Madam Speaker, the member first asked this question on December 3 last year, just as the government was anticipating the release of the decision from the Supreme Court of Canada on the marriage reference.
I would like to remind the House that the government takes the issue of religious freedom very seriously. Indeed, as the House will recall, the Government of Canada was very concerned that the granting of equality to same sex couples should not come at the expense of other charter protected guaranteed rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of religion. It was for that reason that the government chose to refer its proposed legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada before tabling it in Parliament, so that our opinion that the bill would not affect religious freedom could be confirmed by the highest court in the land.
The Supreme Court released its decision on December 9 of last year and confirmed that the charter already protects the religious freedom of all Canadians. In its ruling, the Supreme Court made some of the strongest statements ever on the nature and importance of religious freedom in Canada. Specifically, the court clearly ruled that: religious officials are protected by the charter from being compelled to perform any religious or civil marriage that would be contrary to their religious beliefs; and religious institutions are protected from being forced to provide their sacred spaces.
The Supreme Court was categorical: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms already protects the freedom of religion. The charter protects churches and synagogues, mosques and temples from being obliged to perform marriages contrary to their beliefs.
This protection is clearly echoed in the draft bill to extend civil marriage to same sex couples. Indeed, the crystal clear assurances of religious freedom are one of the major reasons that I personally support Bill C-38.
At the same time, I am concerned that some may be seeking to unduly alarm Canadians by confusing the question of civil commissioners with that of religious officials performing marriages. The two issues are qualitatively different. Religious officials are protected by the charter from doing anything that would be against their religious beliefs. Civil marriage officials are provincial or territorial employees or appointees hired to perform a service that the provinces and territories are required under the law to provide to all without discrimination.
As provincial employees, civil marriage officials are not within federal jurisdiction but would fall within provincial or territorial jurisdiction. As I understand that there is currently a case on this issue before the provincial human rights body, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that specific situation in Manitoba.
In general terms, however, if any additional specific protections for religious freedom are desired in the terms of civic marriage officials, commercial provision of services, hall rentals, et cetera, they must be made by the provinces and territories.
Even here, at a recent FPT meeting, the attorneys general of two of the most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec, both said that they had experienced no problems with religious freedom despite thousands of same sex marriage ceremonies.
Many provinces and territories already have amended their laws to add specific protections for religious freedom. In a recent FPT meeting, the Minister of Justice encouraged the provinces and territories to ensure, as the federal government is doing, religious freedom is protected in all their laws.