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Mr. John Fisher
May 8, 1997
Dear Mr. Fisher:
Thank you for writing and sharing with me issues of concern to your membership. Enclosed is a copy of the Liberal Party’s election platform, Securing our Future Together. This document sets out in detail the Liberal Party’s action plan for the next mandate. In response to the points raised in your questionnaire, I would like to make the following comments.
The Liberal Party of Canada opposes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1996, the Liberal government amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of "sexual orientation" bringing the act into conformity with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the government’s commitment to fundamental fairness. This amendment achieved three important objectives. First, the Liberal government fulfilled a political commitment to the people of Canada. Second, the Liberal government acted to implement a long-standing policy of the Liberal Party of Canada. Third, the amendment filled a gap in federal human rights legislation, identified over the past 20 years by previous Parliaments, human rights commissioners, and the public at large.
HIV/AIDS has been identified, along with the growing rate of breast cancer and the high mortality rate associated with tobacco use, as a critical health issue, and is targeted for national action. As the incidence of HIV and AIDS continues to increase, our efforts to offer support and seek solutions must continue. Therefore, in the 1997 election platform, a new Liberal government will extend the National AIDS Strategy at current funding levels for an additional five years. Due to continued federal Liberal support, Canada now has an effective community support network, improved drug therapies and new hope for individuals living with HIV and AIDS. Continued federal support will increase progress in research, education, prevention, care, and treatment. Liberal support for these initiatives will surpass $200 million in coming years.
The Liberal government is concerned about the impact of hate groups and their impact on the social fabric of Canadian society. We have acted to combat these activities by introducing and passing legislation to toughen sentences for hate crimes, including those motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation. Justice officials are examining the hate propaganda provisions of the Code to determine what, if any, amendments are required in this area. In particular, they are examining the issue of the exportation and importation of hate material.
Concerning censorship, under Customs legislation, the Parliament of Canada has given Revenue Canada Customs the responsibility to ensure that hate propaganda and obscene material does not enter the country. The Criminal Code definition of obscenity deals with sexually violent material whether homosexual or heterosexual in nature.
In a January 1996 decision, the Supreme Court of British Columbia clearly confirmed that Revenue Canada Customs has the constitutional power and legislated mandate to prohibit obscene material. However, the Court did offer guidance on how the Department could do its job better in a number of areas including: training, targeting, and the use of information technology. The government responded by initiating changes as identified by the Court.
Revenue Canada Customs officials carry out their duties as outlined under the Customs Act and at all times are required to operate within the framework of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Over the past four years the Department has initiated a number of administrative improvements to ensure Canadians are provided with the best level of service possible.
For those officials who deal with imported goods, the Department has re-designed its training program related to the classification of obscene material at the border. The new training program focuses on the relationship between Revenue Canada’s role and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A resource person is also available twenty-four hours a day to assist officials in making difficult decisions with respect to imported material. Annual refresher courses will also be provided.
From a policy perspective, the question pertaining to "same-sex marriage" is not an issue involving same-sex partners alone. As society changes, it becomes clearer that a range of so-called non-traditional interdependent relationships are left out of many current programs—relationships such as siblings who live together, an adult child living with a parent and so on. Altogether, approximately seven percent of Canadians live with someone the Census does not define as "family". If our policies and programs leave out many Canadians who live in mutually interdependent relationships for support, it may be time to reconsider all programs based on an individual’s relationship to someone else to ensure that the program is still relevant and that it is directed to those for whom it was meant.
In this context, the government is reviewing the issue of personal relationships and economic dependency as they pertain to programs and benefits offered to all Canadians. Any action that the government might take will have to be developed within a broad review of the government’s social policies.
Regarding the issue of same-sex benefits, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has received many claims against the government dealing with the issue. In November 1995, the government granted the following family-related benefits to same-sex partners: bereavement leave, leave for family-related responsibilities, leave for relocation of spouse, Foreign Service Directives, Isolated Post Directives, and the Relocation Directive. Then in July 1996, the Treasury Board announced that it would immediately grant the same medical and dental benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees as it does to partners of the opposite sex. Experts estimate that this change will affect the twenty-to-thirty percent of major Canadian employers currently providing same-sex coverage.
The definition of marriage in Canadian law is the union of two persons of the opposite sex. At this time, there are no plans to change this definition.
The Court Challenges Program was restored in October 1994 at its previous funding level of $2.75 million per year. Liberals continue to support this unique program which funds equality-seeking groups and individuals to use the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to establish their legal and constitutional rights. The program allows test cases to be litigated which in turn, provide useful jurisprudence that Canadians can use in the application of both federal and provincial legislation.
The Liberal government supports a range of initiatives to improve the health and well-being of Canadians. A key example is the Canadian Breast Cancer Initiative (CBCI) which has furthered breast cancer treatment and established community support networks for thousands of affected women throughout Canada. A new Liberal government will expand the CBCI to $35 million over the next five years, to enhance research into the causes and effective treatment of breast cancer.
One component of the CBCI is a network of five Breast Cancer Information Exchange Pilot Projects which assist women with breast cancer, to make complicated treatment decisions. A related initiative involves the preparation of guidelines to help both physicians and patients choose the most effective and personally acceptable care and treatment.
On behalf of our leader, the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, thank you for writing.
Senator Dan Hays
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