Toronto—Stephen Harper told reporters today that “sexual orientation is not included in the Charter.” He made similar statements in Parliament on September 16, 2003, saying that sexual orientation really means “sexual behaviour” (see below).
“On the one year anniversary of equal marriage in Canada, Stephen Harper continues to deny the legitimacy of Charter protection for gay and lesbian Canadians,” said Alex Munter, Co-chair of Canadians for Equal Marriage. “Wintering in Florida is a lifestyle. Drinking heavily is a behaviour. People’s loving and committed relationships are neither a lifestyle nor a behaviour.”
“Stephen Harper can denigrate gays and lesbians all he wants,” said Laurie Arron, Political Coordinator for Canadians for Equal Marriage. “But to state that the Charter doesn’t protect us from discrimination simply ignores the facts. Charter equality protection is open-ended, and the fact that sexual orientation is protected was acknowledged by the Conservative government in 1986, when John Crosbie was Minister of Justice.”
In March 1986 the Justice Department’s report “Toward Equality - The Response to the Report of the Parliamentary Committee on Equality Rights” stated “the Department of Justice is of the view that the courts will find that sexual orientation is encompassed by the guarantees in section 15 of the Charter.”
“Mr. Harper claims judges had no right to protect gays and lesbians under the Charter,” added Mr. Arron. “In fact, the unanimous Supreme Court judgement that acknowledged Charter protection for gays and lesbians took its direction from the government’s own analysis.”
“The Charter is meant to protect all Canadians from government discrimination, that is clear,” said Brenda Cossman, Professor of Law at the University of Toronto, “Not only is restricting Charter protection to the enumerated grounds legally incorrect, it is a rather impoverished view of what the Charter is all about. The Court has recognized other analogous grounds of protection, like citizenship and marital status. The Charter is open to protecting any group that suffers from government discrimination.”
“Canadians want the Charter to give broad protection,” added Mr. Arron. “According to Mr. Harper, we should be stingy about who we protect. That’s an awfully narrow view, and it’s not what Canadians want. Canadians want a society in which all persons enjoy equal recognition at law as human beings, equally capable and equally deserving of concern, respect and consideration.”
September 9, 2003, debate in Parliament on Alliance motion to “take all necessary steps” to maintain an opposite-sex definition of marriage.
(http://www.parl.gc.ca/37/2/parlbus/chambus/house/debates/120_2003-09-16/han 120_1010-E.htm )
“(O)pponents of traditional marriage... have chosen to make change without social consensus and, in doing so, they have articulated a position which I believe is wrong in law, universally insulting, very dangerous as far as real rights are concerned and, of course, has been done so in a highly undemocratic manner.
“First, this is wrong in law. Sexual orientation or, more accurately, what we are really talking about, sexual behaviour, the argument has been made by proponents of this position that this is analogous to race and ethnicity. This position was not included in the Charter of Rights when it was passed by Parliament in 1982. It was not included, not because of some kind of accident or oversight, but deliberately and explicitly by all sides of the House of Commons.
“Sexual orientation was later read in to the charter. I would point out that an amendment to the constitution by the courts is not a power of the courts under our constitution. Something the House will have to address at some point in time is where its powers begin and where those of the courts end.
“However, even accepting the reading in of sexual orientation, the addition of sexual orientation, unconstitutionally by the courts into the charter does not in itself mean automatically that traditional marriage should be deemed illegal and unconstitutional.
For more info:
Brenda Cossman, University of Toronto, 416-978-6658
Laurie Arron, Canadians for Equal Marriage, 416-928-1238 (o), 416-839-7178 (c)
Cicely McWilliam, Canadians for Equal Marriage, 416-928-1238 (o)
John Fisher, Canadians for Equal Marriage, 613-321-9841
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