Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak to Bill C-305, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief) as reported back to the House of Commons with amendments.
I want to begin by commending the sponsor of the bill, my colleague, the hon. member for Nepean. I also want to take a moment to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their dedicated work. I also want to commend the hon. member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke for all of his passionate advocacy over the years for the LGBTQQ community, and in particular for the transgender community, without which I do not believe we would be at this historical moment.
Allow me first to set the bill in the context of recent past events. As has been mentioned recently in the House, in January of this year, six people were murdered in a Quebec City mosque, an event that shocked and appalled the nation. In Ottawa there has been a troubling spike in the incidents of hate graffiti on synagogues over the past several months. Such incidents should cause us as legislators to consider how we wish to confront and prevent the commission of hate crimes in our society.
Bill C-305 is an important response to strengthen the ability of the criminal law to adequately denounce and deter hate crimes. It proposes to expand the scope of the current hate-motivated mischief offence now found in subsection 430(4.1) of the Criminal Code. That provision, entitled “Mischief relating to religious property”, currently prohibits mischief committed against buildings or structures primarily used for a religious purpose, such as a church, mosque, synagogue, or cemetery. The offence must be committed out of hatred, prejudice, or bias based on religion, race, colour, or national or ethnic origin.
The current provision carries a maximum punishment of 10 years of imprisonment when prosecuted by indictment and a maximum penalty of 18 months in jail when prosecuted by way of a summary conviction.
The Criminal Code presently has a sentencing provision to address hate crimes. Subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) of the code requires a judge to take into consideration as an aggravating factor for any crime whether the crime was motivated by bias, prejudice, or hatred. This is based on a non-exhaustive list of criteria, including religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, mental or physical disability, sex, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor.
Some may argue that given these existing provisions, there is no need to expand the offence of hate-motivated mischief any further, since what is not caught by current subsection 430(4.1) would be addressed at the sentencing stage when the judge must take into consideration whether the offence was motivated by hatred. However, I believe this is an overly narrow interpretation of the law as it stands, and we have an opportunity as legislators to address this.
I acknowledge that judges may rely on the existing sentencing provisions to account for hateful motivation, but I believe that by expanding the actual offence of hate-motivated mischief, we have an opportunity to send a strong message of condemnation to those who would commit such crimes.
Denunciation of this type of offence is not merely symbolic. Hate-motivated mischief carries a heavier maximum penalty on summary conviction than the general offence. In addition, by showing leadership on this troubling issue, we stand to raise public awareness in a real and impactful way.
As a result, while some may perceive a redundancy, others will recognize the benefit of providing a broader range of tools to our police, prosecutors, and other criminal justice professionals and, I would add, justice for victims of this particular type of crime.
I will now address the specific changes proposed in Bill C-305 as well as the amendments passed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
As I noted earlier, the existing offence under subsection 430(4.1) of the code applies only to mischief committed against religious property. While this is one category of property that deserves special recognition, I believe that a broader diversity of Canadians stand to benefit from an expanded application of this section.
Bill C-305 addresses this issue head-on by amending the current hate-motivated mischief offence in two ways. First, the bill proposes to include new buildings or parts of buildings primarily used as educational institutions, including a school, day care centre, or college or university; used for administrative, social, cultural, or sports events or activities, including a town hall, community centre, playground, or arena; or used as a seniors residence.
Upon passage of this bill, therefore, vandalism committed against a Jewish or Muslim community centre would be caught by the expanded hate crime mischief offence and not just vandalism committed against a synagogue or a mosque.
I should note that a major concern for our government was expressed during the debate at second reading. The concern was that the definition of property that it proposed to add to the current offence was overly broad. The list of new properties caught by the bill appeared to be much broader than we believe was intended. For instance, the bill would have likely covered privately owned sports stadiums, as well as any buildings used for social purposes. In other words, it would have covered buildings that have no real connection to groups that are historically targeted by hate-based mischief. As a result, the government felt this aspect of the bill reached too far.
I am pleased to say that this issue was addressed by the standing committee during its study of the bill. Specifically, amendments passed by the committee require a building or space to be “primarily used” by one of the groups protected by the bill. This helps maintain a rational connection between the hateful motivation and the building that is subject to the mischief.
The amendment will help to ensure that subsection 430(4.1) does not accidentally capture instances of mischief committed against property that is not actually connected with one of the protected groups.
The bill proposes to expand the list of “identifiable groups” that are covered by the mischief provision of the Criminal Code to make it more consistent with the groups set out in the section on hate propaganda offences.
The definition of “identifiable groups” for hate propaganda offences covers not only groups that are identifiable by colour, race, religion, and national or ethnic origin—the motivations currently set out for hate-based mischief—but also those identifiable by age, sex, sexual orientation, and mental or physical disability.
Bill C-305 seeks to eliminate that inconsistency by establishing a list of motivations for hate-based mischief that is similar to that set out in the definition of “identifiable groups” under the hate propaganda section of the Criminal Code. In other words, the motivations of age, sex, sexual orientation, and mental and physical disability would be added as motivations for hate-based mischief as soon as the bill is passed.
My colleagues may recall that Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, proposes adding gender identity and gender expression to the definition of “identifiable groups” for hate propaganda offences.
My colleagues will also recall that, although Bill C-305, as introduced at first reading, proposed adding gender identity to the list of motivations for hate-based mischief, gender identity was not addressed in the bill. The sponsor of the bill recognized that this was an oversight. The amendments proposed by the standing committee corrected that omission.
As a result, once Bill C-16 comes into force, an act of mischief committed against property primarily used by a group identifiable on the basis of its gender identity where the mischief was motivated by hatred based on gender identity would be caught by this expanded offence.
To summarize, Bill C-305 would expand the current hate crime of mischief to clearly denounce additional types of mischief motivated by hatred against certain historically marginalized groups. It would therefore provide additional tools to our criminal justice system to protect Canadians from hate-motivated crime.
I would once again like to thank the sponsor for his outstanding advocacy on this issue, as well as the standing committee for its excellent work on Bill C-305. I sincerely hope that the hon. members of this House continue to support Bill C-305 in order to more fully protect the diversity of communities in our Canadian society.