Evidence of meeting #28 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was memorials.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

I call this meeting to order.

This is meeting number 28 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and pursuant to the order of reference of Thursday, February 2, 2012, we have before us Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials).

Before we get started, I'll just say that we need to have a couple of minutes, or maybe more, at the end of this meeting to deal with a budget issue with respect to one of the previous bills we dealt with, and, perhaps if we have time, to deal with the issue of estimates that we had before us a couple of weeks ago.

Those things out of the way, we have witnesses before us today. You have them on your list there: Mr. Tilson, the sponsor of the bill; Mr. Eggenberger, from the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association; as an individual, Mr. Earl Page; and Terence Whitty, executive director, from the Army Cadet League of Canada.

You do have an opportunity, if you wish, to address the committee for between seven and ten minutes for the length of your address. If you go over the seven, I will let you know at nine minutes that you have one minute and then we'll cut you off.

Then we'll go to the parties. Each session is five minutes in length, and that includes their question and your answer. The microphones will be taken care of by the staff member here—she'll turn them on and off—so you don't need to worry about dealing with them. If you need translation, make sure it's turned to English and in the earpiece you'll get translation.

Mr. Tilson, do you have an opening address?

March 27th, 2012 / 11:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Yes, I do, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, members of the committee, for letting me speak this morning on Bill C-217.

I've distributed copies of my comments to members of the committee, in French and English, and one of the witness's comments as well.

Perhaps, first of all, Mr. Chairman, I could introduce the two witnesses I've asked to attend here.

Mr. John Eggenberger is from Ottawa. He is the vice-president of research of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1955 through 1981, when he retired as a lieutenant-colonel. During that time he continued his education, earning his Ph.D. in 1976. He began his career as an airborne interceptor navigator, flying out of Comox, in British Columbia. He subsequently served in many postings, including a stint on the DEW line in the Northwest Territories, as well as the Royal Military College. He spent many years in the European theatre, in both France and Germany, during the Cold War. He completed his career here in Ottawa.

Mr. Earl Page is a veteran of the Korean War, from Woodstock, Ontario. He joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1948, where he served for five years, until 1953. His posting was in the engine room. He served on three ships: HMCS Swansea, HMCS Huron, and HMCS Quebec. His voyages included both North American coasts, including the Arctic Circle; Europe, from Norway to Gibraltar; and the Far East, to Korea, Japan, and China, in 1951. Mr. Page has been a Royal Canadian Legion member from 1954 to the present. He has served on the executive for four years, including as first vice-president. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Naval Association from 1976, including various executive duties. He is also a member of various other veterans groups and organizations.

As members of Parliament, Mr. Chairman, we are all acquainted with veterans and members of the Canadian Forces in our communities. We are equally familiar with the cenotaphs and war memorials and similar structures that hold places of pride and honour in our ridings. Our cenotaphs and war memorials remind us of the ultimate sacrifice paid by fellow Canadians in defence of our freedoms and our cherished way of life. They also remind us of the ongoing service by our brave men and women of the Canadian Forces. These monuments represent a debt that we owe to those who have served and died, and it can never be fully repaid. When one of these honoured structures is vandalized or desecrated, it shocks and sickens us, and rightly so.

However, as the mischief section of the Criminal Code is currently written, cenotaphs and war memorials fall into the same category as a mailbox or parking meter or other mundane bits of property, when it comes to penalties for vandalism. That’s just not right.

In early 2008, in my community of Orangeville, Ontario, the town arranged for our cenotaph to be sent for restoration. In late October it was reinstalled with a dedication ceremony. Then, just days before the annual Remembrance Day services, vandals hit it with eggs. It cost the town of Orangeville more than $2,000 to repair the damage.

Mr. Chairman, that despicable act was the original impetus behind this bill, and it is why I have introduced it. When I began doing research on this, I sadly found that the incident in Orangeville was not isolated. I’ve come across dozens of incidents of vandalism and other acts of profound disrespect from across the country, over only the past five years. I referenced several of them during the debate at second reading. Since the House has sent the bill to this committee, on February 2, there have been yet more acts of senseless destruction.

Up until that time, Mr. Chairman, I have a binder of incidents going back over the years across this country. It's quite remarkable.

Bill C-217 sets out to remedy the current deficiency in the mischief section of the Criminal Code by attaching significant penalties to anyone who is convicted of mischief of a cenotaph, war memorial, or other structures that honour those who have died as a result of the war. I believe we have an obligation to protect these sacred spaces in our communities in order to honour the Canadians these structures represent. We have a duty to take strong action against those who would so profoundly dishonour the memory and sacrifice made by our greatest and bravest citizens.

Most members here today in this committee are aware of an incident that took place in this city, Ottawa, a number of years ago on Canada Day when a young man was caught urinating on the national war memorial. More recently, Malvern Collegiate in Toronto restored and rededicated its world war monument at the front of the school, only to have vandals attack it a few nights later, causing thousands of dollars in damages. Just before Remembrance Day the newly dedicated memorial wall in Calgary was hit with spray paint. Also, last fall, a Canadian Forces Afghan veteran discovered that the cenotaph in a park in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in Montreal had been tagged with graffiti.

Mr. Chairman, enough is enough. That's why I have introduced this bill for the consideration of this committee.

Only a few weeks ago, Mr. Chairman, it was discovered that dozens of veterans' grave stones in the cemetery in the St. Catharines area had their bronze maple leaves pried off to be sold as scrap metal. I believe the two witnesses who are supporting this bill, who are here with me today, will be sharing other examples of shocking disrespect for our war memorials and cenotaphs.

As members of Parliament we are at the sharp end of our great democracy. It was to preserve that democracy and the freedoms that go with it that so many Canadians signed up and continue to enlist in the Canadian Forces. Too many of these Canadians did not make it home, so we have places of honour and great respect in our communities to honour their sacrifice. We'd repay them poorly if we did not do what we can to deter people from dishonouring these hallowed and sacred places. I believe we owe it to our men and women in uniform, and especially to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, to send a strong message that vandalism and desecration of our war memorials and cenotaphs will not be tolerated. Anyone convicted of engaging in such profoundly disrespectful behaviour must know they face a stiff mandatory penalty.

I have one final point, Mr. Chairman. I understand the parliamentary secretary will be moving an amendment that is technical in nature in order to keep these provisions in line with the rest of the mischief section of the Criminal Code. As I said in my remarks on second reading, I'm fully in support of this amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I encourage members of this committee to adopt Bill C-217 and report it back to the House so that we may put these measures in force that will help protect these most important places in our communities.

Thank you very much.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Tilson.

Mr. Eggenberger, I understand you have an opening address.

11:10 a.m.

John Eggenberger Vice-President, Research, Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.

I am pleased to be here today to speak to this legislation as a veteran and a representative of a national veterans organization. This is an issue that is very close to my heart.

As Mr. Tilson just said, our cenotaphs and war memorials are important and venerated places in our communities. They are a physical reminder of our military heritage and the debt we owe to those soldiers, sailors, and airmen and airwomen who died or suffered injuries to preserve our freedom. I think it is important that we do whatever we can to protect those places their families and friends have chosen to set aside in their memory.

By way of some background, I spent many years serving in Europe during my career in the air force, and I have seen first-hand how well war graves, cemeteries, and other places of remembrance are treated. Vandalism over there is almost unheard of. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and others do tremendous work maintaining these sacred sites. Many of you have likely visited some of these sites, and you will know the high regard in which they are held in the country where they reside.

Contrast that with the distressing number of ugly incidents here in our own country. Desecration of our war memorials and cenotaphs is sadly quite frequent and shocking. I'd like to cite some examples, if I may.

In 2008, just blocks from here at the Korean War veterans memorial, human feces were found smeared on the monument. The National Capital Commission, to its credit, cleaned it up within an hour of the discovery, but the shock and outrage was widespread.

In 2010, in Trail, British Columbia, a group of youths were caught on video defacing the town's recently restored cenotaph. While some of the offenders were identified, they faced no monetary sanction for their acts.

In November 2009, anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on a war memorial in southwest Calgary during a binge of hateful behaviour that also included mailboxes and several synagogues.

In April 2009, a large red X was painted over the names of World War II veterans inscribed on the war memorial next to the town hall in Lennoxville, Quebec. A beer bottle was also smashed against the monument.

In May 2009, four teens were charged after the war memorial in Welland, Ontario, was vandalized with spray paint. The Minister of Veterans Affairs of the day, Greg Thompson, said it was deeply disappointing that anyone would deface a memorial honouring our nation's truest heroes.

In July 2008, a 14-year-old boy was caught spray-painting the war memorial in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island. The local Legion president was quoted in the media as saying, “I think it's despicable, it is beyond belief really.”

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.

In September 2006, the monument in Vimy Ridge Memorial Park in Winnipeg was tagged with silver spray paint. A local Legion member was quoted in The Winnipeg Free Press as saying, “It's a slap in the face to all who died. It's as bad as when the fellow out east urinated on the war monument”—referring to the incident Mr. Tilson spoke of when a young man was caught defiling the National War Memorial on Canada Day in 2006.

In July 2006, a teen was charged for urinating on the war memorial in North Bay, Ontario. A local navy veteran is quoted as saying, “It's very, very sad.... I wonder how he would feel if someone walked in and urinated on his parents' headstones, because that is what it is like for us”.

Mr. Chairman, I would cite many more examples of such disrespectful and dishonourable behaviour in recent years. It is sadly all too common in this country.

Before I conclude, I will say that my mother's brother was a soldier during World War II and is buried in Ravenna, a little way up the road from Ortona. I would not be kind to a person who desecrated his gravestone.

Thank you.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, sir.

Mr. Whitty, do you have an opening statement you wish to make?

11:15 a.m.

Terence Whitty Executive Director, Army Cadet League of Canada

Yes, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much for having me attend here today. I found out about this late last night, so I come a little bit unprepared, but you're going to get it right off the cuff. Sometimes that's good; sometimes that's bad.

Listening to these gentlemen, I couldn't agree with them more, but I'd like to counter the bad youth of our nation with the good youth of our nation. These are the kids I work with, the army cadets principally, but cadets all across the country. They are very respectful of our veterans and they're very respectful of Canadian military history.

Having said that, veterans are, for the most part, very forgiving folks. There is a big difference between a young man making a monumental, stupid mistake of urinating on the National War Memorial and somebody putting a chain around a concrete cross in Innisfil, Ontario, ripping the cross off and throwing it through a church window.

On a minimum sentence, as a Canadian, I'm not so sure that's the route to go. I don't think putting a penalty on behaviour like this is going to prevent it. I think people, given a chance, as the young people were here in Ottawa, to make restitution is not out of line. There should be another way to go, and if we take that away from the judges—I'm not a lawyer, so I can't speak to the technicalities of sentencing—we're only creating another problem.

Names on cenotaphs to our young people today are just that. They don't make the connection in history. We're paying a lot of attention to this in the cadet world right now because we've just started a vigil across the country for Vimy Ridge. Army cadets all across the country are standing guard at monuments on April 9 every year.

If we don't make that connection between youth and the names that are on these memorials, there is no realization of what they represent. They don't get it, and some of their actions are predicated on that lack of knowledge.

For instance, at the Vernon cadet camp in British Columbia there is a Japanese artillery piece that was seized when Canadian engineers went to Kiska during the Second World War. Up until about five years ago, it had been a right of passage for the kids to paint that artillery piece white, to desecrate it, until a warrant officer with the PPCLI got upset with this and got all these kids together and said, “Listen, you guys, this gun was captured by Canadian soldiers, just like you, who went off not knowing whether they would live or die. They brought this gun back as a prize of war in remembrance of what they did. Now stop this.” And they did, once they realized what it signified. Every year now they shine this gun up. The brass is brilliant.

It's a matter of education. I'm not saying there shouldn't be penalties; there should be penalties. But a 14-year-old spraying paint on a monument is completely different from somebody who has a scrapyard taking bronze maple leaves for profit off a memorial. They are two separate things, in my personal view.

You folks, you're on the sharp end of Canadian democracy, but perhaps there might be a balance found somewhere here.

In closing, I'll just give you a little update on my background. I've had a relationship with the Canadian army since 1957, when I joined as an army cadet. I sit on my regimental council and am chair of a military museum. I'm still active here with the Army Cadet League of Canada as its executive director. One of these days I'm going to retire. I was a better businessman than I was a soldier, but I really believe that the youth of Canada, if educated properly, will become more aware of our veterans, their sacrifices, and what has gone on in the past, and they would pay more respect to memorials.

They are in tune on Afghanistan. They understand Afghanistan. To my granddaughter, a veteran is not a gentleman with medals; a veteran is a young guy in CADPAT wearing a beret. But she understands what these folks have done in Afghanistan, because it's current.

There is a bit of a disconnect. Let me assure you, I want our war memorials to be respected. I'm not saying we should just give people free rein, but there should be a balance.

Thank you.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Whitty.

Now we begin the questions and answers.

Did you have something you wished to say, Mr. Page?

11:20 a.m.

Earl Page As an Individual

I respect Mr. Eggenberger's remarks, and 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.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Page. I'm sorry I neglected to ask you earlier.

Mr. Harris.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair. I want to thank Mr. Tilson, member of Parliament, and the others for coming here today.

I think we all agree that vandalism or desecration of war memorials is something that's terrible, particularly in light of what they're for and that they're there to memorialize and remember those who made the huge sacrifice of their lives on behalf of their country. I agree with Mr. Tilson that it's not right that war memorials and cenotaphs fall in the same category as mailboxes and parking meters.

I'm looking at the mischief section of the Criminal Code. It has different types of offences for which the penalties are, in fact, different.

I will say that the way the Criminal Code treats the seriousness of offences is by having a maximum penalty. There's no minimum penalty, by the way, for this. For example, it says that “Every one who commits mischief that causes actual danger to life is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life”. For actual danger to life, life imprisonment is the maximum penalty. There's no minimum penalty, no fine, no nothing. The courts and the judges decide, and that's the way our system works.

When you deal with certain other kinds of property, such as a swastika painted on a synagogue, the penalty listed here is that a person is “guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years...or is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months”.

I wouldn't want a system that said that if some ignorant young man or woman spray-painted “Bravo” on a war memorial, he or she would be given a mandatory minimum sentence, and someone who put a swastika on a synagogue, which is the evil our war heroes were fighting against in World War II.... One should be treated more seriously than the other. As Mr. Whitty said, we're trying to achieve a balance here.

I agree with Mr. Tilson. There should be consistency. We should point out that there's a problem with this.

I'm talking in the spirit of trying to do something that recognizes what Mr. Tilson wants and also recognizes other aspects of the Criminal Code. For example, I've looked at this penalty section, proposed paragraph 430(4.11)(a) of your bill, which calls for a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offence and a mandatory minimum penalty in jail for a second and third offence. These look very like the penalties for impaired driving.

I know the history of those offences. I practised law for 30 years. Over those 30 years we've had hundreds of thousands of accidents and deaths due to impaired driving. Gradually, in order to change people's attitude, to change people's minds about impaired driving, we've increased the penalties to the point where they are now.

I want to suggest to you that this is not where we need to go as a starting point on this. The starting point on this should be to recognize that the desecration of a war memorial is a significant offence and it can attract, in the right cases, as Mr. Whitty points out, a severe penalty. But there ought to be an opportunity for dealing with some young person, for example, who does this out of ignorance or stupidity or whatever. I want to suggest that to you.

I want to also add to Mr. Eggenberger's concerns. For example, in July 2008, a 14-year-old boy was caught spray-painting the war memorial in Esquimalt. One of our members who spoke during the debate in the House is from Esquimalt. He quoted the Legion president. His name, by the way, is Ken Irvine. He called for what he characterized as an appropriate punishment for the youth. He didn't call for jail. He said that the youth ought to have to come to the Legion on a regular basis, meet with the veterans, and hear their stories of sacrifice on his behalf. He felt that when a youth had that re-education, he or she would then be very much committed to talking to other youths who were taggers, which is spray-painting, about trying to avoid tagging war memorials. The two police officers also publicly called for using this form of restorative justice.

Whether it be a restitution order, working with the Legion, or getting that education, there are other ways of diverting those who are ignorant and don't know. Also, as Mr. Whitty points out, if you have somebody who has a profit motive and is treating a cenotaph as a source of scrap metal, well, then you have a larger sentence available in appropriate cases.

I want to suggest to Mr. Tilson, and those who are concerned, as we all are, that having a penalty that's consistent with some of the other aspects of mischief is more appropriate. Putting mischief in relation to cenotaphs and memorials into the Criminal Code is a good way to let people know that this is being treated very seriously by Parliament and society.

I'll invite any one of you to comment on those points.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

The problem is, Mr. Harris, you've used up more than your five minutes.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

It is my understanding that under our youth offender provisions, mandatory minimum penalties do not apply. So when we're talking about youth who commit these crimes—and many of these unfortunate situations cited deal with youth—this would not apply to them. When you're talking about 14-year-olds, this is not the issue. The issue here is with adults who commit these offences. These mandatory minimum penalties suggest—

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

I have a point of order, Mr. Chairman.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

I'm still talking, Mr. Harris.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

I can raise a point of order at any time.