Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at third reading on the private member's bill brought forward by the member for Dufferin—Caledon, whose intentions were very good in seeking to amend the Criminal Code to treat offences against war memorials more seriously.
We listened with great interest to his presentation, to the witnesses who came to the hearing, and to submissions that were made to the committee during the deliberations on this bill.
Of course, we abhor, as all citizens do, the desecration of monuments to our dead, particularly our war dead. We see this type of behaviour occurring. I would not say it is rampant, because the people speaking about it had to go back a number of years to come up with examples that were known nationally to the public, but it is something that we all abhor. I think there has been no other time in our recent history where the sacrifices of our soldiers and men and women in uniform have been more honoured, more recognized and more appreciated by citizens.
However, we are talking about an amendment to the Criminal Code here. When doing that, I think that as legislators we have to do our job, which is to pay attention to what the Criminal Code is all about, what it is trying to do, what it is seeking to achieve and to look at other aspects of the Criminal Code, the other offences that are included, and to ensure that any amendments to the Criminal Code fit in with the scheme of the code and the types of penalties given for other offences.
In doing so, we also have to keep in mind the principles of justice and sentencing, which provide that the punishment must fit the crime. The crime is broader than the particular action, but includes the state of mind of the person who commits the crime, the circumstances surrounding the crime and the damage that may be done, including the extent of the damage, the intent, the seriousness, et cetera.
When we start applying those principles to this legislation, well-intentioned though it might be, we find that it falls down. It falls down because it imposes a mandatory minimum sentence for the desecration or damaging of a war memorial, which does not exist for damaging a church property, a synagogue or, as my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood said, a Holocaust memorial. We are treating these differently, with a sentence that could in fact be for up to 10 years in jail. The mandatory minimum would be there regardless of the circumstances of the offence, as cultural property invites a larger sentence when necessary. However, that is already there. We already have a mischief provision in the Criminal Code covering the kind of offence we are talking about. It is one that could easily be, and is, prosecuted under existing legislation.
There may have been complaints to our committee by people who said that the courts let off certain people lightly. The people who were let off lightly in these cases probably deserved stronger sentences than they got. However, I do not even think the mandatory minimums in this particular legislation would have satisfied the seriousness of the offences committed in those cases. We have a very simple provision in our Criminal Code and our criminal justice system for inadequate sentences. If someone is inadequately sentenced by the court, there is an appeal process. If there is not sufficient motivation to appeal to ensure that a proper sentence is passed, that is unfortunate, but that happens in our society.
The mandatory minimums here would not have satisfied the concerns of witnesses who came forward.
On the other hand, we did have a number of other witnesses and submissions holding the view that where serious matters of damage to war memorials where significant intent was involved, where criminal behaviour was clearly contemplated, where stealing metals or whatever off a memorial was done with an intent to destroy a monument, they would, should and could attract significant sentences.
We had a letter presented to the committee from no greater authority in terms of respect for our veterans and war dead than the Royal Canadian Legion. The president of the Dominion Command provided a letter saying that the Legion was supportive of the intent of Bill C-217 to include incidents of mischief against a war memorial as a part of our Criminal Code, but indicated that it felt that the provision of appropriate penalties suitable to the individual particulars of an incident should reflect the nature of these acts and that there should be latitude in assessing the gravity of the situation. Patricia Varga said:
The punishment should fit the crime and although no incident of this nature can be condoned, there should be provision for restorative justice measures with a mandated dialogue between veterans groups and the offenders. There should be provision where offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, to repair the harm they have done, by apologizing to a group of Veterans, or with community services. It provides help for the offender to avoid future offences and provides a greater understanding of the consequences of their actions.
We agree completely with that approach. One of the most publicized incidents in the Canadian context happened a number of years ago when a couple of individuals were caught urinating on the National War Memorial not two blocks from here. There was, as anticipated and expected, great outrage across the country with respect to that. The individuals were taken in by the Royal Canadian Legion and essentially made to understand the seriousness of what they had done because they did not appreciate the seriousness of what they had done. They were extremely apologetic and ashamed of what they had done and then assisted the Royal Canadian Legion in its work on a volunteer basis after that.
That is an example. I am not saying that every example is like that, but we do have a Criminal Code where serious offences can be treated seriously and the courts are mandated to do that in terms of how they approach sentencing.
In addition to that approach, we heard from Terrence Whitty, the national leader of the Air Cadet League of Canada, who talked about incidents in which he had been involved in with working with cadets. The Air Cadet League puts on camps and there was an incident where a particular memorial was being vandalized annually as part of a prank. Officials took the approach of ensuring that every child who went to that camp understood how important it was and that it was a memorial to Japanese veterans. Underscoring the seriousness and importance of it led to the fact that this place has now became an object of veneration by the young people and not something that was pranked against.
Those are some examples but obviously not the serious ones that my colleague opposite is talking about. However, I would say to him and to all members that serious matters should be taken seriously by the court and the law is adequate to do it right now.
I will just summarize what a professor of law said said in his presentation. He said that the bill was not necessary, that other offences already prohibit the conduct, that there was no need for a minimum punishment, that damaging war memorials already attracts a higher sentence than other forms of mischief and that higher sentences would not deter the typical offender.
I thank the member for bringing the bill forward but we will not be able to support it because of the nature of the bill, that the mandatory minimums there, that it is not proportional and that the Criminal Code already deals with the problem.