Mr. Speaker, I asked the hon. member a question earlier as to why it took Canada so long to adopt, sign and ratify the 1954 convention and protocols.
I asked this question because I was looking at the conventions and protocols a few weeks ago when we started talking about them. I noticed that Canada was missing from the May 14, 1954 convention until December 11, 1998, unlike countless other developing countries and European countries. Great Britain is missing from it. I know why.
The veil may have just been slightly lifted on the reasons why Canada did not ratify the convention sooner, but later I will ask my colleague to elaborate on why it took Canada so long to do so.
Canada, which says it took a leadership role in improving the protocol, had not taken adequate measures for signing it even though it was drafted in 1954, following World War II. I am not on the committee and have not done any in-depth research on the matter, so I would simply like to know why. This is the quite the opposite of taking a leadership role.
For the benefit of those who are listening to us, I want to talk about the significance of Bill S-37. This bill amends the Criminal Code and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act to allow Canada to fully implement the protocols and the convention that have been in effect since 1954 and 1999 respectively.
In its most recent version, this convention is a critical tool to protect the world's cultural heritage, which is constantly threatened by destruction or looting during armed conflicts.
The 1954 convention was established based on the problems experienced during the second world war, but since then other types of conflicts have developed and proliferated, either between countries, or internally between various groups representing different cultures. This is why, in some cases, the destruction and looting of cultural property was dramatic, as we saw in the Balkans, during the nineties.
The proposed legislation will allow the government to prosecute any Canadian who steals cultural property of great importance abroad, or who is responsible for its destruction.
The bill also provides a recovery process for cultural property that is illegally exported.
In so doing, this legislation is consistent with the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, under which individuals who committed crimes during an armed conflict can be prosecuted.
Incidentally, the Bloc Québécois strongly supported that legislation, back in 2000. But I want to go back to my finding. While it is true that Canada was a leader in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, it remains a mystery to me why Canada has really been dragging its feet when it comes to amending Canadian laws, so that these protocols can be signed and ratified.
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to prohibit, in particular, robbery, mischief and arson against cultural property protected under the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The bill allows for the prosecution of such offences when committed outside Canada by Canadians. It also amends the Cultural Property Export and Import Act to prohibit Canadians from illegally exporting or otherwise removing protected cultural property from an occupied territory. Finally, the bill allows for the prosecution of such offences when committed outside Canada by Canadians and provides a mechanism for the restitution of cultural property.
In fact, there is a lot we could say about this unfortunate practice or tradition, which goes back to ancient times, of destroying or stealing cultural property by countries that took them supposedly to better ensure their protection. I have already spoken in the House on a bill to help Greece recover treasures that the British decided they were better able to protect. Clearly, the world's cultural heritage is threatened by wars and the multiplication and refinement of extremely destructive long-range and remote weapons. This was the case after the second world war—and that is why a convention was drafted. But this is also true since the definition of the new types of threats resulting from the significant increase in non-international conflicts.
I understand that, with regard to such non-international conflicts, it is essential for the countries whose nationals commit cultural property crimes to take action. I understand that the international community will increasingly demand this with regard to all types of crime committed abroad. This is desirable in many areas, including the misuse of water in Africa by mining companies that leave behind a trail of environmental destruction, when they have finished mining activities.
We remember what happened in the old city of Dubrovnik, during the Bosnian war, or rather the Balkan war, and the destruction of the Mostar bridge, churches, synagogues and mosques. These are not only exceptional world heritage cultural property sites, but they are closely linked to the cultural roots of a number of peoples.
So awareness of this new kind of war has led to changes in the Hague convention of 1954. Consequently, a second and stricter protocol, as my colleague said, was created in 1999.
The second protocol creates a new series of measures, including an intergovernmental committee for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, a fund to assist the states parties in implementing the protocol, and a new and stronger system for the protection of cultural property. As well, it makes some clarifications and sets out precise obligations as far as legal proceedings in the event of violations of the convention and its protocols are concerned.
The purpose of the bill we have before us is to modify the way Canada fulfills certain of its obligations under the convention and its protocols. A state party is, for example, required to adopt the following protective measures: forbid, prevent and put an end to any act of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, or acts of vandalism directed against cultural property protected under the convention; take any necessary penal or disciplinary measure against anyone who has committed or conspired to commit an offence under the convention; implement the penal provisions of chapter 4 and the second protocol; prevent any illicit export, other removal or transfer of ownership of cultural property; on cessation of hostilities, restore to the authorities of the country of origin the exported cultural property.
One may well wonder how any state party is going to be able to implement this protocol even with the act in place. For it to be implemented, embassies and consulates just about everywhere will have to be given more means. The armed forces will need to have clear directives. As well, those going into countries where there is armed conflict or war and who might want to bring home some souvenir to put on their own bookshelf or give to friends or grandchildren will need to be made aware of this.
This protocol is a long time coming, but we must pay tribute to the spirit and the law which will make it possible for Canada to ensure compliance by its citizens.
One of the main means for its application is, of course, clause 1 of the bill, which amends the definition of Attorney General in order to enable proceedings to be undertaken.
The definition of the offences is also important. I will read clause 2.01.
Despite anything in this Act or any other Act, a person who commits an act or omission outside Canada that if committed in Canada would constitute an offence under section 322, 341, 344, 380, 430 or 434 in relation to cultural property as defined in Article 1 of the Convention, or a conspiracy or an attempt to commit such an offence, or being an accessory after the fact or counselling in relation to such an offence, is deemed to have committed that act or omission in Canada if the person
(a) is a Canadian citizen;
(b) is not a citizen of any state and ordinarily resides in Canada; or
(c) is a permanent resident within the meaning of subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and is, after the commission of the act or omission, present in Canada.
This is a powerful clause, but it is demanding at the same time.
Clause 3 of the bill provides that everyone who commits mischief in relation to cultural property is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
Clause 4 adds a section to the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, entitled “Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Protocols”. It states that it is prohibited to export or remove cultural property from an occupied territory of a State party to the second protocol. It also describes action for the recovery of the cultural property, and the court may make an order in that regard.
Canada has more obligations, however. The convention and its two protocols do entail a number of obligations which are not set out in the bill, which only focusses on the criminal aspects of the protection of cultural property. Given that the government is likely not to consult Parliament before signing the protocol, consideration of this bill is the only opportunity afforded parliamentarians to examine Canada's preparedness to fulfil its obligations. Ultimately, we know that, for historical reasons, our time is short.
I will provide an example of the obligations that Canada agrees to honour, which are not set out in the bills. Here then is one of the obligations the contracting parties must honour. They shall, for example, undertake to prepare for the safeguarding of cultural property situated within their own territory by taking inventories, planning emergency measures against the risk of fire or building collapse, preparing for the removal of moveable or immovable property, proper protection of it and the designation of competent authorities responsible for its safeguard. What has the government done in this regard?
Here is another obligation. In time of war, the contracting parties shall protect cultural property located in occupied territory, and, insofar as possible, take the measures needed to preserve it.
The Canadian armed forces are regularly required to operate in areas where there is a risk of pillage or destruction of cultural property. These duties require, therefore, that significant measures be taken to make the military familiar with the convention. More money will of course be required and, more importantly, the military will have to be accountable as will all persons entering these areas, given the obligation not only to prevent and remedy but to foresee as well.
So, this is an important moment. This Parliament is finally agreeing to acquire the means to comply with this second strengthened protocol to safeguard world cultural heritage threatened, not only by the environment, which is another dimension, but by wars and the various conflicts occurring in the world and some parties more than others. We might consider the example of Africa, whose cultural treasures were pillaged and not only during a time of conflict. Other continents besides Africa have also been pillaged, of course.
At the moment, we are concentrating on the huge damage caused by war and conflict, and we want to prevent it from recurring.