House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was labour.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to)

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning on behalf of the residents of Dufferin—Caledon to speak to Bill C-217, which is my bill to protect and defend our nation's war memorials and cenotaphs.

As members will know, Bill C-217 seeks to add significant penalties to the mischief section of the Criminal Code for those convicted of mischief against our war memorials, cenotaphs and similar structures that honour those who have died as a result of war. The first offence would carry a fine of not less than $1,000. The second offence would carry a jail term of 14 days. The third and subsequent offences would carry a 30-day jail term.

All members of this House are familiar with veterans in their communities and likely with serving Canadian Forces members as well. We hold them in the highest regard for the sacrifice their service represents. Our war memorials and cenotaphs are places we set aside in our communities to honour them and especially to honour those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We owe them a debt that can never be repaid.

Since we last debated this bill on February 2, 2012, I was pleased to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as it began its examination of Bill C-217 on March 27. I had the honour of being accompanied by Mr. John Eggenberger of Nepean, Ontario, a retired air force colonel and vice-president of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association. I was also accompanied by Mr. Earl Page, a Korean War navy veteran from Woodstock, Ontario. These two gentlemen underscored the need for more stringent sanctions against those who would desecrate or vandalize our cherished cenotaphs and war memorials.

Mr. Page, in particular, made an impassioned presentation during which he recounted the events of a shocking act of vandalism that took place in Woodstock on November 10, 2009, the night before the Remembrance Day ceremonies. Residents of Woodstock arose to discover that vandals had spray-painted swastikas and offensive messages on the town cenotaph. With no time to remove the offensive graffiti, the ceremony proceeded with this heinous damage in full view.

Mr. Page commented on the disgust felt by everyone, especially the veterans attending the ceremony in Woodstock on that Remembrance Day. I will quote from Mr. Page's presentation at committee on March 27. He said:

...I wanted to express my deep disgust on behalf of all the people in Woodstock, all the veterans in Woodstock, as well as the many children there. Children were mentioned. We always have a great many children out to that cenotaph on Remembrance Day, and they all come and shake our hands. They're happy to see us. Since the desecration of our monument, the city has gone to the trouble of re-facing all the names on that monument, and it cost the city a great deal of money. I know the feelings of the veterans: if we had got hold of that guy, I don't think he would be walking around today. But he was not a child, or even a teenager—he was an adult, and he got away with it. We spent six or seven days going to court to see what was going to happen to him, and he got off with a slap on the wrist, a couple of days of community service. Terrible. I won't say much more, because I'm liable to say things I shouldn't. Thank you.

During the previous hours of debate on this bill, I have recounted many similar examples of such profound disrespect to our fallen soldiers, our veterans and our men and women serving in the Canadian Forces today. As the mischief section of the Criminal Code is currently written, war memorials and cenotaphs fall into the same category as a mailbox or parking meter when it comes to penalties. They certainly deserve better protection than that.

During the examination of Bill C-217 at committee, colleagues from the opposite side of the House made numerous references to mandatory minimum sentences, restorative justice, judicial leeway, discretion and so forth. The member for St. John's East and the member for Mount Royal, who are both very experienced and knowledgeable members, expressed opposition to the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions of Bill C-217. Both of those members and other members of the opposition were pushing for restorative justice and judicial flexibility to be written into the bill. Indeed, several hours of the committee's time was taken up with debate on their amendments in this regard. It is my contention that they missed the point.

Nothing in Bill C-217 precludes a judge from ordering some form of restorative justice, restitution or apology, or other alternate sentencing. A judge could order a guilty individual to spend time at the local Legion to perform community service or even scrub the monument with a toothbrush, for example. The judge would be as free to do as he or she sees fit on a case by case basis after the guilty individual is ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for the first offence.

Staying with the committee for a moment, I should note that an amendment put forward by the government was adopted. It would move the maximum imprisonment under indictment from five to ten years. This is a technical amendment that was brought to my attention by officials with the Department of Justice, and I thank the department for its guidance in this regard. I might point out that the opposition parties voted against the government's amendment, and they also voted against the bill itself in a recorded division at the conclusion of clause by clause. This action speaks for itself as to how seriously they view this issue.

I return to my observation that, under the current regime of the mischief section of the Criminal Code, a war memorial or cenotaph is not accorded the pride of place that we accord them in our communities.

These honoured places we know so well represent shared military heritage and its key role in defining who we are as a country. We can all recall the major milestones and some of the lesser ones in our military history: Ypres, Vimy, the Somme, Dieppe, Ortona, the liberation of the Netherlands, the Korean War, the Suez crisis, Cyprus, the Golan Heights, peacekeeping throughout the Cold War, the first Gulf War, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and, more recently, Libya, to name but a few.

Those names evoke strong emotions among Canadians, and rightly so. They and so many others are part of what defines us as a country. We are a country that defines freedom and liberty to the point that we have sent and continue to send our sons and daughters to dangerous places in the world in defence of that freedom and liberty. We understand collectively as a country what this has cost us in lives sacrificed. To properly honour that sacrifice, we have erected war memorials and cenotaphs across the land, where communities gather to pay tribute to those who have fallen and those who have served.

We would repay that sacrifice and service poorly indeed if we did not do all we can to deter the senseless desecration of these honoured structures and places. My goal with Bill C-217 was to lift cenotaphs, war memorials and other similar structures above the mundane and properly recognize them in the Criminal Code as having special value, value deserving of significant sanction in the criminal law of this country if someone chooses to violate them.

I have related this story before in the House but it bears repeating as to what prompted me to introduce this legislation. In early 2008, in my community of Orangeville, Ontario, the town arranged for our local cenotaph to be sent for restoration. In late October, it was reinstalled with an appropriately solemn rededication ceremonies. Then a few days later, just days before Remembrance Day, vandals hit it with eggs. It cost the town of Orangeville more than $2,000 to repair the damage.

This was the original impetus behind the bill. As I did research on this, I found that this incident was, sadly, not isolated. Without having to dig very deeply, I found dozens of incidents over only the past few years from coast to coast of vandalism and desecration of these important monuments. In many cases, perpetrators received either a slap on the wrist or even went scot-free.

It was said during testimony at the justice committee that we should take into account youthful indiscretion or the lack of education as to the significance of our military history when considering cases of vandalism of this kind. I could not more vehemently disagree. I think of the tens of thousands of Canadian youth who lay in war graves in Europe, North Africa, the Pacific and elsewhere. There is no youthful indiscretion there.

Part of educating those who remain ignorant of the value of our war memorials and cenotaphs includes making it clear in our criminal law what the consequences are for dishonouring them.

The severity of the penalty gives Canadians an indication as to how seriously we as a society and we as parliamentarians view this associated crime. To suggest that vandalism against a war memorial or cenotaph is done on a lark or a whim and should be treated less harshly is frankly offensive to the memories of those we honour with our monuments.

Members will know we just celebrated the 95th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. Many consider this to be Canada's coming of age, as all four components of the Canadian expeditionary forces fought together as a single unit for the first time. Great odds were overcome at a great cost of life, far out of proportion to our size as a nation. It is a key defining moment in our history as a nation. The Governor General recently led a delegation of thousands of Canadian students to the monument in Vimy to commemorate this important milestone. As well, during 2012 we are celebrating the bicentennial of the war of 1812. Canadians can be justifiably proud of our role in that conflict, another pivotal moment in our history. Throughout this year, many will be paying tribute at our local cenotaphs and war memorials. In two years' time we will commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, which cost our country immeasurably.

All this is to say that Canada has a proud military history. We have never sought a war, but we have always come to the defence of democracy and freedom when called upon to do so. We have always recognized the bravery and sacrifice of the best among us through our memorials and cenotaphs in the ceremonies we hold there.

Most members know someone who has fought or served at some point in our great country: a father, a brother, a grandfather, an uncle, an aunt, a sister, a mother or a friend. We appreciate these men and women for their dedication and courage and the sacrifice they have shown for Canada. Their willingness to fight abroad for our freedom here at home is an inspiration. The memorials in our communities are dedicated to these people, and none of us wants to see them damaged or defiled. The increased penalties called for in Bill C-217 will make potential vandals think twice before acting against a memorial that holds such significant meaning for this community.

Canadian Forces members continue to serve in Afghanistan, engaged in training the Afghan security forces. Just last summer combat operations ceased and the bulk of our combat troops returned home to a grateful nation. Over the course of 10 years of combat operation, Canada's longest-ever combat mission, we lost 157 brave men and women. As a result, our cenotaphs and war memorials have taken on new significance and value, especially in those communities that lost one of their own. Protecting them from vandalism is more important now than ever.

As members of Parliament, we serve our democracy in a very direct way. It was to protect that democracy and the freedoms that go with it that so many brave Canadians signed up and continue to enlist in the Canadian Forces. Too many of those Canadians did not make it home, and so we have places of honour and great respect in our communities to recognize their sacrifice. We would repay them poorly if we did not do absolutely all we can to discourage people from dishonouring those hallowed places.

Those of us who enjoy the hard-won freedoms that are part of modern Canada owe it to those who have paid in blood and life to keep these honoured spaces free from harm or dishonour. As citizens and residents of this great country, we have a duty to protect and preserve our memorials and cenotaphs in memory of those who have fallen.

To conclude, I would like to thank all the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their work on Bill C-217. They gave it thoughtful consideration. While I did not agree with everything that was said, I nevertheless want to acknowledge their work. In particular, I want to thank both the chairman, the member for Oxford, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, the member for Delta—Richmond East for their stewardship of Bill C-217 through the committee process.

Canada's long and proud tradition of standing up for freedom and democracy and defending our values is one of the things that make us the greatest in the world. I believe the passage of Bill C-217 is necessary to ensure that those who would damage our honoured places think twice before they act. I would therefore urge all hon. members to support Bill C-217.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Dufferin—Caledon because I truly understand why he has introduced this bill. This is not his first attempt.

I know that all members of the House are always appalled to hear about incidents such as those that occurred recently in Ottawa and in the hon. member's riding. However, one of the issues raised by the Standing Committee on Justice is that there is no mandatory minimum sentence for mischief in relation to objects of religious worship or cultural property. The fact that Bill C-217 establishes mandatory minimum sentences for committing mischief in relation to a war memorial seems to make this a much more serious offence. I would like the member to talk about this.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, whatever we are doing now, which is under the mischief section in the Criminal Code, is not working. The vandalism continues.

I understand the position of the official opposition and the Liberal opposition. Their position has been quite clear. They do not like maximum or minimum sentences, and that is it in a nutshell. They want restorative justice and other things. As I said in my comments, Bill C-217 does not preclude a judge making that decision. After people have been fined $1,000, they can have other things applied to their sentences. There can be restorative justice. I say that, surely to goodness, this offence is greater than minor mischief charges. These are very serious things.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we recognize, as all Canadians do, the importance of war memorials and monuments. A great majority of Canadians every year take the time to show their love and appreciation of our forces of today and of yesterday, and assign a great deal of value to the monuments.

The concern, at least in part, that Liberals have is in regard to the issue of restorative justice. I have had the opportunity to work with young people on the issue of restorative justice. Quite often victims themselves would prefer to have some sort of restorative justice rather than just a simple fine. Restorative justice can ultimately lead to a more positive outcome for the community. Could the member reflect on the benefits and acknowledge that there is benefit in some cases in working toward restorative justice? It brings communities together in working with individuals who have caused the damage and there tends to be a great deal more remorse and respect from the individuals who caused the vandalism in the first place. Why would we want to rule out restorative justice, which is what is implied in the current legislation that is being proposed?

Could the member reflect positively on the potential of restorative justice?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pretty well going to repeat what I said to my hon. friend from the official opposition.

This sort of vandalism, I am told by veterans today, does not occur very often in Europe. I do not know why that is. There could be any number of reasons, such as the lack of education. The purpose of this bill is to draw to the attention of people of all ages that these sacred places should not be desecrated. That is what they are. They are sacred places to honour our veterans.

My friend and I are on the same committee with regard to other matters. I respect his position on things, but I have never suggested, nor has the bill ever suggested, that no one believes in restorative justice, apologies or working with Legions. A court can rule on that, but it is going to do so after the people who have been charged and convicted pay $1,000. In other words, I am raising the level. I am taking this out of the usual offences for mischief.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who, by introducing this bill, has made it possible for me to address such an important matter in this chamber.

However, I would first like to say that this bill is a little like many other government bills, even though it is being introduced through the back door as a private member's bill. Bill C-217 seems to be inspired by media headlines. The danger with this type of bill is that it meddles with the Criminal Code. We are supposed to be good managers of this country, good legal experts and supposedly good lawmakers. Lawmakers do not talk for the sake of talking. The danger is that by making piecemeal changes to sections of the Criminal Code, which is something that the Conservative government does on a regular basis, we are creating a monster and those who manage criminal matters every day will have a great deal of trouble working with it.

When we studied the bill in the Standing Committee on Justice, the critic at the time, my colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador, specified that we had no problem with the substance of the bill. We all recognize the importance of war memorials. We have no problem with that. Our problem was, and still is—because the amendments have not been passed yet—with the fact that the government introduces in Bill C-217 changes immediately following section 430 of the Criminal Code on mischief involving religious worship.

The section stipulates:

Every one who commits mischief in relation to property that is a building, structure or part thereof that is primarily used for religious worship, including a church, mosque, synagogue or temple, or an object associated with religious worship located in or on the grounds of such a building or structure, or a cemetery, if the commission of the mischief is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour or national or ethnic origin,

a. is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years; or

b. is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months.

It is because we raised these points that the government presented its amendment, because the maximum sentence did not make sense. The government recognized that. If we considered that the purpose of the bill was essentially to introduce minimum sentences, then the official opposition could not support this type of amendment given that, in the same section, this did not exist for the other things. Never, during the entire hearing in committee of the various witnesses, was anyone able to tell us in an intelligent or consistent manner why war memorials are more important than places of religious worship or cultural property.

It is important to be consistent. Indeed, there will be a problem when and if this goes before the courts. We do not write just for the sake of it, to return to our ridings and go to the Royal Canadian Legion—that I joined a few months ago—and say that they will be proud of us because we voted in favour of Bill C-217 and we have agreed to make things much more serious. It is important to be consistent. As legislators, we have a responsibility. If this government does not understand its role as legislator, at some point, Canadian society as a whole will pay the price. We agree that there is a problem, but it is important to be realistic. It is not something that happens every day, but there is a problem. That it would happen once, is once too often.

I would have been a little uncomfortable had I not received a letter from the president of the Royal Canadian Legion, who wrote to us, during our committee hearings, on behalf of the Royal Canadian Legion. If anyone is proud of their history—of our land, air and sea forces—and of what has been done in Canada's name throughout the world, it is the Legion.

I participate in enough activities with these people to know that they are proud and that they want to educate young people about our history. They want young people to be more familiar with what is happening now and what has happened in our history. The youth of today are quite often unfamiliar with Canada’s history. My colleague who introduced Bill C-217 stressed this when he compared our situation to that of Europe, where young people are so proud of their history. I have travelled throughout Europe and I have been to Normandy. It was one of the most wonderful trips of my life, and the most emotional. I saw all the tombstones of our Canadian soldiers, which are maintained by people who go there every day. Of course, it is a proud moment to stand before these tombstones, and one that makes you want to return.

Will slapping people with a $1,000 fine solve the problem of ignorance of history? As the president of the Royal Canadian Legion put it so well:

The punishment should fit the crime and although no incident of this nature can be condoned, there should be provision for restorative justice measures with a mandated dialogue between veterans groups and the offenders. There should be provision where offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, to repair the harm they have done, by apologizing to a group of Veterans, or with community services. It provides help for the offender to avoid future offences and provides a greater understanding of the consequences of their actions.

That is the Royal Canadian Legion's vision, which I share. There is a reason why the Criminal Code section on mischief does not provide for a minimum fine for mischief in relation to cultural property or places used for religious worship.

We feel that war memorials belong in the section on mischief. While we do not necessarily object to mentioning war memorials specifically in that section, it is important to be consistent with the rest of the section, because there is a danger. The member for Dufferin—Caledon was asked about this when he testified in committee. Anyone who has done some criminal law and gone to court knows what will happen to avoid the minimum fine. Take the example of a stupid young person who gets a good slap on the wrist from the authorities so that he understands the seriousness of what he did and is properly punished. You would have to be pretty stupid to do this sort of thing. But who did not do something stupid when they were young? Do we have to slap people with a $1,000 minimum fine to make them understand that what they did was wrong?

The best proof that this is not necessary is that these individuals rarely reoffend, which goes to show that the punishments handed down under the current legislation are successful. Something is missing, though. Students in this country need to be made aware of our history.

I will repeat what I said the first time I took part in this debate, for anyone who did not hear. In my former life, I was a radio broadcaster. One of my best radio programs was one that I had to fight for to some degree, since my program director thought my idea was completely crazy. After travelling to Europe, I said I wanted to do a special program on November 11, which I wanted to begin by observing a minute of silence. For anyone who does not know, a minute of silence on the radio is very expensive. My director asked me if I had gone mad. I told her that I thought it was worth commemorating what happened in our past and giving our listeners a little history lesson. That was my best program. It was an open-line broadcast. People called in to talk about what had happened. That is what needs to be done, rather than adding a subsection that will only complicate section 430 and confuse people, because they will no longer know which section to invoke when laying charges, in order to prevent the minimum fine from being given.

This bill is thoughtful in the sense that it comes from good intentions, but once again, this Conservative government has failed to reach the right conclusion.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-217 on the issue of mischief in relation to war memorials and cenotaphs. As I have stated previously in this regard, there is a responsibility to take action against those who would dishonour our heritage, our history and our memorials, the devoir de mémoire, the duty of memory. As I have said before, vandalism and desecration of monuments and memorials is intolerable. Such desecration dishonours us all.

Like every member of this place, I am as shocked as I am pained to read accounts of vandalism and desecration of war memorials. In my own riding of Mount Royal, we are home to such memorials including the cenotaph in the municipality of Côte Saint-Luc, erected in memory of those who gave their lives in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War, as well as the Mount Royal cenotaph in Peace Park, which honours the brave soldiers from the town of Mount Royal who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Second World War. One shudders to think of these community treasures and memorials being vandalized.

However, we have been witness to troubling accounts of vandalism and desecration of war memorials and monuments across the country, as has been set forth before this House in discussion and debate. Indeed, in response to an incident on Canada Day in 2006, when an individual urinated on a national war memorial here in Ottawa, Liberals and in particular my colleague from Ottawa South called upon the government to take action in this regard. As it happens, we have before us today legislation that seeks to address the specific issue of mischief related to war memorials.

However, this is flawed legislation. Accordingly, I will enumerate for my colleagues why, though I am supportive of the bill in principle, I nonetheless feel it would not achieve that which must be accomplished.

First, the measure is duplicative of what is already in the Criminal Code and in our criminal law. It is not as if, without this legislation, mischief to war memorials is not criminalized. Indeed, such behaviour can be prosecuted now under the Criminal Code, as it has been in the past under the general principle of mischief. Moreover, it can also be punished under the subsection of mischief specific to the damage to cultural property provision.

Thus, while we need to denounce and prevent damage to war memorials, cenotaphs and the like, it is unclear that this legislation is adequate in terms of scope. For example, in the town of Hampstead in my own riding, in front of the Irving L. Adessky Community Centre, there is both a cenotaph and a Holocaust memorial. Under the present legislation, only vandalism of the cenotaph would be punished whereas vandalism of the Holocaust memorial would be addressed under the existing mischief provisions. While both could be punished under the provision for “damage to cultural property”, it is unclear why a war memorial and cenotaph, to the exclusion of another memorial such as a Holocaust memorial, should receive the unique protection that is offered by Bill C-217.

Rather than dwell on this particular point any longer, I suggest that the government may wish to revisit this area of the law to ensure consistency in the preservation and protection of these important reminders of our heritage and our history.

Second, Bill C-217 makes use of a mandatory minimum penalty. While I have enumerated various critiques of mandatory minimum penalties in this House on the grounds of law and principle, criminal law policy, economics, prejudicial fallout and the like, I do not wish to repeat myself at length on this point. Rather, I will focus my concern in this regard on the use of a specific punitive mandatory minimum in this legislation, where such punishment may not be the appropriate and precise remedy necessitated by the vandalism that it seeks to counteract.

As was discussed extensively in committee, much of the vandalism of war memorials is committed by youths sometimes not even aware of the significance of the site. In that regard, and as we have seen judges determine this in the past in relation to such mischief, it would be more appropriate to regard such youth vandalism to require of them to complete community service projects with veterans groups, or to mandate that they volunteer with veterans. Simply put, rather than collecting a fine and leaving it at that, we should require individuals to learn about the sacrifices veterans have made for this country, to engage with the veterans, to hear their stories and to appreciate the sacrifice that was made.

Regrettably, we discourage the use of such sentencing techniques by requiring a punitive mandatory minimum, where judges may be less inclined to propose such action in addition to a fine or prison term. It may even be that a prosecutor would charge a lesser offence to avoid the mandatory minimum, as we have seen in the past as well, such that this, in the end, would undermine this law's attempt at even specific denunciation of this behaviour, let alone its prevention to begin with.

I find myself, again, in the position where I need to draw to the attention of my colleagues opposite that crime and justice cannot, and do not, only operate in the realms of punishment and incarceration.

Indeed, in relation to alternative sentencing, we have the concept of restorative justice, of which we hear very little from the government, if anything. It would provide for remedies like the one suggested regarding community service and promote the idea that a person convicted of such an offence should make it right, not simply with the state but with those who are harmed and hurt by his or her conduct. As witnesses from veterans groups noted at committee, a heartfelt and sincere apology can go a long way.

Another thing we ignore with the focus on punishment is, indeed, prevention, which brings me to my third and final point; that is, the bill would do nothing with regard to prevention, and it would not serve as an effective deterrent.

The government could have introduced a fund for security at such sites. It could have announced a new initiative to fund events and ceremonies at such sites to encourage broader community awareness and understanding of their importance and place. Indeed, just as the government is now involved in promoting and publicizing the War of 1812, it could focus at this point on encouraging interaction and engagement with veterans, particularly as the surviving veteran population from World War II diminishes with each passing year.

I do not fault the member for Dufferin—Caledon in any way. Indeed, I appreciate his bringing forth this legislation. However, I must take issue with the government's myopic focus simply on punishment and incarceration, ignoring that prevention and restorative justice must equally be considered and, in some cases, would dictate the adoption of measures other than mandatory minimum penalties of a fine, imprisonment or both.

In closing, while I do believe the bill has flaws, I am supportive in principle, given its foundational importance that we remember those who sacrificed so much for us and our cherished way of life and that we honour their memory appropriately.

However, we can have more effective legislation. We could make it better. We can better honour their sacrifice. We can best honour their memory by so doing.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

May 28th, 2012 / 11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to stand today and speak in support of Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials).

This bill is important because, frankly, many people do not recognize what is taking place across this country. They do not recognize the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made in the past, and how they should be respected.

When the sponsor of the bill, the member for Dufferin—Caledon, appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice, which was tasked to study the bill, he observed that the Criminal Code currently treats the desecration of war memorials in the same fashion as when someone damages or desecrates mailboxes, for instance.

The member said that the national importance of war memorials warrants that they be governed by a separate offence in the code. He called them sacred spaces. I would agree with that analogy. I think they are sacred spaces. They are our way of recognizing and remembering those men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe and secure, and to give us the freedoms we enjoy today.

We have the greatest country in the world not only economically, as has been identified by many people around the world, but also the best banking sector, the best enforcement of the rule of law, the best individual freedoms for people than any other country on the planet.

It is in no small part what the men and women in uniform did in World War I and World War II. Battles like Vimy Ridge established us as a country and gave us pride in our armed forces.

The member also said that under the Criminal Code a person commits mischief by doing certain things. I am not going to go through them specifically, but it is in relation to destroying or damaging property, somebody rendering a property dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective.

I did have an opportunity to listen to the previous speakers. I have also had an opportunity to litigate for some years. Clearly, one thing that is not recognized by some parties is the number of people who commit crimes of property damage and mischief, and frankly, the people who commit those crimes are very seldom caught.

There are studies which indicate that only 8% of crimes are ever solved. I would suggest that with this type of crime, the percentage solved would be much lower because the crime is committed anonymously, usually late at night and in a place where there is no witness, nobody who can identify the people. Often people consider it to be a victimless crime and one that does not need to be studied.

To be clear, Bill C-217 proposes that Parliament recognize the special significance of war memorials by amending the Criminal Code to create a new offence to deal specifically with mischief directed at such property, as the code has already identified for cultural property and property primarily used for religious worship, such as churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.

It also proposes that this new offence be subject to mandatory minimum penalties. I know some members of the Liberal Party and the NDP do not agree with that, but I do think it is very important because many judges across the country do not impose consistent sentences. First of all, we need to send a clear message to criminals that this will not be tolerated. Second, judges across the country, whether it be in Prince Edward Island, Fort McMurray or Vancouver, should impose the same sentence for each individual who commits these types of offences and other offences, such as drug dealing and violent crimes.

People who understand the law, such as the lawyers who spoke earlier, will see that in Vancouver, for instance, the courts are more lenient on drug dealers than the courts are in Alberta. We can see that. It is no surprise. Lawyers know this. That is why lawyers shop around in different jurisdictions.

Mandatory minimum sentences are very important. It is important for the judges to understand that legislators such as us are sending a clear message, and they need to send that clear message on to those people who would commit crimes of this nature.

I can understand why Canadians would readily support the creation of such a specific offence, because who does not know somebody who served in Afghanistan, World War I, World War II, or the Korean War? I think all of us have a relative or know someone who lost his or her life or something of themselves in one of those conflicts. Canadians clearly would support a mandatory minimum sentence in this particular case.

We heard from the previous speaker that he is supporting it. He said it is not a perfect law, and I would agree. I do not think there is such a thing as a perfect law, but certainly we need to move forward as legislators to find that balance between what could be perfect and what is necessary to hold these people to account.

If we were to leave the current law as it is, nothing would change. Clearly it is not working. That is why we need to do something. It has failed to discourage people from committing these offences. It has failed to convince people to pay attention to this in their own communities. These monuments lose their importance to Canadians if they see that people can get away with the occurrences that have taken place.

I want to bring forward to the House some examples of what has happened in the past. These examples were brought to light in committee by Mr. John Eggenberger, the vice-president of research at the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association. These examples clearly indicate what is not acceptable and why we should be taking these steps and sending this message.

In September 2006, the monument in Vimy Ridge Memorial Park in Winnipeg was tagged with silver spray paint. I had a chance to go to France to represent our country. I saw the Vimy Ridge Memorial. I read the names of the young men and women who had served on behalf of Canada. The average age of those young people who died I do not think was even 21. We should honour the people who died to establish and protect our country, as well as the many countries and people of Europe. It is unacceptable to spray-paint a memorial that represents people who died while protecting our freedoms.

In 2008, the Korean War veterans memorial in Ottawa was smeared with human feces. How disgusting is that? The National Capital Commission, to its credit, cleaned it up within an hour. The person or persons who did that should be totally ashamed of themselves. It is disgusting and totally unacceptable.

Also in 2008, a 14-year-old boy was caught spray-painting a war memorial on Vancouver Island. I do not see any constructive purpose in that. Maybe that 14-year-old boy should receive some sort of punishment and some recognition for being a youth, but certainly he should be making a dramatic change in his lifestyle. To do something like that shows an absolute lack of respect.

In June 2008, local Montreal Legion members were outraged to discover FLQ slogans painted on a nearby cenotaph in a southwest suburb of the city. Why would people do that to a monument which recognizes people for their great sacrifices? Likely, many of those people who served during those conflicts were related to the individual who did that, or the individual at least knew them.

In April 2009, a large X was painted over the names of the World War II veterans inscribed on the war memorial next to the town hall in Lennoxville, Quebec. A beer bottle was also smashed on the monument. What is the purpose of that? What do people solve by doing that? Clearly, there is a lack of respect and that needs to change.

In 2009, four teens were charged after the war memorial in Welland, Ontario, was vandalized with spray paint.

In 2010, in Trail, British Columbia, a group of youths were caught on video defacing the town's recently restored cenotaph. What happened to those individuals? Some of those offenders were identified but faced no monetary sanctions for their acts.

There is a cost to this. It is not just a cost to Canadians but a cost to the people who actually sacrificed their time to protect our rights and the rule of law that we have in Canada. Many people take that for granted. Clearly, this is one way to establish that they need to take it seriously.

That is why the mandatory minimum sentence of a $1,000 fine for a first offence is absolutely necessary. It is a small price to pay for what our men and women in uniform did for us. It is a small price to pay for recognizing their great sacrifice. For second or third offences, I suggest that the book be thrown at the perpetrators and that they be sentenced to more than 14 days and 30 days as proposed in the bill, because they are not recognizing the great respect that should be shown to the men and women in uniform today and the men and women in uniform who fought for us and gave us our freedoms.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very eager to participate in the debate on Bill C-217. Before getting into the details of the bill, I would like to remind everyone that, sadly, our nation's history has its darker moments, such as our participation in armed conflicts.

Thousands of Canadian soldiers have fought for our freedoms and democratic values. We recognize that these men and women fought for a cause that they cared deeply about. We have to ensure that future generations learn about the sacrifices that all soldiers have made in the name of a noble cause. The vast majority of them have come home, but others never left the battlefield. Of those lucky enough to return, many carry permanent scars left by the atrocities they experienced on the battlefield. Pain and sadness have affected and continue to affect many families. Unfortunately, nothing can bring back those killed in action. Still, one of the things we must do to show our respect is pay tribute and commemorate their lives. No praise or medal can ever compensate for their service and sacrifice.

Despite our valiant efforts to honour these people, human beings unfortunately have memories that are sometimes a little too short. Therefore, we must ensure that negligence does not lead to a generation of skeptics who are unfamiliar with the history of our country and the lives sacrificed on the battlefields.

Consequently, it is our duty to remember these soldiers and the values that they fought for: the preservation of peace, justice and freedom. We must remember the dedication of these soldiers and their families.

War memorials are a lasting and visible sign that we are grateful for the sacrifices made and that we will never forget the Canadians killed in action. This is not about military propaganda, but recognition for the efforts of thousands of soldiers who died in action. War memorials also remind us that we sometimes find it difficult to learn from our mistakes.

The hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon introduced Bill C-217, which amends the Criminal Code to provide for the offence of committing mischief in relation to a war memorial. This bill seems to stem from the fact that a number of acts of vandalism have been committed against war memorials over the past few years. The hon. member, it seems, wanted to respond to those indecent acts committed against the memory of these soldiers who died in combat.

Nonetheless, we do not believe that sending young people to prison would benefit our society or help young people show respect for our veterans. I think the bill should have focused on education and raising awareness, which, in my opinion, better help prevent vandalism against our war memorials. What is more, the principle of restorative justice has been completely ignored and I think that is a mistake.

The focus should be to make young people realize the importance of respecting the memory of our veterans. A Veterans Affairs Canada report indicates that only 35% of Canadians have attended remembrance ceremonies.

We need to focus on giving Canadians a new appreciation for remembrance. The NDP believes we must ensure that those who made the ultimate sacrifice are not forgotten and that everyone knows that these memorials demand our respect.

We also recognize and commend our community volunteers who work hard to ensure that all Canadians' service and sacrifice are honoured and preserved in memory for the benefit of future generations.

Bill C-217 would amend section 430 of the Criminal Code on mischief and provide for a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offence, a minimum 14-day prison term for a second offence and a minimum 30-day term for each subsequent offence for mischief in relation to a war memorial or part of a similar structure.

These minimum sentences, added to all the minimum sentences the Conservatives have introduced in numerous bills recently, will clearly have a huge impact on Correctional Service Canada's budget. Putting more people in prison will only add to the cost of incarceration. Mandatory minimums have no deterrent effect, contrary to what the government would like us to believe.

We feel that the bill is excellent in principle, and we certainly have no objection to adding a subsection on mischief in relation to war memorials. However, there are two problems with the bill.

First, section 430 of the Criminal Code already pertains to mischief, which includes destroying or damaging property in general, and the punishment for this crime gives the judge ample latitude in sentencing.

Second, and along the same lines, we are against minimum sentences, because, as other members have already said, they give the judge no latitude in determining an appropriate sentence and they are not the right approach. Contrary to what the government thinks, minimum sentences are not a magic bullet. They are not a one-size-fits-all solution to society's problems. As I said, they have no deterrent effect on an offender who is about to commit a crime.

I am completely convinced that what we need to emphasize is prevention, through awareness and education. Consider the following example from a few years ago: a young man was charged for having urinated on a monument. As part of the offender's sentence, he had to apologize, meet with members of the Royal Canadian Legion and perform community service for that organization. After his sentence was complete, that individual continued working with the Royal Canadian Legion, which tells me that the principle of restorative justice was completely beneficial in this case and that it works.

It is also important to point out that it was the Royal Canadian Legion that asked for and suggested this sentence. Thus, in my opinion, the government should follow the Royal Canadian Legion's example. That organization even told the Standing Committee on Justice that this bill should include provisions on restorative justice, such as dialogue between veterans and offenders convicted of mischief.

The Legion also said that the punishment should fit the crime and that imposing sentences should be left to the judge's discretion. Police officers, speaking on their own behalf, have also openly stated that restorative justice should be encouraged in cases involving vandalism of monuments.

The members of the Standing Committee on Justice requested and proposed amendments to the bill. They wanted to remove the clauses about minimum sentences. They also suggested an escape clause to give the judge the discretion to impose a more appropriate, less harsh sentence. The NDP members of the committee also proposed an amendment to introduce a restorative justice clause, but the Conservatives flatly dismissed those amendments.

Recently, the Conservatives cut many jobs at the centre for research into the prevention of mental illness, and in the epidemiology section, which analyzes mental health issues such as suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. Veterans Affairs Canada's budget will be reduced by $36 million by 2014-15.

How can the Minister of National Defence say that the health of the troops is a priority when budgets for mental health services are being cut? Is this how the Conservatives plan to honour the memory of our veterans?

We have to honour living veterans by providing them with the support and help they need to ensure their well-being. We must honour those who have fallen on the battlefield by taking care of monuments across Canada. The Conservative government still has to go a long way to prove that it really cares about the health of our veterans and about honouring their memory.

I would like to close with a few lines from John McCrae's In Flanders Fields:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

It is up to us to keep those poppies blooming, to preserve the memory of our veterans and their commitment to freedom, the freedom they have won for future generations.