Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Westlock—St. Paul for his unwavering support for the members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Preparations for Operation Impact are well under way. Today, a group of CF-18 Hornet fighter jets departed from 4 Wing Cold Lake to be deployed in Kuwait, where combat operations against ISIL will soon begin. Our government has a duty to protect Canadians and to stand firm with our allies in opposition to the unspeakable atrocities being carried out by ISIL against innocent children, women and men.
Our pilots, air crew and serving members are among the best in the world. All Canadians are proud of our men and women in uniform, who are dedicated to providing safety and security whenever they are called upon.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Westlock—St. Paul for his question.
He is right. In Donnacona, Millhaven and Collins Bay, I have been able to see the work our correctional officers do.
Let me also state that double-bunking is a completely normal practice use in many western countries and studies, including a Canadian one, show that it has no impact upon the rate of violence in prison.
Our Conservative government strongly disagrees with the NDP. We strongly believe that double-bunking is totally appropriate for convicted criminals.
Order, please. I am going to stop the hon. parliamentary secretary to allow the member for Westlock—St. Paul to respond. I know there are other members who are interested in asking questions.
The hon. member for Westlock—St. Paul.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be here tonight to talk about such an important piece of legislation as Bill S-10. It is truly a piece of legislation that I have been waiting for since pre-2008.
I am a little disturbed to hear the type of dialogue that has been going on in the House. This is not only a good piece of legislation, but is an important piece of legislation for us to ratify and to move forward on. We want to maintain Canada's standing in the world and our history of being a strong country. Whether it is land mines and the Ottawa treaty or cluster munitions, it is important to note that we have been part of this cluster munitions discussion since the beginning of the Oslo process.
As the member of Parliament for Westlock—St. Paul, it sometimes can be seen as a bit of yin and yang when it comes to the issue of supporting the eradication of cluster munitions to many people who are not educated on the issue. I represent two of the largest tactical military bases in our country, 4 Wing Cold Lake, the tactical fighter squadron, and Edmonton Garrison.
However, when we talk to the men and women of the Canadian Forces, they agree with this legislation because they believe that we need to give them the best arms possible that target the enemy and not civilians. As members on both sides of the aisle have said today throughout the rigorous debate that we have had, cluster munitions, unfortunately, target civilians.
The use of cluster munitions has had a profound impact on many countries because it is an intermittent use. We cannot ask the offending country or the offending state or the offending terrorist organization to give us a map of where it used them because they are dispersed throughout an area where, ultimately, young children and farmers end up becoming the victims months, if not years, afterwards.
As I said before, I have to thank my wife for bringing this very important issue to my attention back in 2008 when it was happening in Lebanon, as it has happened in Serbia, as it has happened Vietnam, as it has happened in Nicaragua. When we have had the opportunity to talk to victims of cluster munitions, young children who picked up that little pink ball thinking it was a toy and it blew up and took off an arm or a leg, it is something that we cannot help but feel passionate about. It is something that we cannot help but say, that it is wrong and we need to fight to ensure that it changes.
We go back and think about the time, 2008-2009, when Mr. Turcotte was negotiating on our behalf, as one of the delegation. We were looking, as Canadians, at the ups and downs. We did not know if there would even be enough countries to bother ratifying this, to come to the process at which we are today. It seemed like a bit of a dream to get to the point where we, as a country, were ratifying, where we had over 100 countries on side, and where we could honestly look to putting pressure on those countries, having the social licence to put pressure on those countries that had not ratified.
I look at this legislation. Is it perfect? Is it everything that we could have dreamed about in 2008? No.
However, as we went through the steps I will talk about today, it is a very good piece of legislation. It would have an impact that would make a significant difference, and would reduce the amount of cluster munitions used in the world today. I think that is a very important step. I think that anybody who opposes that has not done their due diligence in looking at this and saying, we cannot have it all, but we can sure start with this piece of legislation, with the Oslo treaty. Being able to move forward from here is a great starting point, not only for Canadians, but in particular for those third world countries that have been affected by the harmful use of cluster munitions.
As members before me have already stated, Canada participated actively in the negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and we were one of the first countries to sign on to it, in 2008.
As we prepare to return home to our constituencies this summer, it is extremely important that we move this legislation forward as quickly as possible. Bill S-10 is a necessary step that brings us closer to ratification.
Let me emphasize this fact. When I first started lobbying the Minister of Foreign Affairs, we needed to make sure that we ratified this, that Canada continue its international reputation as a leader in the area of land mines and cluster munitions. I was proud of the support that I received from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but at the end of the day our country has gone through numerous minority governments. We have now finally got into a strong, stable Conservative majority government that has allowed us to take on some of these important issues.
I am happy to sit longer into June so that we can make sure that this not only gets voted on in the House of Commons but gets royal assent. It is important that we maintain our reputation around the world. As Canadians, we are expected to be leaders. Let nobody in this House say otherwise. We have been leaders throughout this entire process. We were one of the first countries at the table. We were one of the first countries to push our NATO allies, as the parliamentary secretary of defence talked about earlier. We have been one of the leaders. It is because of the credibility and the bloodshed of our men and women of the Canadian Forces that we have that credibility with the Americans, with the British, with the Australians, with all of our allies to say we have been there and we want to move the ball forward when it comes to the elimination and ratification of cluster munitions.
Explosive remnants of war, including those caused by cluster munitions, are a grave humanitarian concern. Cluster munitions are deployed from the air or ground with some types able to release dozens or even hundreds of smaller submunitions quickly, covering a large area.
Cluster munitions pose a significant threat to civilians, not only during attacks but particularly afterwards when they fail to detonate as intended. Unexploded bomblets can kill and maim civilians long after conflicts have ended, especially in densely populated areas. Tragically, many cluster munitions casualties are innocent and unknowing children. Unexploded bomblets can also hinder access to land and essential infrastructure, curbing the development potential of entire communities.
As I have been advocating for this legislation for many years, I have had the opportunity to talk to children and farmers who have been in their groves or in their fields and picked up what they thought was a toy only to find that it was a harmful explosive device that, unknown to them, would end up causing them severe damage.
We should be proud of the work that we have done in Canada. We should be proud of the fact that we are consistently in the top ten, if not the top five, when it comes to donating money to countries regarding land mines or cluster munitions. We should be proud of these accomplishments that we have consistently made from 2005, 2006 and onwards.
I find it quite offensive to hear members of the opposition stand up and say that we should not ratify this because it is not perfect and is not exactly what somebody has told us we need to do. Quite frankly, as I listen to them, I realize that most of them have not taken the time that their former leader Alexa McDonough did to understand the importance of ratifying this treaty. I looked at the member from Winnipeg as he talked about this. He sat in the same caucus as Ms. McDonough. Did he not understand from her and her passion the importance that we as a country move forward quickly on this?
Our government's commitment to the protection of civilians against the indiscriminate effects of explosive remnants of war is well established, with Canada traditionally in the top ten donors and often in the top five.
Since 2006, we have contributed more than $200 million to over 250 projects with respect to this global effort. For example, our efforts have provided over $1.5 million for the Organization of American States to support mine clearing in Nicaragua, which, with the support of other donors, helped to clear 179,000 landmines planted during the internal conflict in Nicaragua in the 1980s. As a result, in 2010, Nicaragua declared itself mine-free. Its mine-free status made Central America the first post-conflict region of the world to become mine-free.
Building on this momentum, we are proud to be part of the international effort to rid the world of cluster munitions. Recognizing the harm that cluster munitions cause civilians, inspired by the Ottawa convention, the international community began in 2007 to negotiate a treaty that would ban cluster munitions. The resulting Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions.
In the government's view, the treaty we signed and are now working to ratify strikes the right balance between humanitarian considerations and the continued ability of states parties to protect their national security and defence interests. Indeed, the convention reflects Canada's efforts during negotiations to ensure the right balance between the commitment to eliminate the use of cluster munitions based on humanitarian concerns and the need to protect our legitimate and important security considerations. Canada has never used cluster munitions. We would have agreed to a complete ban on them, but it was clear from the outset that this was simply not a realistic option.
Given the positions of other countries, it would not have been possible for Canada to ratify an immediate and complete ban since other countries we co-operate with militarily were not prepared to do the same. Would we have preferred that all countries sign on to the convention? Would we have preferred that all countries had the principled stance and the ability that Canada has had? Yes, of course, but unfortunately some of our closest allies did not sign on. In that context, the best way to eventually end the use of munitions is to allow countries like Canada to renounce their use and join the treaty while maintaining the ability to co-operate with allies that choose not to join.
Throughout the preparatory phases and during negotiations on the convention known as the Oslo process, a number of states insisted that the new treaty needed to contain provisions permitting the continued ability to engage effectively in military co-operation in operations with countries that did not sign the convention. We negotiated for the eventual elimination of these weapons, but also recognized that not all states would be in a position to immediately join that convention. In a context where multilateral, military co-operation operations are crucial to international security, again this was not exclusively a Canadian position but one shared by other countries, particularly our allies.
Article 21 of the convention is the resulting compromise, which recognizes that allowing states parties to conduct military co-operation in operations with states not party was the best way to ensure as many countries as possible join the convention. Without article 21, fewer states that possess cluster munitions would have agreed to join us and commit to eliminating their stockpiles and use of weapons.
There has been a lot of talk about the people who negotiated this treaty today, but I can say that, sitting in the room with those people in briefings and asking them questions, they felt as I did, that article 21 was essential to ensuring that this treaty was a success. It is easy to have hindsight, to look back and see that something is not perfect, but at that point in time this was the only path that was seen forward, not just for Canada but for the entire process. While appearing before the foreign affairs committee in the other place, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said:
...we have to deal with the reality of the world that we live in. With this, if we had zero tolerance, we would probably get zero results. I think what we have is the capacity that Canada will not use these weapons, will not acquire them and Canada will eliminate its stockpile. That is a good accomplishment; 110 other countries joining us in doing that is more accomplishment. Hopefully, each and every year we can get one or two or more countries, and we can see a time when it will not be necessary for any country to want to possess let alone use these kinds of weapons.
The compromise established by article 21 is found in clause 11 of the prohibiting cluster munitions act. Since the convention calls for the use of penal law, it is necessary to ensure that members of the Canadian Forces and associated civilians who participate in military co-operation operations as permitted by the convention will not be subject to criminal liability for otherwise lawful activities in the service of our country. This protection would be achieved through exemptions from prohibitions. Our government has been clear that we will not jeopardize the ability of our men and women in uniform to do their jobs or what we ask of them in the interests of our country.
Let me be clear. The exclusions in clause 11 do not permit or authorize any activity; they simply exclude these activities from new criminal offences that Bill S-10 would create. If these exclusions were not included in the act, there would be potential criminal liability for a wide range of frequent and lawful military co-operation activities with our closest allies, in particular, the United States. It does not intend to join the convention in the near future, and from my experience I do not expect it to. Obviously, it would not be fair to expose Canadian Armed Forces members to liability for doing their duty in the service of our country when participating in co-operation on operations with states that are not party to this convention.
To bring this to a real-world example of only a few years ago, if Canadian Forces personnel had been in a firefight in Afghanistan, they would have had to call air support from the United States of America, their military allies, who then could use cluster munitions. It is not fair to expose Canadian ground forces to being subject to penal law because their allies use this. It is very important that we not only look at it in context of treaties, but how it would affect men and women on the ground in the Canadian Forces who are risking their lives every day that they go beyond the wire.
It is important to note that the exclusions in clause 11 are carefully limited to activities that are committed by the convention itself and are necessary for effective military co-operation and operations. They only apply to persons who are engaged in activities related to military co-operation operations involving the Government of Canada. They also do not detract in any way from other applicable legal obligations on the part of members of the Canadian Armed Forces, including those established by existing international humanitarian law. The bill would create specific offences related to cluster munitions, and exceptions to those offences. However, nothing in the bill affects any other existing offence. If something is a crime today, it will still be a crime if and when Bill S-10 is enacted.
Members of the Canadian Forces will be fully subject to the prohibitions on the use of cluster munitions, in the same way as any other Canadian, unless they are engaged in a permitted form of military co-operation with a state that is not party to this convention. When members of the Canadian Forces are engaged in this type of co-operation, they are still prohibited from using cluster munitions if they are in exclusive control over the choice of the type of munitions they want to use. It is only in circumstances where that choice is partly or entirely under the control of the other country that the offences will not apply to Canadian Forces personnel.
I have been involved in this process, from a Canadian perspective and from a parliamentarian perspective, right from the beginning. As someone who has consistently lobbied and worked hard to make sure that not only the Canadian public understands the importance of this process, but the Government of Canada understands, I am very happy to see the steps that have been taken by the government to get this legislation quickly passed through the House of Commons. We will be able to stand up and say that once again Canada has taken the lead. Once again, Canada has asserted its moral authority to ensure we are a country that stands up, not only for countries, but for people who are less fortunate and need our support, our strength and our convictions. We can ensure that we, as a country, continue to be a leader when it comes to land mines and cluster munitions.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Westlock—St. Paul for this timely question. The Minister of Natural Resources is in Europe this week to advocate in favour of Canadian jobs and Canadian natural resources.
The Leader of the Opposition takes a very different position. He said yesterday that he agrees with the claim that our resources are a curse. First a disease, then a curse. This is a real embarrassment to all of us that the NDP never misses a chance to oppose Canadian jobs. Our government is determined to defend Canadians, Canadian jobs and Canadian communities.
Mr. Speaker, our government has demonstrated an unprecedented commitment toward Canada's north and to northerners for seven consecutive years.
Just this past weekend, over 40 Conservative MPs, led by the member for Westlock—St. Paul, visited the PDAC convention in Toronto. The mining industry serves to increase opportunity to aboriginal Canadians as it is currently the the largest private sector employer of this important group.
The Mining Association of Canada estimates that potential developments in the north could draw more than $8 billion in investment and create more than 4,000 jobs in the next decade.
Could the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development please update the House on further steps we are taking to unlock the economic potential of Canada's north.
Mr. Speaker, I am really pleased to rise today in support of today's motion to protect water and public health in rural communities. This is an excellent motion, and I applaud the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for bringing it forward. She is bringing forward a sound policy idea.
As we heard in her speech tonight, she listened to her constituents and identified a gap in policy. Working with her community along with outside experts she came up with a creative policy solution to solve the problem. This is a perfect example of responsible representation by an MP and I am proud to say that the MP for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel is one of my NDP colleagues. It is great work.
Motion No. 400 seeks to study the establishment of financial support programs to bring homes connected to a septic system up to a standard, with the aim of improving public and environmental health. This kind of program would make Canadians in rural communities, who are often left out of city initiatives, a priority. It would carry benefits both for the environment and the economy.
The federal government invests millions of dollars to bring municipal wastewater treatment systems up to standard, but more than a quarter of all Canadians, mainly in rural areas, are not connected to these city treatment systems. They depend instead on home septic systems. As it stands, 25% of Canadians are forced to pay out-of-pocket to maintain their septic systems on top of the taxes they pay for the municipal services they do not use.
Some may wonder why the member for Halifax would be standing to speak to the motion. My riding does include rural communities that are not part of the municipal wastewater system. I am pleased to tell the House that the motion has been endorsed by some communities in Nova Scotia.
I also support the motion from my perspective as the NDP environment critic. From an environmental and health perspective, a consensus exists that outdated septic systems in low income rural areas pose a threat to water quality and public health. Updating these systems is quite expensive and often too costly a project for Canadians.
The government understands the importance of maintaining high standards for wastewater treatment in cities. We need to establish the same high standards for our rural constituents. We have to develop a funding program for homeowners who do not have the means to ensure that their septic systems meet those environmental standards.
The member for Westlock—St. Paul said earlier in the House that he did think the motion was in federal jurisdiction. He said that government members would not be supporting the motion, keeping in mind of course that it will not be a whipped vote and that members will be free to vote as they want. With respect, saying that the motion is not within federal jurisdiction is just a way to duck the issue. This is a perfect opportunity for federal leadership.
I checked the website of the member for Westlock—St. Paul. He celebrates things on his website like $9,000 that went to the Cold Lake Public Library flooring renovation and $23,000 to the Gibbons curling rink for upgrades. Members might be wondering what in the world flooring upgrades and curling rink upgrades have to do with federal jurisdiction. That is a good question. These kinds of projects are federal issues and do fall within federal jurisdiction because the money comes from a community infrastructure fund. Why would the federal government not show leadership on something like Motion No. 400? Why would it duck this issue? Why would it not take real leadership and stand up for the health and environmental protection of our rural communities?
Motion No. 400 would be an important step toward increasing the equality of services for both rural and urban taxpayers. Rural living is becoming more expensive and services are becoming more difficult to access. Citizens in these areas are often unable to reap the benefits of many of the federal programs that we do see coming forward. We need to give rural Canadians the support they need to maintain the same standard of living as city dwellers, rather than force them to relocate to cities.
Further, the motion would help to protect both water quality and public health. Outdated sceptic systems are a major source of pollution in rural communities. They have been shown to contribute to the growth of bacteria in our water. By leaving these sceptic systems in their current state, we risk contaminating our drinking water, which of course poses a serious danger to the health of Canadians.
Water contamination can affect not only drinking water, but also aquatic ecosystems and beaches. A number of rural communities depend on this kind of tourism, and the economic losses that come with water contamination are serious.
In addition to supporting local economies, this measure would be of personal financial benefit. It could relieve rural Canadians of a disproportionate financial burden and allow them to participate more fully in their local economies. The motion would go a long way to solving those kinds of problems.
All of this means that rural communities would be strengthened if these measures were to be taken. The motion is a real and tangible way to improve the quality of life of rural Canadians, and it is actually part of a larger package of policies that the NDP is proposing to help rural communities.
The motion was inspired by a resolution of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities that flagged as a problem the lack of federal support for septic system upgrades. On behalf of their constituents, who are really our constituents, they are pressuring the federal government to act on this issue. The federation, along with over 70 individual municipalities on just the first day of debate, have all expressly supported Motion M-400.
The Conservatives say that existing federal funding meets this need, but the municipalities are vigorously disputing this claim. We have evidence from different municipalities saying that existing programs do not solve this socio-economic problem, and that the funding does not come close to the demand that exists. Federal investments in infrastructure simply do not target the distinct and widespread need for financial support for rural sceptic system upgrades. Current investment in this area is in no way comparable to what is spent in urban areas. Federal and provincial governments have contributed up to 85% of the cost to upgrade municipal water systems, but rural Canadians are forced to bear the full cost of upgrading their sceptic systems themselves, simply because of where they live.
I really hope, despite the fact that we have had some indications the government will vote against the motion, that all members will give serious consideration to this arbitrary inequality that leaves rural Canadians with a disproportionate economic burden.
The federal government must carefully consider the implications of the current financing system for rural Canadians. As parliamentarians, we must take a good, hard look at the problem that families cannot afford to replace their sceptic tanks and maintain water quality in their communities. We have to explore the opportunities that could provide these Canadians with the financial support they need for important investments.
Canadians across the country have signed a petition calling on the government to consider establishing a financial support program to upgrade outdated sceptic systems for families in need. I echo their support of this motion, because I believe that rural Canadians deserve the same quality of service, the same health protections and the same ability to participate in their economies and society as every other Canadian. I believe that Motion M-400 does just that, so I am proud to support it.
Mr. Speaker, this Thursday, Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, will host the 12th annual World Pond Hockey Championship. The event, often copied but never duplicated, will see 132 men's and women's teams descend on the Tobique for a weekend of fun and good old-fashioned hospitality.
Tournament chair Danny Braun and his organizing committee and hundreds of volunteers deserve special credit for making this event truly a world showcase. Teams will come from all over the U.S. and Canada and hockey hot-bed spots like the Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico to take part. Over the weekend, this little village of 1,100 people will see its population double. It anticipates 8,000 visitors.
World Pond Hockey has contributed significant dollars to community organizations, like the volunteer firefighters, school scholarships and the construction of a new arena.
This year my colleagues from Barrie, Westlock—St. Paul, Fundy Royal and Saint John will join me in New Brunswick as we take on the world on Roulston Lake in an effort to win but, more important, to not get hurt.
I thank all the people who give so much of their time to make this event a great success. I hope to see everyone on the pond, the way hockey was meant to be played.
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper. The hon. member for Westlock—St. Paul will have three minutes when this matter returns before the House.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present a number of petitions on a related subject close to my heart.
First, I present a petition from residents of the riding of Burlington who begin by saying that whereas Canada's 400-year-old definition of a human being says a child does not become a human being until the moment of complete birth, contrary to 21st century medical evidence, and whereas Parliament has a solemn duty to reject any law that says some human beings are not human, they therefore call upon the House of Commons and Parliament assembled to confirm that every human being is recognized by Canadian law as human by amending section 223 of our Criminal Code in such a way as to reflect 21st century medical evidence.
The second petition is from constituents in the riding of Westlock—St. Paul. In substantially the same terms, it also suggests to the House that human rights are universal and that every human being's human rights should be recognized, and it calls upon the House to confirm that every human being is recognized by Canadian law as human by amending section 223 of our Criminal Code in such a way as to reflect 21st century medical evidence.
The next petition is from the riding of Mississauga—Erindale. Constituents in that riding are asking the House of Commons and Parliament assembled to confirm that every human being is recognized by Canadian law as human by amending section 223 of our Criminal Code in such a way as to reflect 21st century medical evidence. They do not want members of Parliament to turn their eyes away from 21st century medical evidence on this point.
The last petition has 202 signatures from the riding of Oakville. Constituents of that riding are affirming that Parliament has a solemn duty to reject any law that says some human beings are not human and, in so doing, to affirm that human rights are universally respected in Canada and that every human being is a human being. They are asking the Parliament of Canada to confirm that every human being is recognized by Canadian law as human by amending section 223 of our Criminal Code in such a way as to reflect 21st century medical evidence.
I would be happy if Parliament would not shut its eyes and would conduct a study of the evidence on this point, as is its duty.
I will now invite the hon. member for Westlock—St. Paul for his right of reply. The hon. member will have five minutes.
Mr. Speaker, I have waited all day for the opportunity to speak to this bill. I am certainly honoured to speak to Bill C-304, put forward by the member for Westlock—St. Paul. I recall, as will the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, back in the 39th Parliament, when he and I both served on the justice committee, I had moved a motion to have the committee do a complete and fulsome review of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act for the very reason we are speaking about today, to repeal that portion of the act.
When I was appointed as parliamentary secretary, I was no longer able to sit on the justice committee. Obviously, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, I had new responsibilities.
I certainly want to congratulate the member for Westlock—St. Paul. Upon being named to the justice committee in the 40th Parliament, he immediately picked up the issue, pursued it and moved forward with it. After three years of doing a lot of work on the issue he has introduced his private member's bill. I commend him for his efforts in pushing forward on this very important legislation as a private member. We all know how few private members' bills actually move forward and receive royal assent and are enacted. It is a special opportunity that he has. He has done a tremendous job to get his bill this far.
I also want to speak to the point the member for Windsor—Tecumseh made. He spoke about having two tiers when it came to freedom of speech, that there somehow needs to be two tiers in terms of deciding what is or is not hate speech. I find that phrase to be extremely ironic when it is the belief of both the member and his party that there should not be a two-tier health care system, that there only needs to be one tier, that being the health care system we now have in this country which all of us believe in. However, when it comes to freedom of speech, two tiers is not only something he spoke about but something he thinks needs to exist. I think it is a dichotomy. I would hope the member for Windsor--Tecumseh would think a bit about the statement he made this afternoon in terms of, in one case two tiers not being okay yet being acceptable in another case. Either it is or it is not. He cannot have it both ways.
The Canadian Human Rights Act is intended to prevent and resolve cases of discrimination. It is not criminal law. Yet section 13 has subjected many Canadians to a quasi-judicial process for making statements that are not hate speech. Section 13 is simply not an appropriate or effective means for combatting hate propaganda. The Criminal Code is the best vehicle to do so. Intentional wrongdoing is within the scope of criminal law and there are already hate propaganda offences within our Criminal Code. It is an offence to incite hatred by communicating statements in any public place against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.
It is also an offence to wilfully promote hatred by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, against any identifiable group. These are criminal offences. They are committed only if the speaker acts with criminal intent. Because they are criminal offences, they carry the full procedural protections of the criminal law, the due process that section 13 simply lacks.
Under similar provincial legislation, John Fulton, a business owner in my riding of St. Catharines, was accused of discrimination. The charges were eventually dropped against him but John was left with legal bills of roughly $150,000 and he did not have the chance to defend himself. He was never given that opportunity. In fact, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal then said that he had no right to compensation for legal expenses, even though the charges and allegations were completely and utterly dismissed.
Section 13 puts too much onus on defendants. Defendants are not always permitted to face their accusers. Normal standards for the validity of evidence do not apply. The government funds the plaintiff but the defendant is left to himself or herself. Most disturbingly, the absolute truth is not an acceptable defence. With all of these advantages, people have been able to plainly and simply take advantage of this part of the act. Who and what is censored by section 13 depends on who has the time and resources needed to pursue a section 13 complaint.
If the point of a section 13 complaint is only to pursue the speaker, then this should be done in a more formal system with better procedural safeguards. I am standing in this House to ensure that the people of St. Catharines, people like John Fulton, do not have their life and reputation damaged by this well-intentioned but seriously flawed legislation.
We all recognize that a law against hate propaganda is necessary to prevent the evils of discrimination. That exists within the Criminal Code. Section 319 of the Criminal Code contains two hate propaganda offences. These offences do not cover as many groups as section 13. For example, hate speech based on national origin, age, sex and mental or physical disability is not covered. It is for this reason that our government introduced an amendment to fill this gap. We are amending section 319 of the Criminal Code to add national origin, age, sex and mental or physical disability to the definition of identifiable groups.
I had an opportunity to speak to section 319 of the Criminal Code very recently. This means that it would now be a criminal offence to publicly incite and wilfully promote hatred based on these grounds. This means that our government is protecting the rights of minorities while preserving the right of free speech.
Dean Steacy, the lead investigator at the Human Rights Commission, once testified that freedom of speech was not given any value. That is unacceptable. The best way to fight bigotry is to ensure that we protect and enhance our fundamental freedoms. We must especially protect freedom of speech, which is the very bedrock of our parliamentary democracy and the democracy of this country.
In practice, section 13 is conflicted with section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights which guarantees that everyone has freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. While charter rights are subject to reasonable limits prescribed by law, section 13 does not clearly describe these limits and this has led to highly subjective interpretations of freedom of expression.
The wording in the Human Rights Act leaves it so unclear as to what constitutes an act of hatred or contempt that former Liberal member of Parliament, Keith Martin, rightly described it as “a hole you could drive a Mack truck through”. This is why section 13's overly broad hate speech provision was ruled to be unconstitutional in 2009.
We need the Canadian Human Rights Act to preserve our rights, not to take them away. We cannot allow one badly written section to undermine a defendant's right to due process and the free speech of every Canadian.
On behalf of people, like John Fulton, who have had their rights challenged by the Human Rights Commission, I ask all members of this House, regardless of party and partisanship, because it speaks to the freedom, the very bedrock of our democracy, to support Bill C-304. We will create a system where charter rights like freedom of expression and due process are valued and minorities are protected by our Criminal Code.
The electoral district of Westlock--St. Paul (Alberta) has a population of 101,010 with 73,791 registered voters and 204 polling divisions.
This action requires you to be logged into Politwitter. No regisrtation is required, just authenticate using your Twitter account.