Mr. Speaker, everybody has alluded to the tragic terrorist event that happened in Quebec City just days ago. I hope that you and all of my colleagues in the chamber will allow me this opportunity to mention the names of those people who are no longer with us: Khaled Belkacemi, Azzedine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, and Mamadou Tanou Barry.
It is also important to note that five of these six men were fathers. According to the research, which I hope is accurate, and we have done all we can to find that out, 15 children have now been left without fathers. Therefore, it is poignant that we are debating this bill tonight.
Out the outset of my remarks on Bill C-305, I would like to remind the House of the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
Bill C-305 seeks to amend the section of the Criminal Code that applies to hate crimes. As we debate the merits of this bill, we should bear in mind that the antidote for hate is not merely legislation. Indeed, it is love. However, as members of Parliament, we cannot legislate that citizens love one another, although as leaders we often have the opportunity to encourage our constituents to be tolerant, accepting, and compassionate. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to ensure that the legal framework is in place so that those who commit acts motivated by hate are held to proper account.
Last weekend we marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day as we remembered the six million Jews who died in what the Jewish people call the Shoah. I was reminded of my recent visit to Israel, where I toured Yad Vashem, the museum of the Holocaust. If we were to go there, we would enter a building that shows the timeline of anti-Semitism, how it grew, how it became socially acceptable, and how that paved the way to allow the Nazis to take over Germany and to come up with what they called the “final solution”.
As we look back at this time in our collective history, it is clear that any kind of racism, when allowed to brew, when allowed to fester, when allowed to grow, can turn into these kinds of atrocities that all of us despise and all of us would condemn. It is incumbent upon us to enact legislation that would help extinguish hate before it metastasizes into a more virulent form, which is what this bill seeks to address.
In the wake of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, misinformed individuals firebombed the Hindu Samaj temple located in my riding, a temple meant for worship and prayer. This destructive act was meant to send a message of hate to Muslims, although it actually hurt the innocent Hindu community that gathers there. This is the type of act we should seek to avert before it happens by teaching and demonstrating tolerance while ensuring that measures in the Criminal Code are in place that could target the early signs of this type of behaviour.
Before I delve into the details of the bill before us, I would like to offer one further reflection.
I have been afforded the opportunity to serve as a member of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights for almost 11 years. This role has opened my eyes to what hate looks like unchecked when taken to its extreme. Hate has ravaged lives in the Middle East, South America, Africa, and virtually every corner of the globe. It has taken the form of genocide, sexual slavery, torture, kidnapping, and other horrific acts. In Canada, hate does not often take these extreme forms, but these tragic events abroad should also serve as a stark reminder that hate must not be allowed to take root. In fact, it must be given no oxygen whatsoever in the public square.
With these reflections in mind, I would like to thank the member for Nepean for bringing this bill forward. He has identified a gap in our statutes respecting hate crimes and has proposed Bill C-305 in response.
Presently, the Criminal Code provides for a penalty of up to 10 years for mischief related to religious property based on bias or prejudice against a certain race, religion, or some other identifiable group. In legal terms, “mischief” broadly refers to destroying, disfiguring, or damaging property or rendering property dangerous or of no use. In plain language, houses of worship are legally protected from damage or disfiguring brought about by hate.
In contrast, if a similar act of hate is committed against a university, a day care centre, a community centre, or a seniors' residence, charges would be laid under the general mischief section of the Criminal Code, but would only carry a sentence of up to two years.
Bill C-305 seeks to close this gap by extending the legal protection afforded to houses of worship to a wide variety of other property critical to our community lives.
It is my view that the Criminal Code should be consistent and tough as it relates to hate crimes. If a person inflicts damage upon a building to propagate a message of hate, such offenders should bear the weight of our criminal justice system, wherever it is.
For this reason, Bill C-305 is deserving of our support at second reading in order to send it to committee where it should receive due consideration, including a robust inquiry of witnesses and a thorough examination to ensure that any unintended consequences are avoided.
This work should also be done in a timely fashion in light of the recent events. The horrific attack at the mosque in Quebec City this past weekend is the latest example that hate still plagues our nation. On Monday, many members of the House gathered by the centennial flame in honour of the victims and to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community. These events should serve as a reminder to us as legislators that we ought to re-double our efforts to root out hate.
Additionally, at the end of 2016 in Ottawa, three synagogues, a mosque, and a church were spray-painted with racist graffiti.
I have every confidence that these actions and others like them are being met with the vigilance of our law enforcement officials. Meanwhile, we must ensure the law responds to these acts appropriately, no matter where they take place, be it a university campus, a high school, or seniors' home. This bill would give our police forces the tools they need to combat hate in all of its forms, everywhere.
Indeed, if we support Bill C-305, we will send the message that hate will not be tolerated in Canada. I look forward to supporting the bill when it comes up for a vote.