moved that Bill C-378, An Act to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act (fairness principles), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today in the House to speak about my private member's bill, Bill C-378. I stand in the House on behalf of the millions of men and women who have fought for our country, the 700,000 veterans. It is for them that I rise with respect to this bill.
I also rise with an understanding that the sacrifices that have been made by those men and women and their families throughout the course of Canadian history is what allows all of us who sit in our symbol of democracy the privilege to do so. I want to thank them, their families, and their memories. I hope by the time I am done here today, I will have done a good enough job explaining what the private member's bill is all about and ask for the support of the House for it.
I am looking to establish three basic principles within the Department of Veterans Affairs Act: that the person, as well as his or her dependants or survivors, is to be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness; that the uniqueness of a person's professionalism, obligations, and sacrifices such a profession demands also impacts the experiences of the individual's family; and that any decision regarding the care, treatment, and re-establishment in civilian life of the person and the benefits to be provided be made in a timely manner.
It is in the spirit of Sir Robert Borden, who spoke to Canadian soldiers preparing for that great battle of Vimy Ridge, that Bill C-378 is introduced. Our eighth prime minister said to the troops at the time:
...you need have no fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service...The government and the country will consider it their first duty to prove to the returned men its just and due appreciation of the inestimable value of the services rendered to the country...
Sir Robert Borden may have been the first to talk about an obligation and duty, but he has not been the last. Veterans and current members of the Canadian Armed Forces who I met with this summer told me they wished to see these principles in place.
Over the summer, I had the opportunity to travel across the country to meet with veterans, their families, and stakeholders. Every single one of them talked about this sacred obligation, this covenant, on behalf of the government and its service men and women. When Sir Robert Borden spoke of that obligation to Canadian soldiers, there has never been an obligation to the men and women and their families enacted in Canadian legislation, and that is what I hope to change with Bill C-378.
This is not an indictment on any government. It is not an indictment on the current government and it is not an indictment on the valuable employees who work at Veterans Affairs Canada. This is about doing something for which veterans have asked.
The previous government brought in a Veterans Bill of Rights in 2007. Under the Veterans Bill of Rights, veterans have the right to take part in discussions that involve them and their families, have someone with them to support them when they deal with Veterans Affairs, to receive clear, easy-to-understand information about programs and services in English and French, as set out in the Official Languages Act, and have their privacy protected, as set out in the Privacy Act.
More importantly, the Veterans Bill of Rights has two rights that are included as principles in Bill C-378. The first principle is that the person be treated with respect, dignity, fairness, and courtesy, the benefits and services as set in our published service standards, and knowing one's appeal rights.
Canada had the Veterans Bill of Rights, but it is the 2011 armed services covenant from the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron, that was the gold standard, and continues to be the gold standard, for stating a nation's obligation to its forces.
Highlights in the U.K. armed forces covenant include that they, the men and women and their families, “deserve our respect and support, and fair treatment.” It says in that covenant, “the whole nation has a moral obligation to the members of the Naval Service, the Army, and the Royal Air Force, together with their families.” They “should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. Special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved.”
It is also important to understand that the United Kingdom is the only country in the world that has a covenant with its service men and women.
I am proud of Bill C-378 and the principles that our armed forces members and veterans are asking for. I would like to take some time to go through the three principles. The first principle states, “that the person, as well as their dependants or survivors, is to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness;" This respect is duly earned, as the men and women who defend our democracy essentially go to work in a theatre of war where those they are battling do not recognize the rights and freedoms that Canadians expect to have.
Canadians would not have those rights and freedoms without the efforts of our brave soldiers and the sacrifices they have faced on battlefields for the past 150 years. In the words of Aaron Bedard, a veteran and someone I now consider a friend, about fairness, respect, and dignity, “I know that the principles of fairness, respect and dignity towards Canadian veterans are as important to [Canadians] as they are for veterans and our families.” I believe that in all that I am. It was Sir Robert Borden who first touched on the idea of obligation because of the duty performed by our Canadian Forces.
The second principle of Bill C-378 states that we should recognize “the uniqueness of the person's professionalism”, and “the obligations and sacrifices”, such as that a profession “demands also impacts the experiences of their family”.
It was only in recent years where the duty of a soldier's family has been recognized. This recognition is long overdue. For far too many years, families along with veterans suffered in silence with what was at first called “shell shock”, which we know now as the unseen injury of post-traumatic stress disorder.
On that note, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George has passed Bill C-211 in the House. It has been 168 days that legislation has been in the Senate, and it is time that the bill be passed in the Senate.
In many veterans affairs committee meetings, it was the spouse or a family member that spoke out about their roles in keeping their father, brother, mother, sister alive after returning from theatres of war. Bill C-378, if passed, will forever recognize the uniqueness and obligations of not only the veterans who fought, but the families of the soldiers and our veterans.
More important is the third principle, “that any decision regarding the care, treatment or re-establishment in civil life of the person and the benefits to be provided to them be made in a timely manner.”
Many discussions in the House and in committee revolve around the care that our veterans receive. In some cases, Veterans Affairs does well, and I commend the men and women who work in VAC offices across Canada, in call centres, and in the Charlottetown headquarters, for the work that they do.
However, there must be a recognition that there are cases where gaps are located and the standard of service cannot be met.
The idea of providing benefits in a timely manner must be considered in all aspects of the care received by our veterans when they are transitioning to civilian life. There is a standard of care, but there are way too many gaps right now causing delays. We can do better, and we must do better.
Dave Bona, a veteran and mefloquine survivor said it best when he stated:
When a soldier comes home all they ask for is to have the services and medical care they need available in a timely manner for themselves and their family. Having these reasonable principles in the act will set in place the simple obligation that we ask for.
The obligation is that care be provided when it is needed, not six, seven, 10, or 12 months after it is asked for. The obligation of getting care to veterans rests with Veterans Affairs Canada. Service provision in a timely manner does not mean using an average of 16 weeks to deliver services within, for example, but giving a realistic expectation to veterans and their families of the different care that will be delivered in varying circumstances. The principle of receiving care in timely manner takes the idea of “in a timely manner” from being aspirational to being realistic and expected. It also puts it in legislation. As research improves how care is delivered, so should the timing of when that care is delivered.
As I said, last summer I had an opportunity to travel the country with the members for Yorkton—Melville and Souris—Moose Mountain, and met with veterans and their families. I met with a Robert Gagnon, a veteran walking across B.C. to help veterans suffering from PTSD. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, we talked with the women and men who run the military family resource centres. I met with Medric Cousineau, who has saved 99 lives by pairing veterans with trained service dogs. In Calgary, we learned the incredible story of how the police are helping our homeless veterans. In Edmonton, we met with CAF members and veterans together, and in that meeting, a colonel helped one veteran get off the street after hearing his story at that round table.
I give all of the credit for the three principles in Bill C-378 to everyone we met this summer. It is the veterans and their families, the MFRC staff, and the volunteers and activists who helped get this bill to the House today.
I hope all members of the House will support this bill and get Bill C-378 to committee, where more voices of veterans and their families can be heard on these important principles and the need to get them put into legislation.
Finally, as I close, I will give the last words to Don Sorochan, a lawyer from Vancouver, B.C. He wrote to me and said:
I welcome this Bill to further recognize the Military Covenant. Throughout our history Canadians have put life and limb on the line to serve Canada. The Covenant is Canada’s promise that in return for this service to protect our country and its democratic institutions, those who serve and their dependents will be honoured, respected and looked after by a grateful nation. The implementation of this Covenant should not be left to the whims of bureaucrats or the other pressing demands of the government of the day.
It is important to understand that this obligation is not just to be placed on the current government, this minister, or the bureaucracy. This covenant is to be placed on future generations, future governments, future ministers, future bureaucrats, and future parliamentarians, who understand the sacred obligation, the covenant that Canada should have, needs to have and, hopefully, will have with its veterans.