Hon. Sarmite Bulte (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women and Minister responsible for Industry (Women Entrepreneurs), Lib.)
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.
Mr. Speaker, it is important to understand that we have not taken that long at all. It was in 1999 with the second protocol that we were able to improve upon the first protocol. As I said during my discourse in the House, Canada was a leader in ensuring that it was done correctly.
Second, what is very important about the amendments that were being made to this legislation before is that we did not have in place the ability to prosecute Canadians who went to other countries, vandalized property or exported goods from there. Let us say that someone coming from Afghanistan who stops in London to drop off the cultural property and then goes back to Canada. We now have the ability to actually prosecute Canadians abroad for their intentional destruction of cultural property.
In terms of multilateral agreements, such as the agreement on cultural diversity, which was championed by the minister in Quebec's National Assembly, along with our Minister of Canadian Heritage, we moved very quickly from that in 1999. With Canada now being at the lead, just this year we were able to pass that convention at UNESCO.
I do not think it is fair to look at it as the exact date of 1954. In fact, it was not until 1999 when the second protocol strengthened the original protocol with the amendments that were made to the Criminal Code and putting in place a law to allow that to happen. We have actually moved quite quickly.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-37, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
This is very important legislation, not only for Canadians but for Canada as part of a global community that believes in the protection of culture and heritage. It asserts Canada's position as a forerunner of multilateralism and a proponent of peace and civility. The bill would allow Canada to fulfil its obligations under the two protocols of the Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.
Born in the wake of the second world war, the Hague Convention serves as a reminder of the widespread destruction that was done to cultural properties during the two world wars. Much of that destruction was meant to wipe out the cultural heritage of certain groups and we as Canadians must be part of an effort to prevent the continuation of these acts of destruction and theft.
Since the middle of the last century, the Hague Convention has been applied to the 1967 Middle East conflict and to conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia and Iraq according to the UNESCO, but it could also apply in other cases.
In 2001, the Taliban, Afghanistan's ruling party, destroyed two giant Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley in its quest to wipe out all signs of pre-Islamic culture in that country. This was an act of brutality by a regime that has time and again proven its disregard for culture. The president of the World Monuments Fund has termed this an act of cultural terrorism.
The list goes on. During the Kosovo conflict it has been reported that archives were destroyed.
During the Iraq wars many ancient sites in the so-called cradle of civilization were badly damaged and looting has been documented. In Eritrea, the historic town of Massawa on the Red Sea sustained a great deal of damage during the war of independence with Ethiopia in 1991.
The destruction of cultural property is a common and widespread tactic during times of conflict used by aggressors to oppress and tyrannize by erasing the cultural heritage of a population, often a minority group.
Canada cannot stand by and allow these tactics to be used again. We must stand side by side with the international community in stamping out the theft and destruction of cultural property, the very pillar of a civilization.
This legislation allows states, in which arson or theft of cultural property have occurred, to have recourse against citizens or Canadian permanent residents and stateless individuals habitually residing in Canada who have perpetrated acts against cultural properties. For example, if a Canadian citizen commits an act of arson against cultural property in a certain state, that state will have recourse against the individual in a Canadian court under the Hague Convention.
I am certain that this legislation will garner the whole-hearted support of all my colleagues. This will facilitate the task of holding the perpetrators to account as it will be done in their countries of residence. It is an avenue to promote justice and lawfulness on an international scale, something with which we all agree very strongly given the turbulence that faces the international community today.
Any steps that Canada can take to bolster the rule of law on an international scale should be taken. It would strengthen our position internationally and allow us to continue our role as a global leader, leading by example. The convention defines cultural property broadly to include immovable and movable items of artistic, historic, scientific or other cultural value. This includes cultural objects, monuments, collections and the premises housing them, sites and archeological zones.
The definition of cultural property given by the convention has been repeated in the legislation tabled before the House. It is very important that the definition we give to cultural properties encompasses a broad range of items so that we can ensure maximum protection of the world's global heritage.
The protocols would also allow for the recovery of cultural property that was illegal exported from a state. This is an equally important provision. If that property ends up in Canada, the state from which it was legally removed will have recourse under the new legislation to recover it through the Canadian judicial system after all interested parties have been heard.
The legislation would allow Canada to play an essential role in returning stolen cultural property to its rightful owners. It would also guarantee that the cultural heritage of other countries is preserved for future generations to learn about and enjoy. As peacekeepers of the world, is this not the role that Canada has chosen to take on an international platform?
This is not to say that the cultural property would be taken away from a Canadian who has unknowingly purchased or acquired cultural property that has been stolen. The legislation provides that a judge may grant compensation to the purchaser of an item so long as they acted in good faith.
I think it is important to repeat that Canada must lead by way of example in the stamping out of illegal activities on an international scale. We have always been the initiators of such multilateral conventions and this is the time to continue that tradition for the sake of our global cultural heritage.
Finally, though not least important, the Hague Convention and its protocols allow Canada to benefit from the reciprocal recourse through other signatory state judicial systems in the event of a conflict on Canadian soil. That means that citizens, permanent residents and stateless individuals residing in a signatory state can be pursued through the state's courts and that Canadian cultural property can be repatriated.
The bill clearly enhances the wartime protection of cultural property in foreign countries and would give Canada another opportunity to demonstrate its respect for global cultural heritage as much as it respects and values its own cultural heritage and properties. It would allow Canada to maintain its position as a forerunner on the importance of multilateralism, creating increasingly strong ties with our global neighbours.
As we can all appreciate, cultural properties and cultural artifacts are of value to the citizens of every country and can never be replaced. We have a responsibility as a member of the global community to help every country protect its cultural properties and its artifacts. Therefore I ask the House to support the bill.
Hon. Sarmite Bulte (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women and Minister responsible for Industry (Women Entrepreneurs), Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague, the critic for the official opposition, for her support on the bill in committee. It gives me an opportunity to say that one of the wonderful things about sitting on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is that we really look at how important heritage is to Canadians and internationally and that many times we are able to put our partisanship aside and concentrate on those things that are important to Canadians, heritage being one of them.
The hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île asked a very good question today. It was one of the questions that was raised at committee as to why it had taken us so long because it was 1954. It was an important question to discuss.
The heritage critic of the official opposition also raised a number of questions during committee, which I think would be important to share with colleagues and perhaps the Canadian public. One of the questions she asked had to do with the effect the legislation would have on the military.
Canadians and members of the House should also know that another question raised at committee concerned whether or not the legislation would somehow affect the Elgin marbles and whether retroactivity would be involved. It is important to look at that.
The committee also talked about the terrible image, which we will all remember, of the Buddhas being destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Perhaps the hon. member could share some of the answers and some of the discussions we had at committee.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for this opportunity to expand on the discussion that occurred at the heritage committee.
We all agree that this is a very important piece of legislation that has to be passed. Consequently, I wanted to make sure that we had thoroughly explored all aspects of it.
I know that within the military there are obligations regarding cultural properties that already exist and therefore, I asked for clarification on how this bill would work with those existing obligations. We were told that this bill not only complements what the military has as an obligation, but it enhances the obligation of the military and of all Canadian citizens and the Canadian judicial system. That makes very good sense because we are not replacing one with the other. In fact, we are strengthening our obligations to the international community.
I was assured by the department and the people who have studied this piece of legislation thoroughly that the retroactivity would not necessarily apply. We all have heard stories about past conflicts where cultural objects have been seen under certain circumstances as trophies to bring home if people were able to access such objects from another country during times of conflict.
I suggest in the terms of this legislation that would be an acquisition in good faith and there would be no retroactivity for those properties.
When we look at this bill and the conflicts that are happening in various countries and states that have a rich tradition of cultural heritage, I think it will help the world enhance the protection going forward.
My party has no problem with this bill and is pleased to support it.
Mr. Speaker, I asked the hon. member a question earlier as to why it took Canada so long to adopt, sign and ratify the 1954 convention and protocols.
I asked this question because I was looking at the conventions and protocols a few weeks ago when we started talking about them. I noticed that Canada was missing from the May 14, 1954 convention until December 11, 1998, unlike countless other developing countries and European countries. Great Britain is missing from it. I know why.
The veil may have just been slightly lifted on the reasons why Canada did not ratify the convention sooner, but later I will ask my colleague to elaborate on why it took Canada so long to do so.
Canada, which says it took a leadership role in improving the protocol, had not taken adequate measures for signing it even though it was drafted in 1954, following World War II. I am not on the committee and have not done any in-depth research on the matter, so I would simply like to know why. This is the quite the opposite of taking a leadership role.
For the benefit of those who are listening to us, I want to talk about the significance of Bill S-37. This bill amends the Criminal Code and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act to allow Canada to fully implement the protocols and the convention that have been in effect since 1954 and 1999 respectively.
In its most recent version, this convention is a critical tool to protect the world's cultural heritage, which is constantly threatened by destruction or looting during armed conflicts.
The 1954 convention was established based on the problems experienced during the second world war, but since then other types of conflicts have developed and proliferated, either between countries, or internally between various groups representing different cultures. This is why, in some cases, the destruction and looting of cultural property was dramatic, as we saw in the Balkans, during the nineties.
The proposed legislation will allow the government to prosecute any Canadian who steals cultural property of great importance abroad, or who is responsible for its destruction.
The bill also provides a recovery process for cultural property that is illegally exported.
In so doing, this legislation is consistent with the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, under which individuals who committed crimes during an armed conflict can be prosecuted.
Incidentally, the Bloc Québécois strongly supported that legislation, back in 2000. But I want to go back to my finding. While it is true that Canada was a leader in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, it remains a mystery to me why Canada has really been dragging its feet when it comes to amending Canadian laws, so that these protocols can be signed and ratified.
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to prohibit, in particular, robbery, mischief and arson against cultural property protected under the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The bill allows for the prosecution of such offences when committed outside Canada by Canadians. It also amends the Cultural Property Export and Import Act to prohibit Canadians from illegally exporting or otherwise removing protected cultural property from an occupied territory. Finally, the bill allows for the prosecution of such offences when committed outside Canada by Canadians and provides a mechanism for the restitution of cultural property.
In fact, there is a lot we could say about this unfortunate practice or tradition, which goes back to ancient times, of destroying or stealing cultural property by countries that took them supposedly to better ensure their protection. I have already spoken in the House on a bill to help Greece recover treasures that the British decided they were better able to protect. Clearly, the world's cultural heritage is threatened by wars and the multiplication and refinement of extremely destructive long-range and remote weapons. This was the case after the second world war—and that is why a convention was drafted. But this is also true since the definition of the new types of threats resulting from the significant increase in non-international conflicts.
I understand that, with regard to such non-international conflicts, it is essential for the countries whose nationals commit cultural property crimes to take action. I understand that the international community will increasingly demand this with regard to all types of crime committed abroad. This is desirable in many areas, including the misuse of water in Africa by mining companies that leave behind a trail of environmental destruction, when they have finished mining activities.
We remember what happened in the old city of Dubrovnik, during the Bosnian war, or rather the Balkan war, and the destruction of the Mostar bridge, churches, synagogues and mosques. These are not only exceptional world heritage cultural property sites, but they are closely linked to the cultural roots of a number of peoples.
So awareness of this new kind of war has led to changes in the Hague convention of 1954. Consequently, a second and stricter protocol, as my colleague said, was created in 1999.
The second protocol creates a new series of measures, including an intergovernmental committee for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, a fund to assist the states parties in implementing the protocol, and a new and stronger system for the protection of cultural property. As well, it makes some clarifications and sets out precise obligations as far as legal proceedings in the event of violations of the convention and its protocols are concerned.
The purpose of the bill we have before us is to modify the way Canada fulfills certain of its obligations under the convention and its protocols. A state party is, for example, required to adopt the following protective measures: forbid, prevent and put an end to any act of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, or acts of vandalism directed against cultural property protected under the convention; take any necessary penal or disciplinary measure against anyone who has committed or conspired to commit an offence under the convention; implement the penal provisions of chapter 4 and the second protocol; prevent any illicit export, other removal or transfer of ownership of cultural property; on cessation of hostilities, restore to the authorities of the country of origin the exported cultural property.
One may well wonder how any state party is going to be able to implement this protocol even with the act in place. For it to be implemented, embassies and consulates just about everywhere will have to be given more means. The armed forces will need to have clear directives. As well, those going into countries where there is armed conflict or war and who might want to bring home some souvenir to put on their own bookshelf or give to friends or grandchildren will need to be made aware of this.
This protocol is a long time coming, but we must pay tribute to the spirit and the law which will make it possible for Canada to ensure compliance by its citizens.
One of the main means for its application is, of course, clause 1 of the bill, which amends the definition of Attorney General in order to enable proceedings to be undertaken.
The definition of the offences is also important. I will read clause 2.01.
Despite anything in this Act or any other Act, a person who commits an act or omission outside Canada that if committed in Canada would constitute an offence under section 322, 341, 344, 380, 430 or 434 in relation to cultural property as defined in Article 1 of the Convention, or a conspiracy or an attempt to commit such an offence, or being an accessory after the fact or counselling in relation to such an offence, is deemed to have committed that act or omission in Canada if the person
(a) is a Canadian citizen;
(b) is not a citizen of any state and ordinarily resides in Canada; or
(c) is a permanent resident within the meaning of subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and is, after the commission of the act or omission, present in Canada.
This is a powerful clause, but it is demanding at the same time.
Clause 3 of the bill provides that everyone who commits mischief in relation to cultural property is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
Clause 4 adds a section to the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, entitled “Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Protocols”. It states that it is prohibited to export or remove cultural property from an occupied territory of a State party to the second protocol. It also describes action for the recovery of the cultural property, and the court may make an order in that regard.
Canada has more obligations, however. The convention and its two protocols do entail a number of obligations which are not set out in the bill, which only focusses on the criminal aspects of the protection of cultural property. Given that the government is likely not to consult Parliament before signing the protocol, consideration of this bill is the only opportunity afforded parliamentarians to examine Canada's preparedness to fulfil its obligations. Ultimately, we know that, for historical reasons, our time is short.
I will provide an example of the obligations that Canada agrees to honour, which are not set out in the bills. Here then is one of the obligations the contracting parties must honour. They shall, for example, undertake to prepare for the safeguarding of cultural property situated within their own territory by taking inventories, planning emergency measures against the risk of fire or building collapse, preparing for the removal of moveable or immovable property, proper protection of it and the designation of competent authorities responsible for its safeguard. What has the government done in this regard?
Here is another obligation. In time of war, the contracting parties shall protect cultural property located in occupied territory, and, insofar as possible, take the measures needed to preserve it.
The Canadian armed forces are regularly required to operate in areas where there is a risk of pillage or destruction of cultural property. These duties require, therefore, that significant measures be taken to make the military familiar with the convention. More money will of course be required and, more importantly, the military will have to be accountable as will all persons entering these areas, given the obligation not only to prevent and remedy but to foresee as well.
So, this is an important moment. This Parliament is finally agreeing to acquire the means to comply with this second strengthened protocol to safeguard world cultural heritage threatened, not only by the environment, which is another dimension, but by wars and the various conflicts occurring in the world and some parties more than others. We might consider the example of Africa, whose cultural treasures were pillaged and not only during a time of conflict. Other continents besides Africa have also been pillaged, of course.
At the moment, we are concentrating on the huge damage caused by war and conflict, and we want to prevent it from recurring.
Hon. Larry Bagnell (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, Lib.)
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her support for the bill.
I want to comment on the several reasons we had not signed earlier.
During the cold war we were not sure that eastern bloc countries in particular would live up to the terms and the spirit of such an agreement. In fact, they might have used it to inhibit our work and that of our other allies, the United States and the U.K., in times of conflict. They could have hidden behind the convention with respect to historic buildings.
As well, the second protocol was a very complicated legal format. We had check it with a number of existing laws, such as the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act and the National Defence Act, which cover a number of the provisions. We had to make sure that we had the acts and legislation in place so that we could sign it. This is always the way that Canada enters into these international agreements.
It is not that we have not shown leadership. There have been other conventions and international agreements to protect heritage to which we have been a party. We are part of the Geneva Convention of 1949 and its protocol 1, which prohibits the international targeting of cultural property and its use in the support of military operations. Also, in terms of engagement for our military, there has always been very strong leadership and an understanding in their training that they cannot target cultural properties.
I hope that adds a bit more comfort to the member as to the evolution of Canada's support in an orderly fashion to these protocols.
Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his attempt at a justification. I understand that he is uncomfortable as well. If, like me, he has consulted the conventions, namely the Protocol for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, dated May 14, 1954, he will have noticed that Canada is not mentioned at all. There are three pages in the protocol listing the main European countries and the developing countries.
I used to be a history teacher. If I had the time, I would try to find out why Canada did not do what was legally necessary to ratify this protocol. I still have not gotten an answer and I would really like to. Perhaps my opposition colleagues have an answer.
Madam Speaker, I must say that, as usual, my colleague gave a very enlightening presentation. Not only was she once a history teacher, but she is now our resident historian.
In this context, I would like to expand the debate we are having on this protocol. She mentioned, and rightly so, that Canada dragged its feet. However, this is not the only area where Canada drags its feet. Look at the International Labour Organization conventions. The hon. member is well aware of what I am talking about since she was the vice-president of the Confederation of National Trade Unions.
Globally, despite what the Liberal government and the Minister of Foreign Affairs might say, Canada is far from being a leader. I would like the hon. member to elaborate on how the situation has changed. For instance, under the leadership of Mr. Pearson, Canada managed to achieve some renown, but now we are known as a country that is not even of moderate importance on the international scene.
Madam Speaker, my colleague thinks highly of me, but I cannot give him a specific answer. I can only share his observation.
I remember an individual who was once our colleague and whom I can now name: John Manley. At times, he had a very abrupt way of speaking. Quite rightly, he said that Canada's international reputation was based on its past efforts and that, now, it was nothing more than a pale reflection of what it once was.
In fact, the regret that many people have about Canada's former role as a leader can be heard not in official speeches but rather in numerous discussions behind the scenes. Just recently, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was talking forcefully about reforming the United Nations. International aid is an important issue. Kofi Annan has called on all nations to contribute 0.7% of GDP by 2015 in order to effectively fight poverty. Canada wanted to tell people how to reform the United Nations, but it has failed to make this commitment.
I want to thank my colleague for giving me the opportunity to repeat that fact.
Hon. Sarmite Bulte (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women and Minister responsible for Industry (Women Entrepreneurs), Lib.)
Madam Speaker, let me begin by thanking the member for her party's support on this legislation. I certainly have tremendous respect for the member opposite in her role as the foreign affairs critic for her party.
During her speech, the member noted that the U.K. has not signed this protocol. If we looked at the list, we would find that no other G-8 country has signed this protocol. Perhaps I could ask the member to look at that.
The member mentioned that we had passed the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act in 2002. It is important that members realize it was that piece of legislation that allowed us to put in place the legal framework to prosecute Canadians for committing acts outside our jurisdiction. To be fair, it is important to note that one of the reasons we could not sign this convention in 1954 was that we did not have the legal framework in place.
The U.K. has not signed the protocol, nor has the United States. I ask the member in her capacity as the foreign affairs critic for her party, does her party feel that because the U.S. has not signed the protocol, it will affect our relations with the United States? I would like her perception of the U.S. not signing this convention.
Madam Speaker, I will, however, tell my colleague that France, Italy and Russia have signed it.
Here too, history is telling. The United States and Great Britain have not signed it, but I cannot understand why Canada failed to signed. No matter whether we refer to the Pearson years or the Trudeau years, Canada made a point of adopting its own foreign policy, and took significant risks. Why did Canada not sign, even if the United States and Great Britain did not? As I said, France and Italy did sign. There is no real reason. This Parliament, in any case, does not seem to know why, nor does my colleague opposite. We will ask the academics to enlighten us on this count.
One thing, however, is clear. Nothing explains Canada's failure to give a firm commitment to contribute 0.7% of GDP by 2015, to fight poverty and reach the millennium goals. No doubt, the member will agree with me on this.
Madam Speaker, it is a great honour for me to speak to Bill S-37, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
Today's discussion is very profound in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves internationally. What comes out of today's debate has to be the springboard to a larger discussion about how we are actually going to move forward as a country to ensure that what we bring forward in the House is implemented on an international scale.
We are discussing two issues in terms of the Hague protocol. One is the older issue of looting and war. Looting has been an intricate part of war since time immemorial. Many empires were built on the art brought back from war. This goes from Alexander's time on. Members know the old expression “to the victor goes the spoils”. We have to put this in the context of modern looting which is much more deliberate and has to be looked at in terms of the breakdown of international order.
The other issue we are discussing today is the destruction of cultural identity and the planned and deliberate cultural destruction of memory. When we are talking about heritage and describing specific sites, we are talking about the repositories of a community or a social group's living memory. It is a very profound thing. To deliberately target and try to erase that memory has profound implications both politically and socially.
We are very much aware in the 20th century of the targeting of memory in order to control history and the future. This was very much a part of what the Nazis and the Communists did. Orwell wrote about the erasing of memory, the erasing of what happened and replacing it with fictitious facts. He talked about this in the context of Spain where the Communists and the Fascists first faced off against each other.
Orwell said that he who controls history controls the truth. We are now talking about something profoundly different. When we move from the battle of political ideologies or the battle between political nations toward the battle between cultural groups, the issue of erasing becomes much more important. It is not a matter of the old example of the May Day parade and who was cut out of the picture and erased from the Soviet general's staff never to be mentioned again. We are talking about removing the on the ground facts of an entire way of being. For example, in Dubrovnik a bridge that was built in the 1500s to represent the power of a civilization was deliberately targeted. That says to those people that they were never here. It says that they had no right to be here. It says that they have no claim on the land now. That is a very profound thing.
We talk about memory and identity. I would like to place this in context. Memory and identity are fundamental to the ability of a people to partake culturally and politically in their space in the world.
Neil Postman wrote in terms of our own culture that in the digital age of 24/7 television, we had basically lost our ability to look to cultural references or to look to history to have a context. He said that it is not that we refuse to remember; rather we are being rendered unfit to remember. For memory to have any value, it needs a context or a metaphor.
In cultures where their sense of memory is based on a building, a church, a synagogue, or a museum, where people can say that is the living repository of their memory, for another nation, another ethnic group or a banded army to deliberately attack and destroy that is not just an attack on that community but it is an attack on the fundamentals of human civilization. What we have seen since the second world war is a major transformation in how these wars are fought.
There was deliberate destruction of certain ethnic identities during the second world war, but on the whole, it was basically wholesale looting. What we have seen in the latter half of the 20th century and definitely going into the 21st century is deliberate destruction. The whole notion of ethnic cleansing is not simply to remove people from a village, but their well water is destroyed or poisoned, and their land is seeded with explosives so that they cannot return. Where there was a living community, a wasteland is created. Part of that process is the destruction of the libraries, the destruction of the churches, the mosques and the synagogues. Yes, we do need a law which says that these are crimes against humanity, that these are crimes that cannot stand. We should have the power as a nation to go after the perpetrators of these crimes.
In the modern age, the question we have to ask ourselves, and my one question with the bill is where are the teeth behind it? When we look at the nations and the bandit states that are perpetrating these atrocities, by the time we get down to the fact that they are destroying Buddhist temples that are a thousand years old or cultural artifacts, they have already committed so many crimes that we tend not to even place the cultural destruction on the level where it needs to be. That has to change. The destruction of cultural identity has to be a number one priority in dealing with the modern bandit states.
Another question I would like to raise, and this is where it becomes more germane to our own communities in Canada, is how are we dealing with international looting of cultural artifacts that have been obtained in war? This is a very profound issue because it puts us on a direct collision course with our two traditional allies. The two countries that will not sign on, the United States and the United Kingdom, are now overseeing the complete running of a country that was mercilessly looted.
If we are talking about cultural crimes in the last generation, the fact is that under shock and awe, the entire library, the historic memory of Iraq was allowed to be looted and destroyed while the U.S. army stood by. The U.S. army was securing the oil buildings, but it allowed the destruction of the Iraqi museum. We are not just talking about one museum. We are talking about the cradle of civilization, the original land of Ur, the land where writing first began, the land in the Mesopotamian Valley where the first seeds were sown and the agricultural economy was built up.
We read the stories, many of them written by Canadian journalists who were there at the time of the looting to see fragments of ancient artifacts spilled all over the ground. Artifacts that are irreplaceable, artifacts that no other civilization has managed to collect were basically thrown out on the streets while the U.S. army stood there and did nothing. We are talking about the destruction not just of Iraq's memory, but of our entire cultural memory going back to the beginning of civilization. That is a crime. It is a war crime.
We are also talking about the fact that only two nations, the United States and the U.K., are basically treating Iraq as their own personal fiefdom. There is no international body there to oversee, so what are we to expect? We are to expect that their soldiers, their officials can be part of this massive large scale looting of a cultural identity. Where do we stand up in terms of going after these people?
The hon. member from the Conservative Party said that we have to be careful about people who buy products in good faith. There is a black market for the illegal selling of historic artifacts. Buyers know what these artifacts are. They know their value and they know how to get them. In the same way we talk about blood diamonds, we are talking about blood artifacts, artifacts stolen from a culture and which are being sold on the international market and no one has the ability to intercede to protect these artifacts. We need some clear laws in place to go after those people. We should be able to go after them mercilessly.
The other issue that has to be raised in terms of the decisions that our southern neighbours are taking now toward unilateral invasions of other countries is that we need people on the ground to assess the cultural properties when these invasions occur or soon after the invasions occur to make sure that there is not a black market infrastructure that grows and sells these products to European, American or Canadian buyers. Once these products are stolen, once these collections are destroyed, there is no rebuilding of them.
The New Democratic Party will support Bill S-37. However, we would like to state that we need to take this bill seriously enough that we are actually going to put some teeth and some money behind it, so that our international presence is seen as protecting cultural identities. We have to ensure that the ongoing theft of artifacts from all over the world, including Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq does not continue.