Advocacy News - Stephen Harper tries to divide Canadians
December 6, 2006
Stephen Harper tries
to divide Canadians
By Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell
Stephen Harper and his Conservative minority government insulted Canada's constitutional democracy today when it pandered to extremist Kristian fundamentalists by challenging the Charter rights of gays and lesbians, again.
The Conservatives introduced a motion in Parliament attacking equal marriage for same-sex couples. This shameful action by the minority Government of Canada is fuelled by American-inspired Evangelicals, Vatican mouth-pieces like the Canadian Catholic Bishops of Bigotry, and others who have repeatedly conspired to break down the separation of church and state.
The actual motion reads: "That this House call on the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages."
The divisive Conservative motion to reopen a debate on gay marriage shows the contempt that the Conservatives, like their masters in the U.S. Republican Party, have for minority rights. Fortunately, our Members of Parliament are limited in their powers, precisely in case someone like Harper is in the House.
Marriage equality is secure in Canada, unless a Prime Minister invokes the notwithstanding clause in our Constitution, overriding a Charter right. And even then, the process would have to be repeated every five years in order to maintain a prohibition against gays and lesbians.
Even MPs who previously voted against equal marriage for same-sex couples call this motion "political trickery" (Paul Zed, CanWest News Service, December 6, 2006) and "hollow" (Paul Szabo, CBC, December 6, 2006).
The motion has no chance of moving forward. The Conservatives would face a fight with the courts, and with the provinces. We did not allow ourselves to be taken away from the happiness of married life, and back to the barricades, because of this motion. The battle for marriage equality has been won and over for a long time now. But that hasn't meant that this action by Harper is painless and without consequence for gays and lesbians, their families, and friends everywhere.
Today Mr. Harper took the first step towards attacking a minority group's rights, no matter that he fell on his face. He, or others like him, could be vile enough to try it again, and again.
"Mr. Harper is prepared to spit in the faces of those future gay couples who long for the recognition, status and mutual obligations that marriage brings -- not civil union, not marriage by some other name, but the marriage that has brought men and women together for centuries," an editorial in today's Globe and Mail said.
"Indeed," the Toronto Star wrote yesterday, in another editorial, "it is difficult to imagine Parliament seriously questioning the constitutional right of women, visible minorities or the disabled to be treated equally under the law. The hard-won right of gays and lesbians to marry, which has been affirmed by courts across the country and by Parliament itself last year, should be given the same respect. Nevertheless, Harper is pressing on to score political points with hard-core supporters. The unfortunate victims are gays and lesbians, who once again face the unsettling prospect of their constitutional rights being up for debate."
Where does the official opposition, the Liberal Party, stand on the motion? Well that depends when you ask. When newly minted Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion was running for leadership last week he claimed, along with all other candidates except Joe Volpe, that he would whip the vote, forcing all liberals to respect the Charter (Canadian Press, December 3, 3006).
This week, after his election, Dion's firm commitment to the whip is, well, less firmly in hand.
"If we have a party vote, he'll say that I muzzled my MPs and that if I had let them vote freely the motion would have passed," Dion said of Harper(Canadian Press, December 6, 2006). "Maybe from a strategic point of view, it would be better to have a free vote."
"They [Conservatives] are generally against it, and we could prove it with a free vote. If it is a whipped vote, we can't prove it as much, but at the same time with a whipped vote we can show that we want nothing to do with calling into question the Charter." (Dion, The Gazette, December 6, 2006)
"If we were at the second step [of legislation] it would be a whipped vote, right away," Dion said of the new line in the sand (Globe and Mail, December 6, 2006). "Since it's a first step . . . if we go with a whipped vote, [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] may say that I muzzled my MPs and that he will try again to make sure that next time they will be free. If we go with a free vote, we will demonstrate that we Liberals in the overwhelming majority don't want this kind of a reopenness."
The reality is more likely that the new Liberal leader is unwilling to pay the price necessary to demonstrate that his party walks the talk on Charter rights. Even if all Liberals voluntarily vote against this motion, it sends a message that Charter rights are subject to a vote.
Rights should never be subject to a free vote in the party that gave us Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is why we wore Trudeau's trademark red rose in our wedding suit lapels, on January 14, 2001, when we married and set out to win legal recognition. We knew we had the commitment of Canada's Charter in hand. We still do.
Increasingly, even our opponents are at last coming to recognize this, even if Harper will not.
Liberal MP Roger Cuzner said he and "most" of the other Liberal MPs who voted against the same-sex marriage bill will oppose the Tory motion, whip or not.
"If we open this, do you open abortion and capital punishment?" Mr. Cuzner asked. "It's been dealt with." (Globe and Mail, December 6, 2006)