Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-37, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
This is very important legislation, not only for Canadians but for Canada as part of a global community that believes in the protection of culture and heritage. It asserts Canada's position as a forerunner of multilateralism and a proponent of peace and civility. The bill would allow Canada to fulfil its obligations under the two protocols of the Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.
Born in the wake of the second world war, the Hague Convention serves as a reminder of the widespread destruction that was done to cultural properties during the two world wars. Much of that destruction was meant to wipe out the cultural heritage of certain groups and we as Canadians must be part of an effort to prevent the continuation of these acts of destruction and theft.
Since the middle of the last century, the Hague Convention has been applied to the 1967 Middle East conflict and to conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia and Iraq according to the UNESCO, but it could also apply in other cases.
In 2001, the Taliban, Afghanistan's ruling party, destroyed two giant Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley in its quest to wipe out all signs of pre-Islamic culture in that country. This was an act of brutality by a regime that has time and again proven its disregard for culture. The president of the World Monuments Fund has termed this an act of cultural terrorism.
The list goes on. During the Kosovo conflict it has been reported that archives were destroyed.
During the Iraq wars many ancient sites in the so-called cradle of civilization were badly damaged and looting has been documented. In Eritrea, the historic town of Massawa on the Red Sea sustained a great deal of damage during the war of independence with Ethiopia in 1991.
The destruction of cultural property is a common and widespread tactic during times of conflict used by aggressors to oppress and tyrannize by erasing the cultural heritage of a population, often a minority group.
Canada cannot stand by and allow these tactics to be used again. We must stand side by side with the international community in stamping out the theft and destruction of cultural property, the very pillar of a civilization.
This legislation allows states, in which arson or theft of cultural property have occurred, to have recourse against citizens or Canadian permanent residents and stateless individuals habitually residing in Canada who have perpetrated acts against cultural properties. For example, if a Canadian citizen commits an act of arson against cultural property in a certain state, that state will have recourse against the individual in a Canadian court under the Hague Convention.
I am certain that this legislation will garner the whole-hearted support of all my colleagues. This will facilitate the task of holding the perpetrators to account as it will be done in their countries of residence. It is an avenue to promote justice and lawfulness on an international scale, something with which we all agree very strongly given the turbulence that faces the international community today.
Any steps that Canada can take to bolster the rule of law on an international scale should be taken. It would strengthen our position internationally and allow us to continue our role as a global leader, leading by example. The convention defines cultural property broadly to include immovable and movable items of artistic, historic, scientific or other cultural value. This includes cultural objects, monuments, collections and the premises housing them, sites and archeological zones.
The definition of cultural property given by the convention has been repeated in the legislation tabled before the House. It is very important that the definition we give to cultural properties encompasses a broad range of items so that we can ensure maximum protection of the world's global heritage.
The protocols would also allow for the recovery of cultural property that was illegal exported from a state. This is an equally important provision. If that property ends up in Canada, the state from which it was legally removed will have recourse under the new legislation to recover it through the Canadian judicial system after all interested parties have been heard.
The legislation would allow Canada to play an essential role in returning stolen cultural property to its rightful owners. It would also guarantee that the cultural heritage of other countries is preserved for future generations to learn about and enjoy. As peacekeepers of the world, is this not the role that Canada has chosen to take on an international platform?
This is not to say that the cultural property would be taken away from a Canadian who has unknowingly purchased or acquired cultural property that has been stolen. The legislation provides that a judge may grant compensation to the purchaser of an item so long as they acted in good faith.
I think it is important to repeat that Canada must lead by way of example in the stamping out of illegal activities on an international scale. We have always been the initiators of such multilateral conventions and this is the time to continue that tradition for the sake of our global cultural heritage.
Finally, though not least important, the Hague Convention and its protocols allow Canada to benefit from the reciprocal recourse through other signatory state judicial systems in the event of a conflict on Canadian soil. That means that citizens, permanent residents and stateless individuals residing in a signatory state can be pursued through the state's courts and that Canadian cultural property can be repatriated.
The bill clearly enhances the wartime protection of cultural property in foreign countries and would give Canada another opportunity to demonstrate its respect for global cultural heritage as much as it respects and values its own cultural heritage and properties. It would allow Canada to maintain its position as a forerunner on the importance of multilateralism, creating increasingly strong ties with our global neighbours.
As we can all appreciate, cultural properties and cultural artifacts are of value to the citizens of every country and can never be replaced. We have a responsibility as a member of the global community to help every country protect its cultural properties and its artifacts. Therefore I ask the House to support the bill.