Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in favour of Bill S-37 which would allow Canada to move forward to accede to the two protocols to the Hague convention, and by doing so, it would be the first G-8 country to do so. Once again, Canada is leading by example and ensuring Canada's place in the world as one of pride and indeed influence.
The Government of Canada is committed to the protection and promotion of Canada's heritage. We possess a history and a cultural heritage of immeasurable richness, appreciated by all Canadians. In this Year of the Veteran, 60 years after the end of World War II, it is appropriate that Canada join the protocol to the UNESCO convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict known as the 1954 Hague convention.
Canada is already a state party to this convention. Joining its two protocols would result in a comprehensive commitment to prohibiting and preventing destruction, damage, and looting of cultural heritage during conflicts throughout the world. The convention and its protocols are based on the principle that damage to cultural property of any nation diminishes the cultural heritage of all nations. These instruments provide for measures in peace time to ensure protection of cultural property and prevent damage, destruction and pillage of such property in the event of armed conflict.
A wide range of cultural property, both moveable and immovable, is protected under the Hague regime from sites, buildings and monuments to the collections of museums, archives and libraries.
Canada acceded to the convention in 1999 as part of its human security agenda at the international level and as a further step in our long standing commitment to international cooperation and the protection of cultural heritage. The Hague convention was developed in response to damage, destruction, and theft of cultural property during the second world war. Canadian peacekeepers operating abroad know that heritage continues to be at risk during conflict.
We have seen, particularly during the last decade, an increase in non-international conflicts that are often deeply rooted in religious and ethnic hatred. In these and conflicts of all kinds such as those in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, we are seeing an increase in the intentional targeting of cultural heritage.
The importance of the Hague convention is therefore all too evident. In this context, it is vital that Canada clearly affirm our determination to protect cultural heritage from deliberate attack. This brings me to the Hague protocols and Bill S-37.
There are two protocols to the convention. The first protocol was introduced in 1954 and concerns primarily the export of cultural property from occupied territories. The second protocol was developed in 1999 to rectify weaknesses in the convention and to introduce measures to strengthen it, including a range of specific obligations to prosecute those who damage, destroy or loot cultural property in violation of the convention and its protocols.
Canada played an important role in the development of the second protocol. Since its adoption by UNESCO, the government has been working to determine the necessary legislative requirements that would allow our ascension to the two Hague protocols. In fact, several factors have come together to suggest that the time is indeed right to move forward.
First, the loss of cultural heritage during armed conflict has been brought to the forefront of public attention during the recent conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result, the importance and significance of Canada joining the protocols will now be more readily understood and indeed supported by the Canadian public. Further, thanks to the adoption in 2000 of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, almost everything that Canada would need to implement the protocols is already in place in Canadian law.
All that remains is for a number of small amendments to be made to the Criminal Code and the Canadian Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
Bill S-37 would amend the Criminal Code to prohibit acts of theft, robbery, vandalism, arson, fraud and fraudulent concealment against cultural property as defined by the 1954 Hague Convention. It would also provide for the prosecution of Canadians who commit such acts abroad.
Bill S-37 would amend the Canadian Cultural Property Export and Import Act to prohibit Canadians from illegally exporting or removing cultural property from occupied territories. It would amend the act to allow for prosecution of such acts and would establish a mechanism to return such cultural property to its country of origin.
Over the past months Canada was one of the countries that championed the development by UNESCO of a new convention on the protection of the diversity of cultural expressions.
Joining the Hague protocols can only strengthen Canada's overall position with respect to cultural diversity internationally and it would provide a further concrete demonstration of our commitment to UNESCO and its multilateral instruments. As a nation that is committed to support for multiculturalism and promotion of the rule of law, ascension to the protocols would reinforce those Canadian values on the world stage.
Finally, as a leader in the protection and preservation of heritage, Canada's ascension to the Hague protocols would be an important step in our continuing efforts to protect the world's cultural heritage. A vote for Bill S-37 is a vote for the protection of the world's cultural heritage.