Interim StaffIt was Gwen Landolt, vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, who first raised the alarm about Bill C-250 in May 2002. MP Svend Robinson, the homosexual “rights” advocate, was pushing his subtle amendment to the hate speech section of the Criminal Code and only a handful of MPs were in the Commons for a vote at Second Reading. Landolt was furious that although the official opposition opposed the bill, it did not force a recorded vote. She quickly let it be known through the growing nation-wide social conservative e-mail network that the Canadian Alliance seemed to be folding on the issue.
Opposition justice critic, MP Vic Toews, explained in response that the Canadian Alliance didn’t believe it could win a recorded vote and that the strategy would be to amend or possibly kill the bill in committee, instead. Party insiders add another consideration, though. Having just beaten Stockwell Day two months previously, newly minted leader Stephen Harper, in attempting to create a more “moderate” image for the party, had laid down the law with caucus members to just keep quiet on the so-called “gay” issue.
But the apparent ambivalence of many MPs who were normally outspoken in defence of the family caused grassroots pro-family activists to worry that C-250 could sail through Parliament completely unopposed. The battle suddenly appeared much harder than first thought. In addition, legal opinions about the bill from many different respected sources agreed that the impact on free speech and other liberties could be substantial.
These fears were confirmed in December 2002 by the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, when it ruled in the case of Hugh Owens. Owens had placed an ad in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper, which merely referenced, without quoting, certain Bible verses condemning homosexual practices. The judge ruled in a decision that fined Owens $4,500, that the verses in contention actually constituted “hate literature.”
Given that an actual judge was now referring to the Bible as hate literature, pro-family activists were empowered with the evidence they needed to go to churches and other faith groups and enlist their support in the battle to stop the bill. Indeed, some of the nation’s larger Christian organizations, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, eventually became quite outspoken on C-250.
An unprecedented flood of mail, phone calls and e-mail provoked by Canada Family Action Coalition and other pro-family groups began to pour in to MPs’ offices. The Canadian Alliance responded and successfully delayed committee hearings on the bill for several months.
Unfortunately, once the bill did finally come up for debate before the Justice Committee in May 2003, Svend Robinson, as the bill’s sponsor, used his position of privilege on the committee to filibuster away all the time the committee had allotted MPs for debate. That move prevented any amendments from being proposed in committee and the bill was reported back to the Commons un-amended. Last fall, the bill made it through two final Commons votes in the dying days of the Chretien regime, with the support of most Liberal MPs.
Even so, pro-family groups, aware that newly anointed Prime Minister Paul Martin was planning to call an election quickly to catch the recently merged Conservative Party in a state of unreadiness, developed hope that delays in the Senate could see the bill die before the writ was dropped.
Yet, on Feb. 10 a political bomb went off in Ottawa when the auditor-general released her report into the sponsorship scandal. The fallout pushed back the election months later than expected, as inquiries were convened, witnesses came forward and criminal charges were laid. This gave the Liberal-dominated Senate additional time to try to force C-250 through.
Even so, a minority of senators led by Liberal Anne Cools worked feverishly to prolong the debate. Pro-family groups sent a huge volume of mail and made phone calls to senators, but to no avail. The unelected body ignored the outcry, as did most media outlets.
Supporters in the Senate shortened hearings giving just a few hours to all the bill’s opponents to make their case. In late April, self-proclaimed red Tory Senator Lowell Murray invoked an unprecedented double-closure motion to force the bill to a final vote. It passed 59-11, with the support of the majority of both Conservative and Liberal senators.