Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to join in the second reading debate of Bill C-305, an act to amend the Criminal Code concerning mischief, which was introduced in the House on September 27 by the member for Nepean.
I would like to begin by thanking the member for Nepean for bringing this important issue before the chamber to give this Parliament an opportunity to speak to it.
We have been tragically reminded of the impact that hate in all of its manifestations can have on our society. The horrific attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec on Sunday night, the hate-inspired acts of terror which occurred that evening taking six of our fellow citizens' lives, injuring so many, and tragically traumatizing a community and a nation must deepen our resolve to confront and prevent hate in all of its manifestations.
In my experience, the issue of hate does not immediately manifest itself in acts of terror and murder, but far more often is expressed in acts of mischief. Our failure as a society to confront and deal appropriately with these acts, to denounce them in our strongest forms, and to resolve them through appropriate serious consequence can have the effect of encouraging them through complacency. We are reminded of the importance of dealing with this issue.
As parliamentarians I believe we could all agree that hate crimes in all of their forms cannot be tolerated in our country. They are a fundamental attack on our values and our principles and on each and every one of our citizens. A crime of hate against any Canadian citizen is a crime of hate against all Canadian citizens.
Our charter of rights and freedoms guarantees that everyone in Canada has a right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and our government is committed to protecting that right. The amendments proposed by this bill would strengthen the message that hate crime will not be tolerated in Canada.
I would now like to turn briefly to where the current law stands in Canada. Currently, there is a specific hate crime of mischief committed against property primarily used for religious worship which is found in subsection 430(4.1) of the Criminal Code, mischief relating to religious property. It is a hate crime because the offence is only committed when such mischief is committed out of bias, prejudice, or hate based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin. The maximum punishment for this offence is 10 years' imprisonment. Subsection 430(4.1) of the Criminal Code was enacted as part of the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001, which was also known at that time as Bill C-36.
Today, hate crime is restricted to property that is primarily used for religious worship, such as churches, mosques, and synagogues, and also includes cemeteries. However, during the committee hearings on Bill C-36, some witnesses, while approving of the creation of a specific hate crime of mischief, argued that the crime should be broader in scope, and if I may, I will cite some examples.
David Matas, lead counsel for B'nai Brith Canada, in his testimony at that time, argued that sex should be added to the list of hate motivations and also that the crime should be expanded to cover schools, organizational buildings, and cemeteries.
As well, on November 6, 2001, before the same committee, Mr. Ed Morgan, who was at that time chair of the Ontario region of the Canadian Jewish Congress, testified that all religious property should be protected by the hate crime mischief offence. He said:
Not just sanctuaries, not just synagogues or churches, but all religious structures, religious centres, religious schools, religious community centres, cemeteries—which are a particular target for hate crimes and desecration—ought to be covered as well.
He also argued at that time, and again I quote from his testimony:
...the grounds of group identification ought to be expanded to include, for example, hate crimes against groups identified by sexual orientation or gender. Gay-bashing is a hate crime, as would be an attack on a women's centre, every bit as much as on a religious community centre.
As a result, subsection 430(4.1) was amended by the House of Commons committee to add cemeteries to the list of properties primarily used for religious worship, but not the other kinds of properties that had been cited in the testimony, such as schools or community centres.
As well, a proposed amendment to add sex as a ground of hate motivation was rejected at that time, because it was seen as not relating logically back to the purpose of the hate crime mischief offence, which was to protect places of religious worship, unlike other hate motivations of race, colour, religion, or ethnic or national origin.
Bill C-305 proposes to add to this mischief offence additional kinds of property. These are buildings or structures used for educational purposes, for administrative, social, cultural, or sports activities or events, or as residences for seniors. As well, the list of hate-motivating criteria would be expanded by adding two new ones: sexual orientation and gender identity.
I wholeheartedly support the principles behind the bill that our criminal law should clearly denounce all hate-motivated mischief. However, it does bring forward some questions about the potentially broad scope of the proposed crimes in this section, which were previously discussed during the first hour of second reading by my colleague and the member for Charlottetown.
The private member's bill in its current form could potentially capture numerous unintended buildings and spaces such as sports arenas or coffee shops. These buildings or structures are currently protected by the general offence of mischief. Additionally, in order to ensure consistency with the existing hate speech provisions in the Criminal Code as well as those amendments proposed under Bill C-16, gender identity, which is currently before the Senate, we need to look more closely at this proposed legislation.
Therefore, the government will support Bill C-305 with a view to amendments to address the potential overbreadth and consistency with other provisions of the Criminal Code. We believe that Bill C-305 should receive second reading and be sent to committee for further study.
I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the member for Nepean for his commitment in bringing this matter forward. It is a timely piece of legislation. It is work that demands our closest attention.