Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to address the House, especially as we get closer to this beautiful building being shut down for many years to come.
First, I would make reference to the other place. The Senate contributes a great deal to the public debate. It goes through amendments and gives an assessment of what has been proposed by the House of Commons through legislation. I truly appreciate the work of many senators and the amount of time they put into trying to improve legislation before them.
However, from what I understand, a lot of discussion on the amendments proposed by the Senate took place in a standing committee of the House. I do not want to take away from the seriousness of the offence we are talking about, but I think a majority of Canadians see this legislation as positive and long overdue. It would go a long way in making our system that much better.
I will start with the purpose of the legislation, what we have debated over the last while and the time frame. I want to address many other aspects that were raised by the opposition, particularly around the area of timing, the number of legislation and so forth.
With respect to the purpose of the legislation, I will highlight four areas.
First, the bill would clarify and strengthen certain aspects of sexual assault law relating to consent, admissibility of evidence and the legal representation for the complainant during rape shield proceedings. One only needs to listen to some of the debates we have had at second reading and some of the discussions that took place during the standing committee to get a good sense of the nature of the problem and why that aspect is so critically important.
Second, the bill looks at repealing or amending a number of positions within the Criminal Code that have been found to be unconstitutional by appellant courts and other provisions that are similar to ones that are found as unconstitutional.
Third, the bill looks at repealing several obsolete or redundant criminal offences.
Fourth, which is a strong positive, the bill would require that a minister of justice table a charter statement in Parliament for every new government bill, setting out the bill's potential effects on the charter. A good number of members have raised concerns about this, but I see it as a welcomed addition.
I have indicated on numerous occasions that the Liberal Party founded our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We take it very seriously. I like to think that this is a good example of a very tangible action that clearly demonstrates we are a government that genuinely supports Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Therefore, to have a minister responsible to give his or her interpretation on how legislation could affect laws is a positive thing.
It is something that could complement future decisions. A court could take into consideration ideas, concepts, thoughts and expressions that might have been raised while the legislation was being debated in the House. I would argue that it gives a little more depth to the legislation itself. I see it as a very strong and positive thing.
Those are the four core points that I would highlight. However, I want to address some of the things I have heard during the debate earlier this morning and during questions and comments. Members across the way have asked why time allocation is important. I am often quoted by some members of the opposition, suggesting why I would support time allocation. I can remember sitting in the third party benches in the far corner over there, just a few years back. I recognized back then that time allocation is an effective and necessary tool at times in order for government to deliver on its commitments to Canadians. It is something we have taken very seriously.
Let me give an example. Last Thursday we brought forward another piece of legislation. I believe it was Bill . When we brought that bill forward, the member for started the debate at about 3:30 p.m., and he continued to debate the bill for two and a half, maybe three hours. There is no doubt that it was somewhat enlightening. Some might argue that we are looking at a limited amount of time, and we need to acknowledge that there is a limited, finite amount of time for the House to deal with legislation.
If the opposition chooses to prevent legislation from passing, it does not take very much. The member for is very capable of articulating at great length. He could stand in his place and talk for two or three hours. If I was provided the opportunity to talk about a budget and all the wonderful things we do, I would like to think I could probably talk for a few days because there are so many good things this government has done for Canada's middle class. It would be a wonderful thing to be able to share that information with my colleagues across the way. However, the reality is that if the opposition were to allow me to do that, I suspect it would be somewhat hurtful for the government, given the limited amount of time we have inside the chamber.
I use this as an example because a number of members across the way have been somewhat critical of two things. One is why we found it necessary to bring in time allocation on this legislation. The other is related to the overall approach by this government on justice.
On the time allocation issue, both the Conservatives and the NDP often like to get together on a united front, and if they were determined to prevent legislation from passing, they could put government in a very difficult position where it would need to try to push the legislation through. That is in fact a responsibility of government.
Many pieces of legislation that we brought forward, including this bill, are because we made a commitment to Canadians in 2015. This legislation is another commitment fulfilled by this government.
If we were to give all the time asked for by the opposition, we would not have been able to pass a couple dozen bills. Canadians, rightfully so, expect the government to have a full legislative agenda. That is, in essence, what we have.
A New Democratic member criticized the government by saying that we have legislation here and there, and why is this bill not passing, and why is this other bill still in the Senate, and why are we still debating it here. There are two reasons. One, there is a process that does have to be followed. Two, at times individuals or political entities have an interest, for whatever purpose, to not allow legislation to go through. That means there is legislation that is at different points of discussion and debate. We have legislation still with the Senate. We have some getting ready for committee stage, some at second reading and some at third reading.
Let there be no doubt that when it comes to the issue of justice, we do very much take a holistic approach at delivering on that issue. I think it is safe to say that as a government, we want to ensure that legislation we bring forward is all about protecting Canadians.
This is one piece of the whole pie that is having that desired impact. We want to show compassion to victims. The Conservatives often say we are not sensitive to victims, yet we have legislation that enshrines victims rights in certain situations. We as a government recognize the importance of not only showing compassion to victims, but also bring in legislation where we can and other measures through budgets, to demonstrate that compassion to victims.
It is also important that we hold offenders accountable. Again, this government takes this very seriously. In the past, when I have addressed that particular issue, there has been a comparison made between the Conservatives and the Liberals. There is a big difference between the two parties on the issue of offenders. Within this legislation we talk about offenders. However, there is a significant difference. Many of the Conservatives like to take a hard line on crime, as if that rhetoric will make our society a better, safer place to live. We, on the other hand, have a different approach to it, which is seen in this legislation as I get back into some of the details of it.
We recognize that incarcerated individuals at some point in time will be released back into society. There is a responsibility for us to ensure that we prevent victims in the future by ensuring that the majority of those individuals who are released become more productive citizens of our country.
We also recognize the importance of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I made reference to that at the beginning when I talked about the scope of the legislation. I made reference to the fact that we are the party that brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We understand it and this legislation would ensure there is a stronger place in recognizing the importance of the charter.
I would like to cite something specific that was provided to me in recognizing the importance of charter statements:
Respect for the Charter is a critical aspect of governing and legislating in Canada.
That is something we would argue and one of the reasons we are asking members to support this legislation. It then states:
Requiring the introduction of a Charter Statement for every new Government bill represents a new, more open and more transparent way of demonstrating respect for the Charter.
The has already tabled nine different charter statements in Parliament for her own bills. She has demonstrated leadership on that aspect. The proposed legislation would make the minister's existing practice a legal duty. The duty would extend to all government legislation.
Obviously, there has been a great deal of discussion on clarity in regard to consent. That was very well discussed. There was a great deal of discussion at the committee stage, where from my understanding the committee members believed it was okay to proceed to third reading with what had come out of the committee stage. I cannot recall anything coming from the official opposition regarding the need to reopen the area of an additional definition of consent, and I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong during questions and comments. That is a very important aspect of the legislation.
I have heard a couple of members talk about a clause that dealt with religious freedom, something which was taken into consideration at the committee stage. I want to raise that because someone, in posing a question earlier today, reflected on how the government backed down on a clause in the form of an amendment. It is important to recognize that the minister and the department did a wonderful job in the work prior to the introduction of the bill in the House, in meeting with the different stakeholders and working with other jurisdictions to present the legislation. It comes through the department after that consultation.
A clause came up which was looked at concerning something to be taken out of the Criminal Code and it was deemed that we did not want that to happen. That was at the committee stage. To me, that speaks well of our standing committee process. Within the standing committee, the members identified an issue that ultimately was amended and there was a change in the legislation. It is not the only change that occurred.
I raise that point because from the very beginning of the original consultations and the work done by the department, we have been working with stakeholders to ensure that we have good legislation that I believe will ultimately serve Canadians well.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I find it very impressive that my colleague opposite hopes to have a second mandate. I hope that will not be the case.
I am rising today in the House to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another act.
This bill has sparked lively discussions and important debates because it deals with sensitive subjects both for parliamentarians and the general public.
The bill has some value because Canada's Criminal Code needs to be updated. Passages or provisions that have been deemed to be unconstitutional or that could result in challenges based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms need to be amended, removed or repealed, as do any passages or provisions that are obsolete or unnecessary or that no longer have a place in today's criminal law.
Bill has four main sections, namely the provisions pertaining to sexual assault, the provisions that have been deemed unconstitutional or that are similar to other provisions that were, the obsolete or needless provisions, and the charter statements.
I would like to focus on the part of the bill that would amend certain provisions of the Criminal Code pertaining to sexual assault in order to clarify their application and to establish a regime concerning the admissibility and use of a plaintiff's or witness's private records in possession of the accused.
In light of all the much-needed efforts made by all parties concerning the reporting of sexual assault, I agree with the provisions of Bill pertaining to sexual assault because they are very reasonable, and the Conservative Party has always advocated and voted for improving laws when they strengthen the rights of victims of crime, including victims of sexual assault.
The changes proposed by Bill are necessary if we are to be consistent in our efforts to support victims of sexual assault.
As a woman, a mother of two daughters and an advocate for enhancing the rights of victims of crime, I fully support the changes proposed by the bill, which would clarify and strengthen the sexual assault provisions of the Criminal Code.
It is obvious that these changes will help the government provide solid support to victims of the serious and deeply traumatizing crime of sexual assault.
Despite this positive step forward, it is vital that we also amend the Canadian Criminal Code to toughen penalties for criminals convicted of sexual assault, so that victims feel supported from the moment they decide to report their attackers.
Furthermore, the Criminal Code should have significant minimum sentences for perpetrators; otherwise, victims will never feel like justice has been done.
It is indeed important to modernize the Criminal Code and keep it up to date in order to ensure that justice is done, eloquently and effectively, for the sake of victims and their loved ones. However, as I was saying earlier, the Criminal Code needs to have significant minimum sentences, not maximum sentences. We already know that in most cases, these sentences are rarely imposed by judges. A minimum sentence is a stronger and far more effective deterrent for perpetrators and also sends a positive message to victims.
Parliament has adopted clear provisions that define the concept of consent in the context of sexual assault.
Section 273.1 includes an exhaustive list of factors pertaining to situations where no consent is obtained. I am pleased that Senator Pate's amendments on this were not adopted. It is essential to keep the concept of consent intact. Consent can never be obtained when a person is unconscious.
The wording in Bill clearly recognizes the many possible reasons why a person cannot provide consent even if they are conscious.
We had to preserve one of the primary objectives of this bill, namely to ensure that we did not make legislative measures more complicated than they already are or make the concept of consent contentious. Far too often, in court, defence attorneys use the concept of consent against victims.
For the victims, nothing must undermine the definition of consent, which requires the complainant to provide actual active consent through every phase of the sexual activity. It is not possible for an unconscious person to satisfy this requirement, even if they express their consent in advance.
I can only imagine what state sexual assault victims would be in, if, during an evening, they provided consent to “normal” sexual relations but were drugged with the date-rape drug and violently sexually assaulted.
If the government wants to better protect victims of sexual assault, it is vital that it keep this provision, especially since we also support former MP Rona Ambrose's private member's bill, Bill , an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code with regard to sexual assault. This bill would restrict eligibility for judicial appointment to individuals who have completed comprehensive education in respect to matters related to sexual assault. Furthermore, it amends the Criminal Code to require that reasons provided by a judge in sexual assault decisions be in writing.
In closing, I would like to add that this bill, if it were serious about this matter, could have proposed that the Department of Justice be required to assess the impact of any change to the Criminal Code on the rights of victims of crime contained in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. That is the only reason for my strong reluctance to vote for this bill. I believe that, without this provision, we run the risk of passing legislation that could negate the rights contained in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
However, I will agree to vote for Bill because, on the whole, it is a good bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to discuss Bill , an act involving a variety of issues that have been put together. I will not deal with the entirety of the bill, but I will give a brief summary and deal with certain sections that are of particular concern.
This legislation has been described as consisting of four separate parts. The first part is provisions that deal with sexual assault and rules around that. I do not pretend to be an expert on this, and my speech will not concentrate on those areas of the bill, but what I am hearing from some of my colleagues is how certain sexual assault offences would be treated less seriously in this legislation than in previous legislation. That does concern me. I wonder why the government is making these changes. I do not see any reason to treat sexual assault offences less seriously in the future than we have in the past.
There are a couple of other provisions where it makes sense that they are grouped together. They are dealing with things that may be obsolete, or provisions that have been found to be unconstitutional. It makes sense those two would be together in this legislation, as they are sort of a cleanup in the legislation. They are no longer functional, and it is a housecleaning bill in that sense.
Then, for some strange reason, the government has put a provision in the bill about charter statements. It would require that statements and legal opinions about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms be attached to all government bills.
If I could give some advice to the government for the future, perhaps it should not try to package these four separate areas together. Issues around sexual assault in particular need their own legislation to be dealt with so members can properly discuss it and look for ways to provide justice both to the accused and to victims going forward. As has been mentioned, this is a criminal offence that has very profound life-changing consequences for those affected by it.
I am particularly interested in a couple of things the government has put together as far as obsolete provisions or provisions that have been found to be unconstitutional or are similar to other provisions that have been found to be unconstitutional. I understand the government's reason for putting in clause 28, where it repeals the offence to supply or procure a drug or instruments used to cause the miscarriage of a female person. I understand why it is putting that clause in to get rid of that element of the legislation.
Let me express my disappointment with it, because what that is doing is cleaning out what is left of the abortion legislation that we have in Canada. I know with the Morgentaler rulings and so forth it was struck down, so I can understand the government's legal reasoning on this makes sense. If I shared its philosophical perspective I would do this as a matter of housecleaning, but it does bring to the notice of the House that Canada is the only democratic country in the whole world that does not have legislation dealing with abortion. I, and I know other members of the House find that to be an absolute disgrace. This is really the last housecleaning aspect to get rid of what is left of legislation in our Criminal Code dealing with abortion.
Members of the House, particularly members who agree with me that this is a disgrace, should contemplate on this final bit of housecleaning to get rid of what is left of legislation that protected the life of the unborn and should actually think about possibly opposing this legislation on the final vote to send a message that we think something needs to be done to defend the life of the unborn. Again, I understand the government's legal reasoning behind it. I am not questioning it. However, I think the duty of the House is not just to always rubber-stamp what the courts have said. It also needs to send a message about what we feel is right and moral, even when the courts, in my view, usurp the role of the House.
The other change in this legislation that has caught the attention of a considerable number of people, including me, is regarding obstructing or violence to or arrest of officiating clergymen. Originally the government was arguing that this was an obsolete provision that needed to be taken out. However, I think what has happened in regard to this clause actually demonstrates that our democratic processes do work well in this country. Many Canadians were very concerned, because this clause has actually been used. I have been informed that not that many years ago it was used, I believe, with respect to St. Patrick's here in Ottawa. Members can understand why this would be of major concern.
I think the government was right to expand the definition beyond Christian clergy, such as a Roman Catholic priest. One can see very clearly how a rabbi conducting a service in a Jewish house of worship could be very concerned if someone came in to do a demonstration with respect to Israel, or if at a Muslim service something were to take place. A lot of foreign policy questions are, in some people's minds, now tied to religion. I think it was very important that the public spoke out and clearly said to the government that it is unacceptable to remove this and that it is something they want protected.
All forms of freedom of speech need to be protected and are of importance. Religious freedom of speech is not a singular, individual one, but rather it is done collectively. When a clergyman is officiating a service that is interfered with, it is interfering with something that is very profound and sacred to a group of people. It is invading their privacy. It is taking away from them an intimate, special moment, an act of connection with their god. The government's original suggestion was that this was redundant to other pieces of legislation, but I think it is clearly understood that is not the case. This is something special and distinct. The government did a wise thing by backing down under public pressure and to understand what this means to many Canadians.
My final concern with this legislation has to do with the requirement for charter statements being put into this bill. The bill is suggesting that every time the government brings forward a piece of legislation, it must table a charter statement in Parliament with the bill. If the current government wants to do that, that is its choice. I understand it has been done eight times. However, I have a couple of concerns with this.
When a legal statement involving the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is attached to a bill, it may very well give the public an incorrect impression as to the legality or illegality of the bill. I would expect all governments to check and be very thorough about whether or not a bill or a piece of legislation they are putting forward is just. However, a legal opinion from one, two or even three lawyers in the Department of Justice may be seen as something more than it is, something more consequential and more powerful.
My other concern about this is it could very easily be a way for the Department of Justice to steer, through its own opinions, political opinions of the government. Governments have the right to disagree with their own lawyers. They have the right to put forward legislation that pushes the grey line of charter rights. We have a notwithstanding clause. Governments do not even have to universally follow the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is the way it is construed. That is a concern I have. Again, if the government wishes to do it, it should feel free to do so. However, this is something that is creating an extra hurdle or perception that I am not sure members of this House would universally agree with.
Those are my concerns. I understand the basis for the legislation. However, there are things about this bill that I cannot support.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill and, in particular, the Senate amendments.
My intention in my remarks today is to focus on two issues that arise out of this bill. One is the question of advance consent in general, at a philosophical and practical level, and whether we think that a person ought to be able to consent in advance to something happening in the future and some of the issues related to that in this bill. The other is I want to talk about section 176 and the way in which the government approaches our response to potential acts of hate and violence and disruption that are perpetrated against faith communities in Canada.
The issue of advance consent is very much one that has been discussed back and forth and from different perspectives. I note that with respect to the idea of someone consenting in advance to sexual activity, this is a subject on which the Supreme Court of Canada and the Ontario Court of Appeal, at certain points in time, disagreed. There was a court decision in R. v. J.A. in which the person accused of sexual assault argued in the context of that particular case that sexual assault had not taken place because the complainant had consented to being rendered unconscious, allegedly, and consented, allegedly, to engaging in sexual activity. The Ontario Court of Appeal actually agreed with the arguments of the accused in this case, and said the “only state of mind ever experienced by the person is that of consent”.
I think the Ontario Court of Appeal got it wrong. Many people would say that it is not only wrong but deeply offensive to suggest that a sexual act could be performed without a person's explicit consent in the moment, on the basis of alleged prior consent in advance.
In my view, the Supreme Court got it right when it said:
It is not possible for an unconscious person to satisfy this requirement, even if she expresses her consent in advance. Any sexual activity with an individual who is incapable of consciously evaluating whether she is consenting is therefore not consensual within the meaning of the Criminal Code.
Bill puts that legal court decision into the Criminal Code by noting that there is never consent when a person is unconscious. Proposed paragraph 273.1(2)(a.1) states:
For the purpose of subsection (1), no consent is obtained if
(a.1) the complainant is unconscious;
The decision of the Supreme Court in this case is the right decision. It is one that I agree with and it is one that is reflected in the law.
It is noteworthy at the same time that the Ontario Court of Appeal thought differently and indeed advanced arguments for the idea that a person could provide so-called advance consent in this case. It reflects the fact that in different contexts around different debates, people have made arguments about the supposed legitimacy of advance consent. We see in another case the use of that argument, and I will get to that in a few moments.
The cases against so-called advance consent as something we should allow or accept are myriad. One of the obvious arguments against it is that one's past self, in one's wishes and inclinations, might disagree substantively from one's future self. One might think that at such and such a point in the future under certain circumstances one will want this or feel this or accept this. However, in reality, when one experiences those things, one feels totally differently in the context of that new situation. The idea of a past self irrevocably dictating the conditions and events that are going to occur with a future self is unjust to the future self and it violates the autonomy of the individual at that point in time in the future. Our past selves differ from our future selves, and perceptions about how we will experience certain events in the past might differ from how we actually experience them in the moment when they are taking place.
It is on this basis of recognizing the importance of autonomy, not in the sense of a past self-binding and future self-binding but autonomy in the sense of individuals making determinations about themselves in the moment and being able to ensure that they are comfortable with and accepting of everything that is happening while that thing is happening, that the court, the House, and this legislation recognize the fundamental wrongness of advance consent in the context of sexual activity.
I develop this point in spite of the perhaps pre-existing agreement in the House because it has some relevance to our discussion of other issues with respect to consent. In particular, some members would like to see us allow advance consent in the case of euthanasia or assisted suicide. It is important for members to reflect on the argument for and against allowing advance consent in the one case when we consider the possible application of that same principle in a different case.
Questions were asked in the House, for example, about the case of Ms. Audrey Parker, a tragic situation for her, and other cases, where the idea of advance consent was brought up. Some have argued, especially some of my friends in the NDP, that people should be able to provide consent in advance that their life be taken if their condition advances to a certain point and if certain conditions are met.
I find that prospect very troubling, that a present self could irrevocably bind a future self, especially that the person could establish parameters under which that future self would be bound even in a case where that future self might, in the moment in terms of practical expression, not want that to happen.
The particular context in euthanasia of providing advance consent is, of course, that people have to imagine how they would experience certain conditions, certain development of a disease, and how they would feel about it, how they would respond and what they would want in the moment. The idea and the argument that some advocates have made is that the person should be able to issue an advance directive, so that even if they in that moment do not have the capacity to make a decision, their past self would decide for them in the present.
This can create a situation, though, where one might ask what happens if a person with somewhat lost capacity, but nonetheless with a condition set out by their past self, then says he does not want his life taken. His past self had established this living will, this advance directive of sorts, that would then theoretically involve the state and medical professionals taking his life in a case where he did not want that to happen in the moment based on something his past self said.
This is not a purely hypothetical case. There is currently a case before the Dutch courts in which a patient was held down by family members while a physician injected her with lethal medication. The doctor was acting based on an interpretation of an advance directive and of past statements made by the patient.
We do have cases where there is an application of the idea of advance consent to euthanasia, and we have a very scary situation, frankly, where a person's life is taken when he or she is saying in the moment, “No, I don't want this to happen”, but someone else is interpreting something the individual said in the past as overruling the individual's expression in the moment.
The present self who is facing this kind of violence, I would argue, is maybe at a point of lower capacity than the person previously had, but I still think it is a very scary situation or proposition.
I would encourage members to reflect on the question of advance consent and to take a consistent position on it. I would suggest that members set a similar standard for consent in these cases. It does not seem, to me, to make sense to have a lower bar for the consent required to die than consent required for sexual activity, to abhor advance consent in the case of sexual activity, and yet to support it in the case of death and dying. We do not know exactly where the debate on advance consent in the context of death and dying is going to go. I know there is an expert panel the government has put forward that we expect to hear a report back from relatively soon. I know there are members of the government caucus who have said that they are supportive of the idea of advance consent.
However, if we think about the case that I spoke about in particular and how we would feel if a past version of ourselves had said we wanted something, which all of a sudden, in the moment, in a situation, we really do not want to have happen, and yet we are told that we had said we had wanted this in the past, so our past self can dictate to our present self. I would see that as really going against a pretty basic principle of autonomy that I know is important to many members.
I leave that for the consideration of the House. It is very relevant to our discussion of Bill , in terms of the way in which the bill codifies the point that in the context of sexual consent, one cannot consent in advance, that a person who is unconscious can never consent, regardless of what they said beforehand. Again, to underline this, I very much agree with that particular change to Bill C-51. I want to encourage members to think about what that means for some of the other conversations that are happening.
This bill deals with Senate amendments. There is a proposed Senate amendment that provides some specific language around that section. I know that some of my colleagues are favourably disposed towards the intent of the senator who brought this forward, but are concerned about some of the unintended legal implications of it, namely, that if certain things are spelled out explicitly, there might also be things that are not spelled out in the section. The sense, and I think it is a good sense, is that the existing language in that particular section of Bill does the trick in hitting the particular point on the mark. That is what I wanted to say about the issue of advance consent.
I would like to make a few comments about section 176 of the Criminal Code and the back and forth we have seen in our discussions on that section and on some of the other actions the government has taken in this regard.
Section 176 deals with the disruption of a religious service and vandalism against church property, and so forth. Our caucus has done a great deal of work with civil society to bring attention to the importance and value of this section, and to oppose initial efforts by the government to remove this section.
The government argued that section 176 could be removed, because it was redundant. Clearly the offences that are covered by section 176 are things that other charges could apply to, but that does not mean that the offence, in terms of putting a particular emphasis on it and ensuring fulsome prosecution in these cases, is redundant. By analogy, our Criminal Code speaks specifically of hate crimes, and I have never heard anyone argue that hate crimes legislation is redundant because the violence associated with hate crimes, namely, vandalism, but more particularly assault and those sorts of things, are already illegal.
I have never heard anyone ask why we need hate crime provisions because those things are already illegal. I think all of us accept that the message sent by having a particular category of prosecution associated with hate crimes is appropriate, because hate crimes are not just aimed at doing violence to a particular individual but also at making an entire community feel threatened and unsafe in living their lives as they do, including the practice of their faith and the public actions they take that are associated with their identity, and so forth.
Hate crimes legislation is about ensuring that groups of people are not targeted on the basis of their identity. That is why we treat a hate crime as something distinct from an act of assault on its own. If members accept that principle with respect to hate crimes and hate crimes in prosecution, it would seem to me that the same principle goes to section 176. Someone who actively disrupts a church service or commits acts of vandalism or violence against religious clergy are not just trying to enact specific violence against an individual or place. It is not merely an act of trespassing or vandalism, rather an action that carries with it a real chill for the ability of people of faith to live freely and confidently without worry of that kind of violence. That is why section 176 is not redundant. It is critically important.
Another argument the government used was to say that the language in section 176 is outdated because it refers to a clergyman and is not, in its textual implications, inclusive of all faiths and genders. However, in reality, the section was clearly being applied in a way that was fully inclusive. It really was an odd argument to make that we should take the section out completely because it was not, in its language, inclusive when all that was really required was to change the language. Even changing the language did not change the actual practical effects of the law.
In the end, in response to a really strong reaction and groundswell from different communities working collaboratively with our party, the proposed deletion of section 176 by Bill was abandoned. We were pleased to see that.
At the same time, we then saw the government, in Bill , proposing to hybridize offences under section 176, effectively reducing the sentence for these offences. In the previous discussion in the House on this issue, my friend from offered a defence of the idea of hybridized offences. I do not think anyone has argued there should not be any cases where the level of available discretion would not cover a spectrum associated with hybridized offences.
However, I think a lot of those who advocated significantly for section 176 to be preserved, and were initially pleased by the government's stepping back from their decision, kind of saw in the hybridization of this particular offence yet another indication that the government does not really understand the importance of this and does not accept the value of having strong, clear language with appropriate associated sentences in the Criminal Code to protect the practice of faith in this country.
It is ironic because the government talks a good game a lot of the time when it comes to fighting hate. When it comes to motions or statements around these kinds of issues, the government always seems to be ready.
We had considerable debate in the House on Motion No. 103 on the question of “Islamophobia”. All of us in the House should read that it is important for us to take a strong stand against, in this case, anti-Muslim violence or hatred, and that it is important for us to take a strong stand against those who express bigotry against any community. However, we wanted the government to provide a definition of what it meant by “Islamophobia”, and it refused to do that. Unfortunately, the House was not able to come together in a way that might have been desirable to send a clear unified statement on that issue.
Despite the specific language of Motion No. 103 speaking of the need to “quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear”, the government's actions with respect to section 176, an actual section of the Criminal Code that provides real legal protection for those practising their faith, show that in so many cases, it is only interested in the statement and not the substance.
For faith communities and leaders across the board who wonder what substantive protections exist, they should look to and expect the government to underline the importance of section 176, not to be weakening its application as we are seeing.
Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to stand in this place, especially as we approach the time when it will be closed and the last week we will be here.
It is an august place, a place where many interesting debates have happened since it reopened after the fire. As for the one before the fire, we are coming up the 100th anniversary of Prime Minister Laurier, who was a leader of note. He established Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces, and passed away the following year. Not only did he establish Alberta and Saskatchewan, he was in favour of free trade agreements. In 1911, he lost an election on a free trade agreement. We may see that happen again in 2019.
Also I remember well the debates on the flag issue, which was a focus for the country in the sixties. The debates between Diefenbaker and Pearson are legendary in this place. The flag issue is one that had a lot of Canadians focused on this place and on the debates, which resulted in the maple flag we have today.
I also remember when we had a loyal opposition party leading a charge to leave the country. A lot of people were a little confused about the debates that went on in this place when the leader of the loyal opposition wanted to split up the country.
Many debates have happened in this place, with many people who are orators, intelligent people expressing their opinions and representing Canadians. At this time, I am one of 338 who has the honour and privilege to stand in this place, but not for much longer as this building will close this week and we will move to another place. Again, it is a privilege to look around and see the magnificent edifice and beautiful place in which we get to work.
Today I rise to speak to , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another act. Since it was introduced the first time, and again as it has come back from the Senate, there have been learned people standing and speaking to this. It is an omnibus bill. It is very complicated and one some people in the House are able to understand, comprehend and speak very clearly about. Others speak of its broad issues, but not as intelligently as some of the members in the House who have legal backgrounds.
However, it should not be a surprise there are issues when we get a bill this big, although many people would agree with some of the things in it.
I will be sharing my time, Mr. Speaker, with my colleague from .
We agree with some things in this omnibus bill. It contains some worthy provisions. Clarifying the law in relation to sexual consent is very important. Repealing unconstitutional provisions in the Criminal Code is a positive aspect. I was also very happy the government backed down, as we have heard many times, on the removal of section 176 of the code. I heard a lot about this one from my constituents. Many faith groups, including those in my riding of Bow River, were deeply concerned about that section.
The section provides protection to those practising their religion. We have freedom of religion in Canada. One of thing I may not agree with everybody on is religion, but I would fight to the death for those people to be able to express their religious beliefs. Religious communities need to be able to worship without fear of interference and disruption. This is truer now than ever. Hate crimes against religious groups are on the rise in Canada. A section of the code that gives these groups clear, unambiguous confidence in their right to worship as they please is far from redundant.
When we were talking about the inoperative sections of the Criminal Code and Bill , it was the unfortunate decision by the government to initially include section 176 of the Criminal Code among the sections it deemed to be obsolete. Section 176 is hardly redundant, hardly obsolete and certainly not unconstitutional. Indeed, section 176 is the only section in the Criminal Code that protects clergy from having their services disrupted, something which is very serious and goes to the heart of religious freedom.
The government turned a blind eye when it introduced this, and the Conservatives called them out on it. As a result, tens of thousands of Canadians spoke out, telling the government that it was wrong.
My learned colleague on the other side previously mentioned that a committee was able to resolve this. It was one of the outstanding features of the committee that it unanimously came to that. However, it is my belief that there was such push-back in religious communities that the people sitting on that committee realized the mistake in that initial document and changed it.
Municipal governments must react much sooner when they may have made a mistake. If in coffee shops they hear about something, they pass it the next day, and at the next meeting, they can fix it. This is a much longer process, but at the committee level, members heard from religious people of faith in our country that this was not the appropriate thing to do.
I will move on. Clause 14 of Bill proposed to repeal section 176 of the Criminal Code, which makes it a crime to unlawfully obstruct a religious official. Conservatives were the first to identify this clause. As a result of the public backlash, the Liberals on the justice committee amended Bill C-51 to remove it.
However, only months later, the Liberals hybridized section 176 in Bill . Currently, it is a solely indictable offence, which is reserved for the most serious offences. However, by hybridizing section 176, it could be prosecuted as a summary conviction offence, which is reserved for less serious offences. That means that offenders could just get a fine, and I think that would downgrade the importance of religious freedom. For people who practice it and leaders of religion, this would be downgraded to a less serious offence. That is not right.
While the specific changes would not have a significant impact on the maximum sentence, unlike some of the other offences the government is hybridizing, it would send a message. I would submit that it would send exactly the wrong message. It would send the message that disrupting a religious service and infringing on the freedom of religion of Canadians, which is not just any freedom but a fundamental freedom in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is not that serious. That is just wrong. It is why the Conservatives opposed it and stood up to fight Bill .
Then there were amendments that came back from the Senate. The Senate put forward amendments because there was concern that this would add confusion in cases where a person was not unconscious but was, for example, highly intoxicated. Unfortunately, while the Senate amendments may have been well intentioned, they would simply cause more problems and solve a problem that really does not exist. We would support voting against these amendments, because we believe that they do not clarify; they just make things more confusing.
Conservatives fully support all changes in the bill to clarify and strengthen sexual assault provisions in the Criminal Code. These changes would help support victims of horrific sexual assault crimes. Conservatives also support repealing or amending sections of the code that have been ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
It is important to keep the code clean and up to date for efficient and effective justice for victims and their families. Bill would merely clarify that consent can never occur when an individual is unconscious. That is consistent with the J.A. decision.
Bill C-51 would not, as the Senate amendment argues, potentially create a bright line for consent on the basis of consciousness. In that regard, proposed paragraph 273.1(2)(b) provides that “no consent is obtained...for any reason other than [unconsciousness].” This language clearly acknowledges that there are many possible reasons a person may be incapable of consent, despite being conscious.
The Senate amendment would likely lead to additional complexity and confusion over what evidence was relevant to determine consent. Instead of adding certainty to the law, it would lead to further litigation involving these factors. For those reasons, we oppose this amendment.
Mr. Speaker, the member for mentioned that this is the last week we are going to be in the House. I never really thought about that in terms of this being maybe the last time I rise in this building before it is shut down for what could be the next decade or so. I want to just comment on what the member for said.
It is an honour and a privilege for all of us to serve in this place. This building is certainly historic, and the fact that we have an opportunity this one last week to rise is not lost on me. As I said, I do not know if any of us will make it back here 10 years from now. Who knows? Some of my younger colleagues over there may.
It is great to get a chance to stand and talk about Bill , the justice omnibus bill. It contains a number of changes on a variety of matters. One of the things I find interesting, and I know it has been mentioned before, is that the Liberal government railed on and on about how omnibus bills were so bad and the fact that Conservatives would put so many things in them and how the Liberal government was going to be different and would not behave this way.
I find it interesting and somewhat comical that the Liberals railed about what the Conservative government did in the past, yet here they are, and some of the Liberal omnibus bills are actually greater in size than the ones we moved forward during our time in government. I needed to mention that. I think there is some irony there. I know the Liberals campaigned on that.
I am here to talk about Bill , but I would love to talk about how the Liberal government said it would act differently when it got into government, yet we see that this has not necessarily been the case.
I will give credit where credit is due. I know there are some things in the bill we were encouraged to see the Liberals move on. There was some strengthening of penalties for sexual assault. These are definitely important things. I will talk about that briefly. The Liberals got rid of some obsolete laws as well. There is some cleanup there.
There are some things we still have concerns about. My colleague from and other colleagues have mentioned it, but it is somewhat troubling that the Liberals would even consider the removal of section 176. This is something that is very near and dear to the hearts of a lot of my constituents in the Niagara West area. I come from an area where there are a tremendous number of churches, a number of Dutch Reform churches, but not just Dutch Reform. There are all denominations. The fact that the Liberal government would actually consider removing that just shows how out of touch the government is sometimes when it comes to some of these issues. I will get to that in a second.
I want to talk about the sexual assault piece. I want to say that I am pleased. As I said, I will give credit where credit is due. The Liberals followed our lead to strengthen the sexual assault provisions in the Criminal Code around consent, legal representation and expanding rape shield provisions. Standing up for the rights of victims of crime is something our party has always been very serious about. We are aligned with the provisions the Liberals have in this legislation in terms of strengthening those issues.
Among other things, there is a private member's bill introduced by our former Conservative leader, Rona Ambrose, Bill . This bill would make it mandatory for judges to participate in sexual assault training and ensure awareness among the judiciary, in addition to education about the challenges sexual assaults create. The bill was designed to hold the Canadian judiciary responsible for the ongoing training of judges. We were pleased to see this bill passed in the House. Now that it is in the Senate, we hope it will move it forward.
I want to talk a bit about section 176. That the government would consider removing it is certainly troubling. It is good to see that it backed away, as has been mentioned. This was the only section of the Criminal Code that directly protected the rights of individuals to freely practise their religion, whatever that religion happened to be.
In fact, section 176 was recently used, on June 9, 2017, in a criminal case here in Ottawa. It is imperative to see that interrupting a religion service is really not the same as interrupting other services. If we think about the various religions that are practised in this country, with the Sabbath maybe being on Saturday for some and on Sunday for others, the fact remains that people are there to worship. That fact that it would even be considered that they would not have the ability to do that or that it would be okay to interrupt is very troubling.
It is good to see they have backed off on this, but we are still concerned with the message the government sent to religious communities, that they are not important.
My colleague, the member for , mentioned last summer's summer jobs program, which was a concern. I had a number of churches in my riding that did great stuff. They were running day camps for disabled, helping to feed people and doing a ton of things that I thought were great in nature, just for the overall encouragement of the community. A lot of these organizations were not even considered. We will see how it works this summer. I see there have been some changes.
I really believe that churches, especially in my community, regardless of the denomination, are great community leaders. I always say we have a great community spirit in Niagara West. It has a lot to do with the people in my community of Niagara West, but also there are a number of churches that encourage volunteerism and that give back, feed the poor and do a number of these things that are all very fundamental to healthy communities.
A safer Canada is certainly a concern. It is a government's responsibility to make sure its citizens are kept safe. We see what is happening with gang violence in Canada. When we soften penalties for gang crimes and reduce them to administrative fines, we are not only doing ourselves a disservice, but there are real consequences for Canadians when gang members are being let off in our streets.
One of the things we want to do as a Conservative government is put an end to the revolving door for gang members. Now, even if someone is a known notorious gang member they are entitled to bail. We would make sure repeat gang offenders are held without bail. I think that is reasonable when we look at what gang members may do in a community, how they might terrorize a community. We would also make sure it is easier for police to target and arrest gang members.
Canada's Conservatives always put the safety and security of Canadians ahead of the interests and comfort of violent criminals. We would work hard to impose tougher federal prison sentences for the leaders who order others to do their dirty work for them.
The other thing that is important is we want to make sure we are recognizing and supporting the rights of victims over the rights of criminals. We have seen some troubling things that have happened in recent days in the country. We saw issues with Terri-Lynne McClintic and with Christopher Garnier, and the fact that Tori Stafford's killer was in a healing lodge instead of behind bars. We have seen cop killers who have not served a day in the military getting services. These are things that are all troubling, not just to us as Conservatives, but to Canadians at large. We just learned recently that Tori Stafford's father is now reporting that her co-conspirator, Michael Rafferty was transferred to a medium-security prison in March. He was just informed about this happening.
We can see some of the things we are dealing with in the country. We realize violent repeat offenders are people who probably should have a harder time getting bail if these are things they are doing on an ongoing basis.
As we look at what is going on right now in our justice system, I think there are opportunities to make sure we are looking at returning terrorists from ISIS. That is another issue. I realize I am almost out of time, but I could spend a lot of time on that. We realize that some of these individuals who have gone over purposely to kill and destroy are people we should be looking at, and making sure we are doing our job to keep them behind bars to ensure they are not a threat to society here in Canada.
In conclusion, the government is failing to protect victims of crime. The did nothing after learning of Catherine Campbell's killer receiving taxpayer funds, having never served a day in the military. We have pushed and pushed the Liberals to put Tori Stafford's killer back behind bars, and to transfer her from the healing lodge. We believe we need to continue to work to protect the rights of those who need it.