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.