Mr. Speaker, I rise today to move concurrence in the 16th report of the Standing Committee on Status of Women which reads:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Standing Committee on the Status of Women recommend to the government that it restore the Court Challenges Program, and that adoption of this motion be reported to the House.
What is the history behind this? As the chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I have been listening to many women's groups and they have been absolutely dismayed at the wilful way in which the Conservative government treats women and minorities.
If we look at the history behind these cuts, in budget 2005-06, with $13.2 billion in surplus, the Conservative government saw fit to, as we say, stick it to women. Why?
The $1 billion funding cuts the Conservatives brought about were cuts for social programs for the most vulnerable. These funding cuts directly targeted women, aboriginals, those in need of affordable housing, and other groups for which the Conservatives have traditionally shown very little concern.
While the Conservatives continually claim to be standing up for Canada, the truth is they are only interested in standing up for those who already agree with their narrow policies: their core constituency of voters. Witness after witness has come before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and advised us that they feel the Conservatives are governing on behalf of a very narrow base and if people do not fit their profile, then they are out of luck.
How can the majority of women, 52% of the voters of Canada, feel this way? What has led them to feel this way?
If we look at the cuts that came about in the 2005-06 budget there were $5 million to Status of Women Canada and $10 million eliminating the support to the Canadian voluntarism initiative. How could anyone cut $10 million from a voluntarism initiative when volunteers contribute approximately $6 billion to the economy and without them we would not be able to function?
The Conservatives eliminated $6 million from the court challenges program. If one looks at the court challenges program to figure out why that program is important and what it does, it provides a vehicle for marginalized individuals who want assistance. With the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we should not forget that the charter belongs to the people.
Within our system there are many archaic laws that do not comply with the charter and continue to deny citizens their justice. It is a travesty that the government refuses to eliminate such legislation. Hence, the court challenges program is a vehicle that can assist Canadians in this very urgent and important matter.
Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin stated that many men and women find themselves unable, mainly for financial reasons, to access the Canadian justice system. The court challenges program provides Canadians with this access.
The fact is that $6 million is not a lot of money when we look at the whole scheme of things in a budget of $200 billion. Therefore, we look at what the purpose is for the Conservatives wanting to eliminate it.
Leading Canadian non-government organizations are calling on the Prime Minister to restore funding to this program immediately because the court challenges program, which was created in 1978, provides funds to support test cases of national significance to clarify the constitutional rights of official language minorities and the right of everyone in Canada to live free from discrimination based on sex, race, disability, age, sexual orientation and other similar grounds.
It has provided the only access to the use of constitutional rights for most Canadians. What do the Conservatives have against official language minorities? What do they have against equality? What do they have against gender? What do they have against women?
Bonnie Morton of the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues said:
The cancellation of the court challenges program is an attack on the charter itself and the human rights of everyone in Canada. When a country such as Canada enacts constitutional rights, it takes for granted that residents, when they believe the government is violating their rights, can and will challenge any offending law or policy. If residents cannot ensure respect of their rights because of financial barriers, Canada's constitutional democracy is hollow. We turn the charter into a paper guarantee, with no real meaning.
That is a very important statement because if people do not have the financial means to support themselves, then they cannot be in a position to challenge any of those laws that violate their democracy. Hence, if we claim to be a democratic country, it is important that we restore the court challenges program.
Yvonne Peters of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities said:
Without the court challenges program, Canada's constitutional rights are really only for the wealthy. This offends basic fairness. And it does not comply with the rule of law, which is a fundamental principle of our Constitution.
Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and South Asian Legal Clinic said:
Commitment to the protection of the Charter rights of disadvantaged individuals and groups is one of Canada's core values. [The Prime Minister] recognized this during the last election campaign, and he said then that if elected a Conservative government would “articulate Canada's core values on the world stage”, including “the rule of law”, “human rights” and “compassion for the less fortunate”. The cancellation of the court challenges program belies this promise.
Jean-Guy Rioux of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada said:
Cancelling the program shows profound disrespect for the French-speaking Canadians who live outside of Quebec, the English-speaking Canadians who live in Quebec, and for all Canadian residents who may need the protection of equality rights. The CCP has notably given means to French-speaking minorities to ensure that their rights to education in their language are respected.
The beneficiaries of the courts challenges program are many, and we on this side of the House cannot understand why the government has chosen such a very narrow focus and has stuck to its neo-con ideology of not supporting the very marginalized who need support.
The beneficiaries of the CCP are individuals and groups who believe that laws and policies discriminate against them or deny them their language rights. They cannot go forward without lawyers to represent them, since constitutional challenges are legally complex.
Second, when a country like Canada enacts constitutional rights, it takes for granted that residents, when they believe the government is violating their rights, can and will challenge the offending law or policy.
If Canadians cannot use these rights because of financial barriers, then Canada's constitutional democracy is hollow. Governments must care that the rights they embrace are not meaningless and that the court challenges program has provided a simple and modest way of ensuring they are not. I am sure the government could afford the $6 million that it would take. With a $13.2 billion surplus, why would it choose to cancel a program that helps the official language minorities, people who are financially not well off and people who need to address these laws and exercise their rights.
We should emphasize that what the court challenges program provides is far from universal access to exercises of constitutional equality and language rights. It provides only limited funds for selected test cases.
We know the Conservative government, as a critic of the CPP, dislikes some of the cases that the court challenges program has supported: cases related to same sex marriage; cases related to the voting rights for federal prisoners; and cases related to the criminal law provision regarding hitting children.
The fact that some individuals or groups do not agree with some of the test cases funded by the program is not a reason to cancel it. No one among us is likely to agree with every test case that appears.
The point of a constitutional human rights regime is to ensure that diverse claims, perspectives and life experiences are respected and taken into account in the design of laws and policies. The equality guarantee and the language rights in the Constitution were designed to help minorities, whose views and needs may not be reflected by governments, to be heard on issues that affect them closely. Cancelling the court challenges program mutes their voices further and makes Canada a meaner, less tolerant society.
Many organizations have called on the government to restore funding because they believe that the court challenges program is an effective and accountable institution. The court challenges program of Canada has established a track record. It has been an effective and accountable institution which promotes access to justice.
The CCP, as it is called, has existed in a number of different institutions and has made remarkable contributions to the development of constitutional law and to the rights of Canadians over the last 28 years but there is more work that remains to be done.
Since 1994, when the court challenges program was established as an independent,not for profit corporation, it has done a lot of good work. To date, it has been funded solely through a contribution agreement between the Government of Canada and CCP. The CPP is fully accountable to the Government of Canada. It provides quarterly reports on its activities to the government and publishes an annual report with statistics on the number and types of cases that it has funded.
I would like to ask the government which of these cases that it did not like? When there is so much transparency and accountability in this program, why did it cancel it?
The CCP is also subject to some legal restrictions on reporting on funding in cases that are before the courts. This information is protected by solicitor-client privilege and cannot be released by CCP, in the same way that legal aid organizations cannot divulge information about their clients. The CCP's responsibility to protect this information was affirmed by a federal court ruling in 2000.
The court challenges program, which is subject to a full independent evaluation of its activities every five years, has been there for 28 years and has been evaluated three times. On each occasion, independent evaluators found that it was meeting the objectives set by the government as a cost effective and very accountable institution and they made unqualified recommendations that the court challenges program should continue to carry out its mandate.
Our justice system sometimes fails radically when individuals and groups whose constitutional rights are violated and are denied access to justice and the court challenges program plays a very important role in ensuring it.
We on this side of the House are seeking concurrence on this very important matter. We would like the government to reinstate the funding to the court challenges program.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand and address this issue. It is a great honour to rise as a Canadian citizen and as a member of Parliament. It is a privilege to speak in the House, a House that has long been a symbol of fairness and equality.
It is in this House that the laws which protect each of us have been crafted and the bills which defend each of us have been passed. It is in this chamber that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms emerged and it is in this chamber where they will stay, protected and guarded by the representatives of the people of Canada.
Canadian society has been shaped by the collective values of its citizens who with thought and conscience proudly participate in the democratic process by choosing representatives to be their voice, to stand up for the rights and freedoms of all individual citizens and to ensure a society that accords dignity and respect regardless of gender or race.
It is our system of Parliament which has served as the foundation for our way of life, and will continue to shape and mould the way we live as we evolve together as a community and as a nation.
Canada's system of Parliament stands as a model for countries around the world striving to achieve equality and justice for all its citizens. We are considered a leader in the promotion and preservation of human rights and freedoms. It is imperative that we ultimately protect this process from those who wish to reject our democratic system, preferring to advance their cause through legal research and court costs paid by Canadian taxpayers.
The government believes in creating legislation that is constitutional and that reflects the values of all Canadians. We believe in creating laws that in themselves promote diversity and equality. The government believes in the democratic process and believes Canadians should be rewarded for practising that right and to experience their hopes and beliefs become reality through laws that are created and passed by those they elected in the House. We believe public policy should be driven by the will of the people. We believe that will is best expressed through publicly elected officials that sit in debate in the halls of Parliament and who commit themselves to standing up for all Canadians.
The Canadian court challenges program is inherently flawed in that it promotes and encourages special interest groups to advance causes that do not reflect the view of the majority of Canadians. It allows special interest groups to use hard-earned Canadian tax dollars to promote a public policy agenda that is not always in line with the majority of Canadian voters. This manipulation of the system is neither transparent nor is it accountable.
The Canadian court challenges program is not required to reveal which groups it chooses to fund or how much money these groups get. In today's political environment this just is not acceptable.
Government funded protest is an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars. Government should have the foresight to enact laws that are responsible and fair and that protect and support the interest of minority and disadvantaged groups. Public money should be used in practical ways to directly support the population through social programs that meet the needs of the citizens.
The government is committed to ensuring that laws are fair, and we are committed to the review and update of these laws which no longer reflect the values of Canadians. It is working directly with disadvantaged groups to improve conditions so they may participate fully in society. The government is committed in ensuring that minority groups are guaranteed access to social, economic and cultural rights.
The government through serious action has proven its advocacy towards its most vulnerable citizens. The ministers of the government work together to identify problems and they work in concert to devise solutions for the benefit of minority groups and disadvantaged citizens.
In 10 short months the government has done more to protect the rights of vulnerable citizens than the previous government did in its full term in office. The government acknowledged the injustice that was committed against aboriginal children through the residential school program. In May of this year, the , along with the , approved a final Indian residential schools settlement agreement and the immediate launch of an advance payment program, with the hope of fostering reconciliation and healing among all Canadians.
The government acknowledged the injustice that was done to Chinese Canadians in the early 1900s. The Chinese head tax was a blatant form of discrimination and earlier this year Canada's new government officially apologized.
The hon. Bev Oda, , along with her parliamentary secretary, were instrumental in working with the Chinese community in order to begin the healing process. The issued an official apology for the head tax imposed on Chinese Canadians, and the government announced that it would make ex gratia symbolic payments of $20,000 to living head taxpayers and to persons in a conjugal relationship with a now deceased head taxpayer.
The government acknowledged the unjust treatment to the victims who contacted hepatitis C from the blood system before January 1986 and after July 1, 1990, I believe. In July of this year the government recognized that all victims who contracted hepatitis C through contaminated blood suffered equally and were liable for compensation. This was so important. I had a constituent in my riding who was waiting for this compensation.
The hon. Tony Clement, —
Mr. Speaker, I was focused on the content of this very serious issue rather than names. I apologize to the House for that.
The hon. , along with his parliamentary secretary and the hon. member for , the member for , and the member for spearheaded the movement to finally address this injustice, an injustice that the former government refused to recognize. As I said previously, I had a constituent in my riding who was waiting for this very important announcement. The government set aside nearly $1 billion in a special settlement fund, the sole purpose of which was to provide compensation to the pre-1996 and post-1990 hep C victims.
The government acknowledges the plight of aboriginal women who are struggling with a marital breakdown and are faced with overwhelming barriers to securing a future for themselves and for their children. Just a few weeks ago the government took the initiative and began working to secure fair and equitable on reserve real matrimonial property rights. The began consultations across the country in the hope of establishing on reserve matrimonial real property solutions for first nation communities.
Members of the government are proud to act as advocates for the vulnerable citizens of this country. Members of the government are proud to stand up for the rights of minorities and the disadvantaged.
The government believes that public policy should be made by parliamentarians. Debates on equality and rights should focus on the individual and not the self-serving special interest groups. The government is committed to ensuring that legislation passed is legislation that is good for all Canadians.
I speak on behalf of all my colleagues when I say that Canada's new government is committed to repairing the neglect of former governments through policy and legislation and to move the country forward with values of equality and justice for all, for which we all stand.
Quite honestly, it is very important that all parliamentarians in the House, instead of going on a political agenda, ensure that all legislation is fair and equitable and that all legislation, like the Federal Accountability Act, is implemented. There were some real inherent flaws in the court challenges program. It did not address the inequality of the poor. Nor did it address our most vulnerable citizens.
I have listed a few of the many programs in which our government has taken a leadership role. We are getting the country on its right footing to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are addressed.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to reiterate comments I have already made in the past during a similar debate about a report tabled by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on the same topic.
I also rise to say that the Bloc Québécois supports the adoption of the 16th report of the Standing Committee on Status of Women, which recommends that the government reinstate the court challenges program. Why do we support it? Because we feel that this government has room to manoeuvre, given that it has the luxury of a surplus of billions of dollars, and that it should have cut operating expenditures rather than programs affecting the most disadvantaged citizens.
We all know that the Conservatives have made what are generally called ideological cuts, and it is not impugning their motives to say so. They target the disadvantaged and minority groups. In England, Mrs. Thatcher taught us a great deal and left a rather interesting legacy in this regard.
The Conservatives target programs that provide checks and balances to the government, programs that facilitate the expression and practice of democracy in a country that calls itself free, sophisticated and developed. It refuses to consider possible savings at the Department of National Defence, for example. I wonder why. I do not know. The question must be asked.
Why is it that there were no cuts to the Department of National Defence when it is one of the departments with the largest budgets, about $14.7 billion in 2005-06?
During the election campaign in January 2006, we saw the Conservative Party slowly progressing like masked turtles. I did not come up with this image; it was provided by someone else. But I thought it was appropriate because we could not see the true face of the government. We did not yet know it as we do today.
The masks have been set aside. We have a tendency of pointing that out. It happens every day when we debate and defend positions and values in this House.
With all these cuts, the Conservative government—as I have already said here—is stirring up a lot of discontent in Quebec. If the members of the Conservative caucus are incapable of seeing this, I can only say that they are out of touch with reality in Quebec. The values of the Conservative Party are not the values of Quebeckers.
Quebec is about solidarity in all areas of life. That is the very essence of the soul of the Quebec nation: solidarity, mutual aid and compassion. I defy anyone here in this House to convince me that the measures taken by this government, whether using its machete, sabre or chain saw to slash programs such as the court challenges program, are in any way in line with the values I just mentioned.
The Conservative government, as I have already said, is directly attacking the disadvantaged and minority groups. I will give other examples, in addition to the elimination of the court challenges program, which, incidentally, gave a voice to linguistic and gender minorities, which would include women and homosexuals.
Furthermore, we know that the court challenges program funded groups that challenged the positions taken by current members of this Conservative government. Was cutting this program—the question must be asked—an unhealthy sign that all groups opposed to this government's ideology are in danger of being gradually silenced?
Perhaps our potential insensitivity to this ideology would soon cause these groups to disappear or become weaker. Fortunately, we are here. To respond to some of the foolishness across the floor, I would say the Bloc Québécois is here to denounce this dangerous ideology.
I spoke earlier about other programs that are at risk or are going to disappear, including the Canada volunteerism initiative, and the program that advocates for women and women's rights, a fight that is far from over. Those involved in the women's movement in Quebec, who have been fighting for years and for generations, know what I am talking about.
We may be far removed from the values that this government stands for, but it is not taking a strong stand. It is unable to say without circumvention and hypocrisy that women and minority groups have to make do with what they have. Women, minority groups and those who are unable to read—the illiterate—have to make do with what they have.
If the Conservatives would use clear speech, if they would be transparent and have the courage to be upfront and take a strong stand, I think the entire population of Canada—not just in Quebec, because in Quebec we have made up our minds, there is a clear consensus—would wake up and chase the Conservatives out of government.
Now I would like to address those who are watching us on television today. Wake up. There is still time. You have seen what they are capable of as a minority government; imagine what they would have done if they had formed a majority government.
Mr. Speaker, I am splitting my time with the member for .
The truth is that changes to the mandate of Status of Women Canada and the termination of the court challenges program are a travesty.
The court challenges program of Canada provided access to justice in languages and equality rights. It provided a constitutional test. To be meaningful, rights have to be exercised. Without the court challenges program in place to provide this assistance, the interpretation and application of constitutional rights will only be available to those with deep pockets.
In a constitutional democracy like Canada, constitutional rights litigation is an essential part of democratic dialogue and the exercise of citizenship. Constitutional test cases examine the meaning of rights and their limits. As a society we suffer when constitutional wrongs go unchecked.
However, the government has no interest in these ideals nor in the needs of women, needs such as child care, economic security, affordable housing, fair immigration policy, the rights of aboriginal women and pensioners. There was nothing in the recent budget that specifically referred to the government's funding plans to address women's inequality and to address their needs.
The Conservative child care plan does not address the child care needs of working women. Twelve hundred dollars a year does not even come close to covering the cost of child care. Families in my riding of London--Fanshawe have made it very clear that what they need are child care spaces, not a taxable $100 a month.
The Conservative budget did not provide funds to create more child care spaces until 2007-08. Just last week we saw the results of such a travesty in the city of Toronto. A child, a baby just over a year of age, was injured because of inadequate child care. Now we see that the number of child care spaces are in decline. We need to invest in our children now. To invest in our children is to invest in our future.
The government shows very little support for women and their children and has made it very clear that they are simply not a priority. The priorities lie elsewhere. The claimed in the House that the government would stand up for the equality of women. She said:
I can assure the member and all women in Canada that this government will stand up for the equality of women and their full participation.
By the government's actions, actions like ending the funds for court challenges, ending funding for literacy programs, for Status of Women Canada, for museums, for summer youth programs, the government has shown that it is not interested in these very interesting words. Neither the nor the has stood up. It is clear that women are not a priority
In order to comply with its international obligations and truly advocate for women in Canada, the government needs to fund research, legislation and programs in order to address the 26 recommendations made by the United Nations committee, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. It needs to fund the court challenges program. Funding for Status of Women Canada according to the estimates has stayed relatively stagnant, except for about $1 million in transfer payments to the Sisters in Spirit initiative through the native women's network to raise awareness of the alarmingly high rates of violence against aboriginal women in Canada.
Status of Women Canada needs more funding to address women's issues, especially those outlined in the CEDAW recommendations, not just for projects but to address the systemic causes of inequality. According to the estimates, the promote public policy program is being cut by approximately $5 million, while there has been an increase of about $6 million for the build knowledge and organizational capacity on gender equality. The large cut to promote public policy program will prevent the development and implementation of federal initiatives that narrow the gap between women and men and expand opportunities for women. This cut in funding also means that there is only $2 million to address the CEDAW recommendations.
The amount of $21 million is dedicated to develop the knowledge and capacity of a number of stakeholders so that they are better informed and able to address gender based issues of significance to Canadian society in a coordinated manner. Of this money, $10 million is dedicated to grants.
While women's organizations need funding, the large adjustment between the two programs indicates that the government would rather have a hands-off policy when it comes to promoting women's equality instead of funding federal programs with direction and cohesion. Again the government shows that women are not a priority. Clearly it does not believe that government should promote women's equality. Instead, responsibility is passed over to the non-profit community, or in some cases, the for profit community.
The Government of Canada continues to ignore that Canadian women need Status of Women Canada to achieve equality. Addressing the symptoms of systemic discrimination against women, as the government's actions do, will not eliminate the inequalities that women face.
If the Conservatives truly cared, they would make sure that the $100 million for Status of Women Canada was available to meet our international obligations. They would reverse the closure of 12 of 16 Status of Women Canada offices across the country and reverse the cancellation of the independent policy research fund. They would also reverse the restrictive funding mandate of Status of Women Canada and reverse the cancellation of the court challenges program. They would truly address violence against women, provide core funding for women's groups and increase funding to the women's program at Status of Women Canada by at least 25% for investment in women's groups and equality-seeking organizations.
If the Conservatives truly cared, there would be better parental benefits. There would be proactive pay equity legislation and a commitment to safe, affordable, regulated child care.
Women across this great nation deserve that. They deserve the basic human rights that this country says it intends to guarantee: safety and protection. No one should be denied these rights. We need the court challenges program.
We need to have a government that respects and supports the women of this country. We do not have one yet; we are still waiting. We demand a government that respects women and will restore the programs that bring them equality, the equality they deserve.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about court challenges, the status of women and the problem we face because of what the government has done. The government has gotten us into a situation that will affect our country's future. Allow me to explain.
Canada had the court challenges program. It was eliminated by Brian Mulroney's Conservatives, who governed from 1984 to 1993, and was later reinstated. What did the court challenges program allow people to do?
Earlier, one of our Conservative colleagues talked about legal aid. I think he completely missed the mark, because legal aid and the court challenges program are two completely different things.
A previous government and Parliament gave us the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In cases where the charter was violated, the court challenges program gave people the opportunity to go to court and seek a court ruling.
When we look at the court challenges program, it was used a million different ways. For example, in New Brunswick in 2003-04 when the electoral boundaries were changed, part of my riding of Acadie—Bathurst was put in . It is because of the court challenges program that the boundary was reinstated.
The regions of Allardville, Big River, Tetagouche, North Tetagouche, and South Tetagouche around Bathurst that were part of the riding of Acadie—Bathurst were reinstated because of the court challenges program. That is how my riding was saved.
We say that francophones are a minority in Canada. Even in Bathurst the anglophones were saying that in the region of Acadie-Bathurst the anglophones were a minority. By putting more anglophones in it gave the Conservatives a better chance for a minority.
Constituents were arguing that Big River, South Tetagouche, North Tetagouche and Little River, all the small areas around Bathurst, had to stay in Acadie—Bathurst. It is through the court challenges program that we got back the riding. If it were not for the court challenges program, we would never have gotten it back. I am thankful to the program for it.
Francophones still have their own schools in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia thanks to the court challenges program. The program was used not only in the maritime and Atlantic provinces, but in Ontario as well. Here in Ottawa, the Montfort Hospital still exists today because of the court challenges program.
People in Toronto and Sudbury also benefited from the court challenges program. Francophones at Collège Boréal were able to go to court for the right be served in their own language in their province. There were similar cases in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The court challenges program was used across Canada.
This Conservative government has even told this House that one of the reasons it abolished the program was that the program benefited friends of the Liberals by giving them the chance to make money on court cases.
I do not know if there has been an investigation into whether friends of the Liberals indeed benefited. Nonetheless, in our region, people fought hard for the court challenges. Michel Doucet, a lawyer and professor at the Université de Moncton, did pro bono work defending the rights of francophones.
Today, we see we have to fight again in New Brunswick, a bilingual province, to have bilingual service from the RCMP. We had to take our case to the Supreme Court of Canada because the previous Liberal government decided to appeal. Today the federal Conservative government is pursuing the appeal at the Supreme Court. My hat goes off to Michel Doucet, a lawyer who is not earning any money fighting for the rights of francophones. He should be commended.
Furthermore, I do not accept the claim that the court challenges program was used to make lawyers richer since most of them are not getting paid. Only the legal fees are covered. The money was used to cover the legal fees.
On September 23, 2006, at the summit of la Francophonie in Romania, it was sad. More than 50 French-speaking nations were at the summit. Instead of talking about la Francophonie, the of Canada talked about the war between Israel and Lebanon. While we were in the midst of participating in the summit of la Francophonie in Romania, the federal Conservative government announced that it was taking away the tools that allow us to challenge legislation and government procedures, the tools that allow us to go to court to get justice.
Senator Gerald Comeau, who was at the summit of la Francophonie, said he did not accept these cuts. Senator Andrée Champagne did not accept these cuts by her own government. I can assure you that this had little impact on the Conservative Party, which is not progressive, but an amalgamation of the Canadian Alliance Party and the Reform Party. That is where it comes from. It has not changed. It does not want to do anything for the communities or the status of women. There was a time in this House when a woman could not even become a member of Parliament.
At one time, women could not even be members of Parliament in this House. They had to work hard. The Status of Women has done a lot for the women of our country and this government is taking away all its tools and cutting its funds.
What is the government scared of? Is it scared that for once women could have equality with men? Is that what it is scared of? Does it not want them to be treated as equal persons in our country, that they have money to challenge that when it is not done?
The government should be ashamed of itself for what it has done. It cut literacy programs when we have people in our country who do not know how to read and right, and we had groups working hard in that respect.
The government went further than that. The Conservative Party even cut the association for volunteers. The volunteers who work so hard and who put in so many hours for our country have an association that the government has cut. It has taken the money away and that is a shame.
I could hear the Liberals saying “Bring it down”. What? When we look at the cuts, it is totally unacceptable. I believe that people will remember what the government took away from the people, what it took away from the minorities in our country. When we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms with no tools to go to court and challenge a bad decision, we might as well not have one. The little people who want to challenge the government will never have the money to go to the Supreme Court of Canada. That was done through the court challenge program. That is what the Conservative government took away from them.
Mr. Speaker, that is where my colleague got it wrong.
Let us take a look at legal aid. For example, at no time will the people of New Brunswick be able to get legal aid, even if the money goes to the province, to challenge the Government of Canada or Elections Canada or the Electoral Boundaries Commission for the changes that have been made to electoral boundaries.
Legal aid will never pay to go to court against the government for the RCMP not being bilingual in New Brunswick. Legal aid is not there for that. There cannot be legal aid for that.
The court challenges program was used when Canadians challenged the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Legal aid did not pay for that.
There is nothing at all on the books saying how they will get paid. That is what the government has taken away. It took away the rights of those organizations.
For example, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had offices in Shippagan. Those people were transferred to Dieppe. They went to court using the court challenges program and won back their right to be in Shippagan. Legal aid would never pay for that. It has nothing to do with legal aid.
This is about respecting the minorities of our country. Legal aid does not pay for that. It would never pay for that. It is not on the books. When the government took away the court challenges program, the Conservatives said in the House, “Why should we pay people to take us and the government to court?”
However, I think it is fundamental in a democracy that we be able to do that. I raised this question with the government. If a simple citizen goes to court and wins his case, will the government not use taxpayers' money to appeal it? Will the government say that the citizen wins?
Why would the government use taxpayers' money to go to the Supreme Court of Canada when Canadians do not have a program to help the little person to go to the Supreme Court of Canada and win for the collectivity, as was done for the minorities of our country? That is what we had through the court challenges program.
That is how the Montfort Hospital in Ottawa won back its hospital. It was done through the court challenges program. Legal aid did not help the Montfort Hospital in Ottawa. The hospital did not qualify for legal aid. Even if it would have had all kinds of money, it would not have come through legal aid.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to enter into this debate, but before I start, I think it is important that we put this into context. The member for made some comments that I think deserve a response. He talked about the proud tradition of Conservative governments.
There has been a proud tradition of Progressive Conservative governments, governments that still exist on the provincial front, but not in the House of Commons. As Danny Williams, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, said, he sees himself as “a progressive Conservative” and the of this country as a “regressive Conservative”.
It is important to talk about that. The present government is not the party of the bill of rights of John Diefenbaker. The present government is a neo-conservative government, ideologically driven, based in the religious right, and it has done everything in its power to divide Canadians, to attack minorities, and to attack disadvantaged groups.
I am going to give the House an example so that we can understand that the court challenges program was much more than some debate that does not have an impact on ordinary Canadians. As the House knows, right now we are involved in a debate in the citizenship and immigration committee, and we have been for quite a number of years, and that debate deals with the whole issue of citizenship rights.
Very recently it became public that upward of 400,000 Canadians who thought they were Canadians are losing their citizenship rights and their citizenship for various reasons. I am going to focus my comments on one particular group, that of war brides and their offspring, because there are tens of thousands of people who fall into this category.
I am going to cite the case of Mr. Joseph Taylor because this particular case is very relevant to the discussion that we are having here today. It shows the very human nature of what we are talking about when we are talking about the fight for rights.
As we all know, we have had a lot of debates in this House on how we honour our veterans, the men and women who served to keep this country safe in the past and who did a great service for us in the world wars and other conflicts abroad. I am going to take the case of Mr. Joseph Taylor because he happens to be the son of a Canadian veteran. His father, Joe Taylor Sr., fought for this country during the second world war.
Joe Taylor Sr. went to England, where he was stationed, and, like thousands of Canadians who were in similar situations, many of them single, became involved with a woman from Britain. He met his English Rose and they fell in love. They found out that she was pregnant. Mr. Taylor told his commanding officer that he wanted to get married so the child would be considered legitimate versus being born out of wedlock. The commanding officer informed Mr. Taylor Sr. that Canada was not in the business of producing widows and orphans and essentially said they could not get married.
Mr. Joe Taylor Sr. went off to France to fight. Fortunately for his wife and child he survived the war in France. He went back to England, at which point he married his wife. He was very happy to be reunited with his new wife and son.
Canada had a program related to war brides and their children. The program was that those war brides and their children were allowed to come to Canada and as soon as they landed in Canada they all would become Canadian citizens.
Mr. Joe Taylor Sr. and his family set up house in British Columbia. Unfortunately, the marriage did not work out, so subsequently his wife and son went back to England. Mr. Joe Taylor, upon turning 18 years of age, decided that he would try to find his father, a veteran of the second world war. Mr. Taylor Jr. was told back then that he was no longer a citizen and would not get Canadian assistance in finding his father.
Back in the 1990s, Mr. Taylor once again decided he would come to Canada to try to find his father. Unfortunately for Mr. Joe Taylor Jr., he found out that his father had died. He is buried in a cemetery in Port Alberni.
Mr. Joe Taylor Jr. also found out that he had seven half-siblings living in British Columbia, with whom he reunited. He decided that he would retire in Canada, seeing that he has more family in Canada than he has in England. He bought himself a condominium in Victoria and comes back on vacations. He now is semi-retired in Britain and comes to Canada for his vacations. He spends time in Victoria.
Mr. Joe Taylor once again tried to get his Canadian citizenship. Once again the Department of Citizenship and Immigration refused him his citizenship. Mr. Taylor went to Federal Court over that decision.
The government, in denying Mr. Joe Taylor his citizenship, his rightful inheritance from his father, who fought for this country in the second world war, opposed his citizenship on two grounds. One was because Mr. Joseph Taylor was born out of wedlock. Second, the government opposed his citizenship on the grounds that in the 1947 act there is an obscure piece in the legislation which states that if people leave the country for any prolonged period of time they have to apply to keep their citizenship. Mr. Joe Taylor was not aware of that so he could not do so.
He took his case to the Federal Court. The Federal Court justice, Judge Luc Martineau, released his decision on September 1, 2006. In his decision, Mr. Justice Luc Martineau found that to discriminate against a person because he or she was born in or out of wedlock violated the equality section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says that we cannot discriminate against people because they are born in or out of wedlock.
On the question of not reapplying to keep that citizenship, Justice Luc Martineau ruled that this infringed section 7 of the charter, which talks about basic legal rights. Two sections are very important for this discussion. Section 7 of the charter states:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
Section 15 of the charter deals with the equality section and states:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disabilities.
It is very clear that nobody, no government would want to have legislation that violated that section of the charter, but what do we have? This decision came down September 1. I asked the then minister of citizenship and immigration a question as to why the government would want to appeal that decision.
The government opposite appealed the decision after it got rid of the court challenges program. It is incomprehensible to me that anybody, that any party and certainly the Government of Canada, would so dishonour the sacrifices made by our veterans as to fight against the rightful citizenship of their offspring.
In the case of Mr. Joe Taylor, he is not a rich man. He has a comfortable life, but he is not rich. For him to take on the government and pursue his case before the court to fight for his rights, and rights that affect thousands of other offspring of veterans whose rightful citizenship is being denied, it costs money and in the case of having gone to Federal Court, that cost Mr. Joe Taylor $30,000 and even though the judge ordered costs against the government, Mr. Joe Taylor recovered only $10,000.
The government made the decision, after it got rid of the court challenges program, to appeal Mr. Taylor's victory in the Federal Court. When it applied to the Federal Court of Appeal, it also informed the Federal Court that if it lost in the Federal Court, it would take the case to the Supreme Court.
How meanspirited can the neocons get when the government says to Mr. Joe Taylor, and people like him, that if he wants to fight for his fundamental rights, which a justice of the Federal Court has ruled to be unconstitutional for infringing the legal section and the equality section of the Charter of Rights, an individual, the son of a Canadian veteran, and there are thousands like him, that he might be right, but if he wants to fight for his rights, he will need lots of money, while the government will use the taxpayer money to fight him to the end.
For Mr. Joe Taylor to get his hearing before the Supreme Court, if it goes there, it would cost upwards of a half million to a million dollars. What the government has done is so very shameful.
Let me read a letter that Mr. Joe Taylor received from the court challenges program on October 31, 2006. It deserves to go in the record.
Case Funding Application E-1885.
We are writing in response to your application received in our office on October 16, 2006, in which you applied for Case Funding from the Court Challenges Program with respect to opposing the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's appeal from the Order of Mr. Justice Martineau.
We regret to advise you that the Court Challenges Program of Canada is no longer in a position to consider your application for funding. The Federal Government of Canada announced on Monday, September 25, 2006 that it would cut funding available under the existing Court Challenges Program effective immediately. Consequently, there are no longer any funds available for new applications under this Program.
We understand and appreciate how this decision will negatively affect your ability to bring your equality rights case forward, and we wish you all the best in your efforts to advance your equality rights.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me...
It is signed by the legal policy analyst.
It is an incredible disgrace for members of the Conservative Party to stand and say they support their military, the men and women in uniform, and then treat their offspring as shabbily as they have by cutting the court challenges program, appealing the decision and saying that they will appeal it to the Supreme Court. It is a disgrace and something for which they should hide their heads in shame. As more Canadians learn about this, the more outraged they will become.
I mentioned earlier that hundreds of thousands of people fall into this category of citizenship rights. For the government to eliminate a $6 million line item in a $200 billion budget is a total disgrace. However, this regressive Conservative Party, as the Premier of Newfoundland called it, has a long history on this. Therefore, this is nothing new and we should not be surprised.
In 1995 we had the hate crime legislation and Reformers, the predecessors to the Conservatives, were totally in opposition to it. They did not believe that gays should be protected, along with other groups, against hate crimes. That party is the government now. Those members fought against anything to do with gay rights, just as they fought against same sex marriage, and used it shamelessly for perceived political advantage.
That party had a family issues critic say that he believed it was a mistake to have legalized it, referring to homosexuality. That party has consistently made harmful statements about minority groups.
When we talk about the ideological perspective of that party, as I mentioned earlier, it is tied into religious rights and it has shamelessly used religious rights. Nothing better reflects it than its support from the Real Women of Canada. That group hated the court challenges program. It does not believe in same sex marriage, rights for homosexuals or that anybody who has a right should be able to challenge government.
That party calls minority groups special interest groups, but it embraces the gun lobby, the worst special interest in the country. It embraces the oil barons. That party does not call them special interest groups.
You were in the chair, Mr. Speaker, and you have seen the evolution of the Reform ideology. The Conservatives have been hiding it, but every once in a while it comes to the fore. There is no better example than when we bring up the court challenges program.
The Liberal Party is the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, something the Conservatives hate. What are the Conservative roots that they refer to back in 1985 to 1993? What did we have? Eighteen members of Parliament and cabinet were charged and convicted of breach of trust. We saw none of that under the previous government.
I want to make it very clear, and everybody except the Conservatives in the House agrees, that they do not have a right to compare themselves to other Conservative parties in the country. As Premier Williams said, “I am a Progressive Conservative; they are regressive Conservatives”. And once again, by removing funding from the court challenges program, they have proven it.