It's not often I agree with the Dippers but I do on this one. It's one of those bills that looks good on the surface. Most people don't scratch it though.
Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak to Bill C-288, An Act respecting the National Flag of Canada (external - login to view)
I read this bill with interest over the weekend and noticed there are really three key clauses in it. The first is, of course, to prohibit or stop people from preventing other folks from displaying the national flag of Canada; the second is to allow the courts to grant injunctions against violators or potential violators of the first clause; and the third, if this injunction is ignored, allows prison sentences of up to two years for violators.
I am lucky that my wife, Jeanette Ashe, is also a political scientist. She puts up with these kinds of discussions over the weekends about these important private members' issues that come forward. We thought, as we were walking by the Peace Tower last night, looking at the Canadian flag billowing over this magnificent Parliament, that the bill was extraordinary for a number of reasons and worth discussing at length. I am glad we have the time today to do so.
First, I would like to state that I am very proud of the Canadian flag. I have worn it on my backpack while hostelling through Europe. As I stayed at various hostels, people would stop me, at least they did in the 1990s, and say how happy they were to meet a Canadian, as identified by my flag. They would say that Canada was a symbol of all that was good in the world. We have very strong national health care. We welcome immigrants. We are a peacekeeping nation. We try to promote peace internationally. I think that is why I was proud to wear the flag then. I am happy that people are proud to fly it on their own houses and to wear it on their backpacks around the world.
However, as much as I do support the flag and flag-flying, I really cannot support the bill in its current form. There are number of reasons for this. The first is the cost of this bill. I think as a responsible opposition, one of the first things we have to do is to speak about costs and think about being in a deficit position. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have brought us into a deficit position. We have to think about every penny and think about spending our pennies wisely.
To throw somebody in prison for two years would cost about $200,000. It costs about $100,000 a year to put somebody in prison. That does not even include all of the prosecution fees, all the police fees, and the various other fees that are entailed. There are about 12.5 million households in Canada. At a cost of about a dollar a flag, we could actually provide a flag to every Canadian household for the cost of about 65 prosecutions. I thought, is it worth it?
I read the member for Don Valley West (external - login to view)
's speech in Hansard
. Actually, my wife and I perused Hansard
as I was getting ready for this speech. He brought this bill forward based on a few bits of anecdotal evidence from his constituents; for example, a renter of an apartment flew a flag and the landlord forced him to take it down. What would be the implications of this act, this extraordinary act? At the furthest extent, that landlord would be put into jail for two years. Is that really the right way to handle this type of dispute, to allow the Attorney General of Canada, through the superior courts, to press charges against a landlord and then take that person out of the economy and put him or her into jail for two years at a cost of at least $200,000? Perhaps this is not the best way to go forward. Perhaps this is a wasteful use of taxpayer money.
There has been some talk in this House about allowing this bill to get to committee to allow more discussion of these clauses. However, the bill itself is very short and there do not seem to be any clauses to discuss, other than this one to throw people in jail for two years if they somehow interfere with the flying of a flag, or may do so in the future.
There are, in public policy, really two main instruments. They are referred to as carrots and sticks. There is the stick, where people are punished and beaten into submission to elicit a certain type of behaviour, and there are carrots, where people are rewarded for undertaking particular actions. The government seems particularly prone to using the stick. I would propose that a two-year prison sentence for interfering with, removing or intending to remove someone's flag some day is a very big stick. Putting people in jail for two years does not seem to make much sense.
On the cost side of things, if we are going to spend this enormous amount of money on this type of action, it would be much better to supply flags to every household rather than throwing a very small number of people in jail. It would cost millions of dollars. Again, I point out to the member that perhaps this is one reason he should reconsider this bill.
The second reason the bill should not go forward and why I cannot support it is the thought of who pays. There would be these prosecutions ongoing, during which time the attorney general would perhaps not be pursuing other prosecutions while going after these violent flag offenders. Because it is a sentence of less than two years, it would be served in provincial prisons. This bill seems to continue the theme of the current government of not only using a stick as a policy tool but also not absorbing the costs of using that stick.
This bill could perhaps have been added to Bill C-10 (external - login to view)
, which we all know is the omnibus crime bill that rolled nine pieces of legislation into one larger piece of legislation. Perhaps the most famous clause in Bill C-10 (external - login to view)
is the one that requires six months for six plants, that is, if someone is caught with six marijuana plants in his or her window box, plants the size of a person's little finger, the mandatory minimum sentence is six months in jail. Of course, the federal government can pass these big stick laws without any fear that it is going to drive up the federal deficit because all of these costs are offloaded to the provinces. The Quebec government was the first one to come out and say that Bill C-10 (external - login to view)
would cost the province perhaps upwards of $1 billion. Now other provinces have come out and said this is offloading by the federal government.
Bills like Bill C-10 (external - login to view)
are going to cost provinces billions of dollars. It is irresponsible for the Conservative government to go ahead with bills like this without any discussion with the provinces and for it to say it is going to impose punitive laws, things that most Canadians would not agree with, and that it is not going to pay for them but make provincial taxpayers do so. Bill C-288 (external - login to view)
is in the same nature as Bill C-10 (external - login to view)
Another forthcoming bill that would also offload costs to provinces concerns health care. The federal government, without really having any discussions with the provinces, is looking to offload health care costs to the provinces. This is a dangerous trend.
The last point I would make is there is very little empirical evidence the bill is needed. Perhaps the member senses there might be an escalation in people tearing down flags because they will be upset with government policy. For me, the only reason people would remove a flag is they are upset with the government. Perhaps the purchase of F-35s, perhaps the government becoming an international scourge in regard to climate change, and perhaps our moving from being a peacekeeping nation to an aggressor nation are reasons that people might be angry with the government. I think maybe this is a Freudian slip type of bill, where the member is perhaps anticipating with great nervousness what damage his government is going to do this country and is trying to get ahead of that problem by introducing such a bill.
I cannot support this bill going forward.
Last edited by Cannuck; Mar 29th, 2012 at 08:32 PM..