Debate on Bill C-217

November 03, 2011

In Ottawa, our nation’s capitol, a man was found urinating on the National War Memorial on Canada Day.  The charge was withdrawn after the culprit issued a written apology to Canadian veterans, completed community service, and donated a mere $200.00 to charity.  After this unacceptable conduct, this criminal did not even have a mischief charge against him.  Mr. Speaker, this is simply unacceptable!

It is obvious that these vandals do not think about what they are doing and haven’t thought about the blatant disrespect they’ve displayed for these memorials. We must give them something to think about. Significant fines and weeks of imprisonment will complete this objective in a way that simple apology letters and deferment programs do not.  Canadian citizens should be proud of their history and remain proud of the monuments honouring those who have given their lives so that we may remain free and not fearful that their monuments will be desecrated by thoughtless individuals.

In Toronto, vandals hooked up a chain to a concrete cross and using an all-terrain vehicle, pulled it from its perch on a cenotaph.  This was the second time the cross had been stolen in less than a year.

In a very disturbing story, someone in Beamsville broke into the Konkle Mausoleum and emptied an urn of ashes onto the ground.  Though three people are buried in the mausoleum, it is likely that the ashes belonged to a War of 1812 veteran.

In Waterloo, police arrested three young people ranging in age from twelve to eighteen who were responsible for toppling between three hundred and four hundred graves, many of which were graves of war veterans.

Mr. Speaker, you have heard multiple cases in which our cherished war memorials and cenotaphs have been vandalized and disrespected. We must discourage such behaviour.  Explicit punishments must be written into the Criminal Code for mischievous conduct to address these atrocious crimes.  We have a duty to protect the memories of those who have sacrificed their lives so that we may continue to live freely in our great country. These memorials and what they represent command our utmost respect and efforts to protect and conserve them. Canadian citizens also deserve to know that conduct such as this will not be tolerated in any way.

In a most disturbing case, Mr. Speaker, on the morning of this past September 25, a Canadian Forces veteran who has served in Afghanistan discovered freshly spray-painted graffiti tags on the monument in Gerrard Park on Sherbrooke Street West in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighbourhood. This was the second time in less than 18 months this beautiful monument has been defaced. What a slap in the face for that Canadian Forces member to have been the one to discover such disrespect, Mr. Speaker. City workers later had to remove the offending graffiti at the cost of several thousand dollars.

Our country’s bravest deserve much better.  They have fought and died for our country and therefore, deserve our utmost respect. We have an obligation to protect and preserve their dignity.  Canadians as a whole deserve to know that we take our war memorials seriously and that we understand the significance they embody.  It is time for this Parliament to take a stand against mischief relating to war memorials.  The use of fines and imprisonment will convey this message to those who appear to have no respect for our Armed Forces, veterans, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  Anyone who willfully damages or desecrates a war memorial should face stiff consequences.  Mr. Speaker, we owe it to our men and women in uniform to protect these revered memorials.

The two hundredth anniversary of War of 1812 will be upon us next year.  As Canadians, we are extremely proud of the role that our great country played and we will soon be celebrating this important anniversary, often at the foot of our war memorials and cenotaphs.  We must ensure that these memorials will still be beautiful for our ceremonies, rather than desecrated by vandals on the eve of the services.  Following the anniversary for the War of 1812, the one hundredth anniversary of World War I will occur.

Canada played an immense role in this war and this anniversary will be a time to remember all those who died defending our country and democracy.  Numerous memorials throughout the country have been erected to honor those who fought in World War I.  Our Parliament must help to ensure that these memorials remain untouched by vandalism.  Now, with these important events around the corner, this is an opportune time to pass this legislation to protect and preserve these symbols to the best of our ability and this Bill will do just that.

We all know someone who has fought for our great country:  a father, a grandfather, a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a friend.  We appreciate these men and women for the dedication they’ve shown to our country and for their willingness to fight abroad for our freedom here at home.  Memorials in our communities are dedicated to these people, and none of us should want to see them damaged or defiled.  Harsher punishments will keep this from happening; they will make potential vandals think twice before acting against a memorial which so many of us consider sacred.

Mr. Speaker, as all Members know, this past summer the Canadian Forces wound down combat operations in Afghanistan. This was Canada’s longest ever combat mission - a mission in which our country lost 157 brave men and women of the Canadian Forces. As a result, I think our memorials and cenotaphs have a renewed sense of purpose and value, especially in those communities which lost one of their own. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, that conflict continues and only this past weekend, Canada lost another brave soldier to a suicide attack on a NATO convoy in Kabul.

We owe so much to our men and women in uniform, Mr. Speaker. Indeed, it is widely agreed that Canada came of age as a nation on the muddy battlefields of France during the First World War. Our participation in that great conflict was far out of proportion to our population, and we overcame challenges that had defeated other nations. Our mettle was tested, to enormous cost of life, and many of our brave soldiers sacrificed everything in the defense of freedom.

The call came again in the Second World War, when once again tens of thousands of brave young Canadians went to the aid of our allies in the cause of freedom. That conflict reshaped our world and Canada played no small part in its outcome. From the Battle of the Atlantic to Juno Beach, from Italy to Hong Kong, Canadians were at the forefront in that conflict.

In Korea and on into the birth of UN peacekeeping with the Suez Crisis, Canadian Forces continued to place their lives on the line for freedom and democracy. Throughout dozens of peacekeeping missions and during the long years of the Cold War, our young men and women in uniform have always been ready and willing to put country before self.

In the first Gulf War and in the Balkans and then Afghanistan and now Libya, Mr. Speaker, the best of our young men and women have shown time and again their willingness to defend Canada and her values. All too often, that willingness has cost them their lives.

To honour the memory of these young men and women, Mr. Speaker, our communities erect memorials and cenotaphs, and rightly so. We create honoured spaces in our cities, towns and villages where we can gather to remember them. Whether it is on Remembrance Day, or any other day of the year we might choose to pause and reflect, these spaces and these memorials signify the cost of our democracy, freedom and way of life.

Those of us who enjoy the hard-won freedoms that are part of modern Canada owe it to those who have paid in blood and life to keep these honoured spaces free from harm or insult. We have a solemn duty as citizens and residents of this wonderful country to protect and preserve our memorials and cenotaphs in memory of those that have fallen.

When vandalism occurs in one of these honoured places, we are all diminished.  An act of such disrespect is offensive not only to our local veterans, but it is offensive to all those who care about these veterans and to everyone who cares about the sacrifices they have made.

Mr. Speaker, C-217 delivers a clear message: the vandalism and desecration of any Canadian cenotaph or war memorial will not be tolerated. We are compelled to protect these revered places; we owe it to all the Canadian men and women who have fought in our Armed Forces.

Mr. Speaker, in consultation with the Minister of Justice, I propose to move an amendment at Committee, should C-217 carry at 2nd reading, that would increase the maximum penalty under indictment from my proposed 5 years to 10 years. This is a technical amendment that will simply ensure that this new offence is consistent with the current similar Criminal Code offence (section 430(1)(a)) which criminalizes the wilful destruction or damage of property. Without this amendment, we would be creating inconsistencies within the existing legislative regime.

I urge all of my colleagues to consider the adoption of Bill C-217.  The desecration of war memorials is something that can happen in any community, at any time.  We all owe it to the constituents of our ridings, especially to the veterans in our respective ridings, to support the passage of this Bill.  This amendment of the Criminal Code will help protect Canada’s war memorials and cenotaphs from vandalism, defilement, and damage.  Those who have fought and died for our great country deserve to know that the 41st Parliament is working to protect the monuments and memorials erected in their honor.

Mr. Speaker, as I said at the outset, all colleagues in this House will join millions of Canadians next week on Remembrance Day as we honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep Canada the true north, strong, and free. Our long and proud tradition of standing up to defend freedom and democracy and to defend our values is one of the things that makes Canada the greatest country in the world today. We are a free, open and democratic society that prides itself on the rule of law. Those who would disrespect our honoured community spaces that are dedicated to the remembrance of the fallen through vandalism or other such acts must be held to account under the law. The debt we owe our veterans and fallen soldiers requires that we look upon any disrespect to our cenotaphs and war memorials as a deeply grave matter with very serious consequences.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that passage of C-217 is necessary in ensuring that those who would damage our honoured places think twice before they act to desecrate our war memorials and cenotaphs.  I encourage all of my colleagues in the House to join me in taking decisive action on this important issue.