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Bill C-305: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief) - Second Reading

Honourable senators, I rise to speak as critic to Bill C-305, An Act to amend the Criminal Code as it pertains to mischief against places of religion.

Bill C-305 extends the definition of mischief relating to religious property to include property that is used for educational, cultural or residence for seniors by an identifiable group. This means that perpetrators of mischief against a religious centre or educational institution would face the same 10-year maximum penalty as they would if it was committed against a synagogue, mosque or church.

Senators may recall that only a few weeks ago I put on the record here the results of the disturbing 2015-16 B'nai Brith report on anti-Semitism. The audit found that 2016 was a record year for anti-Semitism, with a 16 per cent increase in incidents of vandalism alone.

It is for this reason and more that I support Bill C-305 and note that it received unanimous consent in the House of Commons.

The Jewish community is the most targeted religious group in Canada and three quarters of hate-motivated crimes against Jews fall under the category of mischief. These are just the reported cases. The reality is many cases go unreported.

Recently in the riding of York Centre, a short stance from my home in Toronto, a seniors' home experienced an anti-Semitic attack where swastikas were placed on the door of residents. Many of those living in the home were Holocaust survivors themselves. This was a deplorable act.

Currently, the Criminal Code protects only places of worship from acts of mischief motivated by bias, prejudice or hate. Bill C-305 aims to extend the legal protection from mischief afforded to houses of worship to other property critical to the livelihood of an identifiable community.

This bill is well intentioned and well timed. Acts of mischief against identifiable communities is on the rise. In the last six months, synagogues, mosques and a church have all been vandalized a short distance from our Parliament. Vandals used swastikas and hateful slurs to deface peaceful places of worship.

These acts are motivated by ugly prejudice and hatred and are part of a disturbing and growing trend. Today, Statistics Canada released new data that indicates hate crimes against people of Islamic faith jumped by 60 per cent between 2014 and 2015.

In my city of Toronto, vandals set fire to the St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and an Islamic information centre only one month apart.

Thankfully, these acts are strictly punishable under the existing Criminal Code framework. Any perpetrator of such vile acts against places of worship is liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years. Yet, as Senator Gold explained in his remarks, if the same perpetrator motivated by the same hate against the same group should commit the same mischief but against a school, cemetery or recreational facility, that person is not liable to the same punishment. In the latter case, the perpetrator would receive a punishment five times weaker — a two-year maximum sentence. This is a gap in our criminal justice system that must be closed.

When vandals struck the Jewish Yavne Academy in Côte Saint-Luc, their actions became liable to only two years of imprisonment. The story is the same for the vandals of other schools, cultural centres and recreational facilities across the country. Two years or less is not justice for direct acts of bigotry that promote violence and instill fear.

With Bill C-305, we can close the gap, re-equipping and re-calibrating our justice system to properly address the scourge of hate-motivated mischief against identifiable minorities.

I want to thank MP Chandra Arya for bringing forward this much-needed bill and Senator Gold for sponsoring it in the Senate.

Honourable colleagues, I hope you will join me in supporting this bill at second reading so it may quickly go to committee and pass in this chamber to ensure that local authorities and judges are adequately empowered to address the growing threat of mischief against minority communities in Canada. Thank you.

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