House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provisions.


Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this way?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Some hon. members


Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, Liberals will be voting in favour of the motion.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this motion.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the members of the NDP will vote against this motion.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

April 16th, 2008 / 6 p.m.


Blair Wilson Independent West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I vote in favour of the motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #92

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I declare the motion carried. The bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

It being 6:04 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

moved that Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I will be speaking today about my private member's bill C-384 at second reading. This is my first ever private member's bill in the House, and I am very proud of what it contains and its message. I am sure that my distinguished colleagues will understand the importance and scope of this bill and that, ultimately, they will support it.

Bill C-384 amends the Criminal Code to create a new offence to prohibit hate-motivated acts of mischief against an identifiable group at an educational institution. The term “educational institution” would cover a range of institutions or community places, such as a school, daycare centre, college, university, community centre, playground, sports centre and many others.

There are two fundamentals elements we must take note of. The first is the fight against hate crimes. The second is the protection of places recognized as belonging to identifiable groups. In my opinion, these are two very laudable goals that will benefit all of our communities both on the social and cultural level.

I want to start off by saying that we live in a society known for its openness to the other and to difference. Our tolerance is the envy of the world. It is reflected in the social harmony underpinning all of our communities. However, there will always be people or groups seeking to disturb that social harmony, to spread base, degrading intolerance.

In general, they carry out their plans using the vilest, most reactionary ideas and actions imaginable. Studies have looked at hate crime activity nationally. One of these, the Department of Justice's 1995 study, showed that 61% of 1,000 hate crimes reported to police were perpetrated against racial minorities. That same proportion showed up again in another study conducted in 2002.

Offenders' second favourite target is religious communities, and these crimes are typically committed by anti-Semitic groups.

The third and fourth most common motives for hate crimes were sexual orientation and ethnic origin. According to several studies, individuals' reasons for committing hate crimes are varied.

I am more concerned about some of these reasons because they can easily result in mischief against educational institutions. Many people consider minorities to be scapegoats for ills that befall people and society. Others express their resentment of a minority's economic success. Some have inherited hatred and animosity from previous generations. Sadly, mischief-makers think that they have their society's tacit consent.

Nevertheless, we already have some legislative provisions to counter this kind of harmful behaviour. Initially, the definition of hate crime could be found in the sections in the Criminal Code on hate propaganda, sections 318 and 319, to be precise, which address advocating genocide, inciting hatred and wilfully promoting hatred against any identifiable group. The definition of “identifiable group” includes any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

In 1996, section 718.2 was amended to allow the courts to increase a sentence where an offence was “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor”. Thanks to this amendment, the courts can now consider hate an aggravating circumstance.

Section 430(1) of the Criminal Code pertains to the general offence of mischief and prohibits damage to property. Section 430(4.1) covers a subcategory of the offence of mischief: mischief relating to religious property such as churches, mosques and synagogues. But is this enough to protect identifiable groups?

Some might be tempted to believe that hate crimes against educational or cultural institutions are infrequent or are committed by only a handful of individuals in a specific area.

But when we read the headlines, we see that more and more acts of violence are targeting schools and community centres.

I would like to share three recent examples with my colleagues.

On August 28, 2007, the Euclide-Lanthier elementary school in Aylmer was the target of a hate crime when one or more vandals covered one wall of the school with two anti-francophone and homophobic messages. The parents were shocked and disappointed that people would write such things on their school. They rightly believe that their children do not need to read such crude language.

On July 18, 2007, the third fire in two weeks broke out at a Jewish summer camp in Val-David, adding to the group's concern. One or more suspects broke into five homes in this community and tried to set them on fire. They succeeded in completely destroying one and damaging at least two others.

On September 3, 2006, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a Jewish school in the Outremont area of Montreal. For the second time in less than two years, a Jewish school in Montreal was the scene of a criminal act. In April 2004, a youth had targeted the library of the United Talmed Torahs elementary school in the Ville Saint-Laurent area of Montreal.

My colleagues will notice that I am using examples from Quebec to show that even a society as multicultural as ours, which has a low crime rate compared to the rest of North America, is no exception to the rule. Thus the need to create an additional offence specifically to address mischief against certain categories of buildings used or occupied by an identifiable group of persons.

Citing all the incidents that have occurred across Canada could have been a speech in and of itself, but that is not the purpose of my speech. I want people to understand the need to create this new offence against the educational institutions of identifiable groups. In my opinion, this would add another building block to tolerance and respect for our differences.

Second, the relevance of my bill is not just based on facts alone. It comes from a specific request from a number of organizations that defend identifiable groups. I am referring in particular to the Canadian Jewish Congress, which has been calling for this change to the Criminal Code for five years.

The need for this change has resulted in widespread support for my bill from groups and agencies from all walks of life. Promoting hatred against people is denying them a certain value as human beings and denying them the respect and dignity they deserve.

I want to acknowledge the support I have received from the Canadian Jewish Congress, whose director of intergovernmental relations, Éric Vernon, told me that more than 1,000 acts of anti-Semitism were committed in 2007 alone; Laurent McCutcheon, president of Gai écoute, who indicated that the gay community is still the target of aggressive behaviour and vicious comments; the president of Médias Maghreb, Lamine Foura, who pointed out that the Muslim community is a regular target of violence by certain individuals, as evidenced by the deplorable acts of vandalism committed in January 2007 against a Muslim school in Montreal; Dan Philip, president of the Black Coalition, who would like stronger legislation to allow all minority groups to live in peace without fear of threats and violent actions committed to intimidate them; and finally, Algonquin Chief Stephen McGregor, who told me about a sad incident involving an aboriginal cultural centre in Maniwaki, which was the target of racist graffiti.

But apart from organizations that defend the rights of identifiable groups, I am pleased to have received the support of two members who are well known for their fine contributions to the work of Parliament, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh. I greatly appreciate their support, which demonstrates the solidarity that parliamentarians can enjoy when a cause deserves to be moved forward.

This strong support surrounding the need to amend the Criminal Code to combat hate crimes more effectively says a lot. It shows us that we need to act as quickly as possible so that the Criminal Code can reflect the needs of our communities as much as possible. I would remind the House that, basically, hate crimes cause disproportionate harm to the individual and the entire group he or she identifies with. Let us imagine for a moment all the psychological harm caused by the destruction of a community space linked to one's identity.

This largely demonstrates why crimes motivated by hate are often more violent than crimes committed with other motives.

Most importantly, hate crimes invariably cause collateral damage to our communities. That is perhaps the most devastating consequence, because it leads to division within our communities.

As I was saying earlier, in a society like ours, we expect all groups to live together in harmony and equality. From that perspective, hate crimes are an abomination that literally deny all the fundamental values we espouse.

I will close by reiterating that Bill C-384, by creating a new offence involving mischief against educational or other institutions, will send a clear message that our society does not tolerate acts of violence against places that are occupied by or used by identifiable groups. That goes for all groups, without exception, including homosexuals, Muslims, Jews or any other group.

In short, we will send a message that we, as parliamentarians, will not tolerate violent acts motivated by the hatred of one group or community. This new offence will allow us to punish not only the material damage to the building, but above all the morally unacceptable nature of the feeling of hatred that motivated such action towards an identifiable group.

Moreover, Bill C-384 provides a perfect opportunity for the Conservative government to turn words into action. Recently, I was reading some of the Minister of Public Safety's news releases. Every time he visited an institution which was the target of a hate crime, he expressed his indignation and his sympathy for the affected community. Unfortunately, his government has not yet done anything to curb this kind of mischief.

The time is now. He should take this opportunity to act on his ideas. My bill addresses the problem he himself has condemned. All I am asking for is his government's strong support in order to move this bill through the legislative process quickly.

Communities whose educational institutions have been affected by malicious people will always be able to count on the Bloc Québécois and its members to understand their concerns and fight for them.

I would therefore invite all of my colleagues and all parties to wholeheartedly support my bill. This is a step in the right direction. It supports our sense of openness and confirms loud and clear that we believe in the benefits of harmonious social integration.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased this evening to speak to Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief against educational or other institution), a private member's bill introduced by the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

Bill C-384 proposes to add a new offence to the mischief portion of the Criminal Code. Specifically, it would propose to add the existing mischief provision to make it a specific offence, with increased penalties, when the mischief is committed against an educational or recreational institution that is used exclusively or principally by an identifiable group.

This new provision would apply if it could be established that the perpetrator's mischievous act was motivated by bias, prejudice or hatred.

This new provision would apply if the mischief occurred in relation to the property, that is, the building, that is used exclusively or principally by that group and as included, this would apply to an educational institute, including a school, a day care, a college or a university; a community centre; a playground, an arena or a sports centre; or any other institution with an administrative, social, cultural, educational or recreational function; or in relation to an object associated with an institution; or on the grounds of that institution.

In 2001 an offence of religious mischief was added to the mischief provision of the Criminal Code. Subsection 430(4.1) was enacted to respond to vandalism and threats against religious property, mostly Muslim, that followed the terrorist events of September 11, 2001.

That 2001 offence, subsection 430(4.1), made it a specific crime to commit mischief in relation to property, that is, a building or structure, or part thereof, primarily used for religious worship, including a church, a mosque or a synagogue, or a cemetery, where the commission of the mischief is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour, nationality or ethnic origin.

The new offence proposed by Bill C-384, like the 2001 offence of mischief against religious property, calls for an increased penalty over and above what exists in the current legislation. The proposed amendment would increase from 6 to 18 months the maximum penalty on summary convictions for mischief against the property listed in the bill.

Additionally, it would increase the maximum penalty, when prosecuted by indictment, from a maximum term not exceeding 2 years to a maximum of 10 years for property that is under the value of $5,000.

The objective of the bill would seem to send a message to all Canadians that we do not tolerate acts that are directed toward institutions in Canada that are used by what is defined in subsection 318(4) of the Criminal Code as an identifiable group.

There are of course other initiatives under way that work toward promoting diversity. One of them is Canada's action plan against racism. This initiative is a concerted and coordinated effort by federal departments and agencies to combat racism. The action plan is designated and designed to contribute to the long term goals of strength in communities and the realization of economic potential for all Canadians.

The action plan includes new and expanded initiatives to be undertaken by a number of departments, including Canadian Heritage, Justice Canada, Citizenship and Immigration, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Human Resources and Social Development.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage has a lead on Canada's action plan against racism and is responsible for reporting to all Canadians through the annual report on the operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Activities undertaken under the action plan support the values and principles embodied in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.

Canada's action plan is an example of work that the federal government is doing to promote equality before the law, and equality and respect for the people who make up our rich and diverse nation.

In Canada, we do not tolerate acts that are motivated by bias, prejudice or hatred, and we should continue to work together to ensure that all of our laws fully respect this fundamental value.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to participate in this debate. I would like to congratulate my colleague for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for her valiant effort in bringing this bill before the House. The objective of the bill is praiseworthy and necessary, particularly as we approach the fourth anniversary of the bombing of the United Talmud Torah elementary school in Montreal. Hate attacks against cultural communities in Canada continue. Allow me to provide an overview of certain recent incidents.

In September 2006, the Skver-Toldos Orthodox Jewish school for boys in Outremont was firebombed a few hours after the end of the school day.

In January 2007, the Jeunes Musulmans Canadiens (JMC) school in the Saint-Laurent—Cartierville borough was vandalized. Twenty windows were broken and a school bus damaged. That was not the first time the school had been vandalized.

In June 2007, the Kitigan Zibi cultural centre was vandalized and damaged. White supremacist symbols and slogans were painted on the walls of this Algonquin cultural centre.

In March 2008, vandals covered the door to the gay lounge at Ryerson University with homophobic graffiti, including the slogan “Gays must be exterminated”. The incident occurred one month after a gay student was attacked on campus.

I will not read out quotes to the House on the hate crimes reported in Canada, since I think my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant painted a good picture.

I would, however, like to bring up a point about these statistics and data. Usually the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics collects data on hate crimes. Unfortunately, since the 1999 study, there have been no national data on hate crimes. The centre has not collected any data on the subject, so we have only partial data. We get information from police forces or cities that collect data on hate crimes. I think it is very important to update our data on hate crimes.

In its 1999 report, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics established the important link between data collection on hate crimes and the fight against hate crimes. To be successful, we need to have reliable data on the people in question, the facts of the situation, the circumstances, the location of the crimes, the frequency of the crimes, the number of victims and the perpetrators of the crimes. The data will define the problem, the target and the causes, and will help ensure the law is obeyed. Answers to these questions are important to evaluate the needs of victims and communities and to determine what action the police should take.

The 1999 study came to three major conclusions. First, hate crime victims are less satisfied with the actions taken by the police than those who were victims of other types of crimes. Whereas 29% of victims of other types of crimes were dissatisfied with police responses, the proportion jumped to 47% for victims of hate crimes.

Second, young people are the main targets of hate crimes. Persons between the ages of 15 and 24 had experienced hate crimes the most, with a rate twice that of the next highest age group.

Third, 30% of incidents targeted public institutions, often educational institutions.

Legislation is required to address these issues, to increase the consequences of hate motivated crimes, to deter potential criminals from targeting our cultural communities.

We need to demonstrate that there are serious consequences for hate driven acts of mischief, and Bill C-384 accomplishes just that.

Racist, xenophobic or homophobic acts of vandalism represent more than simple mischief. They are traumatic assaults not only on the victims of crime, but on society at large. Thus, by increasing penalties for hate motivated mischief, Bill C-384 represents an important step in bringing justice to those who violate not only the laws of the land but also the values of pluralism and tolerance that all Canadians hold dear.

Bill C-384 would make it an offence to commit an act of mischief against an identifiable group of persons at an educational institution, including a school, day care centre, college or university, or at a community centre, playground, arena, or sports centre.

It expands upon legislation which, as my colleague from the government side mentioned, was passed in 2001, which made it an indictable offence punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Currently those convicted of mischief or vandalism against educational institutions can face sentences of only up to two years. This bill, by grouping these vicious attacks in the same category as attacks against religious buildings or cemeteries, would increase the maximum sentence from two years to ten years.

In its present form, the bill only addresses acts of mischief rooted in ethnocultural, sexual, racial and religious prejudices. It might be appropriate to amend the proposed legislation so as to include hate targeting linguistic minority communities. Amending the bill to include discrimination based on language would send a strong message of support to our linguistic minority communities across Canada.

The relevance of including our official languages linguistic minority communities is that this very week the Regional Association of West Quebecers received an email from a group which threatened to put, and I quote, “lead in their heads”, in French, “du plomb dans la tête”.

In addition to increasing punishment for acts of mischief against identifiable groups, there is also a need to help vulnerable groups protect themselves against attacks. This would require the government to offset the increased security costs incurred by vulnerable communities in guarding their institutions against hate crimes.

The current government has created a pilot project which is financed with some $3 million. This is good. It is a step in the right direction, but it is a small step.

In 2004 Canada's principal Jewish organizations estimated that it would take approximately $8 million to undertake minimum investments to upgrade the security of their infrastructures, schools and community centres.

Officials from the Taldos Yakov Yosef school, which was attacked in September 2006, had to launch an appeal to raise $150,000 for repairs and security enhancements to that private Orthodox Jewish school.

It was precisely because of my concern with these increased costs incurred by victims of crime, who through no fault of their own were having to fork the bill to ensure the security of their institutions, that in 2004 I wrote a letter to the then prime minister, to the then deputy prime minister, and to the then minister of justice recommending the creation of a national fund for security infrastructure and training for communities with a high risk of victimization by hate crimes and terrorist attacks.

I am proud that last week the Leader of the Opposition, on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, announced that a Liberal government would invest $75 million in a fund designed to protect at risk communities. That announcement represents the culmination of vigorous study and consultation by the Liberal Party's task force on cultural communities at risk, which was chaired by my colleague from Thornhill. The task force consulted with the communities that are most at risk at being victimized by hate crimes.

In conclusion, I support Bill C-384.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Hochelaga on a point of order.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, without taking too much of the time of the House, might I ask a question, with the unanimous consent of the House, on a point of order?

I do not understand the government's position on the bill we are debating. Could the member for Peace River simply state, yes or no, if he intends to support the measure before the House?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

At this time we are in the period of debate. Questions may only be directed to the member moving the motion.

I know that the hon. member for Hochelaga is quite diligent. There will be other presentations by other members of the front benches. I hope that at that point he will have a better understanding of the government's position.

In the meantime, the hon. member for Outremont has the floor.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the NDP about Bill C-384, put forward by my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

The purpose of this bill is to improve and update existing provisions of the Criminal Code. These provisions already state that if an act is committed against a place of worship, the penalty can be increased. This was in response to a number of tragic events throughout Canada, and particularly in Quebec.

What we are doing here is broadening the scope. It would apply not only to places of worship, but also, for example, schools or possibly sports centres. It could even include libraries or other places patronized by members of a group specifically referred to in existing regulations, also known as identifiable groups.

I am going to pick up the pass from the Bloc member who asked a question. We had the opportunity to hear from the person who tabled the bill, the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, supported by the NDP and the official opposition. They made their points clearly.

Even though, as you stated, Mr. Speaker, we are not allowed to ask questions or make comments at this stage to a government member, I can still say that I am not very far away from the member in question. I spoke to the member for Peace River after his presentation, because I too did not understand whether or not the Conservatives were going to support the bill. He replied, with a little smile, “You will see.” So, I was not the only one, nor was the Bloc member who just spoke the only one who was unsure whether or not the Conservatives were going to support the bill.

I can say that we will be watching the Conservatives very closely. All things being equal, the support of the official opposition, the Bloc and the NDP should be more than enough to win the vote. But recent events concerning sexual orientation have made us very wary of the Conservatives' attitude.

I held a press conference with a gay man from Malaysia who was facing possible deportation. According to Amnesty International, which is helping us with his case, the penal code in Malaysia orders up to 20 years in prison and in some cases even lashings for one's sexual orientation. Despite that, the Conservatives proceeded with his deportation, even though he had been in Montreal for years. He was not a risk to anyone, he contributed to society and could have been an excellent citizen.

Then there were the clearly homophobic remarks uttered by a Conservative member. The response was: “That was a long time ago. He has since changed his mind. He said he was sorry.” True, but the fact remains that that is part of a bigger picture.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Outremont, being a member in good standing, certainly cannot stand here and say that homophobic remarks were made by a member of the Conservative Party. I was in the House that day. I heard no homophobic remarks. I did see the member for Outremont go a little wild and climb over desks, but I did not hear any homophobic remarks and I do not believe that is parliamentary language in any sense.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I am standing so that means the hon. member for Outremont sits. I doubt that the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London is rising on a point of order. It is more a point of debate. We will go back to the hon. member for Outremont, who I am sure is going to steer back to the debate at hand.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was referring to the remarks made by one of his colleagues that made the headlines last week. And I am not talking about the remarks made by his colleague when he interrupted me in the House, but the clearly homophobic remarks that his other colleague made several years ago. He apologized, but they are nevertheless part of the issue we are debating here this evening. Indeed, we are discussing a legislative amendment aimed at protecting groups that are identifiable because of their minority status. The bill aims to increase sentences not only in the case of places of worship, but also for example in the case of a school or sports centre, or anywhere identifiable groups get together.

I was simply summarizing recent events here. The member in question, who just rose in error, as was so rightly pointed out, alluded to the fact that when I was defending the rights of that gay man who was to be deported to Malaysia, I was constantly interrupted by shouts from the Conservatives, which is another indication of what they really think about this.

Back to what I was saying. Hatred is already considered an aggravating factor in sentencing, and places of worship are already protected. The New Democratic Party supports the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant's proposal because it broadens that protection. What remains to be seen is whether the Conservative Party, which is currently Canada's minority government, will vote in favour of or against this bill.

The only answer I was able to get from the member for Peace River was, “We will see”. That is not very reassuring. What we have seen up to now is not very reassuring for identifiable groups. Therefore, we will wait, because he told us we would see, but we will be keeping a very close eye on the Conservatives.

They say that one is judged not by one's words, but by one's actions. It is one thing to say that homophobic statements made years ago by a sitting member of Parliament no longer represent that member's thoughts, and that he is sorry. It is one thing to say that we have a neutral immigration policy when people are being deported to countries where they will be in real danger because in those counties, it is illegal to be homosexual. That is what the Conservative government is really doing, and I highly doubt it is mere coincidence.

Sometimes people ask me how things work here. I often tell them that the only thing I see that they do not see when they watch the debates on television is the behaviour of the members in the House. When the Conservatives have an opportunity to amend a long-standing Canadian policy in order to request clemency for Canadians sentenced to death in other countries, I watch their reactions in the House. They are handling these files in a way that will keep their political base happy. They know exactly what they are doing. The member for Peace River's sardonic smile says a lot about the Conservatives' real attitude.

All I am asking is that the Conservatives prove me wrong by voting. I hope that they will support Bill C-384, which, as I said, has the support of three of the four parties here. Today would be a very good day if we could agree on this. As the member said, we will see.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to congratulate my colleague for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant who is introducing her first bill. You know that I am very much in favour of private members' bills. I wish we had two hours of debate each day. When we introduce a private member's bill, we do so because of our personal convictions or, of course,—and often for both reasons—the interests that we wish to promote for our citizens.

I doubly congratulate the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, who is making an important contribution that is cause for celebration to all those in this House—and there are many—interested in human rights.

I also appreciated the speech by my colleague for Outremont. It reminded me of when I was in this House, in 1996, and my colleague Svend Robinson, member for Burnaby at the time, introduced a bill that the Conservatives did not support. The Conservatives were the official opposition then.

My colleague Svend Robinson introduced a bill, referred to as the hate crimes bill, to amend s. 718 of the Criminal Code, which sets out the aggravating circumstances enabling a judge to impose a harsher sentence for individuals who engage in reprehensible conduct. At the time, sexual orientation was to be added. In major Canadian cities, including Montreal and Ottawa, gays had been beaten up just because they had a different sexual orientation.

Section 430, of course, and section 434.1 which covers places of worship, were added. We were at the juncture of two phenomena. The first was the protection of religious freedom guaranteed by the Quebec Charter and the Canadian Charter. The Supreme Court supported a subjective view of religious freedom. This means that it is not necessary to worship by adopting the practices of the religion to which one belongs; it is enough to profess a sincere and genuine expression of faith.

Today, the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant is taking it one step further not only by protecting religious freedom but also by protecting places of significance to identifiable communities. I will come back to that.

These places of special significance are, of course, educational institutions, daycare centres, colleges, universities, community centres, playgrounds, arenas and sports centres. The member was wise to broaden the protection, because these are all potential gathering places for various identifiable communities.

Even though Canada and Quebec have a long tradition of peace, respect and tolerance for all sorts of social, sociological and historical reasons, the fact is that, year after year, certain groups are singled out. Certain cultural communities are more likely to be targeted than others. In Montreal and other cities, synagogues have been set on fire. Certain cemeteries have been desecrated.

When a bill is as important as this one, all partisan considerations should be set aside. That is why I am concerned, shocked and disappointed that this government has not found a way to state clearly, during this first hour of debate, that it will support the bill. My colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has suggested an amendment, and we are open to that. It does her credit that she is trying to improve the bill.

Under certain circumstances in Parliament, our opinion may not be final. We may want to hear witnesses and steer the debate in one direction or another. Personally, I feel it is extremely sensible to suggest that we also consider linguistic groups that may be targets of abuse or mischief.

I find it troubling that, on a human rights issue, a government, a group that is responsible for running the country, is not able to stand up in this House and state clearly that it will or will not support the bill for a given reason.

I cannot help noting that I have been a member of this House since 1993 and that there have been nine separate votes involving the homosexual community. With a very few exceptions, the Conservative members have voted against the rights of this community on nine separate occasions. I therefore cannot understand why they are keeping quiet and are unable to say whether or not they will support this measure, which recognizes that people are targets of abuse and mischief in public institutions and says that, as a society, we condemn that.

We do not accept that people should be mistreated because of their race, sexual orientation or identifiable characteristic. In my opinion, this bill should not cause any controversy and we should be unanimously in favour of it. In my opinion, there are very few arguments that could convince us that this bill is not legally sound, since it is a bill that addresses human dignity. All hon. members who believe in human dignity and certain inalienable rights must stand up in this House and support this bill.

I repeat: I find it extremely embarrassing that the government has not found an opportunity to make a firm statement on this. I do not know if we have enough time left to hear from another speaker from the government side, but I hope this situation will be remedied.

I cannot help but note that this government has a mixed record on human rights. My colleague from Abitibi mentioned to us that this government refused to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is rather troubling that, despite the Erasmus-Dussault commission, and despite a number of extremely important bills on aboriginal rights, in major international forums like the United Nations, this government has not found a way to take a clear position.

I also want to commend the hon. member for seeking to increase the sentences and ensure that we take into account that, whether prosecution is summary or by indictment, the sentences will be increased, which will contribute to sending an even clearer message that hate-driven motivation and behaviour are not acceptable.

I see that I have only a minute left and I do not want to stop heaping praise upon the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, who wants to add this building block to the edifice of human rights. The Bloc Québécois has always been an extremely enterprising architect when it comes to human rights. I cannot imagine any hon. member in this House who believes in human dignity and equality not supporting this bill. I could not look government members in the eye if, at the end of this debate, any of them do not support this bill. I dare not imagine such a situation. This is a chance for them to show that they believe in human rights. I hope they will take the opportunity being extended to them by the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

I wish my colleague all the best.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise today on private member's Bill C-384, introduced by the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

Bill C-384 proposes to amend the Criminal Code by adding a new offence to the existing mischief provisions.

The Criminal Code mischief provisions state:

Every one commits mischief who wilfully

(a) destroys or damages property;

(b) renders it dangerous, inoperative, or ineffective;

(c) obstructs, interrupts, or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property; or

(d) obstructs, interrupts or interferes with any person in the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property.

The amendment would make it a specific offence, with increased penalties, when the mischief is committed against an educational or recreational institution, or any related object, that is used exclusively or principally by a group identifiable by its colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

The bill, specifically in lines 12 to 15 about sentencing, states: “being motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour”. When I read that, I know that some of the existing provisions in the Criminal Code about mischief allow action to be taken by the judge.

The new provision would apply when it could be proven that the act of mischief was motivated by prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

I understand the rationale behind the proposal. It seeks to send a clear message to Canadians that we do not tolerate acts motivated by bias, prejudice or hatred. I noted the examples pointed out by my hon. colleague from the Bloc, who talked about the schools and the things that were done in Outremont to the Jewish school and the library.

In particular, it seems that the intention of the bill is to send a message to potential hatemongers that we do not tolerate acts that are directed toward institutions in Canada that are used by what is defined in subsection 318(4) of the Criminal Code as an “identifiable group”, or in other words, a group identified by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

My question when I read the bill is about motivation and whether in existing law this is not covered. Does the judge not have the ability to define that aggravating factor when they look at the sentencing provisions?

As we heard in our throne speech last year:

Canada is built on a common heritage of values, which Canadians have fought and died to defend. It is a country that continues to attract newcomers seeking refuge and opportunity, who see Canada as a place where they can work hard, raise families and live in freedom.

We are a diverse nation and our laws recognize and protect that diversity.

The report tabled by Statistics Canada earlier this month also reflects this diversity. The results of the 2006 census shows that the ethnocultural diversity of our population is growing and will continue to increase. In fact the census indicates that there are more than 200 different ethnic origins.

The 32 million people living in Canada make up a cultural, ethnic and linguistic mosaic that is found nowhere else in the world.

Canada welcomes many immigrants a year from all parts of the globe, who continue to choose Canada drawn by the quality of life and its reputation as an open, peaceful and caring society that welcomes newcomers and values diversity.

Canadians need to continue to respect and value one another regardless of their colour, race, religion or ethnic origin. As the member pointed out, unfortunately when there are differences among people, there is the possibility of conflict between them.

And when conflict leads to criminal behaviour, the criminal justice system must be able to respond appropriately.

As a nation, we will not tolerate hate-motivated acts that are based on a person's colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. We are making great efforts to be a nation where peace reigns. Canada was founded on the principles of peace, order and good government.

Canadians value this and a place where they can feel safe. Today, rightly, they worry about their safety and security. There is no greater responsibility for the government than to protect this right to safety and security.

Canadians can be proud of their country and its achievements. Working together, we have built a nation that is prosperous and safe, a place where people from around the world live in harmony.

I personally had some reservations about the wording and how effective the bill may be when under its provisions crimes are brought before the court. Will it really be effective, especially given that we all see in our ridings at all times the tremendous amount of general mischief against public buildings, private buildings and public and personal property today?

Having said that, I am sure that all members of the House will commit to continuing to work together to ensure that all Canadians have a justice system that reflects our values as a nation, including standing up for vulnerable communities.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Shefford for 10 minutes. However, he will have only five minutes this evening. He would be wise to save his good arguments for the next time.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-384, which was introduced by my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant. This bill is innovative. Before this bill, it was a matter of only two locations: places of worship and cemeteries. With the passage of this bill, it will henceforth be prohibited to attack a school. Why? Because that is just as important.

When children go to school in the morning and see their school covered with hateful graffiti, that enters into their subconscious minds and stays with them. It is all well and good to tell these youngsters that people should not do such things, but it can by psychologically disturbing for them.

Even teachers are shocked by this when they arrive for work in the morning or when they see this near a day care centre. They must also take their children to the day care centre and see graffiti on the way. Their children will ask them questions, wondering why there are hate messages and why someone would write that on a school, or anywhere for that matter. These questions will be asked.

I want to share a story. At one point in my life, I was a union representative. A worker once came to me to say that he would like to be able to finish high school. He had worked hard and completed three years of high school in the evenings. Having a job and going to school is very hard work, but it is something that someone who wants to succeed must really make an effort to do.

One Friday, this person went to his supervisor to ask for an afternoon off because he had to take two exams to finish high school, and the diploma would help him move to a new position or a new job. In fact, all companies require a diploma. His supervisor asked him why he wanted to get his high school diploma and if he did not like his current job. The employee replied that he would like to improve his life and earn a decent income to raise his family. The supervisor pointed out that he was black, and that blacks were meant to work in factories and not to hold senior positions, such as supervisors. He did not grant permission, and the worker had to find another way to take his exams and get his high school diploma. The supervisor did not think it was worthwhile to get the diploma because a black person was not meant to hold a senior position.

A grievance was filed against this supervisor, and I do think the employee won.

This bill also includes colleges, universities, community centres and playgrounds. Is it not bad enough that, in the summer, when children go to the playground they go to every day, they see graffiti saying that society should get rid of all blacks—or any community—that nobody should see them and that children should not play with them? That is not what we want to teach our children. We teach them that they have to be kind to one another, that every person is different, and that we have to accept those differences.

What message is graffiti like that sending to children? It might bother them and, as they grow up, they will begin to think that there is a colour difference, a difference they can exploit. I do not see why we should tolerate such things.

My colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant is on the right track. This is perfect timing for this bill. All parties in the House of Commons, the NDP and the Liberals, agree. Recently, the champions of law and order proposed a new bill to curb auto theft. What is more important, auto theft or hate crimes against people? People are much more important.

I see that my time is up, but I know I will be able to continue next time.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and Bill C-384 is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

When we return to the study of this bill, the member for Shefford will have five minutes to complete his remarks.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.