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thing that Canadians have to address here today is whether we as a country are going to benefit from the production of historical documents well into the end of this century based on an incident that took place in 1993.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.