Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on behalf of my constituents in Dufferin—Caledon to conclude debate on Bill C-217, which is my bill to protect war memorials and cenotaphs.
First, I would like to thank all members who participated in the debate in the various stages of the bill, which recognizes the importance of honouring and respecting the memory of those who have given their lives in service to Canada. I would especially like to thank again the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, who gave this bill thorough scrutiny.
As members know, Bill C-217 seeks to amend the Criminal Code by adding significant penalties for any person convicted of mischief against a war memorial, cenotaph or other structure honouring or remembering those who have died as a consequence of war. The bill seeks to impose minimum penalties of a fine of not less than $1,000 for a first offence, prison of not less than 14 days for a second offence and prison of not less than 30 days for all subsequent offences.
The government moved an amendment at committee, which was accepted, to adjust the maximum penalty under indictment from five years to ten years. This is a technical amendment to keep the bill in line with the rest of the Criminal Code section on mischief. It was suggested by officials of the Minister of Justice and I am grateful for his intervention and support.
It must be pointed out that both opposition parties voted against the government's amendment and against the bill itself at committee. That says to me that they are not interested in seeking to deter individuals from damaging our most honoured places.
When I first addressed the House on the bill on November 3, 2011 and again in a subsequent debate, I cited many examples of desecrated war memorials and cenotaphs that underscore the seriousness of the problem and the need for concrete action by the House. Just a couple of months ago, an inukshuk dedicated to our soldiers in Afghanistan that stood outside Legion headquarters here in Ottawa was toppled and damaged. That was shameful.
Remembrance Day is fast approaching. It is a time when Canadians reflect on the proud heritage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. That heritage was brought to the floor at committee, where I was joined by two proud veterans who made it clear to members how emotional this is for them. Their moving and passionate testimony was a clear example of why Bill C-217 is necessary.
It is of the utmost importance that Bill C-217 be enacted to protect the dignity of those structures and places in our communities where we honour our war dead and pay tribute to the service of men and women in uniform. Bill C-217 would help remind Canadians that soldiers' sacrifices will never be forgotten or unappreciated. Canada will continue to honour her fallen through the protection of such important structures and will punish those who disrespect them.
The opposition has suggested in the past and even tonight that rehabilitation or restorative justice is the appropriate response to those who have committed these horrific acts. Bill C-217 is not opposed to such a response but seeks punishment first for those who displayed such profound disrespect for war memorials and cenotaphs. I would remind members that a judge is free to order whatever restorative justice he or she wishes after the perpetrator has been ordered to pay at least a $1,000 fine.
The truth is that had these vandals been forced to think about the gravity of their actions prior to the damage committed, they would not likely have proceeded with such acts. Bill C-217 would make sure that potential vandals know the punishment for their crimes and therefore would think twice before proceeding with such acts due to the knowledge of the much stronger criminal sanctions to come.
Bill C-217 sends a clear message that vandalism and desecration of any Canadian cenotaph or war memorial will not be tolerated. We owe it all to the men and women who have fought and continue to fight in the Canadian Forces for our great country.
I thank all hon. members for their consideration of Bill C-217 and I urge them to support it when it comes time for a vote.