Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this private member's motion. It is fitting that we should be reflecting on the risk that those who are charged with protecting the public take in this parliamentary week when we have had the annual visit to Parliament Hill of the Canadian Police Association, another group of people who are charged with protection of the public like firefighters.
I want to speak in general support of the motion. I know it is not a votable motion but it is a motion which, like Bill C-419, enables the House to debate this subject and hopefully create the kind of momentum by which eventually the government may be inspired to act on the concerns that are raised by Motion No. 376 and also by Bill C-419.
There are no provisions in the criminal code or any other statute of which I am aware that specifically address the line of duty death or injury of a firefighter when it is the result of a criminal act such as murder or arson. Putting additional penalties into the criminal code for murder or arson that results in the death of a firefighter might go some way to deterring people who are contemplating arson.
I am not sure it would help in the case of juveniles or 12 year olds who set fires in garages, but we know we are looking at more than just that. There are a lot of adults in the country who are responsible for arson. Maybe, if they had it in the back of their mind that, if a firefighter were to be injured or killed in the line of fighting that fire, they would be held much more responsible than they are today by the criminal code, by the courts and by society, that might have a deterrent effect on them. This would have a beneficial effect not just on society as a whole, or to the benefit of those whose property might not then become the object of arson, but in the final analysis for the safety of firefighters themselves who would not be called out to fight these fires.
I commend the hon. members for bringing forward these motions. I hope the Minister of Justice might be inspired to act soon on this sort of thing. If this was brought forward in a reasonable way, I am sure it would command the support of a majority if not the entire House, and it could be done quite quickly.
I particularly urge my colleagues on the government side, who by themselves constitute a majority in the House of Commons, to consider this. Year after year firefighters have come here for their annual lobby and members have indicated to them their support on certain things. If that is the case, then they should not have to come here year after year wondering why nothing has ever happened. It must be a mystery to firefighters why they have to come back to ask for certain things again.
I think of the arguments firefighters have made over the years for changes to the rules which affect their pension. I hope there is some discussion between firefighters and others who feel the nature of their vocation, the risks they take and the exposure to certain dangers, creates a life situation for them and they would be better to retire early rather than later. However to do that they need to have a pension system that would enable them to do so without penalty.
This is something the government should do and could have done some time ago. It remains a mystery as to why we cannot get action on this issue, and I urge the government and Liberal backbenchers to get cracking on this.
This is not revolutionary stuff. This is something that could be done and I hope that it will be done soon. Likewise, and I am not sure exactly of the wording, there is the public safety officer benefit or something to that effect. What it means is that when someone is killed in the line of duty, a firefighter, or a policeman or someone in a similar category, there is an automatic benefit to the family, to those who survive the person who loses his or her life in the line of duty.
I am thinking just for a minute of what happened in New York City. I would suspect, given the fact that this kind of law exists in the United States, that the families of all 300 firefighters who were killed on September 11 were in receipt of this particular benefit. If a similar thing were to happen here, and God forbid if we were to lose 300, 100, 50 or 10 firefighters in one event, there would be no such benefit for their families.
Again, I say to the government, I have been here a long time and like a lot of other people I have listened to the firefighters year after year. They come around to my office and say “We've got the Liberal MPs on side. They say that they are for this”. If they have the Liberal MPs on side and they already have the opposition on side, then it should happen. That is what we are here for. We make the laws.
Who is telling the majority of us here, constituted by people on all sides of the House, including Liberal MPs who are telling firefighters that they are in favour of these things, that we cannot do this? I ask my Liberal colleagues, who is telling them that they cannot do this or that they must not? Has some reason been given for inaction on the part of the government? Share it with us, so we can combat it, so we can argue against it, so the firefighters can argue against it.
There is nothing more frustrating for firefighters than to have someone year after year nod their head in agreement, smile at them, go to their reception, pat them on the back, say how great they are and then next year nothing has changed. There is no legislation.
I say the time has come for action on a number of these issues, the issue raised by this motion and by the motion of a Liberal backbencher although I am not sure he is a backbencher now. Maybe he has had a promotion to parliamentary secretary or something like that.
In any event we have this issue before us. We need to put increased penalties in the criminal code for deaths of firefighters that occur in the line of duty as a result of arson. We need the pension legislation changed so that these firefighters can retire earlier with a full pension. We need that public safety officer benefit that I spoke of that exists in the United States.
There is no reason why we could not have all three of those things. The support exists in the House for it. It is just a continuing embarrassment to all of us year after year when the firefighters come here and we tell them we are in favour of it, yet nothing happens. It is an embarrassment not just to us and not just to the frustration of the firefighters, but ultimately it is an embarrassment to democracy and to parliament. If we are all for it, and we are the people who make the laws, and the firefighters are asking us to change the laws and we say we agree with them, yet it does not happen, what does that make us look like? It makes us look impotent. It makes us look like we do not have any real power and somebody else is calling the shots around here. I am not sure who it is. I have my suspicions from time to time depending on the issue.
It would seem that these are the kinds of things that we could do together as members of parliament. Let us make up our mind today that next year we will not be debating someone else's private member's bill having to do with this issue or other requests that firefighters make of us. Let us hope that by this time next year we will have acted on this issue and on others that are of concern to the firefighters in our community.
Let us remember who was going up the stairs on September 11 when other people were coming down. They were the firefighters. We owe the very highest attention in this place to people like them, and it is about time they got it.