Good morning, everyone.
We are presently distributing the amendments. I believe that they are all available in English and in French. This will be a full session, I think. So we are going to start as quickly as we can.
In terms of the agenda, pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, February 1, 2012, today we will be talking about Bill . We have with us Mr. John Carmichael, MP for Don Valley West. My thanks to him for joining us today. We are going to listen to his presentation on the bill for 10 minutes or so, after which we will be able to ask questions.
Mr. Carmichael, the floor is yours.
Good morning, members of the heritage committee and colleagues.
I'm delighted to be here with you today and for the opportunity to address my private member's bill, Bill , an act respecting the national flag of Canada, and to move it forward this morning.
I'm delighted to present this bill on behalf of Canadians across this country who want to fly the Canadian flag proudly at their homes and residences. This bill was initiated and introduced because Canadians from all across this land are being restricted from flying the Canadian flag, not only residents in my riding of Don Valley West but Canadians from all across this great land.
There are countless Canadians who have faced the risk of eviction, hefty fines, and other punitive actions, not to mention large legal bills, associated with their deep desire to show their patriotism and their pride in our flag.
These are the stories of valiant veterans, such as Guy Vachon and Fred Norman of Ottawa, who served for more than two decades of their lives in our armed forces. Fred Norman travelled halfway around the world to fight in the Korean conflict. At that time, the Internet was a distant possibility. There were no Googles or Wikipedias to inform them of the land or the challenges they would face. These men went blindly to their destination in the name of democracy to proudly serve our country. They endured the harsh and unimaginable conditions of war. They carry the heavy burden of having left many of their fellow soldiers on faraway battlefields.
Today these men have fought a different battle in their quest to fly the Canadian flag. They have had to put up an extensive fight for the right to fly the flag they love, something to which these veterans should never have been exposed. Surely enabling these men and women to exercise the right to fly our maple leaf on Canadian soil is the least we can do as a token of gratitude by this country.
The House is already familiar with other stories that I've spoken to earlier, such as that of Brian and Linda-Lee Cassidy of southern Ontario. This couple has proudly flown the Canadian flag for nearly 40 years, in four different homes, and recently had their homeowners' association demand that they remove their flag for fear of repercussions. Because of their non-compliance and their pride in flying the Canadian flag, their standing in the association has been downgraded. They have been left in bad standing.
You may also recall the story of Rose Wittemann, from Mississauga, who sought to fly the flag in honour of her brother, who was fighting in the war in Afghanistan, or that of Kirk Taylor, from Calgary, who simply wished to hang his flag outside in honour of all that the Canadian flag has represented to him and his family.
As you can see, these stories are from coast to coast to coast in our great country, and they reflect a common theme: a deep desire to fly our Canadian flag and a deep pride in doing so.
There are also the stories of new Canadians who wish to proudly fly the Canadian flag as a symbol of the adversity they have overcome to achieve citizenship in Canada.
All of these individuals should have the right to fly the flag at their homes. This bill serves to ensure that all Canadians, with their unique stories and motives for proudly flying the Canadian flag, are honoured. This bill ensures that they have the right to fly our flag without fear of eviction, financial penalty, bullying, or intimidation.
There has been much debate on this bill. Strictly focusing on the relevance of this bill, there are several issues I know we will discuss this morning that will lead to corrective amendments to ensure that this bill is acceptable to all parties.
Amendments to this bill will be made in an effort to ensure that citizens who wish to exercise their right to fly the flag will be able to do so. Further, this will ensure that strata boards, building councils, homeowners' associations, condominium boards, and others will all understand that restrictive protocols simply are not acceptable.
This bill was not initiated to be partisan or divisive. Throughout the debates in the House of Commons, while there was a good deal of straying from the focus at hand, there was a common theme that underlined all discussions, that being that all members, I believe, demonstrated and felt pride in our Canadian flag.
Further, we echo one another's sentiments in the deeply symbolic message that the flag represents, with ideals such as democracy, equality, and freedom.
I know that all here today are proud Canadians and that Bill serves to ensure that all citizens join us in their desire to have the right to fly the flag.
I thank you for your time today and I appreciate the opportunity to join you this morning.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Calandra.
I will follow my gut feeling here and propose--everybody is going to start scratching their heads--that we read all the amendments now.
No? Oh, I'm being advised by the clerk not to do so. They're scratching their heads. Just a second, please.
Our counsel recommend that we proceed as follows. As the amendments have already been circulated to all members, we will move to a 10-minute question period. If no one objects to that procedure, let's begin.
Mr. Young, you have the floor.
That really is at the hub of the entire exercise.
I've heard from Canadians from across the country who are being restricted from flying the flag. As I've said in the House in answer to many of your questions and in debates we've had in different environments, our flag is a symbol of our own national pride, and we all feel that. We're not here to debate that issue.
However, when Canadians are being restricted from flying the flag for whatever their pride level is, or their purpose, their history, whether they're veterans, new Canadians, or families who just feel great pride in this country and want to fly our flag, I don't think that's terribly Canadian.
This bill has been accused of a number of different things over the course of its short life. Let's keep in mind that, number one, it's a private member's bill. It was an issue that I heard about from Canadians over the course of my early tenure after being elected in May, and it struck me as absolutely and fundamentally wrong that people could intimidate, bully, or otherwise restrict Canadians from flying our flag. I felt it was something important that we as Canadians had to stand up for.
We believe in free speech. We believe in democracy. To that end, I think it's incumbent on us as parliamentarians to make a statement that all Canadians have the right to fly the flag any day of the year without bullying or intimidation.
There we strayed from our debate.
My background is in business. I come from a business background. Creating jobs and economic growth are fundamental to what I believe in and do every day. As a parliamentarian, I represent all the residents of my riding of Don Valley West, which, as some of you from neighbouring ridings know, is probably as diverse a riding as it gets in this country in terms of ethnic diversity, financial diversity, etc. I see people who love and believe in this country being told that they simply cannot fly the flag, and it's not that they are just simply being restricted: they're being charged, they're being castigated, and they're being put in bad standing in their homeowners associations or condo boards.
That, to me, is wrong. That's something that has to be fixed. It's fundamental to our Canadian belief in freedom and democracy, and something that I felt was incumbent on me to take to Ottawa.
I'm sympathetic in a number of ways. One is that I remember the 2006 election. As you know, the Canada Elections Act stipulates that no one can prevent campaign teams or candidates from going to the doors of voters. I was in a condominium in my riding at about eight o'clock, and a man answered the door with his pyjamas and housecoat on. It wasn't that late; it was only about eight o'clock, and he asked me what I was doing in the building. I said that there was a federal election, and I was a candidate.
He said, “Do you realize that goes against our condo rules?” I said, “With respect, sir, I think the Canada Elections Act supersededs your condo rules", and he closed the door rather impolitely. I think there's a fundamental principle of democracy here.
I wanted to ask you this: some of the opposition members in the House are saying we should only be spending our time dealing with crises, whatever they are; do you feel that the right to fly the flag is a crisis for Canadians?
No, I wouldn't say it's a crisis. A crisis to me is facing the storm clouds of economic concerns that we have on the horizon right now. That's something we have to pay close attention to.
This is about personal rights, Canadian rights, and the freedom of people to express their pride in their country. I've served on many boards, and one of the ones I was very proud to serve on was the board of the Canadian Olympic Committee. As a result I've attended many Olympic Games, and at those games you witness the pride Canadians feel in standing up and cheering and waving the flag. It's usually when we're winning, but we're all proud to attend the Olympics or watch them on TV, and nowhere was it more evident than the past winter Olympic games in Vancouver. The streets were lined with Canadian flags. In fact, I feel there was a fundamental shift in this country in the pride Canadians felt at having the Olympics here, winning 14 gold medals, and having the wonderful experience of watching our athletes perform at a high level.
It's not a crisis, but there's enough of it out there, and I have many examples that tell me it should be a concern and is something we need to fix. We need to enshrine it. You know our flag is one of the most powerful symbols of our own identity, and that's something we should be able to express whenever we want, in a respectful way.
Well, I thought I was, Mr. Chair.
My friend did bring up some egregious issues around veterans and the treatment of veterans, and I actually agree with him on this point, so I don't think I was straying at all, but I will try to focus a little more narrowly. I just wanted to bring that up.
You spoke about being on condo boards. I, as well, have been on co-op boards, and other people I know have been on residents' associations in apartment buildings. Essentially they're tasked with making sure that their building complies with municipal codes. Trying to balance the idea that they can't prevent anyone from flying the flag against the responsibilities of their roles on these boards puts a heck of a lot of pressure on what is essentially a volunteer board. How do you balance that out?
Clearly, these boards are made up of volunteers who have the best intentions for the residents they represent. I don't have an axe to grind in that regard. I think they're doing the best they know how, given that they live within municipal constraints, fire regulations of some sort, or whatever the issue might be, and I think they have to observe those.
I'm talking more about how sometimes when these boards get organized, they start to build rules on rules. Then you have turnover on these boards; new blood comes in, new people come along, and they try to improve on the old solutions that were in place earlier. Sometimes they stray off course, and with regard to flying your Canadian flag on your balcony in an appropriate way and meeting all of the jurisdictional requirements within the condominium, I'm saying that with dialogue and with reasonable people and reasonable minds coming together, there has to be a way that we can respect the pride and the desire of Canadians to fly the flag in such an environment.
Right now when you talk to those issues, I think they stray offside. I think they stray beyond their original intent. I think the good intentions get superseded by the desires of others, and I'd like to see that corrected. I also think it's incumbent on us as parliamentarians to express to condo boards and the like that this is important, and that it's the intent of this government to encourage people to exercise that privilege.
One of the problems that we may have here has to do with the standing orders. The standing orders dictate that when you accept a bill on second reading, you accept the principle of the bill itself, and it seems to me that a lot of the bill is weighted toward the penalty phase and toward forcing people not to behave in a certain way. Clause 3 outlines that; it's a big part of the bill.
When you bring a bill back to the House, if the Speaker—not only we, but also the Speaker—finds that you've gone beyond the principle and scope of the bill, he will say that he has to rule these amendments out and that the bill must therefore be put to the House as it currently sits, with the penalty phases in place.
I appreciate what you're doing here, which is to make this more of an aspirational type of legislation, but what happens if the Speaker says that you've gone beyond the principle and scope of the bill and that the penalty phase, or in particular clause 3, must remain in this bill? How would you recommend to proceed at that point?
When I look at this bill right now, I agree that your intent is a good one. However, I look at the penalties as well, because I remember the situation in Newfoundland and Labrador when Danny Williams took down the flag. According to this bill, he would be in a lot of trouble. Now, I wouldn't want to be the one who had to chase down Danny Williams and arrest him, God knows.
As well, if you look at the rules of the House of Commons, you could even put the Speaker there, because we're not allowed to fly the flag outside of our own offices. We went through all of this, I know.
I'm just trying to understand the whole idea of needing a bill that encourages the flying of the Canadian flag, because we encourage people to fly the Canadian flag all the time and everywhere.
We have funds through our federal government to encourage the flying of the flag. We as MPs encourage it in our constituencies, so I'm a little unclear here about what this bill is going to do. Are we not already doing this? Isn't part of the job that we do here to instill pride in our country and facilitate the flying of the flag?
It strikes me that this amendment nullifies the need for this bill in the first place, because we encourage this in all manner of ways. I can't see how this bill is going to change that or how it is going to enhance it. It's already there. We have programs. We have a lot of infrastructure already in place. I need some clarification here.
Individuals in condos, co-ops, and multi-residence buildings are already encouraged to be proud of our country, which undoubtedly just about everyone is. They are encouraged to fly the flag if they can at their residence. If they can, then they will. How does this change anything around the ability of Canadians to fly the flag?
This is very significant for all the reasons Mr. Carmichael stated. It's our hope that the bill will pass unanimously in the House, and if and when the bill passes, it will make a statement--not just to Canadians in general, but to property owners, people who own apartment buildings, people on condominium boards, and owners of multi-residence buildings--that the Government of Canada is encouraging and allowing Canadians to fly the Canadian flag.
Were a dispute ever to end up with any judge at any level, there will be a statement from the Parliament of Canada saying that Parliament encourages and supports flying the flag. That could easily be, and would likely be, a considerably important deciding factor in such a dispute.
It's very important.
It's not a question so much as a response to Mr. Cash.
I don't know his family situation or whether he has children, but we know in life that you often will require positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. That's just the nature of life, all the way through life.
Certainly, as you have well suggested, as MPs we should encourage the proud display of the flag, but sometimes, when people have different ideas, there are also negative reinforcements to be sure that others have permission to do so. I think he would well know and reach into his own experience of life to know that you sometimes require to have positive reinforcement combined with the negative reinforcement to be sure there is follow-through and that what you would prefer to happen is possible.
I am walking on eggshells here, but I cannot seem to grasp the relevance of this bill because in its original form, it talks about preventing forbidding. I am no mathematical genius, but I was always taught that two negatives give a positive. So if we are talking about preventing forbidding, what we are saying is “allowing”.
This bill would allow Canadians to fly the Canadian flag, which they are already allowed to do. In Quebec, we like flags too. We even have them in different colours. We have permission to fly them as well, and everyone does so with no problem.
It seems to me that passing legislation to allow what is already allowed is going overboard. If I put myself in the shoes of a member of the board of directors of a co-op building and I have to handle a situation like that, the only question that I should be asking myself is about what the law says. This bill provides me with no additional answer to that question.
If we want to encourage certain behaviour, it seems to me that that does not belong in the law either. If we want to encourage the behaviour, we have promotional campaigns, awareness campaigns, and we organize events. It seems to me that if we pass a law to encourage behaviour, we are deluding ourselves a little. I would like to have more clarification about this, because it does not seem to be relevant to me.
We come up against this issue around apartment buildings all the time, particularly at election time, when we ask them to put signs up on their apartment balconies and they say they're not allowed to, so I understand the issue here. However, as I read this, I doubt that the flag protocol allows people, if they follow the protocol properly, to hang a flag over their balcony and be in compliance with it.
We're against criminalization, but you're also asking us to vote on an amendment, and no one here can actually say whether this will encourage, help, or solve the problem you initially brought forward, which is that people in apartments and condos who want to hang a flag on their balcony should be able to do so. When I read the flag protocol, to me it's a little up in the air. I think we need to understand what the flag protocol means.
Can you actually tape a flag up? It says here,
Nothing should be pinned to or sewn on the National Flag of Canada.
As well, it says,
The National Flag of Canada should always be flown on its own mast - flag protocol dictating that it is improper to fly two or more flags on the same mast
Then there are a variety of other prescriptions.
In other words, in our attempts to simplify and correct a problem, the problem got more complicated. Do we understand this issue? Do we know what it means? It strikes me that we'd have to actually understand and know what this means before we can vote on it.
In an effort to find a way to make this bill work, I'm going to jump back to what Mr. Simms brought up earlier.
From our point of view, because it was as extreme as it was with the penalty situation, and because that was such a significant part of the bill, we're now looking at striking those elements, which means that clauses 1 and 2 have to conform. I understand that's the process we're going through.
I go back to the question Mr. Simms asked. There seem to be grounds for the Speaker to choose not to accept those amendments, and if the Speaker chooses not to accept them, we will be put in a position of voting on this bill pretty much as is. That is a concern. How do we address it?