moved that Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of my constituents of Dufferin—Caledon to open the debate on my private member's bill, an act to amend the Criminal Code, which is mischief related to war memorials.
The bill seeks to add significant penalties for anyone convicted of mischief against a war memorial, cenotaph or other structure honouring or remembering those who have served in our armed forces and those who have died as a consequence of war. The timing of this debate is particularly significant, given that we pause to honour our fallen and our veterans next week on Remembrance Day.
Vandalism and defacement of a war memorial should not be tolerated in our great country. It is a duty of every Canadian citizen to respect those who have sacrificed their lives for our country. For those who do not share the same revered respect for members of our armed forces, there must be punishment.
Bill C-217 would amend the Criminal Code to make a conviction punishable by a fine of not less than $1,000 on a first offence, imprisonment of not less than 14 days on a second offence and imprisonment of not less than 30 days on subsequent offences. Unfortunately, I feel these increased measures are necessary due to the increased amount of mischief against Canada's cenotaphs and monuments.
In November 2008 in my constituency of Dufferin—Caledon, a cenotaph was desecrated within a week of its rededication. The town of Orangeville, the community where the cenotaph is located, spent nearly $2,000 repairing the newly restored monument just days before the annual Remembrance Day services.
Regrettably this is not the only case of mischief against cenotaphs and monuments. This type of vandalism occurs all over the country and it is for the 41st Parliament to take action. It is most concerning that in the past few years there have been numerous incidents of war memorial vandalism across the country. It is time to take a stand against this desecration of our sacred memorials and punish those responsible for this type of destruction.
Bill C-217 would place stiffer penalties on the vandalism of war memorials and hopefully force potential vandals to seriously reconsider defacing these important Canadian symbols of pride and honour. By allowing the Criminal Code to remain unchanged, we are doing a disservice to all those who have served in our wars and to all those who have sacrificed their lives so that our great country may remain free. The desecration of our war memorials must not continue. Vandals must face a harsher punishment to ensure that they will think twice before committing this type of violation.
The following are some examples of this.
In Kirkland Lake a teenager was charged with urinating on the Memorial Wall, but was able to attend a diversion program to allow the mischief charge to be dropped.
In Ottawa, our nation's capital, a man was found urinating on the National War Memorial on Canada Day. The charge was withdrawn after the culprit issued a written apology to Canadian veterans, completed community service and donated a mere $200 to charity. After this unacceptable conduct, this criminal did not even have a mischief charge against him. This is simply unacceptable.
It is obvious that these vandals do not think about what they are doing and have not thought about the blatant disrespect they display for these memorials. We must give them something to think about. Significant fines and weeks of imprisonment will complete this objective in a way that simple apology letters and deferment programs do not.
Canadian citizens should be proud of their history and remain proud of the monuments honouring those who have given their lives so that we may remain free and not fearful that their monuments will be desecrated by thoughtless individuals.
In Toronto vandals hooked up a chain to a concrete cross and using an all-terrain vehicle, pulled it from its perch on a cenotaph. This was the second time the cross had been stolen in less than a year.
A very disturbing story was someone in Beamsville broke into the Konkle Mausoleum and empted an urn of ashes onto the ground. Though three people are buried in the mausoleum, it is likely that the ashes belonged to a War of 1812 veteran.
In Waterloo police arrested three young people, ranging in age from 12 to 18, who were responsible for toppling between 300 and 400 graves, many of which were graves of war veterans.
We have heard of multiple cases in which our cherished war memorials and cenotaphs have been vandalized and disrespected. We must discourage such behaviour. Explicit punishments must be written into the Criminal Code for mischievous conduct to address these atrocious crimes. We have a duty to protect the memories of those who have sacrificed their lives so that we may continue to live freely in our great country. These memorials and what they represent command our utmost respect and efforts to preserve and protect them. Canadian citizens also deserve to know that conduct as this will not be tolerated in any way.
In a most disturbing case, on the morning of this past September 25, a Canadian Forces veteran who served in Afghanistan discovered fresh sprayed-painted graffiti tags on the monument at Girouard Park on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine neighbourhood. This was the second time in less than 18 months this beautiful monument had been defaced. What a slap in the face for the Canadian Forces member to have been the one to discover such disrespect. City workers later had to remove the offending graffiti at a cost of several thousand dollars.
Our country's bravest deserve much better. They have fought and died for our country and, therefore, deserve our utmost respect. We have an obligation to protect and preserve their dignity. Canadians as a whole deserve to know that we take our war memorials seriously and that we understand the significance they embody.
It is time for Parliament to take a stand against mischief relating to war memorials. The use of fines and imprisonment will convey this message to those who appear to have no respect for our armed forces' veterans and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Anyone who wilfully damages or desecrates a war memorial should face stiff consequences. We owe it to our men and women in uniform to protect these revered memorials.
The 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 will be upon us next year. As Canadians, we are extremely proud of the role that our great country played and we will soon be celebrating this important anniversary, often at the feet of our war memorials and cenotaphs. We must ensure that these memorials will still be beautiful for our ceremonies rather than desecrated by vandals on the eve of the services.
Following the anniversary for the War of 1812, the 100th anniversary of World War I will occur. Canada played an immense role in this war and this anniversary will be a time to remember all those who died defending our country and democracy. Numerous memorials throughout the country have been erected to honour those who fought in World War I. Parliament must help to ensure that these memorials remain untouched by vandalism.
With these important events around the corner, this is an opportune time to pass this legislation to protect and preserve those symbols to the best of our ability and this bill would do just that.
We all know someone who has fought for our great country: a father, a grandfather, a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a friend. We appreciate these men and women for the dedication they have shown to our country and for their willingness to fight abroad for our freedom here at home. Memorials in our communities are dedicated to those people and none of us should want to see them damaged or defiled. Harsher penalties will keep this from happening. They will make potential vandals think twice before acting against memorials, which so many of us consider sacred.
As all members know, this past summer the Canadian Forces wound down combat operations in Afghanistan. This was Canada's longest-ever combat mission, a mission in which our country lost 157 brave men and women of the Canadian Forces. As a result, our memorials and cenotaphs have a renewed sense of purpose and value, especially in communities which lost one or more of their own. Indeed, that conflict continues and only this past weekend Canada lost another brave soldier to a suicide attack on a NATO convoy in Kabul.
We owe so much to our men and women in uniform. Indeed, it is widely agreed that Canada came of age as a nation on the muddy battlefields of France during the First World War. Our participation in that great conflict was out of proportion to our population and we overcame challenges that had defeated other nations. Our mettle was tested, to enormous loss of life and many of our brave soldiers sacrificed everything in the defence of freedom.
The call came again in the Second World War, when once again tens of thousands of brave young Canadians went to the aid of our allies in the cause of freedom. That conflict reshaped our world and Canada played no small part in its outcome. From the Battle of the Atlantic to Juno Beach, from Italy to Hong Kong, Canadians were at the forefront in that conflict.
In Korea and on to the birth of UN peacekeeping with the Suez crisis, Canadians Forces continued to place their lives on the line for freedom and democracy. Through dozens of peacekeeping missions and during the long years of the Cold War, our young men and women in uniform have always been ready and willing to put country before self.
In the first Gulf War, in the Balkans, then Afghanistan and now Libya, the best of our young men and women have shown time and time again their willingness to defend Canada and our values. All too often that willingness has cost them their lives.
To honour the memory of these young men and women, our communities erect memorials and cenotaphs, and rightly so. We create honoured spaces in our cities, towns and villages where we can gather to remember them. Whether it is on Remembrance Day or any other day of the year we might choose to pause and reflect, these spaces and those memorials signify the cost of our democracy, freedom and way of life.
Those of us who enjoy the hard-won freedoms that are part of modern Canada owe it to those who have paid in blood and life to keep those honoured spaces free from harm or insult. We have a solemn duty as citizens and residents of our wonderful country to protect and preserve our memorials and cenotaphs in the memory of those who have fallen.
When vandalism occurs in one of these honoured places, we are all diminished. An act of such disrespect is offensive not only to our local veterans, but it is offensive to all those who care about those veterans and everyone who cares about the sacrifices they have made.
Bill C-217 delivers a clear message. The vandalism and desecration of any Canadian cenotaph or war memorial will not be tolerated. We are compelled to protect these revered places. We owe it all to the Canadian men and women who have fought in our armed forces.
In consultation with the Minister of Justice, I propose to move an amendment at committee, should Bill C-217 carry in second reading, that would increase the minimum penalty under indictment from my proposed five years to ten years. This is a technical amendment which would simply ensure that this new offence would be consistent with the current similar Criminal Code offence of section 430(1)(a), which criminalizes the wilful destruction or damage of property. Without this amendment, we would be creating inconsistencies within the existing legislative framework.
I urge all of my colleagues to consider the adoption of Bill C-217. The desecration of war memorials is something that can happen in any community at any time. We all owe it to the constituents of our ridings, especially to the veterans of our respective ridings, to support the passage of the bill. This amendment to the Criminal Code would help protect Canada's war memorials and cenotaphs from vandalism, defilement and damage. Those who have fought and died in our great country deserve to know that the 41st Parliament is working to protect the monuments and memorials erected in their honour.
As I said at the outset, all colleagues in the House will join millions of Canadians next week on Remembrance Day as we honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep Canada the true north strong and free. Our long and proud tradition of standing up to defend freedom and democracy and to defend our values is one of the things that makes Canada the greatest country in the world today. We are a free, open and democratic society that prides itself on the rule of law. Those who would disrespect our honoured community spaces that are dedicated to the remembrance of the fallen through vandalism or other such acts must be held to account under the law. The debt we owe our veterans and the fallen soldiers requires that we look upon any disrespect to our cenotaphs and war memorials as a deeply grave matter with very serious consequences.
I believe that the passage of Bill C-217 is necessary to ensure that those who would damage our honoured places think twice before they act to desecrate our war memorials and cenotaphs. I encourage all of my colleagues in the House to join me in taking decisive action on this important issue.