Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-217 on the issue of mischief in relation to war memorials and cenotaphs. As I have stated previously in this regard, there is a responsibility to take action against those who would dishonour our heritage, our history and our memorials, the devoir de mémoire, the duty of memory. As I have said before, vandalism and desecration of monuments and memorials is intolerable. Such desecration dishonours us all.
Like every member of this place, I am as shocked as I am pained to read accounts of vandalism and desecration of war memorials. In my own riding of Mount Royal, we are home to such memorials including the cenotaph in the municipality of Côte Saint-Luc, erected in memory of those who gave their lives in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War, as well as the Mount Royal cenotaph in Peace Park, which honours the brave soldiers from the town of Mount Royal who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Second World War. One shudders to think of these community treasures and memorials being vandalized.
However, we have been witness to troubling accounts of vandalism and desecration of war memorials and monuments across the country, as has been set forth before this House in discussion and debate. Indeed, in response to an incident on Canada Day in 2006, when an individual urinated on a national war memorial here in Ottawa, Liberals and in particular my colleague from Ottawa South called upon the government to take action in this regard. As it happens, we have before us today legislation that seeks to address the specific issue of mischief related to war memorials.
However, this is flawed legislation. Accordingly, I will enumerate for my colleagues why, though I am supportive of the bill in principle, I nonetheless feel it would not achieve that which must be accomplished.
First, the measure is duplicative of what is already in the Criminal Code and in our criminal law. It is not as if, without this legislation, mischief to war memorials is not criminalized. Indeed, such behaviour can be prosecuted now under the Criminal Code, as it has been in the past under the general principle of mischief. Moreover, it can also be punished under the subsection of mischief specific to the damage to cultural property provision.
Thus, while we need to denounce and prevent damage to war memorials, cenotaphs and the like, it is unclear that this legislation is adequate in terms of scope. For example, in the town of Hampstead in my own riding, in front of the Irving L. Adessky Community Centre, there is both a cenotaph and a Holocaust memorial. Under the present legislation, only vandalism of the cenotaph would be punished whereas vandalism of the Holocaust memorial would be addressed under the existing mischief provisions. While both could be punished under the provision for “damage to cultural property”, it is unclear why a war memorial and cenotaph, to the exclusion of another memorial such as a Holocaust memorial, should receive the unique protection that is offered by Bill C-217.
Rather than dwell on this particular point any longer, I suggest that the government may wish to revisit this area of the law to ensure consistency in the preservation and protection of these important reminders of our heritage and our history.
Second, Bill C-217 makes use of a mandatory minimum penalty. While I have enumerated various critiques of mandatory minimum penalties in this House on the grounds of law and principle, criminal law policy, economics, prejudicial fallout and the like, I do not wish to repeat myself at length on this point. Rather, I will focus my concern in this regard on the use of a specific punitive mandatory minimum in this legislation, where such punishment may not be the appropriate and precise remedy necessitated by the vandalism that it seeks to counteract.
As was discussed extensively in committee, much of the vandalism of war memorials is committed by youths sometimes not even aware of the significance of the site. In that regard, and as we have seen judges determine this in the past in relation to such mischief, it would be more appropriate to regard such youth vandalism to require of them to complete community service projects with veterans groups, or to mandate that they volunteer with veterans. Simply put, rather than collecting a fine and leaving it at that, we should require individuals to learn about the sacrifices veterans have made for this country, to engage with the veterans, to hear their stories and to appreciate the sacrifice that was made.
Regrettably, we discourage the use of such sentencing techniques by requiring a punitive mandatory minimum, where judges may be less inclined to propose such action in addition to a fine or prison term. It may even be that a prosecutor would charge a lesser offence to avoid the mandatory minimum, as we have seen in the past as well, such that this, in the end, would undermine this law's attempt at even specific denunciation of this behaviour, let alone its prevention to begin with.
I find myself, again, in the position where I need to draw to the attention of my colleagues opposite that crime and justice cannot, and do not, only operate in the realms of punishment and incarceration.
Indeed, in relation to alternative sentencing, we have the concept of restorative justice, of which we hear very little from the government, if anything. It would provide for remedies like the one suggested regarding community service and promote the idea that a person convicted of such an offence should make it right, not simply with the state but with those who are harmed and hurt by his or her conduct. As witnesses from veterans groups noted at committee, a heartfelt and sincere apology can go a long way.
Another thing we ignore with the focus on punishment is, indeed, prevention, which brings me to my third and final point; that is, the bill would do nothing with regard to prevention, and it would not serve as an effective deterrent.
The government could have introduced a fund for security at such sites. It could have announced a new initiative to fund events and ceremonies at such sites to encourage broader community awareness and understanding of their importance and place. Indeed, just as the government is now involved in promoting and publicizing the War of 1812, it could focus at this point on encouraging interaction and engagement with veterans, particularly as the surviving veteran population from World War II diminishes with each passing year.
I do not fault the member for Dufferin—Caledon in any way. Indeed, I appreciate his bringing forth this legislation. However, I must take issue with the government's myopic focus simply on punishment and incarceration, ignoring that prevention and restorative justice must equally be considered and, in some cases, would dictate the adoption of measures other than mandatory minimum penalties of a fine, imprisonment or both.
In closing, while I do believe the bill has flaws, I am supportive in principle, given its foundational importance that we remember those who sacrificed so much for us and our cherished way of life and that we honour their memory appropriately.
However, we can have more effective legislation. We could make it better. We can better honour their sacrifice. We can best honour their memory by so doing.