Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Centre.
The debate we are on today is part of a supply day procedure, and I am responding to the member for Peterborough when he said we should be debating other things.
I just want to note that at the end of this debate we will actually be doing an appropriation involving some $4,359,000,000 and change. So this is a debate about the motion itself, but it is followed by the supply day procedures, of which this is part.
I am happy to have a chance to talk about the charter. We do not often get an opportunity to do that. The hon. member who just spoke, the chair of the justice committee, did provide a very useful overview of the charter provisions.
Looking back over the last 28 years, I would have to say the charter has been a pretty fundamental piece of being a Canadian, but I am not so sure it is the most fundamental piece. I rather think our geography and our history are what makes us most Canadian.
The charter is a part of that history. However, it is not actually just history, of course; it is a living document. It shapes us around this place most days.
I was out on the lawn, on the common, as a citizen in 1982 when the patriation of the Constitution and the signing of the charter took place, including Her Majesty. It was a memorable moment, but in looking back, I found that the biggest piece of that day was really the patriation, bringing the Constitution to Canada from the United Kingdom.
The charter was a piece of that. I do not think I understood how big the charter was. The reason that the charter was big is that it kept on living. Every year, the charter lived; the patriation is history. That was 28 years ago.
As the chair of the justice committee just said, many of the rights contained in the charter were already provided for in Canadian law. That law reaches back a long way. We can get a copy of the Magna Carta from 1215; a copy of the 1689 Bill of Rights, which is here in the library; and the 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights, which the member described. Those are all documents involving rights, and even those documents live today.
I would just reflect on four perspectives that I think were there in the minds of those who debated and enacted the charter in 1982 and in the year or two leading up to it. There are more than four, but I just want to reflect on these four.
One is the fundamental rights of the person. We wanted to get that right.
Second, there were limitations on the state in terms of its ability to resort to arbitrary measures.
Third, there was the place of our first nations in our Constitution, in our Canada.
The fourth was the inclusion of the provinces in all of the processes, the legislative process and in our great national enterprise.
The first two are the ones that I want to come back to, those being the rights of the person as well as limitations on the ability of the state to resort to arbitrary measures.
Most people think of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as being a menu or list of rights. I think, although I do not know this, that in the mind of the prime minister at the time there was a large concern about the role of the state in modern society.
I believe he could see that the modern state, without constraints, had many powers, legislative, coercive and taxation, and there was no end to it, over its citizens. I think he and others saw the need for a charter that would constrain the government of the day, in whatever day, in what it did so that it could not use arbitrary and harsh measures.
Why did he feel that way? Why did he sense that? We note that in our constitution, under the federal powers, section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, one of the powers is peace, order and good government. In order to have peace and good order, historically the state has been relied upon to impose that order, to impose the peace, even if it had to go to war. That federal jurisdiction, that constitutional obligation of the state, to provide peace and order could be seen to fly in contrast with the positions of citizens from time to time, certainly in terms of how it would go about imposing that order.
Around the years 1968, 1969 and 1970, we had the FLQ crisis where the government felt it had to impose the provisions of the War Measures Act on citizens. At the time, looking back, I think it felt those were the only powers the state had to adequately respond to the request of the province of Quebec.
As time went on and in the light of the charter, the War Measures Act was removed and other legislation was adopted to fill in some of the gaps. I think the legislators then saw that the provisions of the War Measures Act were way over the top and there was nothing they could see, if there was a majority government in place, to constrain the use of the War Measures Act.
At the same time, I recall a series of incidents in Poland, where the communist government was repressing a protest that became violent. There were labour unions and civil rights people. I remember people comparing what was happening in Poland to what was happening here.
One could not help but sense that while both countries were trying to impose or provide order, and they were both using the mechanisms of state governance using police or military to do it, and while we were two very different countries, we seemed to be using almost the same mechanisms. I think there was a sense generated then that we needed a constitutional change to provide guidance and limits on the use of state power.
This motion was drafted by the opposition to focus on comments that had been made by not so much members opposite, but by prominent Conservatives. I have tried to figure out why complaints about the charter come from individuals who support the Conservative Party.
It has been pointed that this is a country of lawful and reasonable dissent. It is quite okay for people to disagree with our laws or even our constitution if they do so peacefully. I cannot quite figure out why it happens, and it has happened in print and verbally. I do not think these are not miscues. Some of these individuals really believe there is some problem with the charter.
Notwithstanding all of the whining and carping that has come from some of these individuals in relation to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I cannot recall a single instance where any one of them has indicated which part of the charter they do not like or which provisions should be changed. In the debate in this place, I find that almost all the members, in the end, support all the provisions of the charter. However, there is sometimes a reaction to a court decision, et cetera.
In any event, as a citizen, as a legislator and as a lawyer, the charter has affected me, my family and my work in this place and it will continue to do that well into the future for the benefit of all Canadians.