The Canadian Charter - Now you see it, now you don't

 

 

 

 

Link to "The Charter - Its Impact"

 

 

 

Taking shots at the Supreme Court of Canada - Our Charter under attack (Photo of the Supreme Court of Canada Building by Philippe Landreville, courtesy of the SCC)

 

 

 

"We are at a historic moment in time. We have the opportunity to challenge our simple assumptions and beliefs and do what is right in terms of equality."
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, Sept. 16, 2003

 

 

 

Parliament rejects motion to maintain marriage discrimination - 132 to 137

 

 

 

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"At stake is more than whether same-sex couples have the right to celebrate their relationships through marriage. At stake are the very values that define us as Canadians ... Yes, Canadian values are under threat -- but not by same-sex couples, who simply seek equal access to the basic social institutions that heterosexual Canadians take for granted."
Senator Lois Wilson, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 16, 2003

 

 

 

 

 

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Advocacy News

September 15, 2003

Our Charter Rights Under Attack Again
Threatened by the notwithstanding clause

"This resolution calls in reality for use of the notwithstanding clause. That is something that we, promoters of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, never use - the notwithstanding clause."
Jean Chretien, Prime Minister, Canadian Press, Sept. 15, 2003


A Canadian Alliance party motion will be presented in Parliament on Tuesday for vote by the Members. The motion, presented by leader Stephen Harper, states:

"That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to reaffirm that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada."

The motion is particularly offensive because of its intention to strip gay and lesbian couples of their Charter rights and freedoms, if necessary, in order to maintain marriage apartheid. A perilous provision of the Charter, known as the notwithstanding clause, enables Parliament to over-ride Charter protections for a period of 5 years.

The Alliance Party's attempt to clobber gays with this clause will begin on Sept. 16, at 10:00 a.m. and will continue until the vote on the motion, scheduled for approximately 5:30 p.m.

A similar motion was introduced in 1999, which passed with a vote of 216-55. Subsequent court cases and public debate have had an influence on MPs, and indicators reveal a closer split on equal marriage in Parliament. Some M.P.'s, however, have been more willing to voice homophobic or anti-gay statements, backed by the support of the Vatican, and other well-funded groups.

Regardless of outcome, a spokesperson for the Justice Minister told Reuters (Sept. 15), "The cabinet has embarked on a process. We'll continue that process. It's an important question of equality and protection of minority rights."

Meanwhile, same-sex couples continue to be issued marriage licenses as they make plans for their wedding day. Unfortunately, they still have extra worries as they wonder how long their equality guarantees will be honoured.

"Can someone clarify the effects if the government was forced to use the "notwithstanding clause" in Ontario?" wrote Sheila, one of today's website visitors. "I have obtained my marriage license but only plan to marry on September 27. Will my license still be accepted?"

Yes, if a same-sex couple has a validated marriage license the marriage can be conducted by a licensed official, and the Province of Ontario is obligated to register the marriage.

The rights now fully enjoyed in Ontario and British Columbia will not be easily or quickly taken away. But we urge everyone to write or call their local member of parliament in support of equal marriage. We all must remain vigilant to ensure that The Canadian Charter protects all citizens without prejudice.


September 17, 2003

132 to 137
Attack on human rights defeated - more work ahead

"I have to say that it was far too close - it should have never been this close. Where has Paul Martin been on this issue of fundamental equality and respect for the Charter of Rights? He's been totally invisible and it would never have been this close if Martin had shown some leadership."
M.P. Svend Robinson, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 17, 2003

"Ottawa is showing admirable leadership in its drive to enshrine in law the right of same-sex couples to marry. Rather than scoring quick political points, Harper and Alliance simply reinforced their image as narrow-minded."
Editorial, The Toronto Star, Sept. 17, 2003


Four years ago, the Alliance party's predecessor, the Reform Party, sponsored a motion in Parliament, that excluded gays and lesbians from marriage.

"Shamefully," an editorial in yesterday's Globe and Mail said, "most Liberals, including the justice minister of the day, Anne McLellan, voted for that motion, which passed 216-55, and they are now being asked to face up to their weak-kneed decision of that day. It was the worst sort of short-term thinking, a way of placating Canadians frightened about where things were heading that the gay-rights revolution stops here."

Yesterday, a similar motion by the Alliance party failed to achieve the necessary support from parliament in a close vote of 132 for and 137 against the motion.

Speaking in favour of discrimination against gays and lesbians, Alliance leader Stephen Harper said that the June 10 decision by that Court of Appeal for Ontario that changed the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples was "Wrong in law, universally insulting, dangerous as far as The Best Deals on News Magazinesrights are concerned."

Harper scorned the term "sexual orientation", saying that "sexual behaviour" was a more appropriate term, and he rejected the notion that anti-gay beliefs were similar to racist beliefs or bigotry. Other proponents of the motion's gay bashing team portrayed same-sex marriage as a gateway to incest.

Justice Minister Cauchon spoke passionately, as a leader must, in defending equal marriage. He shared his own personal journey of change, one that many Canadians are now undergoing, as more information and thought led him, and apparently many others to change their position from the one they held in 1999.

"I believe it is about equality, dignity and respect for all Canadians," said Cauchon. "We are at a historic moment in time. We have the opportunity to challenge our simple assumptions and beliefs and do what is right in terms of equality."

The Justice Minister spoke in a heartfelt, yet forceful manner, walking the talk in a way that too few leaders have been willing to do. He was the only Liberal cabinet member to speak, surrounded by the empty chairs of his colleagues, most of whom only came in the House to vote. Most notably, the Prime Minister did not rise to defend equal marriage, except to vote against the Alliance motion.

Paul Martin remained vague. Although he voted against the motion, Martin still talked about alternatives to equal marriage as if there really were viable alternatives to equal marriage. His continued hesitation no doubt related, at least in part, to the more than 50 Liberals who voted for the Alliance motion.

Our own Member of Parliament, Dennis Mills, was not present for the vote. Mills has previously said he is against same-sex marriage, but he has also promised us that he would never use the notwithstanding clause of the Charter to defend his position. Thus his absence in Parliament, we assume, as the M.P. kept his word.

Quebec continues to be a champion of equality, in opposition to the Catholic Church that once dominated that province: 62 out of 75 Quebec MPs rejected the Alliance motion.

Of the motion's tally in votes, Mr. Harper said, "If it does not pass today, if it is defeated, it will tell the people of Canada they need a new government."

Or perhaps the motion's defeat tells the people they already have a renewed government: one that has been informed and changed by the eventful years since 1999.

Today was another step towards bringing the equality now enjoyed in Ontario and British Columbia to the rest of Canadians. We thank the 137 members of parliament who voted against the Alliance motion. Progress has been made, but as the closeness of the vote revealed, there is still much work to be done, and letters to be written, before Parliament votes on legislation that catches up to the new common law definition of marriage. Until then, Canadians still live under a regime of unequal treatment.

Read the complete debate and review the vote - Parliament's Hansard


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