Mr. Speaker, I too would like to speak this afternoon to the motion by the member for Mississauga South and state the official position of the government.
The member is proposing, as has been done before, that the government consider the advisability of establishing a compensation fund to receive gifts and bequests for the benefit of spouses and children of police officers and firefighters who lose their lives in the line of duty.
I have no doubt that the member moved the motion out of concern for the welfare of men and women who, as he said, protect and ensure the safety of all Canadians every day. I can ensure him that the government shares his concerns.
We are very aware of the vital role played by public safety officers in Canada as the first line of support and protection in crisis situations, such as fires, accidents and crimes. They perform these remarkable duties on behalf of each one of us, leaving Canadians with the calm certainty that there will always be assistance in case of difficulty.
At the federal level, as you are probably aware, we have recognized the importance of this issue within our federal police force, the RCMP, which reports to the federal government. As the member has also pointed out, the RCMP has a death benefit plan for the survivors of RCMP officers who lose their lives in the line of duty.
This is an example of the sort of concrete and relevant action this government has taken on behalf of the men and women in the RCMP.
In addition, the collective agreement of federal correctional services officers, who are also peace officers and who come under federal jurisdiction, provides a death benefit.
As well, there is a pension paid to the families of correctional officers who lose their lives in the line of duty, as there is for the RCMP. This also applies to customs officers, game wardens, and all other public servants who are federal peace officers.
What is more, every year, the government supports and contributes to the memorial service, organized by police officers for the most part and held on Parliament Hill, in honour of peace officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Last year was the 19th such commemoration. This shows, I feel, the importance Canadians attach to this annual event and their recognition of those who have served them as peace officers and have lost their lives while doing so. Initially organized in memory of police officers who lost their lives while on duty, this service, held every September, is
now intended to honour the memory of all peace officers who have lost their lives in this way.
A memorial book containing the names of the deceased peace officers is generally on display in the East Block, but it is placed in the rotunda of the Centre Block on the day of the service.
Also in this regard, the government supported the construction of a memorial pavilion on Parliament Hill which symbolizes the appreciation of all Canadians for the sacrifices made by our peace officers from all jurisdictions who have been killed in the line of duty.
The Police Memorial Pavilion was dedicated by the Prime Minister on January 22, 1994, as was already stated, and is a permanent recognition of all police, corrections officers and peace officers in Canada who died, unfortunately, in the line of duty.
This commemoration in our capital city, next to one of our country's greatest symbols, is further testimony of the importance Canadians place on their safety and those who protect it.
At the heart of this issue is a matter of compensation for provincial and municipal police officers and for firefighters, which I understand varies greatly throughout the country.
Some jurisdictions have assistance for survivors but many do not. Public safety officers are high risk potential liabilities for insurance companies and affordable policies are often hard to find.
Many families of public safety officers suffer hardship when their family member dies doing his or her job. This is obviously a concern to these families, to our communities and to our government.
This motion is a laudable attempt to provide fair redress to families of public safety officers who died while attempting to keep Canada safe and secure. However, a review of the issue surrounding the motion indicates that there are several considerations that would have to be taken into account.
The basic premise on which the hon. member's motion is founded is a sound one. It appeals directly to our sense of wanting to do what is right and just in such circumstances for the families of those men and women who have dedicated their lives.
There are important questions surrounding the issues that must be asked and fully explored. While we all nod our heads in agreement about the worthiness of the hon. member's intentions, we need to address some fundamental issues that have a direct impact on this motion.
I would like to address the question of jurisdiction. In this connection, members of police forces other than the RCMP, and firefighters covered by the definition "public safety officer" also come under the jurisdiction of the provinces or municipalities. Consequently, the federal government cannot assume all responsibilities toward these officers on its own.
As I have said, the federal government already provides survivors benefits to the families of RCMP staff members who have lost their lives in the line of duty. We fully realize we have a moral obligation to ensure that all those who put their lives on the line, as well as their families, are not penalized as a result.
However, as we all know, in Canada there is a division of jurisdictions and responsibilities between municipalities, the provinces and the federal government. Many of the jurisdictions and responsibilities covered by the definition "public safety officer" are either provincial or municipal.
It is reasonable to expect the fund to be used to compensate the spouses and families of the deceased, and it is also very important to ensure that fair compensation is given where compensation is due. I would also like to say that the way the proposed fund is managed is something that would require further study.
As far as these questions are concerned: jurisdiction, management, financing and the advisability of establishing a public safety officers compensation fund, I would like to stress the need for prior consultations with firefighters, police officers and their local and provincial administrations. This would not only be prudent but also essential in determining the best way to deal with this question.
As these issues are discussed, perhaps other options could be considered as well. Here are a few examples: Is there a way to give peace officers better insurance coverage by going to the private sector? Should we take this opportunity to ask a private foundation to sponsor the fund or establish a new fund for this purpose? These are questions that could be further discussed with the private sector.
I repeat that the motion before the House today is a very praiseworthy attempt to make just amends. I know you will agree when I say that all of us, in fact all Canadians, are grateful to public safety officers for the services they provide every day in so many communities across the country.
However, the motion raises a number of questions that merit further study. In my capacity of Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General, I recommend that the motion not be adopted until there has been further discussion, especially at the provincial level.