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.

Topics

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

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

There is only one minute left for the member's remarks. While I understand that he has tried to make a link between the topic he was focusing on and the substance of the bill, there is only a minute left. The Chair does give some latitude at second reading on bills, but a number of points regarding relevance have been raised.

If the member could conclude his remarks by staying as close as possible to the substance of the bill, the Chair would appreciate it.

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

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is quite correct that this particular hour is a non-partisan hour. I think it should be very non-partisan that veterans deserve better. They should be helped and should not be put in a situation where they have to consider selling their medals and insignia.

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

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very interested in rising today on Bill C-473, An Act to protect insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance for future generations.

I must say it is surprising to see the Conservatives taking an interest in the cultural aspect. They are often much more interested in the military angle. However, as the Bloc critic for veterans’ affairs, I would like to thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for introducing this bill.

As its title indicates, the purpose of Bill C-473 is to protect Canadian military medals and insignia of orders that are culturally significant to Canada. The word culture here obviously has a historic meaning. The cultural importance of a decoration is determined by the regulations.

In order to keep these decorations in Canada, the bill we are studying today would impose restrictions on the transfer of insignia of military orders, decorations and medals. It would be prohibited to transfer culturally significant insignia to a non-resident, that is to say, someone who is neither a citizen nor a permanent resident of Canada.

The bill would, however, allow anyone who so desired to transfer a decoration provided that they have first tried to sell it at its fair market value to the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization or the Department of Canadian Heritage, in other words the Government of Canada. If the government refuses to purchase it and provides written confirmation to this effect or has not accepted the offer within 120 days after receiving it, the person may then transfer the decoration to a non-resident.

It is important to emphasize that the bill introduced by the hon. member for Perth—Wellington states that all these restrictions do not apply to the transfer of a decoration to a near relative, that is to say, to parents, children, brothers, sisters, and grandparents or to an heir.

Finally, the bill stipulates that if a Canadian transfers a decoration considered “cultural property” in violation of the provisions I just mentioned, that person is committing an offence punishable by a fine in an amount that does not exceed five times the market value of the insignia. It might be interesting to see how owners of insignia or medals can be informed about the new provisions in this bill. We will have to find ways to inform people.

The Bloc Québécois has analyzed Bill C-473 thoroughly and has decided to support it in principle so that it can be studied in committee. That will give us an opportunity to hear from witnesses and examine various aspects of the bill in greater depth.

I think it is important to emphasize, as I pointed out in one of my earlier questions, that this bill is flawed. We agree with the principle that near relatives should be exempt from the restrictions set out in the bill. However, I think that spouses should be included as well. We will definitely be proposing some amendments to this bill in committee.

As I said before, the definition of “near relative” includes parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents of the owner of the insignia, but does not include spouses. I think that should be specified. We find it unacceptable to exclude spouses from the bill. That will have to be corrected.

Overall, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-473 in principle because its purpose is to preserve our heritage.

The bill before us today focuses on military history and the insignia, orders, decorations and medals awarded by the country to recognize the merit and actions of Quebec and Canadian military personnel.

In bestowing these decorations, a country recognizes the sacrifices and achievements of those who have served the cause of peace and freedom throughout the world over the years.

It is important to acknowledge the devotion of the men and women who have fought in various conflicts. Everyone here knows that our military personnel work hard and overcome many challenges. Many sustain serious injury, and some die.

Without hesitation, they accept the most dangerous missions with humility, determination and courage. We have an obligation to recognize and support these soldiers.

As I said earlier, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill. We believe that all governments can and must do what they can to preserve the cultures and histories of the peoples under their authority. Military history and recognition of the dedication of the men and women in uniform are important parts of the history of a people or a state.

The federal government must do what it can to preserve this history whenever possible. I am thinking, for instance, of the work being done by the Canadian War Museum, which we appreciate.

That said, I must point out that this bill introduced by the Conservative member aims to protect a cultural asset that is military in nature.

That is all well and good, but it is not enough, because when the time comes to protect Quebec culture, we see less action and there are fewer bills introduced in the House. We are more likely to see cuts to culture.

Remember that in August 2008, seven federal assistance programs for the cultural sector were abolished, including the arts promotion program—PromArt—in the foreign affairs department, the Trade Routes program, as well as other programs totalling $23 million.

I am not off topic as there is a cultural component to this bill.

More recently, in the 2010 budget, the Conservative government did not provide any direct assistance to artists and creators of cultural assets. There is no direct assistance for artists, no funding for tours, no increase in assistance for filmmaking. In short, it is unacceptable that no new cultural measures were introduced other than this bill.

Are we to surmise that, for the Conservative government, the only things that qualify as cultural assets are medals and Olympic Games souvenirs? Their actions since coming into power indicate as much.

The Conservatives wish to prove that they want to preserve military history. Although we support this praiseworthy initiative, the Bloc Québécois urges them to do much more to support the cultural sector.

The Bloc Québécois believes that supporting the cultural sector will help Quebec emerge from this economic crisis. For that reason, we must reinvest in this sector and inject $300 million starting this year.

I will close by stating that the Bloc Québécois supports in principle Bill C-473, which will protect military cultural artifacts, so that it can be studied in committee. We believe that all governments can and must do what is necessary to preserve the culture and history of its peoples.

We support the bill to protect one form of military culture. However, we insist that this government invest more in the protection and promotion of the culture of Quebec, a distinct nation and people.

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

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for bringing this significant debate before the House of Commons. That is the luck of the private members' lottery. It is his turn, and rightfully so.

I want to start by reading the summary of Bill C-473. It states:

This enactment places restrictions on the transfer of insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance to persons who are not residents of Canada.

That is more or less the summary.

I also have a private member's bill in the House of Commons, Bill C-208, that is not entirely similar but very close to Bill C-473. Its summary states:

This enactment prohibits the sale or export for sale of any medal awarded by the Government of Canada in respect of service with the Canadian Forces or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or in respect of service as a police officer outside Canada on behalf of the Government of Canada.

I would like to say at the outset that we in the New Democratic Party will be supporting the legislation through the committee process. During the committee process, we will be asking certain questions of witnesses to see if we can not only improve the intent of the legislation but also, and I will be honest here, to see if I can piggyback some of my legislation on this bill and maybe the two of us together could produce a really good bill.

When anyone goes to a legion hall, ANAVETS hall, or any hall where the military, RCMP and veterans meet, debate is stirred up about medals. As we know, many of us have been lobbied for a new cold war medal. We recently had the Wound Stripe changed to the Sacrifice Medal. The government did a very good thing with that.

Medals represent a significant achievement of a person who has served his or her country, be it RCMP or military, past or present. The families of those who have passed on have the medals, usually in shadow boxes with pictures and stories of the recipients. It is quite significant that they are able to retell the stories of the brave Canadians who served their country so well.

There is one concern I have with the bill, and I have already spoken to the hon. member about it and we will have further discussions on it. For many years I have told people that the medals hanging on their chests are not currency. When someone receives his or her CD, Victoria Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross or whatever significant medal they receive, including the Afghan Star many soldiers are now receiving, these medals the government has given them are not currency. The government did not say, “Thank you for your service, here is some money”. The medals' significance is to show others, when the recipients wear them in public, on parade or wherever, that they have served their country and what particular theatres of war or conflict they have served in.

We see many young people in their late 20s or early 30s with four or five campaign medals already, because they have served many tours overseas in various conflicts, either Bosnia, Suez, Turkey, Haiti, Afghanistan, et cetera, including our World War II and Korean veterans, of course, and all the medals they wear.

They are extremely proud to wear those medals. In fact, they wear those medals for pride, devotion, loyalty and dignity. Nonetheless, when I speak to veterans, service personnel and RCMP across the country, the number one reason they wear the medals is that there are 118,000 Canadians who served their country and never had the chance to wear theirs because they paid the ultimate sacrifice. That is the significance of these medals.

I have a personal belief that these medals should never be turned into currency. They do not have to be commodified. Do we have to put everything we have in this country under a mercantile system?

Because that I have argued this with certain bureaucrats and ministers in previous governments, I understand that it would be very difficult to enact legislation to stop people from selling medals. It would be very difficult because of private property laws. I agree with some of that argument, but surely we can do something that replaces money when it comes to these medals.

Some people have asked me what happens if somebody has to sell their medals for food or prescription drugs. I have only been around here since 1997, not as long as some colleagues, but I have yet to meet one veteran, one RCMP officer, who has come to me and said very clearly, “I have to sell my medals for food”.

I have said publicly that if there are veterans out there right now who feel they have to do that, give us a call. I know members of Parliament would immediately be there to help them on that. I am sure of that. There is not one member from any party who would not help that person out.

There have been situations recently involving the great Tommy Prince. There will be a movie about him. In his unfortunate state of mind, when he was in a desperate situation, he sold his medals. They got around the system and eventually they got back to their rightful owners.

Those who are computer literate could go on eBay right now and see all kinds of medals for sale. However, the people selling those medals did not earn those medals. They were not awarded those medals. They somehow got hold of them. Either the families sold them off or they found them. A while ago I worked with a guy named Dave Thomson from Ontario. A guy came in, posing as a real estate agent, and stole his medals to try to sell them, which is very cruel.

We just simply do not believe these medals should have a cash value. It is not currency veterans have hanging from their chests. That is our opinion, and we look forward to the debate and to get it to committee. It is very important this legislation gets to the committee where we can have sober, rational thought, bringing in witnesses from various organizations, various individuals, various bureaucrats from departments and ministries or whoever, so we can have a thoughtful, reasonable debate about how we protect the cultural significance of these medals.

There are two schools of thought. Inverness High School in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, has a massive hallway with cabinets. Inside those cabinets are shadow boxes, pictures, stories and medals of all kinds of veterans who have passed on, those who served in the Boer War, World War I, World War II, et cetera, and the families have donated the medals to the school. The kids walk by that hallway all the time. They grow up knowing the significance of their forefathers and mothers and the service they provided, not just to their community in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, but their country. Yarmouth High School does the exact same thing.

There are many places to donate these medals for people who no longer wish to have them, or the children do not want them or for whatever reasons, not only museums, but chambers of commerce, churches and community halls. Our MPs would be honoured to hold these as well. I am sure many members of Parliament would volunteer to hold them in their offices. When they leave office, either voluntary or involuntary, they can pass them on to the next member of Parliament.

These medals should not be in a cupboard, or in a drawer, or on a flea market table, or at a garage sale, or on eBay or on Kijiji. They should be out there for everybody to see. That is why it is critical and we are very pleased that the member for Perth—Wellington has brought this issue forth.

I would ask if the member would accept a friendly amendment, not at this stage but when we get into the debate, to also include the medals of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. As we know, many police officers serve overseas and they also received these various medals. We believe the RCMP should be treated in a very similar fashion to the veterans when it comes to these particularly significant cultural items of Canada.

If I am not mistaken, 96 Victoria Crosses have been awarded to Canadians overall. Just recently we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the William Hall V.C. He was an African Nova Scotian who, in 1850 received his Victoria Cross. He was the first sailor. He served three countries in four wars and was awarded the Victoria Cross. We honoured that memory at the Black Cultural Centre in Preston, Nova Scotia the other day.

We thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for bringing this significant discussion to the floor. We, like the Bloc Québécois, will support sending it to committee. We hope, with further amendments, we will be able to proceed with this debate in a very friendly and cautious manner.

We salute all the veterans and thank them for their service.

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

6:15 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in support of Bill C-473 that has been brought forward by my colleague, the member of Parliament for Perth—Wellington, and chair of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Once again, a fine and outstanding member of Parliament.

This bill has a very noble premise. It is about preserving our heritage. It also respects our veterans who have earned these medals.

We heard an intervention a little while ago from the Liberal member for Brampton West that was unbecoming of this debate. I do not think it was on the topic of this bill, and in fact it unfortunately did not reflect the true history of the Liberal Party when it comes to our veterans. The Liberals may want to rewrite history but I do not think veterans will forget.

We often talk about Liberal cuts to things such as health care and education, with the $53 surplus that it ran in EI, without passing those benefits on to workers. We talk about those things, but one of the things that it cut in the nineties that is often not talked about are benefits and supports for veterans.

The member should look into that before he comes out and starts a partisan rant against this government, a government that has extended VIP benefits to thousands and thousands of veterans that the Liberal Party would not extend them to, a government that has re-extended veterans benefits to Allied veterans, something that the Liberal Party took away in the 1990s, a government that has extended pension income splitting to all seniors, among them certainly veterans, something that the Liberal Party would never extend.

We have a convention around bills such as this in private members' hour where we do not go on these partisan rants and we talk about the benefits to Canadians. On a bill that is noble, as this one is, interventions brought forward by the member for Brampton West are unbecoming. That said, I am going to set that aside and I am going to speak to the bill.

As I said, I am supporting and I believe all good members should support Bill C-473, and the steps it proposes to increase the protection of Canada's heritage.

Heritage means many things to Canadians: our geography and strong attachment to the land; our personal, family and linguistic traditions; the material and tangible evidence of human activity and creativity over thousands of years. Collectively, these various dimensions make up the heritage legacy we have inherited and will bequeath to future generations.

Heritage includes the stories attached to collections, places and communities. Objects can become Canadian icons and symbols. Through our heritage we can experience our underlying values. Through our heritage we strengthen our pride and confidence as a nation. Through our heritage we draw inspiration. We can acknowledge the contributions of successive generations.

Canada's military heritage is an important aspect of what brings us together as a nation, and Bill C-473 recognizes that.

Canadians value their heritage and they value the dedication, bravery and sacrifice of our armed forces. Over the years, individual citizens, veterans organizations and service clubs have established thousands of memorials across Canada to honour the members of our armed forces who have made great sacrifices in service of this country. They have done so to ensure that the stories survive and are honoured as part of the story of Canada forever.

This government understands how important these things are to Canadians and that is why in budget 2010, we announced the creation of the community war memorial program. This important new program will work with communities across the country to construct new cenotaphs and monuments that will honour those who served Canada. The program will provide $2 million to contribute a portion of the capital costs for these materials that provide the public with a tangible focus for their commemoration of the sacrifices of brave Canadian women and men.

We are recently reminded of those sacrifices with the passing of John Henry Babcock, the last surviving Canadian veteran of the first world war. This marks the end of an era.

This government has announced plans to recognize all Canadians and Newfoundlanders who served during the Great War, which was a defining moment in the building of our great nation. A national day of commemoration will take place on Vimy Ridge Day, April 9. It will honour and celebrate the contribution that Mr. Babcock's generation made to the cause of freedom and to the great debt that we all owe to all of them.

It is also worth noting that 2010 marks the centenary of the Royal Canadian Navy. This offers yet another way to honour the military service of Canadians. Celebration of this centennial in events nationwide this year will build public awareness and strengthen appreciation of the Canadian Navy and promote its role within Canada's armed forces.

Canadians will be able to recognize and celebrate the Canadian Naval Centennial by participating in events as diverse as major international fleet assemblies in Victoria and Halifax, the Rendez-Vous Naval event in Quebec City and a musical review by the Navy's bands that will tour more than 50 locations across the country.

It is because the government understands how important these things are to Canadians that Bill C-473 deserves the support of the House. Each time we hear about an important military decoration being sold to those who would potentially take it out of Canada forever, we see how important it is to Canadians that this aspect of their heritage remains in this country.

In 2004 a public fundraising campaign led by the veterans of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion raised more than $300,000 to prevent the sale of a Victoria Cross awarded to second world war medic Fred Topham to a foreign buyer. It was subsequently donated to the Canadian War Museum and we thank them for their efforts.

Canadians care passionately about honouring military medals and decorations, and the people and deeds they represent. Bill C-473 provides us with an opportunity to act to protect our Canadian heritage. Polling and survey results consistently show that Canadians value heritage as central to their sense of identity, their attachment to Canada, and the quality of their lives. Urban and rural communities mobilize hundreds of thousands of volunteers annually to cherish the places, stories, and objects that illustrate the spirit of the community and reflect our country's history.

In 2008, for example, volunteers contributed more than 35,000 hours in support of the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum alone, not to mention the thousands of others. The same research shows that Canadians believe that support for the protection of heritage should continue. Federal efforts to protect and ensure access to Canada's cultural heritage began with the creation of key federal institutions that have evolved into what we see today, such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum, whose role in protecting the nation's heritage is recognized by Bill C-473. These national institutions and other national military museums across the country are the custodians of countless historical military honours.

Since its inception more than a century ago, the national collection now held by the Canadian War Museum has developed into an internationally recognized collection of roughly half a million military-related objects that includes a significant number of historical medals and decorations including 30 of the 94 Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians. All together the collection of the Canadian War Museum represents the Canadian military experience and promotes public understanding of Canada's military history through exhibitions and public programs.

The Canadian War Museum and other military museums across Canada, including my own Peterborough Centennial Museum that also has a very significant number of medals, given the opportunity are willing and able to come forward and acquire important Canadian military medals and decorations. They understand how important it is that these testaments to the valour of Canadians be preserved for future generations in public collections in this country.

Bill C-473 acknowledges that our national museums are uniquely situated to honour and preserve the heritage legacy that military medals, honours and decorations represent. It proposes that in situations where a modern honour may be lost to Canada, owners must give a first right of refusal to the government and its institutions to acquire these objects for future generations.

I would just add in response to my colleague from the NDP who spoke quite eloquently, perhaps the potential conflict or disagreement that may extend from some of his comments are with respect to who actually owns the medals. When we talk about monetizing them, if we are truly giving them to the veterans for their service, it is very difficult for us to then walk in and somehow intervene in their value. We want to extend to them fair value for these medals if that is what they wish and we want to keep them right here in Canada to preserve our national heritage forever.

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

March 11th, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-473.

I listened with great interest to all the contributions of the speakers. I thought the Bloc member for Berthier—Maskinongé summed up the bill quite well. He and I were on a U.S.-Canada parliamentary trip to Washington a couple of weeks ago and had occasion to meet with many congress people and senators where we managed to get Canada's message across that we needed changes in some areas.

Tonight I follow my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who is very passionate about this subject. It is almost impossible to upstage him because he knows the subject so well. I do not think there is any better expert in the House on this whole area than the member. I sure hope he stays here. I read a story the other day that he might entertain the idea of running for mayor in a couple of years,. That would be a big loss and a big disappointment to members on all sides of the House because he adds so much to this chamber.

He did have some serious observations about this particular bill. He has his own bill, Bill C-208, which if he and the member opposite could somehow get together at committee on this issue, we could get the best of two bills, almost a perfect composition. There is a lot of room for compromise on both sides.

I do like the member's suggestion that these medals should not be viewed as currency. If the heirs of the person who earned the medal no longer require the medal, then it should really go to a Canadian museum. The member pointed out to me that the Order of Canada cannot be sold.

There has been some good solid thinking about this. I appreciate the member dealing with the bill in view of the property rights issue. An important part of the bill would make certain that these medals do not leave the country. The worry that we have is that if the medals are sold on eBay and become a commercial asset, that would in some ways defeat the purpose of the bill.

I personally feel that the special tax incentive in the bill has some merit, although I know my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore does not agree with that element of it either.

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

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

We will talk.

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

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

My colleague says that we will talk. I feel that somehow a tax credit situation is a different proposition than selling it to the highest bidder. However, like my colleague said, we will talk about this.

I went to considerable effort to dig up a lot of material on this subject and even went into the history of medals. I have so many pages here I really do not know where to start. I thought I might have 10 minutes to do this subject justice but I now know that I do not have a full 10 minutes.

Before I start explaining the history of the medals, I do want to point out that one of my sons, Kevin, is in the Canadian reserves. He is in the 735 Communication Regiment in the Minto Armoury in Winnipeg. As he is only 23 years old, he has not won any medals yet, but he has a very strong interest in this subject. The military certainly hands out a lot of certificates for courses and he has been taking a lot of courses and has brought home a lot of certificates.

If I do have time, and I see that you are nodding, Mr. Speaker, that I do not have a lot of time.

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

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member will have five minutes left to conclude his remarks the next time this bill is before the House.

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.

It being 6:30 p.m., this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 6:30 p.m.)