Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
It is a pleasure to be here with you to speak on Bill . Thank you all for the unanimous support last week in the House.
Canada is an inclusive nation. We welcome people from all over the world, irrespective of race, religion, colour or creed, such that regardless of where you are from or who you are or what you believe, you'll be treated with respect in Canada. However, we are reminded every time we witness acts of hatred that Canada is not where we want it to be. Acts of hatred based on race, religion, sexual identity, and sexual expression have not subsided; in fact, they have been increasing.
We had certain dark episodes in our country: the Chinese head tax; the internment of Ukrainians, Japanese, and Italian Canadians during the First and Second World Wars; our turning away of boats of Jewish and Punjabi refugees; our own history of slavery; and “No Irish Need Apply”, and “We don't speak French here, so speak white”; and the discrimination faced by Greek and Portuguese Canadians in Toronto and other places. The same rhetoric that led to a “None is Too Many” immigration policy toward Jews in the thirties and forties is being used to raise fear against Muslims today.
There has been discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for a very long time. The Criminal Code once described gay men as “criminal sexual psychopaths” and “dangerous sexual offenders”. In the sixties we deployed the RCMP to investigate suspected homosexuals. This discrimination still exists in parts of Canadian society today.
While Bill will not solve every issue related to racism or discrimination, it will take an important small step in protecting the most vulnerable. There is hope, Mr. Chair. As Dr. Martin Luther King Junior said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. Moreover, our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said, “For all our instructive moments of failure, the arc of Canadian history bends towards inclusion, towards liberty”.
Bill seeks to amend a subsection of the Criminal Code that deals with damage to property due to crime motivated by “hate based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin”. This bill proposes to expand this to include motivation by hate based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Also, currently the subsection is limited to places of worship, like churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and cemeteries. The proposed Bill C-305 seeks to expand this to include schools, day care centres, colleges or universities, community centres, seniors' residences, and cultural centres.
Under this criminal subsection, if a person is found guilty of an indictable offence, the prison term is up to 10 years. If a person is found guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction, the present term is up to 18 months. A few months back we had a series of hate crimes in Ottawa. Then, several religious leaders stated that to eliminate and eradicate these acts of hatred from our society, education and compassion were more important than the law and the consequent punishment. However, while I agree that education is the best long-term solution, I also believe that a strong law acts as a major deterrent. We have, as a society, combatted social issues like smoking and seatbelts through an effective combination of law and education.
At this point I would like to quote Dr. Martin Luther King on the interaction between positive law, morality, and culture. He said:
|| It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me.... It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless....
So, while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men, and when you change the habits of men, pretty soon their attitudes and hearts will be changed. Hence, there is a need for strong legislation to grapple constantly with the problems we face. It is very important that we have strong and robust laws for hate crimes. Again, I agree that education is important, but I am equally confident that good law is also required.
Bill takes a strong step to making our neighbourhoods and communities safer places to live. Think of the strong message we will be sending to all Canadians that it will not just be a select group of people, but all of the people of Canada, who can feel safer knowing that this Parliament has taken concrete and strong measures to protect them.
There are some alarming statistics I would like to share with you today. As per a Statistics Canada report released in 2015, 51% of the police-reported hate crimes were motivated by hatred of race or ethnicity, 28% were motivated by religion, and 16% by sexual orientation. It is easy to forget that hate-based mischief does not only affect the targeted group or individuals, but also the community as a whole.
There was a recent study by the Department of Justice on understanding the community impact of hate crimes. It stated, “The commission of a hate crime is against not only the individual but the entire community.” It quoted David Matas that, “People live in community. Rights are exercised in community.” It further stated:
||With victims of hate crime, it is important to consider that the impact on the community is particularly devastating, as hate crimes are “message crimes in that the perpetrator is sending a message to the members of a certain group that they are despised, devalued, or unwelcome in a particular neighbourhood, community, school, or workplace”....
The data also showed that after a hate crime incident, many people experience increased levels of fear for their personal safety and the safety of their family. As a result, many community members took measures to protect themselves and their families, especially members of the targeted ethnic identity community.
We need to take appropriate measures to ensure that our neighbourhoods are safe places to live, that every Canadian has the right to feel safe, to live their life in the absence of fear or threat. Let us remember that Canada is a nation strengthened by its multiculturalism and shared values of openness, compassion, and equality, so that people are not subject to hate and discrimination, but feel welcome. This bill may not solve every issue, but it can attempt to bring solace to those targeted by hate crimes.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. It is up to you to decide what to do next. I expect some friendly amendments and also some resistance from the government. You're all well qualified, and I'm happy that this bill is in your good hands.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much. You're expecting some resistance from the government? Did you want to elaborate?
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Rob Nicholson: It's usually the opposition parties, I would have guessed, but not lately. Fair enough.
I want to tell you how pleased I am to see that you include in your list, religious properties, educational institutes, community facilities, and seniors' residences. This is very good because hate crimes don't necessarily have to be directed at a mosque or a temple or a church or a synagogue. They are not the only places where religious activity is encouraged. So I think that is a great step forward here and I very much appreciate it.
The question I want to ask you relates to this. The former parliamentary secretary said that the bill could potentially capture numerous unintended buildings and spaces. What is your response to that?
First of all, I'd like to say that I sit on the industry committee with Mr. Chandra Arya, and he's always looking to make sure that we take into account diversity, ethnic questions, culture, and gender, so that when we're drafting our laws there, or whatever, we take those into account. I also know and have seen personally in the greater Ottawa area that many minority communities hold him in high respect. I'd like to underline that.
I'm not a lawyer, but when I look at this, I understand that you're trying to expand the definition of a building. Why do we have to have a building? For example, in my riding, there's the West Island Black Community Association. I know that it says here that we're trying to protect against mischief motivated by race. That association I mention is for a race, the black community. If someone were to go there and do hate crimes on that building, they would not be subject to this, nor would your amendments make them subject to it—or would they?
I have a few questions, if it's okay with the committee, just to clarify your intent, Mr. Arya.
First of all, thank you for an excellent effort at drafting a bill that really goes to a commendable purpose.
My understanding right now is that you're looking at all of the things that we will eventually have in subsection 4.1. You took the current list and you added a few. You're open to this committee's looking at other documents and broadening it or changing the scope, but there will be, let's say, protected classes.
What you are saying is that, irrespective of the type of public building, where there is an act of mischief motivated by hatred or dislike of that protected class, it's covered. At the city hall, if there's a swastika, it would be considered an act of mischief or hate because it's a public building.
Let me just ask a few questions. I read Mr. Casey's comments. He was the parliamentary secretary at the time, and he was suggesting that this be restricted to religious buildings. He said it's okay if it's now a church, synagogue, mosque, mandir, or whatever, and also if it's a community centre owned by one of those communities or leased by one of those communities, but if it were, for example, a community centre leased by the black community or the gay community, it wouldn't be protected.
Was that your intent, or is that totally opposite to your intent?
I understand. It may be that we need to say it's owned, leased, occupied by, or something like that, but I do understand.
Let me also understand the purpose. For example, I think in perhaps the original intention of the law many years ago, this section putting in property was first adopted in 2001. You talk about a crime against the community, and I understand that. I think perhaps there was a feeling that if, for example, you defaced a church and it was because of a bias against that religious congregation, that would affect that congregation more than if you wrote that same symbol at city hall. I understand what you're saying, absolutely, but did you perhaps consider that it should be limited to buildings that are actually...?
I understand and agree with what my colleague said, that if a church leased space in a shopping centre, it should be covered too, because even though the main building is not a church, the church is still in the shopping centre, and everybody knows where the church is. Would you understand if it were somehow limited to only being locations where the crime was against that community, because it was that community that occupied the space?
To pick up on some of the other lines of questions from other members, you very clearly indicated, and I fully support, a closing of the loophole in the Criminal Code when it comes to targeting certain types of religious property, whether it be houses of worship, a religious community centre, or a religious school. I support that objective. It makes sense in terms of the purpose of this section, which is mischief in relation to religious property. However, are we not really creating another inconsistency here, based upon the wording of your bill?
Mr. Casey, in his submission to the House, made reference to a coffee shop, that it might include a coffee shop. Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't. Suppose it doesn't fit into the language of your bill, and suppose you commit an act of hate directed towards a specific group at a synagogue. Under this you'd be subject to 10 years of imprisonment. If it were at a school, it would be up to potentially 10 years imprisonment. But perhaps if you did the very same thing at a coffee shop, you would be subject to two years. Is that not creating another inconsistency?
Finally, if the objective of the bill is simply to condemn acts of hate directed at groups writ large, then what do you say about section 718.1 of the Criminal Code, which would constitute an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing? Does that not have a deleterious impact on section 718.1?