House of Commons Hansard #7 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was speech.

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Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas will have five minutes left to finish his speech the next time this motion is before the House.

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.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

March 11th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON

moved that Bill C-473, An Act to protect insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance for future generations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in support of my bill, Bill C-473, which focuses on the protection of military medals, orders and decorations awarded to Canadians who have selflessly put themselves in harm's way in the defence of Canada.

Generations of Canadian veterans, through their courage, determination and sacrifice, have helped ensure that we live in a free country and have aided in spreading peace and security throughout the world. The tabling of Bill C-473 allows us to reflect upon the importance of Canada's military heritage and the role of government and federal institutions in preserving it.

On any given day, approximately 8,000 Canadian Forces personnel are preparing for, engaging in or returning from an overseas mission. They follow in the footsteps of Canadians who, for more than 200 years, have answered the call and sacrificed all they knew, all the comforts, love and safety of home, in order to defend the freedom of others. The efforts and sacrifices of Canada's armed forces throughout history, and as we speak, must not be forgotten. They must be remembered and honoured as an integral part of our country's heritage.

Bill C-473 recognizes their importance and the importance of the honours and awards given to them in recognition of their sacrifice, and this government recognizes the need to protect our heritage, including our military heritage. Certain medals and other honours are already protected through legislation. More than 30 years ago, at a time when World War II and the Korean war were still fresh in our memories, the Government of Canada responded to the need to protect Canada's heritage by introducing the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. This act seeks a balance between the need to protect the nation's heritage and the property rights of private owners. The same approach underlies Bill C-473.

The Cultural Property Export and Import Act includes, among other elements, a system of cultural property export control, which requires export permits for a range of cultural property, including medals. This existing act is an important tool in helping to keep objects of outstanding significance and national importance in the country.

Let me explain how this works in relation to historic medals, to set Bill C-473 in the broader context of heritage protection.

Regulations under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act specify categories of objects which require a permit to leave Canada for any reason, temporarily or permanently. Military medals, orders and decorations are of course included, but like other protected objects, they must be at least 50 years old. Export permits are refused for objects that are deemed to be of outstanding significance and national importance.

That refusal may be appealed to the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board. On appeal, the board may create a delay period of up to six months to allow Canadian cultural institutions the opportunity to purchase the object in question so that it may remain in Canada. During the delay period, a program of grants is available from the Department of Canadian Heritage to assist institutions in purchasing these national treasures.

Bill C-473 would provide a similar opportunity by requiring owners to offer the Government of Canada, including the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum, a right of first refusal before transferring certain medals, orders and decorations to a non-resident. Therefore, we have effective legislation and financial support.

Legislation and regulation are one tool when owners want to sell medals outside the country, but the government also wants to encourage Canadians to donate their medals to museums where they can be preserved for future generations. Under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, a system of special tax incentives exists to provide further encouragement for owners to donate outstanding historical medals to Canadian institutions. The regular charitable tax regime also provides incentives to donate other medals to museums.

However, more is needed, and this is what Bill C-473 would do. It recognizes that recent military honours, unlike historic medals, orders, and declarations, are not controlled for export. They may be freely sold and taken out of the country, out of the reach of Canadians and their public museums.

When I tabled Bill C-473, I indicated that my objective was to keep important military medals, orders and decorations in Canada. That is also the government's long-held objective.

Bill C-473 would also balance the rights of individual owners of these military honours with the desire to protect them for the public. That is also the long-held public policy of the government, as evidenced in the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.

Historic medals, decorations, or other honours have been well served by the existing act. Recent examples demonstrate this. Through the export controls, grant system and tax provisions of the act, the Victoria Cross of John MacGregor was acquired by the Canadian War Museum for the benefit of all Canadians.

It is through this effective legislation that the Government of Canada acted to ensure that Fred Topham's Victoria Cross was not lost to Canada. The act also enabled the government to take measures to ensure that the medals of Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt and Sergeant William Merrifield were retained in a public institution in Canada.

It is time for our modern medals to receive the same protection accorded to our historic medals, and that is what Bill C-473 seeks to achieve. Bill C-473 recognizes the important role played by federal museums as custodians of our military heritage. The Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum, together with other museums across the country, including the Canadian Forces museums, take on the task of preserving our military heritage.

In my riding of Perth—Wellington, local historians and small museums are playing an enormous part in maintaining the proud record of Canadian military achievements. There have been efforts made by people like Dave Thomson of St. George, Ontario, Philip Fowler and Dave Gazelle, who, on behalf of a group of Stratford citizens, have purchased several medals won by residents of Perth County and returned these to the Stratford Perth Museum, with the help of its director Linda Carter.

Over the past two years the following medals have been saved and donated to the museum, where they will be forever protected: Sergeant Lorne Wesley Brothers, World War I British War Medal; Private George Grimditch, World War I Service Medal and Victory Medal; Lieutenant William Warren Davidson, World War I British War Medal and Victory Medal; Private Douglas Thomas Hamilton, World War I Silver Cross; Private George Buckingham, World War I Service Medal; and Private Alexander Connolly, World War I British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Canada's military history collections are part of the heritage of all Canadians. In some respect, they matter most to those who have grown up in the peaceful aftermath of war, and to those who have adopted Canada as a home free from the tragedies of other lands.

The story of our military past is understood and made meaningful to Canadians, many of whom have no direct experience of war or the part played by conflict in our history.

Museums, of course, are much more than collections of objects, but with artifacts as material evidence, they illuminate and document our history. Military museums are unique in their commemorative role and they are uniquely placed as repositories of important objects, such as medals, orders and decorations, that tell the story of the sacrifices of Canadians.

This government has recognized the importance of preserving our military heritage, both through legislation and the establishment of museums.

Bill C-473 speaks of the importance of our military heritage as well as fills an important gap by focusing on Canada's modern military honours.

Bill C-473 would ensure that federal museums would be given the opportunity to acquire and protect modern military medals, orders and decorations, which are no less deserving than those given 50 or 100 years ago to brave Canadians.

For the spirit of a country and the courage of its people, I am pleased to support Bill C-473 and urge all members to do so, too.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill sounds very good in terms of its intent. However, there are some issues that some members have raised, which I think the member may be able to help us clarify.

First, on the position of the museums, they would get right of first refusal, but the issue is that if museums do not have the money to purchase the medals, then we have a problem.

The second issue is about donations. Clearly the family members have some ranking as well because they may want to keep them in the family. Eventually there will not be anybody to donate or give them to. They do have some value.

First, could the member help members understand what the implications are vis-à-vis the museums? Second is ultimately to keep things in Canada, but allow them to be sold within Canada. Would that be prohibited?

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the existing act allows those members who own those medals to pass them on to their family, to next of kin. At the same time, the act provides special funding to museums to purchase these medals at true market value, so that would not have to be added.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to our colleague's speech. Upon reading this bill, I realized that there is an omission. The definition of near relative includes parents, brothers, sisters or grandparents of the insignia's owner. The bill makes no mention of the spouse. Why can an insignia not be transferred to a spouse?

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that a spouse is next of kin. I think it says next of kin, including those particular people, brothers, sisters, et cetera. To my knowledge, if the veteran was a male who passed away, his next of kin would be his spouse and vice versa. I do not think that would be a problem.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, generally speaking, I think the NDP likes Bill C-473. We will hear from the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who has a lot of knowledge about this whole area.

In general, we feel that medals should not be a currency. They should end up in museums and not be handled as commercial transactions.

Does the member have the support of the Canadian legion for the bill?

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, at this particular time, the legion does not support the bill. The Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada Association do. I am not sure whether the legion supported the previous bill.

The medals belong to the recipients and the next of kin. It has been the practice that they can do what they want with them. What this does is it gives us first right of refusal, as government, to ensure that those medals, which are so dear to our hearts and to our heritage, are kept in the country.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard from my friend's speech that the point of this bill appears to be to keep the medals in Canada. As a general theory, I support that, but I want to point out a couple of factors in the bill.

Clause 3(2)(a) and (b) states in terms of what the prohibition is, that it “does not apply to the transfer of an insignia to a near relative of the owner of the insignia”. Obviously that person could reside outside Canada. If the goal of the bill is to keep these various medals inside Canada, the bill does not do it entirely. Paragraph (b) refers to “an heir of the owner of the insignia upon the death of the owner”. The heir obviously could live outside Canada. If once again the point is to keep the medals inside Canada, the member needs to do something different.

Another point is, how is this going to be enforced? Perhaps it could be put on a customs declaration form when people are entering or leaving the country. Something has to be thought out. If the member wants the bill to do something, it has to have some mechanism.

In terms of the general concept, I support the bill. I have no problem with it. My particular problem is that we are here discussing the medals of veterans and not the veterans themselves. The hon. member has indicated previously that he sees this as an opportunity “to honour our veterans and support our troops”. While I like the goal, the bill does not do that.

I would like to review the various multiple failings of the government in terms of veterans. He has brought a bill forward in terms of veterans and that is what we should be discussing, how we are helping veterans, rather than focusing on the medals.

The one remaining national hospital is Ste. Anne's Hospital in Quebec. Last fall the Conservatives announced that they were considering transferring it to the province of Quebec. The issue is not whether it should or should not be transferred. The issue is where the treatment is going to be provided and who is going to take care of these various veterans.

Veterans are aging and will require long-term care and beds. Where is that going to come from? Veterans will be coming back from Afghanistan with serious issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Where are they going to find treatment? Who is going to take care of them?

There needs to be a national strategy for that. When I hear that the Conservatives are simply going to transfer the last remaining hospital in theory to Quebec, I want to know the practical effect of that. That issue has not been addressed.

That particular transfer has been opposed by 57 different veterans groups, comprised of the National Council of Veteran Associations.

Members of the regular forces who are coming back have significant problems in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder. They rely upon Ste. Anne's Hospital to get their treatment.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have reviewed the bill and I believe that the speech being delivered by the hon. member has nothing to do with it.

I would ask the Chair to call the member to order insofar as his remarks are not pertinent to the matter on the floor.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I just remind the member of the rules of relevance and to ensure that he keeps his remarks as close as possible to the private member's bill before the House.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps we should look at the bill and see what it talks about because it refers to veterans. I do not know how it could be possibly argued that this bill does not deal with veterans. If my friend wants to interrupt, that is fine, but I do not think his point is a valid one.

In terms of these issues with respect to veterans, homelessness is a severe problem. The veterans ombudsman, Patrick Strogan, last year took the Conservatives to task for not doing enough about homeless veterans. Since then nothing has been done.

Veterans advocate Claudia Schibler of the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman indicated that the mandate and authority of the veterans ombudsman is very weak. She complained about it and nothing has been done. As well, the veterans advocate has indicated that the department is spending more and more money in terms of discounting and denying veterans' claims than it is in actually helping them.

In terms of the department's budget, I would like to know from my friend in terms of the bill why the Department of Veterans Affairs is returning so many millions of dollars to the Department of Finance when the money could be used on behalf of veterans.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. I know the hon. member may be bringing his remarks close to the bill. I will just read the title of the bill again. This is Bill C-473, An Act to protect insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance for future generations. While it may have something to do with veterans in an abstract way, it is very specifically aimed at insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance.

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has made a point of relevance. I would encourage the member for Brampton to speak to the substance of the bill at second reading.

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about the medals and insignia of veterans, I presume, because that is who gets them. We are talking about veterans having to sell those very medals and insignia to get money.

They have to sell their medals and insignia to get money because they find themselves in dire circumstances. They find themselves in dire circumstances because they are not receiving income from the government. They require medical assistance because of various disorders they get from fighting in combat. When they come back to Canada, they cannot afford to pay for the treatment on their own. They are not getting help from the veterans department, so they then have to consider selling their medals and insignia.

Some veterans are homeless. There is a Calgary shelter that has over 40 veterans. I would like to know why they would have to sell their medals and insignia to try to find some place to live rather than being able to keep them and not having to sell them to other institutions.

I would like to know why the Conservative government's promise in terms of compensating victims of agent orange and holding a public inquiry has not taken place yet. Perhaps if that had taken place, the veterans would have money and they would not have to consider selling their medals and insignia.

I would like to know why the Conservatives' promise to extend the home care program for all widows and veterans has not yet taken place. If that had taken place, perhaps they would not have to consider selling their medals and insignia.

I would like to know why the Conservatives' promise to resolve the clawback of service income security insurance plan pensions for disabled veterans has been broken and not been taken care of. Perhaps if it had been and they had more money, they would not have to worry about selling their medals and insignia—

Protection of Insignia of Military Orders, Decorations and Medals Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. With the greatest of respect to the hon. member, this narrative is completely beyond the bounds of relevance to the topic at hand. I would encourage the Chair to please get the member back on topic. Mr. Speaker, you may want to consider moving on in the debate. Again, with the greatest of respect, these points may be heartfelt but they are just not on topic.