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Tory filibuster threatens Bill C-38

Conservative wants to flood committee with witnesses

The passage of the Liberal budget last week by a razor-thin margin of 153-152 means that same-sex marriage may become legal across Canada this spring – depending on two big ifs.

That’s if the Liberal government doesn’t fall by some other means in the next month and if the committee of MPs examining Bill C-38, which has passed second reading, can quickly agree who they need to hear from.

“Hopefully it will be back in the house before the house breaks for the summer,” says MP Bill Siksay, the only NDP representative on the legislative committee examining Bill C-38.

Otherwise, it’ll be the fall and that’s when the chances of a Liberal government collapse increase dramatically again.

The bill also needs to clear the Senate, where it is considered to be supported, and get royal assent before an election in order become law.

Siksay is concerned, though, about a current filibuster by Conservative MPs on the committee over witnesses. The Liberals and Bloc Québécois, who together dominate the committee, seem prepared to go with the existing list of 41 possible witnesses which includes REAL Women, Defend Marriage and Evangelical Fellowship Of Canada from the con side, and the Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto, Parents Family And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays, and Canadians For Equal Marriage on the pro side.

After all, the Parliamentary Standing Committee On Justice And Human Rights held months of hearings on the issue back in 2003.

But the Conservatives want more. They’ve put forward a list of 22 extra names of speakers, all of whom don’t support equal marriage. Siksay says Conservative committee member MP Vic Toews is attempting to delay the progress of the committee both by insisting on adding these names, and by filibustering in an attempt to get his way on this issue.

For example, at the May 18 committee meeting, Toews motioned that the Catholic Civil Rights League, Iain Benson (of Centre For Cultural Renewal), John McKellar (of the group Homosexuals Opposed To Pride Extremism), Calgary’s Bishop Fred Henry, Christian Reformed Churches Of Canada and the Canadian Islamic Congress among others be invited to speak.

Toews did not return Xtra’s phone call.

Once the issue of adding additional presenters is resolved, Siksay is confident that the committee will move quickly. It’s been meeting three to four times a week for two hours at a time.

Fewer witnesses could mean a quicker process. Legislative committees are generally restricted to dealing only with evidence presented directly to them. More witnesses also means more time spent considering evidence and coming to a decision.

Laurie Arron from Canadians For Equal Marriage and Gilles Marchildon from queer lobby group Egale Canada, making a joint presentation, were the first witnesses to appear before the committee. They noted that 89 percent of Canadians already live in provinces that allow same-sex marriage and so encouraged the committee to make this equal across the country.

“Canadians now recognize that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified people should not be treated differently than their heterosexual peers simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” stated the written submission. “Most federal laws have been changed to provide equal treatment. However, the exclusion from civil marriage in the five remaining jurisdictions represents a glaring omission to the federal government’s commitment to equality. The only way to remedy this problem is to provide equal access to civil marriage. No separate and unequal scheme will do.” The five jurisdictions are Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunuavut. (Both New Brunswick and Northwest Territories have challenges currently before the courts.)

Their presentation also addressed the need for Canadians to enjoy a Parliamentary sanction decision, rather than individual court decisions in various jurisdictions.

“The goal of ending marriage discrimination must be achieved in substance as well as in fact. Many Canadians do not see the numerous court decisions as legitimate. Many Canadians believe that equal marriage is not really legal unless Parliament passes legislation. It is important that Parliament pass Bill C-38 not only for the actual legal changes it will effect, but also because of the symbolic importance of Parliament definitively leg-islating to extend equal marriage across Canada.”