Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-31, the RCMP and military pensions act, special duty operations.
The member from the NDP who just spoke did so quite well. I agree with him and the Minister of Veterans Affairs should remember the length of time that it took to recognize the merchant navy personnel in this country, the fact that it was only in recent years that it came to the House and we actually recognized the merchant navy.
I can remember as a kid the discussion years ago in my own household. My father, who was a veteran of World War II, just absolutely, totally turned away from the government, and from the legion at the time because they would not allow merchant navy veterans to be members. As someone who had served a lot of time in the coastal communities in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland where they actually picked up survivors and the bodies from the U-boat attacks, my father could never understand the fact that the Canadian government never recognized merchant marines as veterans of World War II. It was absolutely incredible.
Before I begin my full comments on Bill C-31, I would also remind the minister that it seems to be a continuing theme within the government ranks. The minister himself has refused, at least up to this point, to support the veterans of the Korean war who are asking for the privilege and the right to wear the Republic of Korea service medal which was given to them in 1951. The Canadian government has never recognized that medal. It had issued its own. Other governments have recognized it, including most of the Commonwealth countries and the United States, yet the minister, through his office, refuses to recognize it and refuses to give his support to the Governor General's Chancellery of Honours, to support our veterans in wearing the Republic of Korea service medal.
Certainly it is time that we have an in-depth examination of many of the wrongs that were created in the past, and it is a proper time now to correct them. We have corrected the merchant navy. I am certain it is time to allow our veterans of the Korean war who were issued the Republic of Korea service medal the right to wear that medal with honour, as they should.
The purpose of Bill C-31 is to extend more comprehensive and timely coverage to members of the Canadian forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police serving in areas and operations where the risk to their safety and security is elevated. Now they are at least going to have some peace of mind that there is some coverage there, not only for themselves but for their beneficiaries.
Under the current Pension Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, members of the Canadian forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are entitled to financial compensation in the event of disability or death in the performance of their duties. The coverage is provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and includes insurance against all perils for those serving in what are known as special duty areas. Special duty areas are defined as areas that are geographically outside of Canada.
The substance of Bill C-31 would provide more complete coverage to eligible members serving in designated operations both inside and outside of Canada. Surely since September 11 we all realize the importance of extending this coverage. It was important before but it is even more important today that we extend this coverage inside of Canada. That coverage is for exposure to conditions of elevated risk up to and including armed conflict.
In addition to special duty areas, Bill C-31 would create a new service type called special duty operations. Serving in these areas or operations is special duty service which is defined in Bill C-31 as meaning service by either Canadian Forces or RCMP members in an area or operation designated for Canadian Forces members by the Minister of National Defence in consultation with the Minister of Veterans Affairs as a special duty area or operation. For Royal Canadian Mounted Police members the designation falls to the Solicitor General in consultation with the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
A special duty area or operation in Canada, or abroad, will be so designated if it is determined that it involves exposure of Canadian Forces or RCMP members to elevated risk. Examples of elevated risk include: search and rescue missions, UN operations, armed conflict or counter-terrorism. They include any area or operation of elevated risk dating back to September 11, 2001. This coverage includes: training for the operation, deployment to and from the area, and authorized leaves of absence.
It is my understanding that the bill is long overdue. For a government that has been in power since 1993, there have been a number of issues that have sat on the back burner. This is one of them. It took a major attack inside the confines of North America to even have the government interested in bringing this type of legislation forth and certainly it is timely and long overdue.
In closing, it has been said that a nation reveals itself not only by the men and women it produces, but also by the men and women it honours, and the men and women it remembers. In this spirit, it is an honour to support Bill C-31, a bill that seeks to improve the conditions of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Forces and their families.