House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was grain.

Topics

National Flag of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-288, a bill brought forward by our new colleague from Don Valley West, who I commend for taking up an important issue and creating a very important dialogue in the chamber. I encourage members to support this bill. It is important and I will get into the substance of it in just a moment.

My colleague from Don Valley West is new to the chamber and has done a phenomenal job of bringing this issue to bear. I think all of us in this chamber recognize i the importance of our national symbols and what they mean to us and do for us. Our flag is a great symbol. It is a great expression of national unity and how we pull together. It is an expression of the values that we have in common, freedom, democracy, respecting the human rights of others and accepting that we are not ruled by the whim and dictates of an individual but we are all under the rule of law.

Those are very important values, which are not prevalent everywhere in the world, I might add, which is why a symbol, like our national flag, can become such an important point of hope for others. I am talking about others who seek to flee their own situations and come to a land of hope, such as the story of my biological mother and her oldest sister who left difficult economic conditions in eastern Europe in the late 1960s early 1970s to come to a place where there was economic hope and opportunity and the promise of starting a new life.

The flag also represents the hope and values that others wish to have in their own countries and hope to bring to their own countries some day. The flag is important because of its ability to inspire us. I am now in my eighth year as a member of Parliament, which is a great privilege, and every day when I leave this building I look up over my shoulder at the flag flying at the top of the Peace Tower and it never fails to take my breath away. It is a great thing.

I have to say that I am a little troubled by what I am hearing from the opposition with regard to this bill. The member for Jeanne-Le Ber questioned the government's priorities. First, this is a private member's bill, not a government bill. We should clarify the two right off the bat.

In terms of individual member's priorities, a bill that deals with the national flag of Canada and the right of every Canadian citizen to fly that flag is probably better than the bill introduced by the New Democrat member for Windsor West who wants to ensure that there is proper labelling for things that contain cat fur. In terms of the quantum of priorities, the right to fly a flag or to be notified if there is cat fur in a product, I know which priority I think is more important.

I have been told that the New Democrats do not see desecrating our flag as offensive. That troubles me. In fact, that disturbs me. This is not about a right to disassociate from flying the flag. This is about restoring the balance between those who are denied the right by those who are the elite seeking to deny them. That is what this bill hopes to address.

When I listen to Liberal members, I am troubled as well. This bill is not about pride. It is about being denied the free expression of that pride, which is incredibly important.

Listening to members' interventions brings up a curious oddity for me. Opposition members, be they New Democrats or Liberals, have no problem imposing fines and jail sentences on Canadians who do not fill out a long form census, but they will not support a bare minimum fine for someone who would urinate on the flag. That is desecrating the flag. It is in the bill. Apparently they have no problem with that, but sock it to the Canadian who does not fill out a long form census. I am astonished by that position. In fact, I am almost embarrassed that that position has been brought forward in the House, but it is their right. Notwithstanding that, I hope that members will come back to exactly what this legislation is about.

The member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor said that a motion should have been brought forward and not a bill. I will remind the member that a motion would not deal with the issues that may be uncomfortable for members to deal with, like the desecration of the flag.

We are challenged with a bill today. It is not a perfect bill but it is a good bill on balance. I accept that there could be some changes to this. However, it is a step in the right direction, which is why I felt it was necessary to both second it and speak in favour of it.

I hope all members, at bare minimum, will let this legislation get to committee and, if they want to make some changes to it that are within the scope of the bill, then let us go ahead and do that. Maybe the jail sentence is too much. Fair enough. Maybe it could be the bare minimum of a fine. However, there should be something to acknowledge that Canadians have the right to fly the flag and that right should be respected.

It should not be up to a homeowners association to decide that a veteran in my community in Lake Shore cannot fly a flag over his garage because others do not like the way it looks or it violates some rule of the homeowners association. That is bunk. The bill would remedy that situation. This issue has been in the newspapers back home and the homeowners association does not care about the bad press. It thinks it is still right. I say that it is not.

We need a bill like this. People who put their lives on the line for this flag deserve to have their right backed up and they deserve to have a Parliament that will stand behind them on that.

National Flag of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss Bill C-288. I want to begin by thanking the hon. member for Don Valley West for his speech and for what seems to be a commendable intention. I congratulate him. His speech was very respectful, unlike some other speeches I have heard recently in the House.

I would, however, like to talk about the flaws in the bill. We cannot really attack the intent of the bill, which is commendable. However, this is a bill that will add another clause to the Criminal Code. It is therefore a relatively serious issue and it deserves to be addressed.

The bill lists three main conditions with regard to the Canadian flag: that it be displayed in a manner befitting this national symbol, that it not be displayed for an improper purpose or use, and that it not be subjected to desecration. These are three important conditions for allowing a person to display a flag.

One of the main flaws is that there is absolutely no definition of what constitutes a manner befitting this national symbol. And what does it mean to display a flag for an improper purpose or use? Even the definition of desecration seems complex. I think we can all agree, but knowing the limits of the definition of desecration is not so obvious.

For example, much is being said about condos and homeowners' associations. We can also talk about people living in condos or rented houses who want to use a flag as a curtain. Is that an improper use of a flag? I think that if we are talking about a flag as a symbol that should be treated with respect, some people might take issue with that use. If a flag is used as a door or a curtain between two rooms, is that a proper use of the flag? Some reasonable people might not think so.

I think this bill is quite flawed in terms of how the use of the flag is defined. Although the hon. member for Don Valley West wants to ensure that this bill contributes positively to the discussion, I think it might complicate the discussion between members of homeowners' associations and condo associations.

Another aspect of this bill—making the offence in question a crime—has already been raised in this chamber. Once again, I definitely understand that the member for Don Valley West wants to improve dialogue and discussion about this matter. However, criminalizing something and taking sides in a dispute can cause problems. By passing this bill, the Government of Canada would be taking sides in any dispute involving a Canadian flag, and that would tip the balance in favour of one party over the other party, which might have legitimate objections in a dispute.

For that reason, I fully support the arguments of my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber, who said that this type of discussion should probably take place at the municipal level, where matters pertaining to residences and property are handled. The discussion would be much more appropriate at that level. Discussions could also take place at the provincial level. However, at the federal level, we are talking about criminalizing a dispute involving a national symbol. The dispute is also about how land or property is divided, and the rules that are agreed to and applied by property owners.

I believe that the bill goes much too far by introducing criminalization and that it does not achieve the purpose intended by the member for Don Valley West, who wants to create a dialogue. In the end, it may prevent dialogue and polarize any dispute that could arise in similar cases.

I would also like to say, and this has been mentioned, that there is no flag crisis at the moment. There are isolated and regrettable incidents because the parties in a dispute about displaying the flag cannot come to an agreement. However, introducing a private member's bill that would increase criminalization or add another article to the Criminal Code is probably excessive in the circumstances.

Another one of the issues that was raised by the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor is the double standard.

We know full well that, based on the rules of the House, the Board of Internal Economy has already decided that flags cannot be flown in the windows of Parliament Hill offices. However, this issue was raised by a media outlet, which mentioned the existence of a double standard: one for ordinary Canadians and one for Parliament Hill.

The member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor has already pointed this out but, if we had to resolve a dispute or make a decision in this regard—as one of your predecessors did—I would surely not like to see you be given a prison sentence of two years for a ruling contrary to the essence or intent of a bill, even though I know that members of the House benefit from parliamentary privilege.

The fundamental issue here is that there is a double standard. We cannot impose on the House what we want to impose on Canadians, specifically members of homeowners associations and condomiiuim associations.

I would like to point out another issue, namely, that of freedom of expression. The goal is to allow people to express themselves more freely or to give them the opportunity to express their patriotism by flying the Canadian flag without anyone preventing them from doing so. It is important to realize that freedom of expression is currently protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Any dispute that may occur about the flying of the flag—and these are usually arguments between two or three individuals or among small groups of people—can be resolved by the mechanisms in place to ensure that the provisions of the Charter are upheld. Once again, although the intent of the bill may be commendable and although no one in this House wants to attack this intent in any way, the fact remains that the bill seeks to remedy a situation that is already covered by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Fourth—and this will be my last point—I mentioned that there was a problem with the definitions and the way in which some of the conditions set out in the bill are defined. The fact that the bill is so vague and yet so broad could result in unpredictable situations that may be a little bit embarrassing. The bill tries to cover almost any controversy that could arise, even though most of these controversies seem to pertain to very similar situations. For example, associations of homeowners or condominium owners.

I will give an example that has been brought up by the media. The current member for Vaughan on the government side was formerly the Ontario Provincial Police commissioner. Six years ago, while carrying out his duties during the incidents in Caledonia, he arrested a protester, or rather a counter-protester. This person was arrested for flying a Canadian flag during the counter-protest. According to this clause, would the member for Vaughan, while exercising his duties as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, have been subject to punishment? Once again, I do not think that was the intent of this bill, but the way it is currently written could lead to embarrassing and unpredictable situations that could cause a lot of problems for law enforcement that the member for Don Valley West did not intend.

Honestly, if I examine the merits rather than the intent of this bill, I see that the bill as drafted is much too vague and imprecise. It tries to resolve a problem that arises only in very isolated and often similar situations— disputes among two, three or four individuals. These could be resolved amicably or through mediation, without such heavy-handed measures as a fine or prison sentence under the Criminal Code.

I would like to ask the member if he would withdraw the bill to try to improve it, as has been mentioned. Because opportunities to make amendments in committee are limited, it would be appreciated if he would withdraw the bill and improve it by taking into account the problems mentioned.

It is difficult to support the bill in its current form.

National Flag of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise today and express my support for Bill C-288, , an act respecting the national flag of Canada. The bill would ensure that Canadians would not be prevented from proudly displaying our national flag.

In my riding of Okanagan--Coquihalla, we have many retired veterans. We have two veteran settlement communities that were created after the Second World War. To this very day, veterans still proudly call these communities home. Just last week, it was an honour to announce funding for a cenotaph in the veteran settlement community of West Bench. A former member of the House and mentor to me, Fred King, is a proud veteran who lives in the wartime settlement community of Kaleden.

However, many veterans have reached a point in time where they now live in a strata community, perhaps a condo, a townhouse or an apartment. Some of these veterans are prevented from flying the Canadian flag.

The Canadian flag has a unique history. It was through national debate and the participation of over 2,000 citizens who submitted designs that a new flag was finally chosen in 1964.

The Canadian flag is the legacy of inclusion. We should take note of this inheritance as we make a decision today. Did the parliamentarians at that time realize the overarching impact of their decision? I think they did. It is for this reason that such care was given to the selection.

The Canadian flag is an important symbol of our great nation, of its core values and natural history, a flag that all Canadians can proudly display. Yet some Canadians are prevented from doing so. I support the principle of this bill because I believe it is time to change that.

As Canadians, we have all stood tall on Canada Day and felt that immense sense of pride in the love of our country. We have felt it while singing the national anthem at a hockey game, while watching our triumphs at the Olympic games or overseas through the contributions made by our brave troops on behalf of all Canadians.

The Canadian flag is more than the material it is made from. It is a symbol to all of us that makes Canada a truly great country. It is a symbol of excellence, of inclusion, of tolerance, of making the world a better place. It is a reminder and one that I submit should not be denied.

The Canadian flag is the most visible and recognized symbol of Canada. When people come together, there is but one symbol to choose. The distinctive maple leaf has become a symbol of pride for Canadians from every walk of life and from every part of this nation. The flag inspires Canadians. Athletes, guides and scouts, school groups, service clubs such as the Rotary Club and Kiwanis, groups that serve their communities are inspired to contribute to their country, which is recognizable through the main symbol of the flag.

Above and beyond any other institutional affiliation, it is the flag that is used to unify people. Canadians feel close to the flag. They feel a sense of ownership. What place could be more important for its display than from their own homes?

For people to fly the flag in their place of residence is to make a statement about where they belong and what is important to them. The message of the flag is always one of unity and purpose of freedoms and acceptance. Canadians should be free to fly the flag, free to see it in every part of the country, from villages to cities, from tiny islands to the highest towers. The flying of the flag is a time-honoured tradition that binds Canadians to our shared past and is with us on each new challenge. It is important for Canadians to be able to continue to pass on the customs and practices of diverse regions and cultures that make this country great. The flying of the flag is a key part of the Canadian identity. It identifies us and brings us together.

I speak today on behalf of the flag. It has a distinguished history that has united Canadians for generations and will continue to do so for many years to come.

I believe that the bill does require some further fine tuning and agree with some of the comments made by my colleagues with respect to the penalties. I believe these concerns can and should be addressed at the committee stage.

I ask all members of the House to be mindful of this and to unite behind the flag.

May our Canadian flag always fly freely across this nation from the homes of any and all who wish to participate in what it means to be Canadian.

National Flag of Canada Act
Private Members' Business

November 18th, 2011 / 2:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

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.

Before adjourning, I would like to wish all members and staff of this chamber a good weekend. I hope they travel safely every weekend.

It being 2:31 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:31 p.m.)