Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Motion No. 310 on the topic of half-masting the Canadian flag, a topic that is of great interest and concern to Canadians across the country.
I, too, would like to thank the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo for providing us with the opportunity to begin open discussion about our flag. It is a topic that I myself have raised at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on a number of occasions and it is a topic deserving of the careful study of the committee.
Since the formal adoption of the Canadian flag on February 15, 1965, it has become an important symbol of our country, uniting all Canadians. It is flown at schools, arenas, hospitals, museums and office buildings in municipalities all across the country. It is flown, displayed or hung in provincial establishments and federal government buildings. It is flown proudly on the top of one of our most significant buildings, other symbols of our values, the Peace Tower on the Parliament Buildings.
It is clear that the symbolism of lowering the flag is immense. It is a graphic visual reminder of loss. It is lowered with a great sense of respect and engenders a feeling of grief. It is an age old signal of a country in mourning.
Given the immense significance, the Government of Canada currently has a policy around when and under what circumstances it will be lowered.
The first policy was introduced in 1966 by the then Department of the Secretary of State of Canada. This early guide, general rules for flying and displaying the Canadian flag and other flags in Canada, provided guidelines on virtually every use of the national flag.
This early policy stipulated that the flag on the Peace Tower would be lowered in the following circumstances: first, death of the sovereign or a member of the royal family related to the sovereign by the first degree, that is, a husband, wife, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister; and second, death of the Governor General, a former Governor General, a Lieutenant Governor, a Canadian privy councillor, a senator or member of the House of Commons; and third, on Remembrance Day, November 11.
The 1966 policy also elaborates when the flag would be lowered on federal government buildings, airports and military establishments in the following circumstances: throughout Canada on the death of a sovereign, member of the royal family related in the first degree; the Governor General; a former Governor General; the Prime Minister; a former Prime Minister; or, a federal cabinet minister; throughout a province on the death of a lieutenant governor or provincial premier; within a riding on the death of a member of the House of Commons or a member of the provincial legislature; and, at the place of residence on the death of a senator or a Canadian privy councillor.
The rule also included a provision to lower the flag on federal buildings, subject to special instructions on the death of members of the royal family other than the sovereign or those related in the first degree to the sovereign, a head of a foreign state or some other person whom it is desired to honour.
As we can see there was no reference in those 1966 guidelines specifically for military, police or others who serve their country or community. There was no provision for designated days of national mourning other than Remembrance Day. There was a lack of clarity for many situations.
Therefore, since 1966, changes were made to the policy in an ad hoc manner until 2002-03 when a comprehensive review of the policy was conducted to modernize it so it would provide clear guidelines for different kinds of situations.
It was evident that Canadians wanted to see themselves reflected in this policy. It is important to mark the death of a leader but it is equally important to mark the death of ordinary citizens who take extraordinary risks or lose their lives as a result, or those who are lost in natural disasters or through terrible acts of violence. It became apparent that the half-masting policy needed to respond to these types of situation.
It was clear that Canadians wanted some sort of national commemoration where we could, as citizens, mourn together as we do for November 11. Therefore, over time, additional days of national mourning were added to the half-masting rules. These include April 28, Workers' Mounting Day, legislated in 1990. On this day the flag is half-masted on both the Peace Tower and on government buildings within Canada. This day commemorates workers who have been injured, killed or suffered illness as a result of occupational accidents and hazards.
December 6, National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, was adopted by Parliament in 1991. The flag is half-masted on the Peace Tower and on government buildings within Canada. This day coincides with the sad anniversary of the death of 14 young women who were tragically killed December 6, 1989 at École Polytechnique in Montreal because of their gender.
The last Sunday in September is Police and Peace Officers' National Memorial Day adopted in 1998. The flag is half-masted on the Peace Tower, on government buildings and on establishments within Canada. This is a special day for Canadian police, corrections officers and peace officers that gives Canadians an opportunity to formerly express appreciation for the dedication of police and peace officers who make the ultimate tragic sacrifice to keep our communities safe.
April 9 is Vimy Ridge Day. The flag is half-masted on the Peace Tower. In addition to the above days, there is an annual memorial service on Parliament Hill in honour of deceased parliamentarians where the flag on the Peace Tower is lowered.
In November 2005, the Department of National Defence developed an internal protocol for half-masting in the event of military deaths. This new internal protocol functions within the guidelines of the government's broader policy on half-masting outlined in section II, discretionary provisions, paragraph 14, employees of the federal government. This allows an individual federal department to make a decision about half-masting for an employee who has died in the line of duty or by reason of the position her or she occupied within the federal department, agency or crown corporation.
In the event of the death of a member of the Canadian Forces who is deployed on operations to a special duty area, National Defence internal protocol, which falls under section 14, stipulates that flags will be half-masted as follows:
All flags within the task force--
--for example, theatre of operation, in the case of Afghanistan--
--to which a member is assigned at the time of death shall be half-masted from the day of death until sunset the day of the funeral;
All flags at the home base/station of the member shall be half-masted from the day of death until sunset the day of the funeral;
All flags within the environment (sea, land, and air) to which the member was assigned shall be half-masted from sunrise to sunset on the day of the funeral. and;
All flags at National Defence Headquarters shall be half-masted from the day of death until sunset the day of the funeral.
It is clear that this policy, so important to Canadians, will continue to evolve as the needs of Canadians evolve over time.
Personally, on numerous occasions I have raised this very issue with the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as one deserving of careful, non-partisan study.
This well-intentioned motion is timely in the sense that it would get the attention it deserves in the context of a committee study. However, there is no formal provision for a motion passed in the House to go to committee.
I have spoken to other members of the standing committee who have expressed interest in having the contents of the motion referred. However, I do respect the sanctity of private members' business and recognize that it is up to the member to withdraw the motion and refer the contents to committee.
I discussed this option with the member for Kitchener—Waterloo and hope that he will choose to withdraw the motion and refer the content of the motion to the standing committee for a more fulsome discussion so that we can move from debate to real action.
The government wants to get this right and we are prepared to move forward. We simply need the member to withdraw the motion, refer the contents to the standing committee and the standing committee will take over from there. We hope he does that.