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House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fair.

Topics

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for bringing forth this issue for debate. Clearly, he has demonstrated a great deal of passion, interest and respect for our veterans, whether they go back to the War of 1812, to the recent events in Afghanistan or to peacekeeping efforts where we have, unfortunately, seen the loss of lives of people from our country engaged in war on behalf of the country.

I am wearing a poppy, as many of our colleagues are, to show respect for our veterans. As the member said, next week we will be attending services in our communities to show respect for our veterans and to acknowledge their contributions. We will be there because we choose to be there. I believe every person in the House has a great deal of respect for veterans and for our serving soldiers. I was born before Confederation, and I was born in a place that was not part if Canada. There has not been a time in my lifetime when there has not been the kind of respect for serving soldiers and veterans as there is today.

Members will know that in the last 10 or 15 years there has been more public attendance at war memorials where people are showing interest, concern and respect for veterans and the contributions they have made, as well as the contributions that serving soldiers make. This is the context in which the member brings forth the legislation and I respect his views in bringing that forward.

However, I will talk about the context a little more because of something a member said that is very important. The member said that young people or anyone should think twice before disrespecting or defacing a war memorial. My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, who is the veterans critic for our party and is a tireless, if I may use that term, advocate for veterans ever since he has been in the House, pointed out that many people do not even think once before doing something, as the member was talking about, either showing disrespect or, in some cases, actually defacing a war memorial.

He also said that this amendment was necessary in order to avoid inconsistencies in the law. Reflecting on that, I would like to comment on the section that we are talking about, section 430 of the Criminal Code, which is the mischief section.

“Mischief” is defined in section 430 as:

Every one commits mischief who wilfully

(a) destroys or damages property;

(b) renders property dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective;

(c) obstructs, interrupts or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property; or

(d) obstructs, interrupts or interferes with any person in the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property.

It is a broad definition of what mischief is.

There are other aspects to it but if someone commits mischief that endangers a person's life, that person is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for life. Therefore, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

In terms of other types of property, if the property is of a certain type, the general penalty for mischief is that the person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. Therefore, the maximum penalty for mischief is two years imprisonment. In a proper case, the judge could actually put someone in jail for two years for committing mischief.

If the offence proceeds on summary conviction, which is another way of proceeding, the person can be guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction. The penalty for that is a $5,000 fine or six months in jail. Therefore, depending on whether it proceeds by indictment or proceeds by summary conviction, the fine can be as much as $5,000, six months in jail or two years in jail.

The Criminal Code also deals with other types of property. So, for mischief in relation to certain other types of property the penalties are increased.

What the member is saying is that this is a special type of property, sacred to our veterans and sacred to all of us because of the nature of the property's design to honour those who died in the service of their country, and, therefore, there should be a greater penalty than ordinary mischief. Two years maximum is not enough, summary conviction, $5,000 fine or six months is not enough.

Here is how the Criminal Code deals with other types of property. One of them is what they call testamentary instruments, a will. If someone destroys the last will and testament of a person trying to leave his or her property to the people that he or she wants, the punishment is a maximum of 10 years. It goes from 2 to 10 years maximum penalty for destruction of a testamentary instrument that is proceeded by indictment.

There is another type of property here. It seems to me, and I know the member may be able to enlighten us, that the legislative draftsperson, the legislative counsel or whoever drafted this bill, probably looked at this section to draft that one. This section reads:

Mischief relating to religious property

Every one who commits mischief in relation to property that is a building, structure or part thereof that is primarily used for religious worship including a church, mosque, synagogue or temple, or an object associated with religious worship...

nothing could be more sacred than that--

... if the commission of the mischief is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour or national or ethnic origin,

(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years; or

(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months.

Therefore, a summary conviction is 18 months instead of 6 and indictable is 10 instead of 2. However, it is not just defacing a church, destroying a church, urinating on church grounds, in a cemetery or whatever, the motivation has to be based on bias, prejudice, or hate based on religion, race or colour. In other words, if someone puts a swastika on a synagogue with spray paint, if that is done based on bias, prejudice, or hate based on religion, race, colour, then the offence is considered extremely serious and the person is liable to punishment for a term not exceeding 10 years or, by summary conviction, a maximum of 18 months.

In none of those cases, testamentary instrument or otherwise, is there a specified fine, or imprisonment or term, but the maximums are increased. In the case of testamentary instrument, it is by 5 times, to 10 years. In the case of a synagogue, or church, or a mosque or other religious site, it is up to 10 years, or 18 months for a summary conviction if there is proof of hatred, bias or prejudice.

That is the way the Criminal Code deals with matters that our society considers more sacred than ordinary property. If I were to I scratch a car with a key while walking past the car committing vandalism, that is mischief in relation to property. It brings a maximum sentence of two years or, by indictment, a $5,000 fine or six months in jail. However, if I destroy a will, deface a church or a synagogue with prejudice then the punishment goes up.

What the member is proposing here is something a little different. If we want consistency we might have to do something a little different than that.

I understand the concern the member has raised and we share that concern. If this is something so widespread by people who are wilfully doing this then we will certainly need to think about whether this is the appropriate way to deal with it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support, in principle, of Bill C-217, which is an act to amend the Criminal Code, particularly with respect to mischief relating to war memorials, which was introduced by the member for Dufferin—Caledon on June 15.

The bill would effectively create a new crime, where a person commits mischief in relation to war memorials and similar monuments honouring those who died during the war, by introducing a new paragraph to section 430 of the Criminal Code.

As the member for Dufferin—Caledon put it, this debate takes place at an appropriate moment of remembrance. It takes place on the eve of our commemoration of Remembrance Day, where we remember those who are no longer with us; where we remember those who, as the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore put it in this House, gave the greatest gift of all, the gift of life, so that we may live and so that we may enjoy our liberty; where we pay tribute to the veterans among us, and their families, who reflect and represent the sacrifice of those who are no longer with us, and we honour them; and where we pay tribute to our men and women in uniform across this world who are protecting our fundamental rights, who are safeguarding our democracy, who are protecting our human security or, indeed, who are protecting our international peace and security.

In effect, in 2005, when I was minister of justice and attorney general, I, at that point, developed a national justice initiative with respect to combatting hatred and racism which spoke with respect to the danger of this kind of assault on our war memorials, of those kinds of hate crimes that end up being an assault on the inherent dignity of every human being, and an assault on our equal dignity and, indeed, on our character as a multicultural society.

Section 430 of the Criminal Code currently outlines the definition of mischief and associated penalties. The section also includes specific provisions for mischief relating to data, religious and cultural property, and their associated penalties.

Bill C-217 would add another specific provision; this one for mischief, as I said, related to war memorials. It would also outline possible sentences for a person convicted of such a crime and it would create, as well, mandatory minimum sentences.

It is important to recall that the member for Ottawa South, at the time, in 2006, first proposed that the newly-elected Conservative government pass a law to make damage done to war memorials a specific offence. This push to protect monuments came in the wake of an incident on Canada Day in 2006, in which a man and two youths were observed urinating on Canada's National War Memorial in Ottawa. The man involved in the incident has since had his mischief charged dropped after partaking in voluntary community service.

I mention this because it would seem to me that the appropriate response with respect to that kind of vandalism is not to institute a mandatory minimum but to respond by way of community work, by way of education, by way of having to meet with veterans and confronting exactly the nature of the outrage that was committed and thereby learning from that. That would be a more appropriate remedy than introducing a mandatory minimum.

Since the member for Ottawa South introduced his proposal, there were other incidents involving monument vandalism, including an incident of a cross being torn from the cenotaph at a Royal Canadian Legion in Bell Ewart. At the time, in 2006, the then justice minister was not yet prepared to accept the proposal of the member for Ottawa South.

That leads us to where we are today with a related initiative to the recent passing of Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument, a monument which is intended for us to recall and remember horrors too terrible to be believed but not too terrible to have happened.

The importance, therefore, of protecting war memorials and the dignity of the individuals they represent and the values of freedom, democracy and human rights are omnipresent in this regard.

I support the need for an initiative to have a specific law protective of war memorials to express the condemnation of society of those who deface those monuments and memorials that are dedicated to our veterans, to our soldiers, and to the victims of mass atrocities, both domestic and international. But I caution as to the use of a mandatory minimum with respect to a remedial approach regarding this offence.

I support the bill in principle. I trust that the member for Dufferin—Caledon may perhaps be open to amending the bill with respect to removing the mandatory minimum, whereby we proceed in terms of alternative forms of punishment. I trust that a further discussion of the bill could lead us in the direction of where we could support the principle, certainly, which is very compelling.

I commend the member for introducing this private member's bill, but that we tailor the remedy with respect to the offence to the individual and do so in a manner that we can achieve an outcome that may be more appropriate in that regard while still achieving the objective which we seek.

Again, may I close by saying it is an appropriate initiative on the eve of Remembrance Day.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support Bill C-217, which was introduced in the House by the hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon on June 15 of this year. When the hon. member introduced the bill, he said that he did so in an effort to add significant penalties for anyone convicted of mischief against a war memorial, cenotaph, or other structure intended to honour or remember those who had died as a result of war.

Anyone who intentionally damages or defiles a war memorial should face severe consequences. Respect for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live in peace is the responsibility of every Canadian. We owe it to our men and women in uniform to protect these revered memorials. I suspect that many Canadians would share these sentiments.

While some Canadians may question why Parliament should create this new Criminal Code offence when the code already contains similar provisions dealing with mischief against property generally, I commend the hon. member's effort to create a new offence specifically relating to war memorials and cenotaphs.

Through my remarks today, I intend to explain why the creation of the new criminal offence that distinguishes war memorials and similar structures from other property is justified and should be supported by all members of the House.

War memorials have an especially important place in Canadian society. Their desecration disrespects the memory of Canadians who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and disrespects Canadians who continue to serve our country today.

As members may know, the National War Memorial here in Ottawa was unveiled in 1939 by King George VI on the eve of the second world war to symbolize the response of Canadians in the first world war that ended on November 11, 1918. Of course, it has since come to commemorate the sacrifice of all Canadians who have served in times of war.

Under the Criminal Code, a person commits mischief who: wilfully destroys or damages property; renders property dangerous, useless, inoperable, or ineffective; obstructs, interrupts, or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property; or obstructs, interrupts, or interferes with any person in the lawful use, enjoyment, or operation of property.

Where a property that is the object of the mischief has a value greater than $5,000, the Criminal Code provides that where the Crown proceeds by indictment, the maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment, and where the Crown elects to proceed by way of summary conviction, the maximum penalty is six months imprisonment. There is no mandatory minimum penalty for mischief.

Bill C-217 proposes the creation of a new hybrid Criminal Code offence of mischief committed in relation to property that is a building, structure, or part thereof, that primarily serves as a monument to honour persons who were killed or died as a consequence of war, including a war memorial or a cenotaph. The bill further proposes that this new offence would be punishable by a maximum of 18 months imprisonment on summary conviction and five years imprisonment when prosecuted by indictment.

Members will note that the bill also proposes the creation of mandatory minimum penalties. There would be a $1,000 fine for a first offence that would be the same whether the Crown proceeds by indictment or by way of summary conviction. I think this perhaps addresses some of the concerns that we have heard from the opposition.

This $1,000 minimum offence in real terms would be about 100 hours of work at the current minimum wage in Ontario. I do not think it is unreasonable if someone has desecrated a war memorial to ask them to go and work for 100 hours in as much as we do ask them to go out and provide volunteer community services. In addition to that, if a judge wanted to ask the perpetrator to go out and speak to Legions, I think that would be eminently reasonable.

What we are debating today, and which I fully support, is the fact that we would separately and uniquely honour our war memorials and cenotaphs.

On a second offence, there would be a minimum of 14 days of imprisonment and 30 days imprisonment for a third or subsequent offence. These mandatory minimum penalties are similar to some that already exist in the Criminal Code.

For example, section 255 of the Criminal Code also provides for mandatory minimum penalties that would be the same whether the Crown proceeds by indictment or by way of summary conviction. Under that provision the offender is liable to a $1,000 fine for a first offence, 30 days imprisonment for a second offence, and 120 days imprisonment for a third and subsequent offence.

In preparing for today's debate, I had a quick look at some incidents that could come within the scope of this new legislation. Members will be aware that there have been a number of high-profile incidents involving the desecration of monuments and war memorials in the recent past. While these incidents are relatively rare, they have nevertheless been very disturbing to Canadians.

A war memorial in Coniston, Ontario, has been the target of vandals a number of times over the years. The memorial originally consisted of five walls. There was a wall for the navy, one for the merchant navy, one for the army, one for the air force and one for the RCMP. At one point the monument had 11 flagpoles; only six remain now, and these too have been vandalized. The tops have been broken off and the flags have been stolen. Vandals also tore plaques off the central wall and knocked down the navy's wall. Two plane propellors that stand guard by the air force wall of the memorial had previously been spray painted.

At one point the Legion had a helmet and a gun from the world wars in a shatterproof glass display case at the memorial, yet vandals damaged the case so badly that the items had to be given away to another legion that could safely display them. A stainless steel sword dating back to the 1940s had also been stolen from a nearby cenotaph.

As a result of the most recent incident, the monument now needs to be completely replaced because of the amount of destruction, and I understand that the Legion is not going to repair it.

We must remember that our cenotaphs and monuments are powerful reminders of the sacrifices that generations of Canadians have made for the peace and freedom we enjoy today. I am proud to be a part of a government that understands that cenotaphs and monuments are important gathering places within our communities. As Canadians, we have a duty as a nation to preserve them in honour of our fallen men and women. Our veterans and those who continue to serve Canada today deserve nothing less.

This legislation underscores the importance of monuments and memorials to Canadians as symbols that remind us of our most important values: democracy, freedom and tolerance. I would invite all members of the House to support this important legislation, especially as we approach Remembrance Day.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for bringing forward this legislation and especially for timing it prior to the week of Remembrance Day. Certain points of his discussion were very sympathetic and understandable, and I appreciate his thoughtful concern regarding our veterans and their families with regard to the desecration of war memorials and cenotaphs throughout this country.

I do not think a Canadian exists who is not disgusted when seeing stupid acts against commemorative monuments of any kind. There was a cross-burning recently in Enfield, Nova Scotia. Everyone was very disgusted by it, and it was dealt with appropriately.

There should be a touch of caution on this. It is easy to say this is what we want to do and move forward with it. When reading a headline, giving a personal point of view or explaining it to constituents, most people would say, “Yes, let's do this, it's a great idea”. However, there are technical concerns that need to be looked at.

Other forms of vandalism and mischief can happen. For example, let us say three very drunk people leave a pub and desecrate a war memorial. That just happened in Ottawa at the National War Memorial. People were outraged, no question about it, and they wanted heads to roll, but the Royal Canadian Legion had a different approach to it. These young kids, having talked to members of the Royal Canadian Legion and veterans, are now the biggest and proudest supporters of the National War Memorial.

Similarly, the Veterans Affairs committee heard today from Mr. Terence Whitty regarding a Japanese memorial in Vancouver that was consistently desecrated until the police were able to find who did it. They got hold of the kids and spoke to them so that they understood what they had done wrong; these kids are now the biggest supporters of monuments and understand the sacrifices of our men and women.

My hon. colleague knows full well the sacrifices made by our men and women in the services for many years, but we do not teach that in our schools. That is a major problem with our schools. They do not teach military history. An awful lot of people have no idea what happened to these men and women. They know on Remembrance Day because it is a time for reflection, but on November 12 it is completely forgotten. That is problem number one. A lot of kids are doing things because they have not thought them out properly. It does not compute in their minds.

However, there is another form of desecration of a cenotaph, and that is neglect. There are thousands of memorials across the country. If cenotaphs, plaques or monuments are neglected, they start breaking apart or moss grows around them, and they become unfortunate, unsightly edifices in that regard. Who is responsible for the neglect? It is not someone who desecrated something. This is desecration by neglect. Is someone held responsible for that? Does someone pay a fine or go to jail for that? The bill does not say.

As much as I sympathize with and appreciate the concerns of the hon. member, the matter is worthy of further discussion. I would like to get validation from the various organizations in this country. I do not think I heard from the hon. member what the Royal Canadian Legion said, or the army, navy, air force, veterans associations, or UN peacekeepers. It would be very interesting to hear what they have to say about the legislation. It would be worthy of debate.

The other concern about establishing mandatory minimums is that doing so sometimes takes away a judge's opportunity to do something in that regard, depending on the circumstances of the day. Hypothetically, if three kids who were not born in Canada came here, did something really stupid and had no idea about what they were doing, what would we do with them? It can sometimes be related to swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. I sympathize with the hon. member's concerns, but we want to make sure we do it right. We want to make sure that education and rehabilitation are number one. Incarceration and major fines are not always the answer in these circumstances.

Although I have never desecrated a cenotaph or done anything of that nature, I have done some childish things in my lifetime. My father took his belt off of his waist and gave me a licking of a lifetime when I was in trouble. I know we do not hear the word “licking” very often in here, but that is what he did. I guarantee that I did not have to go to jail to know that I had done something wrong, and very bad.

In combination with this bill, there are other opportunities to show people who have done this that what they have done is severely wrong and to make sure that it never, ever happens again. There are thousands of monuments across the country and internationally. How do we apply these laws in fairness to what is going on?

Let us start teaching military history in our schools so that everyone knows why there are cenotaphs. I walk by the national cenotaph every morning and every night going to and from my apartment. When I stop people and ask them if they know what the horses, people and animals mean, they do not have a clue. Some of them are from Ottawa. They know it is a national monument, but they do not understand the makeup of the monument and why it was put there. A lot of people's actions are based on ignorance. They simply do not know.

A lot of people do not know there is a national aboriginal cenotaph at Confederation Park. It is beautiful to look at, but many people have no clue what it means. We have the Korean one, the Hong Kong one, and the one for peacekeeping. They are beautiful. When I ask people walking by what the cenotaph represents, they have no clue.

If we are going to punish people for a malicious act originating from stupidity and ignorance, maybe there is an alternative. Maybe we could turn that type of behaviour around. Maybe we could use a belt, and if my dad were still alive he would do that. Maybe I would use a belt myself, because I know how disgusted I am when I see actions of that nature not just when it comes to cenotaphs, but stupid things that happen all the time. Vandalism happens in this country all the time for stupid reasons. The question is do we incarcerate everyone who commits these acts? That is a valid question and it is worthy of further debate.

I appreciate the fact that the hon. member has brought this legislation forward, but as the hon. member for Mount Royal and my hon. colleague from St. John's East indicated, there are certain concerns and procedures that we need to look. I appreciate the intent of what the member is trying to do. We need to prevent these actions from happening again. We need to determine the best way to prevent them from happening again. If they do happen again, we need to ensure that people understand the seriousness of their actions and make sure they do not do it again.

If we could have that dialogue, I think we could achieve what the hon. member is trying to do.

As we say across the country,

At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Lest we forget.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Delta—Richmond East B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, how privileged we are to live in Canada. Canada is free from the turmoil and strife that we see in so many other parts of the world. Many new Canadians have come to Canada to escape war. Surely they appreciate the freedom and security which we should never take for granted.

Soon it will once again be Remembrance Day, November 11, notably this year, the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of this century. Canadians have a moral duty to acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those Canadians who placed themselves in harm's way, stood against oppression, and gave their all in the defence of freedom, justice and peace not just for Canada, but for people in foreign lands as well.

Most Canadians are conscious of the great debt we owe to those who contributed so much to preserving Canadian values, like the rule of law and equality. They wear the red poppy as I do this evening with solemn pride.

This is why I am at a loss to understand why there are some people who commit what can only be called despicable acts of vandalism against those memorials that have been erected to honour their sacrifice. I certainly support education, as the member opposite has suggested, but this really is a more straightforward matter.

As an example, in 2006, vandals ripped the cross from the cenotaph at Branch 547 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Belle Ewart, a small hamlet south of Barrie on Lake Simcoe. When we hear of acts of vandalism committed against a war memorial, I think many of us react with a mixture of sadness and outrage.

I would not want anyone to think that this problem is unique to Canada. Unfortunately, I recently have learned that scores of memorials to Britain's brave war dead have been desecrated by callous looters and vandals in the United Kingdom. The contempt for Britain's heroes was highlighted last week when a four foot bronze statue of a Second World War soldier was stolen from the garrison town of Tidworth in Wiltshire.

Brass statues and plaques bearing the names of the fallen are being ripped from their fittings and melted down so they can be sold for scrap. These plaques are often the last personal link with some of the fallen. If they are lost and their names forgotten, then it dilutes everything Remembrance Day stands for.

In the U.K., soaring prices for metals like copper, which has seen a threefold increase in value since 2009, has led to railway lines, phone lines, as well as war memorials and statues being targeted by metal thieves. These are deliberate acts.

In fact, I understand that at least three treasured monuments are looted, vandalized or in fact destroyed every week. This has left communities across the United Kingdom outraged, and rightly so, at the appalling insult to the heroes of two world wars. There are also growing calls for tighter laws to halt the plunder of memorials and tougher sentences for those who wilfully desecrate them in that part of the world.

I would like to invite all hon. members to consider how the families of Canadian service personnel, men and women, must feel when they witness or hear of similar acts of desecration being committed in Canada.

One hopes that all of our institutions, including schools, continue to instil proper appreciation of the role the Canadian Forces have played and are continuing to play in preserving our way of life.

It is my fervent hope that Bill C-217, once enacted, will help deter those who might engage in such outrageous conduct in the future.

I agree with my colleague, the hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon, that it is important to distinguish mischief against a war memorial, cenotaph or other such structure intended to honour or remember those who have died as a result of war from mischief to other types of property. War memorials deserve special recognition.

Bill C-217 provides that where a person has been found guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction, that person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 18 months.

Furthermore, Bill C-217 proposes that where a person has been found guilty of the indictable offence of mischief committed in relation to a war memorial or cenotaph, that person would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

Bill C-217 also provides for mandatory minimum sentences that would be the same whether the Crown proceeds by indictment or by way of summary conviction. That is a very important point.

My colleagues opposite made it sound as though imprisonment would be the automatic minimum sentence in these situations. That is not correct. A first offence would entail a minimum $1,000 fine, no imprisonment. However, for a second offence, the offender would be liable to 14 days' imprisonment. For a third or subsequent offence, if this has happened by the same accused three times, the offender would face a minimum of 30 days' imprisonment.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. 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. The hon. parliamentary secretary will have four minutes remaining when the House returns to this matter.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, at our last late show the parliamentary secretary claimed that the government has a tangible plan to address climate change. However, federal and provincial government actions that have been announced or are already under way are projected to reduce submissions by only one-quarter of what is needed to meet the 2020 target. Will the parliamentary secretary tell Canadians tonight how the government plans to address the remaining three-quarters?

Canadians should be highly critical of the government's abdication of leadership on issues related to climate change, specifically its performance in meeting international climate commitments, setting science-based emission reduction targets, developing incentives for low-carbon technologies, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, pricing carbon, and studying and putting in place adaptation measures necessary to respond to the risks of climate change.

This past Tuesday, the parliamentary secretary said that Environment Canada will not close the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre. Since the centre is manned by only one person, will the parliamentary secretary confirm tonight that that person has had his or her workplace adjustment letter rescinded? The parliamentary secretary explained this past Tuesday that Canada has an international obligation to monitor ozone in the upper atmosphere and previously confirmed there would be no cuts to upper level monitoring.

Repeatedly, I have asked what would happen to monitoring in the lower atmosphere, and repeatedly the parliamentary secretary has declined to address the question. Will the parliamentary secretary commit tonight to maintain lower atmospheric monitoring of ozone at the current levels of activity? The parliamentary secretary recognizes that Canada has been and is a global leader in ozone science. How then can she turn her back on our world-leading scientists, such as Dr. David Tarasick? Why does she not fight for them and stand up for protecting our environment?

Antarctica has an ozone hole the size of North America over it. The Canadian Arctic had a hole the size of Ontario over it. Will she commit tonight to rescind the workplace adjustment letters of Dr. Tarasick and other ozone researchers?

The parliamentary secretary's claim that changing the way ozone is monitored in Canada does not mean that Canada's ability to monitor ozone would be degraded is simply not the case. Two different ozone-monitoring networks, Brewer and ozonesonde, measure two different aspects of the atmosphere and both are needed. The system is, to use the government's terms, already integrated and optimized.

The parliamentary secretary finally admitted that integrating ozone-monitoring networks and changing the management of the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre will mean reducing the number of employees dedicated to ozone science. Does the parliamentary secretary appreciate what is at stake, that the ozone problem is a global problem like climate change, and that it requires vigilant monitoring? The government is failing on climate change. Will it fail on ozone too?

7:30 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her enthusiasm and passion on this issue. I can assure her that I also share her commitment to ensuring that we have world-class ozone monitoring data in Canada and continuing our reputation of doing so.

As I have assured my colleague numerous times in recent weeks, Environment Canada will continue to monitor the ozone. The World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre will continue to deliver world-class results. We will also strive to ensure that we are wise stewards of taxpayer dollars while doing so.

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have world-leading scientists, but it will be extremely difficult for them to maintain their global leadership when scientific positions are cut, technological capabilities are reduced and atmospheric monitoring is cut back.

Will the parliamentary secretary heed the requests from international scientists, leading Canadian atmospheric scientists and thousands of Canadians who want the cuts reversed, or will the government continue to be on the wrong side of this issue, leaving behind a legacy of damage that will take a generation to repair?

Changing one's position in light of overwhelming evidence is not a sign of weakness, but rather an indication that the government is willing to respond to science and the facts.

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canada's excellent track record of providing ozone monitoring data will continue, as will our ongoing work to take concrete action to protect Canada's environment.

7:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pursuing a question I asked the Minister of the Environment some time ago to which I received a response from the parliamentary secretary. The question was about a policy that was put in place in 2007 by the current government to limit access to journalists to scientists working within the Canadian government. This extends beyond the environmental portfolio. It affects scientists at the National Research Council and scientists working for Natural Resources Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

In point of fact, the Canadian Science Writers’ Association, a national organization, wrote to all federal leaders earlier this spring, expressing its concern that this policy of muzzling scientists had led, by its calculation, to an 80% drop in media coverage of the climate crisis. I will just list some examples.

I mentioned Dr. Kristina Miller in my initial question. She is a Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist and is very proud of the fact that her research was published in Science, a leading international prestigious journal. She was not allowed to speak to media by her department.

An Environment Canada team published a paper on April 5, in the Geophysical Research Letters, that concluded that a very dangerous rise in global CO2 increases, leading to a 2° global average temperature increase, was quite likely and might be unavoidable. Those scientists were also not allowed to speak to the media.

Scientists who were working on radiation monitoring in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan were requested to provide data to the news media about radiation monitoring and readings. That request to Health Canada was denied.

We also know there was an almost amusing story of a journalist attempting to reach an NRC scientist based in Victoria, whose research had been published internationally. This research related to a flood 13,000 years ago. That researcher was not allowed to speak to the media.

Then there is the very recent story of Dr. David Tarasick, referred to just moments ago by my colleague from Etobicoke North, who has been doing important research on ozone monitoring. That work, along with work by other international colleagues, was published in the prestigious journal Nature. It pointed out that a quite unprecedented ozone hole had opened up over the northern Arctic. We have heard of the ozone hole over Antarctica, which has been monitored and recorded since the mid-1980s. However, this was the first and historically unprecedented hole opening up over the Arctic. Interestingly enough, Dr. Tarasick was allowed to provide an interview to the media. It was a supervised interview with Environment Canada personnel present at all times, trying to steer him away from answering certain questions, but at least the interview was granted.

It is also troubling to me that as a member of Parliament, for the first time in my life when I contact scientists within the Government of Canada, they are no longer able to communicate with me. I have had them explain by emails that they will check and get back to me whether they are allowed to answer my question. In some cases, these are colleagues I have known for decades and because I am a member of Parliament, they are not allowed to answer my questions.

I ask the hon. parliamentary secretary this. How can the Canadian public have confidence in a government that does not allow its scientists to speak to the public, a public that is so proud of their research, that wants to keep Canadian research in the forefront on climate change, on ozone depletion, on fisheries science? How can we have confidence?

7:35 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I would like to deal in facts and statistics tonight as well.

First, our department continually makes its experts available to both the media and members opposite, with ministers also acting as principal spokespeople for their respective departments.

However, since January 2011, officials at Environment Canada have completed over 1,000 media interviews. Specifically relating to science, we have provided 600 interviews with departmental scientists. We respond to requests from media for scientific information in a responsive manner. In fact, this year alone, we have met over 80% of reporters, often with very tight deadlines, and we were able to respond to 98% of the requests. Canadians know because of this they can count on Environment Canada for the information that they need.

We are also committed to sharing information with all Canadians about what is happening in the environment around them. That is why we take pride in the accomplishments of our excellent team at Environment Canada and the results that they deliver. Those results include: a sector by sector plan to align with the U.S. and achieve a 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020; addressing concerns with the sustainable development of the oil sands; and a world-class monitoring plan that focuses on water, air quality and biodiversity. We will continue to implement this plan with our team and with our partners in the provinces, industry and other stakeholder groups so Canadians can be assured of the environmental sustainability of our oil and gas industry.

We have also worked closely with provinces, territories, Health Canada, industry and environmental and health groups to develop things like the national air quality management system. This system will include new air quality standards that will improve the air quality for the environment and the health of all Canadians. These are tangible results that our team at Environment Canada is producing and these are tangible results it is communicating to the media.

We are committed to ensuring that Canada's natural heritage is protected, while being cognizant of the need to be wise stewards of taxpayer dollars and to protect our country's fragile economic recovery.

7:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, could the hon. parliamentary secretary provide any rationale whatsoever for why this policy was brought in, in the first place in 2007? We have had Environment Canada operational in the country going back to 1970. At no time between 1970 and 2007 did any government feel it was necessary to have media, representatives and journalists go through a star chamber process to get access to our scientists. They could pick up a phone, send an email and get an interview with the scientists and researchers across the country.

What possible rationale is there for having this process at all, which often requires that our journalists go to scientists in other countries to get answers about work that has been done within Canada?

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Again, Mr. Speaker, to deal in facts, since January of this year, over 1,000 interviews have been conducted by officials at Environment Canada and over 600 interviews have been provided by departmental scientists. This shows that we are engaging with the Canadian public, as is our role, but that we are also providing tangible, quality, action-oriented results regarding the protection of Canada's environment, and this is something of which our government is very proud.

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:41 p.m.)