Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to debate this important initiative put forward by my friend from Perth—Wellington. Through the luck of the draw, his private member's bill came up and I am glad to be able to speak on it.
Some may know that I have had a bill, although not similar but more advanced than this one, Bill C-208, as well as Bill C-210 and Bill C-415. I have introduced the same bill for many years.
However, let us talk about what the point really is here, that these very significant artifacts have been given to the heroes of Canada.
I have heard the argument about private property rights since I entered the House in 1997. I agree that private property rights are an important issue. However, if military or RCMP members receive medals to wear on their left sides, they cannot sell those medals if they are still serving. They cannot give them away; the medals are still the property of the state. A medal only becomes the person's property when he or she leaves the military or the RCMP. Once he or she leaves, under current laws he or she can do whatever they want with them.
I have held the firm belief as long as I can remember, long before I got into politics, that the medals the men and women wear are much more than ribbons and a pieces of metal. The medals that men and women wear are not currency hanging from their chests. These medals, in my opinion, should never be sold. In fact, I believe that no other generation should financially profit from the valour of others.
Every single one of us who has seen members of the military, the RCMP, or anyone for that matter, and even firefighters who wear their medals on their left sides, has seen that their chests are a little bigger and that they stand a little taller because they are so proud of what has been given to them by their country. It is a way for their country to thank them for their significant efforts on its behalf.
The reason men and women wear medals is not because they are nice, shiny objects. They wear them not just for honour and service and valour and duty, but the number one reason men and women wear their medals on their left sides is in remembrance of the 118,000 men and women of the military and RCMP who no longer get to wear theirs, because they have either died in the service of their country or have crossed the bar due to old age or sickness.
Every single Remembrance Day, when we attend our local legions, ANAVETS halls or cenotaphs right across this country, we see the men and women sharing a drink with their buddies and families, remembering the days when they served or remembering those who are still serving.
The significance of this particular bill is that the hon. member is trying to protect those very significant historical aspects for Canada, and to allow the museums the right of first refusal in the event the medals cannot be sold, so that they do not leave the country and end up in collections outside the country. It is a significant effort.
I understand that the legion and other veterans groups are saying that they do not support this initiative. I respectfully disagree with the Royal Canadian Legion and others. They, including Mr. Brad White, say that it is a private property right, that it is veterans' right to do what they want with their medals. I disagree with him, but I respect his opinion on this issue. Certain things in life should not be turned into a mercantile system; they should never be turned into cash. This is not currency they have hanging from their chests.
I find it objectionable that one can go on eBay right now and probably find hundreds of medals for sale. One can go to garage sales across the country and see medals for sale. One can go on Kijiji or similar websites on the Internet and buy medals.
Individuals do not have to earn those medals. They never have to serve their country. All they needed to get these things was cash. I find that despicable, that in our country, which honours our heroes with a significant award, a medal that they wear can eventually be turned into cash.
I have advised families for many, many years on what to do with the medals when an individual passes on. I have advised them to put the medals in a shadow box with a picture of the individual who wore them, a story of the individual, a description of each medal, and hang it in a room. They should honour their relative or friend. If, for whatever reason, they do not want to do that, there are lots of schools, museums, Legion halls, chambers of commerce, and businesses that would be honoured to display the medals of these heroes. The offices of members of Parliament, all of us, have room to display these medals from our heroes.
There are two schools in Nova Scotia that do just that. Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School has a tremendous display in cases of all the medals and all the history of those who served in that area. The families have donated the medals to that school and it has a wall of honour. Inverness High School in Cape Breton has the same thing. It has a long hallway. The school volunteered to make a beautiful cabinet, which has all the medals with descriptions of who wore them and where they served.
We know that on Remembrance Day we all pause to remember and reflect, but for those who served, Remembrance Day is every day. The students in those two schools walk by those medal cases every single school day, and one cannot help but be moved by seeing the odd student stop to read it, and understand what previous and current generations have done for our country.
The hon. member for Perth—Wellington is attempting to preserve and protect a bit of our cultural history. He should be congratulated for that. He should be thanked for his effort in bringing that forward. I understand the criticisms from various areas regarding it, but the effort is there and he should be supported.
I would like to tell the hon. member, as I have privately and publicly before, that we in the NDP will be supporting the initiative to move forward. We think it is an important initiative. My own bill would completely outlaw and ban the sale of any medals or insignia of that kind that are worn on the left side. The hon. member has not gone that far and I respect that, but he is taking the right step forward and deserves our credit for that.
At the end of the day, although it is a private property discussion, certain things in life should never be sold. Agencies and museums in Canada could have first dibs on medals and insignia.
One of the problems I have with the bill is the fact that somebody would have to actually buy these medals or insignia, and I think that aspect of it, turning them into the mercantile or transaction cash system is fundamentally wrong. At the end of the day I would hope that family members could understand that the member who received the medal or insignia did not get cash for it. Family members, relatives and other people down the road should not try to financially profit from the valour of others.
I would hope they would do the honourable thing and if they no longer wish to have it, they should move it to a place of significance where it can be displayed for many years for many future generations, so we can all understand the significance of what happened.
I am proud to stand up on this issue. I was born in Holland and my parents were liberated by the heroes of this country. The fact is, the hon. member for Perth—Wellington is honouring that sacrifice as well by moving this forward and he should be congratulated.