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House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was grain.

Topics

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 1:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

moved that Bill C-288, An Act respecting the National Flag of Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to have the opportunity to rise today and to speak to my Bill C-288, An Act respecting the National Flag of Canada, a bill that encourages Canadians to proudly display our national flag.

This bill represents an opportunity for us to stand behind those who wish to display our most important national symbol.

It also allows us to demonstrate to Canadians who wish to display our national flag that they have our full support. There have been far too many Canadians who have been forced to take down the Canadian flag on Canadian soil.

Some of us will remember our flag being adopted in 1965. Since that time, Canadians have proudly worn it on their backpacks while travelling the world. Displaying our flag abroad has immediately conveyed the values that we hold dear, freedom, democracy, courage and justice. Everywhere Canadians go, our flag is recognized and respected.

Despite proudly displaying our national flag when we are away from home, it is often said that Canadians are reserved in their patriotism and that they are not likely to put on a grand display of pride for their country.

I agree that in the past we have been hesitant to acknowledge our accomplishments, but Canada has come of age. As a country we have matured. We are no longer reserved about trumpeting our many accomplishments and letting the world know about our great country.

Our flag represents freedom, democracy, courage and justice, but today we are also proud to display our national flag as a symbol of leadership in the world and as a symbol of our accomplishments as Canadians.

The purpose of the bill is to protect Canadian citizens who want to proudly display the Canadian flag at their home. There are many reasons why one would want to display the flag; simply though, Canada is a great country.

When I hear stories of veterans who have been displaying the flag for years and are forced to take it down on threat of fines or even evictions, I am appalled.

There are stories such as those of Guy Vachon from Ottawa who served 25 years in the army, including combat in Korea, or Fred Norman, also from Ottawa, who served under our flag for 23 years. They were forced to take down their flags on threat of eviction. Mr. Vachon flew a Canadian flag for 11 years without a problem. Then one day he was told that unless he took down his flag he would face legal action with potential eviction.

There is the story of Brian and Linda-Lee Cassidy from southern Ontario who have been flying the flag for almost 40 years at their homes. They were told their flag looked like "trailer trash", both an insult to the flag and the people who live in mobile homes. The Cassidys are now members in bad standing at their homeowners association even though they have always paid their dues and followed the rules. The Cassidys want to fly the Canadian flag because they simply love Canada. They believe in what this country represents and they are honoured to be Canadians.

There is Rose Wittemann and Richard Field. Rose wanted to fly the flag because her brother was being sent to Afghanistan to fight under the Canadian flag for the freedom that we enjoy every day. They were told that unless they took down their flag, maintenance workers would come and take it down for them and they would be charged for the work that took place. In the notice they were given they were told:

While we appreciate your patriotism, Canada Day has now passed and we require that the flag be removed immediately.

Canadians should have the right to fly the flag on more than just Canada Day. We are Canadians every day of the year and we should be allowed to fly the Canadian flag every day of the year.

Lynn Riley hung a flag on her backyard fence. Shortly thereafter she received a letter from a legal firm representing her condo association, forcing her into expensive mediation.

Ex-serviceman Mark Murray placed his flag on his balcony in remembrance of the men and women he served with and those who never came home. He has received encouragement from family members of those who lost their lives to keep flying the flag. He faced eviction as a result but Mark said, “Remembering those who were lost was well worth it”.

Or there is Kirk Taylor in Calgary who also believed in what the flag represented. He received a notice to take down his flag but he refused. The issue took years to resolve, including expensive mediation.

Thousands of Canadians risk their lives every year with the Canadian Forces for the sake of what the flag represents. They risk it all for Canada. Why would we force them to fight more battles here at home while trying to remember those who are still fighting or those who never came home?

We all have special memories that involve the Canadian flag. This summer, I was inspired whenever I had the opportunity to go to an immigration ceremony to welcome new Canadian citizens. When these new citizens would stand up I would give each one a small Canadian flag, a symbol, and they would often be overwhelmed with emotion and tears. I was reminded repeatedly that Canada is a refuge, a safe place, where millions of people all over the world desire to live. Our Canadian flag represents everything that they strive for: freedom, democracy, justice and many more attributes that we take for granted every day.

If hon. members think back over the past number of years, can we say that Canadians were shy about displaying our flag during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games? Of course not. Our flag was visible everywhere. It was proudly displayed by Canadians from coast to coast to coast for the entire world to see. Canadians expressed their immense pride in their athletes and that was even before they owned the podium for Canada. Of course, they were not just proud of Sidney Crosby's winning goal, they were proud that Canada had once again welcomed the world with such tremendous distinction.

We do not only show our pride in our flag at sporting events. Canadians proudly display our flag during times of national celebration. Of course we can think of Canada Day. On July 1 every year, Canada is transformed into a sea of red and white. Our flag can be seen flying in every town and city across the country. Flag Day on February 15 also comes to mind.

However, we also saw our flag waving all over the country to welcome Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge this past summer. We all know that a tour from our Queen would not be complete without the familiar red and white flag lining the streets to greet her. Certainly, Canadians will be eager to display our flag in celebration of Her Majesty's diamond jubilee in 2012. As Canadians, we have much to celebrate. No symbol can match the unifying power of our flag to help us celebrate together.

Our flag represents us overseas as well. It flies at our embassies and missions around the world and it is a beacon of hope for people around the world when it flies with the Canadian Forces in areas such as Afghanistan.

Canadians are tremendously proud of their flag and want to see it displayed both at home and abroad. Canadians want to show their pride in their country every day of the year. They want to show their support for our democracy, freedom, courage and justice.

Our national flag is our greatest symbol. Around the world it stands for those values. It accompanies the men and women in uniform who go out into the world and risk all for the sake of that democracy.

Our flag unites us all. It honours our history, shows our pride in our accomplishment and brings us together in time of celebration and in times of mourning. Canadians want to be able to display it proudly and should always be able to do so.

The bill would help Canadians who want to show their pride in Canada. Canadians like Guy Vachon, Fred Norman, Brian and Linda Cassidy, Rose Witteman and Richard Field, Lynne Reilly, Mark Murray, Kirk Taylor and so many others just like them. They have all sacrificed so much for the sake of our flag, for the sake of what our country stands for.

As their elected representatives, we have a responsibility to support Canadians who want to show their love of our great country. We must encourage Canadians to display our national flag and send a message that no one should prevent it from being displayed respectfully. What better way to do so than to make it easier for Canadians to display our national flag every day of the year.

For this reason, I urge members to join me and support Bill C-288. I also urge members, if they have not already done so, to join me and other Canadians in showing our pride and in celebration of our great country by displaying the national flag of Canada at our homes.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question for the hon. member for Don Valley West is this. How would making people criminals forward the democracy that the flag represents? How would it help the individuals, who the member has mentioned, fly their flag by making other individuals criminals?

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question.

We need to take the bill to committee. My goal is to see some amendments come forward that would reduce that element of the bill. Importantly, I hope to create a dialogue between those who wish to fly the flag and those condominium associations or ratepayer associations about the right of people to fly the flag.

It is certainly not my intention to create disparity between the two sides. I want to see a unity in this that creates an environment where we come together as Canadians and agree that this is the right thing to do, both on the side of the building owners or condominium associations and those who wish to fly the flag.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the words of the member for Don Valley West. I agree with much of what he had to say about pride in Canada, what the flag represented and how important it was to Canadians.

I am an immigrant who came to Canada and I have immense pride in the flag. The Liberal Party has immense pride in our red and white flag that it brought forward for Canadians to be proud of over the years. However, what is mystifying to me is how one converts those words around pride, freedom and democracy into the creation of a condo board inspector team to check on the decisions being made about this.

While I appreciate there might be some changes to the bill, the last thing we want is the flag police. That is antithetical to freedom and would get in the way of people's inherent right to exercise their democratic freedom with respect to the flag as well.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, nowhere was the pride in our flag more evident than in her riding during the 2010 Olympics. We saw the flags lining the streets of Vancouver and that area.

Like the hon. member, it is not my wish nor my goal to see flag police. This is not about that. This is about creating a dialogue.

It is my hope that opposition parties will join me in taking this to committee where we can develop a group of amendments that would truly make a unifying bill, not a divisive bill. It is my hope that the hon. member will join me in this effort.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague, whom I would also like to congratulate. I would like to know his thoughts on the following subject.

I wonder what he thinks of civil society organizations that receive public subsidies, money from Canadian taxpayers, and refuse to fly the Canadian flag?

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of the bill is to create a unifying environment where we can create a dialogue in which we can talk about what it will take to bring both sides together. I support the initiative of those who want to fly the flag at their homes, on their balconies, et cetera. That is the core of what we are talking about today.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, one of my staffers became a citizen of the country Wednesday. I wanted to join her in Montreal when this happened, but was unable to. She shared her pride with me on becoming a citizen. Some 400 individuals became new Canadian citizens at her ceremony, representing some 64 different nationalities, I believe.

I, like so many of us, am an immigrant. I moved here from England when I was child. My parents moved here from Barbados via England. We all hold an immense pride in our country and the flag that represents it.

For clarity's sake, our flag is an enduring symbol of unity, freedom and national purpose, which is rightly celebrated by all Canadians, regardless of their origin or political affiliation. It stands as a powerful testament to the sacrifices of generations who gave their all to ensure our future and to build and preserve our democracy.

Recent events around the world, such as in Libya and Syria, the Sudan, remind us how precious freedom is and the profound sacrifice that is required to assure its survival. That profound sacrifice, however, does not preclude the freedom that the bill represents, which includes the right to speak out and the right to not have the flag raised. I would hope, and I think we all hope, that common sense prevails in situations like this.

Canada's official opposition enthusiastically supports the right of every citizen to display our national flag with pride, as it represents the freedom of expression this bill seems to want to curtail.

We commend the member for wanting to ensure that Canadians who wished to show their connection to Canada would not be unduly hindered in their expression.

Jail time, fines, this is the type of heavy-handed punitive vision that clouds the obviously honourable intent of the member for Don Valley West. However, I must confess that in my daily interaction with my constituents and citizens from across the country, the pressing issues I hear from them are on the economic, social and environmental fronts, to name a few. I am not hearing anything about issues regarding their right to display our flag.

The member for Don Valley West has shared some of the stories that he has heard from his constituents, and I thank him for that. However, that in itself shows the isolated nature of this issue, an issue that should be dealt with at a municipal and/or provincial level, where it belongs.

Canadians who wish to express their support for their country are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights under the freedom of expression. If through some municipal bylaw, or provincial legislation or even condo bylaw an individual's freedom of expression is being challenged, then there is recourse through municipal means, through the Charter of Rights, through provincial means. Is it really necessary to turn a hapless caretaker, following through on a condo bylaw on behalf of a condo board, into a criminal with threatened jail time?

I cannot help but be reminded that the bill is eerily similar in substance and spirt to a much maligned American law, the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act, which was introduced in 2005 by Roscoe Bartlett, who incidentally was a founding member of the Republican tea party caucus. Though bustled through Congress on the strength of a Conservative majority, the law pilloried as an opportunistic political grandstand, thus the sentiment that may have fostered the bill was lost.

Canadians are smart people. They are perfectly capable of finding their way through issues such as their desire to fly their flag. Does the government's hubris stretch so far as to make municipalities, fire departments and condo associations criminals when enacting their bylaws within their jurisdiction?

Respect for jurisdiction is a convenient evasion for the government when being asked uncomfortable questions on transportation or health care, but it seems that for their pet projects, jurisdiction does not matter.

Let us get to the heart of the matter. Patriotism cannot be legislated. Attempts to do so have always led to discontent. Patriotism is and always should be something that individuals arrive at when shown the honour and the heart of their nation.

The honour and heart of this nation is not simply based on military history but on the social responsibilities it has adopted over its 144 year history. A country built on the promise of democracy, inclusion and a shared goal in its building. These are a few of the elements that make us proud to be Canadians and proud to wear our flag.

The bill puts at risk that freedom, the freedom that the flag represents. Let us get back to the business of creating real middle-class jobs that are eagerly awaited, pension security and EI reform.

Canadians are crying out for real environmental agenda changes and restraints on mounting ethical abuses by the government. The government has continuously used closure and time allocation to stifle the very democracy this flag represents.

The government does not have a monopoly on patriotism and honouring men and women who fight for this country. Those valiant men and women offered up their lives and safety, so that we could live and uphold the fine democracy and traditions which have always been a source of strength to this nation.

How does the bill do that? It does not. What it does is find more reasons to throw Canadians in jail.

I hope that the words shared by the member for Don Valley West that it is not his intent are true. I hope that when the bill gets to committee, we will be in a position to sit down, and truly discuss what the bill means and what the bill can do.

However, to make a federal case, pun slighty intended, out of an issue which should be left to municipalities, we should show municipalities and condo associations that there are other ways to deal with matters when it comes to the Canadian flag. Making these individuals criminals, forcing them to pay fines, and throwing them in jail is not the answer.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, over the past couple of weeks I have looked into the ramifications of this bill quite a bit and sought out many opinions about how people feel about this. We are getting into an interesting discussion about pride in the flag. We talk about what happened in Vancouver at the Olympics. The hon. member for Vancouver Quadra knows this quite well, as was pointed out earlier. Many celebrate Canada Day as the sun breaks over the Canadian flag on Signal Hill in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador and it is certainly a moment that stops one's heart, a true Canadian heart.

I would like to make a few points that have been brought up in debate so far. These are technical matters because as I look into this bill, it is the technicalities of it that really bring it down even though it has the best of intentions.

I want to thank my hon. colleague because he is onto something with regard to the situation that happened in his riding and it certainly deserves the attention of the House.

In the beginning I may not have thought that, but as time goes on, I actually believe it does because these are people who are told they cannot do something to express pride and therefore they are diminished.

That being said, in the House we have several measures by which we can express the opinion of those who wish to be proud of their flag, and those who want to do it and not be hindered to do so. What the member is looking at is more of a private member's motion than a private member's bill because the bill takes the idea of ensuring someone has the right to fly the flag and unnecessarily penalizing people in many respects. I do not believe that was the intention of the bill to begin with.

The member talks about sending the bill to committee for the sake of making major amendments and then bringing it back, but the problem with that is that once it gets to the heritage committee, if the amendments that we make go against the principle and scope of the bill, then the Speaker would have to rule it out.

The way to get around that is to send the bill to committee before second reading, before anyone in the House says yes to it because there are many things we cannot change.

I know many people will tell me not to worry. If the committee says it wants a change, it will change. That is not how it works. If the changes go beyond the principle and scope of the bill, the Speaker has the responsibility to say we cannot do that, but the Speaker had already said yes to it.

I bring that up because some of the amendments that we choose to make to this proposed legislation, my hon. colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber in the NDP and members of the Liberal Party, really go beyond the scope of the bill in my opinion.

Back to the bill itself there is a case in point. Several years ago, by way of protest, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador of the day, Danny Williams, ordered the provincial buildings to take down the Canadian flag. May I humbly suggest, do we send in the RCMP to the premier's office to serve an order? I bring this situation up simply because these are some of the things we may be faced with and certainly some things that changes in committee cannot get around.

There are many other aspects. For example, how have the provinces been brought into this conversation? Fundamentally, it works like this. The Attorney General of Canada makes an application in the superior court of the province and therefore provinces have to enact this. They have to ensure it is enforced. The first thing they do is to serve notice or serve a court order to tell a person not to fly the flag. If it goes beyond that, we are looking at a maximum of two years imprisonment which is particularly harsh given what we are dealing with here. In order to do that, the provinces have to carry this out. I do not know what conversations have taken place with the provinces on this piece of legislation, but it creates a myriad of responsibilities that have not been fundamentally addressed.

Despite the fact that we are all proud of our flag, our symbols, and our emblems, I believe that the headaches created by this would really be too much to handle right now. That is why I would have suggested the member move a private member's motion, committing this House to the flag itself and the freedom to fly the flag, and not so much to the penalty phase of it.

For example, there are so many questions that arise. I cannot stand in front members here today and hold up the Canadian flag. The Standing Orders say I cannot do that because it is a prop. Members are pointing to the flag that stands next to the Speaker. I cannot hold that flag because it is considered a prop. But it stands in its rightful place. So, there we have it. I have not been permitted to fly the flag, just as a point of reference.

Just by way of explanation, the bill has two orders. Primarily, the bill would give remedies that the court could use when someone is denied the right to fly the flag. They are restraining orders, injunctions, orders of compliance, and any such order necessary. The secondary punishments can be given at the discretion of the judge, including either a fine, the amount set at the discretion of the court, and again we go back to the provinces, or a prison term not to exceed two years.

I heard the member speak earlier about the situation he had with the condo development people. It is a good point. I do not think, in many of these cases, these people should be allowed to prohibit someone else from flying the national flag.

What about provincial flags? It is the same story. If I am not mistaken, I believe provincial flags are also owned by the Government of Canada. So, why are provincial flags not in here as well? I would suggest that could be the case.

The province of Quebec says that the provincial government buildings are not allowed to have many emblems on them regarding the Government of Canada, if I am not mistaken. Would we go to the province of Quebec and tell it we are going to serve it with an order and a prison term not exceeding two years and so forth?

We can see the layers and the problems that we would face with this. I would respectfully say that despite the good intentions of the bill, there is nothing we could amend in committee that would ensure these intentions remain just that, good intentions, as opposed to the problems that we would create and the situations that I have illustrated here.

It was tried in the United States in 2005. There were some changes that had to go through there. The bill was brought forward by Roscoe Bartlett. He was a member of the Republican Party and a member of the tea party faction of the party, if that actually exists. In any event, that is what he claimed. There were problems similar to what we are talking about here, and my hon. colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber mentioned the same thing.

I suspect that if we were to debate it today, it should have been a motion as opposed to a bill. That is why we are voting against this right now. I think there is another way of going about doing this. The ramifications within this particular proposed legislation, despite the good intentions, are not that functional, especially when we are dealing with the fact that we have the Attorney General of Canada petitioning provinces about doing this, and they have not really been brought into the discussion, as well. I am sure they would like to see much the same for their own flags.

I thank the House for this time, and I also would like to thank the member for his good intentions.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-288, a bill brought forward by our new colleague from Don Valley West, who I commend for taking up an important issue and creating a very important dialogue in the chamber. I encourage members to support this bill. It is important and I will get into the substance of it in just a moment.

My colleague from Don Valley West is new to the chamber and has done a phenomenal job of bringing this issue to bear. I think all of us in this chamber recognize i the importance of our national symbols and what they mean to us and do for us. Our flag is a great symbol. It is a great expression of national unity and how we pull together. It is an expression of the values that we have in common, freedom, democracy, respecting the human rights of others and accepting that we are not ruled by the whim and dictates of an individual but we are all under the rule of law.

Those are very important values, which are not prevalent everywhere in the world, I might add, which is why a symbol, like our national flag, can become such an important point of hope for others. I am talking about others who seek to flee their own situations and come to a land of hope, such as the story of my biological mother and her oldest sister who left difficult economic conditions in eastern Europe in the late 1960s early 1970s to come to a place where there was economic hope and opportunity and the promise of starting a new life.

The flag also represents the hope and values that others wish to have in their own countries and hope to bring to their own countries some day. The flag is important because of its ability to inspire us. I am now in my eighth year as a member of Parliament, which is a great privilege, and every day when I leave this building I look up over my shoulder at the flag flying at the top of the Peace Tower and it never fails to take my breath away. It is a great thing.

I have to say that I am a little troubled by what I am hearing from the opposition with regard to this bill. The member for Jeanne-Le Ber questioned the government's priorities. First, this is a private member's bill, not a government bill. We should clarify the two right off the bat.

In terms of individual member's priorities, a bill that deals with the national flag of Canada and the right of every Canadian citizen to fly that flag is probably better than the bill introduced by the New Democrat member for Windsor West who wants to ensure that there is proper labelling for things that contain cat fur. In terms of the quantum of priorities, the right to fly a flag or to be notified if there is cat fur in a product, I know which priority I think is more important.

I have been told that the New Democrats do not see desecrating our flag as offensive. That troubles me. In fact, that disturbs me. This is not about a right to disassociate from flying the flag. This is about restoring the balance between those who are denied the right by those who are the elite seeking to deny them. That is what this bill hopes to address.

When I listen to Liberal members, I am troubled as well. This bill is not about pride. It is about being denied the free expression of that pride, which is incredibly important.

Listening to members' interventions brings up a curious oddity for me. Opposition members, be they New Democrats or Liberals, have no problem imposing fines and jail sentences on Canadians who do not fill out a long form census, but they will not support a bare minimum fine for someone who would urinate on the flag. That is desecrating the flag. It is in the bill. Apparently they have no problem with that, but sock it to the Canadian who does not fill out a long form census. I am astonished by that position. In fact, I am almost embarrassed that that position has been brought forward in the House, but it is their right. Notwithstanding that, I hope that members will come back to exactly what this legislation is about.

The member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor said that a motion should have been brought forward and not a bill. I will remind the member that a motion would not deal with the issues that may be uncomfortable for members to deal with, like the desecration of the flag.

We are challenged with a bill today. It is not a perfect bill but it is a good bill on balance. I accept that there could be some changes to this. However, it is a step in the right direction, which is why I felt it was necessary to both second it and speak in favour of it.

I hope all members, at bare minimum, will let this legislation get to committee and, if they want to make some changes to it that are within the scope of the bill, then let us go ahead and do that. Maybe the jail sentence is too much. Fair enough. Maybe it could be the bare minimum of a fine. However, there should be something to acknowledge that Canadians have the right to fly the flag and that right should be respected.

It should not be up to a homeowners association to decide that a veteran in my community in Lake Shore cannot fly a flag over his garage because others do not like the way it looks or it violates some rule of the homeowners association. That is bunk. The bill would remedy that situation. This issue has been in the newspapers back home and the homeowners association does not care about the bad press. It thinks it is still right. I say that it is not.

We need a bill like this. People who put their lives on the line for this flag deserve to have their right backed up and they deserve to have a Parliament that will stand behind them on that.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss Bill C-288. I want to begin by thanking the hon. member for Don Valley West for his speech and for what seems to be a commendable intention. I congratulate him. His speech was very respectful, unlike some other speeches I have heard recently in the House.

I would, however, like to talk about the flaws in the bill. We cannot really attack the intent of the bill, which is commendable. However, this is a bill that will add another clause to the Criminal Code. It is therefore a relatively serious issue and it deserves to be addressed.

The bill lists three main conditions with regard to the Canadian flag: that it be displayed in a manner befitting this national symbol, that it not be displayed for an improper purpose or use, and that it not be subjected to desecration. These are three important conditions for allowing a person to display a flag.

One of the main flaws is that there is absolutely no definition of what constitutes a manner befitting this national symbol. And what does it mean to display a flag for an improper purpose or use? Even the definition of desecration seems complex. I think we can all agree, but knowing the limits of the definition of desecration is not so obvious.

For example, much is being said about condos and homeowners' associations. We can also talk about people living in condos or rented houses who want to use a flag as a curtain. Is that an improper use of a flag? I think that if we are talking about a flag as a symbol that should be treated with respect, some people might take issue with that use. If a flag is used as a door or a curtain between two rooms, is that a proper use of the flag? Some reasonable people might not think so.

I think this bill is quite flawed in terms of how the use of the flag is defined. Although the hon. member for Don Valley West wants to ensure that this bill contributes positively to the discussion, I think it might complicate the discussion between members of homeowners' associations and condo associations.

Another aspect of this bill—making the offence in question a crime—has already been raised in this chamber. Once again, I definitely understand that the member for Don Valley West wants to improve dialogue and discussion about this matter. However, criminalizing something and taking sides in a dispute can cause problems. By passing this bill, the Government of Canada would be taking sides in any dispute involving a Canadian flag, and that would tip the balance in favour of one party over the other party, which might have legitimate objections in a dispute.

For that reason, I fully support the arguments of my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber, who said that this type of discussion should probably take place at the municipal level, where matters pertaining to residences and property are handled. The discussion would be much more appropriate at that level. Discussions could also take place at the provincial level. However, at the federal level, we are talking about criminalizing a dispute involving a national symbol. The dispute is also about how land or property is divided, and the rules that are agreed to and applied by property owners.

I believe that the bill goes much too far by introducing criminalization and that it does not achieve the purpose intended by the member for Don Valley West, who wants to create a dialogue. In the end, it may prevent dialogue and polarize any dispute that could arise in similar cases.

I would also like to say, and this has been mentioned, that there is no flag crisis at the moment. There are isolated and regrettable incidents because the parties in a dispute about displaying the flag cannot come to an agreement. However, introducing a private member's bill that would increase criminalization or add another article to the Criminal Code is probably excessive in the circumstances.

Another one of the issues that was raised by the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor is the double standard.

We know full well that, based on the rules of the House, the Board of Internal Economy has already decided that flags cannot be flown in the windows of Parliament Hill offices. However, this issue was raised by a media outlet, which mentioned the existence of a double standard: one for ordinary Canadians and one for Parliament Hill.

The member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor has already pointed this out but, if we had to resolve a dispute or make a decision in this regard—as one of your predecessors did—I would surely not like to see you be given a prison sentence of two years for a ruling contrary to the essence or intent of a bill, even though I know that members of the House benefit from parliamentary privilege.

The fundamental issue here is that there is a double standard. We cannot impose on the House what we want to impose on Canadians, specifically members of homeowners associations and condomiiuim associations.

I would like to point out another issue, namely, that of freedom of expression. The goal is to allow people to express themselves more freely or to give them the opportunity to express their patriotism by flying the Canadian flag without anyone preventing them from doing so. It is important to realize that freedom of expression is currently protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Any dispute that may occur about the flying of the flag—and these are usually arguments between two or three individuals or among small groups of people—can be resolved by the mechanisms in place to ensure that the provisions of the Charter are upheld. Once again, although the intent of the bill may be commendable and although no one in this House wants to attack this intent in any way, the fact remains that the bill seeks to remedy a situation that is already covered by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Fourth—and this will be my last point—I mentioned that there was a problem with the definitions and the way in which some of the conditions set out in the bill are defined. The fact that the bill is so vague and yet so broad could result in unpredictable situations that may be a little bit embarrassing. The bill tries to cover almost any controversy that could arise, even though most of these controversies seem to pertain to very similar situations. For example, associations of homeowners or condominium owners.

I will give an example that has been brought up by the media. The current member for Vaughan on the government side was formerly the Ontario Provincial Police commissioner. Six years ago, while carrying out his duties during the incidents in Caledonia, he arrested a protester, or rather a counter-protester. This person was arrested for flying a Canadian flag during the counter-protest. According to this clause, would the member for Vaughan, while exercising his duties as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, have been subject to punishment? Once again, I do not think that was the intent of this bill, but the way it is currently written could lead to embarrassing and unpredictable situations that could cause a lot of problems for law enforcement that the member for Don Valley West did not intend.

Honestly, if I examine the merits rather than the intent of this bill, I see that the bill as drafted is much too vague and imprecise. It tries to resolve a problem that arises only in very isolated and often similar situations— disputes among two, three or four individuals. These could be resolved amicably or through mediation, without such heavy-handed measures as a fine or prison sentence under the Criminal Code.

I would like to ask the member if he would withdraw the bill to try to improve it, as has been mentioned. Because opportunities to make amendments in committee are limited, it would be appreciated if he would withdraw the bill and improve it by taking into account the problems mentioned.

It is difficult to support the bill in its current form.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise today and express my support for Bill C-288, , an act respecting the national flag of Canada. The bill would ensure that Canadians would not be prevented from proudly displaying our national flag.

In my riding of Okanagan--Coquihalla, we have many retired veterans. We have two veteran settlement communities that were created after the Second World War. To this very day, veterans still proudly call these communities home. Just last week, it was an honour to announce funding for a cenotaph in the veteran settlement community of West Bench. A former member of the House and mentor to me, Fred King, is a proud veteran who lives in the wartime settlement community of Kaleden.

However, many veterans have reached a point in time where they now live in a strata community, perhaps a condo, a townhouse or an apartment. Some of these veterans are prevented from flying the Canadian flag.

The Canadian flag has a unique history. It was through national debate and the participation of over 2,000 citizens who submitted designs that a new flag was finally chosen in 1964.

The Canadian flag is the legacy of inclusion. We should take note of this inheritance as we make a decision today. Did the parliamentarians at that time realize the overarching impact of their decision? I think they did. It is for this reason that such care was given to the selection.

The Canadian flag is an important symbol of our great nation, of its core values and natural history, a flag that all Canadians can proudly display. Yet some Canadians are prevented from doing so. I support the principle of this bill because I believe it is time to change that.

As Canadians, we have all stood tall on Canada Day and felt that immense sense of pride in the love of our country. We have felt it while singing the national anthem at a hockey game, while watching our triumphs at the Olympic games or overseas through the contributions made by our brave troops on behalf of all Canadians.

The Canadian flag is more than the material it is made from. It is a symbol to all of us that makes Canada a truly great country. It is a symbol of excellence, of inclusion, of tolerance, of making the world a better place. It is a reminder and one that I submit should not be denied.

The Canadian flag is the most visible and recognized symbol of Canada. When people come together, there is but one symbol to choose. The distinctive maple leaf has become a symbol of pride for Canadians from every walk of life and from every part of this nation. The flag inspires Canadians. Athletes, guides and scouts, school groups, service clubs such as the Rotary Club and Kiwanis, groups that serve their communities are inspired to contribute to their country, which is recognizable through the main symbol of the flag.

Above and beyond any other institutional affiliation, it is the flag that is used to unify people. Canadians feel close to the flag. They feel a sense of ownership. What place could be more important for its display than from their own homes?

For people to fly the flag in their place of residence is to make a statement about where they belong and what is important to them. The message of the flag is always one of unity and purpose of freedoms and acceptance. Canadians should be free to fly the flag, free to see it in every part of the country, from villages to cities, from tiny islands to the highest towers. The flying of the flag is a time-honoured tradition that binds Canadians to our shared past and is with us on each new challenge. It is important for Canadians to be able to continue to pass on the customs and practices of diverse regions and cultures that make this country great. The flying of the flag is a key part of the Canadian identity. It identifies us and brings us together.

I speak today on behalf of the flag. It has a distinguished history that has united Canadians for generations and will continue to do so for many years to come.

I believe that the bill does require some further fine tuning and agree with some of the comments made by my colleagues with respect to the penalties. I believe these concerns can and should be addressed at the committee stage.

I ask all members of the House to be mindful of this and to unite behind the flag.

May our Canadian flag always fly freely across this nation from the homes of any and all who wish to participate in what it means to be Canadian.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

November 18th, 2011 / 2:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Before adjourning, I would like to wish all members and staff of this chamber a good weekend. I hope they travel safely every weekend.

It being 2:31 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:31 p.m.)