Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise once again in the House regarding our very heroic and valiant war veterans.
I would like to state from the outset that my party is not in favour of the hon. member's bill. I am not against the hon. member's attempt to help recognize the sacrifices made by our very brave veterans and my party is not against the families of veterans honouring the memories of their ancestors and their accomplishments in battle. We are not against Canadians being proud of our country's military history, heritage and the sacrifices that have been made.
What we are against is the overriding of the will of the existing veterans who are here today: the Royal Canadian Legion and its membership, the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans Association, along with the War Amps and others.
I have been in touch with the dominion command of the Royal Canadian Legion. This afternoon I was in touch with my provincial command of the Royal Canadian Legion in New Brunswick. Neither the dominion command nor the provincial command offices support what is recommended by the hon. member.
The fact remains that medals are very personal awards. They are awarded to specific people for specific acts of valour. It is an honour and a privilege that has been earned through sacrifice.
In deciding what I wanted to say on this very emotional and sensitive issue, I consulted with the vets and heard their side of the argument. I have two brothers who served overseas in France, Germany and Belgium and there is no way that my sisters-in-law would ever want to wear their medals if my brothers passed away. They would frame them and have them on display for their children and grandchildren. They feel that for them to wear these medals would be an insult to the sacrifices made by my brothers.
I also understand the reasons that my hon. colleague from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast put forth this bill having reviewed his information. My heart goes out to such people as Christine Ballantine and the Pacific command office of the legion who agree with this bill and are proud of their family and country history. These Canadians do not want to be considered criminals for displaying family heirlooms by wearing the decorations on Remembrance Day. However, it is a criminal act. Under the criminal code no one can wear those medals except the veterans. That is what the law currently states. In speaking with the dominion command of the Royal Canadian Legion, it has not spoken out in favour of making changes.
I do not believe that it is up to the House of Commons to determine for veterans who should be allowed to wear these decorations of honour. I believe we should listen to our veterans as to who they feel it should be.
In consulting with veterans on their stance on this issue, it has been brought to my attention very clearly that this matter has been brought forward by the Pacific command office as a resolution for an upcoming convention. The resolution was reviewed and the committee did not concur with the resolution being brought forward. The dominion command office reiterated today that it stands against this bill's premise. They understand the intent of families who believe they can promote Remembrance Day by wearing the medals, but the veterans associations do not agree with this action. The dominion command office believes and states that medals are not symbols of remembrance but rather they are symbols of service and commitment made by those men and women who were overseas.
Until such time as we, in the House of Commons, receive a very clear message from all of our veterans as a whole, I believe we would be doing a grave disservice to our honoured war veterans by agreeing to this recommendation.
I propose that those families, veterans or legion members who are looking for a change in the law should make it known to their local legions and to dominion command, as only through communication can change ever be achieved.
I maintain that we let the veterans themselves tell us what they want to do. It is their honour and it should be up to them to decide if and with whom they would like to share it.
I would never propose that this House, which has only 12 members out of 301 who have any military service, should ever change a law that takes away the special recognition deserved by those who have sacrificed so much in serving their country in the interest of peace.
While clearly the intent of the bill is to honour our valiant soldiers and their bravery, there is the strong possibility that the medals will slowly lose their significance. We have to be aware that some living veterans who proudly wear their medals on Remembrance Day could be offended by those who are wearing medals earned by others for their special acts of valour. Is that fair to our living and proud veterans of today?
My final question about this bill, if it does pass, is: Who qualifies as a relative? Other than specifying that adopted relatives are also eligible to wear the medals, there are no specifications on who is wearing and parading around in those hallowed decorations of honour. There are no checks to be maintained or record of who is wearing the decoration.
Will a veteran's third cousin by marriage be wearing the medals or decorations, or the veteran's eldest child? Understandably, this is a decision to be made by each family if this were to pass, but where is the honour that goes with wearing the medals? Where is maintaining and restraining enforcement? Certainly there must be a status of decorum that must be upheld, and I do not see that in this bill.
I state again, a war decoration is given to a particular person for a particular act of valour. Just as only the person who has earned the Order of Canada can wear the pin or medal, only a person who has proven determination, valour and courage can wear a war medal, and rightfully so. Not friends. Not relatives.
I believe that once a medal recipient has passed on, the decoration should be treated as a representation of the service and sacrifice of the veteran who earned it and display as such. I fear that it will be perceived through the passage of time to be a less substantial piece of jewellery just to be passed around.
Let me be clear. I am not saying that those who are asking for change now have that ill intent. Certainly not. However, we must be wary and conscious of that possibility. Do we want to open that door a little crack to allow that to happen?
For decades families have been framing the medals for display and they take the framed and preserved medals with them when they wish to display them. They are treasured and the significance of their value is maintained.
This is how the memories of our Canadian war veterans have been preserved in the past. My party maintains the position of the Royal Canadian Legion on this issue. We cannot in good conscience dishonour the wishes of our Canadian war veterans. Therefore, we will not support Bill C-334.