Canadian flag law proposal divides MPs

A Conservative MP's private member's bill to make it a crime to prevent someone from flying the Canadian flag was the first order of business for MPs when they returned to work in Ottawa on Monday.

Bill seeks to make it illegal to prevent someone from flying the flag

The bill aiming to make it illegal to prevent someone from flying the Canadian flag was debated by MPs on Monday and is set for a vote on Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A bill seeking to make it a crime to stop someone from flying the Canadian flag was the first order of business for MPs on Monday when they returned to Parliament Hill after a six-week break.

The private member's bill from Conservative MP John Carmichael, first introduced in the House of Commons in September, was debated by MPs and won little support from the opposition parties.

If passed, Bill C-288 would make it illegal to prevent someone from displaying the flag, as long as it is displayed in a "manner befitting this national symbol," and as long as the flag isn't being used improperly or being desecrated.

If someone breaks the proposed law, or is even about to contravene it, the individual could wind up in court. The bill proposes punishments of restraining orders, injunctions, a fine or a jail term of up to two years.

Conservative MPs who spoke in favour of the bill talked at length about their pride in the flag and what it represents. Nova Scotia MP Scott Armstrong said it is a symbol of peace and unity and that his colleague's bill should be supported.

Carmichael defended his bill and said "it is shameful" that Canadian veterans, for example, "are being barred from displaying the flag today" and that they risked their lives for the values it represents.

"The flag represents our country's incredible unity from coast to coast to coast," said Carmichael. "The Canadian flag is a deeply symbolic icon."

"Bill C-288 acts to ensure that all citizens across all of Canada have the same right to fly the flag any day of the year," said Carmichael.

There have been some flag-related disputes that have made headlines in recent years. In 2010, for example, residents in a retirement community in Belle River, Ont., were told to take down flags by the Cooper's Mill Retirement Community homeowners' association. One resident said the association had received complaints from other residents that the flags looked "trailer trashy."

Bill not needed, NDP says

NDP MPs said they love the flag too but that the bill is misguided.

Kennedy Stewart, MP for Burnaby-Douglas, opposed the bill because of its potential cost. Prosecuting accused offenders and putting convicted ones in jail is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars, he said.

"We have to think about every penny and we have to think about spending every penny wisely," Stewart said, questioning the need for the bill and saying it was "irresponsible" for the Conservatives to proceed with it.

NDP MP Andrew Cash accused the government of using the flag bill as a wedge issue and said it's "not on the radar" of Canadians. There are far more meaningful initiatives that MPs could be pursuing with private member's bills, Cash said.

Monday's debate lasted one hour and MPs will vote Wednesday on whether to send it to the committee stage. It appears poised to pass second reading but could face amendments at the committee stage.