Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 167, An Act to amend Ontario Statutes to provide for the equal treatment of persons in spousal relationships / Projet de loi 167, Loi modifiant des lois de l'Ontario afin de prévoir le traitement égal des personnes vivant dans une union entre conjoints.
When I left off, I was addressing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the cornerstone of a free and democratic society in our system of justice and how important it is that we be mindful of section 15, the equality rights section, and as we review our Human Rights Code and other legislation, we find in fact that same-sex spousal relationships are indeed created and distinguished from opposite-sex common-law relationships.
Bill 167 in fact is designed to bring the law with regard to same-sex spousal relationships into line with the rights enjoyed by opposite-sex couples.
In fact, this legislation has support from many different quarters. It has the support of labour, it has the support of business, it has the support of representatives of churches of many different denominations, including the Anglican Church, the United Church and indeed the Catholic Church. It has the support of many professional groups such as the social workers, and I myself have received letters from several psychotherapists.
It's indeed important that we not only affirm the right to pensions, not only the right to health and other employment benefits, but affirm the very dignity of those who are involved in same-sex spousal relationships and treat them equally before and under the law. That's what this legislation is all about.
For example, I received a letter from a resident of London North, a riding represented by a member who has declared that she is voting against this legislation. He says:
"I am a heterosexual male, middle-aged (54), and a long-time resident of London. I am married (32 years), the father of two children, a retired military officer, an engineer by occupation and a practising Roman Catholic by choice. I also strongly support the bill before the Legislature to extend family rights equivalent to those enjoyed by common-law opposite-sex couples...."
I'm not the only one who has affirmed the charter rights which should be implicit in our legislation and which call for the changes embodied in Bill 167. In fact, a letter was received by the leaders of both opposition parties, signed by 26 law professors representing law faculties from across Ontario, and each indicated in their view this bill had to be passed to finally bring equality to people in same-sex spousal relationships.
I have to take this opportunity to disassociate myself publicly from some of the intemperate remarks that I believe were made by the member for Yorkview the other day. I sat through them. I didn't have an opportunity to respond at that time. Others were on their feet perhaps faster than I was. I found those remarks distasteful. I found those remarks offensive. I recognize every member's right, as a matter of conscience, to either support or oppose this bill, but I think some of the comments made by the member for Yorkview were reflective of some of the literature that I've received which I believe comes perilously close to inciting hatred.
Just to conclude, I relied on some of the remarks made by the leader of the official opposition during the by-election in St George-St David, where she called for full equality rights, urged this government to bring forward the legislation, and vouchsafed to us that she would support the legislation once it was brought forward. No qualifications were imposed on that undertaking at that time. There was no mention of adoption, there was no mention about being uncomfortable about redefining spousal or family relationships.
Now we hear the Leader of the Opposition raising those issues. We've undertaken to present amendments at the committee stage on second reading that would answer all of those concerns, and we still do not hear from the leader of the official opposition the support she promised so many months ago.
I too would like to get on the record and say I support this particular piece of legislation, because when it comes to human rights, you can't compromise. This whole question is about human rights and ending discrimination against a segment of our community. In a week in which we celebrated the liberation of Europe and the restoration of basic human rights on that continent 50 years ago, I believe all members of the House should get on record, get in and support human rights, because when you talk about human rights, there is no compromise.
This bill, even with the amendments that have been put forward, represents a quantum leap forward in recognizing spousal relationships involving members of the same sex in the province of Ontario. The cost is negligible. It's certainly an issue whose time has come. I know we're reaching a certain climax in these proceedings, I believe, today where each individual member will come upon his or her conscience in casting a vote.
My mind has been made up for some time. As I've read constitutional law over the years, it's become readily apparent that the courts and tribunals will change the law in a piecemeal fashion. Our calling upon this Legislature to make the necessary decision now will ensure that these laws are brought into consistency with the Charter of Rights. I believe it should have been done many years ago, at the time of the omnibus bill in 1986, but better late than never. Denmark has recognized same-sex marriages for many years. There are other jurisdictions that recognize same-sex adoptions. I don't see why Ontario should follow far behind.
I am proud to tell you that I will be speaking in favour of Bill 167. I have so many reasons that make me want to say why I'm for it that there's no way I could mention that in the 10 or 15 minutes I have to do it. I threw out my speech; I just kept some of the notes.
But before I read some of the reasons, I just want to read to you a letter in French, but I'll have a very brief résumé in English. I got a copy of this letter that was sent to a member who made his every intention known that he would be voting against this. I received the copy and a phone call last night from the son of the deceased person, who has asked me to read this letter into the record. I've removed all identifying traits at his request.
The first letter, for those, as I jokingly say, who don't have a linguistic pacemaker with them, says: "At the moment that you receive this letter, I died yesterday at the Ottawa General Hospital." It's from a 69-year-old heterosexual father who had a -- the son is still living, of course -- homosexual son. Here it goes:
«Monsieur le député,
«Au moment que vous recevez cette lettre, je suis maintenant décédé depuis hier à l'hôpital général d'Ottawa. J'ai toutefois demandé à mon fils, qui demeure dans votre circonscription, de prendre position sur la question du projet de loi 167 et d'envoyer une lettre en mon nom pour expliquer mon point de vue.
«C'est la première fois que j'écris à un député. Jamais auparavant, je n'ai senti le besoin de le faire. Mais cette question est trop importante pour la laisser passer sous silence.
«J'ai 69 ans et je demeure dans un petit village du comté Prescott-Russell. J'ai été élevé dans le cadre de la religion catholique et jusqu'à ma mort, rares sont les fois que je n'ai pas réussi à dire mon chapelet le soir avant de me coucher. Je vous dis cela pour vous dire que je viens de la vieille école et que je suis un citoyen bien ordinaire de la province de l'Ontario.
«La différence entre moi et bien d'autres Ontariens, c'est que j'ai un fils homosexuel. Il me l'a dit lorsqu'il avait 17 ans. Inutile de vous dire que j'en ai été bouleversé. À bien y penser, j'en ai eu honte et j'ai cherché pendant longtemps qu'est-ce que ma femme et moi avions pu faire de pas correct pour qu'une telle chose nous arrive. Comment mon fils pourrait-il être heureux sans avoir la chance d'avoir une femme et des enfants ! Je me suis rassuré en disant que ce doit être une mauvaise phase et que les choses s'arrangeraient avec le temps.
«En fait, l'orientation sexuelle de mon fils n'a pas changé mais une chose a changé. Mon fils nous a présenté plusieurs de ses amis et c'était du monde bien normal. Lorsque j'ai pris ma retraite, ma femme et moi avons fait plusieurs voyages ensemble avec mon fils et un de ses amis. J'ai eu du plaisir, cher monsieur ! Le même genre de plaisir que nous aurions eu s'il avait eu une femme !
«Il y a trois ans mon fils a rencontré un homme originaire de l'île Manitoulin. Ils sont ensemble depuis lors et vraiment heureux. Je ne vois pas, Monsieur le député, de différence entre eux et une de mes filles qui est dans une relation de conjoint de fait.
«Il semble que vous ayez des préoccupations avec la clause de l'adoption pour les couples homosexuels. Je crois fermement que ce qui compte dans la vie, c'est l'Amour.» II écrit le mot 'amour' avec un grand A. «L'Amour» -- avec un grand A -- «nécessaire pour élever des enfants n'a rien à voir avec un pénis et un vagin de la même façon que le droit de vote et l'admission des femmes dans la Chambre des communes n'a rien à voir avec les parties génitales. Je n'aurais pas peur que mon fils et son conjoint élèvent un enfant homosexuel. Ça ne se décide pas comme ça. La preuve, c'est que j'ai élevé un fils homosexuel. Croyez-vous vraiment que j'aurais voulu élever un fils qui serait soumis à toutes sortes de discrimination ?
«Si toutefois vous ne pouvez pas vous réconcilier à l'idée de cette clause, je vous prie de voter en faveur du projet de loi en deuxième lecture et faire passer un amendement qui vous satisfera avant de passer en troisième lecture.
«Je ne pourrai malheureusement pas voir à la télévision les résultats de ce projet de loi mais je continuerai à guider mon fils à partir d'ici.
«Veuillez agréer, Monsieur le député, l'expression de mes sentiments les meilleurs.»
Même si je n'avais aucune autre raison de voter pour 167, cette lettre est suffisante, nettement suffisante pour faire comprendre à tous les Ontariens et à toutes les Ontariennes l'importance d'un appui à un tel projet de loi.
J'appuie ce projet de loi pour plusieurs raisons, comme je vous ai mentionné tantôt, mais laissez-moi en dire quelques-unes.
Oui, c'est une question de droit. C'est une question de principe. C'est une question de justice. Il y a un besoin évident depuis longtemps d'éliminer une discrimination systémique dans la société de l'Ontario.
D'ailleurs, plusieurs décisions de cours à différents niveaux ont tranché en faveur d'éliminer cette discrimination qui est toujours là. On a démontré suffisamment que le manque d'une loi cadre pour corriger cette anomalie va à l'encontre de l'article 15 de la Charte des droits de la personne.
D'ailleurs, j'ai suffisamment lu plusieurs opinions juridiques qui disent que tant et aussi longtemps que l'Ontario ne respectera pas l'article 15 de la Charte, nous serons dans une position où il y aura toujours de la discrimination envers les couples homosexuels.
J'ai lu plusieurs lettres de personnes qui ont vécu et qui continuent de vivre cette discrimination-là ; je vous en ai lu une tantôt. J'ai connu et je connais des personnes qui ont vécu et qui, entre autres, se sont vu refuser d'être auprès de leur partenaire à l'hôpital malade ou mourant, qui ont été repoussées après la mort de leur partenaire, qui ont été refusées accès aux funérailles ou à l'enterrement et dont les enfants élevés ensemble ont été retirés après le décès et dont les dépendants ont été laissés pour compte.
J'en ai connu, j'ai entendu, j'ai vu, et ça a été suffisant pour me motiver à dire qu'il n'est pas question qu'on ne fasse pas quelque chose pour éliminer la discrimination.
Les bénéfices envers les couples du même sexe : il y a déjà plusieurs compagnies qui offrent de tels bénéfices. J'ai lu partout, et on ne parle même pas d'un coût additionnel de 1 % sur l'ensemble de la paie des employés. D'ailleurs, la Commission des droits de la personne de l'Ontario a justement dit qu'il fallait éliminer ces problèmes de bénéfices-là avec les couples du même sexe.
Qu'on veuille l'admettre ou non, la société a changé. Il y a toujours des gens qui ont une vision traditionnelle de la société, mais il y a des personnes qui ont une autre vision de la société, une vision différente, une vision nouvelle, et ça fait partie d'être Canadien et d'être Ontarien : d'accepter ce qui est différent.
D'ailleurs, dans notre langue, nous avons une expression : vive la différence. Ce qui est différent n'est pas menaçant. Ce qui est différent, c'est un enrichissement. Moi, venant d'une minorité linguistique, je sais très bien que cette différence-là n'est pas une menace à la majorité. Je n'accepte pas que des gens puissent voir qu'un couple ou un individu homosexuel, qu'ils soient gais, qu'elles soient lesbiennes, puisse être une menace à la société. Pour moi, c'est contraire à ma définition d'«égalité».
Question de relations familiales ? Je pense que, en ce qui a trait aux valeurs familiales, c'est un autre dossier, c'est une autre question. Puis, d'ailleurs, c'est contre la loi canadienne et la loi ontarienne de pratiquer une discrimination contre leur orientation sexuelle.
Les gais et les lesbiennes font une partie intégrale de notre société actuelle et ne demandent qu'à être traités avec la même dignité, le même respect et la même compréhension que tous les Canadiens et les Canadiennes aiment dire qu'ils pratiquent régulièrement. La réforme des droits de la personne a toujours été basée sur les principes de justice sociale. Plusieurs leaders de la communauté religieuse, dont plusieurs catholiques, m'ont dit leur appui et ont dit clairement leur appui à éliminer cette discrimination systématique. Ce n'est aucune menace à la famille traditionnelle.
Je dis à mes commettants et à mes commettantes, si vous croyez en la famille traditionnelle, allez-y, croyez en la famille traditionnelle. Créez-en une, une famille traditionnelle. Ayez 12, 15, 20 enfants ; allez-y. Je vais vous applaudir et je vais vous appuyer. Je suis bien content d'être l'oncle honoraire de vos enfants. Ce n'est pas parce que vous avez des voisins, de la parenté, des fils, des filles qui sont homosexuels que ça a affecté votre vision, votre vécu dans votre famille traditionnelle, absolument pas. Vous aviez cette vision traditionnelle, vous l'avez et vous avez le droit de l'avoir toujours, jusqu'à la fin de vos jours, et bravo. Mais il y en a d'autres qui n'ont pas cette même vision-là, et c'est correct également et c'est très bien.
Ma religion, telle que je la vis, m'interdit de pratiquer toute discrimination. Je n'ai qu'une seule définition d'«égalité» et ce n'est pas compliqué, croyez-moi.
J'ai reçu, comme tous mes collègues, plusieurs lettres d'appui, plusieurs lettres contre, et je dirais 45 % d'appui, 55 % contre. Ça va. Même des éditoriaux d'hebdos des petites communautés rurales de l'Ontario viennent en appui au projet de loi 167. Ce n'est pas juste dans les grandes villes de l'Ontario.
I can only regret that the bill was watered down, because we had an excellent opportunity to eliminate systemic discrimination.
Being an environmentalist, I'm used to having people point me out. Back in 1978, I built an environmental house. People laughed at me because I had R-20 insulation in the walls and R-40 in the ceiling. People laughed at me because I built a cistern. People laughed at me for many things. People laughed at me, I guess, because I got elected MPP, who knows? People laugh at me maybe because I'm still an MPP, who knows? And that's okay. I have no problems with that.
As I jokingly say, there's a pack. You can be ahead of the pack or you can be behind the pack or you can be in the pack. I'd rather be seen by the wolf ahead of the pack.
It's a question of time before Ontario society comes around. Sometimes you're penalized by some people because you're ahead of your time. I liked what Lee Iacocca said, I love that very much; trust the old fellow. "You lead, you follow or you get the hell out of the way." Well, let us lead. That's the way I see it.
People come up to me and say, "It must have been hard to make that decision to be part of a magnificent trio." No, it wasn't hard, not at all. It was one of the easiest decisions I've ever had to make, and I wish they would all have been that easy.
Why are they easy? Because I was brought up with just one definition of equality -- one; not two, not three, not four. I don't change the definition of "equality" the way I change underwear everyday, as we say in French. I got one, and what's good for the goose is good for the gander, as I say in my adopted second language, English: one definition.
If I care about Ontario, if I care about my community, one definition, not two -- never, never. To me this is only common sense as to righting a wrong. That's the way I see it. I'm a Capricorn. Imagine that. I'm a logical animal, and sometimes I have a hard time after 10 years in here. I've said that many times, and you've heard me. There isn't much room in politics for logic. Too bad. I was able to last 10 years. I'm here to vote for 167 today and I'm damn proud.
I guess in the future this will come along if it doesn't come today, but I would like to see it come today, and that's the way I see it. I could go on for a long time. Something tells me I went over my 10 minutes. That's okay. I feel good about this and I hope there will be sufficient members to understand, to push away the partisanry that some individuals and some parties want to do with this. I hope that people will vote for this so that we can turn the page for a large part of society, and even those like me who are heterosexual, that we can be proud to be Ontarians together.
Je vous ai écouté parler avec une certaine fierté. Je pense que ce que vous avez dit rassemble toute la pensée du monde qui comprend vraiment que ce dont on parle ici, c'est une question de discrimination, et je vous applaudis.
J'aimerais vous dire, parce que c'est possiblement une des seules chances que j'aurai de vous le dire, que je vous ai vu sur beaucoup d'autres questions, et quand ça en vient à la question de discrimination, vous avez toujours été là pour vous battre contre le monde. Vous avez compris que, dans le passé, nous autres les députés, on avait une responsabilité de nous battre contre la discrimination, aujourd'hui et dans le futur. Je vous salue, Monsieur le député.
Je crois fermement que nous avons une responsabilité d'abolir toute discrimination en Ontario. Certains gens vont me penser politicien, mais je vous rappelle que j'ai été élu ici pour être politicien. Ça, c'est numéro un. Je veux voir cette discrimination-là, toute forme de discrimination disparaître, mais je déplore la façon de laquelle le gouvernement s'est pris à la onzième heure de présenter un tel projet de loi.
On parle de modifications. Les modifications ne font pas partie du projet de loi 167. Ce sont un demain. C'est après la deuxième lecture. Je dois vous dire, très honnêtement, que je n'ai pas la ferme conviction que le gouvernement --
I wish to congratulate you on your comments and on sending this positive message. I'm sure your children and all children who may have straight parents may be proud of your comments, and I would like to join with you in your comments. I'm proud of my children, who may happen to be gay or lesbian in the future, and I would be proud and I would like to show those comments to them in the future. As you said as well, vive la différence.
If that is so, I would like to raise this question: If this was a matter or a question of rights, a matter of justice, a matter of principle and a human rights issue, would the vast majority of the people of this province be opposed? Would this House be as divided as it is? Would that government have watered down the legislation as much as it has?
If it is a matter of principle, if it is a matter of justice, if it is a matter of rights and if it is an issue of human rights, then I agree there is no compromise. But since compromises have been made, I think that even the members of that government have realized or have come to see the issue as we see it on this side of the House. I refuse to accept that this province, this Legislature and this country would be as bigoted as this newest letter that I received that we are McCarthy wannabes. I reject that totally.
Le fait demeure que je crois sincèrement que c'est une question de droits, de principes et de justice. Il y a des gens qui s'y opposent pour toute une gamme de raisons de la même façon que moi et d'autres on l'appuie pour toute une gamme de raisons.
Je n'ai pas à entretenir et à décrire la gamme de raisons de ceux et celles qui s'y opposent. Moi, je me suis concentré sur l'aspect positif de la chose, sur l'aspect des raisons pourquoi moi et d'autres nous appuyons un tel projet de loi. Je ne veux pas donner la plate-forme de ceux et celles qui s'y opposent. Ceux-ci n'auront qu'à se lever ou dire d'autres choses et nous expliquer pourquoi, pour quelles raisons, qu'elles soient politiques ou qu'elles soient autres, ils n'ont pas la même perception de ce projet de loi que moi et les autres qui l'appuient.
Thank you for your support. It doesn't often happen this way, does it?
I will repeat that I wish this could have been done much earlier. I say that in a non-partisan sense and I think we all agree. Having spoken many times in private with a lot of you, we all agree, late, but better than never. Now better than later, so that we can go on and try to do a lot of other things that need to be corrected in Ontario. Lord knows, the list is long.
I just tried to show that there are many positive aspects to this and that a lot of the fears that I've seen expressed in telephone calls and faxes -- and faxes and faxes -- and letters, with all due respect, I don't think are warranted whatsoever. I don't feel that. There are many positive reasons to do this, and I hope that this Legislative Assembly will do the right thing, even though it's watered down.
I thought I would take as much time as I'm permitted to speak directly to as many members as I can, speak to them as the first minister and say to members directly that in looking at this question, I think we would all be wisest to really try to look at it in a spirit of generosity and, as much as is humanly possible, in a spirit of non-partisanship.
If you look at the evolution of society's attitude to this question, and it is an attitude that has evolved over time, it is one in which legislators have, from time to time, exercised leadership. Yes, they have exercised compromise, and I'll come to that, but they've also exercised leadership.
Back 40 or 50 years ago, relatively recent modern history, homosexuality, a homosexual act between people was a criminal act. It was forbidden by the law and there were a great many people who lived in fear of persecution, in fear of prosecution. The debate took place in a number of countries: in Canada, in Britain, in the United States, in a number of countries.
In Britain, the report that stands out as the beginning of enlightenment on this question was the Wolfenden report. In that report, the royal commissioner pointed out to the British public that it really was incredibly unfair and harsh for the state to attempt to impose one version of private morality on an entire society and on people's private, consenting acts.
Of course there was a major debate, and of course many of the features of the debate that we are hearing today were heard at that time: that homosexuality in and of itself is immoral, that there is no way in which the law could possibly countenance or recognize or permit homosexual activity between consenting adults.
That view, if I may say so, with great respect to the people who have continued to express that strong point of view, has been rejected by every Legislature in the western world. There is now no Legislature in the western world which accepts the notion that somehow the law should seek to impose a particular sexual morality on an entire society. There is no modern Legislature which would contemplate doing that. When Mr Trudeau, as Minister of Justice, introduced the changes to the Criminal Code in 1967, he brought the Canadian Criminal Code in line with the changes which were then under way in every other jurisdiction.
It's important that we reflect for a moment on the pain and suffering and hardship which the kind of discrimination, not only in the law but in terms of social attitudes, has caused to thousands and thousands of people, many distinguished people. I've just finished reading a biography of John Maynard Keynes, and he was a homosexual. In this book it describes how he was afraid that his landlady -- this is when he was a senior adviser to the Treasurer -- was going to denounce him to the government. I don't have to, for the benefit of members, go through the field of art and science, of music, of law, of literature, of business, of police, of this Legislature, of everywhere else --
We have to reflect on what that has meant. The evolution of the law has been extremely important.
The law has evolved as well in term of this province. I can reflect, and I think members will join me in this common understanding, that during the 1970s the question then became that as the Criminal Code was being changed, it was then the next step that the Human Rights Code would be changed so that sexual orientation could not be the grounds for discrimination. This Legislature went through a period of discussion during the Conservative minority government when there was some suggestion that some changes like that might be made, and they were not successful.
I can recall the election of 1981, in which that issue had been raised and in which there had been some question as to how it would be supported and how it could be done. I can remember getting, in that election, people at the doorstep saying they were opposed to that idea, that they didn't feel it was the right thing to do, and I can remember people feeling very strongly that it's something they felt it was time to happen.
When the government changed in 1985, the Attorney General of the day, Mr Scott, brought forward amendments to the Human Rights Code which did not include any changes with respect to sexual orientation. The bill went to committee. The member for Ottawa Centre moved amendments, some of which were accepted, which led to changes, which were debated in this House in 1986. We had support from all three parties, very modest support from one party, but we had support from the other two parties for the change, which meant that sexual orientation could no longer be the grounds for discrimination with respect to employment.
I can remember that debate. I spoke in it, Mr Peterson spoke in it, Mr Scott, a number of members spoke very strongly in it, and it was, like this debate today, one of considerable emotion.
I can remember that in my remarks at that time I focused a lot on the issue of privacy and said that really the logical next step, in terms of the positions that were taken with respect to the Criminal Code, was for us to recognize that people had a right and have a right to a private life. They have a right to be themselves. They have a right to be who they are, without shame, without fear, with acceptance.
I feel that even more strongly today than I have ever felt it. But I feel as well that, in a sense, our society has evolved from the point that we're not only saying, "Yes, you have a right to be private, but for goodness' sake keep it private," but to the point now where surely we can say: "Look, there are gay people and lesbian people in our society. They have a right to be who they are. They have a right to their own lives. They have a right to their own partnerships. They have a right to choose who they will love and who they will live with."
It's interesting when you go down the list of employers that now recognize this concept of a benefit being paid on the basis of one's domestic partner being whomever one chooses as one's domestic partner. Sometimes, when I hear the kind of reaction I'm getting from some members because of something they're afraid of, or some force they're afraid of, I wonder. They say, "You guys are way out somewhere on some fringe and we're with the great majority." I don't happen to feel that's true. I really don't feel that's true. The folks who are opposed to this, if they're opposing it for political reasons rather than for reasons of real conscience that they can't accept it, are riding the wrong wave.
Let me just list the companies: Alfred D'Allaire, Blue Cross, the city of Ottawa, the city of Kanata, the city of Kitchener, the city of Toronto, Dow Chemical, the Globe and Mail, the government of Ontario, the Hamilton Spectator, Harbourfront Centre, Hudson's Bay Co, the Law Society of Upper Canada, Levi Strauss, London Life Insurance, the London Board of Education, Lotus Corp, McGill University, Metropolitan Toronto, the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force, National Grocers, North American Life Assurance, the North York Board of Education, Northern Telecom, Ontario Hydro, Oracle Corp, the regional municipality of Waterloo, the regional municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, the Royal Bank, Ryerson Polytechnic, Sears, Southam Publishing, Stentor Resource Centre, the Toronto Board of Education, Toronto Hospital postgraduates, Toronto Hydro, Toronto Public Library, the Toronto Sun --
These are not radical organizations. When the Royal Bank, Sears, Ryerson Polytechnic University, the Wellesley Hospital and London Life Insurance can all agree that it's time to move ahead, who are we as a Legislature to fall behind?
In fact, it's worth pointing out that just over a year ago, the Attorney General and I received a letter from the leader of the official opposition. I want to read this letter out simply as a way of saying that --
I will simply say, for purposes of this discussion, that when I am told, for example, that our government has broken a number of promises to the gay and lesbian community, that we have refused to extend same-sex spousal benefits to private sector workers and that, "If you will agree to bring legislation forward immediately, I will do everything possible to facilitate passage," when she says, "It's evident to me that our courts and tribunals are recognizing that same-sex couples have entitlements to family and survivor benefits and are moving in this direction. I'm calling on you to heed this direction and take action now to recognize the rights of same-sex couples," I can only say that I believe at that time that was part of a general reflective mood, and I believe that's what the honourable member believes. I tell the honourable member and I tell members opposite, that's what I believe too.
I would say to members, let us look at this issue not as one in which we say: "That was then and this is now. Now we won't do anything about it because it's not an issue, or we don't like the way the government has done it, we don't even like the way the government has brought in its determination to bring in amendments." I say very directly to members, particularly to members of the Liberal Party whom I've heard saying in the press -- and I heard the member for Ottawa East make the same point again, so I know it's part of a concerted approach that's being taken -- "The reason we can't support the bill now is that we don't trust the government," I say to them we have made a commitment. It's very clear. It's very specific. The motions are prepared in terms of what we will do. They're all ready. They've been circulated. I say directly to members opposite that if on third reading the bill does not approximate or does not lead to what it is they want, then by all means defeat it at third reading. But don't extinguish it now. Give it a chance to go to committee. Give the committee a chance to hear the amendments we've indicated. Do not extinguish it right now.
I say to members, we have listened. You said you had to have a free vote; I called a free vote. You're going to see how free it is on our side. It's a free vote. I don't mind saying to my colleagues that internally, yes, there have been emotional debates, we've had emotional debates and emotional discussions, and it was clear to me at a certain point in the discussion over the last 10 days that we were not going to be successful if we simply moved ahead with the bill in the form in which it was presented. The Attorney General reached the same conclusion herself on the basis of what she was hearing, what we were all hearing.
This has been an extraordinary debate for the province. I happen to think it's been a healthy debate for the province. I happen to think it's one which is going to advance the understanding and the sense of tolerance in our society -- not easily, but I believe that at the end of the day that is what is taking place and that is what will happen.
It's often said that in politics you're not supposed to say, "We couldn't get that thing through so now we'll have to do something else." I admit that when you call the kind of free vote and the kind of free debate we've had, people knowing where I stand -- and I think that's very clear to everyone here, my own view as to how we have evolved as a province and how we have to accept the fact that precisely because there are enduring partnerships between gay and lesbian people, those partnerships are entitled to equality before the law, those partnerships are entitled to a sense of respect before the law.
I happen to believe that the courts will find their way to that conclusion, but I also happen to believe that it isn't right, even with the charter, for legislators to back off and say, "Oh, we'll let the courts decide that. That's too difficult an issue, that's too hot a topic, that's too difficult a topic." I think we have to face up to it, I think we have to deal with it, and I believe that's what this bill, as amended, will do.
I would say to members and I would say to everyone present here that we have made the very clear commitment to the people of this province that we would move in a way which reflects the evolution of our society and the evolution of Ontario.
As I travel around the province, of course I hear different views on this subject. I hear from some who say to me they don't want the law to even countenance the very idea of homosexual partnerships, of gay and lesbian partnerships. They can't accept the notion that the law should do that, to which I can only reply, in a secular society such as ours and in a diverse society such as ours and in a society such as ours which reflects different values, different traditions, different people, people who live differently, it is only right and fair that the law should reflect them as well.
When I spoke on the constitutional debate, I often said that the first freedom, the first right that people have, is the right to be themselves. It's to see in the Constitution, in the legal structure of their country -- it's to be able to look in that mirror and see themselves and know that the constitutional mirror of Canada and of Ontario doesn't exclude them. It includes them. It gives them a place.
It means that they're people here too, that they're not going to disappear or evaporate or be continually embarrassed or live in shame or fear by virtue of who and what they are. That's not a reasonable perspective. It's not, in my view, a balanced, tolerant way in which we're going to build a generous society.
Then I had people say to me: "It's the wrong time to do this. It's not the right time to do this. There must be a better time." Well, I suppose there might have been a better time than 1990 to be asked to form a government. There are lots of times when you say to yourself that life would be easier or better if you didn't confront a difficult situation, because let there be no question: This is an issue on which there are emotions that are strongly expressed and strongly felt.
But let me also say that you can't really avoid issues when the courts are raising them, when the Human Rights Commission is dealing with them, and when we have the simple, fundamental fact that the gay and lesbian people of this province are here and they are saying very clearly to the rest of us: "Include us in. We're not challenging the nature of legal authority in our society. We're not challenging the nature of the modern family. We're not seeking to cause a total revolution in the way in which people live. All we're asking is that people recognize that we live on your streets, we live in your apartment buildings, we own houses, we pay taxes, we contribute to society, and we work at every level of our society." There isn't a branch or part of this province where gay and lesbian people aren't working and living and being themselves.
I suppose there was a time when the Premier of this province would never say those words for fear of being struck by lightning, but I'll say it again: Gay and lesbian people are with us and part of our community, and I say, as Premier of the province, you have a right to be part of this community and you have a right to be included in the way in which we draft and build the legal structure and the social structure of this province. That's your right.
Je ne peux rien ajouter aux paroles de mon ami le député de Prescott et Russell. Je crois que la lettre qu'il a lue reflète une réalité que j'ai vue moi-même dans beaucoup, beaucoup de communautés : des gens qu'on pense être très, très conservateurs à ce sujet à cause de leurs valeurs personnelles ou à cause de leurs expériences comme génération, et dans beaucoup de situations ces gens ont dû répondre à leur situation familiale, qu'ils ont une soeur ou un fils ou une fille qui dit, à l'âge de 17 ou 18 ans, «Papa, je suis homosexuel.» D'abord, ça cause une réponse d'émotion profonde, mais on voit beaucoup plus souvent le triomphe du coeur humain ; c'est ça qui triomphe dans les familles que nous voyons.
I've seen the member for Prescott-Russell, whom I obviously listened very carefully to, and he spoke so wonderfully -- and I think the letter that he read has got to be one of the most moving expressions of human emotion that I've heard read in the Legislature. I think the situation that he described is one that all of us can relate to, where people who perhaps before this experience had never before thought they would be faced with this kind of choice -- parents, who have very strong views and who have a very clear-cut sense of what should be and what should not be -- are confronted with the fact that a child, a sister, a brother says, and has said in the last 20 and 30 years, that they are homosexual, gay or lesbian.
There's been a dramatic change in our society in the last 20 or 30 years. For a whole period of time, for a whole generation, for decades and decades, this was not an admission one could make, even to oneself, let alone to one's loved one. But we've changed, and families have changed and parents have changed, because they've had to change, because they're faced with the choice of either refusing to recognize that human reality or understanding that love can take different forms and can express itself in different ways.
That's what we now confront. We have an opportunity, I believe, to right some wrongs. I would repeat very directly to the members of the House my sense that the province is ready for this kind of recognition, that the private sector is already giving this kind of recognition and that it diminishes us a little if we show ourselves unprepared to make the same kind of recognition.
I want to say to all of my colleagues that whatever happens, it is crucial for us to remember the need to build a more tolerant and a more caring province, and to simply make the observation, based on my political experience -- and this is a political question. We offer a compromise because we believe that politically it's better to get something and move the yardsticks ahead than not to. Simply put, that's my view, as a politician. I know there are some who would refuse even to describe themselves as politicians, but that happens to be what I've been doing for the last 15 years and I think that for us to move ahead a bit is better than not to move ahead at all.
But I would say to the House and I would say to the province that the message that I'm getting from the gay and lesbian community, as well as from a great many other people, is that however politically inconvenient it may be, and however some people might prefer to say, "This is a hot issue. For goodness' sake, put that one on the back burner, or on another burner or, preferably, take into another room altogether," it won't go away. It's not going to happen, and I'll tell you why it's not going to happen: because gay and lesbian people are here. They're here among us. That's a reality that we have to come to terms with, all of us personally, in our own attitudes, in the views that we respect, that we repeat, in the statements that we make, in the jokes that we tell.
But it's also something that's going to be reflected in our laws. The courts and human rights tribunals will move us in that direction. Legislatures around the world are moving in that direction. Sweden and Norway, California, Hawaii, the European Parliament, the drive, the move is inexorable.
So in my view, and what I would say strongly to my colleagues in all parties, it is time. It's time for us to make the move. It's time for us to be inclusive. It's time for us to respond to the simple quest for equality and to the simple demand for human justice. It's time, and I will certainly be standing in my place to express my strong support for the approach that the Attorney General has taken and for our commitment as a government to moving ahead on behalf of the people of the province of Ontario.
But the bill that you've presented, and the Attorney General is responsible for this, went far beyond whatever Ontarians would accept. You now try to repatriate that by amendments. You tell us the amendments will be put in after second reading. Well, I'll tell you, I've chaired a lot of committees around this Legislature and you're playing smoke and mirrors with those poor souls, those poor human beings, because the amendments you're suggesting, Madam Attorney General and Mr Premier, would be ruled by any Chairman who knew anything about this place to be out of order, because they totally gut the principle of the bill.
If that's the smoke-and-mirrors politics you want to join with the Conservatives in playing, in dealing with human lives of people who care and are expecting your government to do something, Mr Premier, I find that abominable. This Legislature is being used for political purposes and I object to that.
I suggest to you, Mr Premier, this is probably the darkest day in the history of this province in terms of politics in this House. You've spoken about human rights. It's not human rights. You don't understand the bill. You brought in a bill that was far more than anything that could possibly be sanctioned by this province, and you have in fact left these people out in the cold. You're going to say to them on election day, as will Mr Harris, the leader of the third party, but you'll do it in a different way; you'll say, "We tried and we couldn't accomplish it." Well, I say shame, Mr Premier. Shame.
I'd like to remind people here that for those who said we couldn't have pay equity so that women could earn salaries and wages that reflected their skills and experience because, of course, the economy wasn't strong enough, it wouldn't support it, they hid behind that excuse. When it came to employment equity, well, the excuse there was the myth that everyone had access to employment and jobs. Of course, there was the recent Sun cartoon that reinforced the myth that women are raped because of their appearance, and that paper hid behind the excuse that it was a matter of freedom of the press. Now there are those who would deny equal rights to gays and lesbians and hide behind moral indignation.
I'd like to remind the members of the House that the prayer that is recited here every sitting day calls upon us to ensure an Ontario "where freedom rules and justice prevails." I think we should stop hiding and making excuses and vote for Bill 167, because it's time Ontario did indeed become a province where there is freedom and justice for every citizen.
Yet later this afternoon I will be voting against Bill 167, and I will be doing it with a tremendous degree of regret. I simply want to say to the Premier that while I could endorse virtually every single comment that he made in his speech, the reason this bill will fail ought to be focused at least in part on the way in which the government has managed this issue.
Ever since the very eloquent letter from my leader went to the Premier, I had believed that there was an opportunity for this Parliament to come to a consensus on moving the yardsticks on this issue. I simply say to the Premier that on this very volatile issue his management skills have not been what I would have expected. It goes right down to the comments of the Attorney General yesterday after presenting her amendments, when she added that the changes announced yesterday have removed any justification for MPPs to vote against this bill, "If they do, it will be a clear indication that they are voting purely on the basis of fear and homophobia." I want to say publicly to the Attorney General and to the Premier that it is that kind of characterization in this debate that has a great deal to do with the fact that this bill will not pass today.
When I raised your leader's, the Liberal leader's, letter, I said in this House before, and I say it again, I have not been playing politics with this issue and I think everybody here knows that. My goal has been to try to get this bill passed, and I'd be the first one to admit that perhaps we could have done it differently, that perhaps we could have done it better. It has been, as the Premier said, a difficult issue for all of us for many reasons, but I would say that today is our opportunity.
Let me tell you that when the Liberal leader wrote that letter, and I'm raising it in this context, I believed her and I rejoiced, because we didn't have all the support in this caucus that we needed. When I saw that letter, all I could think of was: "The Liberals have promised their support. We have got more support on the other side of the House."
I rejoiced and I believed that letter, and so we moved ahead without all the votes and all the necessary support on this side, thinking, and from my heart believing, that there was a positive response from over there.
So what I am asking today, genuinely from my heart, because this is the day we're going to make a big choice, is that people will put aside partisan politics, will put aside the sentiments that it should have been done this way or that way, and realize that today is our chance to put all that aside and take the opportunity to seize this and support the bill.
First of all, with respect to the member for Brampton South, we have obviously discussed the amendments with the Clerk's office and we've been advised that they are in order. We wouldn't be doing this after all the debate that's taken place -- I mean, it really sort of defies credulity to believe that the government would be doing this for any other reason.
You can say, "Look, you could have managed it better," but the question here is one of you have an open debate and you listen to the debate. What were the key issues raised in the debate? Adoption and dealing with the question of "marital status" and "spouse," and saying, "Can you do it a different way?" We came to the conclusion that we could and that we should, and that in order to get the bill through and to deal with it, we do it in that way.
I would say directly to members, first of all, that the argument that was made by the member for Brampton South that somehow what we're doing is not in order is just not true. It just isn't true. He should know that. It just isn't the case.
I would say this directly to my good friend for York Centre: I've seen different views of his reported, in both the Italian and the English media, with respect to his views of what the law should and should not do, so I'm interested in hearing him say that he is of a certain view. I would say to him and I would plead with him, if that is really his position -- and I believe it is, because I believe that he comes into the House and says that's what he could support -- if that's the position that's being put forward by some of them, I would say to him, with great respect, let it go to committee, and then if what you see at third reading does not comply with what it is you think should be there, vote against it. That's perfectly okay. No one would criticize you. I would be the last to criticize you.
We have a chance to do it, so let this bill go to committee, let it be heard and let it be voted up or down on third reading. That's the better way for us to proceed with it.
I read with some interest an editorial in one of the papers today that said it was more or less extraordinary that a full and complete debate had actually exchanged opposing views that may result in some change of opinion, some movement, if you will, from people's point of view, that it was not the norm in this place.
When I voted yes on May 19, I took a lot of heat from a lot of different quarters. I want, at the outset, to thank those of my colleagues who understood why I did that for their support and their encouragement. Some are in the third party, and they know who they are and I want to thank them particularly, and some of my own caucus as well provided me with some considerable encouragement, many of them not even knowing some of the difficulty, if I can use that word, that I was running into with some of my friends and indeed colleagues here and people in my community.
One of my colleagues, it matters not which party he or she represents, indicated to me that we weren't paid enough money to go back to the constituents and explain the process. I had an editorial in my local paper say that maybe they understood why I did what I did, but politics was already too confusing and it was ill-advised of me to do something that might confuse people in terms of the process.
I voted yes for first reading because I believe that debate is essential and a fundamental part of this process we call democracy. I find it difficult personally -- and I make no judgement. I understand why people voted no on first reading; they understood the essence of the bill, they felt they knew ahead of time what was there and felt in conscience they had to vote against it.
It seems to me, however, that whatever one's point of view is, whatever she or he may have as their point of view and conviction, one of the privileges and indeed responsibilities we have in this place is to stand and indicate why we believe what we believe.
If this were to be my last speech, and I might even say significant speech -- I don't know if it will be or not -- in this place -- I don't know what the future holds. I don't know if I'll be returned whenever the Premier decides to have an election. But if this were to be the last opportunity I have to speak in this place, I would want to make a couple of points and one of them is this: I have endeavoured to represent the people of my community. In so doing, one of the aspects of that requires that I communicate and dialogue with them.
Over the past few weeks, I have received in excess of 100 phone calls virtually every day, countless letters, countless faxes, indicating points of view on Bill 167, some in favour, I say very candidly, the majority opposed. I might say to some of those who called and expressed their displeasure with 167 or their opposition to it that I take some exception to the manner in which the message was communicated. There are people who, I am sure, in their hearts believe that they're doing the right thing. I would ask them to consider how they're trying to communicate the message.
I think all of us are ultimately a product of a variety of ingredients. We're a product of our environment and the value system we have been taught. We are part of things that we fundamentally believe in terms of our various faiths or lack thereof, and I have to say that I am a product of an upbringing that has presented a value system that, quite frankly, I haven't lived up to in most respects. But at the end of the day, I believe there is an empirical, fundamental value system that I happen to believe in and that I have to adopt as foundational for the decisions I make, and a value system which ultimately becomes an expression of who and what I am. I can't isolate that here in this place or in my home or in my community or in my recreation. I am what I am, and that's a product of everything, including the value system I have.
I believe that one of the things we all share in this place is a high desire for tolerance and understanding. Sometimes we confuse the logic that says that tolerance is part and parcel and necessarily a part of a full endorsation of an alternative value system. I say very, very clearly that I have no difficulty in presenting a point of view, from a logical point of view, that says that tolerance is not exclusive of non-acceptance of a particular value system.
I indicated that if this were to be my last speech in the House, I would want to say that I have tried to do the best job I can in terms of representing my community and at the same time sometimes providing leadership. The Premier said that leadership is stepping out in front. Yes, it is. Sometimes leadership also includes standing -- nobody is ever alone, but standing here sometimes feels like you're alone, when you believe in something. That's part of leadership too, and many of my colleagues are going to do that today. Even though they've heard from their constituents that they don't want them to vote in favour, some are going to vote in favour.
I voted yes on first reading because I wanted to have an opportunity to dialogue on this issue, as I did not believe it would go away. I did not believe that by seeing it defeated on first reading, the type of discussion and the atmosphere in which tolerance could be advanced, sensitivity to those of the lesbian and gay community -- who, as the Premier said, live among us, some in our families -- could be advanced, in an atmosphere where we didn't have an open and full and complete debate.
I confess that I don't have any particular wisdom or particular insight that is new to bring to this place today. As some of my colleagues would know, I have been away, some distance away from this place, and I've read and followed with interest the debate that has taken place. I appreciate the comments of many of my colleagues. I disagree with many of you, but I appreciate what you have to say and why you're saying it and where you're coming from.
I said I would do the best to represent and provide leadership in my community. I indicated after first reading that unless there was something particularly different or unusual in the bill from what I anticipated, I would in all probability be voting against it on second reading. But I felt the bill deserved and I needed the opportunity to at least look at it and consider it in its entirety.
That has been done. That has been done with a great deal of emotion and a great deal of pain, I suspect, by a number of people.
Notwithstanding the fact that the government has made a commitment to bring in amendments, today I'm voting on Bill 167 as it is written, and as it is written, my particular point of view, my value system, who and what I am, the representation of my community, compel me to vote against it.
I began a train of thought a moment ago that I lost, and that was to those who have called my office and written, many of whom I suppose I identified with and in some respects still do identify with. I hate using terminologies that categorize people, but many from the evangelical community have sought to engage themselves in this debate in a way that I think does not lend support to the message they seek to bring to this debate and the message they seek to communicate to those of us who have the privilege of serving in this place, representing the people of this province and to some degree shaping the direction and the future and the legal framework within which we live in this province.
I hesitated. I thought about this. I took a long walk last night and wondered whether I would mention this, but, perhaps contrary to my better judgement, I will. A very significant leader of this country, who just a short while ago retired from national public office, said to me and one of my federal colleagues at one time, "You know, if the evangelical community is upset, we must be doing the right thing." It was a taunt to me, in a sense, and to my colleague, but I understand where he was coming from.
I would like to take this opportunity, without being presumptuous, to invite those of conviction, from whatever faith, those in the evangelical community and other faiths, to become part of the process, to sit at the table, so to speak, and get involved in political life on an ongoing basis in this province; to put into our communities the values they so strongly and so passionately believe; not to react, not to be there after the fact, but to participate on an ongoing basis.
It's an invitation that I say is perhaps presumptuous coming from me, but it seems to me that the role of those who share certain beliefs is to be involved on a day-to-day basis, to be in the marketplace, as it were, to be participating, to be interacting with people and not to react all the time after the fact. Quite frankly, that has been my experience since I have been elected over some six and a half years, that there is often a reaction to what takes place and not a participation up front in an ongoing process.
If one thing comes out of this, and there will be many things that come out of the debate on Bill 167, for me it would be an invitation for those who hold differing points of view to actively become involved in the process that we call politics. From time to time in this place people say, "You're playing politics." Well, that's what we're involved in. That's what democracy is about. It's about exchanging ideas. It's about sometimes passionate, heartfelt debate. I hope it's not in the future so much about reaction. I hope it's not so much about one interest group opposed to another interest group, but rather interest groups coming together and sorting out ideas, trying to build, trying to understand and trying to inject into our society the values that so many people feel have been eroded, whatever those values may be.
We have in many respects become a society and a democracy, a process, that responds to interest groups. I would hope we would begin to move away from that in many respects, that we'd become more inclusive in how we operate in this place and how we proceed with the legislative agenda. Accordingly, at the risk of being somewhat presumptuous, I would invite people to do that.
If politics is somewhat confusing, as some of my friends wrote in the editorial in my community paper, well, so be it. I suppose it is confusing. It's confusing for many of us who are here. But I believed on May 19 that in order for this issue, not to be resolved, because it is not resolved regardless of how the vote goes this afternoon, but for this issue to be dealt with, we needed to engage in this debate in this place. There has been, in point of fact, the debate that has taken place in the broader community. It has been, from time to time, taking place by picking out a line or a paragraph from a letter here or a paragraph from a letter there, or a phrase from a speech given in some place by some member and extrapolated to represent a whole point of view, to perhaps say that somebody doesn't support or does support a particular point of view.
When all is said and done, we have here an opportunity to fulfil our responsibilities. I am in many respects a simple person. I don't profess to have any particular great intelligence or the debating skills of some of my colleagues on this side of the House or the Premier, who just presented an outstanding presentation for the past half-hour or so. I am simply a person trying to do the best job I can. I work hard at my job. My job is both work and a privilege, a privilege that has with it significant responsibility. I seek to discharge my responsibility today by voting against Bill 167 as it's written, because quite frankly I personally don't feel comfortable with it based on who and what I am and the value system that I feel should be, although it not always is, the benchmark of my conduct in my life.
Secondly, I want to re-emphasize the point that although some would say that if you have a narrow vision you can't see the whole picture, I hope all of us would back off and try to see the whole picture somewhat more than we have in the past, and that I would hopefully, faithfully and to the best of my ability represent the people of my community. I know, without fear of contradiction, that the vast majority of those people at this point in time cannot support Bill 167 as it is written.
Many of my colleagues want to speak today and I've taken a couple minutes more time than I had anticipated. I want to thank them for giving me the chance to be here today and to participate in this and to cast my vote. I hope that when all is said and done, we will perhaps try to heal some of the wounds that have been created here; that we will move from this place to build a province that can build from the strength that it now has to greater strength, not only economically and in all the other facets that we happen to work towards in this role that we call political life and the legislative process, but also in the fabric of our communities; the fabric of our families, however those families are defined; the fabric of our churches and the interaction of interest groups, and as a whole group of people seeking to make this place a better place for us to live and for our kids and our grandchildren to live, so that we can truly say that this is the finest place in all of the world to be, to be part of this place we call Ontario.
Of course, I was greatly disappointed to hear of his decision and a bit surprised, frankly, because he put a lot of emphasis on what it means to be a representative. In fact, I think even the difficulty he had in articulating his views shows that he's a bit unclear, as we all are, I think, on what exactly representation is. After all, we hear a lot of views from people, and it's not clear exactly what their views are, a lot of the time, and even how we then form our views.
But I have to say I think it's a very static kind of approach that he has to the question of values. We can show leadership here and actually mould values. How values are formed, after all, comes through influences. I think we have a much more dynamic role than he was letting on.
I thought too that his remarks about interest groups were off the mark in that it sounded a bit paternalistic to me that he suggested just coming around a table will somehow solve all the differences of point of view, when in fact what we have to do is to be very upfront about where we stand.
The third thing is his views on Bill 167, where he says he's going to vote on what it is now. The fact is, I think it would be much more consistent with his first position to vote in favour of Bill 167 with the promise of amending it. He knows well it will go to committee, where these amendments can take place. If they don't take place, he has every opportunity at the third reading to vote against it. But to be consistent with the kind of dialogue that he seems to be favouring, we've got to get this passed at second reading so that it'll go into committee.
I think he's being very unfair in thinking that there haven't been changes promised to this, changes that would be consistent with his party's outlook, if not his own. He should be putting forward that we could get more debate on this so we can open it up to the community, so it can become more than a static kind of dialogue and we can show leadership.
As the Premier pointed out in his remarks, there's a history to this debate. We've come a long way and we've reached a point in this province, as polls have shown, that there's a lot of support for doing the things we're proposing in Bill 167, as it will be amended. It's no time now to turn back.
I say to you, member for Brampton North, it's time to make that step. You've done a great job up to this point. I think with just a little reflection, a little, shall we call it, backbone, you can do it. I plead with you to vote for Bill 167 now.
He has tried to do something very few of us have tried to do, and that is to bridge the two groups so that there would be understanding. I haven't heard any of us, on either side of the House, make that call and that plea to try to understand what other people are saying, what they're doing.
In disagreement with the member who just spoke, I will say to you that the member for Brampton North showed a hell of a lot of backbone. I apologize for my language, but I'm upset because I had made a very political piece of advice to all members of our caucus. I said, "Regardless of how we normally vote on first reading, in this case vote on first reading how you intend to end up." He said: "No, because this debate must be held. We must hear both sides. We must make an informed decision."
I say that takes courage, particularly when he knew many of his constituents would not stand behind him in that decision. So I appreciate how soul-searching this has been for all of us, but I think, for the member for Brampton North, he has shown that this place brings out the best in us and the worst in us, and let us not forget that.
As I listened to the member for Brampton North sharing with us his twisting as he decided how to come to a conclusion on this -- and I respected him for voting on first reading -- I have to say that I was disappointed at the point at which he ended up, and particularly disappointed when he hides behind the fact that the vote today will be on the bill as it is written, and I've heard a number of his colleagues say that. He has been in this House long enough to know that is the way in which legislation proceeds.
I say that particularly to those who were here in the debate on the amendment to the Human Rights Code, as I was, in 1986. I say it to the member for Brampton South, who in that debate said:
"...We are dealing with human beings. There are a large number of homosexuals and lesbians currently living in society in Ontario....
"What do we do? Do we simply turn a blind eye to that fact and say that these people are nonentities and that they are not going to be given the liberties or protections provided under the Human Rights Code...?"
I say that's what we should be doing today by voting for second reading.
The member for Oriole in that debate said:
"Denying any minority group these basic human rights does not enhance our traditional moral societal values. It not only mocks those values, but also tarnishes all that we cherish in this land of freedom. Perhaps the day will come when other minority groups not currently listed will be identified."
Those were the values in 1986. I hope they show up later this afternoon.
I do want to say that I also agree with him when he said this is an issue that won't go away. I hope and pray that this bill will not be defeated today. However, I am discouraged at what might happen. We are going to be forced to vote on this bill barely 24 hours after some proposed amendments are going to be made, giving members not even the time to consult with their constituents or advisers or community. That's unfortunate, but the government has made that decision.
I will again stand on second reading and vote in favour of Bill 167, the 167 I voted for on first reading, which I support. I would hope that the bill survives second reading to go to committee so we can see what amendments can be made. I would urge those who are voting no to reconsider, but I know that even if this battle is lost, through the efforts of this debate and through the efforts of the courts, the war will be won for equality for gays and lesbians.
I arrived at my decision fairly conclusively and fairly quickly, upon review of the legislation and after considering the legislation and discussing it with a number of people, but ultimately searching within my own mind and heart in terms of how I felt about the legislation as it's written.
I want to thank those of my colleagues again who have expressed a measure of understanding. I say to my colleague the member from Kingston that I regret that he did not understand the invitation I was putting in terms of the interest groups and various organizations, whether they be church or parachurch or particular interest groups, to dialogue and to work on a continuing basis rather than on a reactive basis, which I think has been predominantly, not exclusively, the case.
That will certainly not solve all the problems that we will deal with. It won't even begin to do anything other than open up a healthy and complete and honest debate. That is the invitation that I extend once again and I hope the member for Kingston will understand that. I'm not naïve enough to believe that sitting down in a room is going to solve all the problems, but it will certainly move us along the way.
Mr Speaker, again thank you for your indulgence and that of my colleagues in giving me an opportunity to speak today.
I would say to most people, just so they understand how I came to vote yes on first reading and would vote yes on second and third reading if we ever got that far, why I did so, because initially I opposed this legislation like most people in this House and like probably most people in my constituency initially.
Why? Probably because of the reason most people would be afraid of it, because it is the unknown. I'm a heterosexual. I don't understand the questions of gay rights. I don't understand the questions of what it is to be a homosexual or a lesbian. The unknown, I think, scares many of us. It's something that is just natural within human beings.
More particularly, as a politician -- I'll be very honest with people and I'll be honest with the people in my riding -- I was afraid that if I stood in this Legislature and I voted yes, that the wrath of my voters would be felt come some 12 or 14 months from now. That's a pretty big stick when it comes to one's position on this particular legislation.
But I thought, in order to be honest about this, that once a decision had been made -- because I think people need to understand how this came to be. This didn't all of a sudden pop up two weeks ago where the government of Ontario decided all of a sudden that it was going to put forward a bill called Bill 167. Because of decisions in the courts, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Human Rights Commission, the government of Ontario has been told that we are discriminating against a certain sector of our population when it comes to gays and lesbians vis-à-vis benefits and other issues residing around the whole issue that we find in Bill 167.
The issue came back to my caucus on a number of occasions and as a caucus we had difficulty dealing with it, I would say like most people in this House on the opposition side, because I think they've only had to try to deal with it lately, and probably the difficulty that most constituents have. But eventually a decision was made by the majority, and I would say the vast majority, of this caucus. It wasn't a 50-50 thing, as it was purported. Clearly, 80% to 90% of the members of this caucus voted together that we had to go forward because it was fundamentally a human rights issue.
At the point the decision was made to go ahead, and the majority of my caucus had decided to go ahead, I had to ask myself one question: I'm on the opposite side of the issue. Why? If a majority of the people I respect and a majority of the people I see as being good, decent human beings all of a sudden decide collectively that this is the right thing to do, maybe I should go back and revisit my position, because maybe there was a possibility I was wrong because of my phobias having to do with homosexuality, because of my phobias having to do with the whole question of what it is to be gay.
I didn't know how to do that. I quite frankly didn't know where to start, and it just scared me, to put it bluntly.
I went back to my constituency and sat down with some people I know in my riding association, sat down with one of my staff members and sat down with other people I know within the riding, and they said, "Probably the best thing you can do is to try to go out and seek out people in your community who are gay and talk to them about the issue to see how they feel."
I thought, well, Jeez, in the riding of Cochrane South, here's a community where mining and lumber is the mainstay of the economy. I'm not going to find a lot of gay people in communities like Timmins and Matheson and Iroquois Falls, because that only happens in Toronto. After all, everybody in northern Ontario is supposedly straight.
Well, was I surprised. I started finding out that in my community there are literally thousands of gay people. But what was more remarkable and really interesting is that these people were afraid of coming out of the closet and saying, "I am gay," because they were afraid of the repercussions they would get within their community.
What surprised me even more was that the people who were gay were not the people who were being described through this debate and the people who would be described through the generalities of how we see gay people. They were people like you and me. They were men and women of all classes in our society, from people who work in administrative positions of mining companies, lumber companies, administrations of various organizations, to working people: miners, construction workers, you name it. It was mind-boggling, because I had never dealt with it.
One of my co-workers at a former job, when I worked at the McIntyre mine in Timmins, said: "Don't you remember? There were two homosexual couples who worked with us for five years when we worked underground at the McIntyre." I'd forgotten.
I'd forgotten, because I had at one point started understanding it was no threat to me. That those two separate couples decided that was the way they wanted to live and that's how they found love within their relationship was no threat to me when I worked at the mine. Why should it be a threat now?
I started, quite reluctantly, trying to deal with this, because the next possible problem I had was, my God, if I'm wrong on this, how am I going to deal with my constituents? Supposedly, all my constituents are telling me that 90% of people are opposed to this, and that somehow if I vote in favour of this legislation, even though I was a wonderful member, according to them -- giving me my plug for the next election -- they would vote against me, solely on this issue.
I started to wonder: Now, hang on a second. People are telling me from the gay community there's discrimination. People in the straight community are telling me there's no discrimination. Yet when I, as the representative of the riding of Cochrane South, start musing about the possibility of voting yes, I'm being told, "You vote yes, you're gone." That told me something. That told me there is discrimination.
The one thing I know as a social democrat, and I think the one thing we all know as politicians within this room, no matter what party we represent, is that the reason we are sent to the Legislature, and the responsibility we take once we come here, is to uphold the premise of what is found in our Constitution and to uphold the premise of what is found within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: that at every opportunity we will fight against discrimination, and I think that's what this bill tries to do.
It's been a fairly difficult road for me because of the history I have. I come from workplaces where it was 99.9% male, working in mines and working in the bush, where I thought this kind of stuff didn't happen, to the point where I am now, starting to understand that it's not a question that people all of a sudden choose to go out and live a homosexual or lesbian lifestyle, it's a question that they are, and they're a lot larger majority than we would think.
I decided in the end that the only thing I could do, the only responsible thing I could do, was to vote yes. So when we came into the House a couple of weeks ago, I stood in my place and I voted yes and went back to my riding.
I expected that the minute I got off the plane back in the riding of Cochrane South, everybody would be running up to me and saying, "Gilles, what have you done?" But it was surprising. A lot of people in my community were coming and saying: "It takes courage to do what you did. I don't understand it, but it seems like the right thing to do." As people started to understand, like me, what the issue was all about, they started understanding that it didn't only seem like the right thing to do but it was the right thing to do. Many of the people who were calling my constituency office two and three weeks before, expressing displeasure against the legislation, the legislation as it was at that time, as they learned more about the issue were calling back and saying, "Yes, it is the right thing to do."
We need to recognize this issue for what it is. We have to search within our own hearts, because it is a personal issue, but we need to understand what our responsibility as legislators is. Our responsibility is to uphold the Constitution of Canada and to uphold the Charter of Rights. We swore to that when we were elected to this place. We were marched into the Clerk's office and we were asked to swear to our Constitution. If we believe in parliamentary democracy, we have no choice. It becomes strictly a question that we have to do this.
In closing, I would say a couple of things to some of the members who don't feel it in their hearts to vote for this legislation, and I say this to some of my own colleagues. Yes, it is a difficult thing to do to stand and say yes. Yes, possibly people in your own ridings may give you a hard time. But don't allow your difficulties in dealing with this issue hold up the rights of other people, because as legislators and social democrats we should never do that. We have to have courage and we have to have the fortitude to go forward and say to people in this province, "We have a Constitution and in that Constitution there is a charter. It invokes rights, and the people in this province are entitled to those rights."
Some people will say: "The legislation wasn't well done. It should have been done this way; it should have been done that way." Quite frankly, those are just excuses. It doesn't matter how you do this; you would have got that criticism. Either you is for it or you is against it. It is as simple as that.
I ask members in this House to reflect. If they truly believe in the democracy we believe in, allow this vote to pass second reading. Allow the bill to get to committee so we can place the amendments so we can move on with it, because the people in my riding have told me one thing through this whole debate: "Gilles, if the government is willing to amend the question of adoption and amend the definition of 'spouse,' I'm with it. I'll support this hands down."
That is what the government has done, so there's no reason at this point, in my view, to vote no, other than what my reason was at the outset, which was, "I'm afraid to do it." Let's have some courage, let's stand in our place and let's do what is right. Let's do what we are charged with doing, upholding the charter of this country, and vote yes.
Second, I disagree with the member who says that those who vote against this legislation are in some way portraying an effrontery to the democratic process. I think it is absolutely necessary that we recognize that what we have before us is a free vote on a bill that has been the subject of intense debate, not only in this Legislature but indeed in heated discussion throughout our community.
At the outset, let me indicate that I am going to be voting against this bill on second reading, as I did on first reading. However, I'd like to take a moment to certainly acknowledge the many hundreds of letters, telephone calls, faxes and petitions that I received on both sides of this issue throughout my community. I certainly do acknowledge and appreciate the effort that has been taken by many people, not only in my community but I believe throughout all communities, sharing their thoughts on this particular matter.
I recognize that as there are people who are in favour of this legislation, there are those who are opposed to this legislation. I recognize that. There have been a number of reasons put forward on both sides of the issue. In the end, it is a personal vote, a free vote. In the end, it is us, as legislators, saying what we feel. For that, after listening to all of those who have shared their thoughts with me, I will be voting against this legislation.
I had a letter sent to me and the letter said:
"Do you know what it is like to be a societal leper? Do you know what it's like when the public treats families of gays and lesbians.... Do you know what it's like as the parent of a homosexual man?
"The Legislature has the opportunity to recognize my family, one that consists of a mom and dad, of a homosexual son and a heterosexual daughter. I am proud to be part of my family. I am proud to be the mother of Stephen and Linda, even though the Legislature finds it necessary to debate whether my family is worthy of God's love, respect and its rights.
"I challenge any of you to tell my neighbours in Uxbridge to confront me to my face and to tell me that my family is not worthy of enjoying the rights of other Ontario constituents."
It reflects what my colleague from Cochrane South has said, because the fact is that it is a difficult issue. When it showed up on the front page of the Uxbridge paper that "MPP Votes in Support of Same-Sex Bill," people told me, "That's it, game over." That's not what it's about; it's about doing what's right and speaking on behalf of our constituents, like the one who sent me this letter, and that's what I think he has done by doing what he has done here.
I guess at the outset I want to lament what I feel is the greatest casualty which has resulted from this debate, particularly in the way it has been mismanaged, and that is the cause of understanding of each group by the other. The way the debate has developed and escalated has led to extreme positions taken by either side.
In my riding, when I receive telephone calls from my gay constituents, and we all surely do have them, I am branded a bigot or an intellectual Neanderthal when I raise the obligation that I have to ensure that the rest of my riding is brought along with us in a gradual way and one in which they can have some feeling of comfort.
When I deal with my heterosexuals who call me, I am told that I must be a closet homosexual, or they ask whether I'm married and truly have four children. That again is a reflection of the extremism with which this debate has unfortunately been visited. I remind that group that we have an obligation here in this House not to do anything which is either explicit or implicit in terms of sending out a signal that somehow our gay constituents are less than the rest of us.
My concern is that the debate has become so polarized that I have been unable to get my constituents to speak to each other, to gain some understanding of each other. When my children fight at home, at the end of the fight I try to make them shake hands. When they've had a particularly boisterous scuffle, I can't do that, and for a long time, which in kids' time is about 15 minutes to a half-hour, they won't shake hands. And I can't get my heterosexuals and my gay community today to shake hands.
When we're talking about adoption, we're not talking about creating families; we're talking about preserving families that exist already. In many cases, one of those people is the natural parent.
Since my own beliefs have become known, I have begun to hear, in addition to opposition, the other voice, of those who were maybe afraid to make themselves known before, and it's quite amazing what is happening in that direction.
There are times when you have to vote your conscience, just as there are times when you have to disobey orders. I think the events commemorating D-Day and reminding us of the Second World War should maybe encourage us to think a little bit along those lines.
What does the granting of rights to gays take away from anybody else? The opponents are just foisting their values upon other people. It does not affect them.
I believe this is a human rights issue and I shall certainly be voting for the bill.
I just want to leave the members with these two thoughts in the end. There are two recurring themes in why people vote no. One is that they want to do what the majority in their riding want them to do. I just say, as politicians, we also have a responsibility of leadership. If we were to hold true what people say when it comes to only doing what the majority want in the ridings, we would never have done the health program that we have today under OHIP, we would never have done any of the progressive things that we take as the definition of Canada today, because when we set out to do some of those things in the past, such as OHIP, such as civil rights, such as employment equity, such as all the equity issues, we probably wouldn't have them today. It happened because politicians took the leadership. Eventually, it's what defines us as Canadians and what sets us out from the rest of the other people in the world.
The other thing I wanted to mention, and I didn't get a chance in my speech, was that one of the members said, "I don't want to vote in favour of it because I don't feel comfortable voting in favour, because this goes against what I am." Again, I remind people, there's a whole bunch of people -- if we were to utilize that argument, my God, the civil rights movement and the rest of it, I don't want to make the analogies, but a lot of people were fairly challenged about doing some pretty progressive things in the past, and if we had held true to that thought, we wouldn't have done them.
I offer members a compromise. If we're worried about standing up and voting in favour of this bill, the compromise is, let's do a voice vote and in the end allow this thing to go to committee by voice vote. You can hide in the majority of this House without anybody ever knowing how you would have voted at second reading. Allow this thing to go to second reading so that we can at least put the motions forward, so that we can at least get it into committee, and then bring it back after that at third reading and decide what to do. So I ask you: Please, let's try to do it by voice vote. We'll all be okay in the end.
This afternoon, I heard many emotions being expressed on this type of legislation. Over the last week or so, many people have come into my constituency office and also my office here, lesbians and gays, heterosexuals, who have expressed their concern about this legislation, Bill 167. But they themselves were as moved as my colleagues in the House about the concerns about their rights.
There are no other concerns that parliamentarians can deal with that are so important as human rights issues. I don't have any corner on human rights issues or the solutions. As a matter of fact, we have seen around the world how difficult it is for justice to be done to people who have been denied their human rights.
We know very well that the gays and lesbians have been abused in many respects, misunderstood, and also that in many ways people have not had an opportunity to express their views, and we talk about going into the closet. We've also known that the heterosexual side of it does not understand either. We have a responsibility on all sides to make all those groups understand that kind of frustration and emotion they go through. My colleagues previously have spoken about how the traditional way of the family has been growing apart, and now that we've introduced a new system of life for acceptance, we need that kind of education. Because once upon a time I feel human rights issues could have easily been achieved by legislating laws, very rigid laws, and having people follow them. Also too I at one stage really believed that if we publicly demonstrate our concerns and flush out the bigots and the sexists and all those people, the homophobics, that somehow it will correct the force.
Sometimes I feel too, as I hear the Premier speak here, and some others spoke about leadership, that we must get out in the front and go forward. But many a time when we charge on those efforts and say, "Charge! Let's change those things," when we look behind us, there is nobody behind us. We cannot make changes in isolation. We have to bring the people along. We have to make sure they understand the issue, that when laws are made, or anything at all, we should somehow demonstrate that people understand the issue.
A good example, of course, is South Africa, as we saw it. Even when we knew that human rights have been violated in that country for over 30 years with the apartheid situation --
As a matter of fact, it's not only a human rights issue that is at stake here. It's how we handle those issues. I had explained to my constituency that Bill 167 is the way to go, and they responded in that way.
The Attorney General called me yesterday. She was of course concerned about how the progress was going, and I expressed my concern too in the short time we had in which to change it. I felt I was cornered in a way when I heard the announcement half an hour after she spoke to me that she intended to make some changes. I had no time in which to communicate to my constituency. We've got to bring them on side.
So I'll be voting against this Bill 167, because that is what I put before the people. I believe in human rights and will continue to advocate the struggles of the gays and the lesbians and what they're fighting for. It's not the end.
I would say I don't intend to be partisan at all here. I would say that as a person who has taken a position clearly over the years, I respect the way that members on all sides of this question have struggled with the issue. I believe that all of us must look to ourselves and to our inner feelings and views as well as listening to our constituents.
But I would say wholeheartedly that there never has been a case that I know of in human history where minorities' rights have been advanced by so-called leaders who have said, "We must have the majority in favour before we move." I have never understood any situation like this where a group has been oppressed, discriminated against, where that was recognized, but a person who dared call himself a leader would say, "I recognize the unfairness, the discrimination, but I can't act because the majority does not agree with me." We must all act on the basis of what we believe to be right, not what we believe to be expedient.
I think I have a right, I indeed have an obligation on the part of the people who I represent and on the part of my family to speak from my heart and speak my mind on this issue. I reject any attempt by members of this government to try to muzzle people or try to intimidate us and try to paint this as some kind of a human rights issue. I don't see it in that light. I have a right not to see it in that light if that is my choice and that is my view.
For some this is a difficult issue, and I respect that. I respect the different views in this place and I particularly respect the democratic right of members in this place to disagree and to disagree for whatever reason. I simply ask that you respect my right to disagree and my right to vote against this bill.
The history of the votes on human rights and legislation: I don't know; in your party you seem to be turning them down. This is an opportunity and a challenge to us to speak out. I always thought you spoke for human rights and I always thought you would have an opportunity here to demonstrate that commitment. Obviously, I'm wrong: You don't.
You're voting against this. You voted against the OLRA. You voted against the Advocacy Act. You have voted against every bit of progressive legislation we have introduced and, once again, here you go, you're voting against progressive legislation. Why are you voting against same-sex legislation? This is a human rights issue. Once again you vote against. I'm asking you and I'm challenging you to please reconsider how you vote. Show your reputation. You have a shining reputation. Show it.
I heard your leader speak, he spoke very eloquently, and I heard members in my caucus here who spoke for this bill, spoke very well, very convincingly. I listened to the people of my constituency. I was elected on that kind of basis and I will not cringe in any way from my responsibility, but I also have a life which I have lived. The contradiction of my colleague there, who tells me I have a shining reputation, and in the meantime, telling me that I have voted against anything progressive, the hypocrisy in the way that these things are expressed sometimes in this House sometimes moves me in a way to say let us be consistent.
I see changes in human rights in a certain way. If you see changes in that way, that is your responsibility to express it that way. Today, we know it's a very difficult thing. I say again it's a human rights issue and as we play the politics about this game, as we continue to politicize it in a manner, we will lose how we can advance the issue of human rights.
Yes, I voted against the kind of bill that you do for employment equity because even today, after three and a half years, it is still not legislation here, because how can I trust a government that cannot even introduce that after three and a half years? And in one week you want to advance this cause and ask me to understand it fully and tell me not to mirror what I feel this strongly about this legislation.
I need to answer very briefly the kinds of challenges that the opposition party has made on the issue of the amendments and the kind of charge that they have made about mismanagement of this issue. Quite frankly, we reject those charges. We, as a party, supported the member for St George-St David when he brought forward Bill 45 because we knew we were not at that point ready to bring forward a bill of our own and we knew it was time for this Legislature to enter into that debate. We supported that bill and we supported that bill coming before committee. We did everything we could to bring that bill to committee and we were stymied by the decision of the opposition House leaders not to bring that bill forward.
We wanted the discussion. We wanted the communities that were concerned, both pro and con, to have an opportunity to express to us as legislators what they believed to be the rights and wrongs of this issue, and it was extremely important that that debate go on, and it was frustrated.
It was a difficult struggle for us; that's why we appreciate the struggle for members of other parties. When we finally were in a position to bring legislation forward ourselves after canvassing all the options that we could think of within the meaning of the charter and brought forward our legislation, it was almost frustrated again. There were those who did not want this debated at all, did not want to be on the record, and we saw a very close vote.
I would say to you, Mr Speaker, that the issue this afternoon is for people to vote at second reading, knowing that amendments are going to come forward, and allow the concerned communities to present their views to us. This is not the last chance that people have to vote on this issue. There is a third reading and there will be an opportunity for those who are not satisfied by the solutions that are reached to take a conclusion at that point. But to take the decision now that they will not allow the communities to speak is a very serious decision.
I would urge all my colleagues in the House to recognize the right of our constituents to appear before us in committee, to express their views and for us to make our judgements at that point in time. I urge my fellow members of this Legislature to vote yes on Bill 167.
All those in favour will please say "aye."
All opposed will please say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members; a 30-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1756 to 1826.
All those in favour of the motion will please rise one by one.
Akande, Allen, Bisson, Boyd, Buchanan, Carter, Charlton, Christopherson, Churley, Cooke, Coppen, Dadamo, Duignan, Fletcher, Frankford, Gigantes, Grier, Haeck, Hampton, Harrington, Haslam, Hope, Huget, Jamison, Johnson (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings), Klopp, Kormos, Lankin, Laughren, Lessard, Mackenzie;
MacKinnon, Malkowski, Marchese, Martel, Martin, Mathyssen, Morrow, Murdock (Sudbury), Murphy, O'Connor, Owens, Philip (Etobicoke-Rexdale), Poirier, Poole, Pouliot, Rae, Silipo, Sutherland, Swarbrick, Ward, Wark-Martyn, Wessenger, Wildman, Wilson (Kingston and The Islands), Winninger, Wiseman, Wood, Ziemba.
Abel, Arnott, Beer, Bradley, Brown, Callahan, Caplan, Carr, Chiarelli, Cleary, Conway, Cooper, Cordiano, Cousens, Crozier, Cunningham, Curling, Daigeler, Eddy, Elston, Eves, Farnan, Fawcett, Grandmaître, Hansen, Harnick, Harris, Hayes, Henderson, Hodgson, Jackson, Johnson (Don Mills), Jordan, Kwinter, Mahoney, Mammoliti, Marland, McClelland, McGuinty, McLean, McLeod;
Miclash, Mills, Morin, Murdoch (Grey-Owen Sound), North, Offer, O'Neil (Quinte), O'Neill (Ottawa-Rideau), Perruzza, Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt), Pilkey, Ramsay, Rizzo, Runciman, Ruprecht, Sola, Sorbara, Sterling, Stockwell, Sullivan, Tilson, Turnbull, Villeneuve, Waters, Wilson (Frontenac-Addington), Wilson (Simcoe West), Witmer.
The House adjourned at 1830.
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