Without expanding too much on what Mr. Harris said, I would like to make a point to my colleagues across the way.
As a lawyer, I believe that, from the outset, Bill C-217 creates somewhat of an inconsistent system within the Criminal Code. There is no way to remedy that other than to reject the bill outright, and that is not going to happen given your position on the subject.
That being said, let's put aside the inconsistency Mr. Harris so eloquently described. You know as well as I do that it is not right to treat an act of mischief involving a religious monument differently than one involving a war memorial. No matter what, the bill currently before us will create two systems within the Criminal Code. As a lawyer and a lawmaker, I take issue with that. Let's set that aside, however, and examine the logic behind Bill C-217 and what is being sought.
First of all, as we saw from Mr. Tilson's remarks, he wants his bill to recognize the severity of the act of desecrating a war memorial, specifically, and he wants the Criminal Code to recognize that wrongdoing as a targeted offence. That is not at all the problem. I think that everyone is in full agreement on that point.
Next, he wants a minimum sentence imposed. As Mr. Harris said, even the Royal Canadian Legion doubts that would actually achieve the desired objective. I am sorry, but when you are dealing with a young person who is 18, 19 or 20, the parents will likely be the ones paying the $1,000 fine. That is too bad, but that is usually how it goes in our society. The young person will end up with a criminal record for committing a criminal offence, but that is their problem. They are responsible for their actions. That is not the issue either.
If we, as a society, do not want to have these kinds of acts committed, we need to see to it that awareness is raised. That is what my colleague's amendment seeks to do. The objective is to keep that door open. We have heard from a good many witnesses. Mr. Jean and Mr. Harris have, like myself, practised criminal law. Others have as well and know what will happen. The judge and two lawyers, a crown attorney and defence counsel, will discuss exactly what transpired and the fact that the individual is remorseful. They will know that the accused will never re-offend. The crown attorney will be responsible for making a decision, laying the charge and imposing a minimum sentence. Let's be honest, here. What will the Crown do? The Crown will simply advise the accused to plead guilty to a lesser included offence, in other words, general mischief, and the accused will be dealt with differently.
I would prefer that we actually try to do what Bill C-217 seeks to achieve and that the person responsible understand that their actions will not be seen as a lesser offence. However, if
the person really feels remorse, genuine remorse,
I want to see certain remedial measures apply to the individual in question, but still within the meaning of Bill C-217.
I have a real worry in that respect. I believe in Bill C-217, but for a reason other than the minimum fine, which strikes me as a somewhat random notion with little meaning. I am more in favour of the recommendation made by the President of the Royal Canadian Legion, and that is making the individual spend time with veterans. We should provide for that possibility. I do not see that as going against the spirit of the legislation, but as being fully in line with clause 430(4.11), as proposed. So adding provision (4.12) would remove the plea bargain between the Crown and the defence to prevent the wrongdoing from being classified as a specific act of mischief relating to a war memorial. That makes perfect sense to me.
When I hear Mr. Goguen simply brush aside this argument, saying they will not accept it, I believe that is akin to saying Bill C-217 is doomed. I am from the area, and I saw what happened in Ottawa. Everyone was outraged. Whenever I speak about this bill, I will say that it was a missed opportunity to target an offence for which the individuals responsible would have been judged. Instead, we will end up with numerous plea bargains, meaning that people will plead guilty to a lesser included charge, get a slap on the wrist and be on their way, as is commonplace. That is what the outcome will be.
I will say that we tried to knock some sense into those members across the way today, in an attempt to convince them that what they have created will not produce the desired result. You are all intelligent people, come on! Let's not create something that we all know will do nothing to produce the desired effect.
When I think about the veterans, it pains me. We heard from the veterans who came. They are not familiar with legal specificity or the legal subtleties of the Criminal Code. All they want is for the individuals responsible to realize that their actions mean something to society, that we are willing to punish those who desecrate these memorials, who spit on them, in the true sense of the word, and for these individuals to receive the punishment they deserve, under the circumstances.
I belong to the Royal Canadian Legion in my riding of Gatineau, and when I talk about Bill C-217 to other members, I will tell them it is merely for show. I will tell them how many people will be found guilty and receive a minimum fine of $1,000 in similar cases in the future. I can say right now that the number will be zero. That is my prediction. There are too many flaws, too many shortcomings that allow the accused to get around the real problem, in situations when they acknowledge their stupid behaviour. We can all agree that many people do stupid things at one point or another in their life. It would be nice if we could just take a tough approach to the first person who did it.
Be that as it may, this is a major problem to my mind. From the outset, we are creating an inconsistency by having two criminal offences that, in my view, are equally severe, whether they involve religious monuments or war memorials. As lawmakers, we are creating something we know is faulty and will be a real pleasure for the courts to deal with, unfortunately to the detriment of the real victims in these situations.