Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak for the second time to Bill C-473.
There has been an evolution of thought and understanding about the bill since I spoke last April. The process that happened at committee was very enlightening. It reminded me that it is important for us to take seriously that when we pass a bill at second reading and send it to committee for study, it is exactly for that. It is to study a bill, to hear from witnesses, interest groups, stakeholders, Canadians from every walk of life and to ensure their testimony is taken seriously. Committee members heard that testimony and that testimony has convinced me we should not support the bill.
I want to congratulate the member for Perth—Wellington for fostering an important discussion in bringing the bill forward. We have had an interesting discussion with respect to the nature of honours, orders, military insignia and medals. We also had the opportunity to look at the difference between a public story and a private story.
The Royal Canadian Legion, in particular, offered some important testimony that needs to be understood in the House.
Ms. Patricia Varga, who is the president of the Royal Canadian Legion, said, on behalf of a number of groups, that it had serious concerns about the bill. Those groups included the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans Association, the Canadian Naval Air Group, the Royal Canadian Naval Association, the Naval Officers Association of Canada, the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans Association, the National Aboriginal Veterans Association, the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping and, finally, the Gulf War Veterans Association.
As a result of their testimony, my caucus colleagues are concerned about the bill. We think it is an inadequate bill, which will not actually deal with the problems at hand.
Ms. Varga pointed out two problems with this bill.
First, enacting Bill C-473 would infringe on the rights of Canadians to own and dispose of their private property as they see fit. This is a right that should not be trampled on lightly. This right is already restricted to a degree by the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. If it is not sufficient to retain historically and culturally significant orders, decorations and medals within Canada, then that specific act needs to be amended. Additional overlapping legislation is not the answer.
Second, there is a concern that the bill will simply not be effective. In order for legislation such as this to work, the barn door needs to be fully closed. The bill would leave it partially open so significant orders, decorations and medals would still be able to leave Canada. If enacted, Bill C-473 will likely drive the sale of significant orders, decorations and medals underground and all visibility of transactions will be lost. They will be bought and sold as they are every day in large quantities and in international markets. This can be verified by checking eBay, which tends to handle the run of the mill lots and not the high end items.
A significant number of other problems have been reported and were part of the testimony heard at committee. They have been identified in various forms and they should be addressed in a future bill that would actually be more effective.
There is a problem in the bill with respect to terminology. In common parlance, only orders have insignia. Decorations, such as the Victoria Cross, and medals are simply referred to as medals. We should be discussing orders, decorations and medals.
There is a concern that the government has not been responsive to the interest groups, to the veterans associations themselves, about amendments that they wanted to put forward. Those amendments included the definition of “near relatives”, the transfer of medals “outside of Canada”, the expansion of the list of museums and organizations that awards and medals could be offered to and the addition of the maximum amount for any penalty imposed. There does not appear to have been any follow up to the recommendations of the Royal Canadian Legion.
They also expressed a concern about acceptable museums to receive these awards. Only the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Department of Canadian Heritage are deemed to be acceptable recipients of ODM. This overlooks a large number of provincial, regional and local museums as well as military museums and commands and branches of the Royal Canadian Legion. Other museums or veterans' organizations might very well be interested in acquiring, by purchase or otherwise, such medals falling within the limits of the bill.
There is a concern that even if we were able to do that, the museums have very limited funding for acquiring such medals. To be effective, the bill would need to ensure that there would be a well-funded national medals acquisition budget. Otherwise, medals offered for sale might well leave Canada because there were simply no funds to purchase them anyway.
Most, if not all, museums have limited storage and display space. Just because an offered medal or made available and is historically of cultural significance, a museum should not be obligated to purchase it if it does not fit into its collecting mandate.
There is a perception that such awards and medals do not have much value and therefore would not be affected by legislation such as this. This is incorrect. Should they come into the open market, modern medal groups, especially those with gallantry awards from Afghanistan, would command high prices. This is a concern. It is an observation that has been made to the committee. If this is correct, then the act needs to be changed to reflect this.
In conclusion, despite the merits and now the drawbacks of the bill, the larger discussion that needs to be had is why in fact some veterans may be forced to put such medals on the market. Why has the government failed, or is failing, to ensure an appropriate system of compensation for veterans so they do not need to sell awards or medals and instead can simply pass them on to the family as cherished items?
A concern we constantly have on this side of the House is that food banks for veterans still prevail. One can go to Calgary and find one. One can go to a drop-in centre in Calgary and meet homeless veterans who sleep there by night. My concern is the government constantly does not fulfill its obligations to ensure that no veteran faces poverty.