An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials)

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

David Tilson  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to provide for the offence of committing mischief in relation to a war memorial or cenotaph.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • Oct. 31, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.

Business of the House
Opening Of The Second Session Of The 41St Parliament

October 16th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would like to make a statement concerning private members' business.

As hon. members know, our Standing Orders provide for the continuance of private members’ business from session to session within a Parliament.

In practical terms, this means that notwithstanding prorogation, the list for the consideration of private members' business established at the beginning of the 41st Parliament shall continue for the duration of this Parliament.

As such, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, all items of private members' business originating in the House of Commons that were listed on the order paper at the conclusion of the previous session are automatically reinstated to the order paper and shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation.

All items will keep the same number as in the first session of the 41st Parliament. More specifically, all bills and motions standing on the list of items outside the order of precedence shall continue to stand. Bills that had met the notice requirement and were printed in the order paper but had not yet been introduced will be republished on the order paper under the heading “Introduction of Private Members' Bills”. Bills that had not yet been published on the order paper need to be recertified by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and be resubmitted for publication on the notice paper.

Of course all items in the order of precedence remain on the order of precedence or, as the case may be, are referred to the appropriate committee or sent to the Senate.

Specifically, at prorogation there were three private members' bills originating in the House of Commons adopted at second reading and referred to committee.

Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, Bill C-458, an act respecting a national charities week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Bill C-489, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Accordingly, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, committees will be required to report on each of these reinstated private members’ bills within 60 sitting days of this statement.

In addition, prior to prorogation, nine private members' bills originating in the House of Commons had been read the third time and passed. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, the following bills are deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House: Bill C-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials); Bill C-266, an act to establish Pope John Paul II day; Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity); Bill C-290, an act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting); Bill C-314, an act respecting the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue; Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders); Bill C-377, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations); Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment); and Bill C-444, an act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer).

Accordingly, a message will be sent to the Senate to inform it that this House has adopted these nine bills.

Consideration of private members’ business will start on Thursday, October 17, 2013.

As members may be aware, among the items in the order of precedence or deemed referred to committee, there are four bills standing in the name of members recently appointed as parliamentary secretaries who, by virtue of their office, are not eligible to propose items during the consideration of private members' business.

Bill C-511, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (period of residence) and Bill C-517, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons) were awaiting debate at second reading in the order of precedence at the time of prorogation.

Bill C-458, An Act respecting a National Charities Week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts), and Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), were in committee at the time of prorogation and, as stated earlier, have been returned there.

This is in keeping with the principle expressed at pages 550-551 and 1125 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, which provides that bills remain on the order of precedence since they are in the possession of the House and only the House can take further decision on them.

These items are therefore without eligible sponsors but remain in the possession of the House or its committees. If no action is taken, at the appropriate time these items will eventually be dropped from the order paper, pursuant to Standing Order 94(2)(c).

Hon. members will find at their desks a detailed explanatory note about private members’ business. I trust that these measures will assist the House in understanding how private members' business will be conducted in this session. The table officers are available to answer any questions members may have.

I thank all members for their attention.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 25th, 2012 / 6 p.m.
See context

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak to Bill C-217. I congratulate the hon. member for introducing this bill and will offer a few comments on behalf of the Liberal Party with respect to this bill.

First, the bill only relates to the issue of the desecration of war memorials and cenotaphs and things of that nature. While that is worthy in and of itself, I note that it would not expand to other forms of memorialization of significant figures, for instance in our history and culture. Just across the street is the Terry Fox memorial. It is a statue and under normal circumstances it would fall within the provisions of the Criminal Code. A desecration of the Terry Fox statue would attract a mischief offence without a minimum mandatory sentence, whereas a desecration of the war memorial just one block farther east would attract the provisions of this bill and a minimum mandatory sentence.

The bill would thereby set up an inconsistency in the law, which is regrettable. I adopt the views of the then-minister of justice in 2006 who said, when the member for Ottawa South introduced a similar provision, that he thought at that time that the mischief provisions of the Criminal Code were adequate to address the mischief the hon. member for Ottawa South and my colleague from Orangeville wished to address.

Having said that and while I laud the bill, I think it has its limitations. The most significant limitation for us is the inflexibility with respect to sentencing. My hon. colleague with whom I have shared a bench in past times, the member for Mount Royal, has spoken quite eloquently about the limitations of minimum mandatory sentences. One of the most significant limitations is that when a prosecutor or a judge does not wish to impose a minimum mandatory sentence, he or she will sometimes plead the whole thing down to a charge on the basis of a section in the Criminal Code, which does not actually show the reprehensible nature of the particular offence. The bill would create this unnecessary diversionary exercise in the criminal justice system, which sometimes defeats the very intention the hon. member wishes to achieve.

It also excludes the possibility of creative sentencing. For instance, if I were a judge and that kind of offence were to come before me and the accused were to show remorse and understanding, as perhaps having done it under the influence of alcohol or drugs or something of that nature or if were some stupid teenage prank, under this bill I would have no flexibility. However, judges may take a look at the person they are about to sentence and say that they accept that person's guilty plea, that it was indeed a prank and really stupid on the person's part, and for that they would sentence the person to a form of probation. Possibly one of the forms of probation could be to attend services where we honour our veterans, to get to know veterans or to go to our local legion or to learn about the immense sacrifice that the men and women of our nation have made in times past for the freedoms we enjoy today. However, under the minimum mandatory provisions of these sentences, the flexibility of judges to do that and to create an educative function out of an event that is reprehensible to us all would be quite limited. In my judgment, that would cut off the offender from the opportunity to meet and know veterans, to participate in veterans services and an educational exercise about what is important to the functioning of our nation.

In principle, Liberals understand what the hon. member is trying to do to punish these disgraceful acts of vandalism, but at the same time he, in effect, cuts off opportunities for community service and learning that might occur. The problem then becomes that we end up with a system of vengeance and no system of learning. There is no reintegration or rehabilitation of people and then we may be on to something more serious than this specific issue.

The issue of what constitutes a particular cultural or religious property will be somewhat problematic as well, because some memorials and cenotaphs will attract this particular regime or section of the Criminal Code, including the sanctioning section, while other equally reprehensible behaviour against other forms of memorials and community recognitions will not. That is an inconsistency in the law. As my law professor and pretty well anyone who has gone through law school would say, inconsistencies in the law are to be avoided if at all possible.

There is no minimum mandatory penalty for mischief. We think that is actually a good thing, because it creates a certain level of opportunity to fashion a sentence appropriate to the harm that needs to be addressed. My hon. colleague from Mount Royal, in a very eloquent speech, commented that in his riding there is a Holocaust memorial and that under this particular legislation a Holocaust memorial would not attract the minimum mandatory penalties of Bill C-217. They are important reminders of our heritage and history. Cenotaphs are certainly significant symbols in a lot of our cities, towns and villages, but so are other memorials.

Liberals take the view that it would be much better for accused persons to be required as part of their sentencing to participate in veteran services and to get to know the sacrifices our veterans have made over time. We understand what the hon. member is trying to achieve, but we would prefer that recognition of the particular harm that he wishes to address be done through a provision that does not require a minimum mandatory sentence, but would still express to offenders and the community at large the point that these kinds of acts are quite reprehensible.

I hope that the Liberal members have been able to convey their concern about minimum mandatory sentences, which create some very unintended consequences.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 25th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at third reading on the private member's bill brought forward by the member for Dufferin—Caledon, whose intentions were very good in seeking to amend the Criminal Code to treat offences against war memorials more seriously.

We listened with great interest to his presentation, to the witnesses who came to the hearing, and to submissions that were made to the committee during the deliberations on this bill.

Of course, we abhor, as all citizens do, the desecration of monuments to our dead, particularly our war dead. We see this type of behaviour occurring. I would not say it is rampant, because the people speaking about it had to go back a number of years to come up with examples that were known nationally to the public, but it is something that we all abhor. I think there has been no other time in our recent history where the sacrifices of our soldiers and men and women in uniform have been more honoured, more recognized and more appreciated by citizens.

However, we are talking about an amendment to the Criminal Code here. When doing that, I think that as legislators we have to do our job, which is to pay attention to what the Criminal Code is all about, what it is trying to do, what it is seeking to achieve and to look at other aspects of the Criminal Code, the other offences that are included, and to ensure that any amendments to the Criminal Code fit in with the scheme of the code and the types of penalties given for other offences.

In doing so, we also have to keep in mind the principles of justice and sentencing, which provide that the punishment must fit the crime. The crime is broader than the particular action, but includes the state of mind of the person who commits the crime, the circumstances surrounding the crime and the damage that may be done, including the extent of the damage, the intent, the seriousness, et cetera.

When we start applying those principles to this legislation, well-intentioned though it might be, we find that it falls down. It falls down because it imposes a mandatory minimum sentence for the desecration or damaging of a war memorial, which does not exist for damaging a church property, a synagogue or, as my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood said, a Holocaust memorial. We are treating these differently, with a sentence that could in fact be for up to 10 years in jail. The mandatory minimum would be there regardless of the circumstances of the offence, as cultural property invites a larger sentence when necessary. However, that is already there. We already have a mischief provision in the Criminal Code covering the kind of offence we are talking about. It is one that could easily be, and is, prosecuted under existing legislation.

There may have been complaints to our committee by people who said that the courts let off certain people lightly. The people who were let off lightly in these cases probably deserved stronger sentences than they got. However, I do not even think the mandatory minimums in this particular legislation would have satisfied the seriousness of the offences committed in those cases. We have a very simple provision in our Criminal Code and our criminal justice system for inadequate sentences. If someone is inadequately sentenced by the court, there is an appeal process. If there is not sufficient motivation to appeal to ensure that a proper sentence is passed, that is unfortunate, but that happens in our society.

The mandatory minimums here would not have satisfied the concerns of witnesses who came forward.

On the other hand, we did have a number of other witnesses and submissions holding the view that where serious matters of damage to war memorials where significant intent was involved, where criminal behaviour was clearly contemplated, where stealing metals or whatever off a memorial was done with an intent to destroy a monument, they would, should and could attract significant sentences.

We had a letter presented to the committee from no greater authority in terms of respect for our veterans and war dead than the Royal Canadian Legion. The president of the Dominion Command provided a letter saying that the Legion was supportive of the intent of Bill C-217 to include incidents of mischief against a war memorial as a part of our Criminal Code, but indicated that it felt that the provision of appropriate penalties suitable to the individual particulars of an incident should reflect the nature of these acts and that there should be latitude in assessing the gravity of the situation. Patricia Varga said:

The punishment should fit the crime and although no incident of this nature can be condoned, there should be provision for restorative justice measures with a mandated dialogue between veterans groups and the offenders. There should be provision where offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, to repair the harm they have done, by apologizing to a group of Veterans, or with community services. It provides help for the offender to avoid future offences and provides a greater understanding of the consequences of their actions.

We agree completely with that approach. One of the most publicized incidents in the Canadian context happened a number of years ago when a couple of individuals were caught urinating on the National War Memorial not two blocks from here. There was, as anticipated and expected, great outrage across the country with respect to that. The individuals were taken in by the Royal Canadian Legion and essentially made to understand the seriousness of what they had done because they did not appreciate the seriousness of what they had done. They were extremely apologetic and ashamed of what they had done and then assisted the Royal Canadian Legion in its work on a volunteer basis after that.

That is an example. I am not saying that every example is like that, but we do have a Criminal Code where serious offences can be treated seriously and the courts are mandated to do that in terms of how they approach sentencing.

In addition to that approach, we heard from Terrence Whitty, the national leader of the Air Cadet League of Canada, who talked about incidents in which he had been involved in with working with cadets. The Air Cadet League puts on camps and there was an incident where a particular memorial was being vandalized annually as part of a prank. Officials took the approach of ensuring that every child who went to that camp understood how important it was and that it was a memorial to Japanese veterans. Underscoring the seriousness and importance of it led to the fact that this place has now became an object of veneration by the young people and not something that was pranked against.

Those are some examples but obviously not the serious ones that my colleague opposite is talking about. However, I would say to him and to all members that serious matters should be taken seriously by the court and the law is adequate to do it right now.

I will just summarize what a professor of law said said in his presentation. He said that the bill was not necessary, that other offences already prohibit the conduct, that there was no need for a minimum punishment, that damaging war memorials already attracts a higher sentence than other forms of mischief and that higher sentences would not deter the typical offender.

I thank the member for bringing the bill forward but we will not be able to support it because of the nature of the bill, that the mandatory minimums there, that it is not proportional and that the Criminal Code already deals with the problem.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 25th, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, before beginning my speech, I would like to give a short preamble. The bill was introduced following numerous acts of vandalism a few years ago against Canadian war memorials. Let us be clear: we condemn these acts and all such acts.

Like all my colleagues who spoke before me, I have the deepest respect for our veterans. At Remembrance Day ceremonies, we will all be taking part in a number of different events in our respective constituencies. It will be an opportunity to show our support and recognition for our soldiers and our veterans.

The fact that Canadians visit war memorials indicates just how deeply the people of Canada feel about the men and women of the Canadian Forces and about those who fell in the field of battle. Whenever a war memorial is desecrated, we can only condemn such a gesture.

However, I would like to distance myself from the comments made by my hon. colleague from Dufferin—Caledon about the scope of this bill. As noted by my hon. colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, the official opposition critic for veterans, those who desecrate a war memorial do so carelessly. For that reason, I believe that the penalties provided in this bill are too severe. Moreover, adding minimum sentences would likely have a negative impact on the already high cost of our correctional system.

Veterans and active members of the Canadian Forces deserve decent services from the government. New Democrats believe that the best approach would be to show unconditional, concrete and strong support. This means an appropriate use of resources and proper support to ensure that people who have served Canada can live well and prosper in society. Furthermore, the Criminal Code already provides general forms of remedy.

For all these reasons, we will not be supporting C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code.

To conclude, allow me to mention something I learned from my experience as a teacher and criminologist: it is important never to forget that education is the most powerful form of prevention. I will not support this bill because it is too repressive and gives very little consideration to prevention.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 25th, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials). This bill focuses particularly on mischief relating to commemorative monuments to honour our veterans. It was proposed and introduced by the Conservative member for Dufferin—Caledon. Its purpose is to ensure that the memory of Canadian soldiers who fell in the wars and missions in which Canada has participated over the decades and centuries is respected.

I would first like to say, of course, that I am proud of Canada's historical involvement in the defence of peace and liberty. I am also very proud of the men and women in uniform who serve Canada today and those who have served our country in the past. I would also like to point out that it will soon be Veterans' Week, when we will all have the opportunity to think about and show our respect for our fallen soldiers and for those who were lucky enough to come back. I am convinced that everyone agrees on that.

I would like to come back to the bill itself. This bill would amend the Criminal Code to add a provision about mischief relating to memorials honouring our veterans. The Criminal Code already has penalties for mischief in general and mischief with respect to property such as a memorial. I quote:

Every one who commits mischief in relation to property...

(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

There are already provisions in the Criminal Code that a judge can apply. These provisions refer to mischief in general, but include memorials to our veterans.

Section 430 of the Criminal Code provides for more severe penalties for mischief relating to religious property, if the commission of the mischief is motivated by hate or racism. This also applies to cultural property. In addition, anyone who commits mischief that causes danger to the life of a person is liable to life imprisonment.

Bill C-217 would amend section 430 of the Criminal Code on mischief. It would establish a fine of not less than $1,000 for a first offence, a sentence of not less than 14 days for a second offence, and imprisonment for not less than 30 days for each subsequent offence, when the mischief is committed in relation to a war memorial.

As I stated, the current provisions of section 430 of the Criminal Code already deal with such mischief as destruction of or damage to property. In general, there is enough latitude in the penalties to impose a penalty that is appropriate to the situation. Furthermore, the bill provides for minimum sentences for those found guilty of mischief relating to a war memorial. We do not agree with minimum sentences, because they eliminate any latitude the judge may have to determine the appropriate sentence based on his or her own judgment, and they preclude an assessment of the situation and the reason for the mischief.

When there is mischief against a war memorial, it is important to determine whether the deed was done intentionally and allow the judge the latitude to rule accordingly. It is important to know whether a person committed mischief in the knowledge that it was a war memorial or not. That is an important distinction to make. To make an informed judgment, one must be aware of the intentions underlying people's actions.

The member for Dufferin—Caledon introduced this bill to encourage the people of Canada to pay more respect to our veterans. That is the intended goal of this bill.

First of all, I do not think that Canadians lack respect for their fellow citizens who served or are currently serving in the Canadian Forces, and even more so for those who did not return. In my riding, when I was still a serving member of the Forces, what I saw was the very opposite, such as people going to pay tribute to veterans on Remembrance Day. These traditions may be in decline in some countries, but that is not the case in Canada. Secondly, there are much more concrete and effective ways of paying tribute to veterans. I hope that my colleagues will agree, because everyone should support these principles.

Another thing needs to be underscored. Of the many penalties for people who commit offences against war memorials, there is not one that requires the offender to understand what it means to be a veteran. No one who has committed mischief will be required to work as a volunteer at a Legion, for example, to give them an understanding of the role played by these veterans. They will not be required to understand the work veterans have done or the services they have rendered to our country.

The purpose of this bill is to encourage people to pay more respect to veterans, but this cannot be achieved through prison sentences or fines. This is not a good way to get people to think about veterans, to understand what they have done or what kind of people they are. The bill does not achieve the desired goal, which is to get people to show more interest in veterans.

There is something that disturbs me in this bill, and that is the way monuments are categorized. As I said earlier, I have enormous respect for veterans. In fact, I have served in the Canadian Forces, so theoretically, I am a veteran myself. Under the bill, vandalizing a war memorial is a more serious act of mischief than vandalizing a monument in honour of women or one paying tribute to the first nations. I do not think we are moving in the right direction when we classify monuments this way and treat mischief in relation to one monument as more serious than mischief in relation to another and accordingly deserving of a harsher sentence.

The right thing to do is to let judges know that Parliament believes that offences committed in relation to a war memorial are truly a shame, and that it hopes they will use the latitude the Criminal Code gives them at present, with respect to offences of mischief, to make the punishment fit the crime.

That is a much more rational approach than categorizing monuments and imposing sentences that are not really rational, because in every case the intent behind the act must be understood.

Was the person simply intoxicated, for example? In such cases, they may not even have realized what the situation was; they may not have been capable of distinguishing between a tree, for example, and a war memorial. I do not think such a case has the same impact as a case where someone intentionally destroys a war memorial because they are against the armed forces. We really have to be able to grasp the distinction and see the intent behind the acts.

Under the Criminal Code, at present, judges have complete latitude. I believe that judges are very intelligent people and are capable of seeing the intent behind the acts rationally and with discernment. I will therefore be opposing this bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 25th, 2012 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials). Over the past several years, we have seen deplorable incidents across the country where war memorials have been vandalized. This includes a war monument at the front of Malvern Collegiate, just outside of my riding of Toronto—Danforth, which was vandalized a few nights after it had been newly restored and rededicated.

Of course, my colleagues and I strongly condemn these and other disrespectful actions toward war memorials and monuments. That is common ground. We acknowledge and appreciate the hard work of people and communities throughout Canada who have ensured that those who served and sacrificed on behalf of all Canadians are honoured and that their memory is preserved. This memory, on our part, of those who fought to maintain the memory of others comes at no more appropriate time than a week or two before Remembrance Day.

Personally, honouring military service is very close to my heart. For many years I have worn the ring that is on this finger, which my grandfather, a soldier in the Nova Scotia Highlanders, was wearing when he fell at the Battle of Drocourt-Queant in September 1918. He lost his leg that day and, as for so many who cheat death in battle, pain and trauma made post-war survival its own sort of battle. Eventually, my grandfather succumbed to the effects of his wounds. However, thank goodness for me, my mother was born before my grandfather passed away. What makes this connection particularly interesting is that she spent the last 15 to 20 years of her career working for a monument company that specialized not only in cemetery memorials but also in larger memorials. Most of the war memorials in Atlantic Canada were produced by the company my mother worked for in Windsor, Nova Scotia, including the World War II pilots memorial in Gander, Newfoundland, and a memorial replacing an older memorial in a town in Belgium, commemorating the 85th Battalion of the Nova Scotia Highlanders and its role in the Battle of Passchendaele.

My purpose in referencing my family history is to suggest that I do not come to this debate not appreciating the importance and value of memorials in our society and for our collective memory.

Bill C-217 proposes to amend section 430 of the Criminal Code, which is the section dealing with mischief, so as to provide for minimum mandatory fines of $1,000 for a first offence, 14 days in jail for a second and 30 days in jail for a third when the mischief is in relation to a war memorial or like structure, similar building or part of such a building or structure. However, the current provisions of section 430 of the Criminal Code already deal with mischief related to the destruction and defacing of property, including war memorials and monuments. The penalty provisions in the existing section 430 have provided the courts with an adequate scope for appropriate sentencing without the need for any mandatory minimums. No evidence at all was presented to the committee to suggest a need for mandatory minimums.

Section 430 of the code provides for greater maximum penalties for mischief in relation to churches, synagogues and so on, but again there are no minimum sentences.

In contrast to the current approach in the Criminal Code, Bill C-217 proposes adding a subsection to deal specifically with mischief relating to war memorials.

Like the sponsor of this bill, I want to emphasize that I believe we do have an obligation to protect these sacred spaces in our communities in order to honour the Canadians who have made the ultimate sacrifice to our country.

As we heard from the sponsor of the bill, its intent is “to send a strong message that vandalism and desecration of our war memorials and cenotaphs will not be tolerated”.

Be assured that we, the NDP, support this intent. However, the means by which the bill proposes to send this message is not the right way.

As legislators, we must ask whether the imposition of greater mandatory penalties will achieve the purpose of encouraging respect for war memorials. Mandatory minimum sentences simply do not accomplish that end. They do not accommodate the reality of the divergent circumstances that judges are called upon to assess, which can lead them to the conclusion that something less than a mandatory minimum sentence is appropriate or can lead them to pursue alternative approaches or measures other than fines or jail time.

As my colleague from St. John's East, who was the former justice critic, and others have said, we must work hard to find a balance in legislation and so often mandatory minimum sentences upset that balance. I would also draw to everyone's attention the compelling testimony before the justice committee with respect to another bill before the House of former Supreme Court Justice John Major, who was elevated to the Supreme Court from the Alberta Court of Appeal. I recommend his thoughtful testimony. Two comments he made are worth mentioning now, just to give everyone a taste. On one hand, he said:

I'm still a little concerned about a minimum sentence that's absolute. Cases are not all the same, as you know, and the minimum sentence may be inadequate in a number of circumstances...but in other cases it may not be proper.

He went on to say:

It's just the variation in people that pushed me towards the view that a minimum sentence is something that I find has a lot of flaws.

That was said by a former Supreme Court justice who was known for being a very good jurist, but definitely a cautious, if not at times a conservative jurist. He told the justice committee that mandatory minimum sentences are problematic.

At working committee my colleagues, in particular the justice critic from St. John's East, proposed a series of amendments to the bill that would have allowed for greater judicial discretion. There is one in particular that I would like to draw attention to because it combines two philosophies that can live together with some balance. The NDP would have asked for an amendment that would have read as follows. “A court may delay imposing a punishment on a person convicted of an offence under [the subsection in question] to enable the person to make reparations for harm done to victims and the community. If the person makes reparations that, in the opinion of the court, are appropriate, the court may impose a punishment that is less than the minimum punishment provided for in that subsection.”

The government declined to work with us or accept that amendment, but the committee heard testimony that suggested that approach would be recognized as an appropriate one by many in Canada. I was struck by a letter received from the dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion. I am going to read two short passages from that letter. It states:

Our membership is strongly in favour of recognizing the serious nature of these incidents and in consideration of the feelings and emotions expressed by all Canadians against such acts....

We do however feel that the provision of appropriate penalties suitable to the individual particulars of an incident should reflect the nature of these acts and there should be latitude in assessing the gravity of the situation.

The punishment should fit the crime and although no incident of this nature can be condoned, there should be provision for restorative justice measures with a mandated dialogue between veterans groups and the offenders. There should be provision where offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, to repair the harm they have done, by apologizing to a group of Veterans, or with community services. It provides help for the offender to avoid future offences and provides a greater understanding of the consequences of their actions.

I remind those listening that this letter was from the dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion.

I would much prefer to stand with the approach of the Royal Canadian Legion that has veterans and our historical memory with respect to wartime first and foremost in their minds than with an approach that relies on mandatory minimum sentences as some kind of salvation for the serious problem, which I again acknowledge, of the desecration of memorials.

I will end by drawing attention to the case of the Ottawa National War Memorial, where teens charged with urinating on that site ended up working with the Royal Canadian Legion. They were not fined or sent to jail, but they learned and are continuing to work with the Royal Canadian Legion in an educational mode. I believe that we should follow the lead of the legion.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 25th, 2012 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on behalf of my constituents in Dufferin—Caledon to conclude debate on Bill C-217, which is my bill to protect war memorials and cenotaphs.

First, I would like to thank all members who participated in the debate in the various stages of the bill, which recognizes the importance of honouring and respecting the memory of those who have given their lives in service to Canada. I would especially like to thank again the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, who gave this bill thorough scrutiny.

As members know, Bill C-217 seeks to amend the Criminal Code by adding significant penalties for any person convicted of mischief against a war memorial, cenotaph or other structure honouring or remembering those who have died as a consequence of war. The bill seeks to impose minimum penalties of a fine of not less than $1,000 for a first offence, prison of not less than 14 days for a second offence and prison of not less than 30 days for all subsequent offences.

The government moved an amendment at committee, which was accepted, to adjust the maximum penalty under indictment from five years to ten years. This is a technical amendment to keep the bill in line with the rest of the Criminal Code section on mischief. It was suggested by officials of the Minister of Justice and I am grateful for his intervention and support.

It must be pointed out that both opposition parties voted against the government's amendment and against the bill itself at committee. That says to me that they are not interested in seeking to deter individuals from damaging our most honoured places.

When I first addressed the House on the bill on November 3, 2011 and again in a subsequent debate, I cited many examples of desecrated war memorials and cenotaphs that underscore the seriousness of the problem and the need for concrete action by the House. Just a couple of months ago, an inukshuk dedicated to our soldiers in Afghanistan that stood outside Legion headquarters here in Ottawa was toppled and damaged. That was shameful.

Remembrance Day is fast approaching. It is a time when Canadians reflect on the proud heritage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. That heritage was brought to the floor at committee, where I was joined by two proud veterans who made it clear to members how emotional this is for them. Their moving and passionate testimony was a clear example of why Bill C-217 is necessary.

It is of the utmost importance that Bill C-217 be enacted to protect the dignity of those structures and places in our communities where we honour our war dead and pay tribute to the service of men and women in uniform. Bill C-217 would help remind Canadians that soldiers' sacrifices will never be forgotten or unappreciated. Canada will continue to honour her fallen through the protection of such important structures and will punish those who disrespect them.

The opposition has suggested in the past and even tonight that rehabilitation or restorative justice is the appropriate response to those who have committed these horrific acts. Bill C-217 is not opposed to such a response but seeks punishment first for those who displayed such profound disrespect for war memorials and cenotaphs. I would remind members that a judge is free to order whatever restorative justice he or she wishes after the perpetrator has been ordered to pay at least a $1,000 fine.

The truth is that had these vandals been forced to think about the gravity of their actions prior to the damage committed, they would not likely have proceeded with such acts. Bill C-217 would make sure that potential vandals know the punishment for their crimes and therefore would think twice before proceeding with such acts due to the knowledge of the much stronger criminal sanctions to come.

Bill C-217 sends a clear message that vandalism and desecration of any Canadian cenotaph or war memorial will not be tolerated. We owe it all to the men and women who have fought and continue to fight in the Canadian Forces for our great country.

I thank all hon. members for their consideration of Bill C-217 and I urge them to support it when it comes time for a vote.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 28th, 2012 / 11 a.m.
See context

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning on behalf of the residents of Dufferin—Caledon to speak to Bill C-217, which is my bill to protect and defend our nation's war memorials and cenotaphs.

As members will know, Bill C-217 seeks to add significant penalties to the mischief section of the Criminal Code for those convicted of mischief against our war memorials, cenotaphs and similar structures that honour those who have died as a result of war. The first offence would carry a fine of not less than $1,000. The second offence would carry a jail term of 14 days. The third and subsequent offences would carry a 30-day jail term.

All members of this House are familiar with veterans in their communities and likely with serving Canadian Forces members as well. We hold them in the highest regard for the sacrifice their service represents. Our war memorials and cenotaphs are places we set aside in our communities to honour them and especially to honour those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We owe them a debt that can never be repaid.

Since we last debated this bill on February 2, 2012, I was pleased to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as it began its examination of Bill C-217 on March 27. I had the honour of being accompanied by Mr. John Eggenberger of Nepean, Ontario, a retired air force colonel and vice-president of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association. I was also accompanied by Mr. Earl Page, a Korean War navy veteran from Woodstock, Ontario. These two gentlemen underscored the need for more stringent sanctions against those who would desecrate or vandalize our cherished cenotaphs and war memorials.

Mr. Page, in particular, made an impassioned presentation during which he recounted the events of a shocking act of vandalism that took place in Woodstock on November 10, 2009, the night before the Remembrance Day ceremonies. Residents of Woodstock arose to discover that vandals had spray-painted swastikas and offensive messages on the town cenotaph. With no time to remove the offensive graffiti, the ceremony proceeded with this heinous damage in full view.

Mr. Page commented on the disgust felt by everyone, especially the veterans attending the ceremony in Woodstock on that Remembrance Day. I will quote from Mr. Page's presentation at committee on March 27. He said:

...I wanted to express my deep disgust on behalf of all the people in Woodstock, all the veterans in Woodstock, as well as the many children there. Children were mentioned. We always have a great many children out to that cenotaph on Remembrance Day, and they all come and shake our hands. They're happy to see us. Since the desecration of our monument, the city has gone to the trouble of re-facing all the names on that monument, and it cost the city a great deal of money. I know the feelings of the veterans: if we had got hold of that guy, I don't think he would be walking around today. But he was not a child, or even a teenager—he was an adult, and he got away with it. We spent six or seven days going to court to see what was going to happen to him, and he got off with a slap on the wrist, a couple of days of community service. Terrible. I won't say much more, because I'm liable to say things I shouldn't. Thank you.

During the previous hours of debate on this bill, I have recounted many similar examples of such profound disrespect to our fallen soldiers, our veterans and our men and women serving in the Canadian Forces today. As the mischief section of the Criminal Code is currently written, war memorials and cenotaphs fall into the same category as a mailbox or parking meter when it comes to penalties. They certainly deserve better protection than that.

During the examination of Bill C-217 at committee, colleagues from the opposite side of the House made numerous references to mandatory minimum sentences, restorative justice, judicial leeway, discretion and so forth. The member for St. John's East and the member for Mount Royal, who are both very experienced and knowledgeable members, expressed opposition to the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions of Bill C-217. Both of those members and other members of the opposition were pushing for restorative justice and judicial flexibility to be written into the bill. Indeed, several hours of the committee's time was taken up with debate on their amendments in this regard. It is my contention that they missed the point.

Nothing in Bill C-217 precludes a judge from ordering some form of restorative justice, restitution or apology, or other alternate sentencing. A judge could order a guilty individual to spend time at the local Legion to perform community service or even scrub the monument with a toothbrush, for example. The judge would be as free to do as he or she sees fit on a case by case basis after the guilty individual is ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for the first offence.

Staying with the committee for a moment, I should note that an amendment put forward by the government was adopted. It would move the maximum imprisonment under indictment from five to ten years. This is a technical amendment that was brought to my attention by officials with the Department of Justice, and I thank the department for its guidance in this regard. I might point out that the opposition parties voted against the government's amendment, and they also voted against the bill itself in a recorded division at the conclusion of clause by clause. This action speaks for itself as to how seriously they view this issue.

I return to my observation that, under the current regime of the mischief section of the Criminal Code, a war memorial or cenotaph is not accorded the pride of place that we accord them in our communities.

These honoured places we know so well represent shared military heritage and its key role in defining who we are as a country. We can all recall the major milestones and some of the lesser ones in our military history: Ypres, Vimy, the Somme, Dieppe, Ortona, the liberation of the Netherlands, the Korean War, the Suez crisis, Cyprus, the Golan Heights, peacekeeping throughout the Cold War, the first Gulf War, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and, more recently, Libya, to name but a few.

Those names evoke strong emotions among Canadians, and rightly so. They and so many others are part of what defines us as a country. We are a country that defines freedom and liberty to the point that we have sent and continue to send our sons and daughters to dangerous places in the world in defence of that freedom and liberty. We understand collectively as a country what this has cost us in lives sacrificed. To properly honour that sacrifice, we have erected war memorials and cenotaphs across the land, where communities gather to pay tribute to those who have fallen and those who have served.

We would repay that sacrifice and service poorly indeed if we did not do all we can to deter the senseless desecration of these honoured structures and places. My goal with Bill C-217 was to lift cenotaphs, war memorials and other similar structures above the mundane and properly recognize them in the Criminal Code as having special value, value deserving of significant sanction in the criminal law of this country if someone chooses to violate them.

I have related this story before in the House but it bears repeating as to what prompted me to introduce this legislation. In early 2008, in my community of Orangeville, Ontario, the town arranged for our local cenotaph to be sent for restoration. In late October, it was reinstalled with an appropriately solemn rededication ceremonies. Then a few days later, just days before Remembrance Day, vandals hit it with eggs. It cost the town of Orangeville more than $2,000 to repair the damage.

This was the original impetus behind the bill. As I did research on this, I found that this incident was, sadly, not isolated. Without having to dig very deeply, I found dozens of incidents over only the past few years from coast to coast of vandalism and desecration of these important monuments. In many cases, perpetrators received either a slap on the wrist or even went scot-free.

It was said during testimony at the justice committee that we should take into account youthful indiscretion or the lack of education as to the significance of our military history when considering cases of vandalism of this kind. I could not more vehemently disagree. I think of the tens of thousands of Canadian youth who lay in war graves in Europe, North Africa, the Pacific and elsewhere. There is no youthful indiscretion there.

Part of educating those who remain ignorant of the value of our war memorials and cenotaphs includes making it clear in our criminal law what the consequences are for dishonouring them.

The severity of the penalty gives Canadians an indication as to how seriously we as a society and we as parliamentarians view this associated crime. To suggest that vandalism against a war memorial or cenotaph is done on a lark or a whim and should be treated less harshly is frankly offensive to the memories of those we honour with our monuments.

Members will know we just celebrated the 95th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. Many consider this to be Canada's coming of age, as all four components of the Canadian expeditionary forces fought together as a single unit for the first time. Great odds were overcome at a great cost of life, far out of proportion to our size as a nation. It is a key defining moment in our history as a nation. The Governor General recently led a delegation of thousands of Canadian students to the monument in Vimy to commemorate this important milestone. As well, during 2012 we are celebrating the bicentennial of the war of 1812. Canadians can be justifiably proud of our role in that conflict, another pivotal moment in our history. Throughout this year, many will be paying tribute at our local cenotaphs and war memorials. In two years' time we will commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, which cost our country immeasurably.

All this is to say that Canada has a proud military history. We have never sought a war, but we have always come to the defence of democracy and freedom when called upon to do so. We have always recognized the bravery and sacrifice of the best among us through our memorials and cenotaphs in the ceremonies we hold there.

Most members know someone who has fought or served at some point in our great country: a father, a brother, a grandfather, an uncle, an aunt, a sister, a mother or a friend. We appreciate these men and women for their dedication and courage and the sacrifice they have shown for Canada. Their willingness to fight abroad for our freedom here at home is an inspiration. The memorials in our communities are dedicated to these people, and none of us wants to see them damaged or defiled. The increased penalties called for in Bill C-217 will make potential vandals think twice before acting against a memorial that holds such significant meaning for this community.

Canadian Forces members continue to serve in Afghanistan, engaged in training the Afghan security forces. Just last summer combat operations ceased and the bulk of our combat troops returned home to a grateful nation. Over the course of 10 years of combat operation, Canada's longest-ever combat mission, we lost 157 brave men and women. As a result, our cenotaphs and war memorials have taken on new significance and value, especially in those communities that lost one of their own. Protecting them from vandalism is more important now than ever.

As members of Parliament, we serve our democracy in a very direct way. It was to protect that democracy and the freedoms that go with it that so many brave Canadians signed up and continue to enlist in the Canadian Forces. Too many of those Canadians did not make it home, and so we have places of honour and great respect in our communities to recognize their sacrifice. We would repay them poorly if we did not do absolutely all we can to discourage people from dishonouring those hallowed places.

Those of us who enjoy the hard-won freedoms that are part of modern Canada owe it to those who have paid in blood and life to keep these honoured spaces free from harm or dishonour. As citizens and residents of this great country, we have a duty to protect and preserve our memorials and cenotaphs in memory of those who have fallen.

To conclude, I would like to thank all the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their work on Bill C-217. They gave it thoughtful consideration. While I did not agree with everything that was said, I nevertheless want to acknowledge their work. In particular, I want to thank both the chairman, the member for Oxford, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, the member for Delta—Richmond East for their stewardship of Bill C-217 through the committee process.

Canada's long and proud tradition of standing up for freedom and democracy and defending our values is one of the things that make us the greatest in the world. I believe the passage of Bill C-217 is necessary to ensure that those who would damage our honoured places think twice before they act. I would therefore urge all hon. members to support Bill C-217.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 28th, 2012 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Dufferin—Caledon because I truly understand why he has introduced this bill. This is not his first attempt.

I know that all members of the House are always appalled to hear about incidents such as those that occurred recently in Ottawa and in the hon. member's riding. However, one of the issues raised by the Standing Committee on Justice is that there is no mandatory minimum sentence for mischief in relation to objects of religious worship or cultural property. The fact that Bill C-217 establishes mandatory minimum sentences for committing mischief in relation to a war memorial seems to make this a much more serious offence. I would like the member to talk about this.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 28th, 2012 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, whatever we are doing now, which is under the mischief section in the Criminal Code, is not working. The vandalism continues.

I understand the position of the official opposition and the Liberal opposition. Their position has been quite clear. They do not like maximum or minimum sentences, and that is it in a nutshell. They want restorative justice and other things. As I said in my comments, Bill C-217 does not preclude a judge making that decision. After people have been fined $1,000, they can have other things applied to their sentences. There can be restorative justice. I say that, surely to goodness, this offence is greater than minor mischief charges. These are very serious things.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 28th, 2012 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who, by introducing this bill, has made it possible for me to address such an important matter in this chamber.

However, I would first like to say that this bill is a little like many other government bills, even though it is being introduced through the back door as a private member's bill. Bill C-217 seems to be inspired by media headlines. The danger with this type of bill is that it meddles with the Criminal Code. We are supposed to be good managers of this country, good legal experts and supposedly good lawmakers. Lawmakers do not talk for the sake of talking. The danger is that by making piecemeal changes to sections of the Criminal Code, which is something that the Conservative government does on a regular basis, we are creating a monster and those who manage criminal matters every day will have a great deal of trouble working with it.

When we studied the bill in the Standing Committee on Justice, the critic at the time, my colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador, specified that we had no problem with the substance of the bill. We all recognize the importance of war memorials. We have no problem with that. Our problem was, and still is—because the amendments have not been passed yet—with the fact that the government introduces in Bill C-217 changes immediately following section 430 of the Criminal Code on mischief involving religious worship.

The section stipulates:

Every one who commits mischief in relation to property that is a building, structure or part thereof that is primarily used for religious worship, including a church, mosque, synagogue or temple, or an object associated with religious worship located in or on the grounds of such a building or structure, or a cemetery, if the commission of the mischief is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour or national or ethnic origin,

a. is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years; or

b. is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months.

It is because we raised these points that the government presented its amendment, because the maximum sentence did not make sense. The government recognized that. If we considered that the purpose of the bill was essentially to introduce minimum sentences, then the official opposition could not support this type of amendment given that, in the same section, this did not exist for the other things. Never, during the entire hearing in committee of the various witnesses, was anyone able to tell us in an intelligent or consistent manner why war memorials are more important than places of religious worship or cultural property.

It is important to be consistent. Indeed, there will be a problem when and if this goes before the courts. We do not write just for the sake of it, to return to our ridings and go to the Royal Canadian Legion—that I joined a few months ago—and say that they will be proud of us because we voted in favour of Bill C-217 and we have agreed to make things much more serious. It is important to be consistent. As legislators, we have a responsibility. If this government does not understand its role as legislator, at some point, Canadian society as a whole will pay the price. We agree that there is a problem, but it is important to be realistic. It is not something that happens every day, but there is a problem. That it would happen once, is once too often.

I would have been a little uncomfortable had I not received a letter from the president of the Royal Canadian Legion, who wrote to us, during our committee hearings, on behalf of the Royal Canadian Legion. If anyone is proud of their history—of our land, air and sea forces—and of what has been done in Canada's name throughout the world, it is the Legion.

I participate in enough activities with these people to know that they are proud and that they want to educate young people about our history. They want young people to be more familiar with what is happening now and what has happened in our history. The youth of today are quite often unfamiliar with Canada’s history. My colleague who introduced Bill C-217 stressed this when he compared our situation to that of Europe, where young people are so proud of their history. I have travelled throughout Europe and I have been to Normandy. It was one of the most wonderful trips of my life, and the most emotional. I saw all the tombstones of our Canadian soldiers, which are maintained by people who go there every day. Of course, it is a proud moment to stand before these tombstones, and one that makes you want to return.

Will slapping people with a $1,000 fine solve the problem of ignorance of history? As the president of the Royal Canadian Legion put it so well:

The punishment should fit the crime and although no incident of this nature can be condoned, there should be provision for restorative justice measures with a mandated dialogue between veterans groups and the offenders. There should be provision where offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, to repair the harm they have done, by apologizing to a group of Veterans, or with community services. It provides help for the offender to avoid future offences and provides a greater understanding of the consequences of their actions.

That is the Royal Canadian Legion's vision, which I share. There is a reason why the Criminal Code section on mischief does not provide for a minimum fine for mischief in relation to cultural property or places used for religious worship.

We feel that war memorials belong in the section on mischief. While we do not necessarily object to mentioning war memorials specifically in that section, it is important to be consistent with the rest of the section, because there is a danger. The member for Dufferin—Caledon was asked about this when he testified in committee. Anyone who has done some criminal law and gone to court knows what will happen to avoid the minimum fine. Take the example of a stupid young person who gets a good slap on the wrist from the authorities so that he understands the seriousness of what he did and is properly punished. You would have to be pretty stupid to do this sort of thing. But who did not do something stupid when they were young? Do we have to slap people with a $1,000 minimum fine to make them understand that what they did was wrong?

The best proof that this is not necessary is that these individuals rarely reoffend, which goes to show that the punishments handed down under the current legislation are successful. Something is missing, though. Students in this country need to be made aware of our history.

I will repeat what I said the first time I took part in this debate, for anyone who did not hear. In my former life, I was a radio broadcaster. One of my best radio programs was one that I had to fight for to some degree, since my program director thought my idea was completely crazy. After travelling to Europe, I said I wanted to do a special program on November 11, which I wanted to begin by observing a minute of silence. For anyone who does not know, a minute of silence on the radio is very expensive. My director asked me if I had gone mad. I told her that I thought it was worth commemorating what happened in our past and giving our listeners a little history lesson. That was my best program. It was an open-line broadcast. People called in to talk about what had happened. That is what needs to be done, rather than adding a subsection that will only complicate section 430 and confuse people, because they will no longer know which section to invoke when laying charges, in order to prevent the minimum fine from being given.

This bill is thoughtful in the sense that it comes from good intentions, but once again, this Conservative government has failed to reach the right conclusion.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 28th, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-217 on the issue of mischief in relation to war memorials and cenotaphs. As I have stated previously in this regard, there is a responsibility to take action against those who would dishonour our heritage, our history and our memorials, the devoir de mémoire, the duty of memory. As I have said before, vandalism and desecration of monuments and memorials is intolerable. Such desecration dishonours us all.

Like every member of this place, I am as shocked as I am pained to read accounts of vandalism and desecration of war memorials. In my own riding of Mount Royal, we are home to such memorials including the cenotaph in the municipality of Côte Saint-Luc, erected in memory of those who gave their lives in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War, as well as the Mount Royal cenotaph in Peace Park, which honours the brave soldiers from the town of Mount Royal who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Second World War. One shudders to think of these community treasures and memorials being vandalized.

However, we have been witness to troubling accounts of vandalism and desecration of war memorials and monuments across the country, as has been set forth before this House in discussion and debate. Indeed, in response to an incident on Canada Day in 2006, when an individual urinated on a national war memorial here in Ottawa, Liberals and in particular my colleague from Ottawa South called upon the government to take action in this regard. As it happens, we have before us today legislation that seeks to address the specific issue of mischief related to war memorials.

However, this is flawed legislation. Accordingly, I will enumerate for my colleagues why, though I am supportive of the bill in principle, I nonetheless feel it would not achieve that which must be accomplished.

First, the measure is duplicative of what is already in the Criminal Code and in our criminal law. It is not as if, without this legislation, mischief to war memorials is not criminalized. Indeed, such behaviour can be prosecuted now under the Criminal Code, as it has been in the past under the general principle of mischief. Moreover, it can also be punished under the subsection of mischief specific to the damage to cultural property provision.

Thus, while we need to denounce and prevent damage to war memorials, cenotaphs and the like, it is unclear that this legislation is adequate in terms of scope. For example, in the town of Hampstead in my own riding, in front of the Irving L. Adessky Community Centre, there is both a cenotaph and a Holocaust memorial. Under the present legislation, only vandalism of the cenotaph would be punished whereas vandalism of the Holocaust memorial would be addressed under the existing mischief provisions. While both could be punished under the provision for “damage to cultural property”, it is unclear why a war memorial and cenotaph, to the exclusion of another memorial such as a Holocaust memorial, should receive the unique protection that is offered by Bill C-217.

Rather than dwell on this particular point any longer, I suggest that the government may wish to revisit this area of the law to ensure consistency in the preservation and protection of these important reminders of our heritage and our history.

Second, Bill C-217 makes use of a mandatory minimum penalty. While I have enumerated various critiques of mandatory minimum penalties in this House on the grounds of law and principle, criminal law policy, economics, prejudicial fallout and the like, I do not wish to repeat myself at length on this point. Rather, I will focus my concern in this regard on the use of a specific punitive mandatory minimum in this legislation, where such punishment may not be the appropriate and precise remedy necessitated by the vandalism that it seeks to counteract.

As was discussed extensively in committee, much of the vandalism of war memorials is committed by youths sometimes not even aware of the significance of the site. In that regard, and as we have seen judges determine this in the past in relation to such mischief, it would be more appropriate to regard such youth vandalism to require of them to complete community service projects with veterans groups, or to mandate that they volunteer with veterans. Simply put, rather than collecting a fine and leaving it at that, we should require individuals to learn about the sacrifices veterans have made for this country, to engage with the veterans, to hear their stories and to appreciate the sacrifice that was made.

Regrettably, we discourage the use of such sentencing techniques by requiring a punitive mandatory minimum, where judges may be less inclined to propose such action in addition to a fine or prison term. It may even be that a prosecutor would charge a lesser offence to avoid the mandatory minimum, as we have seen in the past as well, such that this, in the end, would undermine this law's attempt at even specific denunciation of this behaviour, let alone its prevention to begin with.

I find myself, again, in the position where I need to draw to the attention of my colleagues opposite that crime and justice cannot, and do not, only operate in the realms of punishment and incarceration.

Indeed, in relation to alternative sentencing, we have the concept of restorative justice, of which we hear very little from the government, if anything. It would provide for remedies like the one suggested regarding community service and promote the idea that a person convicted of such an offence should make it right, not simply with the state but with those who are harmed and hurt by his or her conduct. As witnesses from veterans groups noted at committee, a heartfelt and sincere apology can go a long way.

Another thing we ignore with the focus on punishment is, indeed, prevention, which brings me to my third and final point; that is, the bill would do nothing with regard to prevention, and it would not serve as an effective deterrent.

The government could have introduced a fund for security at such sites. It could have announced a new initiative to fund events and ceremonies at such sites to encourage broader community awareness and understanding of their importance and place. Indeed, just as the government is now involved in promoting and publicizing the War of 1812, it could focus at this point on encouraging interaction and engagement with veterans, particularly as the surviving veteran population from World War II diminishes with each passing year.

I do not fault the member for Dufferin—Caledon in any way. Indeed, I appreciate his bringing forth this legislation. However, I must take issue with the government's myopic focus simply on punishment and incarceration, ignoring that prevention and restorative justice must equally be considered and, in some cases, would dictate the adoption of measures other than mandatory minimum penalties of a fine, imprisonment or both.

In closing, while I do believe the bill has flaws, I am supportive in principle, given its foundational importance that we remember those who sacrificed so much for us and our cherished way of life and that we honour their memory appropriately.

However, we can have more effective legislation. We could make it better. We can better honour their sacrifice. We can best honour their memory by so doing.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 28th, 2012 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to stand today and speak in support of Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials).

This bill is important because, frankly, many people do not recognize what is taking place across this country. They do not recognize the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made in the past, and how they should be respected.

When the sponsor of the bill, the member for Dufferin—Caledon, appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice, which was tasked to study the bill, he observed that the Criminal Code currently treats the desecration of war memorials in the same fashion as when someone damages or desecrates mailboxes, for instance.

The member said that the national importance of war memorials warrants that they be governed by a separate offence in the code. He called them sacred spaces. I would agree with that analogy. I think they are sacred spaces. They are our way of recognizing and remembering those men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe and secure, and to give us the freedoms we enjoy today.

We have the greatest country in the world not only economically, as has been identified by many people around the world, but also the best banking sector, the best enforcement of the rule of law, the best individual freedoms for people than any other country on the planet.

It is in no small part what the men and women in uniform did in World War I and World War II. Battles like Vimy Ridge established us as a country and gave us pride in our armed forces.

The member also said that under the Criminal Code a person commits mischief by doing certain things. I am not going to go through them specifically, but it is in relation to destroying or damaging property, somebody rendering a property dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective.

I did have an opportunity to listen to the previous speakers. I have also had an opportunity to litigate for some years. Clearly, one thing that is not recognized by some parties is the number of people who commit crimes of property damage and mischief, and frankly, the people who commit those crimes are very seldom caught.

There are studies which indicate that only 8% of crimes are ever solved. I would suggest that with this type of crime, the percentage solved would be much lower because the crime is committed anonymously, usually late at night and in a place where there is no witness, nobody who can identify the people. Often people consider it to be a victimless crime and one that does not need to be studied.

To be clear, Bill C-217 proposes that Parliament recognize the special significance of war memorials by amending the Criminal Code to create a new offence to deal specifically with mischief directed at such property, as the code has already identified for cultural property and property primarily used for religious worship, such as churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.

It also proposes that this new offence be subject to mandatory minimum penalties. I know some members of the Liberal Party and the NDP do not agree with that, but I do think it is very important because many judges across the country do not impose consistent sentences. First of all, we need to send a clear message to criminals that this will not be tolerated. Second, judges across the country, whether it be in Prince Edward Island, Fort McMurray or Vancouver, should impose the same sentence for each individual who commits these types of offences and other offences, such as drug dealing and violent crimes.

People who understand the law, such as the lawyers who spoke earlier, will see that in Vancouver, for instance, the courts are more lenient on drug dealers than the courts are in Alberta. We can see that. It is no surprise. Lawyers know this. That is why lawyers shop around in different jurisdictions.

Mandatory minimum sentences are very important. It is important for the judges to understand that legislators such as us are sending a clear message, and they need to send that clear message on to those people who would commit crimes of this nature.

I can understand why Canadians would readily support the creation of such a specific offence, because who does not know somebody who served in Afghanistan, World War I, World War II, or the Korean War? I think all of us have a relative or know someone who lost his or her life or something of themselves in one of those conflicts. Canadians clearly would support a mandatory minimum sentence in this particular case.

We heard from the previous speaker that he is supporting it. He said it is not a perfect law, and I would agree. I do not think there is such a thing as a perfect law, but certainly we need to move forward as legislators to find that balance between what could be perfect and what is necessary to hold these people to account.

If we were to leave the current law as it is, nothing would change. Clearly it is not working. That is why we need to do something. It has failed to discourage people from committing these offences. It has failed to convince people to pay attention to this in their own communities. These monuments lose their importance to Canadians if they see that people can get away with the occurrences that have taken place.

I want to bring forward to the House some examples of what has happened in the past. These examples were brought to light in committee by Mr. John Eggenberger, the vice-president of research at the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association. These examples clearly indicate what is not acceptable and why we should be taking these steps and sending this message.

In September 2006, the monument in Vimy Ridge Memorial Park in Winnipeg was tagged with silver spray paint. I had a chance to go to France to represent our country. I saw the Vimy Ridge Memorial. I read the names of the young men and women who had served on behalf of Canada. The average age of those young people who died I do not think was even 21. We should honour the people who died to establish and protect our country, as well as the many countries and people of Europe. It is unacceptable to spray-paint a memorial that represents people who died while protecting our freedoms.

In 2008, the Korean War veterans memorial in Ottawa was smeared with human feces. How disgusting is that? The National Capital Commission, to its credit, cleaned it up within an hour. The person or persons who did that should be totally ashamed of themselves. It is disgusting and totally unacceptable.

Also in 2008, a 14-year-old boy was caught spray-painting a war memorial on Vancouver Island. I do not see any constructive purpose in that. Maybe that 14-year-old boy should receive some sort of punishment and some recognition for being a youth, but certainly he should be making a dramatic change in his lifestyle. To do something like that shows an absolute lack of respect.

In June 2008, local Montreal Legion members were outraged to discover FLQ slogans painted on a nearby cenotaph in a southwest suburb of the city. Why would people do that to a monument which recognizes people for their great sacrifices? Likely, many of those people who served during those conflicts were related to the individual who did that, or the individual at least knew them.

In April 2009, a large X was painted over the names of the World War II veterans inscribed on the war memorial next to the town hall in Lennoxville, Quebec. A beer bottle was also smashed on the monument. What is the purpose of that? What do people solve by doing that? Clearly, there is a lack of respect and that needs to change.

In 2009, four teens were charged after the war memorial in Welland, Ontario, was vandalized with spray paint.

In 2010, in Trail, British Columbia, a group of youths were caught on video defacing the town's recently restored cenotaph. What happened to those individuals? Some of those offenders were identified but faced no monetary sanctions for their acts.

There is a cost to this. It is not just a cost to Canadians but a cost to the people who actually sacrificed their time to protect our rights and the rule of law that we have in Canada. Many people take that for granted. Clearly, this is one way to establish that they need to take it seriously.

That is why the mandatory minimum sentence of a $1,000 fine for a first offence is absolutely necessary. It is a small price to pay for what our men and women in uniform did for us. It is a small price to pay for recognizing their great sacrifice. For second or third offences, I suggest that the book be thrown at the perpetrators and that they be sentenced to more than 14 days and 30 days as proposed in the bill, because they are not recognizing the great respect that should be shown to the men and women in uniform today and the men and women in uniform who fought for us and gave us our freedoms.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 28th, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very eager to participate in the debate on Bill C-217. Before getting into the details of the bill, I would like to remind everyone that, sadly, our nation's history has its darker moments, such as our participation in armed conflicts.

Thousands of Canadian soldiers have fought for our freedoms and democratic values. We recognize that these men and women fought for a cause that they cared deeply about. We have to ensure that future generations learn about the sacrifices that all soldiers have made in the name of a noble cause. The vast majority of them have come home, but others never left the battlefield. Of those lucky enough to return, many carry permanent scars left by the atrocities they experienced on the battlefield. Pain and sadness have affected and continue to affect many families. Unfortunately, nothing can bring back those killed in action. Still, one of the things we must do to show our respect is pay tribute and commemorate their lives. No praise or medal can ever compensate for their service and sacrifice.

Despite our valiant efforts to honour these people, human beings unfortunately have memories that are sometimes a little too short. Therefore, we must ensure that negligence does not lead to a generation of skeptics who are unfamiliar with the history of our country and the lives sacrificed on the battlefields.

Consequently, it is our duty to remember these soldiers and the values that they fought for: the preservation of peace, justice and freedom. We must remember the dedication of these soldiers and their families.

War memorials are a lasting and visible sign that we are grateful for the sacrifices made and that we will never forget the Canadians killed in action. This is not about military propaganda, but recognition for the efforts of thousands of soldiers who died in action. War memorials also remind us that we sometimes find it difficult to learn from our mistakes.

The hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon introduced Bill C-217, which amends the Criminal Code to provide for the offence of committing mischief in relation to a war memorial. This bill seems to stem from the fact that a number of acts of vandalism have been committed against war memorials over the past few years. The hon. member, it seems, wanted to respond to those indecent acts committed against the memory of these soldiers who died in combat.

Nonetheless, we do not believe that sending young people to prison would benefit our society or help young people show respect for our veterans. I think the bill should have focused on education and raising awareness, which, in my opinion, better help prevent vandalism against our war memorials. What is more, the principle of restorative justice has been completely ignored and I think that is a mistake.

The focus should be to make young people realize the importance of respecting the memory of our veterans. A Veterans Affairs Canada report indicates that only 35% of Canadians have attended remembrance ceremonies.

We need to focus on giving Canadians a new appreciation for remembrance. The NDP believes we must ensure that those who made the ultimate sacrifice are not forgotten and that everyone knows that these memorials demand our respect.

We also recognize and commend our community volunteers who work hard to ensure that all Canadians' service and sacrifice are honoured and preserved in memory for the benefit of future generations.

Bill C-217 would amend section 430 of the Criminal Code on mischief and provide for a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offence, a minimum 14-day prison term for a second offence and a minimum 30-day term for each subsequent offence for mischief in relation to a war memorial or part of a similar structure.

These minimum sentences, added to all the minimum sentences the Conservatives have introduced in numerous bills recently, will clearly have a huge impact on Correctional Service Canada's budget. Putting more people in prison will only add to the cost of incarceration. Mandatory minimums have no deterrent effect, contrary to what the government would like us to believe.

We feel that the bill is excellent in principle, and we certainly have no objection to adding a subsection on mischief in relation to war memorials. However, there are two problems with the bill.

First, section 430 of the Criminal Code already pertains to mischief, which includes destroying or damaging property in general, and the punishment for this crime gives the judge ample latitude in sentencing.

Second, and along the same lines, we are against minimum sentences, because, as other members have already said, they give the judge no latitude in determining an appropriate sentence and they are not the right approach. Contrary to what the government thinks, minimum sentences are not a magic bullet. They are not a one-size-fits-all solution to society's problems. As I said, they have no deterrent effect on an offender who is about to commit a crime.

I am completely convinced that what we need to emphasize is prevention, through awareness and education. Consider the following example from a few years ago: a young man was charged for having urinated on a monument. As part of the offender's sentence, he had to apologize, meet with members of the Royal Canadian Legion and perform community service for that organization. After his sentence was complete, that individual continued working with the Royal Canadian Legion, which tells me that the principle of restorative justice was completely beneficial in this case and that it works.

It is also important to point out that it was the Royal Canadian Legion that asked for and suggested this sentence. Thus, in my opinion, the government should follow the Royal Canadian Legion's example. That organization even told the Standing Committee on Justice that this bill should include provisions on restorative justice, such as dialogue between veterans and offenders convicted of mischief.

The Legion also said that the punishment should fit the crime and that imposing sentences should be left to the judge's discretion. Police officers, speaking on their own behalf, have also openly stated that restorative justice should be encouraged in cases involving vandalism of monuments.

The members of the Standing Committee on Justice requested and proposed amendments to the bill. They wanted to remove the clauses about minimum sentences. They also suggested an escape clause to give the judge the discretion to impose a more appropriate, less harsh sentence. The NDP members of the committee also proposed an amendment to introduce a restorative justice clause, but the Conservatives flatly dismissed those amendments.

Recently, the Conservatives cut many jobs at the centre for research into the prevention of mental illness, and in the epidemiology section, which analyzes mental health issues such as suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. Veterans Affairs Canada's budget will be reduced by $36 million by 2014-15.

How can the Minister of National Defence say that the health of the troops is a priority when budgets for mental health services are being cut? Is this how the Conservatives plan to honour the memory of our veterans?

We have to honour living veterans by providing them with the support and help they need to ensure their well-being. We must honour those who have fallen on the battlefield by taking care of monuments across Canada. The Conservative government still has to go a long way to prove that it really cares about the health of our veterans and about honouring their memory.

I would like to close with a few lines from John McCrae's In Flanders Fields:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

It is up to us to keep those poppies blooming, to preserve the memory of our veterans and their commitment to freedom, the freedom they have won for future generations.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

February 2nd, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Delta—Richmond East
B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, when I last rose on Bill C-217, I stated that my colleagues opposite suggested imprisonment would be automatic, and that is not correct.

The proposed mandatory minimum penalties are graduated and, in my view, appropriate. People convicted of this offence should have no illusions as to the minimum punishment that will be meted out to them. One can only hope that these mandatory minimum sentences will be a further deterrent to the senseless acts of vandalism that are so difficult to comprehend.

I would like, however, to echo the hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon with regard to a possible amendment to the bill. I am concerned that as drafted this legislation would provide for a lesser maximum sentence where prosecuted by indictment than for other mischief offences.

I for one would certainly support an amendment, were it brought forward, that would increase the maximum penalty from five years to ten years in order to ensure consistency in terms of the maximum sentence that could be imposed where the Crown proceeds by way of indictment.

I support the objectives of the bill, denouncing conduct which shows disrespect to fallen Canadian servicemen and women. One only need think of the repatriation ceremonies we have witnessed to condemn this criminal behaviour as requiring special review.

I invite all members of the House to support our veterans and support this legislation.