Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for bringing this significant debate before the House of Commons. That is the luck of the private members' lottery. It is his turn, and rightfully so.
I want to start by reading the summary of Bill C-473. It states:
This enactment places restrictions on the transfer of insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance to persons who are not residents of Canada.
That is more or less the summary.
I also have a private member's bill in the House of Commons, Bill C-208, that is not entirely similar but very close to Bill C-473. Its summary states:
This enactment prohibits the sale or export for sale of any medal awarded by the Government of Canada in respect of service with the Canadian Forces or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or in respect of service as a police officer outside Canada on behalf of the Government of Canada.
I would like to say at the outset that we in the New Democratic Party will be supporting the legislation through the committee process. During the committee process, we will be asking certain questions of witnesses to see if we can not only improve the intent of the legislation but also, and I will be honest here, to see if I can piggyback some of my legislation on this bill and maybe the two of us together could produce a really good bill.
When anyone goes to a legion hall, ANAVETS hall, or any hall where the military, RCMP and veterans meet, debate is stirred up about medals. As we know, many of us have been lobbied for a new cold war medal. We recently had the Wound Stripe changed to the Sacrifice Medal. The government did a very good thing with that.
Medals represent a significant achievement of a person who has served his or her country, be it RCMP or military, past or present. The families of those who have passed on have the medals, usually in shadow boxes with pictures and stories of the recipients. It is quite significant that they are able to retell the stories of the brave Canadians who served their country so well.
There is one concern I have with the bill, and I have already spoken to the hon. member about it and we will have further discussions on it. For many years I have told people that the medals hanging on their chests are not currency. When someone receives his or her CD, Victoria Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross or whatever significant medal they receive, including the Afghan Star many soldiers are now receiving, these medals the government has given them are not currency. The government did not say, “Thank you for your service, here is some money”. The medals' significance is to show others, when the recipients wear them in public, on parade or wherever, that they have served their country and what particular theatres of war or conflict they have served in.
We see many young people in their late 20s or early 30s with four or five campaign medals already, because they have served many tours overseas in various conflicts, either Bosnia, Suez, Turkey, Haiti, Afghanistan, et cetera, including our World War II and Korean veterans, of course, and all the medals they wear.
They are extremely proud to wear those medals. In fact, they wear those medals for pride, devotion, loyalty and dignity. Nonetheless, when I speak to veterans, service personnel and RCMP across the country, the number one reason they wear the medals is that there are 118,000 Canadians who served their country and never had the chance to wear theirs because they paid the ultimate sacrifice. That is the significance of these medals.
I have a personal belief that these medals should never be turned into currency. They do not have to be commodified. Do we have to put everything we have in this country under a mercantile system?
Because that I have argued this with certain bureaucrats and ministers in previous governments, I understand that it would be very difficult to enact legislation to stop people from selling medals. It would be very difficult because of private property laws. I agree with some of that argument, but surely we can do something that replaces money when it comes to these medals.
Some people have asked me what happens if somebody has to sell their medals for food or prescription drugs. I have only been around here since 1997, not as long as some colleagues, but I have yet to meet one veteran, one RCMP officer, who has come to me and said very clearly, “I have to sell my medals for food”.
I have said publicly that if there are veterans out there right now who feel they have to do that, give us a call. I know members of Parliament would immediately be there to help them on that. I am sure of that. There is not one member from any party who would not help that person out.
There have been situations recently involving the great Tommy Prince. There will be a movie about him. In his unfortunate state of mind, when he was in a desperate situation, he sold his medals. They got around the system and eventually they got back to their rightful owners.
Those who are computer literate could go on eBay right now and see all kinds of medals for sale. However, the people selling those medals did not earn those medals. They were not awarded those medals. They somehow got hold of them. Either the families sold them off or they found them. A while ago I worked with a guy named Dave Thomson from Ontario. A guy came in, posing as a real estate agent, and stole his medals to try to sell them, which is very cruel.
We just simply do not believe these medals should have a cash value. It is not currency veterans have hanging from their chests. That is our opinion, and we look forward to the debate and to get it to committee. It is very important this legislation gets to the committee where we can have sober, rational thought, bringing in witnesses from various organizations, various individuals, various bureaucrats from departments and ministries or whoever, so we can have a thoughtful, reasonable debate about how we protect the cultural significance of these medals.
There are two schools of thought. Inverness High School in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, has a massive hallway with cabinets. Inside those cabinets are shadow boxes, pictures, stories and medals of all kinds of veterans who have passed on, those who served in the Boer War, World War I, World War II, et cetera, and the families have donated the medals to the school. The kids walk by that hallway all the time. They grow up knowing the significance of their forefathers and mothers and the service they provided, not just to their community in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, but their country. Yarmouth High School does the exact same thing.
There are many places to donate these medals for people who no longer wish to have them, or the children do not want them or for whatever reasons, not only museums, but chambers of commerce, churches and community halls. Our MPs would be honoured to hold these as well. I am sure many members of Parliament would volunteer to hold them in their offices. When they leave office, either voluntary or involuntary, they can pass them on to the next member of Parliament.
These medals should not be in a cupboard, or in a drawer, or on a flea market table, or at a garage sale, or on eBay or on Kijiji. They should be out there for everybody to see. That is why it is critical and we are very pleased that the member for Perth—Wellington has brought this issue forth.
I would ask if the member would accept a friendly amendment, not at this stage but when we get into the debate, to also include the medals of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. As we know, many police officers serve overseas and they also received these various medals. We believe the RCMP should be treated in a very similar fashion to the veterans when it comes to these particularly significant cultural items of Canada.
If I am not mistaken, 96 Victoria Crosses have been awarded to Canadians overall. Just recently we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the William Hall V.C. He was an African Nova Scotian who, in 1850 received his Victoria Cross. He was the first sailor. He served three countries in four wars and was awarded the Victoria Cross. We honoured that memory at the Black Cultural Centre in Preston, Nova Scotia the other day.
We thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for bringing this significant discussion to the floor. We, like the Bloc Québécois, will support sending it to committee. We hope, with further amendments, we will be able to proceed with this debate in a very friendly and cautious manner.
We salute all the veterans and thank them for their service.