House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was theft.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

January 29th, 2008 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, in order to show respect and to honour Canadian Forces and other Canadian government personnel who are killed while serving in overseas peacekeeping, peacemaking or humanitarian missions, the government should lower the flag on the Peace Tower to half-staff for the day following their demise as a remembrance of their important service to Canada and Canadians and that a moment of silence to be observed in the House, if the House is sitting on that same day.

Mr. Speaker, as I rise to start off the debate on this motion, I would like to make a couple of important points.

Much debate goes on in the House relating to Canadian missions abroad, the latest one being the mission in Afghanistan. While there are many points of view in the debate, be they on defence, development, diplomacy, what the length of stay of our forces should be, what the troop commitment should be, they are all legitimate. However, it is important that we, as members of the House, all recognize that there is absolutely no debate about all members of Parliament supporting our men and women in uniform and other officials who serve our country abroad.

That is very important, because there has been commentary about the ideas we are fighting for, the way we treat captured prisoners and we want to ensure that we embody them in the conduct of the mission. I want to make sure that going forward there will never be a question from anybody in any party about their commitment to the men and women who are serving overseas.

Just yesterday we observed a moment of silence in the chamber with respect to the tragedy that happened in New Brunswick to students of Bathurst High School and a teacher from Terry Fox Elementary School. Seven people lost their lives. To commemorate that event, the members of the House stood for a moment of silence.

Over my years in Parliament there have been moments of silence observed pertaining to any number of tragedies that have happened in Canada or around the world. It seems to me that when we deal with the untimely death of one of our people serving abroad, there should be no question that in the House we would have a moment of silence.

We have also had occasion, following the demise of one of our soldiers overseas, to lower the flag on the Peace Tower. Symbolically we do that because the decision to send people abroad on missions is made in this place. In my community or any community across Canada, on the death of a peace officer, the flag flies at half-mast at the city hall in that person's community.

In the case of RCMP officers who had been killed, we honoured them in the House. We commemorated the tragedy of their deaths. It seems to me that when we commemorate the deaths of soldiers or officials who are killed while serving their country, that would be a proper thing to do.

Let me refer to one of the motions moved in the house on the issue of lowering the flags to half-mast. In Hansard on Thursday, October 7, 2004, the member for Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, a member of the Conservative Party, said:

Mr. Speaker, when I was walking to the office this morning I was actually saddened and disappointed to notice that the federal government has not recognized appropriately the tragic loss of Lieutenant Chris Saunders yesterday on the HMCS Chicoutimi.

Therefore, I am rising today to ask unanimous consent of the House for the following motion. I move:

That this House demand the Prime Minister instruct all federal government buildings to immediately lower all Canadian flags to half-mast to recognize the tragic death of Lieutenant Chris Saunders yesterday on the HMCS Chicoutimi.

That motion was unanimously adopted.

The flags have been lowered on previous occasions. As a matter of fact, for the most part, the policy of the previous government was that if a Canadian soldier died overseas, the flags would be lowered. That policy seems to have gone by the wayside.

There have been various controversies around the way we have dealt with soldiers who have died serving our country overseas. One of the controversies was about how we would deal with the repatriation of the body. Unfortunately, the government took the position that the media would not be allowed at those events.

We are talking about something that is very simple and very basic. We should be commemorating the passing of the soldiers who have been killed overseas while serving this country, soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. We should be commemorating their passing in this House and also lowering the flag on top of the Peace Tower.

We could deal with this issue expeditiously. All we have to do is let the debate collapse today. We have had representation made to this effect by all parties in this House. It would show our soldiers that we are in solidarity with what they are doing overseas. We could have the necessary debate in this chamber when we set the policy.

There is no greater sacrifice an individual could make than to serve his or her country abroad. When a tragedy does happen, when a death does occur, we as a Parliament and we as a nation should commemorate it.

This does not have to be a controversial motion. Most members of this House would agree to this motion. I urge members of the House to expedite the passing of this motion.

Four soldiers have died this month in Afghanistan and we have had no commemoration of their deaths either in the House or by lowering the flags. Let us show the men and women who are serving abroad that in spite of any differences we might have in this chamber about the policy relating to the mission, they have our wholehearted and unanimous support, just as they have the wholehearted and unanimous support of all Canadians.

I am going to cut my time short because I really would like to see this debate collapse so we could proceed to a vote as soon as possible on an action we could take to show our solidarity with our men and women serving overseas. We should expedite it and make it happen as quickly as possible. There should be absolutely no question that we are behind them 100%.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are all aware that this issue has been raised many times in a variety of different fora. I think we all agree that we need to honour the sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform and that we do in fact mourn every death that we hear about. Our troops know that they have our wholehearted support.

There are some questions on the part of those who have served our country in many different ways in the past. When this issue came to our attention in April 2006, the veterans themselves spoke up. ANAVETS, the organization representing army, navy and air force veterans in Canada, said that the practice of lowering the Peace Tower flag insulted the relatives in memory of tens of thousands of past veterans who gave their lives for Canada but who were not granted this additional honour. Was their sacrifice any less important than those today?

Is the member aware that this motion, as it is worded, would fail to give the same honour to Canadian Forces personnel killed while serving at home in Canada as it would to those abroad? Would the hon. member explain the reason for that?

What clear criteria does the member use to define “peacekeeping”, “peacemaking” and “humanitarian missions”?

Is the member also aware that his motion fails to give the same recognition to the sacrifice of policemen or firemen who are killed in the line of duty in Canada as it would to government personnel killed on a humanitarian mission abroad?

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I see or have seen a flag lowered on the Peace Tower because a soldier or somebody serving Canada abroad has died, I remember the sacrifices of all the previous soldiers who have died in the service of Canada. I have absolutely no problem with that. To suggest that this somehow is not respectful of the memory of people who died previously is just wrong.

I do not see this as an additional honour. I see this as being very mindful of what our soldiers are going through. Their sacrifices are no less than the sacrifices of current soldiers who might have died.

The other issue is in terms of police officers. If an OPP officer dies, the flag in the province of Ontario is lowered. If a regional officer dies, the flag in the region is lowered. These soldiers are employed by us.

If the hon. member wants to propose a motion to recognize those dying in the service of Canada within the military, I would be very supportive of it.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for bringing this type of private member's motion forward. Although I certainly support what he is trying to accomplish here in giving recognition to our fallen men and women soldiers, I do not see that this motion would do that adequately.

However, the member is absolutely right. I think everyone recognizes the important work that our men and women are doing abroad. All of us recognize that the troops who are serving are doing Canada very proud and we want to do the right thing.

That being said, the troops who are doing this recognize that the best way of supporting them is by giving them the resources they need to do the job.

I have one question arising from what the member for Kitchener—Waterloo brought forward. Most of the Legions and most of the ones who served before have asked that we not do this. Would it show respect to them if we went ahead and lowered the Peace Tower flag when those who have served, the veterans, are asking us not to do it?

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I belong to a Legion and many members in the Legion do support it.

The other issue that the member talked about was debating policy as to what kind of actions we should take in terms of defence diplomacy development. I want to underline again that there are legitimate points of debate and we must separate that from our total support for the service of the men and women in uniform who carry out the policies of this House.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Motion No. 310 on the topic of half-masting the Canadian flag, a topic that is of great interest and concern to Canadians across the country.

I, too, would like to thank the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo for providing us with the opportunity to begin open discussion about our flag. It is a topic that I myself have raised at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on a number of occasions and it is a topic deserving of the careful study of the committee.

Since the formal adoption of the Canadian flag on February 15, 1965, it has become an important symbol of our country, uniting all Canadians. It is flown at schools, arenas, hospitals, museums and office buildings in municipalities all across the country. It is flown, displayed or hung in provincial establishments and federal government buildings. It is flown proudly on the top of one of our most significant buildings, other symbols of our values, the Peace Tower on the Parliament Buildings.

It is clear that the symbolism of lowering the flag is immense. It is a graphic visual reminder of loss. It is lowered with a great sense of respect and engenders a feeling of grief. It is an age old signal of a country in mourning.

Given the immense significance, the Government of Canada currently has a policy around when and under what circumstances it will be lowered.

The first policy was introduced in 1966 by the then Department of the Secretary of State of Canada. This early guide, general rules for flying and displaying the Canadian flag and other flags in Canada, provided guidelines on virtually every use of the national flag.

This early policy stipulated that the flag on the Peace Tower would be lowered in the following circumstances: first, death of the sovereign or a member of the royal family related to the sovereign by the first degree, that is, a husband, wife, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister; and second, death of the Governor General, a former Governor General, a Lieutenant Governor, a Canadian privy councillor, a senator or member of the House of Commons; and third, on Remembrance Day, November 11.

The 1966 policy also elaborates when the flag would be lowered on federal government buildings, airports and military establishments in the following circumstances: throughout Canada on the death of a sovereign, member of the royal family related in the first degree; the Governor General; a former Governor General; the Prime Minister; a former Prime Minister; or, a federal cabinet minister; throughout a province on the death of a lieutenant governor or provincial premier; within a riding on the death of a member of the House of Commons or a member of the provincial legislature; and, at the place of residence on the death of a senator or a Canadian privy councillor.

The rule also included a provision to lower the flag on federal buildings, subject to special instructions on the death of members of the royal family other than the sovereign or those related in the first degree to the sovereign, a head of a foreign state or some other person whom it is desired to honour.

As we can see there was no reference in those 1966 guidelines specifically for military, police or others who serve their country or community. There was no provision for designated days of national mourning other than Remembrance Day. There was a lack of clarity for many situations.

Therefore, since 1966, changes were made to the policy in an ad hoc manner until 2002-03 when a comprehensive review of the policy was conducted to modernize it so it would provide clear guidelines for different kinds of situations.

It was evident that Canadians wanted to see themselves reflected in this policy. It is important to mark the death of a leader but it is equally important to mark the death of ordinary citizens who take extraordinary risks or lose their lives as a result, or those who are lost in natural disasters or through terrible acts of violence. It became apparent that the half-masting policy needed to respond to these types of situation.

It was clear that Canadians wanted some sort of national commemoration where we could, as citizens, mourn together as we do for November 11. Therefore, over time, additional days of national mourning were added to the half-masting rules. These include April 28, Workers' Mounting Day, legislated in 1990. On this day the flag is half-masted on both the Peace Tower and on government buildings within Canada. This day commemorates workers who have been injured, killed or suffered illness as a result of occupational accidents and hazards.

December 6, National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, was adopted by Parliament in 1991. The flag is half-masted on the Peace Tower and on government buildings within Canada. This day coincides with the sad anniversary of the death of 14 young women who were tragically killed December 6, 1989 at École Polytechnique in Montreal because of their gender.

The last Sunday in September is Police and Peace Officers' National Memorial Day adopted in 1998. The flag is half-masted on the Peace Tower, on government buildings and on establishments within Canada. This is a special day for Canadian police, corrections officers and peace officers that gives Canadians an opportunity to formerly express appreciation for the dedication of police and peace officers who make the ultimate tragic sacrifice to keep our communities safe.

April 9 is Vimy Ridge Day. The flag is half-masted on the Peace Tower. In addition to the above days, there is an annual memorial service on Parliament Hill in honour of deceased parliamentarians where the flag on the Peace Tower is lowered.

In November 2005, the Department of National Defence developed an internal protocol for half-masting in the event of military deaths. This new internal protocol functions within the guidelines of the government's broader policy on half-masting outlined in section II, discretionary provisions, paragraph 14, employees of the federal government. This allows an individual federal department to make a decision about half-masting for an employee who has died in the line of duty or by reason of the position her or she occupied within the federal department, agency or crown corporation.

In the event of the death of a member of the Canadian Forces who is deployed on operations to a special duty area, National Defence internal protocol, which falls under section 14, stipulates that flags will be half-masted as follows:

All flags within the task force--

--for example, theatre of operation, in the case of Afghanistan--

--to which a member is assigned at the time of death shall be half-masted from the day of death until sunset the day of the funeral;

All flags at the home base/station of the member shall be half-masted from the day of death until sunset the day of the funeral;

All flags within the environment (sea, land, and air) to which the member was assigned shall be half-masted from sunrise to sunset on the day of the funeral. and;

All flags at National Defence Headquarters shall be half-masted from the day of death until sunset the day of the funeral.

It is clear that this policy, so important to Canadians, will continue to evolve as the needs of Canadians evolve over time.

Personally, on numerous occasions I have raised this very issue with the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as one deserving of careful, non-partisan study.

This well-intentioned motion is timely in the sense that it would get the attention it deserves in the context of a committee study. However, there is no formal provision for a motion passed in the House to go to committee.

I have spoken to other members of the standing committee who have expressed interest in having the contents of the motion referred. However, I do respect the sanctity of private members' business and recognize that it is up to the member to withdraw the motion and refer the contents to committee.

I discussed this option with the member for Kitchener—Waterloo and hope that he will choose to withdraw the motion and refer the content of the motion to the standing committee for a more fulsome discussion so that we can move from debate to real action.

The government wants to get this right and we are prepared to move forward. We simply need the member to withdraw the motion, refer the contents to the standing committee and the standing committee will take over from there. We hope he does that.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, no one is against virtue. No one will be surprised to learn that the Bloc Québécois supports the motion that is before us.

I was a bit surprised myself, though. I wondered where my Conservative colleague was going with his listing of all the people in whose memory the flag can be lowered to half-staff and the House can observe moments of silence.

I understand now why we do not have unanimous consent to expedite the adoption of this motion. He would like the member to refer the proposal to the committee. I will not object, because I also understand that the government wants to get this right. Like the Bloc Québécois, I cannot be against the motion as written.

The motion covers a lot of ground, and it is important. It is essential that we recognize the ultimate sacrifice made by people who die in the performance of their duty. One way of doing this would be to lower the flag to half-staff; the other would be to observe a moment of silence.

In the House of Commons, there is a fairly common practice that we follow when a national tragedy occurs where there is loss of life. The Speaker of the House asks the House to rise and observe a moment of silence, as we did this week.

The proposal before us, however, refers specifically to the Canadian Forces and Canadian personnel on mission overseas. This is important, because it is not just soldiers who could make the ultimate sacrifice. The current mission in Afghanistan has led to the death of a Canadian diplomat, as you know.

In other words, it is not just soldiers and members of the Canadian Forces who could lose their lives in a theatre of operations. There are also all the people who work for the government in other departments such as CIDA or Foreign Affairs.

The intention is therefore very good. We have the means to express that recognition. We have the tools. Two simple but effective ways of showing that recognition are proposed.

It is important, as a matter of principle, to recognize that someone in Afghanistan or elsewhere lost his or her life in the service of the nation. I am not necessarily talking about Quebec or Canada, because we know now that there are two nations.

These people are serving their nation. We are asking them to go into a dangerous theatre of operations; they have no choice. If they lose their lives, it is important that we honour them, not for their own sake, but for the sake of the families of the fallen.

I refer, for example, to the great world wars, World War I and World War II. At the time, perhaps, we were unable to commemorate the dead because people died by the thousands. Families lost their loved ones and do not even know what happened to them.

In today's theatres of operation, it does not take long to identify the person in question. It is important, not for the sake of the individual but for the sake of the family, to commemorate that person.

Conducting ceremonies—lowering the flag and observing a moment of silence in the House—allows the family to attend and to take some comfort in the commemoration. It is very painful for a family to have one of its children die in the line of duty.

It is important to show our gratitude, not so much for the fallen individual's sake, but more particularly so that the family can grieve and know that the person did not die in vain. The family will have proof that the son or daughter, brother or sister who was lost has been commemorated here and that their ultimate sacrifice has been acknowledged.

The Bloc Québécois does not want to go into the details of the types of missions. You will not be surprised to know that, for the Bloc Québécois, peace missions are much more important than stabilization missions, such as the current campaign in Afghanistan. People say that peace missions are on the decline. That may be true. Nevertheless, Canada's foreign policy was built, 50 years ago, on peace missions.

I do not need to remind the House that Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize precisely for the creation of UN peacekeeping forces. Since the Conservatives arrived in power, it has been rather sad to see peacekeeping missions clearly declining, not because the UN does not have them any more but because this government made a political choice to participate less and less in peacekeeping missions and more and more in peace stabilization missions, which are much more dangerous.

I do not want to say very much about this kind of mission. I would rather say that we in the Bloc Québécois understand very well that, regardless of the missions in which our soldiers are involved, they do not have any other choice than to go. We may be heard criticizing certain missions, but we never criticize our soldiers who carry them out. It is the civilian authorities, in this case the House of Commons, who decide what our soldiers will do. As part of these civilian authorities, we have our word to say about the kind of missions we want and how they should be carried out.

We often ask questions on this subject, even today and yesterday, for example about prisoners. We have a duty as parliamentarians to speak up about these things.

However, we never blame our soldiers for participating in this kind of mission because we know that they do not really have a choice. When they get their orders, they move out and head for the theatre of operations with all the courage required—not just the personal courage to fight valiantly or valiantly put their life in danger but also to leave their family knowing that the family members will be always be very worried and afraid every minute of getting a telephone call telling them that their daughter or son was killed in combat.

We know that. That is why it is important for us to say what we think about this kind of mission. We would not go so far as to say that the flag on Parliament should be put at half-mast if it is for a peacekeeping mission but should not be if it is for a stabilization mission because the latter kind of mission is more aggressive. No, I think I have made myself understood: we will never call the participation of our soldiers into question. What we call into question is the mission itself, and as legislators we are perfectly entitled to do so.

We are looking at what has been brought before us, as it has been presented. I told you that we are supporting it, because we are not talking just about the military, we can also talk about the personnel of federal agencies who are in the theatre of operations and are also risking their lives. If you have been in Bosnia or Kandahar or northern Afghanistan as I have, I have visited those places, you can see that the situation is truly dangerous and that our troops have to be tremendously brave to operate in that kind of theatre. If some of those troops are so unfortunate as to lose their lives, it is entirely reasonable for a Parliament like ours to honour them. The way to honour them is entirely proper.

As I said when I began my speech, I listened carefully to the speech by my Conservative colleague about the importance of not ignoring or forgetting anyone. We were prepared to pass a unanimous motion directly, but I believe that the Conservatives are not entirely prepared to do that.

I am not opposed to referring the matter to committee, but I did not hear to what committee it was to be referred. Is it the Standing Committee on National Defence or the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs? We shall see. As national defence critic and a member of the Standing Committee on National Defence, I can say that we are certainly prepared to look at the motion. However, we would have been prepared to pass the motion today. In my opinion, the sponsor of the motion was well intentioned, and that is why we have decided to support this motion. Whether it goes to committee or it is passed here unanimously, the Bloc Québécois supports the motion that our colleague has made today in this House.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add a point of view from the NDP caucus as well as my own point of view to Motion No. 310 from the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, which states that in the event a member of the Canadian armed forces in a peacekeeping, peacemaking or humanitarian mission is killed, the flag on the Parliament buildings should be lowered to half-mast.

I have made this point in the past. I feel strongly that it should be Parliament, not government, that decides if and when the flag on the Peace Tower should be lowered to half-mast. In fact, in April 2006 I made this point on a question of privilege in the House of Commons. I maintained that the privileges of the House as a collective had been usurped and undermined by the government when it took that role away from Parliament and gave it to the executive branch.

I argued that the House of Commons is not a department of the Government of Canada and that Parliament should have control over all aspects of the parliamentary precinct, including the flag on the top of the Peace Tower. I argued that government had overstepped its authority by having the Prime Minister dictate whether or not the flag on the Peace Tower should be lowered, thus usurping my privileges as a member of Parliament to participate in this decision.

Unfortunately, the Speaker of the day ruled against my question of privilege. He ruled that the Senate and the House of Commons are only tenants of the government and that the administration of this property falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Public Works. That, I might tell members, rubbed me the wrong way. The House of Commons only has the “right to regulate”, he said, its own “internal affairs”. “The essential question”, then, he said, “is whether half-masting of the flag on the Peace Tower is an internal matter falling within the privileges of the House, or an external matter under the jurisdiction of the owner of the building”, our landlords.

The Speaker decided that because Public Works as our landlord is responsible for the physical act of raising or lowering the flag each day on the Peace Tower and because the Department of Canadian Heritage makes the rules concerning protocol of flying the flags, then these rules and their application are a matter for the executive and not matters for the Speaker or the House. I profoundly disagree, on a number of levels.

The half-masting of the Canadian flag on the Peace Tower is not simply a technical function on par with raising and lowering it every day with the rising and setting of the sun. The flying of our nation's flag at half-mast on the Peace Tower is this country's greatest expression of national grief and respect. This matter should never be tainted by political considerations. Leaving it in the hands of the ruling party makes that unavoidable.

Most Canadians, and indeed most members of Parliament, support lowering the flag on the Peace Tower to honour members of our armed forces killed in the line of duty, yet for its own political reasons the government does not want to draw attention to these losses in a conflict that is increasingly unpopular. That is precisely why it should not be the government's decision to make.

If the government can defend its participation in the conflict in Afghanistan, it should be able to defend the casualties and the losses. Refusing to lower the flag on the Peace Tower is seen by many as an attempt to soft-sell or downplay those harsh realities of war.

The Speaker's ruling and the reasoning that underpins it give rise to a larger question. How and why did our Parliament ever lose jurisdiction over the operation and control of Parliament?

Canada's Parliament is based on the Westminster model. Both the Parliament of Canada Act and the act of Confederation of 1867 require that Parliament's structure reflect all the rights, privileges and authorities of the British Parliament in Westminster.

The control of the Palace of Westminster and its precincts was in fact exercised by the Queen's representative, the Lord Great Chamberlain, until, by agreement with the Crown, the Lord Great Chamberlain formally ceded jurisdiction over both Houses to the British Parliament in 1965.

I argue that this flag debate graphically illustrates that Canada should do the same thing. The Queen's government should pass control over both Houses of Parliament to Parliament itself. Until that time, Parliament is just a tenant in the Parliament buildings and does not enjoy the same rights and privileges as our colleagues in Westminster.

This is a matter of the independence of Parliament. It is pivotal to our system of government. Its history goes back to the English revolution in the mid-seventeenth century. In 1672, when Charles II and his troops marched into Parliament and demanded to know the whereabouts of five MPs accused of treason, the Speaker of the day, William Lenthall, said famously, “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here”.

In other words, the Speaker proclaimed himself as a servant of Parliament, rather than of the king, and that independence is as important today as it was then.

Let us say for instance that a future government decides the Centennial Flame, which was lit on December 31, 1966, should be removed and a tourist souvenir shop should built on its site. The public would be outraged, MPs would protest, but it would be ruled that Parliament is only a tenant and therefore the government of the day has absolute control.

Let us say a future beloved prime minister dies and Parliament wishes to have a state funeral. The prime minister of the day, a political enemy of the deceased, would say “No, Parliament is only a tenant and government has the control”.

A third example would be, let us say a future government decides it wishes to expand the PMO many times over, but it does not want to spend tax dollars building new office space, so it decides to use the East Block instead, telling senators to get out and telling MPs they will have to double up. Both the House of Commons and the Senate would protest, but Parliament would only be a tenant and the government would have the control.

If the House thinks these are foolish examples, consider this one. At the start of an overseas mission, several Canadian soldiers are killed in the line of duty. Parliament wishes to have the flag on the Peace Tower flown at half-mast to express the nation's profound grief and appreciation to those men and women who made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country, but the government of the day does not want to focus the country's attention on the fact that our sons and daughters are dying overseas in a military mission for which support at home is dwindling.

Parliament wants the flag lowered on the Peace Tower. The government of the day does not. This is fundamentally wrong, that government can override and trump the will of Parliament in this way.

It is time for Parliament to stand up to the government and declare its independence in the same spirit Speaker William Lenthall declared the independence of the British Parliament in 1672.

If the government considers Parliament only a tenant in its own Parliament Buildings, then it is time for a tenant's revolt.

If the Prime Minister is going to ignore the will of Parliament and refuse to lower the flag on the Peace Tower out of respect for the men and women who are being killed in the service of their country, then he will return to a tenant's uprising because many of us in this Chamber will not tolerate it.

Today, I speak on behalf of the NDP caucus, but I also speak on behalf of the many Canadians who are sincerely grieving the loss of members of our armed forces. In recognition of that national grief, it seems to me that we should be lowering the flag.

If a senator passes away in the service of his or her country while in the job, the flag goes to half-mast. If a member of Parliament passes away during service or if he or she is a member of the Privy Council, the flag goes to half-mast. How is it any less significant if one of our sons and daughters serving overseas is killed in the line of duty?

I feel very strongly and I appreciate my colleague from Kitchener—Waterloo for bringing this motion before the House of Commons today. I feel profoundly strong that this is a motion that should succeed and should pass, and that the government of the day should cede control over parliamentary precinct to the House of Commons.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure and privilege to speak to this motion stating that the Peace Tower flag be lowered to half-staff when a soldier, a diplomat or a relief worker dies in a peacekeeping or peacemaking mission overseas.

Over the years, the Conservative Party has given several reasons not to do that. I would like to refute some of these reasons. I would like the government to reflect on this matter and to question its position. In my view, this is the least the Parliament and the members can do to honour the memory of these people and to honour their families as well as possible.

I am pleased to support the motion presented by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo. The member for Huron—Bruce has also championed this cause. I had brought forward a motion at the veterans affairs committee a couple of years ago which unfortunately was not successful to do the same thing. This is an opportunity for us to debate it in the House of Commons and I look forward to a successful resolution to this matter.

One of the arguments that is somewhat compelling is that we have November 11 where we honour all veterans as we should. What we are asking in a sense is that the flag be lowered for veterans of our day, when it was not possible to have done it during the first world war or the second war where tens of thousands of Canadians were lost and not one community, not one neighbourhood, and not one street was left unaffected. I would suggest that in doing this we will honour them.

My father went to the second world war as did four of my uncles. Every community had to participate and every family had to send somebody to those massive wars. I have had the good fortune, as have many generations, of not having to participate, but we have not been involved to that extent in the world.

It is because of the sacrifice of Canadians and our allies during the second world war, the first world war, the Korean conflict, and many peacemaking missions that we have been able to have better stability on this planet and a better world where there are fewer conflicts. There are still too many, but there are less.

It is by honouring those who serve now that we remember those who gave us what we have. It is the least we can do.

Why this chamber and why over the Peace Tower? It is because it is a symbol to Canadians. It is a symbol of the nation. When we walk here in the morning to our offices and see the flag at half-mast, we would be reminded of the sacrifices made by those communities, those families and those individuals.

We would be reminded that when we as politicians fail, when diplomacy fails anywhere around the world, that our military is called to act. It has no choice. It has to follow orders.

Where we have not been able to establish through democratic methods, through bilateral negotiations, then we call upon the military in areas of great danger. Then it would be as it should be, our role, our duty to make sure that the flag flies high, that there are no Canadian losses.

We can do that by working harder on humanitarian missions, on assistance to countries, when we see the problems starting, when we see the seeds being sewn of conflict in the future.

We see some of that around the world now and I do not know that the western world is always reacting. I do not know that we are always assisting in time. Then we are called into conflicts such as Afghanistan where the Taliban government was harbouring the al-Qaeda movement, sponsoring terrorism internationally. We saw what the effect was on September 11.

Now we and our allies send soldiers, young women and men who are doing their absolute best to stabilize that country, to put it in a position where it cannot harbour that type activity in the future.

The word “hero” is one that is misused, abused and overused. There is bravery and there is heroism. Bravery can sometimes be equated to stupidity where people will put themselves in danger. Heroism is much different. It is doing actions which will benefit not oneself, but will benefit others when there is a real risk of harm and loss of life.

That is what these heroes are doing for us. Too many of them fall. Nearly 80 have fallen. We have had four already this year and it is a brand new year with many more at risk.

Now we have to debate in this House in the coming weeks how much longer and in what form we continue the mission in Afghanistan. Even once that mission is finished there will be another mission: peacekeeping, peacemaking. Canadians will be called upon to act and more Canadians will fall.

It would be absolutely responsible for the Parliament of Canada to recognize that. It is good for Canadians because Canadians expect that. Canadians can share in the grief of the families of the lost soldiers, in the grief of the communities where those soldiers come from.

We used to see repatriation ceremonies on TV, brought to the homes of all Canadians. Now that has been hidden from view, thinking it will make it easier. Ramp ceremonies are only held in the country where the conflict is and in Canada we no longer share the grief and be with the families in whatever way possible. I find that regrettable.

I am a member of the Privy Council. I was elected by my community and I have been paid very well to represent them in this august chamber. I have enjoyed every minute that I have been here. When my day comes, I can die very comfortably anywhere in this country or abroad of old age or any natural illness, and the flag will be flown at half-mast because I am a member of the Privy Council. Because I have been honoured in such a way in this chamber, I will be given that marking upon my death.

Corporal Paul Davis of Bridgewater, a soldier, and his counterparts will not see that. A parent wrote to the Prime Minister some time ago, a Mr. Dinning. I believe it was around April 7, 2006. His son was serving in Afghanistan and he suggested that the flag should be flown at half-mast when anybody falls. Unfortunately, a few days later Corporal Dinning fell, the son of the man who had written to Parliament.

I had an opportunity to briefly meet both parents in a TV studio in Ottawa and saw the grief they were going through, and the selfless sacrifice they were making by trying to make sure that we remediated this in the future. It will not bring these people back, but it will show that this country's national government recognizes their loss and the support they have provided.

I speak of soldiers, but I can also speak about diplomats. I can also speak about care workers, policemen, and all the people who are working with the provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan. This year the minister was at an advance base and we all saw on the news a rocket landing near that camp. Fortunately, he was unharmed and was returned to safety. Those who were around him, the soldiers who are there every night and every day, will not return to safety. They brought him to safety and returned to their posts.

They go to bed every night knowing that rockets can fall on them at any time. They get into their vehicles and do the work that we ask them to do in that country knowing that they could encounter a terrorist's improvised exploding device at any time and that they could be maimed, crippled or killed. That is the way they live and they do it for us. They do that because of our failings and aspirations. The absolute least we could do is honour their passing by lowering the flag to half-mast.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 310. I thank the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo for providing us with the opportunity to address the issue of half-masting the Canadian flag on Canada's Peace Tower.

The Canadian flag is our most important symbol, but there is another significant symbol of Canada, one that every Canadian does, or should, recognize. It is a symbol seen across Canada and around the world. I am of course speaking of the Peace Tower, that soaring sandstone bell tower that rises up from the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings.

Perhaps a brief history of the Peace Tower would be helpful. For thousands of years the hill upon which our Parliament Buildings now sit served as a landmark on the Ottawa River for first nations people. Much later it became a landmark for Europeans who used it to mark their journey further into the interior of the North American continent.

When Bytown, or Ottawa as it is now called, was founded, the builders of the Rideau Canal named the hill Barrack Hill and used it as a military base. Plans were made to create a large fort, but those plans never materialized. By 1858, just a few years before Confederation and when Bytown was named as the capital of the province of Canada, Barrack Hill was chosen as the site for the new Parliament Buildings.

By 1867, the year of Confederation, the structures of Parliament Hill were completed. They included a Victoria Tower which was an integral part of the original building. Tragically, on February 3, 1916 a huge fire destroyed most of the Centre Block, taking the tower with it. In fact, the only structure that remained was the Library of Parliament. It took another 11 years to rebuild the tower. When it was finished, it was named the Peace Tower in memory of the Canadians who had lost their lives in the first world war.

The Peace Tower is not just a name, it is a commemoration, because inside the tower is the Memorial Chamber, which is dedicated to the Canadian men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country. The chamber houses the seven Books of Remembrance in which are inscribed the names of more than 118,000 Canadians who, since Confederation, have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Canada's military.

I would like to note that among those whose names are inscribed in the Books of Remembrance is Master Corporal Colin Bason. Colin was a resident of my riding of Abbotsford and was killed in action last year while serving our country in Afghanistan. Abbotsford knows what it means to mourn a native son.

The hill which we now call Parliament Hill was for centuries a landmark that showed the way forward. Remarkably, today it has become not a fortress or a place to prepare for war, but a place of ideas and discussion, a place where laws are made, a place where human rights, freedom and democracy are vigorously defended. It is where the voices of Canadians are heard, the home of our national government.

Parliament's most glorious structure, the Peace Tower, was in fact named after peace, an eternal gesture of respect and honour, especially to those who died serving our country in the cause of peace.

Of course, flying proudly atop the Peace Tower is our maple leaf flag. It is a powerful image for Canadians, these two national symbols together.

We all know that lowering the flag is a sign of respect for the dead. But when our federal government orders the national flag of Canada lowered, it speaks for Canada and for all Canadians. A federally ordered half-masting is a sign of a country in mourning, and when that half-masting is ordered on the Peace Tower, it is the most profound gesture of respect we can make, because these are two of our most defining national symbols.

There are many ways to publicly mourn and indicate respect. Over time, Canadians have developed spontaneous gestures of respect and mourning. For example, on Remembrance Day, Canadians leave their poppies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa at the National War Memorial. In Ontario, Canadians gather with flags and flowers on overpass bridges and wait patiently for the motorcade carrying the bodies of fallen Canadian soldiers to pass on the highway so that they can pay their respects. In Montreal, people gather together every year with candles to honour the young women who died so violently at École Polytechnique. Stuffed animals and flowers were left at a spot where a young girl in Toronto was gunned down recently.

All over this country, memorials to fellow Canadians who have lost their lives through violence, accident or tragedy may be found on bridges, on streets and street corners. Why do we do this? Because although we do not personally know the individuals who have died, we are somehow deeply moved by what has happened to our fellow Canadians. As individuals we honour these memorials ourselves. They are personal expressions of grief and respect.

As a government, however, we represent all Canadians, and our two most profound national symbols must represent all Canadians. That is why we lower the flag on the Peace Tower on six very special days throughout the year: April 28, Workers Mourning Day; the last Sunday in September, Police and Peace Officers' National Memorial Day; November 11, Remembrance Day; December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women; April 19, Vimy Ridge Day; and for the duration of the annual memorial service to remember deceased parliamentarians. These are days that allow Canadians to remember other Canadians. These are days of national, not individual, expressions of mourning.

It is important to remember that a gesture only has meaning when it is reserved for special moments. We do not wear poppies all year round. They are reserved especially for Remembrance Day. They have meaning exactly because they are a symbol of that special day. Half-masting the national flag on the Peace Tower remains especially a uniquely Canadian gesture to those Canadians whom we would wish to honour, remember and respect.

Earlier my colleague, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage, spoke about his desire to see the heritage committee embark on a full study of Canada's flag policy, including half-masting. As a member of that committee, I echo his thoughts. I believe that the role of the standing committee is to advance those kinds of policy objectives and that is exactly the place for this initiative.

Let us avoid the political partisanship which an emotional issue such as this one often creates. We need to move cautiously, very cautiously, before overturning long-standing traditions of our Canadian nationhood.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I am sure that members in this House are aware of the death of Sergeant Christos Karigiannis in Afghanistan last June. Christos Karigiannis is a fifth cousin of mine who gave his life while serving our country.

I am a privy councillor and thus the flag will be half-masted upon my death. I would gladly trade this in order to have seen the flag half-masted for Sergeant Christos Karigiannis and any of his comrades.

Therefore, I am asking for unanimous consent of the House to adopt Motion No. 310, in the memory of my cousin, Christos Karigiannis, and all the other members of the armed forces who have given their lives in Afghanistan and other places of war.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Half-Masting of Peace Tower Flag
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

There is no consent.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.