House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was accused.

Topics

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

February 4th, 1997 / 2:15 p.m.

Roberval
Québec

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of National Defence.

The inquiry into the events that took place in Somalia has taught us a lot about the behaviour of senior officers in the Canadian military. But since the minister has decided to have the commission wind up its work soon, we will unfortunately not learn the whole truth. It must be admitted that the armed forces wasted at least six months of the commission's time with the business of documents that were falsified, hidden, hunted for, and not found, and now that everything needed is available, the minister decides to put a stop to the inquiry.

Will the Minister of National Defence agree that he could very well require the commission to produce an interim report on June 30, allowing him to go ahead with the changes he wants to make, and then authorize the commission to continue its work and try to find out what really happened in this affair?

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst
New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that the commission is examining a rather complex matter, that being the events that took place in Somalia, what happened before the troops were sent on the mission and, obviously, what happened after the incidents that took place were discovered, which Canadians categorically reject.

The only question in my mind, and I hope my hon. colleague will understand this, is whether at some point Canadians interested in knowing what went on in Somalia would like to have a historical document. The commission has been sitting for almost two years. We have never commented on the list of witnesses; we have not commented on the schedule; the commission of inquiry on Somalia was granted three extensions, it was originally supposed to hand in its report by the end of December 1995.

In my opinion, Canadians are interested in how we are going to react in the future, should such incidents happen again. They want to be sure that there is not a repetition of all the problems we have heard about and discovered during this inquiry.

If the Leader of the Opposition is interested in a historical document, we in the government are prepared to take action and think that the time has come to take steps to learn what the commission has done, to evaluate its recommendations and to try to do whatever we can to avoid a recurrence of such events.

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Roberval
Québec

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has several times mentioned a historical document, he just did so again. What the opposition wants is not a historical document, but the truth about what went on. We share his concern-the one he has expressed in any event-for seeing that light is shed on this whole affair. We want to see changes in the Canadian armed forces; that is what everyone wants. Changes are necessary.

My question is the following: If he wants to take appropriate action and take it in the right place, does he not have to have all the information? If so, why he is rejecting the extraordinarily construc-

tive suggestion we are making of requiring an interim report on June 30, which would allow him to begin taking the action he wishes to take? All the information will be included in the final report, as he sees it, allowing the commission of inquiry to deal with all the new material that came up during this inquiry, which no one had any inkling of at the outset.

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst
New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, this inquiry has gone on for almost two years. There is no doubt that those who have been following the whole inquiry have no trouble understanding that, if we were to go along with the hon. member's suggestion that the three commissioners must be satisfied they have seen and heard all the witnesses that were to appear, and gone into all the details of what went on before, during and after, and that all the lawyers representing all the intervenors, that everyone must agree that everything was completed, my hon. friend, the Leader of the Bloc Quebecois, and I would not live long enough to see the end of the affair.

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Roberval
Québec

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, the minister has just made an extraordinary revelation: we did not know there was so much involved. Imagine what we will miss if he wraps up the inquiry on March 31.

Seriously though, I am sure that the Minister of National Defence will want to reply to this question. A very serious thing has occurred: senior officers of the Canadian military blackmailed the former defence minister, Mrs. Campbell, who was running for the office of Prime Minister at the time. Such a revelation is very worrisome, fraught with consequences for institutions like the armed forces and Parliament, and for democracy.

I put the following question to the minister. Should we not get right to the bottom of this affair, so that it does not happen again? Listening to the minister's answers, seeing him shift from one idea to another, I wonder whether he himself has been the subject of threats or pressure from the armed forces.

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst
New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the Leader of the Opposition's concern as to whether I have been threatened by someone. Not lately.

I can assure you that I have such respect for my predecessor, who went on to become Prime Minister of Canada, that I would not want to lend credence to the idea that when a minister arrives in a department such as National Defence, everyone can blackmail him as simply as the hon. member seems to want us to believe.

I think it is relatively easy for those who feel that something is not right, that the former Prime Minister is certainly entitled to speak out, and as former defence minister as well. I hope that everyone understands that, in order to find out what happened and whether it was as serious as some people are claiming, all that the individual in question has to do is to give their version of events.

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean H. Leroux Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of National Defence.

The minister claims not to have been pressured, at least not recently, by senior officers in the Armed Forces. We are aware that, during her leadership race, former Minister of Defence Kim Campbell experienced very heavy pressure, even blackmail, from senior ranks to convince her not to go too far with her investigations in the Somalia affair.

How can the minister expect us to believe that he has not been pressured as former minister Kim Campbell was, when he suddenly changes his tune and quickly puts an end to the work of the Commission?

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst
New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, all I can do is assure my hon. colleague that I have not been threatened at any time. No one has tried to scare me, or encourage me to make a decision.

I would like to remind my friend that, when I assumed my position as Minister of National Defence-and this is quite easy to verify-I said right from the start, and repeated it numerous times, that I hoped the Somalia Inquiry would table its report on March 31, 1997. I have never changed my mind. From the time I assumed my position I have repeated, and repeated frequently, that I hoped they would make their report public March 31.

Obviously, because an extension was requested, the government agreed for the third time to extend the mandate of the Commission until the end of June. We thought, however, that this was sufficient to get the work done.

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jean H. Leroux Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, when he appeared before the Commission as a witness last week, the Chief of the Defence Staff literally insulted the commissioners and prosecutors by attacking their work. This was an obvious attempt to discredit the Commission and, according to Justice Létourneau, the Chief of the Defense Staff came very close to being cited for contempt of court.

Is the Minister of National Defence's rush to prevent the Commission from hearing more witnesses not the result of pressure from the Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, who has had enough of watching Armed Forces personnel answer the commissioner's questions?

Somalia Inquiry
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst
New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have always been careful not to comment on the evidence submitted to the Commission. I do not believe it would be right.

I wish to assure my hon. colleague that, given my experience as a lawyer, I understand that it is not unheard of for lawyers involved in legal proceedings to be a bit difficult when questions are being asked. Some are more polite than others. I hope everyone understands that. I believe that most Canadians who saw Admiral Murray in action understood that this is a man who wanted to defend his situation as best he could. All Canadians have a right to do so under any circumstances.

Public Inquiries
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, this government has adopted a double standard with respect to public inquiries. It was keen to investigate the murder and cover-up in Somalia when it thought it was a Tory scandal, but as soon as the inquiry started to get close to former deputy minister Bob Fowler, the Prime Minister's friend and golfing buddy, all of a sudden it lost its enthusiasm.

It was okay when Justice Krever's investigation was examining Tory complicity with the tainted blood scandal, but when Krever wanted to examine why the Liberal government in 1984 ignored the early warning signs about tainted blood, the government started throwing legal obstacles in his way.

How can Canadians trust this government when it has two sets of ethical standards, one for Liberals and their friends and the other for everybody else?

Public Inquiries
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Saint-Maurice
Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member referred to my golf buddy. I never played golf with him. Perhaps in the middle of the night in January in Yellowknife I did, but I do not remember.

The Minister of National Defence took this matter seriously. We had this inquiry for two years and the leader of the third party, as the Minister of National Defence yesterday so rightly said, was the one pleading with us to terminate that as quickly as possible so that we will not have anything to hide by the time of the election.

So we are responding. The Minister of National Defence is doing his best to fulfil the request by the leader of the third party but the leader of the third party has again done a flip-flop.

Public Inquiries
Oral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, the issue here is not parties or statements. The issue here is public trust. The thousands of tainted blood victims in the country and their families trusted the blood system and it failed them. They trusted the government to find out why and now the government is failing them. Their trust has been abused.

Instead of acting in the best interests of the victims of the blood system, the government tried to block Justice Krever in the courts and attempted to circumvent his findings with a parallel investigation. What is worse, the Prime Minister has now put the blood system in the hands of a minister who has already abused the public trust over highway funding.

Why should tainted blood victims trust this government to fix the blood system? Why should they trust a minister who has violated the public trust before?

Public Inquiries
Oral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Cape Breton—East Richmond
Nova Scotia

Liberal

David Dingwall Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the preamble of the hon. member's question with regard to the blood system in this country. Notwithstanding his desire to give the impression to Canadians from coast to coast that the blood system somehow lacks the confidence of Canadians, I wish to assure the House and Canadians that our blood system does have the confidence of Canadians from coast to coast.

Finally, I say to the hon. member opposite that if the hon. member wishes to put words to action, why does he not have the guts to run against me in an election campaign?

Public Inquiries
Oral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

The Speaker

It seems today we have taken a few terms in anatomy that we are trying to use time and again. I would go to the hon. member for Calgary Southwest.