Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak to Bill C-217. I congratulate the hon. member for introducing this bill and will offer a few comments on behalf of the Liberal Party with respect to this bill.
First, the bill only relates to the issue of the desecration of war memorials and cenotaphs and things of that nature. While that is worthy in and of itself, I note that it would not expand to other forms of memorialization of significant figures, for instance in our history and culture. Just across the street is the Terry Fox memorial. It is a statue and under normal circumstances it would fall within the provisions of the Criminal Code. A desecration of the Terry Fox statue would attract a mischief offence without a minimum mandatory sentence, whereas a desecration of the war memorial just one block farther east would attract the provisions of this bill and a minimum mandatory sentence.
The bill would thereby set up an inconsistency in the law, which is regrettable. I adopt the views of the then-minister of justice in 2006 who said, when the member for Ottawa South introduced a similar provision, that he thought at that time that the mischief provisions of the Criminal Code were adequate to address the mischief the hon. member for Ottawa South and my colleague from Orangeville wished to address.
Having said that and while I laud the bill, I think it has its limitations. The most significant limitation for us is the inflexibility with respect to sentencing. My hon. colleague with whom I have shared a bench in past times, the member for Mount Royal, has spoken quite eloquently about the limitations of minimum mandatory sentences. One of the most significant limitations is that when a prosecutor or a judge does not wish to impose a minimum mandatory sentence, he or she will sometimes plead the whole thing down to a charge on the basis of a section in the Criminal Code, which does not actually show the reprehensible nature of the particular offence. The bill would create this unnecessary diversionary exercise in the criminal justice system, which sometimes defeats the very intention the hon. member wishes to achieve.
It also excludes the possibility of creative sentencing. For instance, if I were a judge and that kind of offence were to come before me and the accused were to show remorse and understanding, as perhaps having done it under the influence of alcohol or drugs or something of that nature or if were some stupid teenage prank, under this bill I would have no flexibility. However, judges may take a look at the person they are about to sentence and say that they accept that person's guilty plea, that it was indeed a prank and really stupid on the person's part, and for that they would sentence the person to a form of probation. Possibly one of the forms of probation could be to attend services where we honour our veterans, to get to know veterans or to go to our local legion or to learn about the immense sacrifice that the men and women of our nation have made in times past for the freedoms we enjoy today. However, under the minimum mandatory provisions of these sentences, the flexibility of judges to do that and to create an educative function out of an event that is reprehensible to us all would be quite limited. In my judgment, that would cut off the offender from the opportunity to meet and know veterans, to participate in veterans services and an educational exercise about what is important to the functioning of our nation.
In principle, Liberals understand what the hon. member is trying to do to punish these disgraceful acts of vandalism, but at the same time he, in effect, cuts off opportunities for community service and learning that might occur. The problem then becomes that we end up with a system of vengeance and no system of learning. There is no reintegration or rehabilitation of people and then we may be on to something more serious than this specific issue.
The issue of what constitutes a particular cultural or religious property will be somewhat problematic as well, because some memorials and cenotaphs will attract this particular regime or section of the Criminal Code, including the sanctioning section, while other equally reprehensible behaviour against other forms of memorials and community recognitions will not. That is an inconsistency in the law. As my law professor and pretty well anyone who has gone through law school would say, inconsistencies in the law are to be avoided if at all possible.
There is no minimum mandatory penalty for mischief. We think that is actually a good thing, because it creates a certain level of opportunity to fashion a sentence appropriate to the harm that needs to be addressed. My hon. colleague from Mount Royal, in a very eloquent speech, commented that in his riding there is a Holocaust memorial and that under this particular legislation a Holocaust memorial would not attract the minimum mandatory penalties of Bill C-217. They are important reminders of our heritage and history. Cenotaphs are certainly significant symbols in a lot of our cities, towns and villages, but so are other memorials.
Liberals take the view that it would be much better for accused persons to be required as part of their sentencing to participate in veteran services and to get to know the sacrifices our veterans have made over time. We understand what the hon. member is trying to achieve, but we would prefer that recognition of the particular harm that he wishes to address be done through a provision that does not require a minimum mandatory sentence, but would still express to offenders and the community at large the point that these kinds of acts are quite reprehensible.
I hope that the Liberal members have been able to convey their concern about minimum mandatory sentences, which create some very unintended consequences.