moved that Bill C-429, an act to amend the Criminal Code (destruction of national flag), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I will take the opportunity as we open this debate to clarify for everybody andthe audience out there as well what the bill is all about and what the intent is of Bill C-429. Through this initiative I am trying to make a change to section 56 of the criminal code, which would state as follows:
56.1(1) Every one who, without lawful excuse, wilfully damages or destroys in any manner, burns, defaces, defiles, mutilates, tramples upon or otherwise desecrates the national flag is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction--
That is really what we will be debating here today. Within the initiative are two subclauses, one for a first time offence and one for a second offence. I will not elaborate on them but I will explain what the exception is within this initiative. It is as follows:
56.1(2) No person is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) if the person disposes of a national flag described in subsection (3) because the national flag has become worn, soiled or damaged.
That is the exception.
I also feel obliged to talk about the definition of national flag, as was asked of me during the subcommittee presentation I made in regard to what this includes and what it does not. I would like to clarify that now. The bill states as follows:
56.1(3) In the present section, “national flag” means the national flag of Canada, the official flag of a province or territory in Canada or the national flag of another country.
As members know, this is not an issue that is coming before the House for the first time. Not too long ago, my colleague from Haldimand--Norfolk--Brant debated this same issue in the House. We talked about the merits of bringing forward such legislation. I am also well aware that another colleague, from the Alliance Party, the hon. member for Souris--Moose Mountain, has a similar bill before the House. Why am I saying this? It just goes to prove to colleagues and the nation as a whole that this is something that we and our constituents have been talking about. It is not a partisan issue. It is not whether it is the Liberals, the Conservatives, the Alliance or the NDP: This is an issue that affects each and every one of us, Canadian or not, citizen or not.
Let me also point out, especially to my colleagues in the Bloc who have asked certain questions about the definition, that sometimes we do something and realize a month or a year down the road that we should make an effort to fine tune, refine, et cetera. I went further with this initiative than previous initiatives did to make sure that we would include all the flags representing, first, Canada and then each and every province and territory. That of course satisfies each and every Canadian no matter where they live.
It seems so appropriate that my bill is before the House today, just two days before we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the charter and the repatriation of the constitution. I cannot help but relate this debate to why we have the charter.
In past debates I went further and said how we make laws to protect various parts of our environment, to protect us as individuals. We make laws to protect nature, to protect endangered species, to protect our waters and to protect our children. As well, I know that there is now an effort underway by all party members in the House to ask that the criminal code be tightened with respect to child pornography and the Sharpe case in B.C. We are not happy, and rightfully so, with that, so what are we doing? We are taking a specific law that is in the criminal code and tightening it up, hopefully. What are we doing here? We are trying to create something that is not there.
As we are about to celebrate the charter, I want to take the opportunity to ask my colleagues and Canadians from coast to coast, what the charter does for us. The charter is meant to protect people from overzealous government actions and oppressive laws. The charter guarantees that certain fundamental rights will be protected, including freedom of expression, religion and association; the right to a fair trial; minority language protection and equality rights; freedom from cruel and unusual punishment; and security for person. I underline for person. Why do I underline that? We make laws to protect us. Who will make the law to protect our national symbol that cannot speak for itself?
It is okay to proudly display our national symbol when we are at the Olympics. We have taken it into battle. Our peacekeepers proudly display it. It is recognized proudly throughout the world. However it also seems to be okay to take the flag and burn it. I do not agree.
What are we doing as a people? The charter is there to protect persons. If that is the case and laws are made to protect people, then the people have an obligation to make laws to protect national symbols, to protect endangered species, to protect the environment, et cetera. As the debate unfolds today I encourage people to add their voices.
We know the bill may not be pursued beyond this debate but at least we are kick-starting the debate. I hope other people who will be speaking in the House will express that view, as Mr. Alexandre Cyr did in his letter to me not too long ago.
Mr. Cyr was a Liberal member of parliament from Gaspé between 1963 and 1984. He sent me a letter saying “Keep plugging away. Good work”. He also sent me a copy of the pledge to the Canadian flag, which reads as follows:
To my Flag and to the country it represents, I pledge RESPECT and LOYALTY
Wave with PRIDE from sea to sea and within your folds, keep us ever UNITED
Be for all a symbol of LOVE, FREEDOM and JUSTICE
God keep our FLAG
God protect our CANADA
If God is there to protect our flag then we have an obligation to make sure that the means and the ways are in legislation to protect this symbol that cannot speak for itself.
Some members and some governments might not wish to pursue this thought today, but when the charter came in 20 years ago there was much criticism. I read in the paper just the other day how all of a sudden the percentage of support for our charter is growing. It is at the highest it has ever been. It is over 92%. Young Canadians today are saying that it is a good thing and a right thing. If we had asked the same question 20 years ago I am willing to bet others would have said, no, that it did not do this and it did not do that or it is too much of this and too much of that.
By commencing this dialogue today through my bill, Bill C-429, I am hoping that the debate will carry across the country and that people who genuinely care will send in their letters to the minister to move ourselves emotionally.
I have often heard that while there was an initiative in the United States, it was contested. How many other laws do we have today that are being contested and or changed? Does that mean we should not try? If Marconi, Edison or some of the previous inventors had not tried we might not have some of the technology that we have today.
I am not saying the bill is perfect. Maybe some of the language has to change in the future but I am willing to bet that if the minister of justice in any government moves forward on this at some point in time down the road we will find the way.
It pains me to see certain demonstrations. I believe in people's right to demonstrate but I do not believe they have the right to destroy private property while demonstrating, such as a window display or a car. If people wish to demonstrate they should make their placards and demonstrate. The flag, our national symbol, is not what people demonstrate for or against.
It is not only post-September 11 that has caused us to be more concerned. It has caused us to be more concerned but we had demonstrations pre-September 11. We saw what happened in the battle in Seattle. We saw what happened at the conference in Quebec and other parts of the world. Flags were being burned. All that does in my view, and I am sure I speak on behalf of the majority of Canadians, is raise rhetoric and animosity and cause people to move apart as opposed to gathering around the table and creating dialogue for resolution.
Mr. Speaker, I know you will remember well when the then right hon. prime minister John Diefenbaker brought in the bill of rights in 1961. It was the right idea at the right time. It was a different world and we had different thoughts. We did not have this global village in which we now live. We did not have the World Trade Organization, the G-7 and G-8. We did not have all these forums. We also did not have the hostility we have seen in most recent years on earth.
I commend Mr. Diefenbaker for bringing in the bill of rights at that time but it was not part of the constitution. As a result it did not have the supreme law of the land to back it up. It was the right thing. It started something and perhaps that is why we are here today. By bringing forward the charter we all of a sudden took it a notch higher: more protection, more rights.
I commend former Prime Minister Diefenbaker and all my colleagues who in the past spoke to the bill introduced by my colleague from Haldimand--Norfolk--Brant. I know there is another bill coming from the Alliance Party and I commend it for bringing this type of private initiative forward to the House.
I hope each and every member in the House as well as those who are in committee or in other offices will read Hansard tomorrow or the next day to see my comments and the comments of others that will be put on the floor over the next little while.
I hope the machinery that is there will find the means and the ways to bring forward some kind of legislation that will send a signal to those who wish to demonstrate that, yes, they can demonstrate but that they should honourably protect the dignity of our first symbol, that being the Canadian flag, and each and every flag that represents our provinces and territories because they too are reflective of Canadian citizens who live in different parts of the country. They too deserve as much respect as our Canadian flag.