Debates of Feb. 7th, 1997
House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was penalties.
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Jean H. Leroux Shefford, QC
That in the opinion of this House, the government should commit itself to having full light shed on the events occurring before, during and after the deployment of Canadian troops to Somalia, by extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry until December 31, 1997.
Mr. Speaker, on January 10, the Minister of National Defence announced he was putting an end to the Somalia inquiry, conducted by the Létourneau commission and designed to shed light on what happened before, during and after the incidents in Somalia.
Needless to say that, like many Canadians and Quebecers, the official opposition is very disappointed with this decision. Today, we will attempt to demonstrate to this House that extending the mandate of the commission is not only necessary but also beneficial to Canada as a whole.
When this commission was established, the Prime Minister of Canada stated, and I quote: "For the first time in a long time a government has had the courage to ask for an inquiry into the operations of national defence. Never has it been done before". This statement was made by the Prime Minister of Canada on September 16, 1996. He stated further: "In the meantime we have to respect the commission and let it finish its work. After that we will make our decision based on its recommendations".
At that time, the Prime Minister of Canada told us it was a precedent to establish a commission. But on January 10, the same government, through its Minister of National Defence, decided to put an end to the commission's deliberations. That too is a first in Canada. Never before has a government dared to shut down so abruptly an inquiry commissioned by itself.
Throughout this period, the Standing Committee on National Defence hardly ever met. Again, while this government felt it was important for the commission to get to the bottom of the incidents that occurred in Somalia, we realize today that this is not going to happen.
Of course, we will be hear about what happened before the incidents in Somalia, about how willing and prepared our troops were to be deployed to Somalia to fight on behalf of Canada. We will definitely be told about that. In the end, Canada was not ready. We decided to send troops over there, but they were not ready for the mission. We will probably also find out what happened, in terms of the actual events, including the two alleged murders that took place in Somalia. The inquiry's mandate was to restore the honour and the integrity of the Canadian forces.
I have the pleasure of sitting on the House joint committee with the hon. member for Charlesbourg, where we proposed a whole slew of amendments. I have been sitting on the defence committee for three years, and we are constantly being told that the morale of our troops is not good. Mr. Speaker, I want to advise you right now that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Charlesbourg. As I was saying, morale was not good three years ago and it is no better today. It has not been good for a long time, I think.
The inquiry must find out why the morale of our troops has deteriorated so much. This is what matters. It is as though the defence minister and the Prime Minister finally decided that the Létourneau commission was not important, that it would make recommendations, but that- So, the minister decided to set up another committee to look at the issue of morale, without waiting for the inquiry's findings. And this is tragic.
The truth is that this government set up the inquiry in the hope that the Conservatives, the previous government, would suffer the political damage. However, the more the inquiry moves along, the more obvious it is that there are links with this government and that the period yet to be reviewed would involve friends of the government, friends that the government does not want singled out.
Remember the great search of April 9, 1996. Commander in chief Boyle decided that a thorough search would be conducted everywhere, even in garbage cans, filing cabinets, under chairs, in tanks, etc. to find documents that had been lost. This exercise was just a big farce and Canadians know that. For six months, the
Canadian forces refused to co-operate and, all of a sudden, a "search day" was declared.
That day, everyone from the top brass on down turned everything inside out in an attempt to find the documents. For six months the Canadian armed forces had been refusing to co-operate with the commission. But the main reason this inquiry was set up was to see what went on afterwards. That is what is important. When you want to correct a situation, when you want to improve the morale of the troops, do you not have to find out what is not working?
Who is it they want to protect? There are some very important people who will not be able to take part, whom it will not be possible to call as witnesses. First of all, there is Robert Fowler, who was deputy minister under the Liberals, the Conservatives and again under the Liberals, a survivor. Now he is Canada's ambassador to the UN. It will not be possible to call him to appear before the commission; there will unfortunately not be time. He is probably one person who knows quite a bit about the affair. There are others. There is also John Anderson, chief of defence staff when the events occurred. He was named ambassador to NATO. He is another one who will not be questioned.
There is former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who will also not appear before the commission. She is consul general in Los Angeles. So this person, who said she was intimidated at the time, was told: "Hold on there! If you want it to go well for you, keep your lip zipped".
What are they doing now? It is very simple. I would describe the Minister of National Defence as the government's firefighter. Members will recall this minister's career; he was at transport. He decided that there would be no more trains in Canada. Then he was sent to human resources; he was the one who decided to close down employment centres all over the country. He did the dirty work. Now he is at the defence department to do the same thing. They have decided to put a lid on it.
They had realized that the Liberal government would take quite a beating. Members will recall what the Prime Minister told us. That was the first time they had set up such a commission of inquiry. It is probably also the first time they have wrapped one up so quickly.
It is for this reason that the Bloc Quebecois, Canada's official opposition until the next election, and aware of its responsibilities as the opposition, is asking the government to change its mind.
In closing, I will read you the motion, which says:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should commit itself to having full light shed on the events occurring before, during and after the deployment of Canadian troops to Somalia, by extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry until December 31, 1997.
If this is not done, we will never know the truth, and it will never be over. We will have thrown away $25 million without even knowing what really happened.
Eugène Bellemare Carleton—Gloucester, ON
Mr. Speaker, the member of the Bloc Quebecois is trying hard to tarnish even more the Canadian army's reputation. We know full well that members of the Bloc have no intention of trying to improve the situation with regard to the Department of National Defence. They just want to drag this department through the mud.
As a matter of fact, was the member who just said-or should I say he was mumbling-all kinds of things about DND not the one who wrote to our military personnel before the referendum to try to form his own separatist army? If it was not him, it surely was his colleague or another one of these separatists who are out to destroy DND.
Yes, we had problems in Somalia. The government knows that. When did these problems occur? They occurred under the Conservative government, before 1993. The Prime Minister has fulfilled his responsibility and conducted an inquiry. The inquiry has already been granted extensions two or three times. Will it be allowed to drag on until the year 2025?
We must immediately implement procedures that will improve the military. That is what the defence minister is doing right now. The main objective of this government and of all parliamentarians is to improve our national defence department, not drag it through the mud as you, separatists, are trying to do.
Jean H. Leroux Shefford, QC
Mr. Speaker, as we saw, the hon. member rambled on a wide variety of issues. He obviously was not well briefed on this issue.
All I want to say is that, when we look back on the history of the Canadian Armed Forces, we see that there are many shortcomings, a total lack of leadership, and that the measures undertaken by successive defence ministers did not settle anything. Quite the opposite, the situation is getting worse all the time.
We have a commission of inquiry which, I acknowledge, is costing us a lot of money, but it would not cost a whole lot more to let it continue its work. Unless the minister changes his mind, on March 31, the commission will start to prepare its report. So, from March 31 until June 30, nothing will happen, and on June 30, the commission will submit its report. This is totally unacceptable.
The work of the inquiry is not done. For six months, the armed forces tried to hamper the inquiry and hide the truth from it. Some documents were tampered with, others were shredded. Some were made to disappear. These people are professionals. Mr. Justice
Létourneau is an extraordinary man, who wants to get at the truth, just like every Canadian and Quebecer. We want to know the truth so we can correct the situation.
The hon. member is just babbling away. Once Quebec is sovereign, we will have armed forces based on what Canada currently has, which is why we want a solid and determined Canadian army, with good leadership and some kind of vision. When we send Canadians to keep the peace in other countries, we want them to be prepared and proud to act on behalf of all Canadians and Quebecers.
Jean-Marc Jacob Charlesbourg, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am always happy to speak in this House although some issues are rather sad and distressing to discuss.
I will not remind you of the decisions that were recently made by the new defense minister but rather give you some background to shed some light on the problems in the armed forces, whose reputation the Bloc is trying to tarnish according to some Liberal members. I will go over certain facts and give you some background.
In 1985, the now dead-and-gone airborne regiment was under investigation. Of the 568 members of that regiment, 112 had a record with the military police and 89 with the civilian police. Military leaders were ordered to take steps to remedy the situation, but things did not improve.
In 1992, at CFB Petawawa where the now defunct airborne regiment was based, Colonel Morneau indicated to the then Chief of the Defence Staff, General John de Chastelain, that the regiment was not adequately trained for this kind of mission and recommended that it not be deployed in Somalia.
General de Chastelain was near the end of his mandate, but he nevertheless ordered the deployment of the regiment, knowing as he did that the following month he would be the new consul in Washington, in the United States. That was in December 1992.
In January 1993 there was a new Chief of Defence Staff, John Anderson. He travelled to Somalia in February and early March with Bob Fowler and other generals. All were well placed to see the somewhat aggressive or racist behaviour already reported. Moreover, if memory serves, the commander there at the time was reprimanded. This was Commander Seward, I believe. He was reprimanded, and fined as well, for excessively aggressive activities toward the Somalis.
During that visit, neither Mr. Fowler nor General Anderson reported any abnormal incidents. Curiously, General John Anderson was there two days after the first incident involving young Shidane Arone on March 4, but there was no report.
Six weeks later, the military police decided to launch an investigation. We know what happened then. They immediately found one guilty party, Kyle Brown. He was charged and sentenced to five years in prison. The officers and non-commissioned officers were found not guilty. There were a few reprimands, promotions were frozen; that was it.
Time passed. In 1993, public pressure for something to be done started to build up. Incidents continued to occur. You will recall that, in February and March of 1994-some members will say that it was the Bloc again trying to sully the name of the armed forces, which is far from the case-it was reported that certain members of the Airborne Regiment at Petawawa were going around with Ku Klux Klan pennants and flying Nazi flags on Canadian Forces vehicles. Colonel Kenward was in charge at the time, and this was tolerated-no problem.
The situation just went from bad to worse. It was not simply the Somalia affair, but a combination of everything that was going on.
Under public pressure, the former Minister of Defence, the hon. member for Don Valley East, announced the creation of a commission of inquiry into the Somalia incidents, stating that the full truth would be known, and that everyone would be called to testify before the commission.
It should be recalled that around the month of October 1995, in this Chamber, members of both the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois accused the Minister of National Defence of the day of having contrived with the armed forces, to a certain extent, to prevent the inquiry from obtaining documents.
I recall very well that the then minister of Defence had blown a fuse, much like the current minister did yesterday. It was quite a show. How dare we question the integrity of our armed forces?
I would like to point out that if we are simply listing facts, it is not to tarnish reputations, as some may think. I regret, but these are facts. Members will recall that things which happened in 1994 were revealed recently.
The funny thing with the armed forces is that the truth always comes out, two to three years after the facts, like the incidents of Bacovici, sexual abuse at Wainwright, or fraud and embezzlement at CFB Valcartier. The list goes on and on. It might be added that even a civilian working for National Defence headquarters managed to organize a pornography ring from within the department.
This situation must certainly be due to a glitch in operations. Early in 1995, I read a report of Brigadier-General Jeffries which said that the problem in the armed forces which could lead to some
shall we say deviant behaviour among some of the military was a lack of leadership. I did not say it, a Brigadier-General did.
In another report, Colonel Oehring mentioned that there was a flagrant lack of leadership and discipline and a complete distortion between the top brass and the rank and file. I would remind all members that at one point the media revealed that some soldiers and sailors had applied for welfare and even went to the soup kitchens in western Canada.
On the other hand, look at some of the officers. Consider Admiral Murray with his cavalier and arrogant testimony, who lived in a 6,000 square feet house for the astronomical sum of $581 per month. For a regular soldier who sees how these officers behave, it is pretty demoralizing.
In fact, this is all par for the course. Look at all the players in this case. John Anderson was aware of what happened. He went to Somalia, he knew exactly what was going on, and to punish him for his lack of leadership, he was appointed to NATO. Bob Fowler was deputy minister of Defence for many years. He was in Somalia in March 1993, but said nothing and saw nothing. And then, around the end of 1995, Mr. Fowler was appointed as Canada's delegate to the UN. Interestingly, if we go back even further, we see that he was a political assistant to Mr. Trudeau, the former Liberal Prime Minister, in 1983-84, and he also happens to be the new Governor General's brother-in-law. It looks like the old boys' network.
There is also John de Chastelain, who came back as chief of staff. He was ambassador in Washington, where he was replaced by the Prime Minister's nephew, Mr. Chrétien. Hon. members will recall that when the regiment in Somalia was abolished or eliminated, General John de Chastelain tendered his resignation, which was refused by the Prime Minister. Finally, in December 1995, General de Chastelain resigned and left the scene, and then we had Mr. Boyle.
You are signalling to me, Mr. Speaker, that I have only two minutes left. I could go on and on, but I will now get to my conclusion. My point is that the former Minister of National Defence, the hon. member for Don Valley East, as well as the current defence minister and the Prime Minister declared, in November 1994, October 1995, March 1996 and June 1996, that we needed to get to the bottom of this. That it was not just about the deployment of the Airborne in Somalia but that there were other incidents which, as I pointed out, prompted some officers to point to a lack of leadership.
What we are doing now is a matter of ethics. I would even say that it no longer matters that the commission of inquiry is being wound up. Look at the conduct of Admiral Murray. We will never know the truth.
I think that refusing to give an extension shows a lack of ethics and does nothing to enhance the public's confidence in this government. It took the armed forces nearly a year to hand over certain documents, and when we look at other commissions of inquiry which went on for five years and were about far less serious matters, one really wonders about the way the present government is behaving. I think we can assume Canadians realize that when the Liberal government decided to wind up this commission, it was clear there were people it wanted to protect, and I do not think Canadians or Quebecers will go along with this.
Jean H. Leroux Shefford, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his presentation. As you know, he was vice-chairman of the standing committee on national defence. He was also on the joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate that proposed changes to the Canadian Armed Forces.
I have a question for him. Does he think that the current standing committee on national defence has changed from what he knew of it in the three years he was on it?
They will say anything across the way, but it is a well-known fact that Bloc members share in the activities and work very hard to move things along. I think the member opposite would do better to remain quiet and listen to the question.
I would like to ask my colleague from Charlesbourg whether he thinks the Canadian armed forces have changed? I would like him to explain.
Jean-Marc Jacob Charlesbourg, QC
Mr. Speaker, there have indeed been changes. There have been changes in ministers and in chiefs of staff. But I do not think the mentality has changed much. My colleague spoke of the standing committee on national defence. True, the Bloc participated and often made very constructive suggestions. Some of my Liberal colleagues opposite know very well that the Bloc members tried to resolve certain problems and to take part in discussions.
The auditor general's report and other reports indicate that the Department of National Defence was often accused of mismanaging its assets, spending unnecessarily and other things.
I am happy my colleague is allowing me to talk about financial matters. On Monday, the new Minister of National Defence said that all this had cost a lot and that the Bloc was complaining that the Department of National Defence was spending too much money. It will cost $25 million to find out the truth, who is responsible in the chain of command, where the problems lie, how improvements can be made and who is guilty.
The defence committee often pointed out that there were too many generals and that these generals often lacked leadership skills or authority over the soldiers. Very often, the corporals and the ordinary soldiers bear the brunt, while the officers get off lightly.
This happened on a number of occasions. The subject was discussed in the national defence committee.
If the mentality as well as the behaviour is to be changed, I do not think the way to go about it is to decide the commission has dragged on long enough and that it will have time to hear the last witnesses, which is not the case. However, we must, for various reasons such as restoring the armed forces' honour or giving soldiers back their pride, stop living in the past and pretending that Canadian soldiers lived in honour and that everyone is proud of them.
If we go back three or four years, not everyone is proud of what went on in the army. I do not think everyone is proud of the money spent for various reasons. With a little effort, the government could change all that.
Douglas Young Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in today's debate.
When I hear my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois talk about integrity, harp on what happened in Somalia, and repeat the litany of problems every Canadian knows only too well, I have trouble reconciling this preoccupation with whether or not the Canadian Forces have any ethics with the Bloc's approach.
My hon. colleagues mentioned the issue of leadership in the Canadian forces, I agree with them, there are problems. We will have to find ways to address them. Do the hon. members from the Bloc Quebecois expect us to apply the same ethics, the same behaviour to the Canadian forces as they did to their former leader's staff?
Should we fire people in order to compensate them? Is this the kind of ethics they are promoting here today by preaching at Canadians, the government, members of the Canadian Forces? Are they not the same people who, when there is a referendum, are trying to create a rift within the Canadian forces with alleged plots?
Is this the kind of integrity the Canadian forces should emulate? I hope not. Probably because the two hon. members who spoke today will not be candidates in the race to the Bloc Quebecois leadership, they do not apply the kind of ethics which has been reported in the medias lately.
I think the important thing that Canadians have to address here today is whether we as a country are going to benefit from the production of historical documents well into the end of this century based on an incident that took place in 1993.
I refer to a document that reflects comments made on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation national news, January 13, 1997. The CBC, in doing its own calculation, looking at the agenda of the Somalia inquiry, looking at the time frame that it wished to cover, looking at its own work plan, arrived at the conclusion that proceeding at the rate that it had up until the date of this broadcast it would take the commission approximately six years to complete its work. That is not the government's view. It is an assessment made by the CBC in dealing with this issue.
I have said before and I say again that Canadians who are interested in what occurred in Somalia know who pulled the trigger. They know that the incidents in Somalia were totally unacceptable. We know there were severe weaknesses in leadership. We know there were serious flaws in how we responded to what occurred in Somalia with respect to the military justice system, how the military investigation was conducted. We understand that.
I believe the Canadian forces and Canada as a country have to move on and turn the corner on this issue by no longer necessarily just repeating the litany of events that we all know too well but beginning to grapple with solutions.
I am acutely aware of the tremendous burden we are placing on the men and women of the Canadian forces. I have just returned from Bosnia. It is of no value to anyone in Bosnia who is walking the streets of devastated towns looking at children with hollow eyes to tell them that we are conducting or we are going to extend the final date of the Somalia inquiry. Those men and women want to know what people in this place are going to do to ensure that they are trained properly, that they are equipped properly, that they have guidelines and frameworks within which they can function.
What the government has done and what I have committed to do is present to the Prime Minister of Canada, to the Government of Canada and to the people of Canada by March 31, 1997 a comprehensive plan and a set of proposals on how we can move ahead with restoring the integrity and the pride of one of the finest military institutions in the world.
That is a considerable challenge. We expect to be assessed, we expect the recommendations to be analysed and we are trying to draw in as much support as we can from as wide a population in the country as possible.
Unlike my hon. friends this morning, I believe the one solid foundation on which we can proceed is the enormous reservoir of public support for the men and women in the Canadian forces. There is no question that Canadians are disgusted by what happened in Somalia. There is no doubt that they question the quality and the training of some of the leadership that has been around in the Canadian forces for a number of years.
Does it serve any purpose in terms of the objective of providing Canada with a very efficient and capable military institution to simply recite the problems that we know a great deal about, or would it be useful for the Bloc Quebecois and for other hon.
members in this House representing all parties in the House to set forward their views on what we should be doing?
To be very fair about this and not to try in any way to minimize what occurred in Somalia, what occurred before Somalia or what occurred after the incidents were discovered, we still have to look at the overall context in which the Canadian forces operate. A peacetime environment; some would say yes. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, if you were in Bosnia today it would not look very peaceful, although day to day it is these days, but when you see the devastation you know how quickly that situation could become very dangerous again.
We have Canadian forces in Haiti. The Canadian forces are as much a part of the image of Canada as the Rocky Mountains or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, wherever one goes in the world. With all the problems we have encountered, when they are put in the context of young men and women risking their lives all over the planet and seeing how other military institutions have had to function in these similar kinds of environments, I am not excusing the very serious mistakes we have made in the past. What I am saying is fair minded Canadians, and they are fair minded people, will understand that on balance the Canadian forces are still one of the most highly respected military institutions in the world.
We can spend a lot of time debating whether inquiries in this country should be constituted on the basis that once they begin they have carte blanche to go to the end of whatever they feel is an appropriate level of inquiry. I do not dispute that. If this place decides through legislation that when inquiries are established they can continue until the commissioners of inquiry, all the parties involved and their legal counsel are satisfied that every document has been looked at, every issue has been addressed and every question has been asked, if that is what the Canadian people and people in this place wish to do we should debate that.
To make sure to put the record straight, this commission was established on March 30, 1995. The original reporting deadline to which the commissioners agreed when they accepted to undertake this work was December 20, 1995. We are now in the process of debating whether a third extension was appropriate. It was extended until the end of June of this year, the third extension. The first extension was to June 20, 1996. The second extension is to March 31, 1997, and now a third extension to June 30, 1997. The commission will have work in excess of two years by the time it is asked to bring in its conclusions.
I understand the frustration of the commissioners and I understand the concerns of members of this place when they say they will not have heard every witness, they will not have been able to see every document and they will not have been able to address every question. What we must hear from my friends, which I hope we will hear in the discussion today not only on the basis of the Somali inquiry but in terms of future arrangements of this nature, is whether we develop a process that is absolutely open ended until everyone is satisfied that everything has been done. If that is what people are prepared to propose then I believe at some point we should debate that in this place because it has enormous implications.
What about the people who are in leadership roles? We have heard of individuals who have been reassigned and named to new positions. What will happen if we get a report seven, eight or ten years after events? As an historical document it may have some value but in terms of applying the lessons learned from the mistakes that occurred, of what value will they be? Where will the people be who were in control and in leadership? Worse than that, what happens in the interim to these people? Nothing? We have chosen to move on.
I want to make clear that we have never said who should be called before the commission. I have never commented on testimony heard before the commission. I have never commented on the work plan or the agenda of the commission because I have been around long enough to know that Canadians understand that the incidents in Somalia that resulted in the deaths of the Somalians killed by Canadians are unacceptable.
We also know, as my colleagues would be aware, that we have had murder trials in this country where more than three, sometimes more than five and in fact more than ten people have been killed. These trials, looking into the events involved in murders committed in this country, have taken place in a matter of months, not years. I believe that Canadians who understand what is important with respect to the Canadian forces recognize that the government had to come to a decision after three extensions to set a final date on inquiry.
I would also point out to my hon. friends in this place that recently another inquiry in a provincial jurisdiction was given an extension looking into a matter of great importance in a province in this country. When the provincial government in question provided the extension for the inquiry it also set a final date for reporting.
I understood that it was very much in the same position as we were. It did not want a historical document on what had occurred and why it had occurred years after the fact. It wanted to be able to move with some solutions to the questions with which it was faced.
We indicated to the Canadian people through several mechanisms our concern about what had happened in Somalia. However, to be very honest, a number of other events clearly indicated that
serious measures had to be undertaken with respect to the future of the Canadian forces.
I was very pleased when the retired chief justice of the supreme court, Brian Dickson, took on the job of reviewing the military justice system. A lot of what is so bad about the Somalia incident, as brutal as the murders were-God knows there is no excuse for that-what happened afterward was equally if not more troubling in the sense that the system did not respond adequately.
The investigative system did not respond adequately. The military justice system has not responded adequately. We have empanelled and empowered a group of outstanding Canadians, along with Mr. Justice Dickson, J. W. Bird and General Belzile to come to the government with specific and comprehensive recommendations on the reform of the military justice system and commentary on how best to exercise the capacity of investigation that is now done by the military police.
In addition to that, we will be reporting to the Prime Minister and to the people of Canada on accountability in the Canadian Armed Forces, on the system of promotions, on a wide ranging questioning of ethos and ethics in the military.
Beyond that, the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs has been asked to look at what I describe as the people needs of the Canadian Armed Forces; looking at benefits, at support systems for families, at accommodation and all the socioeconomic requirements of the Canadian Armed Forces.
All of this has been done in the last couple of months in response to the wide array of challenges facing the Canadian forces. I have great faith in the Canadian people and I have great faith in the Canadian forces but I also have enormous respect for this place.
That is why I hope, through this process today and also in the weeks to come, we will get concrete proposals from my colleagues in this place on what they think should be done with the Canadian forces, not simply to continue an inquiry into an incident that we are very familiar with, but to tell us, in a concrete way whether they are committed, for example, to funding for the Canadian forces.
Are they committed to the kinds of levels that we have established for personnel: 60,000 in the regular forces and 30,000 in the militia reserves? Are they committed to the re-equipping of the Canadian forces? Do they believe we should be spending money on making sure that we have a combat capable military institution and organization that can adequately represent Canada around the world as we are called on by our allies to participate in various kinds of missions?
Are they prepared to say to the men and women of the Canadian forces-it is important to hear this today-what is the position of the various parties. If they were elected, would they reopen the Somalia inquiry? Are they serious about saying it is in the best interests of the Canadian forces to continue the Somalia inquiry or is it important to move on and learn from the lessons of Somalia and the events that surrounded those incidents?
It is critical because we talk about the morale of the Canadian forces as though somehow, by saying things here or elsewhere that reflect specific concerns about incidents, this is going to help.
I have had the great privilege of being the Minister of National Defence since October. I have visited nearly every base in Canada and I have travelled with the troops in Bosnia. I say without equivocation, not just based on my personal observations but having been exposed to my colleagues in NATO, having met with our NORAD allies in the United States, that every Canadian should feel absolutely comfortable about recognizing and respecting the role, the capability and the professionalism of the Canadian forces.
There is no doubt that the incidents that my hon. friend related at Petawawa, at Val Cartier, in Somalia and more recently even in Haiti are cause for grave concern. The Canadian forces are an institution made up of tens of thousands of men and women. In every organization in Canada of that size, in every community in Canada of that size, every day there are events that take place that are unacceptable and intolerable. They are criminal acts. They are assaults. They are abuses of privilege, abuses of leadership capacity or roles in life. These things occur everywhere, even in professional hockey. That is not to say that in any way we diminish the importance of what happened or the fact that the events were totally unacceptable.
Canadians are fair minded. They understand and recognize that the Canadian forces cannot be judged any differently or any more harshly than any other group of people in the country. They work in a very different environment. Very few Canadians sign up to put their lives on the line. That is what members of the forces do. They are trained to do things that are not terribly pleasant. They also have to be properly trained to maintain the kind of appropriate relationships among themselves and with the people where they are deployed.
Surely Canadians are not going to accept an argument that says that 125 years or more of service around the world is going to be swept away because in today's society things that may or may not have been acceptable or even heard about years ago are now common knowledge. Surely fair minded Canadians and members of this place understand that the Canadian forces are faced with challenges that very few, including myself, would ever care to undertake on a day to day basis in Bosnia or in Haiti.
I want to say this one thing to my friends in the House. Regardless of what happened in Somalia, we have to ask: Who would the Minister of National Defence want to cover up for? What could have happened that would be more heinous than the beating and shooting of young people in Somalia? Why would it be
political advantageous to me or to the government to shut down the Somalia inquiry from a political point of view?
It has been alleged that the deputy minister of the Department of National Defence at the time of the incident in Somalia used various tactics to somehow confuse the then Minister of National Defence. The then Minister of National Defence subsequently became Prime Minister of Canada and left that person in the role of deputy minister at the Department of National Defence.
I hope that all of my colleagues will be very clear in their presentations with respect to what they believe we and Canada should be doing for the men and women of the Canadian forces. How can we make sure that in the future if any incidents like this should re-occur-and heaven knows we all hope that they will not-how should we respond to them. That is the question and the challenge facing all of us today as far as the Canadian forces and its future is concerned.
Jean H. Leroux Shefford, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the minister's comments when he said he was first and foremost a member of Parliament; how fortunate that he could participate in this debate.
On October 9, 1996, the minister said: "We want a thorough investigation of everything that happened in connection with the situation in Somalia- I am sure all members of this House-and no doubt he included himself-realize that one should not interfere with the work of the commission of inquiry". Well, to order the end of the inquiry, is that not to interfere with its work?
We are asking the minister and the government to let the inquiry carry on for a few more months. The minister says five or ten years. He talks about a document of historical scope. This is not what we are asking for. We simply ask that they grant an extension so that the inquiry can hear witnesses who have not been heard yet and who, we feel, are crucial to the whole issue.
Today, the minister, calm as always, spoke as an expert and tried to quietly sweep the whole issue under the rug. As you have surely noticed, this is not always the case, but it did happen today. He tried to explain the situation slowly and delicately; he spoke about the grassroots, he tried to appeal to our sympathy for those people in the forces.
We know that the people in the Canadian armed forces are professionals, the members of the official opposition do not question that. We only want to know what is happening because it seems that the rotten apples are in the top brass. They way things stand now, we will find out what happened before the incident and during the incident, but unfortunately, we will never know what happened after, we will not get to the bottom of the attempted coverup by this government; that is what we are concerned about. That is what Canadians are worried about these days.
Douglas Young Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Mr. Speaker, to get back to our trying to cover up what happened, as I said previously, the government agreed to extend the mandate of the Somalia inquiry first until June 28, 1996, then until March 31, 1997 and now until June 30, 1997.
Is the hon. member convinced? Does he have proof that a further extension of three months, six months or nine months will bring us closer to a point where all three commissioners as well as the counsel for the witnesses will sit together and say: "Yes, we are all agreed, it is all over, we have shed light on everything".
It is interesting to note that 150,000 documents, totalling two million pages, have been handed over to the inquiry and that more than 100 witnesses have already been heard.
I believe that Canadians genuinely interested in the future of the Canada Armed Forces know full well what happened in Somalia and they want to make sure that our forces can operate in an effective and professional manner in the future. Listing past problems over and over again the problems will not reach that goal, we have to move on to concrete solutions.
Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister a question about ministerial accountability, specifically contempt at the military headquarters level for the civilian authority of the armed forces.
Shidane Arone was tortured and killed on March 16. On March 18, two days later, the chief of defence staff, John Anderson, and the deputy minister, Bob Fowler, briefed the minister saying at that time that an unfortunate incident had happened in Somalia.
The defence minister at the time, Kim Campbell read in Maclean's magazine that there was a suggestion of criminal intent on March 18 at the same time that she was briefed without being told of criminal intent. It was not until March-
The Deputy Speaker
The hon. member will have a chance to finish his question after question period. We are into oral statements now.
Statements By Members
February 7th, 1997 / 10:55 a.m.
Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB
Mr. Speaker, on Monday, February 10 I will be travelling to Brandon, Manitoba for the hearing of grain farmer, Bill Keriens. His crime is crossing the border to sell his grain. Subsequently, he will be fined for this crime and will be brought into court in leg irons and handcuffs.
I have to ask, does the punishment fit the crime? All we have to do is look at the repercussions of Bill C-41. It was intended to deal with petty criminals who pose no threat to the community but the reality is that it has been used in cases involving drug trafficking, sexual assault, bank robbery and other assaults. These convicts, in some cases, are serving nothing more than house arrest.
It is obvious we have to define who is a threat to society and that the punishment should be in line with the crime. This grain farmer in no way is a threat to society. Certainly he does not deserve the threat of jail time to be served in the same cell block with other criminals as wheat farmer, Andy McMechan, served.
Why is it the heavy hand of the law punishes law-abiding citizens who are merely fighting for the principle of freedom while violent criminals walk free?
Statements By Members
Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC
Mr. Speaker, despite the rhetoric and the promises of a bright future, 1997 has had a bad start for Quebecers and Canadians. The market is still in a slump. While Canada has 1.5 million unemployed, only 500 new jobs were created in January. And there are fewer jobs for young people.
Self-employed people were responsible for many new jobs created in 1996. Yet, the government is doing nothing to help them. The new unemployment insurance reform is supposed to give wider coverage to workers, but this is only deception. In fact, these new jobs that are emerging for self-employed people are protected neither by unemployment insurance nor by the vast majority of social security programs.
The Liberals were elected under the slogan "jobs, jobs, jobs". The fact is there are "no jobs, no jobs, no jobs". When Canadians and Quebecers realize that the situation is disastrous, they will pass harsh judgment, and the government will pay the price.
Statements By Members
John Finlay Oxford, ON
Mr. Speaker, the fight against the deficit is being won. Who would have thought a mere three years ago that the deficit could be reduced by over $20 billion by today? This reduced deficit has meant a strengthened economy and record low interest rates.
As the Minister of Finance prepares his budget, I would urge that he stay the course. We need to eliminate the deficit as soon as is reasonably possible. Now is not the time for irresponsible Reform Party inspired tax cuts which will slow the decrease in the deficit or compromise essential programs.
Eliminating the deficit will ensure that our children and our seniors have a secure economic future.
I am proud to have supported the Minister of Finance's deficit reduction targets in the past three years and look forward to his presentation of another successful budget on February 18.
Statements By Members
Marlene Cowling Dauphin—Swan River, MB
Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the Canada infrastructure works program is a success. Just look at some of the statistics which help to tell the story.
For example, in my constituency of Dauphin-Swan River, more than $9 million has been invested. These types of projects have included road repairs, the development of water systems, culvert replacements and the construction of bridges.
The Canada infrastructure program is a great benefit to rural areas. Almost 62 per cent of the projects were for rural Canada.
In order to market our goods and services locally and abroad, another program is necessary for our communities' continued development.
The Canada infrastructure works program is contributing to a stronger rural Canadian economy, including my riding of Dauphin-Swan River, and that is what I am working toward.
Without a doubt the Canada infrastructure works program is a major accomplishment.