House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was citizenship.

Topics

Division No. 1321
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Division No. 1321
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions with members of all parties and you would find unanimous consent to adopt Motion No. 393, standing in my name, without debate.

Division No. 1321
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for London—Fanshawe have unanimous consent of the House to proceed with Motion No. 393?

Division No. 1321
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Jeanie Johnston
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

moved:

That this House salute the Jeanie Johnston as it recreates the voyage of the ships that brought to Canada in the 19th century thousands of Irish immigrants fleeing famine and extend a parliamentary welcome to this ship and her crew.

Jeanie Johnston
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Jeanie Johnston
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Jeanie Johnston
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 6.15 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Reform

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

moved that Bill C-334, an act to amend the criminal code (wearing of war decorations), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin second reading debate on my private members' bill, Bill C-334, an act to amend the criminal code (wearing of war decorations).

This bill would allow relatives of a deceased veteran to wear any decoration awarded to such veterans without facing criminal sanction. The decoration must be worn on the right side of the relative's chest and would be limited to Remembrance Day.

My bill would amend section 419 of the criminal code. It would renumber this section as section 419(1) and would add the following:

(2) No person who is a relative of a deceased veteran commits an offence under paragraph (1)(b) where the person wears, on the right side of the person's chest, a distinctive mark relating to wounds received or service performed in war by that veteran or wears, on the right side of the person's chest, a military medal, ribbon, badge, chevron or any decoration or order that is awarded to that veteran for war services and the person does so on Remembrance Day.

As well, my amendment makes it acceptable for a person who has been legally adopted by a relative of a deceased veteran or by that veteran to wear these decorations as prescribed in the first part of my amendment.

At the outset allow me to say that my initiative is not meant to diminish or dishonour the service, sacrifice or valour of our veterans and those who have been awarded decorations. On the contrary, it is meant to celebrate and recognize the sacrifice and this achievement. Additionally it is meant to recognize and acknowledge bravery, gallantry and commitment to our nation. My initiative is meant to enhance and reinforce the honour bestowed on these very brave individuals.

My initiative comes from the relatives of veterans who fear that decorations awarded to their family members are being forgotten and put away in dusty boxes and drawers. They, like me, believe the time has come to move with the times and not let these precious decorations collect dust somewhere.

I further believe the time has come to follow the lead of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, our Commonwealth partners which amended their respective laws to reflect the times and the need to unveil these decorations and re-commemorate the valour of those who were awarded these with such distinction.

The law I seek to amend was written in 1920. It certainly served the purpose it was intended to do back then but it is not reflective of the hard facts of today. Our veterans are passing on and their decorations are hidden in dusty trunks, forgotten, never to be seen again, all because of a 1920 law. If they are not in trunks, they appear in flea markets where they are at the mercy of hucksters out to make a buck. Is this dignified or an honour to the veteran to whom it was awarded? I certainly think not. In fact it is offensive, undignified and a dishonour to the veteran. There is not a dollar figure that can be put on these decorations. They are priceless and should be viewed that way.

Furthermore, the section of the criminal code I seek to amend, section 419, is derived from a time when legitimate veterans did not want those who did not serve to buy these decorations and wear them. That had great merit and cause and was right for the times. Who would want someone who had not served in the great wars insulting the valour and bravery of those who sacrificed their lives? But this is year 2000 and I consider locked up medals a diminishment of the honour and respect they should garner. They should be exhibited by rightful relatives.

I mentioned that times have changed. So has membership in the Royal Canadian Legion. Sadly our veterans are passing on. The last remaining vestige of the bravery of our war veterans is in many cases the decorations awarded to their family members. Why should it be a crime for a relative to want to display the decoration and thus honour their deceased relative?

The hard facts concerning declining legion membership should give pause to reconsider the archaic law I seek to change. In December 1998 legion membership stood at 494,107. By December 1999 it had fallen to 478,494. In Pacific command in my specific area membership has dropped to 90,394 from 93,612 from 1998 to 1999. In Ontario command the trend is the same. It has fallen to about 181,007 from 186,562.

The trend is the same in every province in Canada. As our veterans keep aging, the trend will not only continue but will speed up. Where will it be in 10 years? In my own riding of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast membership of Branch 60 in West Vancouver has fallen from 788 to 731.

As I said, our veterans are aging and their relatives and family members wish to hold on to some vestige of the bravery these great Canadians exhibited. Allowing them to wear the decorations on Remembrance Day is not asking too much.

Given the trend in membership, I should point out that of the 731 of Branch 60 in West Vancouver, there are 368 ordinary members and some 244 associate members. There are not a lot of veterans left.

Allow me to give a more demonstrated breakdown of the age of legion members. I believe the trend will be even more startling regarding the mortality of war veterans. Of legion members, 44% are over the age of 65. Another 18% are age 55 to 64. That accounts for 298,840 of the 478,000 total membership. When we factor in membership by age and gender, we find out that 25.17% or 120,577 are 75 or older; 9.98% or 47,836 are age 70 to 74; and another 9.10% or 43,663 are age 65 to 69.

Our veterans are indeed aging, as we all are. Would it not be a positive gesture to remember them by allowing their families to proudly display their decorations as their veteran family members pass on?

My motivation to move the bill comes from individuals whose family members were awarded medals and have passed on. They wish to honour their deceased war veterans and heroes.

One individual in particular, Christine Ballantine of West Vancouver, a legion member herself, has mounted a campaign to see this initiative realized. She recognizes that our veterans are passing on and she wants to honour her father, a decorated veteran, by wearing his medals on Remembrance Day.

She has, as I said, mounted a campaign and gathered support from many legion branches. Besides her West Vancouver branch, Christine has gathered written support of the Howe Sound zone of the Royal Canadian Legion comprising approximately 3,800 members in six legions. She has also received support from the Sooke branch of Vancouver Island and the Whitehorse, Yukon branch.

My bill has also received support from the Billy Bishop branch in Vancouver and I believe in B.C. some 5,339 are on board. I understand it is growing as recognition of the genesis, motivation and honourable and historical intentions of my bill become evident.

Allow me to read some of the comments I have received from some of the legion branches supporting my bill. The Sooke branch of the Royal Canadian Legion writes, “We consider it would strengthen reverence of Remembrance Day”. The Whitehorse, Yukon branch writes, “It would enhance Remembrance Day services by allowing family members to bring medals out on Remembrance Day and thus perpetuate the act of remembrance”.

This is my motivation: to recognize this important day and the significant and selfless contributions of our veterans who need to be honoured in a dignified and demonstrable fashion for many, many years to come.

I would like to see the interest and support of the Royal Canadian Legion and the work it does to continue. Individuals make the legion what it has become. Members are the institution. The institution is not larger than the membership.

Allowing remaining family members who may be members of the legion or inclined to become new members to wear their family decorations would help sustain and invigorate this important institution.

To honour the past is laudatory, but let not the past disallow an act of remembrance by family members of veterans.

I have received a letter from a very distinguished gentleman, Dr. John Blatherwick, who is a British Columbia doctor and has served that province well. He is regarded as an authority on the issue of war decorations. In fact, he has devoted a great amount of his time to the study and promotion of the issue of war decorations. Lest we forget. I would like to quote from his letter of support for my bill. He writes:

The question you have to ask is—What harm would removing the law create? It would not take away from any legion members' medals in any way. It would not debase the value of the person who was awarded the medal in any way. So it would not harm anybody. What good would it do—It would keep that connection with the past and help some people to remember. Bill C-334 is a good bill and it makes common sense.

As Dr. Blatherwick also says, the problem with common sense is that it ain't so common. He is, of course, quoting Will Rogers. Naturally, I hope common sense will prevail.

Dr. Blatherwick asked why we in Canada still cling to an old law regarding the wearing of medals. The answer he says is again, a lack of common sense. He is quite emphatic and states that some keep their heads firmly in the past and are out of step with today. He says, as I mentioned earlier, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand see no problem with moving on. They do not want to put people in jail for remembering. Surely Canadians do not want to see the family members of veterans put in jail either. We should be trying to keep alive the memory of those who served rather than hide their sacrifices.

Dr. Blatherwick points out that it has been a long time since Canada has been involved in a declared shooting war. The peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia have been shot at but they get the same peacekeeping medal that has been issued to multitudes of non-shooting missions. One could not tell a shooting United Nations medal from a non-shooting United Nations medal.

According to this expert, as he further points out, we were at war in the gulf but did not suffer any casualties. As he says, the last real shooting war was Korea and before that, World War II. Therefore, there is not much danger in young men or women wearing medals they are not entitled to.

He feels the entire exercise surrounding this issue boils down to one of common sense. As he says, if the legion wants November 11 and the Battle of the Atlantic Sunday and the Battle of Britain day and other military celebrations to remain important, one way is to encourage those medals to come out of the drawers and boxes and be displayed by the veterans' loved ones on Remembrance Day.

I ask members to read this speech again if they are concerned about this over the next few months while this is being debated because Dr. Blatherwick, as I mentioned, is well respected in my province and is an expert on war medals.

I believe these decorations are a birthright for the family members of those who were awarded them and sadly can no longer display them. Allowing family members to wear these decorations is a dignified way to honour their family member for the sacrifice they made. I firmly believe that those family members would treat and display these decorations with the respect that they deserve. I do not believe they would take this honour lightly or be frivolous in the manner they display the decoration. Those individuals who are moved to recognize their deceased veteran take this issue seriously and with the dignity and respect that it warrants.

Let us not forget, but let us not make criminals of those who want to remember their veterans.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Nipissing
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Wood Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-334 which if passed will allow relatives to wear a deceased veteran's medal on Remembrance Day on the right side of the chest. On the surface this would seem like a reasonable idea. But if we scratch the surface, we will see why, for reasons of history and tradition, of practice and principle, this bill is not a good idea. Let me start with history and tradition.

Gallantry and war service medals are personal honours. They are intended only for those who earn them by virtue of their service or their action on the battlefield. It is a tradition based in law, a law whose original proponent was the great War Veterans Association which was the Royal Canadian Legion's predecessor organization. It is a tradition that dates back to 1920.

Most veterans then and most veterans now oppose the idea of someone else wearing their medals. They quite rightly feel that for someone else to wear their medals constitutes both a misrepresentation of fact and a misappropriation of the honour.

These feelings are very strongly held, both by veterans themselves and their representative associations, including the Royal Canadian Legion, the National Council of Veterans Associations in Canada, and the army, navy and air force veterans in Canada.

Surely, if we are to listen to anyone's wishes on the matter we must take our primary guidance from the men and women who were awarded the medals in the first place by virtue of their devotion to duty, their sacrifice and their courage.

I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of the public, when they see veterans walking in Remembrance Day parades, assume that the wearers are those who earned them. They would be right. However, if this bill were to pass that assumption would go out the window. No one would know during the parade who was wearing what medal or for what reason.

It is true that the bill calls for the relatives to wear the medals on the right side of the chest, while the legitimate recipient of the medals, the veterans, wear them on the left. Such a distinction would be lost on many.

I might add that the bill does not even define what constitutes a relative. Presumably its provisions are primarily targeted at children and grandchildren of deceased veterans. What about stepchildren if they have not been legally adopted? What about half sisters and brothers? What about nephews and nieces? What about cousins?

One can easily see in the years to come how these medals might be inherited by design or happenstance by relatives who are very far removed in their family relationship to the veterans who earned them. Would they claim the right to wear them also? How diminished would their symbolic value be when there is no personal claim to the service they represent?

Every November 11 we see veterans marching proudly, their medals polished brightly on their blazer lapels. We who watch them applaud them as they go by in admiration and respect for their deeds. With the passage of Bill C-334 it would be entirely conceivable, especially with the passage of years, that we would be applauding people wearing medals they neither earned nor deserved. We could not even be sure they were being worn by a veteran's relative.

Once we let the genie out of the bottle we could never put it back in. The guarantee of proper comportment would be gone forever.

Heroism, sacrifice and service are not transferable characteristics to be worn from one generation to the next. They are the result of specific actions, and each of us must earn whatever distinctions that come our way by our own actions.

What would be passed on are the medals themselves. They should be passed on. They should be kept in the family or the community, proudly displayed or framed, perhaps alongside a picture of a veteran, as many families today have chosen to do. They just cannot be worn, and should not be worn, by anyone other than those who have actually received them for service to their country.

I can appreciate the sentiment that was expressed by the sponsor of Bill C-334 and some of his constituents. I can also appreciate a concern, as our war veterans dwindle in numbers, that somehow allowing relatives to wear the deceased veterans' medals on Remembrance Day would fill the void. I believe this would not be the case, nor is it the point of our opposition to Bill C-334.

Further, I would suggest that there remain many ways of honouring a veteran's memory other than wearing his or her medals. As I have already indicated, their appropriate display at home or even in local museums or community centres would be a valuable contribution to their remembrance. Even better, why not participate in acts of community good in the name of the veteran's memory and participate in or organize events for Veterans' Week each year.

I would suggest that the very best way to keep the memory of our veterans alive is to tell their stories to our children and grandchildren. That is all they have ever asked of us: to remember what they did for us so long ago and what members of the current forces do for us today. To fulfil that promise would do far more to honour their memory than appropriating their medals one day each year.

For all of these reasons, and despite the good intentions that may lie behind this proposition, the Government of Canada cannot support Bill C-334.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I wish to inform the sponsor of Bill C-334 that the Bloc Quebecois supports his initiative.

I find it hard to understand the explanations provided by the government regarding this bill. Indeed, if we read it correctly, it answers at least two questions raised by the hon. member. First, how to distinguish the person who is wearing the decoration from the person who was awarded it? A spouse or child wears it, while it was awarded to the father, who is dead.

The bill clearly states that the relative would wear the medals on the right side of the chest. I am not an expert on medals. The hon. member opposite surely knows a lot more than I do, even though he claims it is not the case. We all know that an individual wears the medals that he won on a battlefield on the left side of his chest. Therefore, we would immediately realize that, if a person wears such decorations on the right side of the chest, that person is not the one who was awarded these decorations, but a relative.

I am going to say something and I want hon. members to open their ears because this is from a Bloc Quebecois member, from a mean separatist. If my father or my grandfather had died in one of the two world wars, or in another war, to preserve freedom and democracy and Canada had participated in these operations, I would be very proud to wear his decorations on the right side to clearly identify me as a relative of the person to whom they were awarded.

Once again, the government is showing a lack of sensitivity. Here we have an arrogant government announcing “Here I am. I am in the driver's seat. I am the boss. As for you people over there, nothing you have to say is any good”. I find that deplorable.

I had some questions, however, and I would like to propose that this bill be voted on by the House and discussed in committee. The term “relative” can be confusing, but it could be clarified. Do first cousins qualify, for instance? Is it only direct lineage or indirect as well? The bill could very easily identify what is meant by “relative”.

Once a year we have Remembrance Day. Decorated service people who have died cannot tell us that they would be delighted to see their grandchildren, their widow or their mother wearing their medals, but I think we can put ourselves in their place for a few moments.

These people left wives, children and parents behind when they went to war. They lost their lives and were decorated. I believe it would be very humane to allow a relative—mother, widow, child or grandchild—to wear on Remembrance Day the medal or medals which their family member had earned during the world wars or some other conflict in which he served his country.

I also wonder about another point, which merits examination. The desire is to amend section 419 of the Criminal Code, which states “Everyone who, without lawful authority, the proof of which lies on him, wears a medal—”

Are there examples of court rulings or case law where an individual has worn the medal of a deceased war veteran and been charged with a criminal offence? If this is the case, it makes no sense.

The bill before us today is an attempt to regulate common sense. I think that section 419 covers the situation I have just described; there is a legitimate authorization, which goes without saying. If that is not the case, then the bill is necessary and it should be passed at this stage and considered in committee.

We should all be in agreement with such a bill. I urge veterans to make their views known, before the government votes against such a bill. If they agree with it, they should call their member of parliament, the government members, so that they show a little more sensitivity.

Since this is the first hour of debate, there is still time to backtrack and to vote in favour of this bill.

The Bloc Quebecois supports Bill C-334, and I congratulate its sponsor on his initiative.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity speak to private member's Bill C-334, and act to amend the criminal code with respect to the wearing of war decorations.

As a member of the federal New Democratic Party I stand in support of this move to allow families of deceased veterans to wear their veterans' war decorations on Remembrance Day. Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand have already enacted such laws and I believe it is high time that the Canadian government followed suit.

I recognize that not all veterans feel the same about this issue. It is with the deepest respect for veterans on both sides of this debate that I offer my thoughts.

Veterans feel passionate about this issue because the medals and other recognitions of effort were earned the hard way and speak of great sacrifice, effort and love for this country.

However, such a law would, in effect, keep these efforts, this bravery, valour and commitment to Canada alive through the families of the veterans. Surely family members would wear these badges of honour with the dignity which they deserve.

The section of the criminal code which this bill would amend was legislated at a time when there was serious cause for concern about people who had not served sporting medals they had not earned. However, I believe that allowing family members to wear their deceased loved one's medals on Remembrance Day is a way to maintain the honour and respect that the medals reflect. Otherwise, years down the road when there are no more veterans of the two world wars and the Korean war, the medals earned through valour and effort will be gone from the landscape of Remembrance Day and the very essence of Remembrance Day, which is to remember. That very essence would be lost a bit.

That is why I have decided to support the bill. I certainly had hoped that the federal government would support this effort, but from the speech I heard earlier I see that the government does not want to support it. That does not surprise me too much because far too often we see situations where the government does not support our military and our veterans the way it should.

I had a rather sad occasion a few months back when a veteran came to my office with his war medals. He wanted to turn the medals over to me because he was so disappointed and so discouraged with the way he saw the government treating veterans. He had been a member of the merchant navy and also a member of the regular service, but he cited a number of examples as to why he was concerned and why he felt discouraged about the way the government was treating people who came back home from missions who were ill, people who had served in the merchant marine and so forth.

It was quite a sad state of affairs to listen to this individual, who had obviously, through bravery, through valour, through commitment to his country, devoted a good portion of his life, and he had earned these medals.

I talked with him quite a bit and suggested that perhaps his family may have some reason to want to have these medals as a legacy, as a part of their heritage to reflect what he had done. I also suggested that, regardless of what may have happened to make him disappointed with the government, regardless of what had taken place, when he earned his medals he earned them for a reason and the value should not be diminished by the poor treatment he has received since then.

Nonetheless, he was very much concerned about returning these medals, and I think even today he still wants to do that. It is very sad. I am really appalled that our government would relate to our people in a way that citizens would feel this way about the service they have performed.

I am appalled that the government has not brought justice to those veterans who were wrongly put in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Those Canadian troops who suffered the horrors of living in Buchenwald deserve appropriate compensation and it is up to this Liberal government to ensure that such compensation is delivered. It is appalling that this government tried to buy the silence of these veterans for about $1,000 each.

One of these veterans, a constituent of mine who I have spoken about before, Mr. William Gibson, made it clear that this so-called compensation was offensive. This constituent, who survived the horrors of Buchenwald concentration camp, sent the cheque that he had been given back to the Liberal government with the word refused written across this payoff, which he felt was insulting to him.

Those veterans, who were interred in the Nazi Buchenwald concentration camp instead of a prisoner of war camp where they should have been, feel very let down by their government. Other governments have had the ability to convince the German government to provide appropriate reparation. Our government has failed itself and failed these brave Canadians miserably. I do not understand the inability of the government to secure a just settlement for these Canadians. It is something that we will continue to work on and continue to push because we feel it is necessary that justice be brought about in that situation.

Perhaps even more insulting than the cheque to these Canadians, were the words that the Minister of Veterans Affairs, in his accompanying letter, said when he presented his cheque to them. He said “I am delighted to be able to close the chapter on this longstanding issue”.

Indeed, we should be concerned because the issue is not closed and there should be more action to try to resolve this outstanding issue. The issue was raised in committee in 1994, in letters to the veterans affairs, defence and foreign ministers in 1997. It has been raised many times but the government has not succeeded in bringing about justice in that situation.

I will close with a comment my constituent made when addressing the Nova Scotia government committee on veterans affairs in February 2000 concerning this issue. He said “We have been fighting for German compensation since 1945, but we haven't got it yet and I don't know if we ever will get it because I don't think there is anybody in Ottawa who has the intestinal fortitude to go after it”.

I would ask the government to respond positively to this issue. Such a positive response would encourage our veterans to be proud of what was accomplished through their devotion and dedication to their country.

The bill we are looking at today is a step where the government could respond positively, could again inspire our veterans and their families with the kind of hope and inspiration that makes them proud to have served their country. This could be done by recognizing that certainly the loved ones of these veterans would only want to wear these medals because of their pride in what their loved one has done and has sacrificed for this country.

Positive action on this bill by our government would give the families of the deceased veterans cause to be proud to wear these medals knowing that while they did not earn the medals, the medals reflect the accomplishments of their loved ones who fought and died for freedom and for the love of this country and their fellow human beings. That is a very noble thing for the government and parliament to consider.

We are not talking about enabling people to make false representations. Nobody has that in mind with this bill. It is important that we look at this in a positive way rather than trying to find a way to prevent this from taking place. Let us remember them. We must remember them and we will remember them.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise once again in the House regarding our very heroic and valiant war veterans.

I would like to state from the outset that my party is not in favour of the hon. member's bill. I am not against the hon. member's attempt to help recognize the sacrifices made by our very brave veterans and my party is not against the families of veterans honouring the memories of their ancestors and their accomplishments in battle. We are not against Canadians being proud of our country's military history, heritage and the sacrifices that have been made.

What we are against is the overriding of the will of the existing veterans who are here today: the Royal Canadian Legion and its membership, the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans Association, along with the War Amps and others.

I have been in touch with the dominion command of the Royal Canadian Legion. This afternoon I was in touch with my provincial command of the Royal Canadian Legion in New Brunswick. Neither the dominion command nor the provincial command offices support what is recommended by the hon. member.

The fact remains that medals are very personal awards. They are awarded to specific people for specific acts of valour. It is an honour and a privilege that has been earned through sacrifice.

In deciding what I wanted to say on this very emotional and sensitive issue, I consulted with the vets and heard their side of the argument. I have two brothers who served overseas in France, Germany and Belgium and there is no way that my sisters-in-law would ever want to wear their medals if my brothers passed away. They would frame them and have them on display for their children and grandchildren. They feel that for them to wear these medals would be an insult to the sacrifices made by my brothers.

I also understand the reasons that my hon. colleague from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast put forth this bill having reviewed his information. My heart goes out to such people as Christine Ballantine and the Pacific command office of the legion who agree with this bill and are proud of their family and country history. These Canadians do not want to be considered criminals for displaying family heirlooms by wearing the decorations on Remembrance Day. However, it is a criminal act. Under the criminal code no one can wear those medals except the veterans. That is what the law currently states. In speaking with the dominion command of the Royal Canadian Legion, it has not spoken out in favour of making changes.

I do not believe that it is up to the House of Commons to determine for veterans who should be allowed to wear these decorations of honour. I believe we should listen to our veterans as to who they feel it should be.

In consulting with veterans on their stance on this issue, it has been brought to my attention very clearly that this matter has been brought forward by the Pacific command office as a resolution for an upcoming convention. The resolution was reviewed and the committee did not concur with the resolution being brought forward. The dominion command office reiterated today that it stands against this bill's premise. They understand the intent of families who believe they can promote Remembrance Day by wearing the medals, but the veterans associations do not agree with this action. The dominion command office believes and states that medals are not symbols of remembrance but rather they are symbols of service and commitment made by those men and women who were overseas.

Until such time as we, in the House of Commons, receive a very clear message from all of our veterans as a whole, I believe we would be doing a grave disservice to our honoured war veterans by agreeing to this recommendation.

I propose that those families, veterans or legion members who are looking for a change in the law should make it known to their local legions and to dominion command, as only through communication can change ever be achieved.

I maintain that we let the veterans themselves tell us what they want to do. It is their honour and it should be up to them to decide if and with whom they would like to share it.

I would never propose that this House, which has only 12 members out of 301 who have any military service, should ever change a law that takes away the special recognition deserved by those who have sacrificed so much in serving their country in the interest of peace.

While clearly the intent of the bill is to honour our valiant soldiers and their bravery, there is the strong possibility that the medals will slowly lose their significance. We have to be aware that some living veterans who proudly wear their medals on Remembrance Day could be offended by those who are wearing medals earned by others for their special acts of valour. Is that fair to our living and proud veterans of today?

My final question about this bill, if it does pass, is: Who qualifies as a relative? Other than specifying that adopted relatives are also eligible to wear the medals, there are no specifications on who is wearing and parading around in those hallowed decorations of honour. There are no checks to be maintained or record of who is wearing the decoration.

Will a veteran's third cousin by marriage be wearing the medals or decorations, or the veteran's eldest child? Understandably, this is a decision to be made by each family if this were to pass, but where is the honour that goes with wearing the medals? Where is maintaining and restraining enforcement? Certainly there must be a status of decorum that must be upheld, and I do not see that in this bill.

I state again, a war decoration is given to a particular person for a particular act of valour. Just as only the person who has earned the Order of Canada can wear the pin or medal, only a person who has proven determination, valour and courage can wear a war medal, and rightfully so. Not friends. Not relatives.

I believe that once a medal recipient has passed on, the decoration should be treated as a representation of the service and sacrifice of the veteran who earned it and display as such. I fear that it will be perceived through the passage of time to be a less substantial piece of jewellery just to be passed around.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that those who are asking for change now have that ill intent. Certainly not. However, we must be wary and conscious of that possibility. Do we want to open that door a little crack to allow that to happen?

For decades families have been framing the medals for display and they take the framed and preserved medals with them when they wish to display them. They are treasured and the significance of their value is maintained.

This is how the memories of our Canadian war veterans have been preserved in the past. My party maintains the position of the Royal Canadian Legion on this issue. We cannot in good conscience dishonour the wishes of our Canadian war veterans. Therefore, we will not support Bill C-334.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Reform

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, in my parliamentary capacity as official opposition critic for veterans affairs, I am pleased to rise today to contribute to the debate on Bill C-334, an act to amend the criminal code, wearing of war decorations, sponsored by the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast.

War medals in Canada represent a long and proud tradition of service to our country. Shortly after Confederation, Canadians, both French and English, joined to halt the Fenian raiders and the Red River insurrection.

In 1870, to commemorate this service, Canada's first medal was struck. It was emblazoned with ribbon striped in red, white and red, appropriately the colours of Canada's present flag. The maple leaf, long the symbol for Canada and carved in the walls of the trenches at Vimy Ridge, borders the medal. This medal, and now our flag, are proud reminders of Canada's first war veterans' successful efforts at keeping Canada whole and defending our freedoms from insurrection and foreign invasion.

It is presently a criminal code offence for anyone, other than the holder of war medals, to wear them. Under Bill C-334 it is proposed that section 419 of the criminal code be amended by adding a section permitting a relative of a deceased veteran to wear on Remembrance Day any medal that has been awarded to that deceased veteran. To clearly indicate that the medals were not awarded to the relative, such persons are to wear them on the right side of the chest rather than the left side, as is customary among actual veterans. To avoid confusion, relatives who are in the Canadian military and in uniform are not permitted to wear the deceased veteran's medals.

The current prohibition against relatives wearing the medals of veterans is comparatively unique among commonwealth countries. Great Britain apparently has no law governing the issue. This does not mean there is an endorsed practice concerning the wearing of military honours by family members. It simply means that in Great Britain the issue has been largely left to the public's best judgment.

In Australia legislation provides that a family member of a deceased veteran may wear a service decoration if the family member does not represent himself as being the war veteran.

In the United States, by contrast, the practice is specifically prohibited as it is in Canada. In the United States a medal may be pinned on the next of kin of a deceased veteran, but such pinning does not entitle the next of kin to wear the medal publicly. It remains the property and the honour of the deceased alone.

It is noteworthy that the prohibition of the wearing of medals and related honours is found in a criminal code section which addresses the unlawful use of military uniforms or certificates as well. The matter is considered to be so serious that there is a reverse onus of proof. The accused must prove that he or she had lawful authority to wear a Canadian forces uniform or medal or to be in possession of a military discharge certificate.

There are several arguments made in support of permitting relatives of Canadian war veterans to wear their war honours, at least on Remembrance Day. One of the key advocates of Bill C-334 is Christine Ballantine, a constituent of the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast. As has been publicly reported, the issue is of particular importance to her since she never knew her father who died in the second world war when she was about eight months old.

Ms. Ballantine's father was a British airman. His war medals are in her possession. In 1994, upon visiting Normandy where her father died, Ms. Ballantine personally received an additional medal awarded to her father by the Government of France.

If Ms. Ballantine were attending Remembrance Day ceremonies in Britain she could wear her father's medals in honour of his memory without fearing that she had committed an offence. In Canada she must wear the medals concealed under her coat.

The Royal Canadian Legion appears to be of two minds with respect to the bill. The Dominion Command appears to have strong reservations while local legion representatives are more supportive.

One main argument for permitting the wearing of war medals by relatives relates to the diminishing number of war veterans. Many of the medals and related honours are now either private family mementoes or the currency of collectors. The public's association with the actual person who was honoured diminishes year by year as our veterans pass away.

Where the bill could be improved is with respect to defining the term of relative. Relative should be defined to mean the widow or widower of a deceased veteran or a parent, child, brother, sister, grandparent or grandchild, whether by blood, marriage or adoption. Such definition would appear to provide constructive limitations as to which family members could wear the medals. Nephews and nieces and others not as closely connected to the deceased veteran would not be able to honour him or her through the wearing of medals.

The definition of relative could be expanded as times change and circumstances warrant. Under the current definition, if adopted, the youngest relative who could wear the medal of a deceased veteran would be his or her grandchild.

Under the bill the wearing by relatives on Remembrance Day of any ribbon, badge, chevron, decoration or order is also permitted. In my opinion the bill should be limited in application to medals, in particular full size Canadian or commonwealth general service issue medals as opposed to miniatures.

My reason for restricting the application of the bill is based on the question of how one could wear a ribbon, badge, chevron or any decoration or order when it is specified in the bill that relatives are to wear the medals on the right side of their chest.

The term chevron refers to a badge in a V shape, sewn on the sleeve of a uniform indicating rank or length of service. Similarly such honours as the Order of Military Merit are not awarded as a medal but as a pendant to be worn around the neck. A relative wearing such an honour around the neck could not be readily distinguished from another who earned the honour.

For these reasons I suggest that the bill be limited to medals only and will propose an amendment to that effect. I therefore would encourage that Bill C-334 be amended as follows:

That subsection 2 of section 1 of Bill C-334 be amended by deleting the words “ribbon, badge, chevron or any decoration or order” contained therein.

It is a noble and worthwhile objective to permit close relatives to honour their departed veteran family members on Remembrance Day through the public display of their medals of honour. However this view is not shared by any major veterans organization.

I hope that during the committee hearings these organizations will reconsider their position. I consider myself to be obliged to respect their wishes. As they are the representatives and the voices of veterans for the vast majority of veterans and ex-service personnel in Canada, I will reflect the collective wishes of these veterans when we vote.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 17th, 2000 / 7:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Mercier Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today as Bloc Quebecois critic for veterans' affairs. I also rise as one of the twelve members who served with the Allies during the second world war.

I agree with what my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm said earlier. I am surprised that some parties are opposed to this bill, although I agree with the argument as to what veterans want in this regard.

As far as I am concerned, I will repeat what my colleague has said. Wearing decorations on the right side clearly shows that the person wearing them is not a veteran but a relative.

I would like the committee to specify what relative means. It would obviously be too broad a definition if distant cousins were included. It ought to include only the veteran's mother, widow or children. It ought not to include anyone else. The term relative should be more narrowly defined.

If I can say something, I also have medals, and I would be proud, not annoyed, if my children were to wear them on the right side after I am gone.