Dr.Dawg

How Motion 312 got to the floor of the Commons

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Motion 312.jpg

Private members’ business is dealt with by the House of Commons for an hour every day, but MPs cannot simply put their motions or bills directly before the House. It must first be vetted by the all-party Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, to determine if they are votable, i.e., within the rules.

As it happens, Motion 312—Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s infamous attempt to roll back the clock for Canadian women—came in for more than the usual pro forma approval.

The Chair of the Subcommittee was Conservative MP Harold Albrecht (Kitchener-Conestoga). The other players here were Stéphane Dion (L), Scott Reid (C), and Philip Toone (NDP), with the assistance of legal analyst Michel Bédard.

It’s worth highlighting that this Subcommittee could have served as a choke-point. Scott Reid wanted time to consult a Supreme Court decision, and moved to put off the vote. That motion was tied.

Stéphane Dion opposed giving the time that Scott Reid had requested—meaning that Philip Toone abstained.

The tie was then broken by the Chair, who voted against postponement. The vote on the main motion—to move M-312 to the House—took place immediately. The motion passed: the vote was unrecorded.

Had the powers that be not wished this motion to proceed, the Chair could have broken the tie on postponement by voting in favour. Once that was lost, the Subcommittee could have defeated the main motion.

Neither happened. Motion M-312 was declared votable on International Women’s Day.

What follows is the verbatim of the discussion.

The Chair:

Are there any concerns, questions, or comments?

Seeing none, that [sic] will proceed.

We’ll move to motion 312.

[Translation]

Mr. Michel Bédard:

This motion asks that a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth, and to answer various questions.

This motion does not seem to fall outside federal jurisdiction; it does not clearly violate the provisions of the Constitution; it does not concern questions that are the same as ones already voted on by the House in private members’ motions in the current session; and it does not concern questions that are currently on the Order Paper as items of government business.

[English]

The Chair:

Proceed.

Mr. Philip Toone:

I have some comments.

The Chair:

Okay.

Mr. Toone.

Mr. Philip Toone:

I want to point out that today is International Women’s Day. We’re debating a bill that has to do with abortion. I thought this had been decided over and over again. I’m shocked and appalled that it’s being presented today to this committee. The thought of bringing it to the House would appall me even more.

This has been decided over and over again. I might remind people that in Tremblay v. Daigle, all of the Supreme Court judges voted in favour of allowing Ms. Daigle to have an abortion. The question in that case was precisely this: when does a person have legal rights? At what point does a child get its rights? Is it at conception? Is it at birth? When exactly does a child get rights? It has been decided. In fact, it’s been decided in this country since the thirties with Montreal Tramways Co. v. Léveillé. And we’re having this debate again?

The Supreme Court has ruled—

The Chair:

Mr. Toone, I need to remind you that the purpose of this committee is to decide on the votability of motions and bills based on the four criteria. You’ve commented earlier that we’re having a debate that should happen in the House. I think you’re entering now into an area of the same nature.

Mr. Philip Toone:

I appreciate what you’re saying, but I don’t agree. When the Supreme Court rules on questions of human rights, that is the law of the land. It is the constitutional law of the land. They have ruled on this. They have decided that this is the state of law in this country. It was a charter case from Quebec. I don’t see how we can simply put aside the constitutional acts of this country. As far as I can understand it, that’s part of the job of this committee—to look at the human rights in this country.

I consider this bill quite out of order. I want to remind people that this is International Women’s Day. There’s a room full of men deciding whether this is going to go forward. I had a conversation this morning with people who told me that they can’t believe that we still have an International Women’s Day. I guess we do because we’re having this debate and I find it appalling.

The Chair:

Mr. Reid.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I’m assuming that Mr. Toone is saying that this is a violation of the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, including the Charter of Rights, section 2. That would, in essence, be the rationale. Is that correct?

Mr. Philip Toone:

Yes, I’m referring to sections 2, 7, and 15.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Sorry.

Mr. Philip Toone:

The 1982 Constitutional Act?

Mr. Scott Reid:

I’m trying to make sure I—

Mr. Philip Toone:

Yes, it’s sections 2, 7, and 15.

Mr. Scott Reid:

All right.

So sections 2, 7, and 15 of the charter. It’s on the basis of the Tremblay v. Daigle case as opposed to—

Mr. Philip Toone:

A woman has a right to choose.

Mr. Scott Reid:

It’s not based on the Morgentaler decision; it’s based on the Tremblay v. Daigle decision.

Is that correct?

Mr. Philip Toone:

Yes. The Morgentaler decision didn’t specifically deal with where life begins. That wasn’t a central part of the Morgentaler decisions, though it was an incidental part. But in Daigle v. Tremblay, that was the central question, which is the central element of this bill.

The Chair:

Mr. Reid.

Mr. Scott Reid:

We’re not a court, but in order to make an intelligent decision we have to be familiar with the cases. I apologize. I remember the case distinctly. Jean-Guy Tremblay was a hard man to like, to say the least. But I can’t comment intelligently, because I haven’t read through the case. If it is acceptable to the other members of the committee, can we set this one aside and return to it later? We might have a chance to actually read the case and have an intelligent as opposed to a completely uninformed position on this. Right now, I’m uninformed about this decision.

Would that be acceptable?

The Chair:

The analyst has a comment to make.

Mr. Michel Bédard:

Just with respect to the Constitution and the nature of the motion, it’s an instruction from the House of Commons to one of its committees to proceed to study. The Constitution actually protects the House of Commons from outside interference because it’s part of its privilege. The House of Commons could ask one of its committees to study any subject. Also, with respect to the Tremblay v. Daigle case, my recollection of the case is that it was not a criminal law case, but a civil case. The legal dispositions which were at play in this case were an expression of the Civil Code of Quebec.

I would also like to draw the attention of members to the last paragraph of the motion, which is a question to be instructed to the special committee: “…what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court to affirm, amend, or replace” the section of the Criminal Code.

I just wanted to bring this to—

The Chair:

Thank you.

Mr. Dion.

Hon. Stéphane Dion:

That’s exactly my point.

[Translation]

I am sorry, Mr. Toone, I share your outrage, but in this case the motion asks for the creation of a committee to examine a problem. Nothing comes before the right Parliament has to debate issues. Parliament is a forum for debate, by definition. I fail to see on what constitutional basis we could prevent the House of Commons from debating issues, even things we don’t like.

This does not concern seeing whether Parliament can invalidate a court decision; nothing in the motion asks for that. It is asking Parliament to study, to create a committee, to examine an issue, to make a recommendation. I don’t see how we can oppose it.

[English]

The Chair:

Okay.

Go ahead, Mr. Reid.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I appreciate, as I always do, Monsieur Dion’s comments. I personally do think that setting this aside so that we can base this on something other than a recollection of what might have been in the subject matter of Tremblay v. Daigle would be the only circumstance under which I would feel comfortable casting a vote one way or the other. I guess once again I am…. Actually, maybe before I do that, I have one other comment to make, which is that it’s not Mr. Woodworth’s fault that it got introduced today. It really wasn’t, you know.

I guess I’m going to move again that we delay this to give me the opportunity and others the chance to read that case so I can feel confident in making this decision. That’s the motion I’m proposing, that our decision be delayed until that has occurred.

The Chair:

Is there discussion on the motion?

Mr. Dion?

Hon. Stéphane Dion:

I’m ready to vote on it. The motion is very clear.

The Chair:

I’m the Chair, so I can’t comment.

All in favour of Mr. Reid’s motion? Those opposed?

(Motion tied).

Mr. Philip Toone:

I’m curious….

The Chair:

I’m going to vote against it.

All in favour of making this motion votable, please indicate so. Everybody in favour of allowing this to be votable, indicate. Those opposed…?

It is carried.

A grand tip of the hat to blogger Vicky Smallman, who sent me the link to the proceedings.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on April 27, 2012 4:19 PM.

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