Bill C-41, an Act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to sentencing, introduced June 13, 1994, has become a very contentious bill. This bill, according to the Department of Justice, would provide more options to the courts to distinguish between serious violent crimes and less violent crimes, and would allow greater scope for sentencing. It would also allow more severe punishments to be given for crimes which take advantage of positions of trust.

Justice Minister Allan Rock began debate on second reading September 20th, and said in defence of the bill that, “…hate motivated violence against individuals based on the offenders bias toward other sexual orientations has sparked public anxiety.”

Roseanne Skoke, Member for Central Nova, in a speech the same day, first praised Bill C-41 because it, “…reflects the government’s commitment to a renewed criminal justice system that is balanced fair, and encourages respect for the law.”

Ms. Skoke stated very clearly that any offence motivated by hate should not be tolerated, but she took exception to the inclusion of the tem sexual orientation in the bill. Ms. Skoke said this would give, “special rights, special considerations, to homosexuals,…a faction in our society which is under-mining and destroying our Christian values and Christian morality.” She stated further that, “Canadians do not have to accept homosexuality as being natural and moral. Homosexuality is not natural, it is immoral and it is undermining the inherent rights and values of our Canadian families and it must not and should not be condoned.”

The Member from Central Nova came under immediate attack, especially from Svend Robinson and others who called her an incredible variety of names and demanded her expulsion from the caucus. Minister Jean Chrétien did defend the right of all MPs to express their personal views in Parliament, and other Liberal and Reform Mps in the House and in the media also strongly supported the right of Roseanne Skoke to speak her opinions on this matter. Robinson’s call for a point of order was answered by The Speaker on September 30th and he too defended the principle of freedom of speech in the House and refused to censure Ms. Skoke.

As a direct result of this explosive debate, a second Member of Parliament, Real Menard, Member for Hochelaga-Mainsonneuve, voluntarily “outed” himself as gay and aligned himself with Robinson in vicious criticism of Roseanne Skoke.

Bill C-41 will eventually be studied in committee, and obviously clause 718.2 (a) (communiqué) will be carefully analyzed. Given the further intentions of the government in this regard, it is felt by some that there will be stubborn refusal to remove sexual orientation for fear of creating a perception that gays are not properly protected. One can find, in the press, little explanation of objections to the phrase, nor clarification of the fact that gays, as a group are unidentifiable but are still entitled to the same legal protection as all Canadians. Liberal MP Tom Wappel, in a September 28th communiqué, questions the use of the “undefined phrase ‘sexual orientation’” and quotes Mr. Chrétien himself on the Constitution, in 1981, who refused to include the term ‘sexual orientation’ because, “those concepts are difficult to interpret, to define and that is why we do not want them in the constitution.”

The problem then, is lack of a definitive term. Tom Wappel stressed this at a recent Ontario meeting. This phrase ‘sexual orientation’ must be properly defined; otherwise the bill, a good one in many ways, is unacceptable.

Lost in the furor, or as some think, lurking behind this trial balloon, were the government plans to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Allan Rock has put all the right words into the mouths of his Mps in his release to then October 25th. Mr. Rock says that this amendment will be fulfilling a commitment to Canadians. There will be many, including many Liberals, who will disagree.

And so, our Courts are already hearing and making decisions on sexual orientation cases. Our Parliament is a forum for deep division and disagreement on the matter and it will come to the forefront again in a very serious fashion with the impending Human Rights Act amendments, and the two openly gay MPs plan to work on a Private members Bill concerning benefits for same-sex couples. No one can ignore the impact the issue of homosexuality will have on our government and on our country.

Write your MP.