House of Commons Hansard #72 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the vote on our motion be deferred until Monday, February 6, at the end of government orders.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. opposition acting whip has asked that the vote be deferred until Monday, February 6 at the end of government orders.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you see the clock at 5:30.

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is there unanimous consent to see the clock at 5:30?

Opposition Motion--Old Age Security
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from November 3, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

When this matter was last before the House the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice had four minutes remaining in her speech. The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Delta—Richmond East
B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, when I last rose on Bill C-217, I stated that my colleagues opposite suggested imprisonment would be automatic, and that is not correct.

The proposed mandatory minimum penalties are graduated and, in my view, appropriate. People convicted of this offence should have no illusions as to the minimum punishment that will be meted out to them. One can only hope that these mandatory minimum sentences will be a further deterrent to the senseless acts of vandalism that are so difficult to comprehend.

I would like, however, to echo the hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon with regard to a possible amendment to the bill. I am concerned that as drafted this legislation would provide for a lesser maximum sentence where prosecuted by indictment than for other mischief offences.

I for one would certainly support an amendment, were it brought forward, that would increase the maximum penalty from five years to ten years in order to ensure consistency in terms of the maximum sentence that could be imposed where the Crown proceeds by way of indictment.

I support the objectives of the bill, denouncing conduct which shows disrespect to fallen Canadian servicemen and women. One only need think of the repatriation ceremonies we have witnessed to condemn this criminal behaviour as requiring special review.

I invite all members of the House to support our veterans and support this legislation.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to add a few words in regard to Bill C-217.

It is a bill that we can support in principle in terms of having it go to committee. The Liberal Party critic did get the opportunity to address the bill and we do have some concerns. The member made reference to some of the concerns that would be there. At the end of the day we want to ensure that, if something does happen to one of these war memorial sites, we do not end up sentencing someone to 25 years behind bars. I think it needs to be reasonable. I am not implying that is what this bill is suggesting, but I am sure members can appreciate that sometimes the Conservatives do tend to overreact on some of these minimum sentences.

I will now spend a few minutes talking about the principle of the bill. It is something worthy of supporting. I had the opportunity to serve in the Canadian Forces and met with a good number of individuals who actually fought or participated in war. Especially around the month of November, when I was in the forces, we would participate in parades, go to the legions and hear all sorts of interesting and some very scary stories that were being raised at the time. This gave me a better appreciation of the situation.

For me, that is the reason I believe it is so important that we not only have debate inside the House but that there is an educational component going out to other parts of our communities, such as schools and community centres, educating people in terms of exactly why it is that we have war memorials and the sacrifices made.

I can recall having a discussion a number of years ago with one individual who had been captured and held as a prisoner of war. As a POW, he talked about the starvation that was endured and the types of inhuman treatments that were there would surprise most. To have been able to have someone share that directly, not through a third party, with myself was fairly compelling. It gave me a very real impression.

I have had people talk to me about others not far from them falling in their place after being shot. Again, being able to hear those types of stories expressed on a one-on-one, not through a third party, has a fairly compelling impact on individuals as they try to get a better understanding of what it means to serve one's country.

I served for just over three years, which was not a great length of time, but I can say that it was a memorable time. I appreciate both those who have served in the past and those who are serving today in our forces. Afghanistan and other places throughout the world have had our military forces provide security and support in different ways. Members of our forces have sadly lost their lives providing that service.

That is why when I had the opportunity to be able to share a few words on this, I thought it would be nice just to be able to highlight that.

One incident that was quite touching for myself was inside the Manitoba legislature. We had an opportunity to have some of the war vets on the floor of the chamber and around the back. For me, I had a back row seat. From where I stood and spoke, I could reach out and touch the knee of a WW II vet.

It is because of those efforts that we are in these places today, whether it is in our national institution of the House of Commons, or in the provincial legislatures across Canada. It was a very important symbolic message and it generated a lot of attention in our province.

There are many different ways in which that is done. Sergeant Prince is a wonderful mentor for many people who live in Winnipeg's north end. There is a beautiful mural that has been put in place to honour the sergeant because of his efforts in the war. It is great to see. I especially like the murals for the simple reason they send a very strong message to people walking or driving by. This mural is in the heart of Winnipeg North. A great number of young people are influenced when they see the mural of Sergeant Prince and the efforts he made. It gives a sense of pride.

Whether it is a wall mural or the many decorations in legions, these all send very strong, positive messages. The National War Memorial, which hundreds of thousands of people visit every year, and on special days, gets a great deal of attention. The unnamed soldier is buried there. We take a great deal of pride in these memorials, as we should. A vast majority of Canadians appreciate the efforts that our forces have played in the past and in the modern era. We have all attended legion events or marches.

Last November, I was at the McGregor Armoury, where I witnessed first-hand tributes to those who had fallen in war. It is through this that we never forget. It is important that we go through these times of reflection and we would like to encourage citizens as a whole to participate.

When we look at this bill, it is hard to imagine and why some individuals would think about defacing or causing any form of damage to murals or monuments. It is hard to understand why someone would do such a thing.

I was a chair of a youth justice committee for a while. Sometimes young people do things which are silly and stupid and they do not really realize the consequences. I am not talking about the 10% who cause a lot of issues in terms of public safety. It could be anyone's son or daughter who does something and then a deal of remorse follows. Those youth did not necessarily mean to be disrespectful.

There has to be a balance. That is what we are looking for in Bill C-217. We want a bill that is balanced, that respects our memorials. At the same time, we want to appreciate the Canadian Forces and all those who have sacrificed their lives and much more.

We do not have a problem with Bill C-217 going to committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-217, which deals with the important issue of mischief related to war memorials. I thank the member for Dufferin--Caledon for turning our attention to this important problem.

This is a topic with which I am personally familiar, as there are a large number of war memorials in my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. The most significant of those is the cenotaph in Memorial Park in Esquimalt. This memorial was unveiled in 1927 to honour the dead from the Great War of 1914-1918. Over time plaques have been added on to this memorial. It now also honours the dead of World War II, Korea and those who died in peacekeeping missions. With its central position in our town, right next to a major bus stop and bus route, it is unfortunately often the target of graffiti. I would argue that has almost always, if not always, been out of ignorance rather than a specific targeting. It is simply a large surface for taggers and is very close to high traffic areas.

As a former city councillor, I am very familiar with the costs of these incidents. The municipality maintains this memorial and pays the cleanup costs for the graffiti that regularly appears there. However, I am also very aware of the cost in terms of the indignity to the veterans and the hurt it causes in Esquimalt, which is very much a military community.

One of the most serious incidents occurred on a Sunday in July of 2008, when a vigilant citizen actually noticed suspicious activity in Memorial Park at about 10:30 p.m. This citizen called the police and a 14 year-old youth was apprehended and released on a promise to appear in court on a charge of mischief. On Monday morning a group of community volunteers, known as ETAG, Esquimalt Together Against Graffiti, was out cleaning the graffiti off that memorial. This volunteer group strives very hard to ensure the prompt removal of graffiti from all public and private property, to take away the thrill that taggers get from seeing their tag in existence in the community. ETAG is very effective. It is a very large group of very hard-working volunteers. Long term chair, Peter Justo, who just retired as chair of that group, and Emmy Labonte and others are out within 24 hours removing graffiti.

They were working on a very large amount of graffiti on this very important war memorial. In fact, not only did the volunteers against graffiti step up, the president of the Esquimalt Legion, Mr. Ken Levine, stepped forward. He called for what he characterized as appropriate punishment for the youth. He did not call for jailing the youth. I think members opposite will be interested in what he thought was the proper solution. He said that the youth ought to have to come to the legion on a regular basis, meet with veterans and hear their stories of sacrifice on his behalf. He felt that when the youth had that re-education, he would then be very much committed to talking to other youth who were taggers to try to avoid tagging the war memorials.

This is the president of my local legion who took a very progressive stance. Again, when we think of a 14 year-old youth, what probably is most awful about that is regularly scheduling his time to meet with old people and listen to them. It would not be as if the youth would feel he was getting off lightly.

Very interestingly, the two police officers involved also publicly called for using this form of restorative justice for this youth rather than see him face a term in some youth custody facility, perhaps putting him in touch with other youth that might lead him further astray, when really the problem was an isolated incident of tagging, with no intention of insulting veterans.

The president of the legion identified the real problem, and that is the failure of youth to understand the great sacrifices that have been made on their behalf by members of the Canadian forces. I believe, in calling for restorative justice, he identified the real solution to this kind of problem.

Some three months after Remembrance Day, it is a good time for all of us to reflect on what more we can do to help build that public education and public consciousness of the sacrifices members of the military have made. I am sure all hon. members attended Remembrance Day events, as I did. One of the most encouraging things I have seen in the past five years is the increasing numbers of youth who show up at those Remembrance Day ceremonies, and not just those who are in cadets, or scouts, or other programs, but simply youth in the crowd paying respect for what has happened in the past.

We are making progress in raising that consciousness of the great contribution the Canadian military makes, but we can do more to try to make it part of our common culture as Canadians to have this respect on an everyday basis and not just on Remembrance Day.

There are many other ways this could be done and I want to single out a grant by Heritage Canada to the Museum of Strathroy-Caradoc. Why would I know about a grant to a museum in Ontario? It created a travelling exhibition on the life Sir Arthur Currie, one of our great generals, who was born in Strathroy but started his military career with the militia in Victoria. This exhibition has been travelling around Canada, with the support of Heritage Canada, trying to make Canadians aware of one of our great heroes, a person not without controversy but a person who made an enormous contribution during the Great War.

We can also promote the work of authors like Tim Cook, a prominent military historian, whose book called The Madman and the Butcher, which I just finished reading, chronicles the unfortunate conflict between the war minister Sam Hughes and the brilliant general Sir Arthur Currie. The more Canadians know our history and the great things that have happened in the past, the fewer problems we will have with the kinds of things addressed in the bill.

We can also go beyond symbolism and support policies that really show respect for our 728,000 or more veterans. We can support policies that would help end the shame of veterans at food banks, in particular the food bank in Calgary which had to be set up to address the needs of 200 veterans and their families. We can support the efforts to end the shame of homeless veterans in our country. It is very difficult to get a number since most veterans do not wish for people to know that they are homeless. They do not wish their families or friends to know. We can support programs that address the suicide rate for veterans, which is quite shockingly high in our country, some 46% higher than other Canadians.

One very important action the government could take is to fully implement the NDP's veterans first motion, which passed in the House in 2006. This would mean doing several things.

It would mean eliminating the unfair reduction in long-term disability payments for injured Canadian Forces personnel and eliminating the clawback of retirement pensions for Canadian Forces and RCMP members who happen to also receive CPP benefits. It would mean eliminating the marriage after 60 rule that prevents spouses from receiving pension and health benefits after the deaths of their veteran spouses if they happen to marry after the age of 60. It would also mean extending the veterans independence program to all widows and veterans so veterans could stay in their homes, take care of themselves and not become a burden on the public, which is something I know all veterans wish to avoid.

Once again, I want to thank the member for bringing our attention to this problem. I know all members share a concern about mischief related to war memorials. However, I am not sure that the government penchant for thinking everything can be solved with a jail term is the right solution to the problem, and that is the solution proposed in the bill.

The solutions lie in restorative justice. They lie in making the perpetrators of these acts of vandalism aware of the harm they cause both the specific people honoured in those memorials and their families and to the larger community. They lie in public education about our military history and the important contribution the Canadian Forces have made, not just in defending Canada but as a part of international peacekeeping missions around the world.

In my career I happened to have the distinct privilege of being in East Timor when the Canadian Forces were there and saw the great work they were doing in rebuilding houses in a country that had been destroyed through civil conflict. I also had the privilege of serving in Afghanistan as an international human rights observer and again was able to see the Canadian Forces in the field attempting to do very positive, difficult and dangerous work there. The more the public and young people know about these kinds of contributions, the fewer problems we will have.

I also think, as I said, that the solution lies in demonstrating respect for veterans in a concrete way by governments all across the country to ensure we do not end up with veterans, who have served their country well, living in poverty, having to go to food banks and ending up homeless on our streets.

I call on the members on the other side to think very seriously about the solutions they propose when the bill gets to committee and to think about changing the solution that is in this bill to something that reflects the need for restorative justice, public education, fairness and fair treatment of our veterans rather than seeking jail sentences as a solution to this problem. I look forward to further discussion of the bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

February 2nd, 2012 / 5:35 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I am rising today to speak in opposition to Bill C-217. I do so somewhat reluctantly. I have come to know the member who sponsored this bill in his capacity as chair of the citizenship and immigration committee on which I sit. I can say half jokingly that he treats us all with a kind of even-handed impatience. I know that his intentions in putting forward this bill are no doubt noble and stem from a profound respect for the veterans of this country. I also say “reluctantly” because I share that profound respect for our veterans.

I have had the opportunity and privilege to tell the House before that I am the son of a World War II veteran, and the grandson of a veteran who was very seriously injured in the First World War but survived and went on to have a career as a diplomat on behalf of his home country, Australia. My father had the privilege of growing up the son of a diplomat in New York City. When he turned 18, he had a choice to make. He was free to join the forces and fight in the Second World War. That was a choice that he made. I realize it is a choice that hundreds of thousands of young men and women make and I want to be clear how much respect I have for the choice that all of those folks make.

Lastly, in terms of my reluctance to oppose this bill, I want to talk about the importance of war memorials. There is no question that they serve and should serve as important symbols in our public life. They are not symbols that celebrate war but in fact mark the terrible tragedies which occur in war. One hopes that in building war memorials as well as assembling before them that the tragedy of war is felt deeply by so many. I think that in our society war memorials can really serve as markers on the road to peace. I hope that is the service they provide to society. For that reason, I feel they need to be protected.

However, running through this private member's bill and frankly so much of the government's legislation is a common thread. There is a tendency to respond with intolerance, never with the humility that recognizes the very human tendency for all of us to err, and never in a fashion that recognizes the real human capacity that most of us have to redeem ourselves if given the opportunity.

It seems that all transgressions under government and private members' bills coming from the other side seem to end with someone getting incarcerated, as if incarceration is a redeeming and ennobling exercise.

I want to tell a story that demonstrates why this approach to the bill is wrong-headed. It is a story that spans a great many years, but I will shorten it for the House. It is centred in my riding of Beaches--East York. At the centre of the story is the Malvern Collegiate War Memorial, a war memorial I have spoken about here before. It was built in 1922 to honour the sacrifice of the 25 “Boys of Malvern”, all graduates of that high school who fought and died in World War I.

About 25 years ago, the memorial was moved to accommodate some renovations to the school and in that process it lost an arm. It stayed that way for a long time. In its centennial year, the school's alumni association decided to restore the monument to its former glory. It took about seven years of hard work and considerable fundraising and the memorial was beautifully restored November 4 of last year. I attended the rededication of the memorial and spoke on behalf of the Minister of Veterans Affairs because that ministry had provided some funds for the restoration. There were about 400 people in attendance at that rededication. It was very much a well-attended event in my riding. The war memorial itself had a lot of national media coverage. It was something of a celebrated war memorial.

It was at that event that I met a woman, Dr. Vandra Masemann. She was there to speak at the rededication as both the president of the school's alumni association and also as the chair of the war memorial restoration committee. It was a very proud day for a large number of people involved in this restoration process. The national media turned out, as did many local and regional media outlets as well.

It was a wonderful day, a very proud day for so many people. However, within 36 hours the memorial had been vandalized. The video evidence showed four young men getting out of a car in the dark of night, climbing the monument and wrapping it in blue duct tape. In the process they caused a couple thousand dollars' worth of damage to the memorial. The national media returned to the scene to cover the event and the outrage of so many people who lived in the neighbourhood and contributed financially and with their hard work to the restoration project.

I met Vandra a couple of weeks later. We were sitting on the stage beside each other at the high school's graduation ceremony. During the ceremony she leaned over to me and said, “I want you to know that I oppose that bill.” She was referring to Bill C-217. I followed up with her after the ceremony. She asked me for a bit of time to put her thoughts into writing for me about why she opposed the bill, having put so much work into the restoration and being so proud of what she had accomplished.

Vandra's characterization of the vandalism was very clear and concise. She said that this was indeed a desecration of the war memorial. In spite of this, she had a very firm opinion in opposition to this bill. I want to quote her at length. She wrote to me:

I ponder on who are going to be the ones that do these things--young males around 18-24. These boys are the same as the Boys of Malvern who died and who are remembered on that monument. We cannot rescue those boys who died, but we can rescue the ones who have done such a foolish and stupid thing as to vandalize a war memorial.

We need to be much more creative about the kind of consequence that will teach them the awful significance of what they have done. Giving them a criminal record and letting them learn nothing from the experience is of no redemptive significance whatsoever. It is imperative that they understand the nature of the act they have committed, and surely their cell-mates will not be able to do this. I am in favour of a fine proportional to the cost of repairs as well as an educational experience that ensures they will never even dream of committing such an act again. It could be community service with a veterans' group or hospital, with the War Amps program or with projects that aim to gather the memories of the soldiers that are still living. It needs to be concluded with a public apology and an expression of atonement for having committed such a crime. Surely our lawmakers can come up with more imaginative solutions than 2-4 weeks in jail. Lastly, several of those who have commented have noted that this act could also be construed as a “prank”. Many may disagree with this assessment, but a jail term will not convince the perpetrators that it wasn't. Only a serious attempt at re-education will show them the error of their ways.

If members tend to think that this is all wrong-minded, let me bring Reverend Jim McKnight into this story. Reverend Jim saw the news about the desecration of the Malvern War Memorial. He is an alumnus of Malvern and came forward to admit publicly that 43 years earlier he, along with a couple of other buddies who have remained nameless, desecrated the very same monument with a can of white paint.

In 1968 Reverend Jim was a top student, editor of the school newspaper and president of the United Way committee. That night he was, in his words, as quoted in the Toronto Star, “giving society the finger.” The school's principal caught him but the police were never called in. Reverend Jim's punishment was a lifetime of regret. As he put it:

I didn't think it was a big deal; I thought it was just some statue till I saw the newspaper....I remember the words, 'Memorial desecrated'. Something about 'desecrated' threw me for a loop. Then, an older math teacher pulled me aside. He was visibly shaken. His big brother had been killed;...his name was on the memorial. That really got my attention.

Reverend Jim never spent time in jail, never even paid a fine. It was the math teacher, who was a fellow Malvern alumnus who spoke of being in Malvern in the 1940s, of empty desks, of friends being killed overseas. These are the experiences that helped a kid who gave society the finger one night appreciate the courage and sacrifice of our veterans. That is all it takes, a little life experience, a little education, a couple of conversations, to accomplish what this bill seeks to accomplish with fines and incarceration.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Seeing no one rise, I will ask the hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon for his right of reply.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Madam Speaker, I would first like to thank all members who participated in the debate on this bill, which recognizes the importance of honouring and respecting the memory of our country's brave men and women of the Canadian Forces.

Bill C-217 seeks to amend the Criminal Code by adding significant penalties for any person convicted of mischief against a war memorial, cenotaph or other structure honouring or remembering those who have served in our Canadian Forces and those who have died as a consequence of war. The bill seeks to impose a minimum penalty of a fine not less than $1,000 for a first offence, prison not less than 14 days for a second offence and prison not less than 30 days for all subsequent offences. These minimum sentences are not overly harsh. Instead, they are necessary to put an end to such disrespectful acts against those who died for our country.

A great number of examples of such heinous acts have already been presented to the House, bringing light to a growing yet hidden problem. Such examples of insolence cannot go unpunished. An apology or a small donation is not enough. These vandals must know what they have done is completely unacceptable and Canadians will not tolerate this disrespectful attitude.

When I first addressed the House on the bill on November 3, 2011, I cited many examples of desecrated war memorials and cenotaphs. Therefore, it saddens me to bring forward new examples today, one of which was just referred to by my colleague. However, it underscores the seriousness of the problem and the need for concrete action by the House.

Days before this past Remembrance Day, a war memorial in Calgary had graffiti painted on it. Concerned citizens and veterans alike expressed their outrage and disgust, voicing feelings of disrespect and lack of acknowledgement for the sacrifice of Canada's fallen.

Then, as my colleague has just said, in November of 2011, just hours after Malvern Collegiate in Toronto rededicated its war memorial to soldiers who had attended the school and following a $44,000 restoration, the monument was vandalized. The monument was wrapped in blue duct tape and three letters were knocked off it in what the school described as a planned and deliberate act of vandalism. The vandals then remained at the site and they chatted and took pictures before they left the site. All of this was caught on tape and, as expected, they failed to display any signs of remorse or regret. The damage will now cost the school nearly $2,000, all of which will have to be community funded. The school principal explained that in her eight years at the school, the memorial has been defaced, painted, dressed in rival school clothing, all acts of vandalism and disrespect.

The 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 is quickly approaching, as well as the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. With the upcoming anniversaries of two historical events, it is of utmost importance that such amendments be put in place to protect the dignity and respect of those being honoured and remembered.

Bill C-217 would remind Canadians that the sacrifices of soldiers will never be forgotten or unappreciated. Canada will continue to honour its fallen through the protection of such important structures and will punish those who disrespect them.

The opposition has provided examples where vandals have expressed regret and disgust with their own acts of dishonour and now devote their time to protecting these sacred memorials. The opposition unfortunately sees this as an example of why minimum punishments should not be added to the Criminal Code. However, these vandals, although remorseful, committed a form of disrespect so great that new-found regret does not compensate for the immense and unforgettable damage done to the memorial and the community where it stands. The opposition has suggested rehabilitation as an appropriate response to those who committed these horrific acts.

Bill C-217 is not opposed to such a response, but seeks punishment first for those who displayed such great disrespect for war memorials and cenotaphs to ensure they recognize the gravity of their deplorable acts. Such amendments to the Criminal Code force potential vandals to also think twice before they act, due to the knowledge and fear of the criminal sanctions to come for their actions, rather than responding with rehabilitative efforts after the irreversible damage has been done to a memorial and its community.

Bill C-217 sends a clear message that vandalism and desecration of any Canadian cenotaph or war memorial will not be tolerated. We owe it all to the men and women who have fought and continue to fight in the Canadian Forces of our great country.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.