Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak to Bill C-309.
I know issues related to justice and to making our communities a better place to live concern all members of Parliament as we try to make a difference in improving the quality for the citizens we represent. I look at Bill C-309 as a genuine attempt at making a difference in certain situations.
I am sure we can all reflect on some of the riots that have occurred in the past in Canada and abroad. Valid arguments have been made that we need to do more to protect our citizens, police agencies, law enforcement officers and individuals who are called in to riot situations. I think of individuals such as first responders, paramedics, ambulance attendants and fire personnel. These individuals put their life on the line in many situations in which the average individual is not obligated to participate.
We want to be sensitive and do the right thing to protect those individuals and, as I mentioned, the many different police agencies in situations that come before us for a wide variety of reasons. I could cite the old G20 and G8 conferences that were conducted.
Television networks across Canada televised some of the rioting that took place as a result of the G8 and G20. What Canadians saw on TV or in the pictures that were published left a lasting impression in their minds. One needs to be very sensitive to what our population as a whole thinks and how those people want politicians to respond to what they see.
A vast majority of protestors see a situation or a government and the many flaws that a government might have or want to propose throughout the years. In this case, governments from across the world came to Canada. We have to go the extra mile to ensure all residents of Canada have the right to express themselves, to show up and protest the issues that are important to them.
A vast majority of protestors are good, law-abiding citizens who want to express how they feel about important issues. Unfortunately, at times, that could lead to situations which become dangerous. What might start off as a peaceful demonstration will quite often have people come in to aggravate things. In essence, they are there to try to agitate and cause violent reactions.
It is important for us to recognize the validity of protests and the freedoms of individuals to participate in that process.
On the other hand, we have other types of situations that come before. We can look to Vancouver at the celebrations that followed the Stanley Cup, where citizens came to the street. Once again, a vast majority of those who participated came out because of that high sense of civic pride. They felt good about the Stanley Cup and the fact that Vancouver had made it into the playoffs. They wanted to share that experience and those emotions in a large gathering.
Much like protests that take place in Toronto, unfortunately, individuals will get themselves into these large crowds to aggravate, to try to cause problems for the community as a whole. It raises the issue of safety. All of us, I suspect, would argue that instigators are the ones on which we need to focus some attention. It is reasonable for us to try to come up with ways that will make a difference.
I see this private member's bill before us as a bill in which the member has given a personal assessment of how he feels on the issue. In reading his comments, I understand that he has done some consultation. However, more important, his comments indicate that he would be open to the process of committee and the possibility of making changes to the proposed legislation. I am encouraged by that in the sense that we have to go the extra mile to ensure we are not, in any fashion whatsoever and in no way, telling residents, citizens, landed immigrants and the like that they do not have the right to assemble. In the vast majority of cases, 99% plus, we should encourage people to convene and share their ideas, to share their sense of civic pride.
There are issues that will come and go and some of those issues will ignite. When they do, we have to ensure there are things in place that allow Canadians to vet themselves. There is a very good example that we have debated for the last week or so, and that is the whole issue surrounding pensions. I can envision that in the future large numbers of Canadians will get quite upset at the government for its plan. A budget will be presented and within it more detailed explanations will be given as to what will happen with our pension programs.
I suspect there will be a reaction to it and I, for one, will encourage individuals to participate in lawful gatherings in order to express their concerns. That is why it is so critically important, as we debate this bill, that we send a very strong, clear and succinct message to Canadians as a whole that as parliamentarians we view large gatherings of people as something good. We see them playing an important role in democracy, whether it is the protesting of issues or even, for that matter, supporting issues. I will make quick reference to Veterans Day and the large gatherings for our veterans, as well as large gatherings for sporting activities. It is something we need to underline.
The core of the bill suggests that there are those who gather with the idea of instigating in an unlawful way by using masks or disguises in order to evade being identified and we are right to be concerned. The bill at least attempts to bring that issue to the fore.
After today's debate, I believe the government might be in a better position to evaluate. I know one member of the Conservative caucus has suggested 10 years versus 5 years. The current bill, I believe, suggests 5 years as a potential penalty.
However, I do not want the specific debate on masks and disguises to take away--