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.