Madam Speaker, I begin by thanking the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for bringing this bill forward. I find it to be a thoughtful and balanced approach to this issue. It is the kind of thing that a private member's bill should do. It is a contribution to public policy and to the honouring of veterans in our country.
I have been requesting the members on this side of the House, in the Liberal Party, to support this bill, and we will support it at committee.
It is quite an adequate bill because it balances the cultural heritage that we try to protect through the honouring of insignia, of medals and honours, declarations and awards, as well as the private property rights of individuals. The member has been very thoughtful in balancing those two needs to understand that medals for wartime service and for military service, in general, tell two stories. They tell a story of an individual and a service to our country and to our world and a moment of heroism often that is honoured in a medal. They also tell a corporate story about what Canada is, how Canada has come into being and what Canada hopes to be in the future.
This legislation balances those two stories as well as those two rights. We have the story of individuals who offer their lives for service and give what they can for the prospects of freedom, independence, peace and community in our world. They also, at the same time, tell the story of a country that is emerging as a nation. The stories we have of these medals, as we can look at them, tell the story of a nation that has taken its place in the stage of world affairs and has made our world a better place.
It is very clear that I believe this is good legislation. It promotes culture and heritage in Canada and it balances the need for a family to tell its own story. It respects the right of a family to pass on a medal, or a declaration, or an award, from generation to generation, to kin, to keep it in that family so it can tell the story of the person it loved and respected.
It also gives the right of first refusal to Canadian cultural institutions, particularly, the Museum of Civilization across the river, the War Museum, as well as that network of Canadian Forces museums, which offer a story that we all need to hear. The member has taken that and has done it very well.
The need for such legislation is interesting. There is already an act in place that protects such medals that are 50 years or older. This adds to the legislative body that we have to protect modern medals. The act that the member is attempting to add to not only is looking at the history of Canada, but it is actually guarding the future of Canada. Therefore, we also want to commend him for that, for being forward-looking.
There are a couple of issues that I want to raise, and this is not a criticism to the bill but to add to the importance of it.
First, many people have served in Canadian Forces in the last 40 years or 50 years who have not received medals. I hope the member will also begin to look at the proposed Governor General's volunteer service award for those who have served at least one year and have not received a medal for their volunteering into the Canadian Forces.
There was such a medal that ended in 1947. It came back during the Korean War, in those two to three years. However, since that time, we have not had a medal that honours the simple act, or the very brave act, of volunteering for the Canadian Forces.
This is for people who have volunteered, particularly, in the cold war. We have to remember that kind of service. That will make this kind of legislation quite important, because we are talking about new medals and modern medals. I hope the member will take some time to investigate that proposal. Over 5,000 people have signed a petition for Parliament to establish such a medal.
On a bit of a harder note, one of the reasons this legislation is important is because there have been stories of people, of veterans, selling their medals to actually live. We have to worry about that.
I want to bring to the attention of the House the fact that there exists in Calgary a food bank solely for veterans. The Prime Minister visited the food bank on April 2, with the Minister of the Environment. It is an utter national shame that we have a food bank, the poppy fund in Calgary, just for veterans. There is something wrong when we are forcing our veterans to go to the measures of staying in homeless shelters, of selling medals, of going to food banks designed just for them. The Calgary poppy fund has to operate to keep veterans alive.
The budget for that food bank is $2 million per year. I am not belittling the charitable notion that goes into keeping that alive. It is a wonderful charitable effort. However, the fact that the need exists should remind us that we as a Parliament and the government are simply not doing enough for veterans.
Over 61 people received food baskets in that institution in the last several weeks. It is open five days a week, from nine to five, Monday to Friday, to help veterans. Calgary is one of richest cities in the country. This is about people who have given their service, their time, their honour, everything to the service of the country. What we are doing for our veterans is simply not good enough.
We have stories of veterans who sell their medals on eBay, sending them out of the country. I am very pleased the member is trying to protect that cultural heritage and keep them in our country, keep that story alive. However, as with everything, we have to dig down, we have to peel back the onion just a bit to understand why people might sell medals. If it is because they do not have enough to eat, if it is because they do not have a roof over their heads, if it is because they have been left out, if it is because they have addictions or other problems that are forcing them into a life outside the mainstream, then we have to act. It is not good enough. It is simply not the way we want to treat our veterans.
I know the hon. member has veterans absolutely foremost in his mind, so I hope he will take this opportunity to talk to the veterans who may be tempted to sell their medals. I hope he can go to that food bank, following his leader's example. That was just a photo op to make an announcement about food protection. It was an opportunity to talk to those veterans and ask them why they were there, to ask them what happened and what went on in their lives that took them to the brink and caused them to go to the Calgary Drop-In.
It has between 30 and 35 veterans every night who are homeless. This is a national shame. It is one of the largest growing populations of homeless in Canada. It is one largest growing populations of those going to food banks. We do not want to follow the model of our American neighbours, where this is a national crisis, although it is not that yet in Canada. We want to take the kinds of steps, the kinds of services, the kinds of programs to ensure that does not happen. We need to evaluate our programs and our commitment to Canadian veterans.
There is a story of a veteran that was recently made into vignette by the Historica Dominion Institute. It is the story of Tommy Prince, the most decorated aboriginal, first nations veteran in Canadian history, born in 1915. One of the tragedies of that story is despite the fact that his bravery and his service led to him being the most decorated first nations veteran, when he came back to Canada, he did not find his place that he deserved in this society. He was forced to sell his medals. This is a real story of a real person, of a real veteran who got lost along the way.
This legislation will protect the medal, but will it protect the veteran? It is a first step to ensure cultural heritage is protected, but we have to go a further step. We have to go further to ensure that our veterans are never forced to sell their medals, that they are never forced to go to a food bank in Calgary, that they are never forced to go to the Calgary Drop-In, but that they are celebrated, treated fairly, economically and socially. We owe our lives, our freedom and our independence to them.