Honourable Irwin Cotler Minister of Justice 284 Wellington Street Ottawa,
Ontario K1A 0H8 Telephone: 613-957-4222 Fax: 613-990-7255 Email: Cotler.I@parl.gc.ca
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To Canada's Justice Minister A Call To Support Equal Marriage
I have heard that recent opinion polling results suggest that Canadians are broadly
split three ways on the issue of same-sex marriage. One-third are fixed in opposition
due to religious beliefs. One-third are clearly in favour, largely on the grounds
of equality rights. And, one-third are not convinced either way, but lean towards
the "compromise solution" of Civil-Unions because they are listening to Mr. Harper's
claim that the issue is "not a human rights issue."
For months I have been perplexed by Mr. Harper repeating this claim without explanation.
However, in a speech in Calgary on Thursday, January 27, 2005 as reported on CBC
radio news on the morning of Friday January, 28, 2005 in Mr. Harper's own words
he stated that the courts have never recognized "Lifestyle Choices" as a "right".
Mr. Harper finally disclosed his fundamentalist Christian roots and is parroting
the stance of people like James Dobson, head of the US based Focus on the Family.
Focus on the Family have programs to "turn" homosexuals because they believe that
it is an affliction, not something someone simply "is".
By characterizing homosexuality as a lifestyle choice, similar, I presume, to
the decision whether to buy a sports car or a mini-van, or to invest in a new
computer or a big-screen TV, Mr. Harper is clearly at odds with the vast majority
of those in the "middle third" who have until now accepted his, "it is not a human
rights issue", argument without knowing the basis for Mr. Harper's position.
I believe it is absolutely essential that the Government do everything > possible
to get Mr. Harper to clarify his "lifestyle choice" position in the House of Commons
and in public forums so that those in the middle-third can more reasonably understand
why it IS a human rights issue. Failing that, get a copy of the audio-clip and
have Mr. Harper speak for himself over-and-over again. I firmly believe that most,
other than the Evangelical groups, do not believe that people get out of bed one
morning and decide to be homosexuals!
As for the other ludicrous junk like, polygamy, incest, bestiality, the collapse
of civilization as we know it, only the hard-right third are buying that anyway.
Bill Rathborne London, Ontario
am a lawyer who worked in government (Ontario Public Service) for 10 years in
a number of policy positions relating to the promotion of equality for groups
that historically have been disadvantaged in our society. I am concerned by reports
that you are looking at the possibility of amending the reference to the Supreme
Court of Canada to consider the constitutionality of making marriage a matter
solely for religious institutions and civil unions would be essentially for anyone
not wishing (or able to because their religion refuses to let them) to get married.
I am worried
that only when gays and lesbians are on the threshold of attaining full Charter
rights with respect to marriage is your government considering putting marriage
essentially outside the protective reach of the Charter. Prior to our gains in
this area of equality, no one seemed very interested in this idea of doing away
with government-administered marriage. I am concerned that if marriage becomes
the sole business of religious institutions, gays/lesbians as a historically disadvantaged
group will be blocked from attaining marriage rights unless the very institutions
that are often the most vociferous opponents of same-sex marriage deign to allow
it. This concern flows from my belief that the notion of civil unions will take
decades or longer to attain the same social acceptance that marriages have and
therefore effectively the discrimination will continue except now it will be hidden
behind religious robes and be exempt from section 15 Charter challenges.
believe that the correct legal and human rights-based position is to say that
not letting some Canadians marry just because others don't approve of who they
want to marry has no place in Canada. Taking away everybody's right to marry except
for those who are willing to turn to religion is not the direction I'd like to
see Canada going when we have witnessed increasing political power emanating from
the religious right across many faiths. I am not one for feeling very secure when
it comes to religious institutions receiving powers from government that may well
have the effect of permitting the discrimination to continue. And a backlash against
gays and lesbians may follow if marriage is no longer civilly available. It is
not that I think civil unions are a bad idea--it's just that it seems to be proposed
solely in response to the clear direction that our courts are headed-i.e. calling
discrimination against same-sex unions just that.
concept of the government no longer being involved in the marriage arena reminds
me of the situation of some friends who were active in a Toronto egalitarian Jewish
congregation. When the women (who had been living as a couple for many years)
applied to the synagogue for the "family membership" rate, the Board of Directors
of this self-described "progressive" congregation responded that instead of allowing
same-sex couples to join as a family, the congregation would no longer offer a
family rate to any family. The idea to possibly end civil marriage for everyone
just because gays/lesbians wanted to be included feels similar. It's equality
with a vengeance.
ensure that your political response to pressure from those who wish the discrimination
against us to continue does not come at the price of compromising my Charter rights.
We have fought too long and too hard. I am asking you to have the courage exhibited
by your predecessor to stand up and be counted when a group's human rights are
at stake. Thank you.
The Prime Minister and Tony Ianno, MP
us to introduce ourselves. We are a gay couple who have been in a committed relationship
for 31 years and have lived together since we moved into our present home in Montreal
in 1976. On September 14, 1998, we filed a motion in Quebec Superior Court to
win the right to marry civilly thus initiating the present struggle in Canada
to gain legal and social recognition for same-sex relationships through access
to civil marriage.
you are no doubt aware, we had a long battle to get to court but were finally
heard in November 2001. Even though the Governments of Canada and of Quebec did
everything possible to stop us, including adding a section to the Harmonisation
Act which specifically denied same-sex marriage in Quebec and then legislating
Civil Union in Quebec, we eventually won our court challenge on September 4, 2002.
In her decision, the Honourable Justice Louise Lemelin of the Quebec Superior
Court not only stuck down the offending provision of the Harmonisation Act but
also ruled Section 1,1 of the Modernisation Act and Article 365 of the Quebec
Civil Code inoperative, all as of September 5, 2004.
our victory, your predecessor as Justice Minister appealed that decision but finally
dropped the Government of Canada's appeal in July 2003.
are writing you this open letter today to ask you four questions.
In the December 13th, 2003 edition of The Montreal Gazette, the day after you
were appointed Justice Minister, we read the following quotation attributed to
you: "Whether it be the rights of gays and lesbians, or whether it be the rights
of any minorities, for me equality rights are a fundamental principal which will
guide my work."Thus we concluded that you supported our right to full civil
and social equality as Canadian citizens including the right to marry in a civil
ceremony. Was our conclusion correct?
In the June 2003 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Halpern vs Canada,
Justices McMurtry, Gillese and MacPherson ruled that same-sex couples have the
right to marry. In their decision they wrote: "This case is ultimately about the
recognition and protection of human dignity and equality." Do you agree with the
Justices that we, as two adult Canadian citizens, have the right to the recognition
and protection of our human dignity and our equality including the right to marry?
We have always
believed that, in matters of rights, priority is determined by constitutions and
not by public opinion or by majorities.* Do you agree that this is true?
to recent reports in the media, you are about to ask the Supreme Court of Canada
if denying us equal rights and treatment under the law, by denying us access to
civil marriage, is acceptable under our Charter of Rights. Again according to
the media, you propose to consult with your fellow deputies, and then perhaps
all Canadians, about offering us access to a secondary conjugal status called
"Civil Union", which exists in Quebec already but which the Quebec Superior Court
declared does not constitute equal treatment, as a kind of exchange. As someone
who has a reputation as a strong supporter of international human rights, how
do you explain this approach to dealing with equality rights in Canada? Can you
think of other, similar situations that you as an expert consider just?
you can imagine, we anxiously await your response to our questions. We are sure
there must be some error on the part of the media. In fact, we look forward to
working with you to assure that Canada's homosexual citizens finally have full
equality rights including the right to assume their full and equal part in all
civil aspects of our society.
"En matière de droits, l'ordre des priorités doit être déterminé par la Constitution
et non par l'opinion publique ou par des majorités" Hannah Arendt (1959) in "Réflexions
sur Little Rock" cited in Penser l'événement, Paris, Berlin, 1989, p. 239.
Honourable Sir: It would be rather disingenuous of us, while sincerely congratulating
you upon your appointment as Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada,
to not simultaneously express our grave concerns about your commitment to advocate
for full and equal marriage rights throughout Canada for all human beings.
training and mentoring has been in the law - and we have spent hours studying
the work product of an eminently distinguished legal and academic career. Yet
as one trained to the doctoral level in theology, and my spouse to the graduate
level in sociology, we do not pretend to fully understand the subtleties of civil
law. We do however, understand the essential underpinings of all human intercourse
- be it civil or spiritually canonical.
realise that you were absent for the September 15 vote in the Commons, and have
been concerned about several Liberal Members who have sought to filter civil law
through Scriptural traditions, be it the Holiness Code, the Koran, or certain
letters of Saint Paul to Christians living among pagans who engaged in prostitutional
one of my many friends in the rabbinate, be they Orthodox, Conservative or Reform
in tradition, advocate the literal theocratic adjudications required by the Holiness
Code. True, there are some fundamentalist Islamic nations that do condemn sexual
transgressors with stoning even in the twenty-first century, but therein lies
the problem with theocracy overwhelming civil democracy.
McGill Daily, in an article titled "The Future of Religion and Society (Oct. 17,
2002) you wrote: "Emphasizing the necessity for religion to play a role in human
rights, Cotler concluded, 'We must create a culture of respect, one that is not
only legal but also that is anchored in the jurisprudence of the great religions."
Sir, we are men of faith who have devoted our lives to the service of others,
albeit more humbly than you have. We have, in several letters to you in the past
few months, told you of our twenty eight year struggle to obtain the civil and
spiritual marriage that we received in August. I spoke of my 90 year old mother,
born and raised in your riding, who taught secondary school and inculcated values
in all her children. The " jurisprudence of the great religions ", yours and mine,
is continually redefined in the light of our modern cosmology. It is amended as
we are enlightened to do so. Our culture and our faith is fluid, ever evolving
in a clearer definition of truth.
also read about the admonition given to you by your then twelve-year old son when
he learned of your intention to enter political life. Again, I quote: "In an interview
with the McGill Reporter (Oct. 21, 1999), Cotler spoke of his 12-year-old son
who questioned his reasons for entering politics. "He asks me why I want to be
a politician. 'Politicians are crooks,' he says. He says I have a great reputation
as a human rights lawyer. Why do I want to ruin it? ... If I feel that [life in
Ottawa] is all about the pursuit of political power and not about the pursuit
of principles, I'll be gone."
16, he must be quite a mensch and know that you must be proud of him. He
knew then the difference between political science and statesmanship. We are aware
of the political machinations in removing your predecessor and appointing you.
You are aware, most assuredly, of the high esteem and regard that our community
and its supporters feel for the Right Honourable gentleman, [Martin] Cauchon.
We earnestly wish to hold you in equal regard as events unfold.
and the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian citizens, and our families and
our supporters want equal marriage. We want our marriages to remain valid. We
do not want you to remove marriage and all that entails both civilly and spiritually,
from us or from opposite sex couples. That is definitely, as my friend Kevin Bourassa
mentioned, is " equality with a vengeance. " As your predecessor came to realise,
there is no other course to take in a just society and as members of our Liberal
Party that gave us our Charter. All that is lacking is the political will and
the courage of statesmanship.
are praying for you - for Solomonic wisdom is indeed the spiritual order of the
day. Then, of course, there is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in both its
legal and canonical sense.
E. Sawyer-Smith, PhD Albert W. Sawyer-Smith, MSW