Yes, I do, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, members of the committee, for letting me speak this morning on Bill C-217.
I've distributed copies of my comments to members of the committee, in French and English, and one of the witness's comments as well.
Perhaps, first of all, Mr. Chairman, I could introduce the two witnesses I've asked to attend here.
Mr. John Eggenberger is from Ottawa. He is the vice-president of research of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1955 through 1981, when he retired as a lieutenant-colonel. During that time he continued his education, earning his Ph.D. in 1976. He began his career as an airborne interceptor navigator, flying out of Comox, in British Columbia. He subsequently served in many postings, including a stint on the DEW line in the Northwest Territories, as well as the Royal Military College. He spent many years in the European theatre, in both France and Germany, during the Cold War. He completed his career here in Ottawa.
Mr. Earl Page is a veteran of the Korean War, from Woodstock, Ontario. He joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1948, where he served for five years, until 1953. His posting was in the engine room. He served on three ships: HMCS Swansea, HMCS Huron, and HMCS Quebec. His voyages included both North American coasts, including the Arctic Circle; Europe, from Norway to Gibraltar; and the Far East, to Korea, Japan, and China, in 1951. Mr. Page has been a Royal Canadian Legion member from 1954 to the present. He has served on the executive for four years, including as first vice-president. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Naval Association from 1976, including various executive duties. He is also a member of various other veterans groups and organizations.
As members of Parliament, Mr. Chairman, we are all acquainted with veterans and members of the Canadian Forces in our communities. We are equally familiar with the cenotaphs and war memorials and similar structures that hold places of pride and honour in our ridings. Our cenotaphs and war memorials remind us of the ultimate sacrifice paid by fellow Canadians in defence of our freedoms and our cherished way of life. They also remind us of the ongoing service by our brave men and women of the Canadian Forces. These monuments represent a debt that we owe to those who have served and died, and it can never be fully repaid. When one of these honoured structures is vandalized or desecrated, it shocks and sickens us, and rightly so.
However, as the mischief section of the Criminal Code is currently written, cenotaphs and war memorials fall into the same category as a mailbox or parking meter or other mundane bits of property, when it comes to penalties for vandalism. That’s just not right.
In early 2008, in my community of Orangeville, Ontario, the town arranged for our cenotaph to be sent for restoration. In late October it was reinstalled with a dedication ceremony. Then, just days before the annual Remembrance Day services, vandals hit it with eggs. It cost the town of Orangeville more than $2,000 to repair the damage.
Mr. Chairman, that despicable act was the original impetus behind this bill, and it is why I have introduced it. When I began doing research on this, I sadly found that the incident in Orangeville was not isolated. I’ve come across dozens of incidents of vandalism and other acts of profound disrespect from across the country, over only the past five years. I referenced several of them during the debate at second reading. Since the House has sent the bill to this committee, on February 2, there have been yet more acts of senseless destruction.
Up until that time, Mr. Chairman, I have a binder of incidents going back over the years across this country. It's quite remarkable.
Bill C-217 sets out to remedy the current deficiency in the mischief section of the Criminal Code by attaching significant penalties to anyone who is convicted of mischief of a cenotaph, war memorial, or other structures that honour those who have died as a result of the war. I believe we have an obligation to protect these sacred spaces in our communities in order to honour the Canadians these structures represent. We have a duty to take strong action against those who would so profoundly dishonour the memory and sacrifice made by our greatest and bravest citizens.
Most members here today in this committee are aware of an incident that took place in this city, Ottawa, a number of years ago on Canada Day when a young man was caught urinating on the national war memorial. More recently, Malvern Collegiate in Toronto restored and rededicated its world war monument at the front of the school, only to have vandals attack it a few nights later, causing thousands of dollars in damages. Just before Remembrance Day the newly dedicated memorial wall in Calgary was hit with spray paint. Also, last fall, a Canadian Forces Afghan veteran discovered that the cenotaph in a park in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in Montreal had been tagged with graffiti.
Mr. Chairman, enough is enough. That's why I have introduced this bill for the consideration of this committee.
Only a few weeks ago, Mr. Chairman, it was discovered that dozens of veterans' grave stones in the cemetery in the St. Catharines area had their bronze maple leaves pried off to be sold as scrap metal. I believe the two witnesses who are supporting this bill, who are here with me today, will be sharing other examples of shocking disrespect for our war memorials and cenotaphs.
As members of Parliament we are at the sharp end of our great democracy. It was to preserve that democracy and the freedoms that go with it that so many Canadians signed up and continue to enlist in the Canadian Forces. Too many of these Canadians did not make it home, so we have places of honour and great respect in our communities to honour their sacrifice. We'd repay them poorly if we did not do what we can to deter people from dishonouring these hallowed and sacred places. I believe we owe it to our men and women in uniform, and especially to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, to send a strong message that vandalism and desecration of our war memorials and cenotaphs will not be tolerated. Anyone convicted of engaging in such profoundly disrespectful behaviour must know they face a stiff mandatory penalty.
I have one final point, Mr. Chairman. I understand the parliamentary secretary will be moving an amendment that is technical in nature in order to keep these provisions in line with the rest of the mischief section of the Criminal Code. As I said in my remarks on second reading, I'm fully in support of this amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I encourage members of this committee to adopt Bill C-217 and report it back to the House so that we may put these measures in force that will help protect these most important places in our communities.
Thank you very much.