Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials). This bill focuses particularly on mischief relating to commemorative monuments to honour our veterans. It was proposed and introduced by the Conservative member for Dufferin—Caledon. Its purpose is to ensure that the memory of Canadian soldiers who fell in the wars and missions in which Canada has participated over the decades and centuries is respected.
I would first like to say, of course, that I am proud of Canada's historical involvement in the defence of peace and liberty. I am also very proud of the men and women in uniform who serve Canada today and those who have served our country in the past. I would also like to point out that it will soon be Veterans' Week, when we will all have the opportunity to think about and show our respect for our fallen soldiers and for those who were lucky enough to come back. I am convinced that everyone agrees on that.
I would like to come back to the bill itself. This bill would amend the Criminal Code to add a provision about mischief relating to memorials honouring our veterans. The Criminal Code already has penalties for mischief in general and mischief with respect to property such as a memorial. I quote:
Every one who commits mischief in relation to property...
(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
There are already provisions in the Criminal Code that a judge can apply. These provisions refer to mischief in general, but include memorials to our veterans.
Section 430 of the Criminal Code provides for more severe penalties for mischief relating to religious property, if the commission of the mischief is motivated by hate or racism. This also applies to cultural property. In addition, anyone who commits mischief that causes danger to the life of a person is liable to life imprisonment.
Bill C-217 would amend section 430 of the Criminal Code on mischief. It would establish a fine of not less than $1,000 for a first offence, a sentence of not less than 14 days for a second offence, and imprisonment for not less than 30 days for each subsequent offence, when the mischief is committed in relation to a war memorial.
As I stated, the current provisions of section 430 of the Criminal Code already deal with such mischief as destruction of or damage to property. In general, there is enough latitude in the penalties to impose a penalty that is appropriate to the situation. Furthermore, the bill provides for minimum sentences for those found guilty of mischief relating to a war memorial. We do not agree with minimum sentences, because they eliminate any latitude the judge may have to determine the appropriate sentence based on his or her own judgment, and they preclude an assessment of the situation and the reason for the mischief.
When there is mischief against a war memorial, it is important to determine whether the deed was done intentionally and allow the judge the latitude to rule accordingly. It is important to know whether a person committed mischief in the knowledge that it was a war memorial or not. That is an important distinction to make. To make an informed judgment, one must be aware of the intentions underlying people's actions.
The member for Dufferin—Caledon introduced this bill to encourage the people of Canada to pay more respect to our veterans. That is the intended goal of this bill.
First of all, I do not think that Canadians lack respect for their fellow citizens who served or are currently serving in the Canadian Forces, and even more so for those who did not return. In my riding, when I was still a serving member of the Forces, what I saw was the very opposite, such as people going to pay tribute to veterans on Remembrance Day. These traditions may be in decline in some countries, but that is not the case in Canada. Secondly, there are much more concrete and effective ways of paying tribute to veterans. I hope that my colleagues will agree, because everyone should support these principles.
Another thing needs to be underscored. Of the many penalties for people who commit offences against war memorials, there is not one that requires the offender to understand what it means to be a veteran. No one who has committed mischief will be required to work as a volunteer at a Legion, for example, to give them an understanding of the role played by these veterans. They will not be required to understand the work veterans have done or the services they have rendered to our country.
The purpose of this bill is to encourage people to pay more respect to veterans, but this cannot be achieved through prison sentences or fines. This is not a good way to get people to think about veterans, to understand what they have done or what kind of people they are. The bill does not achieve the desired goal, which is to get people to show more interest in veterans.
There is something that disturbs me in this bill, and that is the way monuments are categorized. As I said earlier, I have enormous respect for veterans. In fact, I have served in the Canadian Forces, so theoretically, I am a veteran myself. Under the bill, vandalizing a war memorial is a more serious act of mischief than vandalizing a monument in honour of women or one paying tribute to the first nations. I do not think we are moving in the right direction when we classify monuments this way and treat mischief in relation to one monument as more serious than mischief in relation to another and accordingly deserving of a harsher sentence.
The right thing to do is to let judges know that Parliament believes that offences committed in relation to a war memorial are truly a shame, and that it hopes they will use the latitude the Criminal Code gives them at present, with respect to offences of mischief, to make the punishment fit the crime.
That is a much more rational approach than categorizing monuments and imposing sentences that are not really rational, because in every case the intent behind the act must be understood.
Was the person simply intoxicated, for example? In such cases, they may not even have realized what the situation was; they may not have been capable of distinguishing between a tree, for example, and a war memorial. I do not think such a case has the same impact as a case where someone intentionally destroys a war memorial because they are against the armed forces. We really have to be able to grasp the distinction and see the intent behind the acts.
Under the Criminal Code, at present, judges have complete latitude. I believe that judges are very intelligent people and are capable of seeing the intent behind the acts rationally and with discernment. I will therefore be opposing this bill.