Legal - Canada - Rights are rights are rights
April 3, 2005
are rights are rights
The debate over The Civil Marriage Act (Bill C-38) resumed in Parliament's House of Commons on March 21, after a month-long break. There were two days of debate before parliamentary resess. Parliament will show its will on April 12 when it is expected to vote against a Conservative Party amendment that would ressurrect discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Thereafter, Parliament will approve the bill in principle and send it to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. There could then be a report (from the committee) stage vote in the Commons and then third reading debate and a vote on the final version of the bill. The bill will then go to the Senate for its consideration and approval.
The following extracts from the March 21 debate demonstrate why the bill will be passed.
Hon. John McCallum (Minister of National Revenue, Lib.):
"I believe we should always seek to expand the rights of our fellow citizens as long as we do not thereby reduce the rights of others. We should seek to ensure that no group is denied full participation in society. As members of Parliament, we should not ask the question, why should we extend this right? Rather our question should be, why should we not extend the right? Let the burden of proof be on those who wish to limit fundamental rights.
"To light a candle from another that is already burning does not diminish the light of that first candle, but rather serves to brighten the room. It is fundamental to our society that we offer basic rights to all. It is fundamental that we strive to extend our interpretation of equality as far as possible ...
"One cannot pick and choose between minorities whose rights one wants to defend and minorities whose rights one chooses to oppose. If we do not protect the rights of one group, in this case gay Canadians, we set a precedent that would make it easier to abuse the rights of other Canadians down the road. We do not want to embark on that path. Let us not forget that before Canada had the charter of rights, there were times in our history when we failed to protect the rights of minorities. Think of the internment of Japanese Canadians, the Chinese head tax, and the abuses of aboriginal people. We must never return to a situation where the tyranny of the majority overrides the rights of minorities, and by that I mean the rights of all minorities, including gay Canadians."
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):
"Freedom and equality are not the exclusive purview of the few, but the cherished gifts of all citizens. One cannot be equal and unequal at the same time. Either we are all free and equal or none of us are. Let us ensure that freedom's call is answered once again and that we are not only the guardians of our nation's legacy of tolerance, but also that we count ourselves among the daring who have chosen not the easy path but the just road. As the debate continues we are asked to remember that in the long struggle for greater human dignity and equality we are called upon to defy fear and to confront confidently those who obstruct our path. The road ahead is indeed challenging, but the greatness comes not when we are certain of the path but when the journey allows us the choice between fear of change and the hope of daring to begin anew...
"There have been suggestions that Parliament invoke the notwithstanding clause to overturn the decision of the courts. Imagine future generations looking back on these times and wondering how well meaning people would have ever used this mechanism to deny the rights of full citizenship to any Canadian. My colleagues in the House are being asked to take a giant leap forward on the road to equality. This is not a time to evade our responsibility, now or for future generations. I call upon members to be bold in spirit and in action as we confront this challenge. When the House votes on this bill, we will do more than record our decision on this matter. We will redress generations of Canadians who have felt the pain of inequality. What we say to them on that day will be supported by how we vote. Will we be inclusive? Will we invite all Canadians to the table as equal partners? The decision is ours."
Hon. John Godfrey (Minister of State (Infrastructure and Communities), Lib.):
"These debates, when the private conscience is in dialogue with public policy, are actually rather rare in our parliamentary history. They occur perhaps once every parliamentary generation. I can remember sitting in this gallery in June 1977 during an all night debate and vote when the House came to a conclusion on the subject of capital punishment. That was one of those historic moments and there was a sense of history in the House that night.
"One of the great national projects in Canada over the past 50 years and essentially within my own lifetime has been the huge and satisfying increase of tolerance and understanding for other people in Canadian society. This has been a great evolving and continuing national project extending human rights over the past years.
"There was a time, and we can remember it, when people who spoke French in this country, people who were Roman Catholics in this country, people who were Jews, blacks, and women were discriminated against. We have, as part of our increased understanding of what it is to be Canadian, extended rights to those people."
Mr. Navdeep Bains (Mississauga—Brampton South, Lib.):
"I want to take this opportunity to talk about my personal experiences with religion, specifically the Sikh faith. As a proud Canadian born in Toronto and raised in Mississauga—Brampton South, I grew up in an environment where I never fit the status quo. At a young age I decided to keep my hair and recall the moral support provided by my school teachers. I remember playing soccer and feeling mortified because I was the only one with a turban. I thought my turban was going to fall off when I headed the soccer ball, but the coach always went out of her way to make me feel part of the team. I remember the first time I wore my distar, also known as the turban, to high school and recall the compliments I received from my classmates. I also remember taking amrit in university, and being praised by my professors and the student body for making an outward commitment to practise my faith ...
"I remember I was in high school and Mr. Dhillon was going through much undue hardship for wearing a turban and wanting to join the RCMP. I recall that Sikhs at that time came together and looked to the charter to protect their identity and, may I add, an identity that did not conform to traditional norms. I also recall when the courts decided that Mr. Dhillon was allowed to wear his turban as an RCMP officer. At that moment, I was not only proud to be a Sikh but I was proud to be a Canadian, and live in a country where I was treated as an equal member of society, knowing full well that if my beliefs were ever challenged, I would have the charter to protect my rights. Therefore, based on my experiences and historical decisions by the courts, I have full faith that the charter has demonstrated time and time again the importance of protecting religious freedoms ...
"The issue today is not of civil marriage. The debate here today is not whether to change the definition of marriage. It is being changed in seven provinces and one territory. The issue is something much greater than that, the charter. I am a byproduct of the charter and live in a country where everyone is treated the same and where individual freedom is the cornerstone of our society."
Mr. Michael Savage (Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Lib.):
the point of view of justice and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the
answer is clear. This is a law whose time has come. I support the legislation
because I think it is right and because it is both just and moral. It
is consistent with both the Charter of Rights and with my own personal
" That is not to say that the issue has been without difficulty. Many people whom I respect greatly oppose my view, some in particularly strong terms. Though my view has never changed, I have struggled to find the words to express my strong support for the legislation. I found them in the words of Dr. Peter Short, the moderator of the United Church of Canada. He has expressed that the legislation does not represent an abandoning of faith, but rather an embracement of faith. He further reminds us that the literal interpretation of scripture has been used to justify actions that none of us would advocate: slavery, apartheid and the repression of women. From my own faith, I take heart in the notion of informed conscience, that as Catholics we need to combine the teachings of the word with our own objective judgments and make wise decisions."
Ms. Marlene Catterall (Ottawa West—Nepean, Lib.):
"Will generations to come look back on what we do today with shame or with approval? There are many periods in our past which we can only look back on and wonder that our leaders of the time could have thought those things seemed okay. Usually they involved discrimination against a minority, often out of fear and often out of contempt for a group of fellow citizens, our fellow human beings, who were regarded as inferior and not quite worthy of the same treatment as the majority.
"We interned Canadians of Ukrainian origin during the first world war. We imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants and then excluded them entirely. We interned Canadians of Italian origin during World War II. These are times we can only look back on with dismay and wonder that they seemed okay at the time. When Canada closed its doors to Jews fleeing persecution and almost certain death in Nazi Germany, this was surely one of our darkest moments, yet it appears that these actions were considered okay at the time. We have discriminated based on race. We have discriminated based on ethnicity. We have discriminated based on religion. There was even a time when Roman Catholic marriages were not considered legal in Canada. Jewish marriages were not considered legal. It was considered okay that women were persons under the law in matters of pains and penalties, but not in matters of rights and privileges ...
"For two people of the same sex who love each other enough to make such a profound public commitment to seek in each other fulfilment and completion, I say welcome to one of our most important social institutions: marriage. I believe this decision will stand the test of time, that generations to come will approve of our including our fellow human beings fully and equally in the life of our country and our society."
Hon. Don Boudria (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, Lib.):
"I will state my background. I have been married for 34 years. I am a grandfather. My wife Mary Ann is known to most of my colleagues here in this House. I am a practising Roman Catholic living in a francophone rural community. I intend to vote in favour of this bill. That will perhaps surprise some people, but that is too bad ... Yes, I have received letters, some nice, some no so nice and some threatening on both sides perhaps, although clearly more threatening with one particular point of view. I have seen all of this over recent months. I have seen attempts to plug up the e-mails in my office with thousands of them on one day, as if that would be a determining issue as to what are rights. Are rights determined by those who can plug up our e-mail? Is that the way in which we are going to govern this great country? Is that the way in which we have done it in the past?
"... I do not know whether I will ever vote in favour of using the notwithstanding clause for anything. The day that I do, I hope it will never be to revoke the rights from those who have received those rights by the courts of this great country. That is not where I stand. It will never happen that way as long as I have anything to do with it and as long as the people of Glengarry--Prescott--Russell decide that I am the person who should be here to represent them in the House. Sooner or later we will all belong to some group or some minority. Somehow we will all be in that kind of situation. If we start revoking the rights of minorities, then the question we must ask ourselves is: who is next? Sooner or later it will be every one of us and every one of those we love and care for. Let us not do that. Let us stand up for what is right. For my part, I believe, respectfully, that what is right is to vote for Bill C-38."