Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate Bill C-288, which would ensure that each and every Canadian has the right to fly Canada's national flag.
Every day, Canadians are tightening their belts to make ends meet. Every month, thousands of people are losing their jobs. Economic uncertainty lingers. For months now, thousands of people have been forced to wait for their employment insurance payments, not knowing when they will finally get help. Yet the first thing this government wants to debate is the right to fly the maple leaf proudly.
Honestly, I never thought I would have to stand up in the House to remind my colleagues that protecting Canadians' right to fly a flag on their property is not even close to a priority for our fellow citizens.
Does the member for Don Valley West really believe that people have expressed an urgent need for this kind of bill?
I agree with my colleague that Canadians have the right to fly our national flag proudly. Canada is a wonderful country that, until the Conservatives came to power, had an enviable reputation around the world. For many citizens, flying the maple leaf demonstrates their pride and their attachment to our country.
People have the right to express their patriotism by proudly waving Canada's national flag at home. Is it really necessary to adopt new legislation for that?
Do we really need to impose fines and even prison sentences on people whose level of patriotism is not to the government's liking?
Canadians want parliamentarians to debate and legislate issues that matter, like the economy, health care and the environment.
Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to talk with the people of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier about issues that matter to them. They told me how angry and disappointed they are in this government's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol and instead focus on developing the oil industry at the expense of the environment.
Families in Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier who are struggling to make ends meet are worried about the cost of living, which is increasing rapidly under this government's disinterested watch.
Every day, more and more people are calling my office in distress because they have to wait for months to receive their employment insurance cheque, when they need help right now.
To date, absolutely no one has raised the pressing need to introduce legislation to protect the rights of every citizen to fly the Canadian flag without restriction.
People do not want this government to waste time debating an issue that does not even present a real problem. Until now, Canadians have managed to self-regulate when it comes to expressing their patriotism. There is nothing to suggest that this will change.
Legal provisions to protect individual freedom of expression already exist. The most important of these provisions, with which we are all familiar, is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Subsection 2(b) of the charter guarantees every individual the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.
Anyone whose freedom to express pride for their country is violated or who is banned from flying the Canadian flag can invoke the charter at any time.
Why introduce new legislation that would impose prison sentences on the offenders, when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms already provides citizens with enough protection?
Canadians have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms because respecting the right of every individual to freely express their ideas without repression is part of our fundamental values.
It worries me that, with Bill C-288, this government is prepared to implement repressive measures targeted directly at anyone who expresses an opinion that goes against the artificial patriotism the Conservatives are trying to force on Canadians.
I would also remind the House that there are certain situations in which individuals might need to ask someone to remove a Canadian flag for purely pragmatic reasons or as a result of security issues, for example, the local fire department.
Should these individuals be treated like criminals and punished for doing their job? That does not make any sense. This bill does not meet any real needs of Canadians. Instead, it appears to be an attempt by the member for Don Valley West to score a few political points based on a few isolated incidents.
The fact that a few overzealous landlords forced some people to remove their Canadian flags from their balconies should not become a national issue. This attempt to legislate patriotism and to lock up any offenders is nothing more than another way for the Conservatives to push their ideology one step further.
Although most Canadians are happy to pay tribute to the national flag and celebrate their patriotism, they are concerned about the negative effects of this bill. They do not want this government to treat them like criminals for doing their job or for having a misunderstanding with their neighbours.
Imposing punitive measures—whether they consist of an injunction, a fine, or even worse, imprisonment—is far from a perfect solution. It is high time for this government to give up on this useless bill. We should instead be focusing on issues that are far more important to Canadians, like job creation and the environment.