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Quebec Justice Minister
Paul Begin





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The Civil Union Bill Hearings in Montreal
February 2002

February 21, 2002


Quebec Justice Minister recommends equality

Quebec Justice Minister Bégin closed the parliamentary hearings on civil union today with some clear pronouncements on what he will recommend to the government.

Among other things the minister will recommend:

1) the label "partner" is gone and in future there will be three terms for conjugal union in the Quebec Civil Code:

  • conjoints unis en mariage,
  • conjoints en union civil,
  • conjoints de fait (this a weak version of common law spouses).

Essentially, the key word for conjugality will be "conjoint" followed by the form of that union.

2) civil union will be open to heterosexual and homosexual couples

3) the articles concerning adoption will be clarified to include equal treatment for same-sex couples, with the focus on the child's needs, of course.

4) "filiation" rules in the civil code will be reviewed to make them equitable ("filiation" is the legal relating of child to parents in civil law).

5) Article 365, the Québec marriage law, will be revised to replace "between a man and woman" to "between two persons". But the Minister pointed out that this is symbolic since the qualifications for marriage is federal jurisdiction.

6) Article 15 in the Code which deals with consent to treatment for people who are not apt to consent will be revised to include the various forms of "conjoint" at the first level of authority (previously it was spouse, family, concerned individuals, ie. unmarried "conjoints" were after the blood family--now married spouses, unioned conjoints, and conjoint de fait will be in first place.

I have been told, but I did not find it in the text, that our request for a sunset clause was not included in the recommendations but that the situation would be reviewed in 5 years.

According to the Minister, he was deeply moved by the testimony (particularly of the lesbian mothers and of the adults who were raised in same-sex households). He was delighted by the practical suggestions offered by the 50+ memoranda. He summarized the opposition's position in a few lines with little comment and then went on at great length about the existing research that indicates that children raised by same-sex couples are equal in every sense to those raised by heterosexual couples. He even repeated the results of the American Academy of Pediatriacs latest announcement.

In general, it seems like the whole exercise was a success for the homosexual community in Québec and equal treatment, if not equal status, (ie. equal choices and the dignity that issues from this, is just around the corner.)

In brief, they say they are going to do the best they can within their jurisdiciton and that before June 24th (as promised originally).

M. Hendricks

February 8th 2002


Judge re-opens the Equal Marriage case in Québec

On Friday Feb 8, 2002, Madame Justice Louise Lemelin sent out an order to re-open our hearings so that the possible impact of civil union on the remedies requested can be discussed. And she wants to look at the other materials submitted or mentioned by our lawyers: the transcript of the press conference by the Québec Minister of Justice where he says that Québec would have given us marriage if it had the jurisdiction (he continues to say this regularly in the Parlimentary hearings on civil union), and (we think) the Law Commission Report which has come out since the hearings in November.

M. Hendricks and R. LeBoeuf

February 7th 2002


Day Two In Montreal

We started yesterday, Wednesday the 6th of February, with the press conference with Réal Ménard. Réal was excellent---he has read the Law Commission Report thoroughly and, while polite, he was direct in his message to the Minister. What luck! The Parliamentary Channel showed up and covered it with interviews so [Justice Minister] Mr. Cauchon cannot miss it!

We were particularly pleased with Deputy Ménard's re-centering the debate in Québec on the federal marriage issue. The papers and TV here are full of "civil union" and stories of lesbian co-motherhood. The people who appeared at the Commission hearings in Québec said that the minister is definitely talking the talk, very positive towards partentality issues. We suspect that Civil Union will be marriage for homo couples in everything but the name but they cannot call it marriage. The minister seems positive to a sundown clause --- it was discussed again yesterday at the Commission. This could all shape up into a very nice "distinct society" argument, which just might be more motivating for the Liberal Party than equality, we suspect (and, really, none of us had anything to do with that particular and strange spin). Anyway, René and I feel that the issues at the provincial level are more or less resolved in real terms (if not legal terms). Now onto the federal barricades!

Our lawyers informed us (last night) that our judge is expressing interest in possibly re-opening the hearings to hear arguments on the Law Commission report as evidence. (It seems the AGC opposes this, which is a good sign). This means more expense for us. But it will be good for the cause if Goldwater, Dubé can pull it off because it puts "Beyond Conjugality" on the Supremes' reading list (hopefully).

M. Hendricks and R. LeBoeuf
(very tired candidates for civil marriage)

February 6th 2002


A summary of Day One of the hearings
- by Michael Hendricks

We were the forth group to be heard. Groups 1 and group 2 (The Coalition) went in the morning and they had various suggestions to make on how to improve the White Paper. Group 3 is a house organ for the PQ so they were (supposedly) very favourable to the proposition (heck, they participated in writing it or so we are told).

As I told you, our memorandum was legal-technico about the details of the Civil Code and asked questions more than it commented: What do you mean by this or that, if you have to go to court to seperate when there are shared children issuing from the union, where do these kids come from? etc.

I was alone with Professor Ann Robinson (our juridical advisor) who wrote the memorandum. We introduced ourselves, then Ann read a seven-minute summary of our memorandum and then we had 38 minutes of questions.

Ann pointed out that "filiation", the relationship of children to their
parents, is covered in the Civil Code and should apply to homo couples if we read the Civil Code correctly (see articles 539 and 540 for artificial insemination and 555 for "special adoption", ie when a spouse (married or common law) wants to adopt the other spouse's child from a previous relationship). The Minister asked if it would not be more helpful if the Legislature made it clear that these articles do apply to "unioned" couples. Ann said: "Of course". The Minister said he thought so too.

There were many detailed legal questions, and the Minister displayed a striking knowledge of the detailed parts of the Civil Code concerning filiation. (The head of the Ministry's "law writing" unit was there too and he came to me before the session and said he appreciated our memorandum very much calling it technically sound.)

The opposition, the Liberals, asked very pointed questions about how Ann had described the rules of filiation as "social conventions" giving her a chance to illustrate how heterosexist society defines things in the mirror of their experience and not ours. (They asked for the definition of "heterosexist" too.)

At the end, the Minister came over and said that was all very good, he would need two weeks of hearings and would put together the law in the following two weeks and start the process. He was particularly nice to me.

Our approach to the Civil Union proposition has been to go for including a clear statement on parenting and to work the rest out later. In our text, we also carefully re-iterated the Minister's own words that, if marriage were possible for a province to grant, the government would grant it. He did not object (or even comment) so, as the saying goes, silence is consent.

February 5th, 2002


Parlimentary Commission hearings on the
Civil Union White Paper start.

From our side, there are around 50 memoranda being presented by the groups who are members of the Coalition for Same-Sex Couples, labour unions, small gay and lesbian community groups, the Québec Women's Federation, individuals from our community, and even some children (now adults) who were raised by gay men or lesbians. In addition, there are 3 or 4 from the religious right, as well as prominent lawyers and notraries, the Québec Mental Health
Association (supporting), the Human Rights Commission (supporting) and some others not yet announced. The schedule for 3 days this week is known Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 35 memoranda will be heard by a Ministerial
Committee composed of the PQ and the PLQ. (Groups get 45 minutes, individuals 30 minutes.)

The presenters from our side all agree that the civil union proposition is long overdue and will give us in Québec some of the responsibilities and benefits that most common law provinces already extend via common law status as well as a public ceremony for the union itself. They also all agree that
the present proposition does not go far enough in codifying parentality for homosexual couples. Divergences start around the fact that civil union is open to homosexual couples only (though the vast majority address this question as "ghettoisation" and oppose it). More or less all call for
Québec to support the marriage battle at the federal level; some call on the government to phase out civil union once the marriage battle is won (a "sunset clause" is suggested by a few).

Not only is this the longest, most broad public discussion of homosexual equality in the history of the Québec government, it will be shown on the parliamentary channel (highlights in the evening, we think--- we do not know
if it will be shown all day).

(Note: we did organise a 7 day public audience before the Human Rights Commission in 1993 but that was about "violence and discrimination done to gays and lesbians" and not about legal equality---and it was not in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.)

These hearings are probably going to turn into a media fest, with lots of press conferences, specials, etc. The Coalition is trying to use the hearings as a launching pad for an open discussion of gay and lesbian parenting; René and I think they will succeed. The lesbian mothers who will testify (about 12 so far scheduled) are gems---very convincing,
articulate people with interesting tales to tell. (Incidentally, we, the Coalition for Marriage, speak tomorrow, Feb 5, at 2:15.)

All of this tends, however, to put the focus on the famous "effects of marriage" which is provincial jurisdiction. So, Réal Ménard (Bloc québécois deputy in Ottawa) is doing a press conference, with René and me present, on Wednesday morning to discuss the Canadian Law Commission report about conjugal relationships, highlighting Chapter 4 and recommendation 33. We will be joined by 2 Montréal city counselors, announcing that one of the local counsels is supporting equal marriage. On top of that, a letter of support for equal marriage from Gilles Duceppe (leader of the Bloc) will be read. The object of this press conference is to get the focus back on the federal arena where marriage (and full legal and social equality) is the subject (and not the effects of marriage). Deputy Ménard will call on the new Minister of Justice to respond to the Law Commission report,
specifically Chapter 4.

Best to you all,

Michael and René