within my own caucus.
However, my belief as a mother and as a teacher has always been that the best antidote to misinformation is information. Let us have a look at the bill to see what it will do. In framing my responses I will refer questions in a generic form that I have received from my constituents.
The question most often asked is related to the special benefit issue. This question is fueled by the Reform Party, that somehow Bill C-33 is to give special benefits to this group in our society.
The proof is in the pudding. Sexual orientation has been consi-dered prohibited grounds of discrimination under provincial law since 1977.
No one could credibly argue that the provincial legislation has conferred special rights on any other groups protected by that legislation. Although each of the characteristics is now expressly covered by the existing statute, it is obvious that no special rights are conferred. It will be no different for sexual orientation. The amendment will prohibit discrimination in areas of federal jurisdiction, including employment and access to goods and services.
Another type of question I have often received from constituents has to do with whether the amendment will lead to benefits for same sex partners. That is unlikely to be the case. In fact, it will not be the case given the experience we have had with a similar provision in provincial legislation.
Another question is will the legislation not lead to adoption by same sex couples. The answer is no. Matters of adoption are primarily under provincial jurisdiction, not federal. The amendment does not in any way deal with matters covered in Bill C-167 proposed by the Ontario government in 1994.
The amendment deals with discrimination in employment, accommodation and provision of services and nothing else. It does not condone or condemn homosexuality or heterosexuality.
Section 2 of Bill C-33 simply adds to the existing legislation sexual orientation as a grounds of prohibited discrimination. I highlight that because a question related to the same sex adoption question concerns the impact this legislation will have on the family.
There is a belief that protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination will bring about the end of the family as we know it. I am offended by the implication that somehow gays and lesbians are not part of the Canadian family. Let us not forget the human side of this issue. Gays and lesbians are not aliens from outer space. They are our brothers, sisters, grandchildren, sons and daughters.
Will Bill C-33 lead to the destruction of the family? No, it will not. The proof lies partly in the application of existing provincial laws, but also in the preamble to Bill C-33. The second part of the preamble states:
And whereas the government recognizes and affirms the importance of family as the foundation of Canadian society and that nothing in this act alters its fundamental role in society;
Another question of great concern to many of my constituents is what impact this legislation might have on churches and religious organizations in terms of their teachings and with regard to the hiring and firing of their staff. There is nothing in the Canadian Human Rights Act amendment that would affect that.
In relation to the matter of the churches, the amendment has been endorsed by the United Church of Canada, the Anglican Church, B'nai Brith, the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is of special interest to some people in my constituency. The Canadian bishops are in step with the opinions of their church community and Canadians in general. The polls have shown that most Canadians support the amendment.