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Tory MP's bill gets tough with war-memorial vandals

The National War Memorial in Ottawa was vandalized in 2006.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A Conservative MP wants to fine or even jail anyone who defaces a war memorial.

For David Tilson, who represents the Toronto-area riding of Dufferin–Caledon, the cenotaphs and war memorials across the country that honour the men and women who fought and died for Canada are sacred ground.

And he was livid after the cenotaph is his Orangeville, Ont. community was defaced – covered in eggs – just before Remembrance Day in 2008.

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That got him thinking and doing some research. The result is a private member's bill calling for anyone found guilty of defacing or vandalizing a war memorial to be fined $1,000 or on a subsequent offence be locked up in jail for no less than 14 days – and not less than 30 days if the behaviour continues.

Right now, this kind of defacement is met with an ordinary mischief charge. In most cases, the vandal is sentenced to community service.

"In my view this is sacred ground," Mr. Tilson told The Globe. "These are people who are not just people who lost their lives in different conflicts but people who have returned who have been psychologically damaged or been maimed, people who have given up their lives for our freedom. That to me is more than just a mischief charge."

Mr. Tilson tried to introduce a similar bill in the last Parliament but was not successful. This time around, however, he says he "lucked out." His bill was picked early in this new Parliament and then it was scheduled for debate last Thursday just before the House rose for its Remembrance Day break week.

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

He says his bill delivers a clear message: "The vandalism and desecration of any Canadian cenotaph or war memorial will not be tolerated."

Over the weekend, a war memorial at a Toronto high school that had recently been restored was vandalized by students. There have been numerous other cases. Mr. Tilson, who has a binder full of such incidents, noted that "people get funny. ... I don't know who they are, young kids or young adults, get funny around Remembrance Day."

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There was also an infamous incident on Canada Day in 2006 when a young man from Montreal urinated on the National War Memorial. He was sentenced to 50 hours of community service at a veterans home.

But the opposition isn't completely on side with Mr. Tilson's crackdown. In the debate last week, NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer questioned the proposition in the bill that "we incarcerate them immediately." He suggested educating the vandals and having them speak with veterans would be "more cost-effective and humane."

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a human rights expert and former law professor, argued, too, that community service and education programs would be more appropriate than "to institute a mandatory minimum."

"I support the need for an initiative to have a specific law protective of war memorials to express the condemnation of society of those who deface those monuments and memorials that are dedicated to our veterans, to our soldiers, and to the victims of mass atrocities, both domestic and international," Mr. Cotler told the Commons. "But I caution as to the use of a mandatory minimum with respect to a remedial approach regarding this offence."

The bill is expected to go to committee in the next few weeks. Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney issued a news release this week expressing the government's support for Mr. Tilson's bill – and with that kind of support it is likely the MP's bill will become law.

NDP 'treading water'

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A veteran New Democrat is worried the length of the leadership race, as well as the number of candidates, is harming his party as it grows into its new-found Official Opposition status.

Winnipeg MP Pat Martin talked about the obstacles the leadership race is creating with The Hill Times. "It's agonizing and it's getting very difficult to hold our own as the Official Opposition without a leader. We're managing, but we're treading water."

His comments follow a number of attacks from Stephen Harper's Conservatives on the candidates hoping to succeed the late Jack Layton as well as recent polling numbers than show Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel has slipped behind Interim Liberal chief Bob Rae in terms of competence and her vision for Canada.

Last week, The Globe reported on the NDP's thinning front bench. The leader's chief of staff, Anne McGrath, acknowledged it was a challenge but said it shows the depth of the party.

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