Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-473, An Act to protect insignia of military orders, decorations and medals of cultural significance for future generations.
I met with the members of the Hudson Legion last week. I am always moved when I speak with veterans. Each medal and decoration marks an event in their military career and the role they played in various theatres of operation. I met with a number of veterans when I worked on the issue of Canadians who had lost their citizenship. These people were commonly known as Lost Canadians. They also take a great interest in the transfer of the last veterans hospital. They talked to me about the situation many of them are in and how they live in poverty. It is very disturbing. I believe we must do much more for them.
The bill has to do with part of our heritage and is intended to protect medals that were presented to soldiers who brought honour to us. I would first like to thank the member for Perth—Wellington for introducing this bill. It is a first step, but I believe that he will agree that we can do much more for these veterans.
I am also surprised at the narrow definition given to “veterans”, because many members of allied forces fought alongside our veterans, as the department currently defines them. Even though these people have been in Canada for 40 or 50 years, they still do not have privileged access to Ste. Anne's Hospital. We still have a lot of work to do on this.
As its title indicates, Bill C-473 is designed to protect Canadian medals and insignia of military orders that are culturally significant to Canada. The cultural significance of a decoration is determined by the regulations in this case. To keep decorations in Canada, the bill we are debating today would place tighter restrictions on the transfer of insignia of military orders, decorations and medals. It would be against the law to transfer an insignia of cultural significance to a non-resident, that is to say, someone who is neither a permanent resident nor a citizen of Canada. I encourage the committee that, I hope, will study this bill to review certain passages pertaining to citizenship.
I do not know if the member for Perth—Wellington realizes it, but more veterans have lost their citizenship. The last surviving veteran of World War I, Mr. Babcock, was not a Canadian citizen and the Prime Minister had to hop on a plane to restore it. The citizenship aspect should be revisited to prevent creating further irritants for veterans. Therefore, I invite the committee to examine this point and to do some checking.
This bill contains provisions that would allow any person to transfer a decoration provided that they have first tried to sell it at its fair market value to the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization or the Department of Canadian Heritage, in other words the Government of Canada. If the government refuses to purchase it and provides written confirmation to this effect or has not accepted the offer within 120 days after receiving it, the person may then transfer the decoration to a non-resident. As I mentioned, a number of veterans did not regain their Canadian citizenship before dying. That was the case for Mr. Vallière, among others. We should empathize with this situation, especially for the family's sake.
Bill C-374 indicates that all these restrictive measures do not apply to the transfer of a decoration to a near relative, which means the father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, child, grandchild, brother or sister of the owner of an insignia. At this stage, I find it unacceptable that spouses are excluded from this bill. I believe that this oversight will be corrected by the committee.
For people who do comply with the provisions of the bill, specific paragraphs in the bill stipulate that if a Canadian transfers a decoration considered “cultural property” in violation of the provisions I just mentioned, that person is committing an offence punishable by a fine in an amount that does not exceed five times the market value of the insignia. I would like to know how the government will contact the owners of insignia and medals. Is there a list of these persons? I also wonder how veterans will be advised of the changes proposed in this bill.
In the past, we have had a difficult time reaching veterans, even for a law as important as the Citizenship Act. So this will be an important part of the implementation of this bill.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of Bill C-473 and would like it to be examined in committee. That will give us an opportunity to hear from witnesses and examine various aspects of the bill in greater depth.
We are also in favour of the principle of the bill because it is intended to conserve and protect heritage artifacts. Such artifacts are part of the military history of any country that presents military insignia, orders, decorations and medals to men and women to thank them for their actions and for their participation in various military missions.
In bestowing these decorations, a country recognizes the sacrifices and achievements of those who have served the cause of peace and freedom throughout the world over the years. Everyone here knows that our military personnel work hard and overcome many challenges. Many sustain serious injury, and some die.
Without hesitation, they accept the most dangerous missions with humility, determination and courage. Collectively, we have an obligation to recognize and support these soldiers.
We believe that all governments can and must do what they can to preserve the cultures and histories of the peoples under their authority. Military history and recognition of the dedication of the men and women in uniform are important parts of the history of a people.
That said, I must point out that the bill introduced by the member aims to protect a cultural asset that is military in nature.
The Conservatives wish to prove their willingness to preserve military history. Although we support this praiseworthy initiative, the Bloc Québécois urges the Conservative government to take concrete action to support the entire cultural sector.
We support the bill to protect one form of military culture. However, we insist that this government invest more in the protection and promotion of the culture and history of Quebec.
I would like to close by pointing out that for many veterans, medals are very important and so is the history behind every one of them.
The fact that enacting such a bill might be difficult and might touch some nerves must not be taken lightly.
I would also like the government to do more to address the poverty that prevails in that community.