House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was communities.

Topics

Official Languages Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I declare the motion lost.

It being 6 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

When we were debating Bill C-384, the hon. member for Shefford had five minutes left to complete his speech. He now has the floor.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak again here today on the subject of Bill C-384 introduced by my hon. colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

It is important to reflect carefully on this bill. I spoke about it nearly a month ago. Since then, we have had time to reflect on it. Personally, since I knew I would be speaking to it again a few weeks later, I took the time to think about other arguments to try to convince the members of this House to vote in favour of Bill C-384.

First of all, I still wonder why it took until 2008 for Bill C-384 to be introduced. Why did it take so long? Why did no one think about this issue before and try to establish measures to deal with people who write graffiti on schools and other locations? It is now being proposed that these institutions be covered by the legislation.

It is important that all members of the House of Commons take the time to read the bill. By doing so, they will be able to get a complete picture, without having any anti-Semitic ideas or other notions. That is important.

Indeed, people from various communities have legitimately asked to be able to keep their premises clean, whether they be places of prayer or schools. Furthermore, they have asked to be able to preserve their culture without being stared at inappropriately by people who could resort to all kinds of ploys to mock their way of thinking or expressing themselves.

Previously, only two types of institutions were covered: places of worship and cemeteries. Now, many others are also included. I mentioned schools, but this would also include daycare centres, colleges, universities, community centres, playgrounds, sports centres and any other place occupied by identifiable groups. It is important to protect them. Bill C-384, introduced by my colleague, is so very important.

We claim to be a host country and to want to welcome all these groups. However, there is no protection for these identifiable places I have just mentioned. This bill will provide adequate protection for these places under the Criminal Code. Thus, these groups will be able to practice their religion or carry out their activities in recreation centres without having to hide or be identified with one group or another. In this way we prevent them from being discredited by either saying or writing anything.

We assume that the members of this House will do everything it takes to make this bill a piece of legislation allowing these people to go about their usual activities.

Although we are discussing bill C-384, I would like to digress for a moment.

My party asked for an emergency debate on the price of gasoline. I would like parliamentarians to be aware of the escalating cost of gasoline. The Bloc Québécois should be allowed this emergency debate so that we can have a straightforward and honest discussion. Voters would realize that some members of this House are not keen to discuss the price of gasoline, to propose measures to curtail increases, to keep oil companies in line and to regulate prices to a greater extent.

Good luck to the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant with her bill and may it be passed and become law.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution), that was introduced by the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

At the outset I would like to tell the House that I wholeheartedly support the purpose of this bill and the reasons obviously that would have motivated the member for introducing such important legislation. I believe the great majority of Canadians welcome people who come from different countries, different cultures, different races and different religions. I know that we as Canadians also believe that those who arrive in Canada with different backgrounds enrich Canadian life and our culture.

Unfortunately, there is also a small minority of Canadians who do not welcome these newcomers and even oppose their presence in Canada and sometimes do so in a violent manner. The opposition to a group's presence in Canada could be expressed by writing offensive words, or perhaps damaging buildings where members from these groups are likely to go either to meet or receive services.

Damaging a building is indeed a criminal act already. It is an act that is covered by the offence of mischief which is found in subsection 430(1) of our current Criminal Code. The sentence for those found guilty of mischief under the current law varies with the mode of prosecution, that is, whether the offence is prosecuted by summary conviction or by the process of indictment.

The sentence of mischief prosecuted by indictment also varies depending on the value of property against which the mischief has been committed. Mischief is prohibited in all cases, however, regardless of the motivation. However, what is important is that when an offence of mischief is motivated by bias, prejudice, hatred based on race, colour, national or ethnic origin, language, religion, sexual orientation or any other factor, the motivation becomes an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.

If the acts covered by Bill C-384 are already covered by the current provisions of the Criminal Code then one would somehow question why we would want to create a new offence. I have that answer.

I believe that two purposes would be served by enacting Bill C-384. First, the creation of a specific offence will draw attention to the actions that the offence prohibits. It will state clearly that the violent expression of hatred against a minority group is a criminal offence with all of the consequences for those who are found guilty. Second, the bill will increase the penalty for the offence. We know that in most cases mischief is prosecuted by way of summary conviction. Under the current law a person convicted of mischief against one of the buildings listed in Bill C-384, for example, when prosecuted by summary conviction is currently only subject to a maximum penalty of 6 months. Bill C-384 would increase this penalty up to 18 months.

Under the current law, if the Crown wants to request a penalty of more than 6 months, it must proceed by way of indictment. Bill C-384 will allow the Crown to request a penalty of up to 18 months without having to resort to the more complex procedure of indictment. Bill C-384 also has a practical effect when the offence is prosecuted by indictment.

The current law provides for a higher maximum sentence when the value of the property against which the mischief is committed is over $5,000. Currently, where the value of the property is $5,000 or less, the maximum penalty is only 2 years. It is 10 years when the value of the property is over $5,000.

Bill C-384 would eliminate the distinction based on the value of the property. Hate crimes know no value of property. The higher maximum of 10 years would apply regardless of the value of the property against which the mischief is committed. As a result, the maximum penalty would be increased from 2 years to 10 years for mischief against property of $5,000 or less.

As I indicated earlier, I do support this bill. However, I believe the bill would benefit from some technical improvements. I think it would be beneficial to clarify the language of the bill and ensure that it is consistent with the provisions currently set out in the Criminal Code.

As a member of the justice committee, I look forward to seeing Bill C-384 get to committee where it can benefit from study and technical amendments that may be necessary, but will not affect the scope and purpose of the bill. I believe all members of this House will want to work together toward the improvement of this bill which has support from all parties in this House.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise and participate in the debate on Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution). This bill would create a new offence in section 430 of the Criminal Code to prohibit hate motivated acts of mischief against an identifiable group of persons at an educational institution, including a school, day care centre, college or university, or community centre, playground, arena or sports centre.

I would like to congratulate the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for her initiative in introducing this bill and thereby raise attention of this type of hate crime in our society.

In discussing this proposed legislation, there are two main elements that should be underscored. First, the importance of fighting hate motivated crimes; and second, to provide protection to the educational and social places where ethnocultural and other identifiable groups gather.

These are places where people gather to joyfully share in cultural experiences, often passing on through generations the richness of our multicultural mosaic. These are institutions to which children are entrusted to be educated. Yet too often, those who would hate and cause violence target these very places of joy and education.

Canada is an open and welcoming society that has embraced multiculturalism as an underlying principle. Our multicultural mosaic is a shining example to the world of peace and harmony among all races, religions, ethnicities; in fact, humanity in its endless multitudes of variations. Unfortunately, there are those among us, individuals and groups, who would act to spread hatred and violence, even violence against identifiable groups.

In 2004 the pilot survey of hate crime was published by Statistics Canada. This study reported a total of 928 hate crime incidents.

Overall, 57% of these hate crimes were motivated by race or ethnicity. The second most common motivation was religion, which accounted for 43% of incidents. Sexual orientation was the motivation in one-tenth of the incidents.

Blacks and South Asians were among those most frequently targeted in hate crime incidents motivated by race or ethnicity. The majority of incidents by religion involved anti-Semitism followed by those targeting Muslims.

The most common types of hate violations included: mischief or vandalism at 29%; assault at 25%; uttering threats at 20%; and hate propaganda at 13%.

While statistics are important, I would also like to point out a number of examples of hate crimes against several communities, religious and educational institutions that make the case of supporting Bill C-384 even stronger.

On March 24, 2004, the Al Mahdi Islamic Centre in Pickering was intentionally set on fire. Its interior walls were spray painted with supremacist graffiti. On September 2, 2006, the Skver-Toldos Orthodox Jewish Boys school in Outremont was firebombed. On June 21, 2007, the community centre of the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg Algonquin First Nations community in Quebec was vandalized with swastikas and white supremacist graffiti. On March 11, 2008, RyePRIDE, a community service group at Ryerson University was vandalized with hate graffiti.

The study also concluded that young people, those between the ages of 15 and 24, experienced the highest rate of hate crime victimization. This rate was two times higher than the next age group. As well, it was educational and other community institutions that were the most frequent targets of hate crime propaganda.

Acts of vandalism motivated by racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and hatred of the other are more than simple acts of mischief. To the victims and the community to which they belong these are traumatic assaults on the very core of who they are and their place in society. It is an assault on the very values of inclusion, tolerance and pluralism that are at the core of our Canadian identity.

I would now like to address a gaping omission in our current hate crimes legislation. According to the 1999 General Social Survey, 18% of hate crimes were motivated by hatred of a gender. Yet, gender-based hate crimes, misogyny and misandry, are not covered.

As it is currently drafted, Bill C-384 only addresses acts of hatred or incitement to violence against an identifiable group based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

As Valerie Smith, a leading expert and advocate on the issue of violence against women, underscores, misogynistic acts of vandalism carried out against a girls' school or university women's centre would not be covered under this bill because it protects only those groups identified by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. Bill C-384 adopts a limited list of identifiable groups found in section 318 of the Criminal Code dealing with hate propaganda.

For this reason, it would seem prudent to amend the proposed legislation to ensure that hate targeting a gender group is also included, because as the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics shows, women and girls continue to be targets of hate crimes at disturbingly increasing rates. Because sex, the legal term for gender, is not included in the list covered by this proposed legislation, girls and women will not be protected under this law.

As further underscored by Valerie Smith, this legislation would be enhanced if the more inclusive definition found in Criminal Code subsection 718(2) were to be used.

In 1996 this law was amended to allow courts to increase a sentence where an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental and physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor. There is no legal reason for Bill C-384 to use the limited list of identifiable groups found in section 318.

As section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms underscores, everyone has a right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination, and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability.

In the spring of 2005 I was reviewing Canada's hate crimes legislation and I noted that there were a number of categories, identifiable groups. However, I was startled to find an omission. Gender was not covered. That spurred me to draft Bill C-254, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (hate propaganda), a private member's bill that is perhaps unique in the sense that all it entails is the addition of one single word to existing legislation, “sex”.

Returning to my colleague's Bill C-384, I think that besides increasing punishment of hate-based acts of mischief against an identifiable group, vulnerable groups also need assistance to better help protect themselves against these cowardly attacks. This would entail governments taking proactive measures to help defray the increased security costs that would have to be paid by vulnerable communities in protecting their institutions from hate-based attacks.

The current government has set up a pilot project with only $3 million in funding for the purposes of helping vulnerable communities to protect their institutions.

Canada's Jewish community estimated that it would require a minimum investment of $8 million to begin to upgrade the security surrounding its community centres and schools.

In many cases the communities whose institutions were attacked were forced to raise funds to repair and enhance security in their facilities. This has taken much needed funding away from the educational needs of children and youth.

In response, the leader of the Liberal Party announced in April that a Liberal government would create a $75 million fund to boost security at places of worship and community centres targeted by racist vandals.

It is my view that Bill C-384 is a worthy piece of legislation that should be supported by all members. It is also my view that Bill C-384 would be further enhanced by friendly amendments that would deal with gender-based acts of hatred.

When people talk of a future global village, I respond by saying that it exists here in Canada, in our urban centres. We are a shining example to the world of how humanity, in all of its variations, can live constructively and joyously in peace and harmony.

However, in our midst threats exist to our multicultural mosaic, to our Canada, a Canada which celebrates all of our diversities. With this legislation we will further diminish the ability of those who hate, who would do harm, and who would incite others to do so.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-384 introduced by my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant. This bill was awaited by minority communities. It includes additional sanctions and further protects people from identifiable groups. This bill creates a new offence to clearly prohibit heinous acts committed against property used by minority groups. I have some examples.

In June 2007, the Jewish community feared they were dealing with an anti-Semitic pyromaniac after a third fire in two weeks was reported at a camp for a Hasidic Jewish community in Val-David.

Again in June 2007, a building at a camp belonging to the Jewish community went up in flames in Val-David, in the Laurentians.

In April 2007, a small bomb exploded in front of the Ben Weider Jewish community centre.

In April 2004, an arsonist set fire to the library at the United Talmud Torah elementary school in Saint-Laurent.

In September 2006, an arsonist set fire to the Abraar Muslim school in Ottawa.

Anti-Semitic acts and acts against identifiable groups do exist and occur frequently. The bill introduced by my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant specifically prohibits acts of mischief against schools, daycare centres, colleges or any other place used by identifiable groups. This is an addition to the current legislation.

I must point out that this bill is already receiving support from minority groups in Quebec and Canada as well as, and this is saying something, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons and hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, the New Democratic Party justice critic and hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and a number of other colleagues, namely the members of the Bloc Québécois, who will vote en masse in favour of this bill.

I was listening to our colleagues from the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. I think they will vote in favour of the bill, but first they have to find a few little things wrong with it. I imagine they will discuss them with my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant and all come to an agreement to provide an additional tool to protect our ethnic groups.

We therefore hope that this bill will move through all the approval stages so that the rights of minority groups, which have too often suffered assaults against their gathering places, will finally be recognized. It is vital that such a legislative amendment be passed, in order to preserve the safety and dignity of the groups targeted by this bill by imposing harsher penalties for this type of offence. Moreover, we must recognize the need to protect these groups. We must therefore vote for this bill.

The bill also addresses a widespread concern in society. The number of anti-Semitic acts perpetrated in the past seven years clearly shows that the current protection is not broad enough. The fire bombings of two schools that I mentioned earlier were not covered by the existing Criminal Code provisions concerning mischief. An attack against this sort of institution traumatizes not only the people who live in the area, but also the surrounding community.

It is serious when communal facilities other than places of worship and cemeteries are targeted, and when places where there are children are targeted, it is even worse. Such acts must be stopped.

We could talk about the gay community. We could also talk about Muslims, who regularly face this sort of problem. The gay community in particular is regularly the target of slurs and aggressive behaviour. Even in 2008, it is not true that homosexuals are accepted socially. Unfortunately, they still suffer a great deal of prejudice.

I am certain that the content of the amendment to the bill proposed by my Bloc Québécois colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant will bring us a step closer to respecting everyone's rights.

Earlier, I mentioned the Muslim community. That community is regularly the target of violent acts. Of course, such acts are committed by a minority of people, but they still heighten tensions within society. Hon. members will recall that in January 2007, a Muslim school in Montreal was horribly vandalized.

That is why everyone must vote for the Bloc Québécois bill. In that way, we will send a clear message that such acts are and will always be unacceptable.

We have to strengthen the law so that all minority groups can live in peace within Quebec society and Canadian society without fearing intimidating threats and violence. There will always be people who do not mean well. These people are everywhere, and they often attack places used by minority groups out of spite.

That race, colour, national or ethnic origin or sexual orientation should motivate such mischief is unacceptable. We have to make it possible for everyone to live in peace and use spaces without being subjected to such threats. The message has to be clear, and for it to be clear, we need to vote in favour of Bill C-384.

I would also like to emphasize that, in my opinion, this bill will make it clear that any mischief against places used by any particular group will be prosecuted. There is no ambiguity there. I would therefore ask all members of this House to support this bill so that we can all reiterate that there is zero tolerance for this kind of violence.

We Quebeckers live in an inclusive society. Canadian society is also inclusive, but it accepts multiculturalism. In Quebec, they are Quebeckers. If they come to Quebec, they are Quebeckers. And we want to protect them. We want them to know that they are welcome, that they will be safe with us, that they can eat, work and live decently. Bill C-384 is proof of that.

I hope that the House will pass this bill. If my Liberal and Conservative party colleagues find something they do not agree with, I invite them to talk to my colleague about it. She will explain what it is all about. I also encourage them to ask their colleagues to support this extremely important bill.

I see that the member for Laval—Les Îles is here.

There are many cultural communities in her riding, so she understands the importance of this bill. I invite her to—

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The member for Edmonton—Leduc.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise to speak to private member's Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution).

I am especially pleased to indicate my support for the objective of the bill, which ensures the criminal law fully denounces criminal acts motivated by bias, prejudice or hatred.

I do want to take a moment to congratulate the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for introducing the bill and for making the effort, under private members' business, to bring forward a serious and substantive topic.

I also take this opportunity to thank her for her work on the justice committee, particularly for her help with my private member's bill on identity theft and pretexting. I thought her colleagues in her party did good work in terms of the bill, working it through the private member's process. I hope I give the same consideration to her that she gave to me during that process.

Again, I appreciated her work on the justice committee with respect to the private member's bill on identity theft, which I am pleased to say is now in the Senate, having been adopted unanimously by the House.

Bill C-384 proposes to amend the Criminal Code by adding a new offence to the existing mischief provisions. The amendment would make it a specific offence, with increased penalties, when the mischief is committed against an educational or recreational property, institution or object associated with an institution that is used exclusively or principally by a group identified by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.

The proposed bill unequivocally states that Canadians need to continue to respect and value one another. We have heard from previous speakers about the importance of that principle in terms of the very foundation of Canada. It is one of the reasons why this is the most wonderful country in the world to live.

In a country as ethnoculturally diverse as ours, we know there will be occasions, unfortunately, when intolerant or hateful actions will tragically occur. When intolerant actions constitute criminal behaviour, the criminal justice system must be able to fully respond to those situations.

Hate crimes are unique. Such crimes target victims because of a core characteristic of their identity which cannot be altered and therefore harm not only the individual, but also the group with which the individual is identified and the whole of Canadian society.

When, for example, a Muslim school is vandalized and hateful graffiti is written across its walls, the entire Muslim community is harmed. The hurt spreads beyond just the neighbourhood in which the school is located. Many Muslim Canadians across the country may feel affronted by the attack.

The House may very well recall the situations with respect to attacks that happened at the United Talmud Torah elementary school in Montreal in 2004. Members may also remember the early Saturday morning fire bomb attack on an Orthodox Jewish school in 2006. These are only a couple of examples.

Unfortunately, in my home city of Edmonton there have been incidents against educational institutions and houses of worship, which I know are outside the parameter of the bill. These are situations in which there is an attack of hatred, and it affects the entire community. With news as it spreads today, it goes across the country and affects the whole of Canada and even around the world because of the way news is propagated these days. It is incumbent upon us as a government and as parliamentarians to act fully against these actions.

The government believes the message being sent by this bill will let affected communities know that we understand and that we want to do something to help. We are pleased that the bill has support from representatives of various communities, including the Jewish community, the Muslim community, the black community and aboriginal communities. I understand the gay and lesbian community is supportive of the bill as well.

It is true that Canada already has in place an effective regime of legislative protections against hate crime applying to property. All property is already protected by the general offence of mischief found in section 430 of the Criminal Code. Additionally, any criminal offence that can be proven to be motivated by bias, prejudice or hate, based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor, could be subject to the sentencing provisions already found in section 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code, which would require such motivation an aggravating factor to be considered at sentencing.

However, I support Bill C-384 as it will send a message of deterrence to potential hate-mongers and, in conjunction with other initiatives, confirms the government's opposition to such intolerance.

The bill differs from the current Criminal Code provisions in three main areas. First, Bill C-384 incorporates the concept of hate motivation as part of the crime rather than as an aggravating factor to consider when opposing a sentence.

Second, it specifies that the act of mischief must be perpetrated against property that is used exclusively or principally by members of a certain group.

Finally, it imposes longer maximum sentences for summary convictions, 18 months versus 6 months, and for indictable offences of property less than $5,000 it would increase to 10 years from 2 years.

Bill C-384 provides an opportunity for all four political parties to stand together and provide leadership in Canada against mischief that is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate against certain groups.

I am very proud to be a part of a government that is dealing with such a complex issue. Certainly there is much more we can all do as individuals and as communities to combat racism in our country and our communities, but I hope all members will commit to continuing to work together to ensure all Canadians have a justice system that reflects our values as a nation.

I will conclude by again congratulating the member opposite, the member of the Bloc Québécois, who I did get to meet, as I mentioned before, when I introduced my private member's bill, Bill C-299. She was very effective at the justice committee in terms of posing questions and understanding the intent of the bill that I wanted and helpful in proposing amendments to improve that legislation. I certainly give her the same respect and I share her concerns with respect to attacks on institutions and her desire to prevent such attacks in the future. I commend her for bringing this legislation forward.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must first say that it is with humility that I speak today in support of Bill C-384, an act to amend the Criminal Code in relation to mischief against an educational or other institution. In our pluralistic and increasingly global society, where people of different ethnicities, cultures and races can eat, play and share space—sometimes getting married, thank goodness—sometimes acts of mischief are committed against institutions and symbols associated with a given ethnocultural community.

That is why, as I support Bill C-384—because I think it is important to create laws and other preventive measures that protect our cultural and other institutions—I believe that we should also put mechanisms in place to instill in children, from a young age, respect for public and private property, no matter who owns it. I will come back to that point later on.

I will not dwell on the criminal acts that caused my Bloc Québécois colleague to introduce this bill, because other members from all of the parties have listed these crimes in detail.

In my own constituency of Laval—Les Îles, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic graffiti was painted on the walls of a synagogue.

However, we are not just talking about the Jewish community. All of the minority communities in Canada are affected, or risk being affected, by this scourge.

I had an opportunity in 2007 to listen to people in my riding and in many communities across Canada tell their stories about violence against places of worship when the Liberal task force on cultural communities at risk travelled the country.

What is surprising is how determined these communities are to rebuild. Although they are disappointed, there is very little anger, and they have come to accept that hate crimes are a fact of life, regardless of where in the world a person lives. I say this because that is what struck me at these meetings. It is no doubt a result of the increasing number of violent attacks in the world, including the horror of September 11.

Our task force learned that acts of vandalism have increased since September 11. The 2007 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents shows that acts of vandalism increased by 11.4%, an increase of 15.8% for the year. To put this in perspective, I would like to read the comments of two witnesses, as reported in the July 12, 2007, edition of Laval News.

When Arthur Levy, of the Jewish community, spoke about his synagogue in my riding of Laval—Les Îles, he said:

However, to prevent vandalism, we can’t keep our doors locked; we have people coming in and out of the building throughout the day. To turn ourselves into a fortress defeats the purpose of who we are.

When Jeevat Jot Singh, a member of the Sikh community, spoke about his Sikh temple, he explained that cutting off cultural communities only leads to cultural ghettoization. He said:

Increasing security around our premises is not the way to go, it only leads to closing ourselves off to the rest of the community.

Finally, members of the Muslim community told the task force that the media also had a hand in the negative image of Muslims. They stated:

Very often, what we’ve seen is that ‘mediacized’ events have a direct impact on heinous hate crimes.

Mourad Ghazali told this to the task force:

However, when the opportunity arises to show Muslims in a positive manner, the media is usually indifferent.

Nabiha El-Wafai, assistant principal of Les jeunes musulmans canadiens school in Saint-Laurent, explained that she organized an open house event after an individual broke windows at the school last January; others have already mentioned this unfortunate incident.

She said that she invited the media—to promote awareness of the Muslim community within the Quebec and Canadian community—but almost no one attended. She added that the media are quick to respond when it comes to writing articles on negative events, but when it is something positive, no one comes to see what is going on, and that encourages ignorance.

In a pluralistic democracy, such as Canada, we cannot afford and we should not accept having citizens live in fear, resigned to the fact their communities could become cultural ghettos through forced insulation of themselves and their families. This is not what integration is about, not in the province of Quebec or in Vancouver, or anywhere else in the country. We are building one society where groups of various ethnic, religious or political backgrounds will live in harmony and respect each other's cultural traditions and symbols while being proud of their Canadian identity and heritage through their Canadian born children.

While this legislation calls for harsher measures, such as increased prison stays and even stiffer fines for those who deface public and private property, my concern is that this will not solve the problems of ongoing hatred against identifiable groups that result in acts of violence against these groups and their institutions, regardless of what they may be.

May I remind the House that in Canada we have not witnessed an end to violence against women or to their inequality, nor have we witnessed an end to murders. When we look at the profile of those people who commit crimes, we see poverty, deprivation and the lack of available services for drug rehabilitation. We should note that the government has cancelled its financial support for safe injection sites in Vancouver, even though it has been shown that these sites have contributed to the decrease in the virus that causes AIDS and that there has been an increase in the number of people seeking help for their drug dependencies.

One may wonder what Vancouver's crime rate has to do with crime rates against minorities. It is because these people will attack anything that is a symbol of governance, institutions, organizations and groups that appear to be succeeding or thriving in some way. Sometimes hate based on race may not be the underlying motive but poverty and anger against the very institutions that are supposed to educate, protect and care for our citizens.

I would like to suggest, as this bill is discussed in committee, that amendments be made to reflect not just increased sentences but measures that will educate those who cause misery in the lives of identifiable groups.

In Brazil, for example, its 1998 environmental crime legislation, the so-called restricting rights penalties, says that alternative penalties must be at their disposal instead of prison sentences. Judges now have this tool at their disposal to deal both with the culprit and the environmental damage they have caused. For example, a guilty person could be made to do community service, other unpaid work in parks, public gardens or other protected areas, or made to repay the institutions they have victimized. If it was a business person, they could see their rights restricted through exclusion of contracts or other tax incentives. These are among several of the alternatives to imprisonment.

In the case of Canada, we could see the individual carrying out community work for the institutions that have been affected; being educated about the customs and traditions of the affected groups and even participating in their daily lives; and, they could be obliged to make restitution and participate in the rebuilding and renovating of the destroyed properties. In this way, creating multiple close contacts between an individual and the group the person has wronged is the equivalent to building bridges, understanding and respecting cultures.

I support the intent of this bill. I hope we can get the bill into committee as soon as possible for further study.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also rise in support of Bill C-384. We as a party, and I as an individual member of the House, support the rationale behind Bill C-384, which is that Canadians will not tolerate acts motivated by bias, prejudice or hatred.

Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, proposes to amend the Criminal Code by adding a new offence to the existing mischief provisions.

The proposed amendment would make it a specific offence with increased penalties when the mischief is committed against an educational or recreational property, institution or object associated with an institution that is used exclusively or principally by a group identified by colour, race, religion or national or ethnic origin, as well as sexual orientation. The new provision would apply if it could be established that the perpetrator's mischievous act was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.

When such a hateful event does occur, we need to ensure we have all the tools in place so that our criminal justice system responds in the way that is most appropriate to the circumstances. It is important to have strong Criminal Code provisions. Bill C-384 would add to the existing provisions and respond to harms that affect the foundations of our Canadian society.

As Canada becomes an increasingly diverse population, with peoples arriving here from around the world, it is incredibly important that we maintain the civic traditions our society is based on. I note that over the last number of years Statistics Canada has released data which establishes that one in six Canadians is an identifiable minority and shows that the number is going to increase in the coming decades, such that we could quite quickly see a country where one in four, and possibly even one in three, will be an identifiable visible minority.

In the context of a country that is rapidly changing and whose demographics are rapidly changing due to our high rates of immigration, it is incredibly important that we preserve the traditions on which this country and our society are based.

A key element of that tradition is ensuring that new Canadians integrate into Canadian society and that they integrate economically and socially. That certainly is one part of the equation, but the other part of the equation is ensuring that Canadians as individuals are protected under the law, that they are treated as citizens who are equal to every other citizen in the land, whether their families have been here for hundreds and hundreds of years or whether they have recently arrived.

I think the bill strengthens that second part of our society, the second part of the foundation of our society, which is to ensure that acts of intolerance and hatred perpetrated toward educational institutions and identifiable objects that these groups have erected simply will not be tolerated in this country. I think this bill will send a clear message to that effect and will also equip the criminal justice system with the tools it needs to ensure greater protection of minority groups.

It is incredibly important for all parties to work together in the House to take a unified stand against this sort of intolerance in Canada. I can commit to the House, as do the rest of the members of my party, the Conservative Party, that we will work together to ensure that all Canadians have a justice system that reflects our values as a nation.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

There being no further debate, the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant has five minutes for her right to reply.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have introduced Bill C-384. I would like to thank all of my colleagues, especially those from the Bloc Québécois, including the members for Terrebonne—Blainville, Shefford and Hochelaga, as well as all of the members who spoke in support of this bill in this House.

I particularly appreciated the speeches from the members for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and Outremont. Their comments showed me that they understood the goal and the importance of my bill. That is why, once again, I want to sincerely thank all of the members who spoke about this bill in this House.

That said, I would like to remind the House that Bill C-384 would amend the Criminal Code to create a new offence and clearly prohibit any hate-motivated mischief against an identifiable group at an educational institution. As I mentioned in my last speech, more and more violent acts are being committed at schools, educational institutions and community centres.

These events often make the news and are decried by the affected communities. In response to their requests, it seemed necessary to me to create an additional offence to deal specifically with mischief in relation to certain categories of buildings used or occupied by these identifiable groups.

Bill C-384 is a first attempt at responding to the need for protection of these communities. That is why I carefully noted my colleagues' suggestions made in the speeches we just heard. I am referring to the suggestion by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine to have the bill include hate crimes committed against official language minorities as well the proposal made this evening by my Liberal colleagues to expand the groups covered by including those listed in section 718.2. These ideas should be studied in committee and my colleagues can be assured of my complete cooperation in this regard.

In listening to my colleagues, I am reassured that visible minorities can count on the unwavering support not only of the Bloc Québécois but also of the members of other parties for the legislative progress of Bill C-384 .

As I was saying, this bill is not the result of isolated incidents. It is the result of a clear request from visible groups to meet a specific need—the protection of educational institutions. It would afford these institutions the same protection against hate crimes extended to religious institutions.

A number of communities have already expressed their deep gratitude for this bill. I thank them for their support. I am talking about the aboriginal people of Maniwaki, whose cultural centre was the target of racist and anti-French graffiti; the Black Coalition, which represents a community greatly affected by hate crimes; Muslims, who had a school targeted by hate crimes in 2007; homosexuals, who are still victims of acts of malice; and so on. Many other groups have supported this bill.

They are an eloquent example of why Bill C-384 is necessary and how it speaks to a wide range of communities in Quebec and Canada. I repeat that they will always be heard by the Bloc Québécois members, because my party has often been a staunch promoter and defender of human rights.

In short, Bill C-384 is a step forward; it is unequivocal proof that we as parliamentarians are concerned about human rights. Even if there is a great tradition of peace, respect and tolerance in our communities, together we can take concrete action to fully protect human dignity.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.