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11832

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS

[Translation]

LEGAL RECOGNITION OF SAME SEX SPOUSES

Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, BQ) moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should take the measures necessary for the legal recognition of same sex spouses.
(1745)

He said: Madam Speaker, it must be realized that major social changes require some disruption.

I thank you for calling the House to order and I want to stress how important this motion is to me and how I fully appreciate the opportunity we have in this Parliament to raise an issue which, in many countries, is the object of repression.

First of all, I would like to point out that the motion I am tabling today calls on us as members of Parliament to recognize same sex spouses. What this means is that we as members of Parliament recognize and urge the government to take the measures necessary to recognize that same sex individuals, whether two men or two women, can have a satisfactory loving and sexual relationship. On such a basis, nothing could justify legislators condoning discriminatory practices.

First of all, I wish to point out that what is to be debated in the next few minutes and hours is not the concept of family or the issue of adoption but the question of free choice for two same sex individuals who want to enjoy a relationship.

I would like to draw a comparison between feelings of love and religious feelings. I had an old theology professor who used to say about religious belief that a religious person is one who believes that mysteries exist and that we cannot apprehend the world around us in its totality for we are hindered by our conventional senses, while one who sees problems where he or she should see mysteries is not a religious but a superstitious person. I suggest that religious belief is universal and transcends denominational boundaries. Whether Catholic, Protestant, Quaker or what not, we have religious beliefs and values and this is a matter of feeling.

Love is the same kind of feeling. Whether or not this love is between two men or two women, the fact remains that what is experienced in terms of relationship is the same.

I would say that, today, we are picking up where Pierre Elliott Trudeau and John Turner left off and, with a majority vote on this motion in Parliament, we would basically be taking another step forward.

You will recall that it was John Turner and not Pierre Elliott Trudeau who, as Minister of Justice, decriminalized homosexuality through the passage of Bill C-150 in December 1968. Of course, as we recall, this was an omnibus bill which included a number of amendments relating to lotteries and abortion.

But the main thing is that, in 1968, it was recognized in a mature way, in a generous society which is no doubt even more so today, that two consenting adults, or as paragraph 149(a) of the Criminal Code put it, two persons who are both over the age of 21 can engage freely in sexual activity- provided, naturally, that they have reached the legal age, which was 21 in those days-and that they consensually agree to be in a relationship.

I think that, as a society, we are now going a further step in saying that, as a society, we will not tolerate that individuals who knowingly and willingly get into a same sex relationship should suffer economic, social or fiscal discrimination.

That is what this motion is about. I have heard all kinds of remarks and comparisons which, if I may say so, were quite misguided.

(1750)

Before getting down to the specifics, I want to say that the gay community, to which I belong, is a fine community. Our fellow citizens, as well as the gay community, must realize that a person can be gay and still be a taxpayer, a worker and a happy human being. The best way for society to integrate its various groups and make them feel comfortable is to accept their differences. It will be very interesting to see how, as we prepare for the 21st century, Canada and Quebec will be prepared to accept these differences.


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Ultimately, no one can contend, from a psychological or anthropological point of view, that homosexuality is something abnormal. In psychology, the term abnormal refers to something which is unhealthy from a psychological or physiological point of view. A person can be a homosexual or a lesbian and still be a member of the workforce, a happy human being, a conscientious worker, as well as an active member of his or her community. In fact, this is the case of most people I know.

Yet, even though several administrative tribunals, employers and provincial governments-including Ontario-have recognized same sex spouses, the fact is that, in 1995, there is still a great deal of discrimination.

In recognizing same sex spouses, we have to take a look at the scope of the current notion of spouses, which is defined strictly in heterosexist terms.

With the diligent and much appreciated help of the Library researchers, I sought to find out how many acts in Canada contain a definition of ``spouse'' in heterosexist terms, that is a definition referring to spouses of two different sexes. Madam Speaker, you will surely be surprised to learn that, for all intents and purposes, there are about 60 such acts. You have no idea of all the lines of activity concerned. I have a list here which includes the Bankruptcy Act, the Evidence Act, the Carriage by Air Act and the Excise Tax Act. Therefore, this issue does not just involve social and fringe benefits, as well as pensions. It also concerns all sorts of other rights in a vast array of sectors in our society.

We are not starting from scratch. Some progress has been made and it would be extremely dishonest on my part to claim that nothing has been done since 1968. I think the best example I could give you is the fact that 11 major Canadian cities-Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton, Waterloo, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton and that wonderful city where I am sure you would all love to spend your vacation, Vancouver-have also recognized same sex spouses.

I asked our researchers to join me and the human resources managers in each one of these municipalities in evaluating the fiscal impact on municipalities. Of course we should realize that a municipality is not a central government, and I know that is something we have to consider. It is also a fact that each of these cities signed a contract with a private insurance company for health insurance. They let an insurance company offer coverage. It is also a fact, and I think one could not expect it to be otherwise, that when these cities and municipalities recognized same sex spouses, there were no additional costs because after all, would anyone rise in this House and claim that two 30-year old lesbians have more dental appointments that a heterosexual couple? That two gays in their forties need hospital care more often than their heterosexual counterparts?

(1755)

So it is clear that recognition of same sex spouses is not a money issue, at least based on what one could reasonably expect to be the case in these municipalities, since the homosexual community, the members of that community do not differ physically from heterosexuals. I know some people said that there might be neurological or glandular or hormonal differences, but upon closer analysis, these theories did not hold water.

I hope that this debate, which is an extremely important one, will reflect what this 35th Parliament is prepared to do to enhance the equality of all Canadians and Quebecers. Once again, this is not supposed to be a debate on adoption and redefining the family, matters that Parliament would have no mandate to discuss in any case.

As a person who is a committed and militant gay, I have no hesitation in saying that two men or two women do not constitute a family. For a family, you need children. I am not saying that two men or two women would be unable to provide an environment comparable to what a heterosexual couple could offer, but that is not the point of this debate.

So this is an appeal for generosity and openness, since for the legislator, there can be no grounds for discrimination. Since homosexual couples are made up of taxpayers-a number of them are taxpayers-, they are part of the labour market and are involved in the community, there is no objective reason for allowing the discrimination to rage on.

Before concluding, I would like to provide a number of examples to illustrate how insidious it can be. Even though I am an idealist, opposed to pragmatists, discrimination is tangible and a day to day experience in the lives of the people in this community.

I have chosen this example, which concerns a number of areas of activity: unemployment insurance. Unemployment insurance is no charity. As you know, after the Conservatives opted out, unfortunately, with the Liberals following suit, unemployment insurance was no longer an assistance plan. It became an insurance plan, with workers paying for unemployment insurance, along with employers, of course.

I will give you an example. A claimant can, in certain instances, voluntarily leave his job if his or her spouse is transferred to another city. It is clear that a gay or lesbian couple appearing before an unemployment insurance officer because one partner must move to another city for job-related reasons will not enjoy the same benefits a heterosexual couple might.

Obviously, discrimination is a major concern. Such an issue concerning the Income Tax Act was of real concern to the community. In the past 10 to 15 years, social laws have tended to acknowledge common law spouses. Under most Canadian laws, you must meet the following two conditions to have your relationship recognized and to acquire the same rights as a


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married couple. You must share accommodation with the same person for at least one year and you must identify yourselves publicly as a couple.

Regarding income tax, and the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot follows all developments in this area very closely, as he is the finance critic, since 1987, the definition of the term ``spouse'' in the Income Tax Act has been the following: a person of the opposite sex living in a situation similar to that of marital union. What rights would same sex couples acquire, what would be the significance of recognizing them from an income tax point of view? It would give them the right to claim credits for dependents.

(1800)

They would also gain access to spousal RRSPs, and we all know how important RRSPs are for preparing, obviously, for retirement and old age, since governments are withdrawing from this area. I would like to take this opportunity to say first off that the gay community is a beautiful community, within which it is not unusual to see couples who have been together for 20, 25 or 30 years. I know that many people tend to think that same sex relationships, gay relationships, are short-lived, futile, superficial, but I personally can vouch for the fact, as can others, that it is not unusual to see same sex relationships last 20, 25 or 30 years.

We can safely say that the same is not always true of the heterosexual community. Of course, there are also couples that last 20, 25 or 30 years, but one must also acknowledge, in all fairness, that the same exists in the gay community. Therefore, if I may use a specific example, recognizing same sex spouses for income tax purposes would also mean they could use RRSP limits to their mutual advantage, claim a parent of their spouse as a dependent, transfer to the other spouse some unused tax credits for pension purposes, tuition fees or disability credits.

We could also talk about the Canada Pension Plan. Since 1986, it has recognized a spouse of the opposite sex that has been living with the contributor for one year or more. It means that, in the case of heterosexual couples in Canada, when one spouse has contributed to the Canada Pension Plan, at the time of death, undoubtedly a tragic event, the other is entitled to part of the pension. This is also a form of discrimination against homosexual and gay couples.

Another very obvious example is a case concerning the Old Age Security Act that is now before the Supreme Court, which is expected to hand down its decision in May, and it will be interesting to see what this decision will be. You know that, under this act, when two people live together and their total income is under a certain level, one of them can receive a guaranteed income supplement. Unfortunately, two homosexuals or two lesbians who have been living together for 10, 15 or 20 years in some cases, cannot get the guaranteed income supplement when their income is under that threshold.

We could also talk about pensions in the Canadian public service. The issue, as far as public service pensions are concerned, is that, when a heterosexual partner dies, the surviving partner is entitled to a portion of the pension. There are very concrete, commonplace examples to show clearly that same sex partners living as a couple, who freely got into this relationship, honourable citizens who are participants in the the workforce and, in most cases, want to contribute to society, are discriminated against.

This is a test for Parliament. We could choose to act as if this reality did not exist, but it does. I think that we must be driven by a feeling of generosity which should lead us ultimately to accept our differences. This motion provides us with an opportunity to discuss one difference which has been of concern to all societies. Allow me, in closing, to be optimistic about its chances of being adopted.

[English]

Mrs. Marlene Cowling (Dauphin-Swan River, Lib.): Madam Speaker, the hon. member moved that the government should take the measures necessary for the legal recognition of same sex spouses.

By legal recognition of same sex spouses I am unclear as to whether the hon. member means same sex partners should be able to register, as I understand they can in Denmark, or that benefits currently given to married and common law spouses should be extended to same sex partners.

(1805 )

Neither option is viable, given the current state of the law. Perhaps it would be a better motion had it been made in a provincial legislature rather than in the House of Commons.

The federal government has very limited jurisdiction in this area of the legal recognition of personal relationships. The Constitution divides jurisdiction in the area of family law between the provincial legislatures and the federal Parliament. The jurisdiction for marriage is divided with the provinces being responsible for the solemnization of marriage, including licensing requirements, and the federal government being responsible for the legal capacity to marry. However, as the definition of marriage clearly makes it an opposite sex concept, this constitutional power is irrelevant for the current discussion.

The Constitution also gives Parliament the power over divorce, although the province retains the power to administer the application of the Divorce Act, including division of property and support obligations. However, as marriage is irrelevant here, I am assuming the divorce power is as well, as divorce cannot apply without marriage, although I understand that


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Denmark requires same sex couples who have registered to go through the divorce legislation to deregister.

Perhaps the only relevant example I can think of is the treatment of common law spouses under provincial family law. This is a personal relationship widely recognized by law, even though it is not specifically mentioned by the Constitution, unlike marriage.

Until fairly recently historically common law spouses were not recognized by our law. The term is a misnomer in any event, as common law spouses do not actually exist in the common law or judge made law. They actually are created by statute law, not by one statute but by a very large number of statutes at both the federal and provincial levels.

In other words, unless a particular statute specifically provides that a reference to spouse will include common law relationships, they are not included for the purpose of the benefit in issue. The major statute law that recognizes common law spouses is the provincial family law statutes.

These statutes create the major legal obligations imposed on common law spouses should the relationship break down. They deal with division of property, support obligations between the former spouses and for any children. Even here the provincial law is not consistent across the country. Common law spouses are subject to different legal obligations under different provincial family law statutes across the provinces. They are not even recognized in two provinces including Quebec, the province of residence of the hon. member proposing this measure.

Common law marriage is a different concept from that of common law spouses. Common law marriage existed only in the early settlement days of Canada where a minister or a priest was often difficult to find. Although there is some speculation that the concept may still exist in the common law in Canada it would only apply in an opposite sex context.

Therefore, if provincial family law is the main source of legal obligations between spouses, it would seem more appropriate that any legal recognition of same sex partners would come first under provincial family law. As I understand it, this was primarily the way which common law relationships first gained legal recognition.

As a result of several high profile cases before the Supreme Court of Canada the courts recognized through the doctrines of unjust enrichment and constructive trust the contribution of a woman who had lived for a long period of time with a man as married, even though they had not married.

Legislative changes followed shortly thereafter, starting primarily with provincial family law and then slowly moving into the benefits field.

(1810)

This legal recognition is recent in Canadian law. The changes to the Income Tax Act to recognize common law spouses have come about in the last year or two after the majority of provincial family law statutes recognized the status. The question of whether common law spouses must be treated in the same way as married spouses in some or all circumstances is still before the Supreme Court of Canada. The Miron case was argued last fall and a decision is pending.

The only references in federal law to personal relationships either follow blood or marriage relationships, which are relatively easy to prove, or copy provincial family law definitions of common law relationships. At the federal level spouses are mostly included in legislation for the purposes of employment benefits, the government pension plans and income tax.

The concern is that if we were to extend these benefits to same sex partners at the federal level first before provincial family law extends any legal obligations it could create a situation of unfairness. Spouses, both married and common law, are currently subject to a package of legal rights and responsibilities created by a combination of federal and provincial laws.

It is because spouses are subject to legal obligations such as support obligations upon the breakdown of the relationship that they are also eligible for benefits such as survivor benefits under pension plans. It is for the provinces to extend first the obligations before we should extend benefits under federal jurisdiction.

How would we accomplish what the hon. member is asking? How would we take the measures necessary for the legal recognition of same sex spouses, even were we to agree this should be done? It is clear from the history of the recognition of common law relationships that this was not accomplished by passing a statute called the common law spouses act. Nor was this legal recognition even accomplished by the government at any level.

The fact of social change was first acknowledged by the courts in looking at unfairness and unjust enrichment between two partners who had not married. The courts felt strongly that individuals who were living together as if married and so were getting all of the advantages of being married, such as working together to afford a better lifestyle than either would have been able to live alone, should not be able to avoid taking on the obligations of married persons simply by choosing not to marry. Particularly in a situation such as that represented in the first few high profile cases, the common life wife needed the protection of the law.

However, this is a controversial enough subject with regard to opposite sex common law couples. Many common law couples continue to disagree and feel frustrated the law deems their relationship to be akin to marriage after a certain time has


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passed. Many still feel their choice not to marry should be respected by the law.

How much more of a problem will this be with same sex couples who may not be public about their relationships? Conversely, is it fair to recognize only those same sex couples who do wish to be open about their relationships? For a number of reasons this motion is premature and not feasible for the federal government to adopt without the full co-operation of the provincial legislatures.

Mrs. Sharon Hayes (Port Moody-Coquitlam, Ref.): Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Motion No. 264, a private member's motion forwarded by the member by Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

The motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take the measures necessary for the legal recognition of same sex spouses.
As chair of the Reform Party's family task force I will speak definitely in opposition to this motion for the reasons I will outline.

First let me comment on the make-up of the Canadian family. In its 1994 report on families in Canada, Statistics Canada reported that in 1991 the traditional model of the Canadian family, a husband and wife, made up 87 per cent of all families.

Members may wish to note that in 1941, 88 per cent of families consisted of a traditional husband and wife family. Therefore, it would seem there has been relatively no change in the make-up of the traditional Canadian family unit, in spite of the tremendous economic, fiscal, social, and cultural pressures it has faced over the last 50 years. This is a testimony to the resilience of the family as a social institution.

(1815)

In recent years there have been numerous efforts and suggestions to change what is commonly understood as the traditional family unit. The assumptions about the traditional family unit are being challenged by courts, interest groups, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies.

Often the judicial system has been used by interest groups and individuals to pursue issues that do not have broad based support with Canadians, and this is such a case in point. Presently the Supreme Court is considering a case, Egan and Nesbit v. The Queen, which would redefine the term spouse and therefore the related concepts of family and marriage. Another case is in Ontario, Leshner v. Ontario, where the court actually ordered the Ontario government to give same sex couples pension benefits, even though the federal Income Tax Act does not permit registered pension plans to provide for same sex spouses.

Another example of this trend outside of law is the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In its recent annual report, as it has recommended every year since 1979, it has proposed the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act as a prohibited ground of discrimination. If enacted this would provide a legal basis for challenges to redefine spouse, marriage, and family.

The Minister of Justice, ignoring what I feel is the voice of real Canadians, has listened to these other voices and has committed himself to this goal.

I could go on to mention the ultra-feminist and lesbian representation sent as the Canadian delegation to the preparatory conference for the upcoming Beijing conference and their proposal supporting the removal of alleged barriers due to sexual orientation.

In contrast to this, the Reform Party has long recognized the importance of family to the stability and prosperity of our society. Principle six of our party states: ``We affirm the value and dignity of the individual person and the importance of strengthening and protecting the family unit as essential to the well-being of individuals and society''.

To date the Reform Party is the only political party to have defined family. Our family task force, which I chair, has researched and developed a policy on the definition of family. We define family in the following way: ``Those individuals related by the ties of blood, marriage, or adoption. Marriage is a union between a man and a woman as recognized by the state''.

This is the traditional family unit, which is the fundamental building block of our society. I believe it is the best social institution for the cultivation and protection of values and culture in our society, for the raising of our children and the nurturing and provision of the care of all family members.

This having been said, the Reform Party reaffirms the traditional definition of the family and opposes any efforts to redefine it.

These efforts and challenges have been made in spite of the well entrenched views of grassroots Canadians. In June 1994 a Maclean's-CTV-Angus Reid poll found that 68 per cent of Canadians believed that the best type of family in which to raise children has two heterosexual parents.

Over 600 petitions have been tabled in this House, with over 70,000 signatures from grassroots Canadians stating their opposition to the extension of benefits to same sex couples and the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Contrary to the expressed will of so many Canadians, this motion is another example of the efforts under way to redefine


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the Canadian family. The motion calls upon the House of Commons and the federal government to take measures necessary for the legal recognition of same sex spouses.

What is legal recognition? It is undefined in the motion. What would it mean and what issues would it raise? Would legal recognition automatically result in benefits to same sex partners? Would legal recognition mean that same sex partners could be married? Would it mean that homosexual couples could adopt children? What and how many federal and provincial statutes would have to be amended?

The legal recognition of same sex spouses would ultimately entail the revision of many federal and provincial statutes, particularly those that relate to the tax law that defines spouse, marriage, and family. Our research has indicated that up to 40 federal statutes would have to be amended if this recognition were to occur.

(1820 )

Provincially, in Ontario the word spouse is contained in over 80 provincial laws and statutes. Presently, marriage between individuals of the same sex is not permitted in Canada.

Adoption of children, although a provincial matter, is a question our society will have to deal with. Last year, Bill 167 in Ontario, which would have allowed for adoption by same sex couples, was defeated, largely in response to a huge public outcry. In June 1994, a Maclean's-CTV-Angus Reid poll found that 67 per cent of Canadians oppose giving homosexual couples the same legal status as mothers and fathers.

There is another question. Would this motion strengthen arguments in favour of the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act? Clearly it would.

Again, a majority of grassroots Canadians do not support the proposed amendment to the act by the justice minister. The minister's proposed amendment is in so much trouble that he has publicly asked the homosexual community to support his efforts ``to keep a prod on the government to move forward on these matters'', in spite of opposition from Canadians, opposition in this House, and opposition in his own caucus.

I would like to conclude. This motion, if passed, like all other approved private members' motions, would express an opinion of this House. This motion is a votable motion and thus would be a clear and distinct expression of the opinion of this House. The expression of this opinion would send a moral signal and provide a moral direction for our society on this particular issue, which flies in the face of the expressed will of Canadians.

This House faces a choice. Which path will we choose for the future of our society, our families and our children? I say that this House should choose a path that has guided this country and many others and has provided stability to our society.

Therefore, I oppose this motion and call upon my colleagues on all sides of the House to vote in favour rather of the traditional Canadian family and against this motion.

[Translation]

Mr. Dan McTeague (Ontario, Lib.): Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to make a few comments on the motion put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, who is committed to a very big issue: the legal recognition of same sex spouses.

[English]

This issue certainly has a number of moral and historical implications. This is not the first time this House has treated this issue. Yet it is an issue that from time to time will come back. I am sure the pending Bill C-41 and other bills being proposed by the Minister of Justice-or suggested in terms of changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act-will certainly have an impact on the future of this particular issue.

We also know the Canadian Human Rights Commissioner has been a strong advocate and has on many occasions shown to the government and Parliament that it must act in this area.

My interest today is to talk about the real implications of the hon. member's motion. We know that in Canada there is a very strong sense of the traditional family, with opposite sexes. Family status in law involves a couple comprised of a husband and a wife, and possibly children. Lately that definition has changed to also include non-married families or common law couples.

My concern with this particular motion is its implications in Canada. One of the most critical things that has not been touched by my honourable colleague and other members in this House is the direct cost impact that such an undertaking would have in terms of the federal treasury. These are very difficult times, and we are asking the taxpayers to fund the benefits accruing from the same sex relationships.

Probably a more important side to this is how one defines the question of same sex benefits or spousal benefits. We are not necessarily talking about people of similar sex. We are really talking about the possibility-as is the case in many ridings, including I am sure the riding of the hon. member-that a grandfather and a grandson who are of the same sex and live in the same household would be effectively left out because we have not really defined what we mean by same sex benefits. Presumably, I know the intention. It is very clear what the hon. member is seeking. However, it does not include the important case of people who are not together for sexual reasons.


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(1825 )

As we know, the federal court has already dealt with the issue of same sex benefits. In 1991 it ruled that the federal approach has not been established and has not demonstrated discrimination per se. That ruling was again upheld in 1993 by a two to one vote. It was found at the time that the law does not discriminate against gay men or lesbians because there are many other couples who live together who are ineligible for the same benefits.

My concern is that we have to be very careful about what this legislation really means. As a member of Parliament from Ontario, I am only too familiar with what happens when a government, through a motion presented by a member of Parliament, or Parliament considers a motion that has not been thoroughly discussed or debated by the vast majority of Canadians.

We are asking Canadians to undertake a major financial hit here. It is incumbent upon this Parliament to also examine the cost attached to such an initiative.

This no doubt raises a number of moral and political implications for all members of Parliament. The traditional role of a member of Parliament is to be advised, to consult and to hear from constituents, and not act as a court in a situation.

We know this issue is before the Supreme Court of Canada under the Egan and Nesbit case, the same individuals who had appeared before the federal court. Many of us are familiar with the proceedings, and some of us might cynically suggest that the crown in this case put forth a rather weak argument in defence of the status quo. I find that very interesting. However, I am speaking with liberty in the House of Commons on that issue.

I think we want to make sure that we do not confuse legal rights to protect against discrimination. We do not want to be seen as invalidating equal rights. We want to be seen as not promoting a certain lifestyle that is conducted in a way whereby people have to spend more money to approve of somebody's activity.

The comments made by the hon. member when he alluded to John Turner in 1969 and to the Rt. Hon. Pierre Trudeau in reference to the state not having any business in the bedrooms of the nation is one issue. We as Liberals recognize that what people do in their own private affairs is fine, but there is a difference between tolerance and equality and promoting that on the streets. I think there is a quantum leap in terms of the philosophy of government.

Of course this is not the first time Parliament has been seized of this issue. It is a very complicated issue, and if as members of Parliament we are going to debate the various relative impacts of what my honourable colleague is suggesting, we must first and foremost ensure that Canadian people are adequately and thoroughly canvassed on the issue. We cannot have legislation, motions, or private members' bills introduced by stealth. This is a very important matter of fundamental public policy.

As my honourable colleague for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve has suggested, this is a matter that has gone on for a considerable amount of time. It is a matter that Parliament has not addressed up until this time. Perhaps one reason it has not addressed the issue in the past is because it did not consult with the very people it is supposed to represent.

My concern also is with the whole notion of whether or not, as a society, we are effectively capable of defining what a spouse is. The spouse issue is very important, because of course it relates to the possibility of different interpretations. We do not know exactly what the term spouse is really trying to achieve in this bill.

My view of a spouse is very simple. A spouse happens to be a male and female who happen to come together for whatever reasons, as the hon. member suggested, for amorous reasons, and whose fruit, the product of that love, may ultimately produce a family.

We should not be playing with words here. We should try to find some kind of definition or interpretation that really relates to common usage and what the common person on the street would accept as the term spouse.

(1830 )

If two people who happen to be homosexual wish to live together, that is fine. I do not think anyone in this House objects to that. It really is up to them. The concern we have is where the society or state moves from saying that is great and fine, they are free to do what they want, section 15 of the charter of rights and freedoms covers them sufficiently, to saying that now we should in some way promote, benefit or provide some kind of support for that activity.

Many members from the homosexual community will make the argument that it is a question of cost, that they are paying for someone else's benefits. I am wondering if those who have spoken on this matter as homosexuals have consulted and canvassed their own constituency which would suggest that some of their members are not prepared to accept the benefits. Some people would be uncomfortable with accepting those benefits.

We have a situation that is not addressed well in this motion, although it is understandable. Benjamin Disraeli put it very well that when estimating the accuracy of a political opinion one should first of all take into account the standing of the opinionist. My hon. colleague has very good standing not only in this House but also in the community on the issue which the member is advocating.

We must also make sure that Canadians as a whole are involved in this and that the traditional family or the term family is not itself compromised.


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I am the member of Parliament for one of the most populous ridings in this country. I have seen an Ontario colleague at the provincial level debate this issue without popular consent. It seems to me we may be trying to do in this House or through weak arguments before the Supreme Court of Canada that which we cannot do enough to convince the Canadian people that this is an issue that is well worthwhile.

Everyone is equal before and under the law and has equal treatment and equal protection and derives benefits from that protection. I do not believe this House should be in a position of making a moral decision as to what is right and what is wrong. I do however believe that when it comes to the term family there is very little room for compromise.

We must look at the cost. We must look at the implications. We must make sure that above all we are making legislation which reflects accurately the opinion, judgment and sentiments of those people we represent.

While I compliment the member of Parliament for his courage in bringing this forward, I will not support this motion.

[Translation]

Mrs. Suzanne Tremblay (Rimouski-Témiscouata, BQ): Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion put forward in the House by my colleague, the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, seeking the legal recognition of same sex spouses.

I want first of all to stress that this motion does not seek at all, as some would believe or might want to make us believe, to promote same sex relationships as the ideal way of life that every Canadian man and woman should adopt. This motion only seeks to recognize something that already exists in our society. Quite obviously, there are homosexuals in our society.

Homosexuals lead the same kind of life we do. Just like other Canadians, they have a job and sometimes live with a spouse. Just like other workers, they get fringe benefits to which their spouse could be entitled.

This motion recommends that homosexuals get the same rights as heterosexuals. I think it is about time Canada moved with the times and stopped discriminating against homosexuals.

Both at the provincial level and in collective agreements of federal public servants, precedents are building up to the effect that fringe benefits should be granted to same sex spouses. All existing federal statutes that are discriminatory in nature will eventually be challenged in court with a very good chance of success. Over the past few years, an increasing number of organizations, private companies and government administrations have come to offer the same benefits to same sex couples and opposite sex couples, in order to respect the principles of equity and non-discrimination.

This acknowledgement should not be seen as a threat. What we give to others will not lessen our entitlements. And this will not prevent anyone from choosing a more conventional, traditional lifestyle or from being heterosexual.

(1835)

Furthermore, I must say that same sex couples should be entitled to benefits. It is not a privilege but a right, a right for which they have already paid. In the current state of things, employees who have contributed for years to health, sickness and life insurance plans or to pension plans cannot transfer their entitlements to their same sex spouses.

This could lead to situations where, for example, a homosexual employee living with the same person for 20 years could not share his benefits with this person, whereas one of his coworkers, a heterosexual, could share his benefits with someone he had been with only since the day before.

I repeat, this is not a matter of granting special rights but of not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. People who are more or less well intentioned will want to hide their intolerance behind financial objections. These people will claim that measures providing the same benefits for same sex partners will cost too much, just as they did when it involved obtaining the same benefits for working women.

I want to talk about the low cost of these measures. Several private businesses, organizations and governments asked actuary firms to estimate the cost of measures they intended to take respecting same sex couples.

For example, at The Globe and Mail, out of 700 employees, only a dozen took advantage of the program, while at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, less than 1 per cent of the employees took advantage of the program and at Northern Telecom, which has more than 20 000 employees in Canada, the company said: ``We do not expect this to represent a lot of money''. William Mercer, an actuary firm, said: ``The changes requested will probably represent less than 0.5 per cent of the total payroll of the company''.

Another interesting example is that of the City of Montreal, which, since 1989, has treated all its employees on the same basis, whatever their sexual orientation or the sex of their spouse. Only 10 of the 8,000 City of Montreal employees have registered spouses of the same sex. Because of the actuarial nature of its benefit plans, the City of Montreal would incur no immediately identifiable costs by introducing this policy.

Given the small percentage of homosexual people in Canadian society, the smaller percentage of gay people living in a common-law relationship and the even smaller percentage of


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gay people living in a common law relationship who would claim spousal benefits, the experts surveyed agree that costs would only go up by 0.5 to 1.5 per cent, depending on the various benefits being considered.

According to two recent surveys conducted by SOM in Quebec and Angus-Reid across Canada, 73 per cent of Quebecers feel that homosexual couples should be entitled to the same benefits as those enjoyed by heterosexual couples. In Canada, the percentage is lower but still represents a majority. Indeed, 54 per cent of Canadians feel that, except for the right to adopt children, same sex couples should enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples.

According to another poll, 70 per cent of Canadians would support legislation prohibiting any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation. These figures confirm that Canadians are increasingly aware that we should all enjoy the same rights. I do hope that this House will not be more conservative than the population which it serves.

I will conclude by pointing out that, on March 18, 1994, the Minister of Justice provided the following answer to my colleague and friend, the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve: ``Mr. Speaker, in its campaign for office, in its throne speech and in statements made subsequently in the House, the government has committed itself to amendments to the Human Rights Act which will add sexual orientation as a ground on which discrimination is prohibited. We intend to follow through on that commitment''.

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I ask only one thing, that the Minister of Justice make good on his promise to end discrimination against homosexuals and start by supporting, with me, the motion tabled by the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

[English]

Mr. Ken Epp (Elk Island, Ref.): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter into the debate on the motion that the government should take the necessary measures for the legal recognition of same sex spouses.

It is the role of Parliament to give leadership in providing the rules and laws that reflect the needs, wishes and aspirations of Canadians. In a democracy it is important for us to represent the views of the majority. If we did that carefully we would most likely end up with the best proportion of good laws for the benefit of all the people in this magnificent country.

I was elected to represent the will of the people who elected me in Elk Island. One could perhaps argue there is such a thing as the tyranny of the majority. However, in a well educated, well informed society such as ours if there is a really good idea, one that bears recognition, there should be absolutely no difficulty in gaining the majority consent for that.

I think of many different examples. We have rules of taxation. There was a big hue and cry when the GST was introduced and the majority of Canadians objected to it.

The Liberal Party ran on the platform of eliminating the GST because subsequently it found the majority of the people were against this and it was not a good tax. We are still waiting for that to happen.

In the context of this bill I find an overwhelming degree of support for the maintenance and development of the traditional family. I share what probably most MPs share in the receipt of letters and petitions given to us that by far the majority, an overwhelming number, indicate they would prefer not to recognize same sex relationships. They do not want to include homosexuality as part of the fabric of our society.

This could be viewed as the tyranny of the majority but we should look at it as a very clear and strong understanding of what is best. I say this with all due regard to those who think the other way.

With all due regard to my hon. colleague moving the motion today, I understand what he is saying but I want to very clearly communicate that we do not in any way wish him or other people who have the sexual orientation which he has admitted to any ill. We really do not.

We need to ask seriously the question whether this is best.

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The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu): The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

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