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Canada's Lobby Groups Testify on Equality Bill
Sexual metaphor, humour highlight 'no news' proceedings

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THE House of CommonsStanding Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard testimony yesterday from lobby groups for and against the government's proposed omnibus equality legislation as well as from a Queen's University family law specialist.

John Fisher and Kim Vance from Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE) presented their case in support of the bill entitled "An Act to Modernize the Statutes of Canada in Relation to Benefits and Obligations."  Opposing the bill was Peter Stock of the Canadian Family Action Coalition.  Professor Bailey from the law faculty at Queen's University was present as a legal expert and described herself as "not an activist."

The Committee Chair kept the input and discussion to the time allotted and regularly moved the meeting forward.  Laughter in places made the two or so hours of presentation and questions go by quickly, and the use of a sexual metaphor by a Bloc Quebecois Committee member in questioning the family activist actually caused someone to knock over one of those tall water glasses.

Mr. Fisher provided explanations to counter the allegations of conspiracy and collusion printed in the National Post the previous day.

No new material was presented at this point in the bill's parliamentary process.  The purpose of the Committee, which has representation from all parties, is to analyze the elements of the bill and provide recommendations to the Commons.  Receiving input and questioning the bill's stakeholder groups are part of that analysis.

Professor Bailey of Queen's University

Including a definition of marriage would not preclude a Charter challenge later.
Professor Bailey presented first and supported the bill.  She addressed the question of including relationships of dependency in the legislation by advising that that issue was complex and required further consultation.  She urged the Committee to not recommend modifying the bill in order to accommodate this issue.  Professor Bailey advised that the government not delay in removing the obvious discrimination in federal laws which the bill addresses in its present state.

On the bill's criticism of not including a definition of marriage, the legal scholar declared that inclusion of such a definition would not preclude a Charter challenge later.  Regardless of the outcome of such a challenge, the professor reiterated that it could be brought even if marriage's current definition is put into the omnibus legislation.

She concluded by stating that more is to be done on family law in general, but that this was under provincial jurisdiction.

Kim Vance & John Fisher of EGALE

EGALE is not responsible for any [opposite sex] broken relationships.
-Kim Vance
Kim Vance of EGALE applauded the bill for providing intangible affirmation that same sex relationships have equal treatment.  She said that the bill is about same sex families, not just couples, and would end the damage to them, if passed, from systemic discrimination in Canada.

"EGALE has been here since 1986 and is not responsible for any [opposite sex] broken relationships," Ms. Vance countered later when questioned by Reform Committee member Eric Lowther.  "[EGALE] doesn't harm the formation of opposite sex relationships or families."

"The bill doesn't accord equal weight with opposite sex spouses," John Fisher testified, and added that the wording in the bill is not what EGALE would have used.

Mr. Fisher provided explanations when questioned later to counter the allegations of conspiracy and collusion printed in the National Post the previous day.  He explained that the appearance of EGALE having had access to the bill prior to its introduction in the Commons was due to time zone headers on the e-mail message which contained EGALE's preliminary analysis of it.  The e-mail was sent some 2 hours after the bill's introduction, he said, but would have contained a time label of 11 AM or so when opened by recipients due to EGALE's server being in the Pacific time zone.

The Executive Director attributed EGALE's rapid analysis to a conference call with a pre-assembled team of experts immediately upon the bill's introduction.

And he laughed off implications from Mr. Lowther that EGALE had any overt influence with the Ministry of Justice, reminding the Committee member that as a lobbyist he regularly meets with officials for advocacy but none of them craft their strategies for changing public policy on his words.

Mr. Fisher's answer to one question in particular caused Mr. Lowther to point a finger and outstretched arm across the room to another committee member in an 'I told you so' manner.

Responding to the point blank question of "Does the bill go far enough for you?," Mr. Fisher indicated that EGALE would likely be back for another round on the legal marriage issue.

Peter Stock of the Canadian Family Action Coalition

Most gays just want to be left alone.
-Peter Stock
Peter Stock of the Canadian Family Action Coalition testified next.  The organization he represents opposes any type of non-marriage relationship, including opposite sex common-law, and any possible rights such a relationship may have, with the exception of legal protection of the children of such relationships, no matter how they come to be there.

Flowing from this Mr. Stock condemned the bill for recognizing anything other than marriage and attempting to reduce that institution.  People of either orientation who are not married do not deserve rights, he stated clearly.  Same sex relationships make no discernible contribution to public good, he asserted, nor any contribution to society because their partners can't procreate.

He advocated a traditional male / female / together model of raising children and asserted that a status of marriage is what is required to avoid children not being disadvantaged.  His argument focused on status and apparently considered the day-to-day state of relationships to be irrelevant where the interests of children are concerned.  He maintained that his model was better than one of a single parent because in that case one of the genders is absent.

His organization advocates marriage, he said, because that is the only form of union observed by Statistics Canada to be inherently stable.  He quoted break-up rates of opposite sex common-law relationships of some 66%.  (He did not define a time period for that measurement.)

The family advocate then presented a third argument in opposition to the bill:  nobody wants it.  He reminded the Committee that EGALE presented "only" 6500 signatures in favour of relationship equality, and that this was insignificant with respect to both the gay community and the country in general.

He then proceeded to describe what gays want, and this is what caused him to be the target of humourous questioning later.

"Most gays just want to be left alone," Mr. Stock declared, "and don't want to have an arrangement imposed on them."  He reminded Committee members that marriage is a choice and that the proposed legal status of gays' relationships will not be.

Real Menard
"How do you know what gays want?"  shot back Bloc Quebecois Committee member Real Menard after the presentations were through.  He pressed the family advocate to support his thesis with an explanation of the methods used to arrive at it.  Member Menard conveyed being perplexed with the family activist's conclusion and explained that the support rate in Quebec for equality is something like 90%, which he further characterized with animation to be a virtual "orgasm" of unified public opinion, as these political questions go.

Outright laughter ensued.  Committee member Svend Robinson posed questions next, promising to not continue the sexual imagery but effectively doing so with the making of the promise.  Laughter broke out again, and it was at this time that the glass was heard falling over.

Eventually, Mr. Robinson's point that the bill was not about marriage prevailed, shutting down further retorts from the family and marriage advocate.