House of Commons Hansard #83 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was commission.


The House resumed from February 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-211, an act to amend the Criminal Code (arrest of those in breach of condition of parole or statutory or temporary release), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On the item scheduled for debate today, discussions have taken place between all the parties and the member for Langley—Abbotsford concerning the taking of the division on Bill C-211 scheduled for today at 11.45 a.m. I believe you will find consent for the following motion. I move:

That at the conclusion of today's debate on C-211, all questions necessary to dispose of the said motion for second reading shall be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, March 31, 1998, at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders. And that the recorded divisions scheduled for Tuesday, March 31, 1998, on M-198 be deferred from the end of Private Members' Business to the end of Government Orders on March 31, 1998.

(Motion agreed to)

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak on Bill C-211. I would like to compliment my colleague, the member for Langley—Abbotsford, for putting this bill together in conjunction with the police. This member also, in the last Parliament, put together a victims bill of rights which unfortunately was held up in this House even though the police, victims and Canadian society desperately wanted the bill to go forward in an effort to protect innocent civilians.

I hope Bill C-211, which is supported by the police and the public, will not languish in committee and in the House. I hope members from across party lines will see this as a bill for the general public. It will make our streets safer for everyone.

It would be wise for us to look at the contents of Bill C-211. The bill establishes that a police officer may arrest without warrant, detain and bring before a justice a person the officer reasonably believes is in breach of a condition of bail, a probation order, a conditional sentence or a statutory release, parole or unescorted temporary absence.

What this bill states is that if a person who has been convicted of an offence and is out on bail, is being released with conditions or is on parole and is a threat to society, he or she can be arrested without a warrant. For example, if a pedophile is released on condition and is out wandering around a park with children, the current situation, believe it or not, is that a police officer has to get a warrant in order to apprehend that person who may be wandering around and threatening those children.

Currently the system does not allow police officers to apprehend a person who may be in violation of his or her parole or release conditions. We have created a system that forces police officers to go to a judge to get a warrant. By that time the individual, for example the pedophile, would have left. This is another example of the system hamstringing the ability of police officers to do their job of protecting innocent civilians.

Bill C-211 gets to the heart of the matter. It enables police officers to carry out their duty to serve and protect innocent people. It is a common sense bill. It is a bill that should never have come to this House because one would have thought this government would have put it forth. But it did not. That is why the member for Langley—Abbotsford has put forth this bill. It is a necessary bill which I ask the government to support without condition.

It is important to understand that this bill was supported by the police. The police worked very closely with the member to put this bill forward. The police now have no authority to arrest an offender for breach of parole. That is why a policeman has to look at a situation and ask whether he has to arrest a person or not. If he does, he then has to run to a judge to do something about it. By that time it is too late. A pedophile in breach of parole running around a park perhaps might commit an act too heinous for us to comprehend.

Various conditions may be placed on a person on probation. Section 495 of the conditional release act permits the arrest of a person without warrant when a peace officer finds the person in breach of any of the conditions of probation. However, an offender who is convicted and sentenced to a term of incarceration in a penitentiary may subsequently be released into the community with conditions.

Those conditions can be violated but as it stands right now, if a police officer sees the person violating those conditions he has to get a warrant from a judge for the person's arrest.

Bill C-211 will enable police officers to carry out their duties, use their judgment and discretion and arrest people who have already been convicted of similar offences or of offences related to those conditions.

Our justice critic has been speaking for a long time about issues related to revamping the Young Offenders Act. He has continually asked the justice minister to do something about the Young Offenders Act. He has asked her to modify it, to add an element of fairness that would ensure that the Young Offenders Act gives the courts and the police the ability to protect innocent civilians. It is important to realize that the bulk of innocent civilians who are victims of youth crime are youth themselves. In many ways the Young Offenders Act does not do justice to our ideal of protecting innocent people. As such it should be revamped. My colleague has continually asked the Minister of Justice what her plan is, yet we have come up against a brick wall.

I put forward a private member's motion which has had an hour of debate. It seeks to address the prevention of crime. If we are to prevent crime we have to look at the origins of crime. There is much talk about this now because of the recent situation in Arkansas where an 11-year old and a 13-year old boy slaughtered a group of students in their school. There is a terrible situation of youth crime in our community, in particular violent youth crime. It has been on the rise for some time but it has flattened out over this past year. Nonetheless it is a situation that the public finds distasteful, in particular the Canadian youth.

How do we deal with this? There is a two pronged approach. My colleagues have spoken very eloquently about how to deal with those who are committing the offences but we must also deal with prevention. Prevention does not deal with addressing a 13-year old or a 14-year old who has already been incarcerated. Prevention deals with time zero when a person is pregnant. In that way we can deal with issues like substance abuse and the epidemic of fetal alcohol syndrome which contributes to the criminal element in our society. We can deal with child abuse. We can deal with improper parenting skills. The Reform Party has given the government many ways to strengthen the family that would ensure parents have the ability to take care of their children.

My motion deals with that and it is in sync with that. My motion enables us to identify families at risk, to identify situations in which parents may not have learned to be good parents themselves. We can thereby introduce programs that would teach them what proper discipline is, what substance abuse does to them and their children. They can be taught about proper parenting skills and proper nutrition.

All these things are critically important if children are to be able to have their basic needs met from time zero so they can build the pillars of a normal psyche.

Many children who are in jail have their psyches damages quite significantly as a result of situations that have taken place. While that does not exonerate them from the acts that they commit later, it does make us understand that if we are to prevent crime we have to address the origins which start in many cases at time zero.

There are a number of model plans in place. For example, the Perry preschool program in Michigan showed that there was a $6 savings for every $1 invested. It decreased the amount of youth crime by 50% and the amount of teen pregnancies by 60%. Children stayed in school longer. It is an example of a program that has been in existence for 35 years which has been analysed scientifically and shows what works to prevent crime.

The member for Moncton was a leader in developing the Moncton head start program which has been very effective in decreasing youth crime. What is conditional is that parents are involved in the situation. If only the children are involved it does not work. The parents have to be involved too.

In closing, Bill C-211 by my colleague from Langley—Abbotsford is a bill that the House should support. It is another example of a bill put forth by the member in the interest of public safety. It will protect innocent civilians. It will enable the police to do their job. It is absolutely imperative the government listen to the bill, support the bill and push the bill forward for the safety of all Canadians.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Susan Whelan Liberal Essex, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased for the opportunity to join in the discussion on Private Member's Bill C-211 respecting corrections, condition of release and police powers.

I interpret the focus of these proposals as being on the addition of safeguards to the conditional release program for offenders. The bill does not raise the question of when release should occur or if release should ever be granted to some types of offenders but simply addresses the method by which such releases may be terminated.

Because Bill C-211 proposes additional police powers, it follows it would apply further restrictions to offenders in the community. Would these measures enhance public protection, prevent crime or even save lives? Would there be measurable improvement in the supervision and control of offenders? In answer to these questions I would like to devote my allocated time today to sharing with the House and with all Canadians some thoughts about public safety, the criminal justice system and conditional release as it now exists.

No one should think that the decision to release an offender to the community is made lightly. The decision making process is careful and extensive. It is quite obvious that any release conditions are framed by court imposed sentences.

Over the last dozen years parliament has pursued a series of measures that have increased penalties and restricted releases. On the sentencing end of things it is sufficient to say that there has been considerable movement toward the punitive end of the scale. This being said, it may be helpful for members to know something about the conditional release process and the roles and responsibilities of the correctional agencies of the Ministry of the Solicitor General, the Correctional Services Board of Canada and the National Parole Board.

Through these agencies this ministry, as part of our criminal justice system, deals with two fundamental issues which lie at the very heart of what defines the quality and the nature of the culture of the country. The first of these is public safety, an issue of paramount importance. Passage by parliament of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in 1992 enshrined in law the principle that the protection of society should be foremost in the minds of those entrusted with the administration of court imposed sentences in the federal corrections system.

The second issue is human freedom in all its dimensions: the deprivation of freedom, the respect for freedom and the quality and dignity of freedom. This is an important consideration given that the most extreme sanction the state is able to impose on its citizens is carried out by the Ministry of the Solicitor General. The Ministry of the Solicitor General, through the National Parole Board and Correctional Service Canada, is responsible for ensuring the safety of the public. Its employees, both in federal institutions and the community, deal with more than 20,000 offenders under its charge each day of the year. It must carry out this responsibility in a society which places an enormous importance on the rights and freedoms of all its citizens.

How the correctional service and parole board go about their business is a matter of concern not to only a small minority but to all Canadians. They are equally concerned about powers granted to police forces and, I would guess, would have questions about how much power is necessary to provide protection without approaching the possibility for oppression.

I believe we have to keep in mind today the fact that over 99% of temporary absences are successful and that roughly nine out of ten offenders in the community on full parole and on statutory release complete their sentences without reoffending. That being said, I also believe that the bill has good intentions and that the ideas for enhancing the protection of the public are good.

I recognize that earlier in the debate in the House the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough talked about the effects on rural Canada. He talked about the fact that he supported the change with some reservation and was concerned about the arbitrariness of it. He talked about what happens in small communities in rural parts of the country. That is where I come from as well today.

Unfortunately how the bill protects the public may be flawed. It could be subject to a serious challenge in a court of law under the charter of rights and freedoms.

This concerns me because I know and I understand the effects in rural Canada. I recognize that often there are one or two police officers on duty and that although the parole board does its best to ensure that warrants are issued as quickly as possible, it is not always possible for police officers to go back or to have someone at the station let them know that it indeed has been faxed.

There are issues that need to be dealt with, but I believe the member who put forward the bill today is aware that there is a possibility of a charter challenge. That is my concern.

We need to ensure that laws we put forward are good laws and that laws that go forward meet all purposes. This law in my own opinion has a purpose that is necessary. However it needs to be narrower in scope. It needs to ensure that there is not a charter challenge. It needs to ensure that we go forward so that Canadians know they have that possibility. One of the ways we can choose to narrow the scope of the bill, even in the words of the researcher for the hon. member, is to limit its application to certain offenders or specific behaviours.

For example, in the research that was done, limiting the offence of breaching parole or release conditions for offenders serving time for a scheduled offence should target the more dangerous offenders. Alternatively, the bill could limit the definition of offences to breaches involving particularly high risk behaviours such as possession of weapons or illegal drugs. Either step could go a long way to adjusting the charter challenge.

I am very concerned for public safety. I am very concerned for the citizens in my community. I have had many discussions with Ian Russell, who is now the chief of police in one of my communities, the town of LaSalle, one of the gentleman of whom members of the Reform Party speak often.

We have discussed that there are issues which need to be dealt with as we go forward and as we propose law. I go back to the earlier comments about this of the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. There may need to be some changes in the wording. Early in the debate he embraced the bill even though he thought there should be some changes. I also embrace the concept.

I am concerned about rural communities, about small communities, but as we move forward together we have to ensure that all Canadians are entitled to be not only protected but to the rights under the charter. We have to ensure that our laws will not be subject to charter challenges as soon as they become law.

That being said, again I talk about the fact that the principle in the bill is not new. It has been introduced in the House four times since 1993. It came out of the standing committee on justice that it be amended to allow police arrest without warrant. That recommendation in my opinion was to respond to the deficiencies in the law that could slow police response times. These are things that we still have to do and we still have to meet on.

The will of the people, police officers and many members of the House is there, but there must be a law that works and does not breach any other laws in the process. That is why I cannot support the bill at this stage. I believe it is flawed.

On behalf of my constituents I say as a member of Parliament that we have to find a way to give police powers which will allow them to do their job without violating the charter. I believe it is what we were elected to do. The concept is right and in my opinion the end is right. However, in this case I do not believe that the bill can achieve this end.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, it is always interesting and entertaining to listen to the Liberal backbenchers explain to Canadians on behalf of bureaucrats and deputy ministers of the government why a good idea cannot go forward.

I rise on behalf of the constituents of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak to Bill C-211, an act to amend the Criminal Code as it applies to the arresting and detaining of individuals who breach their condition of parole or statutory or temporary release.

I am proud to say I do this because my constituents have asked me to do it. Indeed Canadians from coast to coast to coast have witnessed problems with the parole system in their areas. This is a serious problem and the Government of Canada insists on saying that the status quo is fine and everything is okay. I am here to say that it is not fine. It is not okay. Things have to be changed.

I congratulate the member from Langley—Abbotsford for introducing to the House this very important piece of legislation. The bill does what the parole system fails to do. It takes steps to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians. I would like to ask government members and people watching today who the parole system is for. We will hear the government argue today that it is for people who commit crimes, people who have violated our codes and our laws. I will put forward a different argument today. I will put forward the view of grassroots average Canadians.

As members of Parliament it is our duty to provide citizens with a safe environment for them to raise a family, to feel secure when their children are playing at a local playground, to have them go to school, to walk the dog at night, to go to a grocery store or to visit a shopping mall. This is what Canadians want from the government. This is the reason behind such legislation as the Criminal Code, Corrections and Conditional Release Act and government agencies like Correctional Service Canada and the National Parole Board.

Bill C-211 will do two things. First, it will amend the Criminal Code by making a breach of condition of parole or statutory or temporary release an indictable offence. This means that the police will have the ability to arrest without warrant a parolee who the police believe on reasonable grounds—that is very important—to be in breach or about to breach conditions of parole.

Second, the bill will amend the Criminal Code by giving the parole board the power, following the arrest of an offender, to release him or to ask a judge to keep him in custody until a warrant is issued.

Almost weekly Canadians are subjected to news concerning parolees who commit unspeakable acts of violence. In my home town of Summerland, British Columbia, just this past year there was a tragic murder of a mother and a grandmother which sent shockwaves through a community that had not had a murder in over a decade.

Kevin Machell, on September 5 of last year, was on day parole and failed to report to his Calgary halfway house. Authorities of Correctional Service Canada did not issue a warrant until some 24 hours after his failure to report. The normal policy of Correctional Service Canada on such tardiness with respect to halfway houses is that action be taken within 10 minutes to one hour. No one will deny, even Correctional Service Canada, that was not done. Why? We do not know. The system is broken and has to be fixed.

The inaction by officials of Correctional Service Canada gave Machell the time he needed to drive to Summerland, British Columbia, and allegedly murder his estranged wife and her mother in front of their two preschool children aged 2 and 4, witnesses to this heinous crime.

The event is made even worse by the fact that the victim had obtained a restraining order against Machell and had written the National Parole Board asking to be told of a change in status for Kevin William Machell. The victim was not notified and remained unaware of Machell's escape until it was too late.

The events leading up to this horrific event call into question the entire parole system, Correctional Service Canada and its policy toward parolee violations and the failure of the National Parole Board and Correctional Service Canada to inform the victim of Machell's escape. Correctional Service Canada failed the victim in this case and it has failed Canadians time and time again.

Machell had in the past made threats on the victim's life. These threats of violence had been taken seriously enough by the B.C. supreme court that it issued a restraining order against Machell, yet Correctional Service Canada made no attempt to inform the potential victims, who turned out to be the murder victims, of Machell's disappearance.

Why was this potentially violent criminal given the opportunity to even be out on parole? This heinous crime could have been prevented in so many ways. The lines of communication were obviously blurred or flawed between Alberta and British Columbia and of course the third link, Correctional Service Canada. The victim should have been notified and she was not.

Machell was on the loose for 24 hours before a warrant was issued for his arrest. Under the current law, even if Machell would have been stopped in Alberta, maybe on just a routine check by police officers, the police could not have detained him. What kind of parole system do we have when even if he was an absentee, he was tardy from his half-way house, and stopped in the province of Alberta on the highway, they could not have detained him?

Bill C-211 would change that. It should be changed. There is no reason for this not to go forward.

Liberals defend the justice system time and time again. They pretend it is working just fine the way it is. They want the status quo. They say it is their priority to protect citizens, yet they are ignoring Canadians who want tougher justice laws and rules and they are ignoring the facts. They ignore the fact that 30% of federal inmates reoffend with a significant proportion of those offences being violent. They ignore the fact that convicted criminals seldom serve the prison time they are given. According to the National Parole Board even the most violent offenders serve on average only about half their time. They ignore the fact that in the past 35 years violent crime has increased 350%.

Canadians are sick and tired of the government's lack of action toward criminals and toward crime. They want a justice system that puts their rights ahead of the criminals. They want a system that will ensure parole is limited, earned and tightly monitored.

Last September I introduced a motion in the House that instructs the government to adopt a zero tolerance policy concerning parolees' unexplained tardiness in reporting to their half-way houses. This motion will instruct Correctional Service Canada to automatically issue a Canada-wide warrant for parolees who are more than 10 minutes late to their half-way houses and will make it a priority of the correctional service to immediately notify those who are in danger due to a parolee's absence.

At the start of this intervention I asked the House, and I asked Canadians, who is the parole system for? The government and the bureaucrats would stand to defend it and say it is for the likes of Kevin Machell who violated his parole. The answer that my constituents and all Canadians are telling the government today is that is not the case, that the parole system should put the victims of crime first.

Cecilia and Tammy Grono were murdered. Two pre-school children now do not have a mother or a grandmother. The system should be for law-abiding citizens of this country, not for those people who have violated the laws of this country and have shown that they have disdain for the laws and good order. This bill will accomplish that.

This bill is a good piece of legislation that should go forward today and I urge all members of the House to support my friend and colleague from Langley—Abbotsford in passing Bill C-211.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Before recognizing the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford, it is my duty to tell the House that his will be the last intervention on this bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, since this is the last intervention I think it is only fair that I summarize what I have seen and heard in this House about Bill C-211.

It was not me as an individual member of Parliament who decided to sit down one day to write a bill and develop a piece of legislation for this House which would prevent individuals on parole from preying on our communities by way of giving the police the empowerment to arrest them, it was the police themselves who approached me, gave me this idea and said there was something sadly lacking in the Criminal Code of Canada. They asked if we could fix it. I said “Yes, we will do that for you. We will take this to the House. It all seems fairly reasonable”. Then we hit the usual brick wall.

We hit the brick wall of mediocrity. We hit the brick wall of liberalism. We hit the brick wall of a lack of intelligence with members on the other side saying “We think you have a good idea here. Maybe we should pursue it, but, gee whiz, there could be a charter challenge. We must never challenge the charter”. That is the Liberal mentality that we have here.

Thus, in this country the prisoners have the right to vote. Why? Because a judge in his wisdom, I think it was Howard Wetston in Manitoba, said that under the charter of rights and freedoms prisoners should have the right to vote.

When we came back to this House what did the government say? Yes, the charter of rights and freedoms should apply to them. After all, we do not want to challenge that. So today prisoners have the right to vote. I disagree with that.

We have criminals today distributing obscene material on young people. A judge in this country not too long ago said “It is their unfettered right to distribute it because the charter of rights and freedoms gives them that right”.

Then we have government members on the other side, sitting back like they are today, saying “That must be acceptable because some judge made that decision under the charter of rights and freedoms”.

What kind of society are we going to end up with in this country when the government says, according to some judge, that if it is in the charter of rights and freedoms then it is free for all to do whatever they want? In fact, the legislators of this country are the ones who make the decisions. It is not the judges and the lawyers who are out there for personal gain, it is the legislators. Unfortunately this government's feeling is that legislators are merely to take the decisions of the court system and apply them. That is wrong.

Bill C-211 was developed to protect the public, to protect young people so that when a pedophile is out on parole sitting in a playground and police recognize the individual, they can whip him up like that, and scoot him back off into prison.

I hear from the other side arguments like “We don't want to give the police extra authority. We don't want to give the police the ability to arrest somebody without getting a warrant, do we?”

I cannot believe where this government comes from at times. I am ashamed at times to listen to the debate from the other side.

Politicians without the courage of their convictions are not good politicians at all. Politicians who leave the court system to make their decisions for them are worse than poor politicians.

That is not why this party is in the House of Commons. This party came here, largely, on several very important agendas. The criminal justice system was one of them. It is now a legal industry in this country.

Time and time again we repeat ourselves. What is more important in this country, criminal rights or the rights of victims? What is more important, the rights of criminals or the safety and security of the people in this country? That is what these kinds of issues are about. A member opposite is shaking his head. He thinks this is wrong.

We are aware of a situation which happened recently in British Columbia concerning Howie Slaunwhite. He is an individual I have spoken with a number of times. He said a fellow came into his life who sexually molested his daughter. Howie took a bat to him, which I think was a darn good idea and I am not ashamed to say so. The criminal went to prison. He hired a lawyer, for a fee of course, and they got a conviction. Howie broke the law. The judge charged him $42,000 which he cannot afford to pay. He has to pay another $15,000 on top of that in legal fees. I do not think the government sees the consequences of these things.

Every day I hear people say that if someone gets into their house and molests their wife or daughter they will take the law into their own hands because the law is not doing a good enough job. Perhaps that is wrong. Perhaps they should wait for the police or wait to see if the lawyers or judges can do a better job. Howie, as a father, said no to this. He thought the intruder deserved a few whacks and he gave them to him.

The issue here is that this person was guilty of breaking the law. But why does a judge turn around and bilk a person who cannot afford $42,000? Why is the charter of rights and freedoms all for fairness to the individual criminal? I do not know.

It appears that Bill C-211 is going to be defeated because the majority government has spoken against it. I know there is not much individuality on the other side. They were told to vote against it. They are afraid of a charter challenge. The police and victims say they want it, but that is not good enough. There has to be another kind of profound influence. The charter of rights and freedoms may challenge it.

I feel sad that a country like this, which once had a great criminal justice system, now has a legal industry. I feel sad for the victims of crime who watch every day as prisoners get overtime pay, the right to vote, the right to sue—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

An hon. member

Free medical.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

—free medical, dental and television. The list goes on. The prisoners are provided free bleach to sterilize their needles so they do not get HIV when they inject cocaine. Free condoms are supplied, even though having sex with each other in prison is a violation of the commissioner's directives. All of this indicates that we have a justice system in decay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Open your eyes.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

The member tells me to open my eyes. I am one who has developed a national victims bill of rights, supported by hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in this country. I would suggest to the member opposite that it is not me who has to open my eyes.

It is the government with its sick agenda and its fear of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that has to open its eyes. That is really what is wrong in this House: no guts on the other side.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

It being 11.45 a.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

Pursuant to the order made earlier today, the motion is deemed to have been put and a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, March 31, 1998, at the end of the time provided for government orders.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think that if you would seek it you would find unanimous consent in the House to see the clock as 12 noon and to proceed immediately to government orders.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is there unanimous consent to proceed as such?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed from March 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, an act to to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Defence ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I am quite pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-25, an act to amend the National Defence Act. I can only say I am pleased to contribute to this debate in the sense that it has been 50 years since this act first made it through Parliament.

It is important that we get down to some of the very basic needs in our military. It has been kicked around for so many years for the most part by Liberal governments. I find it unsettling that the Liberal government of today wants to look at itself as being the saviour of the military when in fact it has been the opposite; it has been the destroyer of the military. We in this country are paying the price now for what was done some 20 years ago under another Liberal regime.

Bill C-25 is supposed to be a response by this government to the Dickson report and the Somalia inquiry report. As far as I am concerned it does not adequately respond to all of the needs of the military. This was the government's chance. The government had a chance to amend the act with this bill. Unfortunately, it made a mockery of much of the commission's final report.

Amending the National Defence Act at this time represents a rare opportunity to address many of the concerns which have been voiced regarding the military justice system and the manner in which the Canadian forces interacts with and responds to its members.

It has been a real eye opener to travel this country, to speak with military personnel at the various base locations and to hear what they think of the government, the treatment of the forces and how it has impacted the communities in which they live. For the most part it is a shame. What has happened to the military community at the hands of the government is it is a disgusting mess. We have not been their protector, even though they lose many rights by joining the military forces. They have had an extremely difficult struggle during these past few years.

The events in Somalia opened up a Pandora's box of issues which set the stage for a great deal of investigation, criticism and self-examination. The excessive budget cuts the government has delivered to the defence department have dealt a serious blow to the forces' operational capabilities, their procurement plans and among other things, their morale. Particularly serious is the diminishing state of the living standards of the lower ranks.

Many had hoped that the government would seize this opportunity to put in place the reforms which have been proposed by those who have closely examined the state of the Canadian Armed Forces, not the least of which was the Somalia commission of inquiry.

While Bill C-25 is a step in the right direction, it unfortunately does not go nearly far enough. C-25 is full of half measures which on the surface appear to address many of the concerns which have been raised. However, underneath the surface the measures are clearly not going to get to the heart of the troubles within DND.

Before I get into a more specific examination of the bill, I think it would be appropriate for me to remind the House of some of my party's wish-list for reforms to the defence department, particularly with respect to military justice matters.

The official opposition would like to see three qualities built into the National Defence Act. In particular, we would like to see the military justice system reflect the following qualities. We feel very strongly that unless these qualities are included, there can be no substantive reform. The first quality is accountability, the second is openness and the third is independence.

I am talking about the military justice system. The government refuses to address any of these qualities in any serious way. I think we can all agree that the military justice system is in serious need of repair. That is presumably why the government commissioned both the Dickson report and the Somalia commission. I would suggest that is at least what most people were led to believe.

When it became clear that the government was going to come under fire for some of its friends' handling of the events in Somalia, the Liberals shut down the inquiry. This unprecedented move placed a permanent blight on the history of apparently independent government sponsored inquiries in this country.

When one thinks about the ramifications of that closure, this should never happen on an independent inquiry which was commissioned to search out the truth. This government is a leader, if one wants to call it that, in actually shutting down an inquiry for the first time in our history.

Despite the government's best efforts, the Somalia inquiry commissioners did produce a comprehensive report. Among other things the report provided an extensive recommendation on how the military justice system could best be reformed to provide openness, accountability and independence.

The government of course made every effort to ignore the commissioners' report. The government downplayed it, mocked it and the defence minister denounced it. Now we see in Bill C-25 that the government has rejected it. In fact, Bill C-25 is largely the government's attempt to pay lip service to the commissioners' recommendations while escaping its obligation to provide the kind of comprehensive, meaningful change that would be required to properly bring justice to the defence department.

Much of Bill C-25 is smoke and mirrors. Of the hundreds of recommendations the Somalia inquiry report made, three of them were most important. Each remains unfulfilled in the amendments proposed by the government.

The first recommendation that remains unfulfilled is that the military police be taken out of the chain of command and be given greater independence and that they should report to the solicitor general in matters relating to the investigations of major disciplinary offences and criminal misconduct.

The second recommendation is in regard to the judge advocate general. The Somalia inquiry recommended the creation of the office of the chief military judge as well as the separation of the judge advocate general's office into the defence and prosecutorial roles. Again this was not done.

The third recommendation that is unfulfilled is the creation of the office of inspector general which would among other things create more accountability in the Canadian forces. In other words, when a complaint would be filed it would be acted upon independently and not subject to the whims of the commander or someone else in DND.

The above three recommendations are entirely consistent with what my party has been saying in this House since 1993. Surely a primary goal of any justice system should be the creation of a system whereby all participants are treated fairly, equally, openly, and where all participants are held accountable for their actions. Such a system would also be able to act independently and impartially. As evidence has shown, that is not the case with the military justice system.

What changes have been made are superficial at best. We will see how much accountability will be registered in those superficial changes. In the absence of those qualities being fulfilled, there can be no justice. Bill C-25 fails these tests.

In fairness, the bill takes several steps in the right direction. Bill C-25 clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the various players in the military justice system.

Instead of the base commander calling in the military police for an investigation, the provost marshal will have direct influence in handling that investigation. That may prove beneficial in some cases but the provost marshal is still in the chain of command, still subject to influence from the top. That is a concern to us and it should be a concern for the military. If it is looking for independence and fairness in the system, it should take that out of the chain of command and give it to an inspector general.

Bill C-25 separates on an institutional basis the military justice system's investigative, prosecutorial and judicial functions. That is certainly warranted. It tends to go in the right direction as far as having a little independence but there is still not enough. It still falls within the chain of command, is still subject to influence, even political influence nowadays. It seems to be very much directed in that fashion and we object to that. We want to see greater independence. It can be achieved if it is taken right out of the chain of command.

Complete summary trial reform is the third point. The fourth is to establish two oversight bodies that are apparently external to the defence department and the Canadian forces, namely a Canadian forces grievance board and a military police complaints commission. How much teeth they will have remains to be seen.

The bill requires those two new bodies and the judge advocate general to file annual reports with the minister who in turn would have to table them in Parliament. There is a little more openness and a little more accountability. If the reports are scrutinized and they are not sanitized before they reach this House, then fine. At least we can look at what is going on in that fashion.

The bill requires the chief of the defence staff, the new provost marshal and the ombudsman to file annual reports. It requires the Minister of National Defence to report to Parliament after five years with a review of the act.

The amendments have been subject to scrutiny. A group of individuals will oversee the implementation of the amendments. It is unfortunate that this group will be subject to two years of scrutiny to ensure the amendments are introduced in an adequate fashion and then it will be disbanded. There will be no oversight agency. Most of the implementation of the amendments will be over a five-year period. The board will be disbanded after two years and to what end? What is the value of the board in the first place?

Many of these amendments are good ideas. It is about time the roles and responsibilities of the players within the military justice system were established. It is hard to imagine that the system has functioned for as long as it has without such definitions.

It is about time the judge advocate general's responsibilities were further defined and divided. This is one of the major areas of concern for the Somalia commissioners, although they recommended total reform of the JAG's office. We argue that it would be much more advisable to formally separate these functions into separate offices and to do away with the judge advocate general's office in its present form altogether.

It only makes sense to have the investigative, prosecutorial, defence and judicial functions separate. The creation of the Canadian forces grievance board and the military police complaints commission are two of the most often noted amendments in this act. Both cause me some concern.

Both these new organizations will exist within the chain of command and therefore will remain vulnerable to influence from within the department. This will be of little comfort to many members of the Canadian forces who have had to deal with the military justice system in the past or who will come in contact with it in the future.

The creation of the ombudsman is frankly a joke and a poor one at that. This is a half hearted attempt at satisfying the Somalia commission's call for an inspector general. The ombudsman will be a paper tiger. It will have no teeth and will likely provide more frustration than good. Many provinces have ombudsman offices and we can see how much influence they really have in resolving the concerns that are delivered, little or none. They certainly do not have any influence or power to change anything.

The bottom line is the Canadian forces need an inspector general. The most obvious omission in Bill C-25 is the absence of the creation of that office. America, Germany and Britain have inspectors general. The Reform Party has called for one. The Somalia commissioners have called for one.

Everyone outside this government for the most part thinks Canada should have an inspector general. Why is it that Canada has independent investigators in the civilian justice system but does not allow the same to apply in the military justice system? What is it that this government is so afraid of happening if an individual outside the chain of command and independent of rank structure were able to investigate allegations of wrongdoing?

I can relate to one that should have been thoroughly investigated. This situation impacted on the security of this country. I am talking about the problem of personnel at CFB Leitrim using drugs. Leitrim is probably the highest security area we have in the military involving the collection of data pertinent to the security of this country. Yet at CFB Leitrim there were individuals using drugs. Where do drugs come from? Ultimately from organized crime. They were associating with such suppliers. Some individuals even had questionable personnel backgrounds yet they were sitting in a seat of high security.

I do not think that is acceptable. It should not be acceptable in this country. The information the military often involves itself in deals with what? Organized crime. Who deals with drugs? Organized crime. Information on terrorism, terrorists and aid to civil power comes through CFB Leitrim.

I do not find it acceptable that a commander can have control but cannot investigate in an adequate sense a situation that involves the security of this country. This is exactly what has happened.

I think these investigations definitely have to be outside the realm of DND. If a complaint is laid it should be handled in a very professional and appropriate manner, always with the security intent in mind and always with the intent to convict the wrongdoer, not to warn him.

The Somalia inquiry commissioners went into great detail regarding the need for an inspector general. Yet this government chooses to ignore the recommendation. It seems to be more intent, happier I guess, to appoint committees and ombudsmans and boards but is really not willing to have a definite line drawn to create a genuine independent structure or infrastructure that would name names and hold individuals accountable.

I think the matter of the Somalia inquiry might not have happened if there had been an inspector general willing to pick up the investigation and make sure it was carried through and handled properly.

That is the independence we are looking for. Ultimately it frightens the Liberals. They do not want independence. They do not want an investigation to be conducted in a thorough manner even if it means selecting those at the top who were not accountable, who were responsible, and removing them or having them disciplined in some fashion. That should be happening. Unfortunately that inquiry was cut short.

I do not think there should be a culture of secrecy, cover-up, intimidation to exist unchecked. It was evident some of that took place during the whole Somalia affair.

Bill C-25 is an opportunity for this government to correct the wrong. It refuses to do it. As a result we in the Reform Party will not be supporting the bill without substantial amendments.

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12:05 p.m.


David Pratt Liberal Nepean—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, my question relates to the amendments to the National Defence Act which would remove the death penalty from the act. As I am sure the hon. member knows in terms of the history of this penalty, about 25 Canadian soldiers were executed during the first world war and I think there was only one during the second world war for crimes ranging from showing cowardice in the face of the enemy to murdering a superior officer.

The Canadian situation actually is juxtaposed against the Australians who are also a Commonwealth force. No member of their forces was executed during the first world war and I think the same applied to the second world war. As we have seen, more and more since the beginning of the 1990s Canadians are being placed in combat situations, as we saw in 1993 with the action at the Medak pocket.

Does the Reform Party support the removal of the death penalty from the National Defence Act?

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12:05 p.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question from the member. We made very little mention of that amendment to the act in our proposal. In part it deals with the fact that we will be addressing that issue in a substantive way in this country.

I think it is something again that should go to the people of the country. Do they want the death penalty or not? That is a very simple question to ask in the form of a referendum. It would be fantastic feedback.

The member made reference to the fact that there were some soldiers in the first and second world wars executed as a result of their actions or lack thereof, perhaps treasonous actions. When it comes to the security of the nation there are offences that could very well warrant the death penalty. I am talking from a personal point of view. If it means a loss of life over the treasonous action of a member in the military, but not necessarily in a war like situation, by withholding information, by failing to act, by failing to protect, and people lose their lives or the security of the country is jeopardized, what do we do?

I think those are good questions that should be put to the people in the country. When it comes to the issue of the death penalty overall that is what the Reform Party's position is, to see what kind of feedback we get from those in our nation on that issue, yes or no, are they in favour of reinstating the death penalty.

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12:05 p.m.


Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, as we have heard the debate today on Bill C-25 I could not help but think of several things that touch on the whole issue of the military in this country.

We have recently had a base closure in the city of Calgary, something with which we have had a long tradition. Indeed Calgary has been a fine recruiting centre for the Canadian armed forces. It is the only city of its size in this country that does not have a base any more.

There are all sorts of rumours going on now with regard to the land deals that will be happening and who will get a sweet deal out of the sale of the lands.

Other cities that have had similar base closures have actually received money from the federal government, some form of compensation. In this case the federal government is looking to max out the value of the lands that Calgarians have already paid for in their taxes.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Calgary Northeast what his feelings are on the idea of closing CFB Calgary and the military institution, the traditions that we had in that city with little or no compensation. It is certainly not commensurate with what other Canadian cities have received. Perhaps it was political retribution for Calgarians not electing Liberals in the last election.

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12:10 p.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Calgary West for his question because I think it is a very important one to Calgary. It is pertinent to Calgarians and to the military.

The base has been moved. One thousand acres of prime real estate are sitting in the heart of Calgary. What is that worth? Just the raw land itself is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

That is not the only city. Edmonton has a sizeable chunk of land in its centre, 640 acres of prime real estate, and Griesbach barracks that will be turned over to whom?

Where will that money go? There is a squabble going on right now regarding what is going to happen to the land in Calgary. The member for Calgary West knows full well what is happening there because it sits right in his riding.

Who is going to be taking all those luscious dollars that are going to come from the sale of that land? Where will they go? There is no legislation anywhere that shows what will happen to the land to be dispersed. It will have to go up for development in some fashion.

Was it a political move to get rid of the military? Absolutely. I do not see any other reason for moving the base out of Calgary to Edmonton. The infrastructure in Edmonton was a disaster and it still is a disaster. In fact, our soldiers are living in squalor for the most part, those taking part in the program for military housing. It is disgusting. Sewage is backing up.

There was no excuse to move the Calgary military base to Edmonton. There was no advantage whatsoever. It was a political move and it is costing hundreds of millions of dollars, much more than the $65 million that the government put on the price tag for making the move. We have not seen the end of it yet.

Getting back to the land in Calgary, there has been no compensation offered to Calgary for the move in the first place and the land is still up for dispute regarding what will happen. I think it will be worth looking into.

My intent is to further examine the agreement between the city of Calgary which is a major player in this affair and DND or whoever is looking after that land.

It does not seem like there is a whole lot of consideration on the part of the Liberal government to pay any attention to what it meant to move the base from Calgary to Edmonton.

When we look at the bottom line on that move, there were only four Liberal seats in the province of Alberta before that move was made. They moved the base from Calgary to Edmonton because Edmonton was where the four seats were. Lo and behold, now there are only two Liberal seats left in the entire province of Alberta. Hopefully at the next election there will be no seats. I am sure members would be pleased to hear that. It would sort of solidify Reform's position in western Canada for good reason because of the abuse we have been suffering at the hands of the Liberals over the last several years.

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12:15 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the amendments being proposed to the National Defence Act, and especially the code of service discipline, relates to the abolition of the death penalty as a punishment and substitutes it with life imprisonment.

I am a little unclear from the member opposite with respect to the position of the Reform Party on the matter relating to the death penalty. I listened to the hon. member's response to a previous question, but I would still seek clarification if I might is as it relates to Bill C-25. As I have already stated, the death penalty is being taken out.

Will the Reform Party be introducing an amendment as it relates to the death penalty, or is it satisfied that what is in Bill C-25 is appropriate and will proceed accordingly? I would like the hon. member's response to that.

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12:15 p.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, we will not be introducing an amendment. I thought I made that clear when I spoke the last time in reference to the death penalty. The matter was previously covered in the Criminal Code as far as treason is concerned and those issues dealing with actions of citizens and the military. If they violated those sections they were subject to the death penalty.

When it comes to the issue of the death penalty let me make clear that this matter will be put before the people of the country. I understand the majority of people would like to see the death penalty for murder. It certainly can be extended into treasonous actions by the military if the public so desires. I do not see any reason they should not be consulted.

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12:15 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-25.

The Esquimalt base is in my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. Marine Pacific command is in my riding and as such provides me with an enormous amount of information and insight into what is taking place within the military today. As the No. 1 employer in my riding, the number of constituents dependent upon the military is vast. Therefore the bill is exceedingly important to the constituents of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

We are disappointed because Bill C-25 had an enormous opportunity to make some substantive changes within the military that would enable men and women in our fighting force to be able once again to do the best they can in an institution that traditionally has served our country exceptionally well.

Parliament as an institution has not served the military well. We have not provided the military with the tools to be able to do its job. Bill C-25 was an opportunity to enable us to give the military the tools to do its job, to strengthen the faith it has within its own institution, but unfortunately again we failed.

We ignored the recommendations of the $30 million plus Somalia inquiry. We ignored the recommendations of many learned people within and without the military to build a stronger Canadian fighting force. This cannot be a witch-hunt. We must focus on the constructive solutions that would enable the Canadian military to be the best that it can become.

We have put forward a number of constructive suggestions regarding the military police. We suggested that it be taken out of the chain of command and be given more independence. It should report directly to the military attorney general. This was ignored.

We asked that the office of the judge advocate general be split into defence and prosecutorial roles. Judges should not come from the same office and probably should come from the federal court trial division. Removing the judicial role of the judge advocate general would allow for the offices to be renamed the attorney general with the responsibilities of policing and prosecuting.

The Somalia inquiry recommended the creation of an independent inspector general. We believe this was ignored because the inspector general would be independent. If we believe in transparency, if we believe that we should have independence and the ability to investigate potential problems within the military, as in any other organization we should give this group independence.

The Somalia inquiry recommended numerous things. It recommended that the Minister of National Defence report to parliament by June 30, 1998 on all actions taken in response to the recommendations by the inquiry.

Is the Somalia inquiry to be just another study that is tossed under the table and forgotten? We repeatedly do this, be it the inquiry into aboriginal affairs, the Somalia inquiry or committee reports. After they get their day of media attention the vast majority of committee reports, which contain superb ideas and suggestions, are merely tossed under the carpet and forgotten. This is an enormous waste of opportunity. It is also an enormous waste of taxpayers' money.

Bill C-25 also failed to address the suggestion that action be taken regarding witnesses who lied or broke officers trust or oath. It ignored twelve recommendations addressing the creation of the office of the inspector general. It ignored five recommendations charging the CDS with clarifying and strengthening the change of command. It ignored eight recommendations charging the CDS with more effective screening with respect to promotions, self-discipline and how personnel impose discipline on others. Bill C-25 ignored twelve recommendations charging the CDS with applying merit as the prime factor in promotion through improving the performance and evaluating reporting system.

Today in the military, as in other organizations, people are not necessarily promoted on the basis of merit but on the basis of some other characteristic. That is not fair. It erodes the very essence of any organization.

When people, regardless of where they happen to be from, say that they cannot ascend through the ranks of an organization on the basis of merit, why should they improve themselves? Why should they give the best performance? Why should they be the best they can become?

They are not being promoted on the basis of merit. They are being promoted on the basis of some other characteristic. That erodes the very heart and soul of the system and what we get is an organization that is far less than what it could be.

The bill has ignored numerous recommendations. I will not go through the rest of them because my colleague has eloquently spoken about them. There are numerous other things that the military has failed to deal with. One particularly important situation is what has been occurring in my riding on the dockyard and in the depot.

A few months ago military personnel heard through the grapevine that roughly 18,000 jobs were to be lost. Can we imagine being people in the military and hearing that our jobs might be lost?

I told the Minister of National Defence that these rumours were flying around. The NDP asked questions, as well they should and should be commended for doing so. When we asked these questions of the minister he said that they were just rumours, that they would not really lose 18,000 jobs. I then asked the minister to tell the personnel on these bases what would or would not happen. Have we heard anything? No, we have not.

Representatives of the Union of National Defence Employees have asked the minister what is going on. There might be some reallocation of jobs through the alternative service delivery plan. How many jobs will it be? Who will have to do this? Will personnel be allowed to bid for their jobs on a fair and level playing field? These are important issues.

I would like to point out the backdrop against which this takes place. In my riding men and women at the base service depot have gone through the downsizing. In fact they are a model of downsizing in the country. They have cut where they have needed to cut. They streamlined where they needed to streamline. They improved their efficiency where they needed to improve their efficiency, so much so that they are a model of downsizing. They have been held up as a model of downsizing.

For over 10 years many of those personnel have been working at a wage level with no raises that is less than they would make on welfare. Some people for 12 of their 14 years in the military have been working at a wage less than they would make on welfare. They stuck out the job because they felt it was the right thing to do. They felt committed to the institution. They wanted to make a contribution. They liked their job. They felt strongly about the military. They felt the military was a part of Canada. They felt it was a duty and responsibility to the country to support the institution even though they could have made more money not working.

Against this backdrop the ministry said to them that their jobs may be cut. They have also not said to them that they could apply for their jobs if it is under the ASD or bid for their jobs in a fair and equitable fashion.

What kind of a situation do we have? What kind of a minister do we have? What kind of a ministry do we have that will kick hard-working men and women in the teeth who have done their jobs faithfully? What kind of a government kicks its employees in the teeth when they are down, when they have given more honour, more credibility, more faithfulness to the institution than perhaps the government has?

These people are not asking for miracles. They just want a fair shake. The Union of Defence Employees wants a fair shake. They want to be able to bid for their jobs on a level playing field. They want to be treated fairly. They understand that cuts have to be made. They understand that streamlining has to occur but they do not understand that when they have done this and have done it very well they are kicked in the teeth.

I challenge the minister to speak to the employees in the military, tell them the truth, tell them what is going on, treat them fairly and enable them to compete for their jobs on a level and fair playing field.

If cuts are to take place it would do the taxpayer and the military an enormous disservice if the reorganization is to make the military less effective than it is today. That is also a concern of these people.

If an ASD is to be used, will the people this is being given to be able to do a better job? There are concerns that the people who will be getting these jobs might be friends of the military, friends of the people in power. Will these hard working people who have been working for years for the military be tossed aside because the contract will be awarded to somebody who knows somebody in the ministry or in the defence department? Is that fair?

The truth has to come out and it is the minister's responsibility to do that. There have been no responses to my questions so far. I want those answers and I want them now. The employees of the defence department, members of the UNDE, who live in my riding want and deserve answers. They want them now.

With respect to the soldiers in our defence department, they have been labouring under an egregious situation for years. In a presentation at the defence committee over a year ago to General Roméo Dallaire who was there, along with the assistant deputy minister, I pointed out some constructive solutions from the men and women at the base in Esquimalt. They were solutions that would have enabled them to provide a better standard of living and to improve the situation within the military without costing the military more money.

It could have been a win-win situation. We could have made the accommodation assistance allowance applicable to all members in the military. When someone in the military is moved from an area where accommodation is cheap to an area where it is very expensive, such as Victoria or Vancouver, the person has to bear the cost. There is very little accommodation for that particularly if the person lives off base.

People in the military understand that they can be moved around and that they have no say in where they go. However, these people want to have some fairness built into the system. People who work in an embassy and who are moved to another country where the standard of living is much higher and more expensive are accommodated for that. Our military men and women should have the same consideration.

We can do this by making sure that the accommodation assistance allowance applies to everybody and that the AAA is tax free. It is not much but it would provide them with some money.

The raises the military personnel received were an absolute disgrace. As we have said before, the military has to live within its budget but for heaven's sake, when we are sending people out to fight for our country, we should provide them with enough money to feed their children back home.

Right now a soldier can make $800 a month and an extra $400 a month if he or she goes away. It is clearly to the soldier's advantage to go away. But what does that do to the family? When those soldiers are away they worry about their spouses and children. There has to be some fairness built in.

A large number of our military personnel travel half a world away to fight in areas such as Iraq and they worry whether there is enough food on the table to provide for their children. Our military people are not looking to get rich but they are looking for fairness. If they are going to put their lives on the line, they want fairness.

Another thing which is eroding our military is the inability of our soldiers to move up the ranks based on merit. I and my colleague have addressed this issue before. There is the perception, and I would argue the reality, that members in our military are not moving through the ranks on the basis of merit. Other factors extraneous to merit are taken into consideration.

It is discrimination if someone is not able to move up the ranks because they are not of the right category. A level playing field must exist within the military as in every organization. A person must be able to ascend the ranks of an organization on the basis of merit, competence, experience, on the basis of their qualities, not on whether they fit within a certain demographic group.

Our armed forces demand and deserve a game plan. What is their role in the world? They do not know. The military personnel will do the job they are tasked to do if we task them with it. They will do it with honour and they will do it well. We have to give them direction. Are they going to be a peacekeeping force? Are they going to be a military force that intervenes in active combat? Are they going to be a force that is going to live up to our obligations as a country under NATO?

We know that our individual security as a nation is intimately entwined with the security of other nations. In this era of globalization we have to live up to our obligations in international organizations such as NATO.

If we are going to have security, we have to provide our military personnel with the tools to do their job. There is no compromise on that. We must give them the required tools. This means the equipment and direction. We are not doing that in spite of repeated white papers, commissions and studies that have called for just that. Give our military personnel a game plan. Give them the tools to do their job.

In this era of cutting, efficiency can be put into the military. By giving base commanders the ability to manage their affairs more closely without the intervention of the Treasury Board there will be more money, more flexibility and better bases for the Canadian men and women in the military.

Treasury Board repeatedly meddles in the affairs of the military. It ties the hands of the military. Base commanders cannot actively try to provide support nor can they use their intelligence and abilities to ensure their bases are as good as they can be.

It is true that in the past the minister and the government have done some good things to try to give base commanders some flexibility. It is a significant departure from what occurred before. They can do more. A lot more could be done to give base commanders the flexibility and the ability to improve the social and economic conditions among our military.

The armed forces need our help. Their social and economic situation needs improvement. The government needs to listen to the solutions we have put forward, solutions which have been given by our military, the men and women in uniform and their families. The government needs to listen to our critic. It needs to work with members across party lines. It needs to work for our military.

We will not accept the subterfuge that has taken place for so long. We will not accept the military being ignored. We will not accept that it has not been listened to. The government must be held accountable. It must act on the solutions and suggestions it has on its plate. We will work with the government to help our military become the best it can become.

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12:35 p.m.


Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, I will comment on something recently brought to my attention which got under my skin. I would like the comments of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca on this issue.

Soldiers in Calgary and people who have worked with the U.S. embassy in Ottawa have informed me that our government was offered the Abrams tanks that the U.S. military was going to mothball in Arizona. It was cheaper for the U.S. military to offer these tanks to the Canadian forces. It was also cheaper for the U.S. to pay for the maintenance of the tanks than it would be for it to mothball the machines in Arizona.

Who could possibly turn down the opportunity to use world class equipment when somebody else was willing to pay the maintenance and when our own forces are not able to purchase that type of machine? Lo and behold, our fine Liberal government turned down the opportunity to use the Abrams tanks which would be provided with paid maintenance by the American military.

I have a very difficult time understanding why our forces were deprived of the opportunity to learn how to use Abrams tanks and to have the maintenance charges picked up. When somebody is such a staunch defender and friend of Canadian interests in terms of our geopolitical situation, to not take up this opportunity smacks against our friendship with our American neighbours. It also deprives our Canadian forces of the opportunity to utilize the machines. I encourage the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca to comment on this.