Evidence of meeting #30 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 criminal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We did take the weekend to consider the amendments that were tabled last week and to consult with the mover of this private member's bill. I certainly took some time and thought about comments that were made. I particularly agree with Monsieur Jacob's comments last week about education. I think it's very important. Educating our children about the sacrifices that have been made is something that our society should be much more on top of in a general way.

Even though I'm of an age, as Mr. Harris said, that I can see a 21-year-old as young, I am also thinking there's a 21-year-old sitting on your side of the table right now who has the full responsibility of a member of Parliament. There are also many 19- to 21-year-olds lying in graves in France and around the world who have served our country.

I'm also mindful that it's the 95th anniversary of Vimy Ridge this week. A great-uncle of mine, in his last letter home before he died in that battle at the age of 21, said, "I'm in command of 150 men. Can you imagine that, Mom and Dad? We're going to go over that hill today." He never came home.

It seems to me that if 19- to 21-year-olds can serve as members of Parliament and can go to war and die for our country, we should feel that a 21-year-old who has been able to grow up in peace in a country that was forged on the valour of those who have gone before should be mindful of war memorials and attempts we have made to honour those who have died for our freedoms and the way of life we have.

You've mentioned several times Ms. Varga's letter from the Legion as being in favour of your position. In that letter dated March 28, which you filed, she says that the Royal Canadian Legion “strongly supports the intent of Bill C-217”. She goes on to say, "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”, there should be appropriate punishments. She would like to see a mandated dialogue with veterans as a restorative justice measure.

There is nothing in this bill to my mind that prevents that. Those are the kinds of restorative steps that judges make decisions on all the time. There is nothing in this bill that precludes that kind of dialogue.

I also listened to our veteran witnesses here last week, some of whom are definitely getting up in years. One of their comments was that their members are aging and they don't have the time to babysit people who would do things like this. They welcome a dialogue. They would welcome them coming into the Legion and learning about them, but they also need public sanctions against this kind of behaviour. They're getting older and they don't have the energy or the time or the ability to try to change the mindset of young Canadians.

I think that's where my colleague's comments on education are very important. From what I hear, I think it varies across Canada. I believe in Ontario, for example, and particularly southern Ontario, there is a lot more education about our veterans than in my province of British Columbia, where it's not as much a part of the regular curriculum.

I know we've also talked about religious monuments and things like that. To my mind that may be something we should deal with, and it may be something we should deal with soon. Perhaps a bill will come forward on that issue, either as a private member's bill or through government, but we're not being asked to address that today.

When I hear about swastikas painted on cenotaphs still being visible on Remembrance Day in Woodstock, that doesn't seem to me to be a lesser offence than a swastika painted on a synagogue. It is equally offensive, and it's something we should condemn as a society.

If a bill like that came forward, I would be first in line to say I want to do something about this. What I really think is happening here is a difference in philosophy, and the philosophy of the opposition is that there really should be no mandatory minimum penalties in our Criminal Code. You've signalled that and you've been up front about it, and I respect that. That is your point of view. From our point of view, we think that in some situations there should be and can be, and that it is up to legislators to give parameters, both at the minimum end and the maximum end, to our judiciary, who then use their discretion within those parameters.

For all those reasons, I will be voting against the amendment.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Go ahead, Mr. Harris.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you. I would like to address some of the comments opposite.

Yes, I agree that Professor Kaiser did have intelligent and thoughtful comments. I'm a little surprised, though, that the main point, according to Mr. Woodworth, would be denunciation.

There is room for denunciation in sentencing in general, particularly in appropriate cases. Judges are certainly aware of that. The main motivator of sentencing in general, however, is the protection of the public and how that is best achieved by our criminal justice system. I just want to make sure people understand that when we are looking at the comparison between the new provision we're talking about in Bill C-217—a provision for a specific crime of mischief in relation to war memorials or cenotaphs—we see that a particular crime against religious objects such as synagogues and mosques and churches must be in fact motivated by hatred or prejudice. Therefore, a swastika on a synagogue would be prosecuted more severely because it is motivated by hatred, hatred of a particular group of people.

I don't need to remind anybody that the Second World War was fought against an enemy that carried out the mass slaughter of Jewish people throughout Europe, so when we talk about a swastika on a synagogue or a Jewish cemetery, we're talking about someone inciting that kind of hatred.

When we talk about desecration of a war memorial, we may be talking about something inane, idiotic, stupid, misunderstood, or whatever, and if we're talking about denunciation, yes, in appropriate cases there is a proper case for denunciation. Sentences should be appropriate, and the judge would be in a position to do that.

I do want to remind you of the testimony of Terence Whitty, who plays a significant role in the organization of the cadet program in Canada. He talked about the lack of knowledge of our history that young people have in the cadet corps, a place where you would expect there would be a different level of understanding. It's one thing to say that we need to denounce behaviour of this nature, some of which is just based on ignorance, but you can't punish people for not understanding and appreciating their history. That's not a proper subject of criminal sanction, criminal punishment, but in some instances that is exactly what we're talking about.

A first cousin of my father's was in World War I. It makes him my first cousin once removed. He lies in a field in Beaumont-Hamel in France. I visited his grave, but none of us have any special claim to having people who lost their lives and made sacrifices in war.

I understand fully how important it is to memorialize these people. We have what we call in Newfoundland and Labrador a national war memorial on Duckworth Street—it used to be in my riding, but it's slightly off there now—that is called a “national war memorial” because we were then a nation, and small though we were, we made a significant sacrifice in World War I. The memory of that is very dear to me and very dear to people in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we do recognize that there needs to be some flexibility in how you deal with an offence involving damage to a cenotaph or war memorial.

I suppose you could pick and choose from Patricia Varga's letter if you wish, but I will read this paragraph in its entirety because I think we need to get the flavour of this. When Patricia Varga wrote, she couldn't come as a witness, but she offered her views and took the opportunity to comment on the text.

Obviously they strongly support the intent to include instances of mischief against a war memorial or cenotaph or any object associated with honouring or remembering these Canadian men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice in the service of Canada during war and on subsequent operations.

She did say that the membership “...is strongly in favour of recognizing the serious nature of these incidents and in consideration of the feelings and the emotions expressed by all Canadians against such acts.”

She goes on to say in the same paragraph: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.

We need to encourage greater understanding, greater appreciation. We understand that some of the people who testified before us, who were themselves veterans, are getting older and may not be the ones to do it, but the Canadian Legion is going to go on, and the memory is going to go on, and it's up to us as parliamentarians and members of society. In fact, in the last number of years we have seen a growing interest and concern and participation in remembrance services. All members of Parliament have acknowledged that and have commented on it in their own ridings. We see it in small towns and we see it in large places, and that education is growing.

I suspect that you're going to see, as a result, a significant decrease in incidents of this nature, and I don't think we need to put denunciation at the top of the list of the sentencing provisions as the primary motivation for this legislation.

I strongly support the approach suggested by the Royal Canadian Legion. Putting the Bill C-217 portion that sets aside a separate provision recognizing the seriousness into the Criminal Code acts in itself as a denunciatory act and, in the appropriate circumstances and when denunciation is the top-of-mind response, we would want to see our judges use that as a means of determining an appropriate sentence.

However, the sentence must fit the crime. Everybody should agree with that as a general principle, and it is not for Parliament to set down what the specific sentence should be in every particular offence when we have highly educated, highly trained, highly experienced, and intelligent judges who are in place to do that for us. We as parliamentarians ought to provide the legislative framework and let the judges do their work.

Those are my comments, Mr. Chairman, in response to some of the comments opposite.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Harris.

Mr. Jean is next.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I sometimes wonder what hell would be like. My birthday is on February 3, so when I grew up I always had this nightmare of never seeing my birthday on Groundhog Day after Bill Murray's movie. I wonder if we're not somewhat like that today.

I've heard all the arguments; I've heard them now three or four times. Nobody even knows how we're going to vote. We've had a couple of days to think about how we're going to vote and a couple of days to be told what we're going to vote, so let's get on with the vote.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Go ahead, Mr. Cotler.

April 3rd, 2012 / 11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As Ms. Findlay and others might note, I do oppose mandatory minimums, although that's not my reason at this point for supporting the amendment. Even on the matter of mandatory minimums, I don't always go in lockstep. There may be exceptions even there that I might relate to.

There are a number of considerations here that prompt me to support the amendment. Reference has been made by Mr. Woodworth to denunciation; I think it is an important principle, but I believe denunciation resides in the very adoption of Bill C-217 to begin with. Clearly, this offence could be prosecuted and has been prosecuted under other approaches to the law of mischief, whether it be cultural property or religious property, so the offence could otherwise be prosecuted. You don't need this law to prosecute this particular offence. It is the very importance of denunciation so as to have specificity with regard to this offence that we have the offence set forth to begin with, and I support that.

On the amendment and why I support it, I think it would maintain consistency in the application of the law with respect to offences of this kind. Otherwise, we are distinguishing inappropriately with respect to both the generic nature of the commission of this offence and the victims involved. As I believe it has been said by Mr. Harris, a third approach—one that it is anchored in the principle of restorative justice—is particularly appropriate with regard to the amendment here. Finally, it will avoid the plea bargain situation in which denunciation, if not deterrence, may not be fulfilled precisely because as a result of the plea bargain; you will not even secure the very objectives of Bill C-217 to begin with.

For those considerations, I will support the amendment.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

(Subamendment negatived)

Next is amendment NDP-2. We will have a recorded vote.

(Amendment negatived: nays 6; yeas 5)

Next is NDP-3.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

We have another amendment amending clause 1. I move to add, after line 6 on page 2:

(4.12) A court imposing a punishment under subsection (4.11) may, in exceptional circumstances, impose a punishment that is less than the minimum punishment provided for in that subsection.

I don't think I need to say very much in addition to the amendment itself. It's pretty clear what's implied in that, and I don't intend to repeat the arguments made before.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Go ahead, Mr. Goguen.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

This is an inexhaustible a debate on whether or not there should be minimum sentences, minimum mandatories. The positions have been expressed clearly with regard to the other amendment. This one seeks to take out the minimums, so we'll be voting against it.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you. There will be a recorded vote.

(Amendment negatived: nays 7; yeas 4)

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Some people seem surprised by my vote; I just want to say it's because I was concerned by the overly broad nature of the language in this particular amendment.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Cotler.

Shall clause 1, as amended, carry?

11:40 a.m.

An hon. member

Is it amended?