By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Across Australia, war memorials and historic monuments are considered some of the nation’s most sacred places.
These sites carry a special significance as touchstones of the past, connecting historical days to those of the present.
Importantly, they also bond the community, allowing them to remember and regard the rich and abounding history of the country.
While so much respect is given to these hallowed places, many of them sadly become the target of vandalism and damage.
The latest of these sites to fall prey to such desecration was the Sydney War Memorial in Hyde Park after French tourist, Brice Blanchard, urinated on the building following drinking in the park with friends from his hostel.
The 22-year-old was arrested and charged with committing an offensive act on a war memorial or interment site.
How the French National Came to Urinate on the Anzac Memorial
At about 10pm on 10 December 2019, only days after Mr Blanchard had arrived in Australia, the young man was walking through Hyde Park in the city’s CBD after drinking with friends.
He decided to stop to urinate, finding himself at the Sydney War Memorial building, where he relieved his bladder.
Unfortunately for Mr Blanchard, he was caught in the act on CCTV, with security guards jogging over just as he was zipping up his fly. They quickly called police.
Blanchard waited with security and when police officers arrived, they took him to the station to explain what he had done.
The French nation was apologetic for his actions.
He was charged with committing an offensive act on a war memorial or interment site.
French Tourist Did Not Realise he was Desecrating a Memorial
According to Mr Blanchard, he was not aware that he was vandalising a war memorial when he urinated on the wall of the Hyde Park building.
“I was walking along and urinated on the wall, I didn’t know what the building was. I just got to Australia two days ago, I’m from France,’ he said to police.
He said it was simply the first building he saw.
Mr Blanchard Pleads Guilty to Desecrating War Memorial; Apologises to Soldiers
On 15 January 2020, the backpacker pleaded guilty to committing the distasteful act in Downing Centre Local Court.
His appearance was untidy in faded blue jeans as he apologised to the court with the help of an interpreter.
Mr Blanchard was let off on a nine-month Conditional Release Order.
He also avoided a fine and a conviction.
The magistrate accepted that the tourist “had no idea what he was doing”.
He also explained the offence caused by urinating on the memorial would be the equivalent of doing so on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
“Like the French, we respect the fallen and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the past,” the magistrate said.
“That’s why war memorials are sacred to Australians. If you are still here in April you will see just how sacred they are on Anzac Day.”
Mr Blanchard issued an apology, saying, “I’m very sorry and didn’t mean to offend soldiers or anyone else in Australia. If I’d known it was a war memorial, I’d never have done it. I feel very guilty.”
In NSW, a person must not wilfully damage or deface any war memorial or protected place. This offence carries a maximum fine of up to $4,400.
If a person commits an offensive, indecent or nuisance act in or on a war memorial or interment site, he/she will be left to face a maximum fine of up to $2,200, prescribed by section 8(3) Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW).
While these offences don’t carry jail terms, the law does allow a court to impose, instead of a fine, a community correction order (CCO) with conditions involving community service work.
While these offences carry criminal convictions, a person pleading guilty can still avoid a criminal conviction if he/she receives a section 10 non-conviction penalty on sentence. This also includes a Conditional Release Order without conviction.
As reflected in section 8(1)(a) Summary offences Act 1988 (NSW), a war memorial refers to a war memorial located in a public place, and (without limitation) includes the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney, being:
(i) the memorial building referred to in the Anzac Memorial (Building) Act 1923 (NSW), and
(ii) the land described in the Schedule to that Act, and
(iii) any other structure on that land.
An “interment site” has the meaning it has in Part 4 of the Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2013 and includes a memorial (within the meaning of that Act).
A “protected place” refers to a shrine, monument or statue located in a public place, and (without limitation) includes a war memorial or an interment site.
Along with the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, examples include the statue of Queen Victoria erected at the entrance of the Queen Victoria Building and the Martin Place Cenotaph, both situated in Sydney.
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