Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce today, on behalf of a grateful nation, that the Government of Canada will be making an ex gratia payment to retired Lieutenant Colonel Elmer (Al) Trotter and other prisoner of war veterans, POWs, found to be in similar circumstances.
As I had earlier alluded to in the House, Mr. Trotter has received the full benefits available to him under the current law.
This ex gratia payment will be made in recognition of lost opportunity for these very special Canadians and will not exceed $20,000 tax free per individual.
In announcing this decision, I would like to thank in particular the member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys for first bringing Mr. Trotter's case to the attention of the House. Likewise, I thank all others who directly and indirectly also called this case to my attention: other colleagues from both the government caucus and the opposition; former members of both Houses of Parliament; citizens at large; and the media. I sincerely thank all for the participation in the public debate. This is part of the freedoms for which our veterans fought.
Prisoner of war veterans have always been a very special group of veterans for both the Parliament and the Government of Canada, for all veterans organizations and for all Canadians. Canada is the only country in the world, in addition to France, which provides pensions for POWs. This is why Mr. Trotter's case is so compelling and why I have taken this course of action.
From time to time, parliamentarians are called upon to deal with difficult issues. Such situations are very challenging for all of us and call for a solution that is fair to the veterans concerned and to the citizenry at large on the issue at hand.
The tenet of ex gratia payment provides us with the needed solution. It presupposes that the payments set reflect responsible public spending. Indeed, the principle of ex gratia payment is to be invoked only in exceptional circumstances.
Many words have been written on behalf of Mr. Trotter; many more have been spoken. I quote from a member of the Privy Council for Canada, the former Senator Leonard S. Marchand who, referring to Mr. Trotter, wrote, “He is a kind, intelligent, unassuming individual who cares deeply for his country and little about himself”. He is truly a hero.
I would like to add that he flew 44 missions over Europe during the second world war as a pathfinder for Lancaster bombers, was shot down, taken prisoner of war and tortured.
Now I quote from Mr. Trotter himself. He wrote:
I believe...my record proves that I served my country well over my 26 years in our Armed Forces, both in war and peace, and to suddenly find myself being treated like I was an alien hurts very deeply...
One can fully appreciate why his case was heart-rending for me and for all of us until now.
I conclude on this note. Once more we can say we have listened to the challenge of the human conscience. Moments like this one make politics a truly noble calling and the House of Commons, and Parliament as a whole, a truly noble institution.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Al Trotter served with gallantry when the nation called more than half a century ago. Today he has reinforced in us who we would like to be: servants of the people.