MARCEAU, Richard, LL.B.

Parliamentary Career

June 2, 1997 - October 22, 2000
  Charlesbourg (Quebec)
November 27, 2000 - May 23, 2004
  Charlesbourg--Jacques-Cartier (Quebec)
June 28, 2004 - November 29, 2005
  Charlesbourg (Quebec)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 4 of 133)

September 26, 2005

Mr. Richard Marceau (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, BQ)

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-49. I note that the debate has wandered a bit in the past few minutes, and would like to get it back on track to the subject we need to address. This is, in fact, a very important and serious subject, one the House of Commons needs to address and act on as soon as possible, since it affects the most vulnerable members of our society.

This extremely important issue resurfaces from time to time in the media. Unfortunately, likely because of its complexity, it has not so far seemed to hold people's attention long enough to result in any effective action against it. Allow me to explain.

We know that organized networks with connections with major criminal organizations are taking advantage of others' distress, young women for the most part, but children as well. Very often, these vulnerable people are ready to do anything at all to escape the poverty they are living in.

The causes of this situation can vary from one individual to another, but there is a common denominator relating to misery, poverty and secrecy. The preconceived idea people have of trafficking in persons is, more often than not, associated with what used to be called, inappropriately to my mind, white slavery.

As I have just said, certain people, mostly women, get recruited for jobs here, in hopes of a better future and with no idea of the real hell that awaits them.

To take a familiar example: young women from the former soviet republics are approached by fake talent or modelling agencies and leap at the chance for a lucrative career in fashion. Others are approached by agencies claiming to be recruiting au pairs, that is young women to look after Canadian families' children. They end up in the clutches of criminal organizations that take away their passports and have well organized rings forcing them into strip clubs or prostitution.

There are other cases even more disturbing than those. Although we cannot take it upon ourselves to quantify or classify the degree of another's misery, it is important to know that, in this 21st century, some of these women end up as sex slaves. They are subjected to unimaginable abuse and constant threats on their own lives or those of people back in their country of origin, children, brothers and sisters, or parents. They live with the constant fear of something happening to themselves or a loved one.

Trafficking in persons is a very broad issue, and I am deliberately dwelling specifically on this grim aspect of the issue, because it is both more insidious and more common around us than we are really aware. I could just as well have brought up the case of refugees, who are often clandestine immigrants, and who are being exploited by unscrupulous businesses in terms of the basic rights of workers or by individuals who reduce them to the condition of slaves by employing them as domestics.

Such situations exist and they are disturbing, but no efforts appear to have been made so far to denounce them.

That is the context in which we reviewed and addressed Bill C-49 and that is why the Bloc Québécois will be supporting it.

Allow me to digress briefly. Until just recently, we MPs got to spend a great deal of time in our respective ridings. I have been asked what bills we would be working on upon returning to the House. Whenever I mentioned the bill dealing with trafficking in persons, people almost always thought that legislation was already in place, that such behaviour was prohibited and that this problem was being addressed. They were very surprised when I told them that they thought wrong and this was going to be on our agenda.

We figure that Bill C-49 will provide police and crown attorneys with better legal tools to fight this trafficking in persons problem, especially where sexual exploitation and forced labour are concerned.

According to official statistics, there are approximately 800 reported cases—and the word “reported” is important—of victims of trafficking in persons in Canada. As one might expect in any such situation, this is probably but the tip of the iceberg.

The environment those involved live in is understandably not exactly conducive to denouncing abuse or effectively seeking resources capable of helping these victims.

We are supporting Bill C-49 essentially because it creates new offences specifically to prevent and denounce trafficking in persons and to hold the perpetrators of the crime responsible.

From a legal standpoint, trafficking in persons is defined as the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of a person for the purpose of exploitation. Although the bill does not mention it explicitly, this offence specifically addresses exploitation in the sex trade and in forced labour.

This bill also legally prohibits, in a broad sense, trafficking in persons for financial gain and the falsification, destruction or alteration of identification documents for the purpose of facilitating the commission of these criminal offences.

Bill C-49 also establishes sentences as serious as imprisonment for life for every person found guilty of trafficking in persons. This maximum sentence of the Canadian system would apply to individuals who, while trafficking in persons, kidnapped, committed an aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault against, or caused death to the victim, or if they were an accomplice to these acts.

Every person who receives a financial benefit from the forced labour imposed on the victims of trafficking is liable to imprisonment for a maximum sentence of 10 years. Every person found guilty of possessing travel or identification documents such as a passport belonging to a victim, is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.

As a whole, the bill should be effective in addressing this growing problem and its atrocious social, individual and personal consequences.

The only odd thing is the relative simplicity of the proposed legislation. As I was saying in my introduction, it is a wonder that the government waited so long to tackle this issue head on. The bill includes only eight clauses. It is short and specific but took a long time coming.

To correct the unbearable situation that thousands of people are living in, the Bloc will do everything in its power to move this bill swiftly through the House of Commons and the parliamentary committee. As usual, we are open to any suggestions for improvement from witnesses at the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Again, the bill is simple and gets to the heart of the problem.

The concept of exploitation is clearly defined in the context of human trafficking. So exploitation means making a person work or provide services, quite often of a sexual nature, by acting in such a way that victims fear for their safety or that of a loved one if they do not comply with the demands being made. In fact, it would be difficult to be any more specific.

Imagine the stress and fear that prevent an individual from identifying an abuser or pimp, and you get a good idea of the problem we are trying to eradicate here. Add to this the clandestine nature and the international ramifications of the problem, and it becomes a complex issue.

Once in effect, Bill C-49 will provide us with modern tools with which to fight slavery, which unfortunately has also adapted to the reality of globalization.

As I said during my introduction, prostitution is central to the activities of organized gangs, and the recruitment of foreign workers is facilitated by the wretched reality of people misled about the nature of the work they are seeking.

In a 2000 report by the United Nations on the trafficking of women, Canada was among the top 30 destination countries for human trafficking. We all agree that this is less glorious for “the best country in the world”.

This report states that victims of trafficking do not expose their employers, among others, because once identified by the authorities, they will not be allowed to remain in their country of adoption in order to seek protection or demand redress.

In a report published this year, the International Labour Organization estimated that 2.45 million people in the world are victims of forced labour.

The issue we are addressing today in the House is not, of course, restricted to the sexual exploitation of the victims of human trafficking. It is important to keep that in mind, although that aspect is easier to get a handle on. There are, however, also situations of forced labour under physical or psychological threat in such areas as construction, hotels, shipping or agriculture.

Exploitation of one human being by another is present everywhere at various levels, and the International Labour Organization has estimated that the revenue generated annually by such exploitation amounts to some US$32 billion.

Other countries have moved on this more quickly than Canada—and more power to them.

In 2000, the United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which created new offences as well as more severe penalties for crimes already included in the criminal code. Victims who work with the American authorities in order to help advance investigations into rings of trafficking and forced labour will be protected from deportation. The United Kingdom, France, Russia and Japan have recently amended their legislation to include provisions on trafficking in human beings.

Finally, passage of Bill C-49, the bill before the House at this time, will move Canada one step further along the road to a better world, and the Bloc Québécois will make an effective contribution to this.

In closing, I will make a commitment on behalf of my party to getting this bill passed as promptly as possible in order to provide our police, prosecutors and the law enforcement community with all the best tools needed to counteract this 21st century scourge as quickly as possible. This is my solemn appeal to all colleagues of all parties: work along with us to get this bill passed quickly, so that such tools will be available for the protection of these people, these women and children, in such great need of our assistance and protection.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Criminal Code
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June 28, 2005

Mr. Richard Marceau (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, what a great day it is today for rights and freedoms in Quebec and Canada. This great day should be celebrated, not only by the minority that in the next few days will finally obtain the right to marry, anywhere in Canada, but also by all the heterosexuals who have supported the cause of equality, the cause of rights and freedoms, whether from the very beginning or only more recently. They know very well that confirming the rights and freedoms of a minority does not take anything away from the majority that previously enjoyed these rights and freedoms.

It has often been said in this debate, which has been going on now for many a long year, that marriage is an important institution in our society. That is very true. It is an institution through which society or the state recognizes the commitment that two people make to one another.Through the institution of marriage, society, the state, recognizes the importance of conjugal love.

The fact that homosexuals have fought hard and have spent time, money and energy for access to marriage—this basic institution in our society—demonstrates the enormous respect they have for it and their desire to gain access to it. Their entry into the institution of marriage will strengthen it because they are people who believe in it and have spent years fighting for access to it.

I would like to make two comments on the side. People who followed the debates in committee will know what I want to say. Marriage is not a static institution, contrary to what some people claim. I said so yesterday and it is important to repeat it. Just a few decades ago, when a woman married in Quebec she lost her adult status and became the responsibility of her husband, just as she had previously been the responsibility of her parents. But society changed, and as it changed, the various institutions and elements that make it up changed as well. Fifty years ago, women were not considered equal to men; now, they are.

Today, it is high time to give couples consisting of same sex partners access to the institution of marriage.

There is something else as well that we have heard many times in this debate, namely that marriage is supposedly—to use the expression of my friend in the Conservative Party who spoke before me—a child-centred institution. I challenge every member in this House who has gone before the altar to get married, whether once or more than once, to say whether having children was ever part, even one time, of the vows they exchanged. The answer is no.

When a couple gets married they promise fidelity, mutual support and friendship; they do not promise to have children. The purpose can vary according to what the couple wants or can do. What marriage celebrates is the recognition of conjugal love between two people.

The bill before us was improved by two amendments on the freedom of religion.

Although the bill deals specifically with civil marriage, some religious groups met with us many times to express their fears and apprehension concerning freedom of religion. It was with the utmost respect for these religious groups that my colleague from Hochelaga and I addressed the problem. We were very open to the representations made by the representatives of churches, temples, mosques and synagogues.

Mr. Speaker, you chaired this legislative committee admirably. I told you that privately today and now I am telling you that in public. Although I do not share the same views as these religious groups that oppose opening civil marriage to gays and lesbians, the other members of the committee and I listened to what they had to say. After several meetings with these religious groups and individuals, we presented an amendment, the only one to be adopted yesterday at report stage. It is an amendment that states in black and white that no religious group will lose its status as a charitable organization for refusing to celebrate marriages between same sex couples. One of these Christian groups made a suggestion for an amendment, which we presented and which was passed yesterday.

I want to say one final word on freedom of religion: it is as important and as fundamental to the Bloc as the right to equality, which, in our case law, now includes the right for same sex partners to marry. This freedom of religion is fundamental in a free and democratic society such as those in Quebec and Canada. This freedom of religion must not mean that the religion of some should become the law for others. We do not live in a Catholic, Evangelical or Protestant state or in a Jewish, Islamic or Buddhist state. We live in a secular state, where the separation between church and state is one of our civilization's finest achievements. It is an example of the fundamental principles from the age of enlightenment that have enabled us to expand the definition of marriage to include same sex partners for civil purposes.

We observe society's evolution with respect to civil marriage. However, we are in no way changing the Catholic vision of marriage as a sacrament, according to this church, which does not accept or allow divorce. This in no way changes Jewish marriage, for example, where, in order to marry, both partners must belong to the Jewish faith. This in no way changes any other religious wishes or religious definitions of marriage.

In any state with a justifiable and constitutional charter of rights and freedoms, the courts play an important role. For about the past 10 years discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal, under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Furthermore, the highest courts in eight jurisdictions in Canada, including the appeal courts of Quebec, Ontario and B.C., which are the three most densely populated provinces in Canada, have ruled that the so-called traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional. The Ontario and B.C. appeal courts struck down the common law definition of marriage, which dated back to 1866. The Quebec appeal court struck down the legislated definition of marriage that was passed by this Parliament in 2001.

That very clearly contradicts those, in the Conservative Party, especially, who said that Parliament had simply to reaffirm its belief in or its support for the so-called traditional definition of marriage, and the courts would follow.

First off, allow me to say that, each time someone says “all we need to do is such and such”, all too often the solution proposed is overly simplistic. The “all-we-needs”, as we might define them, are simplistic solutions for complex problems.

I have to agree as well with the 134 law professors who took the fairly unusual and exceptional step of signing a joint letter to the leader of the Conservative Party. In the letter, these eminent professors said, rightly, that the only way to make marriage between partners of the same sex illegal in Canada would be to use the notwithstanding clause.

That was my opinion before the letter. My legal analysis led me to say at the time—and these 134 professors concur—that the only way, today, for us parliamentarians to prevent partners of the same sex from marrying is to say that, notwithstanding what the courts have said, we are suspending the rights and freedoms recognized by the courts for a period of five years, five years being the maximum period the notwithstanding clause may be applied.

Never would I vote, nor would I ask my colleagues to vote, to suspend the recognized rights and freedoms afforded a minority that has been persecuted too long, not only in Quebec and Canada, but throughout the world.

The choice facing us is to support Bill C-38, which would expand the right of same sex partners to marry in the eight jurisdictions where the right already exists and in the other jurisdictions where it does not, or to state very clearly that we are prepared to use the notwithstanding clause.

I have participated in this debate for many years. I have been an MP for eight years, during which time few matters I have been involved in as a parliamentarian have made me as proud. I am proud to take part in the process that will broaden the right to equality of thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians who want to marry. Be they two men or two women, they want to be able to say publicly to society, the government and the world that they are committed to a solid relationship, they are in a relationship of equals, and they are publicly declaring their love for each other.

Having taken part in this debate, having heard the vast majority of the 472 witnesses who appeared before the committee the first time around and the 60 or so who testified before the legislative committee, having travelled across Canada, from Vancouver to the Maritimes, via Iqaluit, Montreal Toronto, and many other places, and having received wedding pictures over the past two summers of couples who told me, “Look, we got married. Thank you, thank you for your part in it”, I say that is wonderful, The pleasure is all mine.

To conclude, when I rock myself in my rocking chair, a few decades from now I hope, with my dentures in a glass on the side table, I will tell my children about what I did when I was a member of Parliament. When they ask me, “Where were you, Dad, when this debate took place? What did you do to provide these men and women with the same right as everyone else?”, I will be able to say that I was there and that, on this June 28, 2005, I voted in favour of these men and women finally having access to marriage, as opposite sex spouses have had for decades, centuries, millennia.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Civil Marriage Act
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June 28, 2005

Mr. Richard Marceau

Mr. Speaker, I also enjoyed working with my colleague from Gatineau on this committee.

In regard to her first question, it was indeed quite surprising to hear the Conservative committee members saying, “The courts have not ruled. So none of that is clear”.

I would like to read two passages that I have before me. The first is from a ruling by the British Columbia Court of Appeal on the traditional definition of marriage. I am going to read it, knowing that she understands English to some extent because we have taken part in debates together in English on various subjects. So I am going to read it in the original language because I do not have the translation.

Paragraph 7 in the ruling by the British Columbia Court of Appeal says:

--I conclude that there is a common law bar to same-sex marriage; that it contravenes s. 15 of the Charter; and that it cannot be justified under s. 1 of the Charter. I would grant the declaratory relief set forth at para. 158, infra,--

And the Ontario Court of Appeal said the following in paragraph 108, and I encourage my colleagues and the people listening to us to go and see for themselves if they want:

Based on the foregoing analysis, it is our view that the dignity of persons in same-sex relationships is violated by the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. Accordingly, we conclude that the common-law definition of marriage as “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” violates s. 15(1) of the Charter.

It is obvious, therefore, to anyone who has taken the time to read the rulings that the courts were very clear that the so-called traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional.

Insofar as the time we are allowed is concerned—a matter that we have already discussed—I would simply like to say that I share the view expressed by the Conservative Party's favourite newspaper. Usually, they rely a lot on this paper, and I encourage them to do so again.

I think that I quoted the editorial yesterday, but it is important to read it again. It is the editorial for Friday, June 3, 2005 entitled, “The marriage debate has had its day”. I apologize for not having the translation. The paper says:

But whatever side of the issue one is on, the notion that the reforms are being rushed through without proper debate is overblown. In fact, it's hard to think of a policy issue that has been the subject of more debate in this country over the past two years. After committee hearings, endless public analysis and a 2004 election in which voters were well aware that a re-elected Liberal government intended to legalize gay marriage, the personal stance of virtually every MP in the country is already well-documented. And given the degree to which opinions on the issue are inflamed, it is highly unlikely that any of those positions will change in the foreseeable future, no matter how much more debate there is.

I could not have put it better myself.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Civil Marriage Act
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June 28, 2005

Mr. Richard Marceau

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his question and say that I too enjoyed very much sitting with him on the committee.

Second, when my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour said that marriage is an evolving process, I was very surprised to hear a Conservative member shout, “Wrong”. I wonder what planet our Conservative colleague lives on. He is a young, and probably a dynamic person. If he thinks that the institution of marriage has not evolved over time, I suggest, in a friendly, gentle and humble way, that he should do his homework and carefully review history, particularly as regards the race based exclusions that existed and the lack of equality between men and women.

There is also the fact that, for hundreds of years, in our own Judeo-Christian tradition, polygamy was permitted. Until the year 1000, in the Jewish tradition, Ashkenazi Jews were allowed to be polygamous. Similarly, until just recently, Sephardic Jews who practised polygamy in their countries of origin were allowed to remain polygamous upon moving to Israel. So, marriage has evolved. I hope that my colleague is not suggesting that it did not.

As for polygamy, I believe this a an unfounded fear. One of the tenets of our legislation here, in Quebec and Canada, is gender equality. But polygamy, or its mirror image polyandry, means inequality between partners within the couple, which means gender inequality. So, any conjugal relationship that is not based on equal partners would de facto be contrary to this equality right that has opened the door, thank God for that, to same sex marriage.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Civil Marriage Act
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June 27, 2005

Mr. Richard Marceau

Madam Speaker, of course blacks never asked to be called whites. However, they did ask for access to the same institutions, churches, restaurants, voting locations, washrooms, in short, for access to all the same institutions and places as whites.

I do not know of any homosexuals who are asking to be called heterosexuals. That is not what homosexuals want; they want access to the same institution to which heterosexuals have access, namely, the institution of marriage.

I tell my Conservative friend that allowing homosexuals access to the institution of marriage will actually strengthen that institution, which has seen better days. It is heterosexuals who have messed it up: the divorce rate is now about 50%, many children are born out of wedlock, and so forth. I am not making any value judgments. If there is a crisis in marriage today, and I hear my Conservative friends talking about it a lot, it is because of heterosexuals who have decided, rightly or wrongly—I am not making any value judgments—not to attach the same importance to it as they used to.

Homosexuals are people who have fought, spent time and energy, battled ridicule, and been called all kinds of names, for access to the institution of marriage, which is solemnized and accorded great significance all over the world. I would say that giving homosexuals, who have fought so hard for it, the right to marry means opening the door to people who believe in marriage and in this institution, which has no equal and which creates a bond between two people. That would strengthen this institution, which has been quite badly treated by heterosexuals over the last 50 years.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Civil Marriage Act
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