That the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Tuesday, April 20, 2010, be concurred in.
She said: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Tuesday, April 20, be concurred in.
This motion is really about updating the citizenship guide. As the House knows, there is a new citizenship guide. Tens of thousands of copies have been printed, but there is no reference to gay rights and gay history in it.
Why is it important that newcomers to this country understand the proud history of Canada? We receive immigrants from around the world and there are countries where gays, lesbians and bisexuals face death, torture, and penalties such as prison terms. For example, in Uganda gays face death threats. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by death in Iran. In Paraguay, in April of this year, a 20-year-old lesbian was abducted and dragged into a car, strangled, suffocated, and subjected to multiple blows which resulted in severe bruising to her body. In Turkey, on April 27, a founding member of the Black Pink Triangle was murdered. She did not survive the gunshot wounds to her back and head. On December 13, 2009, in Honduras, a 27-year-old gay activist, a member of the national resistance front against the discrimination against gays and lesbians, was also murdered.
There is violence and discrimination in many countries. Immigrants come to Canada from many of those countries, so it is very important that the citizenship guide clearly state the rights and responsibilities of new citizens. Under the section regarding the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, under equality rights it should be spelled out clearly that Canadians are protected against discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or age. It should be mentioned in the section “Towards a Modern Canada” that homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 and that more recently, civil marriage for same sex couples was legalized nationwide in 2005.
May 17 of every year is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. In 1985, as a new school trustee I heard of a murder in Toronto. Kenneth Zeller, a librarian who was very much loved by the elementary school students where he taught, was gay-bashed and murdered in High Park, a park that a lot of gays and lesbians go to in Toronto. He was killed by four high school students. It was tragic. It was unbelievable, in a way, that these were young people who had graduated from our high schools.
During that period, I went around to different high schools and spoke to a lot of gay and lesbian students. I encouraged them to talk about what was happening in their schools. With the help of a student worker, Tim McCaskell, we were able to invite gay and lesbian students to speak to the school board about their experiences. The Toronto Board of Education was the first school board in all of North America to adopt a curriculum that talks about sexual orientation. We also pledged to train all the teachers and adopt policies to protect students.
Many years later, a recent survey has indicated that three-quarters of LGBTQ students and 95% of transgender students feel unsafe at school. A quarter of LGBTQ students and almost half of the transgender students have skipped school because they feel unsafe.
Six out of ten gay and lesbian students reported being verbally harassed about their sexual orientation, and one in four LGB students has been physically harassed about his or her sexual orientation. Two in five transgender students and one in five gay and lesbian students have been physically harassed.
This kind of difficulty and violence happens in our schools, which is why recently there was the launch of the Gay-Straight Alliance. MyGSA.ca is a website that encourages teachers and students to come together to counteract homophobia. This is supported by Egale and is an excellent website that helps promote the curriculum and helps promotes students.
It is important to look at the history of pension rights in Canada. George Hislop was a gays rights pioneer who won the right to same-sex survivor's benefits from the Canada pension plan for gays and lesbians across Canada. In the early 1970s, when it was not easy to be out of the closet anywhere, George was on national television with his partner, Ron Shearer. His partner had contributed to the Canada pension plan for many years, but when he passed away and Mr. Hislop applied for a pension, he was turned down because he was the same sex as Mr. Shearer.
Same-sex couples were excluded under the Canada pension plan until August 2000 when the laws were finally amended to include them. Those amendments, however, continued to deny pensions to those whose partners had died prior to January 1, 1998, which was the case for Mr. Hislop's same-sex common law partner. Because of his same-sex class action lawsuit based on the charter right of equality, he was able to leave a lasting legacy of tolerance to our entire country.
A person like George Hislop should be celebrated in our citizenship guide, because he was a leader in the lesbian and gay community in fighting discrimination and demanding equal respect.
Luckily in July 2005, the federal government agreed to start paying pensions pending the appeal. While Mr. Hislop did receive his first cheque in August, he passed away soon after.
I talked earlier about equal marriage, and about the long struggle here on Parliament Hill and in the community. Brent Hawkes at the Metropolitan Community Church has been a leader in Canada in pushing for people to learn to love and support each other and not be judgmental. It is part of the universal fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Church. The MCC published banns for same-sex couples, Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, and Elaine and Anne Vautour, in accordance with the age-old legal tradition.
The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto married the couples in a double wedding ceremony on January 14, 2001. It was an extremely joyous occasion. I was fortunate to be there. I want to share what Reverend Brent Hawkes said. He said:
Love is the fundamental basis of all Christian teaching.
Because of their Christian heritage, their current faith and for many, their current loving relationships, access to marriage has always been desired by many in our congregation. In fact, blessing same sex unions was one of the first types of services provided by UFMCC [Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches] when it was founded over 30 years ago.
I believe that most Canadians either support our right to marry...or they believe that the state has no business in telling us that we may not do so....and that the majority of Canadians cherish freedom of religion as a fundamental right in our society. Most Canadians would agree that one group in society should not impose its religious beliefs on another group with a different view.
He continues that love and marriage is something that should be celebrated and not prohibited. I witnessed the marriage of Michael and Michael. They are from Halifax. They have been together for 20 years. In Michael Leshner's affidavit, he said:
It should not be necessary for me to justify my application for a marriage licence and requiring me to do so would be discriminatory, humiliating and upsetting. Being denied a marriage licence suggests that Mike and I do not love each other, and that our hopes, our dreams, our life together do not exist. Mike and I, while supposedly equal citizens of this great country, are deemed non-persons, because we are gay.
Subsequently, in 2005-06, there was a series of votes in the House of Commons, and gay marriage was finally approved. I want to repeat a short part of a speech by the member for , the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. When the House debated the Civil Marriage Act, Bill , he said:
Mr. Speaker, there are junctures in a country's path when it is an honour to be a member of Parliament because one is able to help make a fundamental choice, a choice that celebrates more of our rich diversity and extends that fundamental Canadian value of equality. Originally, the goal of extending marriage—civil marriage—rights came directly from the grassroots, part of the long struggle of gays and lesbians for a society in which their right to a just, equitable relationship was recognized, meaning the celebration of their union, but also, let us hope, our celebration of their union.
It is important that all of this history and the rights of the gay and lesbian community be recognized, celebrated, and documented in our citizenship guide. For us not to do so, especially for our new immigrants, is unfair and unjust. There is no excuse. The citizenship guide, as it is, is fairly substantial. It is hefty. There is all sorts of good information in the citizenship guide. There is absolutely no reason not to include this section.
Many people have done a great deal of work on equality. Not only should we include all of this in the citizenship guide, but I believe that the federal government has a role to play in helping to educate our young people and new immigrants to make sure that they understand that homophobia is not tolerated, that there is a hate crime in this country, and that gay bashing will be punished.
All those elements we celebrate should be included. We must make sure, whether people are young or old, new to Canada, or live in urban centres or rural Canada, that all citizens of Canada understand this priority.
I want to take the time to read something that passed through the House of Commons three times in three years in three Parliaments under three prime ministers. The House of Commons voted to affirm the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to affirm the inclusion of same-sex couples in civil marriage.
The first vote was in September 2003, following the historic Court of Appeal for Ontario ruling. The second vote was in 2005 on Bill , which is the equal marriage bill. The final vote was 158 to 133.
The third vote was on December 7, 2006, and that vote was divisive, because even though Bill had passed, the Conservatives at that time wanted to bring forward that issue again. Thankfully, the vote passed again for the third time in three years.
Immediately after its passage on December 7, 2006, Canadians for Equal Marriage had this to say:
We are heartened that Canadian values of inclusion, equality and respect for difference have shown themselves to be stronger than ever.
A clear pattern has been established in the three votes that have been held in Parliament since the courts first ruled that excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage violates the charter. This is a pattern of growing acceptance of equal marriage, a pattern that reflects Canada's growing consensus on this issue.
Most MPs, like most Canadians, have come to understand that equal marriage doesn't harm anyone; it only makes life better for some. They have come to understand that a generous and inclusive definition of marriage actually strengthens the institution. They have come to understand that the only reason to exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage is discomfort, resistance to change and moral judgment. And they have learned that voting in favour of equality and inclusion feels really, really good.
We also want to salute all the Canadians who may have been uncomfortable with including same-sex couples in marriage, but who have come to accept and perhaps even embrace equal marriage. It's you who have truly demonstrated the wonder of Canada—that people with such diverse backgrounds and beliefs get along and live together in peace and harmony. That ability makes Canada the envy of the world.
That is why many of them want to come to Canada.
To continue with this statement from the Campaign for Equal Families:
Our common challenge now is to look at each other with eyes of understanding and compassion. To put aside our differences and focus on what we have in common. We all want to build a better Canada and a better world. And now that we have put this issue behind us, we can get on with that task.
In the not-too-distant future, we will look back and wonder how it was that this was even an issue. We will be proud that Canada chose to continue its long tradition of inclusion and respect for diversity, and refused to turn back the clock on equality. And hopefully, one day, the idea that someone would hide their sexual orientation or their gender identity will make no sense at all.
We look forward to that day.
We look forward to the day when all new immigrants understand that they do not have to hide their sexual orientation or their gender identity. That day, when every new immigrant becomes a citizen, he or she will be proud of Canada's long tradition of inclusion and respect for diversity. Now is not the time to turn back the clock on equality, which is why we must include gay rights and gay history in our citizenship guide.
Mr. Speaker, after that very crude, wrong-headed attempt by the Conservatives to shut down yet another debate, I welcome the opportunity to actually raise a question on the issue at hand.
We can hear the reaction from the Conservatives. This is what they do. They take blunt instruments and try to brutally beat people into submission.
On the issue of Bill , it is completely inappropriate what they have done with the monster bill in 24 different areas.
We have the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that the member for has brought forward, thankfully. The issue, of course, is the issue of respecting diversity.
We have a government that does not respect diversity. It has cut and slashed all funding for organizations that support the rights of gay Canadians. In every single place, what it has done is slash funding. Now we see the citizenship guide that completely eliminates any reference to the many contributions of gay, lesbian, and transsexual Canadians.
We have people who come to Canada, and that presence, that history, and those immense contributions are simply erased by the government in a very mean-spirited way.
I want to ask the member for if she sees this as a systematic attempt by the government to completely eradicate the contributions made by gay Canadians by eliminating references to gay rights, equal marriage, and the history of gay Canadians. Does the member see this as a strategy that the government employs to try to eliminate that respect for diversity on which Canada was founded?