In January, 2003, the House of Commons standing committee on justice and human rights took up the emotional issue of marriage and the demand that its definition be expanded so as to include same-sex relationships.
Between January and May 2003, the committee visited 12 different cities covering every region of Canada. It heard 475 witnesses, received 250 briefs and literally thousands of letters expressing every conceivable point of view.
For the most part, the hearings, chaired by MP Andy Scott, were conducted in a respectful and professional manner, with MPs and witnesses on both sides of the argument disagreeing agreeably. The only exceptions I witnessed were a few times when witnesses and even MPs were quick to hurl the “intolerant homophobe” epithet at anyone who dared to challenge so-called same-sex marriage. What intolerance of the core moral beliefs of others from some people demanding tolerance for gay and lesbian couples!
In late May 2003, its hearings process completed, the standing committee began an intensive series of “in-camera” meetings to consider its draft report. We considered and often debated this report, clause by clause, sometimes line by line. The work of the justice committee had been highly publicized and often televised live, so that there was great anticipation and interest in the report the committee would table in the House of Commons.
Suddenly, early in June 2003, three appointed judges on the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the heterosexual requirement for marriage discriminated unfairly against gays and lesbians. Incredibly, they also ruled that effective immediately, in Ontario, the definition of marriage would be expanded to include same-sex couples.
This unprecedented judicial arrogance and activism was a gratuitous insult to the people and Parliament of Canada. The Ontario Court’s ruling pre-empted the important work of the justice committee, which as every informed Canadian knew was in its very final stage.
It rendered as irrelevant all of the public input re: our most important and fundamental institution – marriage and the family.
At the final meeting of the justice committee, every dirty trick in the book was used by some Liberal MPs, with the support of NDP dnd BQ MPs, in order to prevent any attempt to have the committee recommend that the Chrétien Liberal government appeal the rulings of provincial courts in favour of same-sex “marriage”.
Veteran Liberal MPs who found themselves in an uncomfortable political situation irresponsibly skipped the vote on whether to appeal or endorse the Ontario court ruling. Liberal MPs with little or no involvement in the committee work were willingly substituted for those missing in action, so that they could vote as ordered by the Liberal whip, not to support any appeal motion.
Even with the deck stacked so unfairly, the vote on whether to endorse the Ontario court ruling was still tied 8-8. The chair broke the tie vote in favour, or in effect, against recommending an appeal.
Then, to the surprise of some, the chair ruled properly that a subsequent motion by me, to recommend an appeal of a very similar decision by the B.C. Court of Appeal, was in order. On this motion, we had a better chance for victory, as some Liberal “substitutes” had left.
There then ensued a ridiculous farce in which antagonistic Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs hid in the hallway and refused to enter the meeting room, so as to deny quorum. This nonsense continued for some time, as the committee was prevented from completing its work by some of its own members. And so ended the work of that justice committee on marriage in an undemocratic and irresponsible charade. The final report of that committee was never finished, though I still believe it should be finalized and made part of the public record.
The second act of the sham of a public consultation process on the issue of marriage focused on Bill C-38, the bill of the Martin Liberal government that removed the heterosexual requirement for marriage. A legislative committee was struck and given very limited parameters within which to operate in order to rush the bill into law.
There really was no good reason why Bill C-38 could not have been sent to the standing committee on justice for proper hearings and a revisiting and completion of the work of the previous committee described earlier. Because considerable pressure was applied, the government agreed to limited public hearings, but imposed an unnecessary and artificial deadline of early June 2005 for the committee to report to the House of Commons. Hearings began in May and, even though I had the personal assurance of prime minister Martin that they would be full and fair hearings, they quickly degenerated into a travesty.
Witnesses were sometimes given less than 24 hours’ notice to appear. Some witnesses were berated and insulted at committee by MPs who were not properly disciplined by the chair. Witnesses were grouped into delegations with too many people to allow for thorough questioning by MPs.
Although I was not a member of this committee, as I was then chair of the standing committee on national defence, I personally attended several hearings and witnessed the farce I described. In fact, I was asked to be a witness at that committee, which I was, using the opportunity to object to the farcical process with which Bill C-38 was being through this committee while trying to create the appearance of a proper public consultation.
When this committee report was tabled in the House of Commons in June 2005, the government reversed its original intention, as explained to me by the government house leader Tony Valeri, and decided to ram the bill through the House before the summer recess. The Liberal Martin government, with the hypocritical support of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois (who had always prided themselves on opposing closure), invoked closure, cutting off debate and denying dozens of MPs their right to speak on the most vital issue of marriage.
The Martin government did not want this legislation hanging over its head during the summer recess. Why, Liberal MPs might be pressured and lobbied by their constituents regarding Bill C-38! We couldn’t have that, now, could we – in a democracy like Canada?
So, with the completion of Act II, the farcical and undemocratic process was finished and same-sex “marriage,” the ultimate oxymoron, became legal in Canada.
Unless we reverse course quickly and rescind Bill C-38, all that will remain is to await the very real and negative consequences that many experts predict will surely flow over time from this enormous legal and political mistake.
Pat O’Brien, a former Liberal and independent MP (London-Fanshawe), is the executive director of Vote Marriage Canada.