Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-473 and the protection of military medals, orders and decorations awarded to Canadians.
I want to begin by thanking the member for Perth—Wellington for his efforts to protect Canada's military heritage and for bringing this issue before Parliament.
The tabling of Bill C-473 allows us to reflect on the vital importance of Canada's military heritage and the very important part it plays in our country's development.
Military insignia symbolize a number of events, the most common representing long or distinguished service, while still others denote participation in a war, campaign or peacekeeping mission. The rarest of all signify battlefield valour.
The importance of our military heritage was front and centre just recently on April 9, Vimy Ridge Day, when the government honoured all of Canada's World War I servicemen and women and paid tribute to their achievements and contributions. Ceremonies of remembrance were held across Canada and at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France and the Canada Memorial at Green Park in London.
The national commemorative ceremony at the National War Memorial, a symbol of the sacrifices of all Canadians who have served Canada in times of war in the cause of peace and freedom, was especially poignant following the death in February of Canada's last known first world war veteran, John Babcock.
The efforts and sacrifices of Canada's armed forces throughout our history must not be forgotten. As part of our country's heritage, they must be honoured and protected.
Through Bill C-473, the member for Perth—Wellington proposes to fill a gap in the protection of our military heritage, a gap that affects modern military insignia. Let me explain what I mean by that. Important medals and other decorations that are more than 50 years old are already protected under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. We have measures in place to keep objects of outstanding significance and national importance in the country. The act includes, among other elements, a system of cultural property export control, which requires export permits for a range of cultural property. These measures protect the nation's heritage, while respecting the rights of private citizens to dispose of their own property.
Under the existing act, important medals that are more than 50 years old require a permit to leave Canada. Permanent export may be delayed if the medal is determined to be of outstanding significance and of national importance. If an object for which a permit is sought is deemed to be of outstanding significance and national importance, the permit is refused. That refusal may be appealed to the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.
On appeal, the board may create a delay period of up to six months to allow Canadian cultural institutions the opportunity to purchase the object in question so that it may remain in Canada. A system of special tax incentives also exists to provide further encouragement for owners to donate or sell cultural property to Canadian institutions. Those who do not comply with the Cultural Property Export and Import Act can be prosecuted and are subject to fines or imprisonment.
However, what protection is there for modern Canadian insignia? We know that serving members of Canadian armed forces are prohibited under the code of service discipline of the National Defence Act from selling their medals and decorations. Military regulations also govern the disposition of medals when a serving member dies. These measures are important and should be respected. However, recent military honours, unlike historic medals, orders and decorations, are not controlled for export.
The member for Perth—Wellington has indicated that his objective with Bill C-473 is to keep important military medals, orders and decorations in Canada. Export control is clearly a matter over which the federal government has jurisdiction and experience. Important medals and other decorations that are more than 50 years old are already controlled for export under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
If it is the will of the House to refer Bill C-473 to committee for review, I trust there will be an opportunity to study more fully how to ensure this proposed new legislation can work seamlessly with the Cultural Property Export and Import Act to protect our military heritage. I want to commend my colleague from Perth—Wellington for striking a balance in presenting this bill, between the need to protect our military heritage and the need to respect the rights of individual owners of military insignia.
Military insignia hold significant meaning to veterans and their heirs. Bill C-473 proposes to exempt near relatives of the owner of the insignia from the provisions of the bill. Under Bill C-473, families can continue to care for the valued personal legacy of their veterans, their military insignia, and ensure they will be passed down from generation to generation.
In the first hour of debate on Bill C-473, my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé noted that spouses do not seem to be included in the definition of the relative. I trust there will be an opportunity to study this matter further in committee. I also acknowledge and appreciate my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore and the passion for this issue that he brings to this debate. In his comments, he described the positive experiences of several communities in his area to preserve their military heritage.
Many military insignia are donated to local museums as well as to the Canadian War Museum and Canadian Forces museums across the country. Bill C-473 would not restrict donations to Canadian museums. Owners would still be able to donate military insignia to the Canadian museum of their choice. That is an important protection of their rights.
Most public museums in Canada are also registered charities. As a registered charity, a museum can issue donation receipts for the value of gifts in kind, such as artifacts or specimens. Additional tax benefits may also be available if the gift is certified as being of cultural importance and national significance by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.
The government has recognized the need to protect our military heritage through the establishment of museums, including the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Forces museums across the country. The Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum have more than 1,000 medals, including at least 28 Victoria Crosses, Canada's highest military honour. The network of Canadian Forces museums tells the story of regiments across the country.
Bill C-473 proposes that federal museums should be given the opportunity to purchase modern military insignia if the owners do not wish to donate them to a public museum or wish to transfer the insignia to a near relative or heir or a resident of Canada. I would hope that Canadian Forces museums would also be able to benefit from Bill C-473 to continue their profound tradition of protecting our military heritage.
In conclusion, I am pleased to support Bill C-473 and its efforts to protect our modern military insignia, modern insignia that recognize the contribution of the women and men who still today go to troubled spots around the world. I look forward to further study of the proposed bill in committee.