An Act to amend the Criminal Code (desecration of the Canadian Flag)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Bob Speller  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of April 4, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canadian FlagPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2002 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

moved:

That a legislative committee of this House be instructed to prepare and bring in a bill, in accordance with Standing Order 68(4)(b), which would make it a criminal offence to wilfully desecrate the Canadian flag.

Mr. Speaker, I take a lot of pride in rising to speak to the motion which is about the Canadian flag. It has a lot to do with the patriotism that most Canadians feel toward our flag. I would like to read the motion again for the record and then talk a bit about why I put the motion forth in such general terms. Motion No. 216 states:

That a legislative committee of this House be instructed to prepare and bring in a bill, in accordance with Standing Order 68(4)(b), which would make it a criminal offence to wilfully desecrate the Canadian flag.

It is a general motion and there are good reasons for that.

We have had motions brought forth to the House before on the desecration of the flag. These were motions that presented positions against Canadians wilfully desecrating our flag. When I was putting my motion together I was careful not to put anything in the motion that would give anyone a reason not to support it.

Some members in previous debates on the flag, and there have been a couple I know about, have said they could not support it because the penalties laid out were not appropriate. The penalties were either too tough or too weak. For that reason I put no specific penalties in my motion on the desecration of the flag. I did that so that there would be no reason for anyone in the House not to support the motion. That should be left to the committee.

If the motion is passed on to a committee members from all political parties in the House and a majority of members from the governing party, with input from Canadians, would have an opportunity to determine what penalties would be appropriate in the event that a Canadian or anyone else wilfully desecrated the Canadian flag. That is why I have left this so general and so open. It makes it really inappropriate for anyone not to support the motion.

In the past other members have tabled similar motions. The member for Souris--Moose Mountain, from the Canadian Alliance, has tabled a motion. It has not yet been selected. The member's name has not been drawn but it is there waiting.

The Liberal member for Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant presented a motion that was debated just a couple of months ago. His motion did actually present and recommend specific fines that should be put in place. In that motion the member recommended that for a first offence there be a fine of $500 and for a second offence or any subsequent offence there be a fine of a minimum of $500 to a maximum of $15,000. I heard some people in debating the member's motion complain that the fines were not appropriate. For that reason I have left this open.

The member for Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, in his presentation of Bill C-330, made it clear that his bill was not aimed at those people who destroyed a flag when it became tattered or when it came to the end of its life, whether it was badly faded, tattered or somehow damaged. He made it clear that his motion would in no way impact on people who destroyed the flag under those circumstances. That of course is a completely acceptable thing to do. It is a recommended course for people to take under those circumstances where a flag can no longer be flown because of the condition it is in. There is no intent to aim the motion at anyone who would destroy a flag simply because it is inappropriate to fly because of the condition it is in.

Why did I choose this motion? When my name was drawn I could have chosen from several motions and bills that I had in the pot. They were there for my choosing when my name was drawn. From all those motions and bills I decided to debate this one. Why was that? The reason is that the flag is an important symbol of our country.

Most Canadian olympic teams for some time have had a stylized version of the Canadian flag on their uniforms. It is something that Canadians take instant pride in. They take ownership of those athletes as being Canadian athletes when they see the stylized version of the flag on their uniforms.

When athletes march in or out of the arena during the start and end of the Olympics, Canadians take great pride when they see our flag. When any of our athletes are on the podium after winning a medal and our flag flies and our national anthem plays, all Canadians feel great pride under those circumstances. It is because of this type of pride that we should have in Canada some law with appropriate penalties to deal with people who would wilfully desecrate our flag. We saw Team Canada, our hockey teams and other teams playing teams from around the world and we know the pride we feel.

Even as elected representatives, how many of us in the House, on our business cards, letterheads or on other information we put out before the public, have a symbol of the Canadian flag on those pieces of information? The member for Red Deer is showing me his business card proudly. He has a picture of our Canadian flag on his card, as do so many of us. We take that kind of pride in our card. When we pass our card to people we want them to know that we are proud and loyal Canadians. That is why we do that.

When we respond to an important issue from constituents, we want them to know that we are proud and loyal Canadians, proud to be serving them. We do that because of how we feel about our flag and because it is truly the most important and best recognized symbol of our country. For that reason I brought this motion forward.

We take pride in members of our Canadian civil service serving in the various departments, serving us and our country so well in most cases. We take a lot of pride in that. Their letterhead and even the buildings they work in have our Canadian flag on them and that is important because they are serving our country and are proud to do so. The symbols are there to show that they are proud to do that.

Almost all products made in Canada proudly present the Canadian flag to show that the product was made in Canada. Business people, companies and corporations from across the country are proud of that because it is a symbol of Canadian made excellence. Our flag is presented on almost all products made in our country. All of these products and the different items I have mentioned have the Canadian flag on them for good reason, because it is the most outstanding and best recognized symbol of the pride we have in our country.

In particular since September 11 Canadians have felt a renewed pride in our country. Most Canadians have recognized since September 11 the importance of the Canadian military.

Of course I, as the official opposition critic for defence, know as well as anyone the pride Canadians take in the service provided by the Canadian military. The Canadian armed forces serve under the Canadian flag and fight under the Canadian flag. We take great pride in that as Canadians.

A large part of the reason I brought this motion forward is because I have had citizens from across the country who formerly served in the Canadian forces. Many are currently serving in the Canadian forces. Many are members of the Canadian legion. They either have formerly served or they take a particular interest in the Canadian military.

Those people in particular are recognized in conjunction with the Canadian flag. Many have died serving under the Canadian flag. Their comrades who live on, who have put pressure on me, and rightly so, to bring this motion forward, have said they want to have in place a law which will punish those who would desecrate that same flag or even the former flag under which their comrades served. They want that special recognition that they felt could come only from having such a law in place.

Before I get into the closing of my presentation, I want to read a couple of poems. I have taken them from another Canadian Alliance member who spoke on this issue before in the House of Commons. They are excellent poems about the pride that Canadians take in the flag. I will read parts of two poems presented by the Canadian Alliance member for Souris--Moose Mountain. I know that he is a proud Canadian and that he feels it is extremely important that we protect the Canadian flag as a symbol of our country.

The first verse that I will read is part of a poem, or an old patriotic song as he has presented it, read:

At Queenston Heights in Lundy's Lane, Our brave fathers side by side For freedom's home and loved ones dear, Firmly stood and nobly died. And those dear rights which they maintained, We swear to yield them never. Our watchword ever more shall be, The Maple Leaf forever.

Of course, the maple leaf is our Canadian flag. The last verse that he read and that I want to read today is a short part of a poem on our emblem of liberty, and it reads:

It's only an old piece of bunting It's only an old coloured rag But there are thousands who died for its honor And fell in defence of our flag.

I think these two verses from songs and poems from our past really present the pride that Canadians take in the flag, particularly our men and women who serve this country in our armed forces and military.

I would encourage everyone in the House to support this motion. It is presented in a way that allows the committee to do what it wants with it.

I would now like to ask for unanimous consent to make this motion votable.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 19th, 2002 / 7 p.m.
See context

Northumberland Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the private member's bill introduced by my hon. colleague from Haldimand--Norfolk--Brant. The purpose of Bill C-330, an act to amend the criminal code concerning the desecration of the Canadian flag, is to make it a criminal offence to desecrate the national flag of Canada.

As my fellow parliamentarians would agree, the issue deeply touches all Canadians. Our Canadian flag symbolizes democracy, freedom, liberty and Canadian unity. The Canadian flag and all it represents must remain the pride of all Canadians as it always has.

To better understand the issue before us it is important to recall the beginning of our national flag, as others have this evening. The idea of a new flag was born as early as 1925 when a committee of the privy council researched possible designs for a new Canadian flag. Unfortunately the project was never completed.

The issue came up again in 1946 when an appointed parliamentary committee requested submissions for a new flag and received a noteworthy 2,600 submissions. Parliament did not formally vote on a design at the time.

It was during the fall of 1964 that the search for a national flag began which led to the present design. It came to be thanks to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson who wanted a distinctive national flag to promote unity. John Matheson provided the conceptual framework. Dr. George Stanley provided the concept for the flag that is now seen across the country.

Although the significance of our national flag has occupied discussions on various occasions, the words that best describe our flag were spoken by the hon. Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Senate in 1965, during the inauguration ceremony held on Parliament Hill before parliamentarians and thousands of Canadians. Unknowing of the issue that would one day rise before us, he rightly stated:

The flag is a symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.

It is to the last item that I draw the House's attention. We are all troubled when a symbol of our great country is mistreated. Burning, defacing, defiling, mutilating, trampling or otherwise desecrating a nation's flag will arouse the anger of all Canadians. However the question that arises is whether the acts, offensive as they may be, are sufficient to justify creating an offence under our criminal law.

Canadians are proud to be a tolerant and respectable people. We value our diversity of culture, religion and belief. We have incorporated into our constitution and legal system the fundamental principles of this wonderful country. One of these, derived from the value of tolerance, is freedom of expression.

It is well understood in our country that the actions Bill C-330 would prohibit amount to little more than an expression of political opinion. As troubling as they may be to some and perhaps most Canadians they are not deemed a criminal offence. If the government were to prohibit such actions against our national flag what other symbol of our nation should be so protected? Would the maple leaf be next? Where would we draw the line?

Other jurisdictions have attempted to deal with issues of this nature. Countries such as Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States have refrained from criminalizing the desecration of their flags. Attempts were made to do so but the legislation was deemed unconstitutional.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 19th, 2002 / 6:55 p.m.
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Liberal

John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to add my voice to the debate tonight because we are talking about a symbol and symbols that speak on behalf of not just the country but on behalf of us.

I want to compliment my colleague from Haldimand--Norfolk--Brant for bringing forth Bill C-330. It has given us the opportunity, as other members have and as he has, to express our views on a most important issue. This is not an issue that is just being discussed today. It has been discussed for many years.

The member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough gave us a couple of illustrations. He also referred to section 430 of the criminal code with respect to mischief to property, and rightfully so.

Let us be very frank. We have heard over the past several months, certainly post-September 11, how our world has changed and how things have changed. We have seen pre-September 11 and post-September 11 demonstrations and we have seen people react in different ways.

The G-20 meeting was held in Ottawa several months back. We have all grown up and we live in a wonderful country, a free and democratic society that gives us the opportunity to demonstrate and express our views. Many people called my office to tell me of the property damage, of window displays being broken during the G-20 meeting in Ottawa, and of the things that happened during the APEC meeting in British Columbia some years back. They wanted to know why people who wished to demonstrate needed to commit violent acts and destroy property just to express a certain view.

That goes to the heart of Bill C-330. What Bill C-330 states, in my opinion, is that people should demonstrate and they should express their views, but the flag, our symbol, does not deserve to be torn, desecrated, burned, trampled on or whatever. I believe that is what my colleague is saying.

There have been several initiatives. I am glad the member's bill is being debated. I know the Canadian Alliance has a similar bill. I have one as well. The committees which select what is votable and what is not, chose, in their wisdom, and I question that, not to make the bill votable because of section 430 of the criminal code.

We make laws to protect nature, and so we should. We make laws to protect endangered species, and so we should. We also make laws to protect ourselves as individuals. As time goes by these laws are amended, fine tuned and changed.

We are living in a different world. We all agree to that. We are now seeing initiatives like Bill C-330 which my good friend has brought before us. In his wisdom he is saying that things have changed and that we must make changes to the criminal code.

We need to send a message that we will not tolerate the desecration, the destruction, the burning, et cetera, of a symbol that cannot speak. We are the ones who hopefully can put some legislation in place to speak on its behalf.

I am pleased we are having this debate because it gives us a chance to express ourselves. However I am greatly disappointed because no firm initiative has been put forward to make amendments to the criminal code as the proposal is saying.

In flipping my paper, I cannot help but refer to a letter I received not too long ago from a former member of parliament, Alexandre Cyr, the member of parliament for Gaspé from 1963 to 1984. He wrote a letter to thank us for the initiatives he heard about and to encourage us.

I find it very puzzling that so many people are saying this and the 301 members of parliament elected by over 30 million people cannot come together. This is not a partisan issue. We either stand up and believe in what we say or we do not. I am disappointed that this effort by my colleague and others will only go as far as providing this opportunity. I am sad to say that it will not come to a successful end.

I do not buy the fact that there were provisions in section 430 that referred to mischief to property. That addresses a certain aspect of destroying and defacing property but does not specifically address the national symbols that represent Canada, such as the maple leaf or the various provincial flags that represent the provinces and territories. It is high time that we collectively found room in our hearts to make changes.

I speak on behalf of my colleagues from Haldimand--Norfolk--Brant, Scarborough Centre and I am sure others when I say that we will continue to lobby to make parliament understand that we have to send the signal out that this symbol does not deserve desecration and that we will speak on behalf of this symbol through whatever legislation or amendment.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 19th, 2002 / 6:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill tabled by the hon. member for Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant arouses strong feelings.

This is a private member's bill that is not a votable item, but would make it an offence under the criminal code to wilfully desecrate the Canadian flag. This bill seems to be patterned on the 1989 U.S. legislation called the Flag Protection Act.

There is, however, a difference in terms of penalties. The bill now before the House is more moderate than the U.S. legislation, which provides, in addition to fines, jail sentences of up to one year. By contrast, Bill C-330 would fortunately only impose monetary penalties.

It is strange that, at a time when Canada is increasingly trying to preserve its cultural and economic sovereignty, the government is often lagging behind the Americans when it comes to developing new legislation, particularly in the penal field. However, today I would rather use my time making a brief historical comparison of the Canadian and Quebec flags.

As the Bloc Quebecois critic on Canadian heritage issues, I want to say first off that, like the flag of every province, the Canadian flag is an important symbol which deserves respect, as it represents the aspirations of a country.

We are particularly aware of that in Quebec, because we chose to have a national flag. Our emblem, the fleur de lys, has had a special place in our hearts for over 50 years now. We know that the fleurs de lys pointing towards the sky symbolize the strength of the Quebec traditions.

On January 21, 1948, Premier Maurice Duplessis had our distinctive flag raised for the first time over the central tower of the Quebec parliament. The premier thus fulfilled the wish of Quebecers, who longed to be officially represented by the fleur de lys since the beginning of the 20th century. That initiative had been proposed for years by an independent MNA, René Chaloult, seconded by André Laurendeau.

Today, I want to pay tribute to them for having fought that battle. Historian Robert Rumilly explained that the Liberals of the day wanted to wait until the federal government adopted a Canadian flag, because they feared that adopting a Quebec flag might adversely affect the adoption of a Canadian flag. Quebec would then have had to wait a long time. I am pleased that public pressure convinced the premier of the day, Maurice Duplessis, to change his mind.

Laurendeau, Chaloult and a few others have fought doggedly for a flag with a connection to our history, one that assembles us and resembles us, to be able to fly freely and celebrate our identity.

There is a long history behind the choice of the symbols on our flag. I would like to give hon. members a brief historical review. Way back in 1534, when Canada was discovered, Jacques Cartier raised the fleur de lis standard of the King of France, François I.

With the founding of Quebec City in 1608, Samuel de Champlain extended the limits of New France to a vast territory encompassing Acadie and the Great Lakes region.

The vessels involved in this colonization flew a blue flag with a white cross. From that time onward, until the Conquest in 1759, this French representation of the flag was to fly over almost half of North America, from the Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1758, at the end of the French regime, a banner flew high above the Carillon encampment. It was sky blue, and bore the shield of France, with a silver fleur de lis in each corner. This banner, dubbed the Carillon, is recognized as the direct ancestor of the Quebec flag.

In 1759 came the defeat at the Plains of Abraham. From then on, the Union Jack was to replace the flags of the King of France, which the chevalier de Lévis ordered burned on Île Sainte-Hélène rather than let them be turned over to the enemy.

If Quebec has had its own flag since 1948, Canada continued to search for its own colours. On July 11, 1946, the House of Commons was to adopt a modification of the British Navy Red Ensign, with the Union Jack and the Royal Coat of Arms of Canada.

Since 1925, however, a Privy Council committee had undertaken a search for ideas for a national flag, to no avail. In 1946, a similar mandate was given to a royal commission and, despite a multitude of proposals, no resolution was brought before parliament.

To make a long story short, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson made known his desire to adopt a national flag in 1964. And on February 15, 1965, the maple leaf was proclaimed Canada's flag by the Queen of Canada. The colours chosen, red and white, are the national colours which were assigned to Canada by King George V in 1921.

The reason for this speedy little history lesson is simply to remind the House how an emblem such as a flag is inextricably bound up in the patriotic fibre of a nation.

The House should also remember how, during the 1965 campaign to promote what is now the Canadian flag, Quebecers rallied to the idea in large numbers. For a reason which is relatively simple but solidly fixed in the head of every francophone, Quebecers or francophones living elsewhere in Canada, the Union Jack, which we were forced to fly as a national flag, was a bitter reminder, even after all these years, of the English victory on the Plains of Abraham, a victory which has marked our psyche and history.

Furthermore, on February 27, 1946, the Legislative Assembly of Quebec unanimously passed a motion calling on the federal parliamentary committee to choose a truly Canadian flag.

It was therefore the francophones of Canada, and particularly those of Quebec, who urged the Canadian parliament to fly a real flag: an odd reversal of history.

Even though Quebec has been trying to affirm itself as a nation and have its flag recognized as the symbol of Quebec since the late 1960s, it must be pointed out that, if the flag of Canada is to be respected, it would be best not to overuse it, not to fall into simplistic patriotism and to make it a cult object.

It would be best not to overdo this symbol, to stop the ostentatious displays which may well put the public off in the long run and which detract from its meaning.

Unfortunately, this is a trend that we see all too often among members of the current Liberal government, particularly at the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Members will recall that in September 1999, the department, either as a clumsy demonstration of patriotism or as propaganda, tried to require Canadian publishers to print the maple leaf in every book that was published. Luckily, the justifiable protests from publishers and commentators of all political stripes stopped the process. We know of her propensity to plaster the flag at cultural and sporting events abroad and at home. This often antagonizes those participating in these events.

So it pays to remember that Quebecers, while differing in their language, culture and institutions, also differ in their sense of belonging to a nation, which causes them to define their ties to Canada quite differently than other Canadians. The Canadian flag does not resonate the same way in Quebec as is does in Alberta, for example. These are not my words, but those of Alain Dubuc, from his editorial in La Presse dated September 22, 1999, who cannot be considered part of the sovereignist camp.

I understand what prompts some members, and the member who introduced this bill, to call for this type of legislation. However, there is no guarantee, and I am not convinced that criminalizing the desecration of the flag will bring people to respect the Canadian flag, or any of the provincial flags for that matter.

First, because of its important symbolism, the flag must be treated seriously, and not overused to the point of becoming a propaganda tool. I could also quote other journalists who have commented on this aspect, this overuse of the flag.

According to journalist Gilles Lesage, the flag is an object of pride and a symbol to be rallied around, not an object to entertain or reject.

He quotes the Minister of Canadian Heritage in her propensity—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 19th, 2002 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

moved that Bill C-330, an act to amend the Criminal Code (desecration of the Canadian Flag), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today I have the honour to present to the House my private member's bill, Bill C-330, desecration of the Canadian flag.Like many people in the country, when I see people desecrating the Canadian flag on television, I feel a profound sadness for those people and what they are doing to the memory of many Canadians who fought for that flag.

I put the bill forward to speak on behalf of many people in the Royal Canadian Legion, not only in my area but across the country who wrote members of parliament to ask them to bring forward this very important issue for debate in the House.

The proposed section 56.1 outlined in my bill would read:

(1) Every one who, without lawful excuse, wilfully burns, defaces, defiles, mutilates, tramples upon or otherwise desecrates the national flag of Canada is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction

(a) for a first offence, to a fine of $500; and

(b) for a second or subsequent offence, to a fine of a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $15,000.

(2) No person is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) if the person disposes of the national flag of Canada because the flag has become worn, soiled or damaged.

The purpose of the bill is to make it illegal for anyone to wilfully desecrate the Canadian flag, which I believe is cherished by everybody in the country. Although I and many others believe that the act of desecrating the Canadian flag runs contrary to the values of this nation, warranting a criminal code provision, I believe most people think it is not serious enough to be punishable by jail time.

It is in this regard that my bill differs from other bills in the House that have come before in that they proposed as a penalty jail time for this offence.

I want to make it clear that there are many instances where the Canadian flag will need to be destroyed because it has become worn, or soiled or inadvertently damaged. In these instances it would be irresponsible for parliamentarians, with this bill, to place people who were properly disposing of their flags in violation of the criminal code. That is why in proposed subsection 56.1(2) of the bill I made it perfectly clear that no one is guilty of an offence when they are properly disposing of a flag for the purposes of the stated reasons in the bill.

I believe this issue is a very important one. It is not only important to me and my constituents, but it is important to members of the Royal Canadian Legion who from across the country wrote members of parliament and ask them to take action.

I want to read from a letter I received from the Royal Canadian Legion in my area. It states:

In support of The Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Executive Council, we wish to raise the issue of safeguarding our national flag.

Since 1994, Dominion Command has been presenting resolutions to the Federal Government urging legislation against willful and indiscriminate acts of desecration to the flag. They are not satisfied by the bureaucratic response, and are now asking for individual and Branch support.

It is our desire to make you aware that Royal Canadian Legion Branch...support 100% the position of our Dominion Command. This position is stated quite clearly. I quote: “We want the government to enact legislation which would make it a crime to willfully desecrate the flag. We do not want the punishment to be so onerous that offenders are put in prison, but we do want the offence to carry a suitable penalty such as...$500 - $15,000--

That is exactly what I have in this proposed legislation. The letter continues:

The Legion is sensitive to the right guaranteed in Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to 'freedom of expression'. Our veterans offered the supreme sacrifice to protect this and other freedoms for all Canadians. We also believe the Charter was never meant to protect those who would violate the freedoms and rights of others. In this regard, we maintain that those who would trample, burn and desecrate the national flag of Canada have committed a criminal act in destroying property which belongs to all Canadians. It is our view that to desecrate the Canadian flag is to dishonour the memory and sacrifice of those who died protecting it.

...we ask your support of our views, and urge you to help implement the legislation required to ensure our flag will be honoured with the respect and dignity it deserves.

That came from members of the Port Rowan Legion in my constituency. Essentially they are saying to the House that they believe the flags they have fought under should be protected by laws. Also many have represented Canada around the world with that flag since 1965. I totally agree with the letter. I stand before the House to try to protect the institutions and what this flag symbolizes. I believe many other speakers will speak in favour of this also.

This raises an interesting point. While many people will argue that the public desecration of the flag is protected under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, meaning that it is protected as a freedom of expression, it is not my intention to limit the freedoms that people have and that this great nation enjoys. However I will argue that the Canadian flag is not an acceptable means of expression. Desecrating the flag is not in any way against the expressions that are found in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This flag is not a piece of cloth with a neat design on it. What it expresses are the ideals of our nation. It does not represent a particular government policy, or an institution or a party; it represents the nation itself. It supercedes any other actions taken by government in that it is a representation of what this nation stands for and has stood for since 1867. It is this country that the flag symbolizes. It is not the government. The desecration of the flag is not a political means of expression. What they are desecrating is what this country has stood for since Confederation.

The ideals of this nation are what over 100,000 Canadians unselfishly gave their lives to protect during World War I, World War II and the Korean War. For the people who were alive during these wars, their lives were profoundly touched. People of all ages and of all races and of all social classes did whatever they could to help protect the cause. Many of them served in various roles in the military where others helped out on the home front. It was a collective effort by the entire nation where many people were forced to give the ultimate sacrifice and indeed sacrifice their lives. They fought for freedom, for justice and for Canada. They also fought for freedom of other countries around this world. Even though it is not the present day flag that these people fought under during the war, these flags are symbolic and they are of one flag. I know members of the Royal Canadian Legion today see it that way.

They fought for the ideals of this nation. They fought for this parliament and they fought for what we as parliamentarians represent in this country. Because of the sacrifice of so many, to most of us war is something that we see on television or a journalist's recount of events. Where our closest emotional contact with war is usually of our knowing someone else who was there or from old diaries or letters and memorabilia, it is because of their sacrifice that we now sometimes take for granted the freedom that we have.

It is because of these people, members of the Royal Canadian Legion and other veterans organizations, that I stand here today with this bill. Not only is it for them though, we also have Canadians in Afghanistan.

Canadians around the world wear the Canadian flag on their shoulders. It is also for them that we stand in the House today to bring forward this legislation.

It is important that we take a look at how this flag came about. As we know, on July 1, 1867, Canada was proclaimed a nation. It was still a colony of Great Britain with strong colonial ties to that country. As a result Canada did not have its own national flag. It had Great Britain's Union Jack. However, Canada often used the Red Ensign as a flag. It was a flag that showed its individuality from Great Britain. It actually took the House many years of debate to come forward with an agreement from all sides on the Canadian flag that we have today.

Lester B. Pearson proclaimed during the election campaign of 1963 that Canada would have its own flag. It was a promise that Mr. Pearson did not forget. It was really in the spirit of non-partisanship that people from all sides of the House came together and voted in favour of a Canadian flag on December 15, 1964. The vote was 163 to 78 in favour of the flag.

The Senate approved the flag two days later and the Queen gave her approval on Christmas Eve. She signed the official proclamation on January 28, 1965. On February 15 of the same year the maple leaf flag became the official flag of Canada with an extensive flag raising ceremony not only on Parliament Hill but cross the country and indeed around the world at Canadian embassies, consulates and high commissions.

The intention of the Canadian flag was to honour all of the founding nations of this country which denoted allegiance and was devoid of its colonial independence. This is the flag that represents the diversity of this nation, its independence and freedom. This is not something that we should be taking for granted. It is something that we should cherish and which I believe Canadians do cherish.

For the few that would use it for their own political means to express to the House, to government and to Canadians that they somehow dislike what is going on in this country, I and many Canadians cannot take it.

We believe that sort of action should have consequences. That is why I bring forward legislation in the House to make sure that all Canadians understand that if they want to attack the memories of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have stood by that flag and its previous flags in representing this country overseas there are consequences for their actions.

I understand that people's sense of patriotism cannot be legislated. It is not something that we can force upon people. It is something that people feel within themselves. It is an ideal of their nation. For the most part we do not need to remind people of how sacred our flag is. However, for those few who find that they should offend these values and the ideals of this country I believe that in fact there should be consequences and that they should suffer those consequences.

I wish to say that we have had support from all parties on this issue. I wish to send a message to Canadians that even though this piece of legislation will not come to a vote because of some of the political goings on in the House, we feel it is important enough for us to remind them of what it is they do when they desecrate the flag.

I thank all hon. members who have given me their support for this piece of legislation. I look forward to hearing from my colleagues in the House and their views on how we can assure Canadians that their flag, and the ideals behind their flag, will be protected and cherished for years to come.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

April 4th, 2001 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-330, an act to amend the Criminal Code (desecration of the Canadian Flag).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a bill to amend the criminal code regarding the desecration of the Canadian flag. I thank the member for Eglinton—Lawrence for seconding the motion.

We all know that a vast majority of Canadians are proud of the flag as a national symbol and believe that the desecration of it is an offence. The flag is a symbol of our freedom and independence. For those who fought for our country's liberty, the destruction of our flag is particularly upsetting.

Unfortunately there are some people who feel that by destroying our flag they are expressing their disagreement with government policy or the entire nation itself as a means of protest.

In this vein I put forward the bill to protect our national symbol. I am not advocating throwing people in jail over this, but I do think a fine on a sliding scale is appropriate punishment for those who wilfully destroy our most profound national symbol.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)