Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to stand today and speak in support of Bill C-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials).
This bill is important because, frankly, many people do not recognize what is taking place across this country. They do not recognize the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made in the past, and how they should be respected.
When the sponsor of the bill, the member for Dufferin—Caledon, appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice, which was tasked to study the bill, he observed that the Criminal Code currently treats the desecration of war memorials in the same fashion as when someone damages or desecrates mailboxes, for instance.
The member said that the national importance of war memorials warrants that they be governed by a separate offence in the code. He called them sacred spaces. I would agree with that analogy. I think they are sacred spaces. They are our way of recognizing and remembering those men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe and secure, and to give us the freedoms we enjoy today.
We have the greatest country in the world not only economically, as has been identified by many people around the world, but also the best banking sector, the best enforcement of the rule of law, the best individual freedoms for people than any other country on the planet.
It is in no small part what the men and women in uniform did in World War I and World War II. Battles like Vimy Ridge established us as a country and gave us pride in our armed forces.
The member also said that under the Criminal Code a person commits mischief by doing certain things. I am not going to go through them specifically, but it is in relation to destroying or damaging property, somebody rendering a property dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective.
I did have an opportunity to listen to the previous speakers. I have also had an opportunity to litigate for some years. Clearly, one thing that is not recognized by some parties is the number of people who commit crimes of property damage and mischief, and frankly, the people who commit those crimes are very seldom caught.
There are studies which indicate that only 8% of crimes are ever solved. I would suggest that with this type of crime, the percentage solved would be much lower because the crime is committed anonymously, usually late at night and in a place where there is no witness, nobody who can identify the people. Often people consider it to be a victimless crime and one that does not need to be studied.
To be clear, Bill C-217 proposes that Parliament recognize the special significance of war memorials by amending the Criminal Code to create a new offence to deal specifically with mischief directed at such property, as the code has already identified for cultural property and property primarily used for religious worship, such as churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.
It also proposes that this new offence be subject to mandatory minimum penalties. I know some members of the Liberal Party and the NDP do not agree with that, but I do think it is very important because many judges across the country do not impose consistent sentences. First of all, we need to send a clear message to criminals that this will not be tolerated. Second, judges across the country, whether it be in Prince Edward Island, Fort McMurray or Vancouver, should impose the same sentence for each individual who commits these types of offences and other offences, such as drug dealing and violent crimes.
People who understand the law, such as the lawyers who spoke earlier, will see that in Vancouver, for instance, the courts are more lenient on drug dealers than the courts are in Alberta. We can see that. It is no surprise. Lawyers know this. That is why lawyers shop around in different jurisdictions.
Mandatory minimum sentences are very important. It is important for the judges to understand that legislators such as us are sending a clear message, and they need to send that clear message on to those people who would commit crimes of this nature.
I can understand why Canadians would readily support the creation of such a specific offence, because who does not know somebody who served in Afghanistan, World War I, World War II, or the Korean War? I think all of us have a relative or know someone who lost his or her life or something of themselves in one of those conflicts. Canadians clearly would support a mandatory minimum sentence in this particular case.
We heard from the previous speaker that he is supporting it. He said it is not a perfect law, and I would agree. I do not think there is such a thing as a perfect law, but certainly we need to move forward as legislators to find that balance between what could be perfect and what is necessary to hold these people to account.
If we were to leave the current law as it is, nothing would change. Clearly it is not working. That is why we need to do something. It has failed to discourage people from committing these offences. It has failed to convince people to pay attention to this in their own communities. These monuments lose their importance to Canadians if they see that people can get away with the occurrences that have taken place.
I want to bring forward to the House some examples of what has happened in the past. These examples were brought to light in committee by Mr. John Eggenberger, the vice-president of research at the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association. These examples clearly indicate what is not acceptable and why we should be taking these steps and sending this message.
In September 2006, the monument in Vimy Ridge Memorial Park in Winnipeg was tagged with silver spray paint. I had a chance to go to France to represent our country. I saw the Vimy Ridge Memorial. I read the names of the young men and women who had served on behalf of Canada. The average age of those young people who died I do not think was even 21. We should honour the people who died to establish and protect our country, as well as the many countries and people of Europe. It is unacceptable to spray-paint a memorial that represents people who died while protecting our freedoms.
In 2008, the Korean War veterans memorial in Ottawa was smeared with human feces. How disgusting is that? The National Capital Commission, to its credit, cleaned it up within an hour. The person or persons who did that should be totally ashamed of themselves. It is disgusting and totally unacceptable.
Also in 2008, a 14-year-old boy was caught spray-painting a war memorial on Vancouver Island. I do not see any constructive purpose in that. Maybe that 14-year-old boy should receive some sort of punishment and some recognition for being a youth, but certainly he should be making a dramatic change in his lifestyle. To do something like that shows an absolute lack of respect.
In June 2008, local Montreal Legion members were outraged to discover FLQ slogans painted on a nearby cenotaph in a southwest suburb of the city. Why would people do that to a monument which recognizes people for their great sacrifices? Likely, many of those people who served during those conflicts were related to the individual who did that, or the individual at least knew them.
In April 2009, a large X was painted over the names of the World War II veterans inscribed on the war memorial next to the town hall in Lennoxville, Quebec. A beer bottle was also smashed on the monument. What is the purpose of that? What do people solve by doing that? Clearly, there is a lack of respect and that needs to change.
In 2009, four teens were charged after the war memorial in Welland, Ontario, was vandalized with spray paint.
In 2010, in Trail, British Columbia, a group of youths were caught on video defacing the town's recently restored cenotaph. What happened to those individuals? Some of those offenders were identified but faced no monetary sanctions for their acts.
There is a cost to this. It is not just a cost to Canadians but a cost to the people who actually sacrificed their time to protect our rights and the rule of law that we have in Canada. Many people take that for granted. Clearly, this is one way to establish that they need to take it seriously.
That is why the mandatory minimum sentence of a $1,000 fine for a first offence is absolutely necessary. It is a small price to pay for what our men and women in uniform did for us. It is a small price to pay for recognizing their great sacrifice. For second or third offences, I suggest that the book be thrown at the perpetrators and that they be sentenced to more than 14 days and 30 days as proposed in the bill, because they are not recognizing the great respect that should be shown to the men and women in uniform today and the men and women in uniform who fought for us and gave us our freedoms.