Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-473 and the important steps it proposes to increase the protection of Canada's military heritage.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for his hard work here in this House, the work he does on his committee, certainly the work he does in his great southern Ontario riding, and for bringing this matter forward to remind ourselves of the importance of honouring the courage and sacrifice of Canadians.
“Service before self”, “extreme devotion to duty”, “distinguished and valiant service in the presence of the enemy”, “conspicuous merit”, and “exceptional service”, these are all words inscribed or used to describe the military conduct that is recognized by the Modern Honours of Canada.
The declarations, medals and orders that we have established are to recognize heroism and acts that to many of us seem almost unimaginable. These declarations, medals and orders are touchstones for the recipient, their families, and for all of us. They form the basis for telling the story of ordinary Canadians undertaking extraordinary challenges. They remind us that Canada's armed forces have faced and continue to face those challenges far from home.
Korea, Kuwait, Somalia, Southwest Asia, and Afghanistan are names of places in Canada's military heritage that echo other names: Vimy, Passchendaele, Dieppe, Normandy, Ortona, and Hong Kong. Canadians know these names. They are names that are synonymous with courage, sacrifice and, yes, with loss and sorrow.
The government has taken many steps to preserve and honour these stories, and memories of the courage and sacrifice of Canadians in the name of a greater good. There are hundreds of memorials all over the world where Canada remembers her war dead and their sacrifice.
More than 116,000 have given their lives in the wars of the past century and their final resting places are located in more than 75 countries. Monuments have been created to honour Canadians in locations such as Beaumont-Hamel, France, where, on July 1, 1916, the Newfoundland Regiment fought its first engagement of World War I; its costliest of the war. In locations such as Sai Wan Bay, where just recently the Prime Minister paid his respects to those 228 Canadians who died so far from home in defence of Hong Kong during the second world war.
Canada's military heritage is also preserved in museums and archives across Canada. Library Archives Canada preserves military service files, war diaries, and other documents from the 1800s through both world wars. Canada's national museums preserve military material of all kinds, from aircraft to uniforms to medals. The Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum alone have more than 1,000 medals, including at least 28 Victoria Crosses, Canada's highest military honour.
A network of Canadian Forces museums across the country tell the story of individual regiments like the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, founded at the outbreak of World War I, and which continues to distinguish itself to the present day in Afghanistan. The Royal 22nd Regiment's museum collection, housed at the Citadel of Quebec, spans more than 300 years of history.
The courage and sacrifice of Canada's armed forces lives not just in the history books, not just in museums, it lives nightly on the television news. Medals continue to be awarded to Canadians for military service and for sacrifice.
Last year we saw the first presentation of the sacrifice medal, created to recognize members of the Canadian armed forces and those who work with them who have been wounded or killed by hostile action, and to Canadian Forces members who died as a result of their service.
The sacrifice of these 46 Canadians, who received this new medal, include members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the Royal 22nd Regiments. This is no less important than the sacrifice of those Canadians who lie in the Sai Wan Bay cemetery in Hong Kong. The medals, orders and decorations now being bestowed on deserving Canadians should enjoy the same respect and protection as those awarded for courage at the Somme and Ypres.
The estimated 450,000 Modern Honours of Canada that have been awarded since 1967 and that Bill C-473 seeks to protect deserve that protection. Bill C-473 affirms that the modern Victoria Cross will deserve the same protection as those awarded over the past two centuries.
Existing federal legislation protects military medals, orders and decorations, and it does so by intervening at the point of export to create opportunities for Canadian museums to acquire these objects, so that they may remain in Canada when they would otherwise be lost to foreign owners.
Bill C-473 will complement this existing mechanism by affording similar protection to modern models. It will ensure that if a significant modern medal, order or decoration is in danger of permanently leaving Canada, an opportunity will be created for acquisition by a museum collection where it will be preserved and shared with the public.
In order to make the bill dovetail with existing legislation and avoid overlap with it, the standing committee noted that the Cultural Property Export and Import Act protects medals from the point where they are 50 years old, and amended the bill to clarify that it protects medals that are less than 50 years old.
Another amendment to the bill that was adopted in committee was an expansion of the list of federal entities to whom an offer to sell must be made when an important medal will be exported.
In addition to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canadian War Museum, and the Department of Canadian Heritage, the list now includes the Canadian Forces. This amendment was done specifically so that the family of more than 60 accredited Canadian Forces museums across Canada will have a chance to acquire these important medals.
It recognizes the close relationship between members of the armed forces, their regiments, and the communities that play host to those regiments. It is only right that some of these medals find their way into the collections of local regimental museums.
In this way, Bill C-473 will allow museums to continue to educate the public about the long legacy of Canada's military heritage, and the contribution is has made and continues to make to our country.
To honour the brave Canadians who receive these honours, it is our responsibility to preserve that legacy. I support the amendments that have been made to Bill C-473 because they make the bill stronger and more consistent with the existing protection of historic medals.
I support Bill C-473 and encourage all members of this House to do the same.