Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on Bill C-31, an act to amend the Pension Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act.
First, I want to say that the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of Bill C-31. We recognize the commendable work done by our veterans and RCMP officers. Their commitment goes far beyond their job requirements, and we are grateful to them for this.
The purpose of Bill C-31 is to make the necessary amendments to the aforementioned legislation so that members of the armed forces or the RCMP who have taken part in special service operations, particularly ones under the Charter of the United Nations or search and rescue operations would, from this day forward, be entitled to a pension. So, this change recognizes the high risk of such operations.
Both these groups have impressive records. Since the Korean War, the largest deployment of military personnel abroad took place in 1999 with over 4,400 members of the armed forces, mostly on peace support operations.
These interventions are predicated on our legal and constitutional role. Thus, cabinet usually makes special orders allowing troop deployments for UN operations.
Of course, cabinet must inform Parliament of such decisions and it is up to parliamentarians to support or reject these decisions. The nature and scope of these deployments are significant elements in any government decision. We must also point out that in some cases the participation of armed forces or the RCMP in foreign operations moves rapidly beyond the control of the central government, as in the case of a United Nations operation.
In other words, the central government loses its right to act independently and becomes solely a service provider.
The Bloc Quebecois position has always been that such operations should be subject to debate in the House. Thus, on April 19, 1999, a motion by the Bloc Quebecois was debated. That motion concerned the armed conflict in Kosovo and the Balkans. The Bloc's intention was that any deployment of soldiers who may be involved in military or peacekeeping operations should be subject to a debate.
Our position was that the information about this involvement was seriously deficient. The motion was voted down on the pretext that it concerned a purely hypothetical situation. Since then, we have seen over and over that there was nothing hypothetical about it and that the Bloc Quebecois request was clearly justified.
We can regret the fact that, because of the government's refusal, members of our military and RCMP must deal with precarious situations and impossible deadlines, making their activities extremely risky. We must remember that certain missions have been more like military operations than peacekeeping or humanitarian activities, and that is disappointing.
Thus, it is appropriate to meet the needs of those who go on such missions by granting them commensurate pensions.
Canada has taken part in many wars since the Boer War in 1899. In 1918, more than 4,000 men were sent to Siberia during the Russian Civil War. In 1950, during the Korean War, Canada agreed to send troops only if the UN decided it was useful. We should mention that Canada's participation in that conflict was not dependent on a declaration of war.
The same thing happened during the gulf war in 1991. On August 6, 1990, the United Nations adopted resolution 661, which required members to impose sanctions against Iraq. Now, the federal government has invoked the United Nations Act, which states that only after the next session commences shall the orders and regulations made under this act be laid before Parliament. On October 23, 1990, the House of Commons adopted a motion to send troops to the gulf. However, it was not until November 29, 1990, that the United Nations adopted resolution 678 authorizing armed intervention in Iraq.
I find it somewhat ironic that, back then, there was no mention of any hypothetical situation.
Although the House of Commons adopted a motion authorizing the sending of troops to the Arabian Peninsula, the government thought it appropriate to hold an emergency debate to confirm this military support. The opposition questioned the need for such an aggressive reaction, because the UN had not taken such action during other similar conflicts. This entire debate ended when the United States began its armed aggression the following day.
On December 3, 1992, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 794 to establish a peace support mission in Somalia. In this resolution, the UN approved the use of force.
At the time, the opposition had asked that a debate be held before the federal government made any decisions. The government responded that it would make its decision first and only then would there be a debate. Furthermore, the government indicated that making such decisions was its responsibility and prerogative. Nevertheless, there was a special debate on the issue.
It was not until 1998 that parliamentarians again raised the need to hold a debate before any decisions were made about Canada's taking part in armed intervention abroad.
On September 30, 1998, a motion was passed in the House of Commons calling upon the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to negotiate a peaceful solution and expressing profound dismay and sorrow concerning the atrocities being suffered by the civilian population in Kosovo. Only a week later did the central government deign to hold a take note debate on this matter, once again relegating parliamentarians to the role of bystanders.
Finally, the war in Iraq has allowed us an opportunity to stress the essential role parliamentarians must play in making decisions that in any way involve participation by Canada in armed interventions.
Once again, the decision-making role of parliamentarians has been shunted aside and the central government has decided to just do as it pleases, which we find regrettable. Our involvement as parliamentarians must be active rather than passive when it comes to making decisions with such impact on the public. I wish to make it clear that the participation by the people of Quebec has been exemplary. Our demonstration in support of peace most certainly played its part.
In addition to combat interventions, we must also think of our involvement in peacekeeping operations. These have become riskier and more complex than before, if not downright dangerous.
Once again, the scope and nature of the situation are significant, but we must add the human side. The duration only complicates matters.
Since 1945 Canada has taken part in more than 40 peace operations or related missions. While the UN charter does not oblige Canada to participate, we have nonetheless established a custom of peacekeeping we want to maintain that dates back to 1954, after the Korean war, when Canada took part in three surveillance missions.
Toward the end of 1954, Canada took part in the Suez Canal peacekeeping mission, and it was only four days after the government made its decision that a special sitting was held.
In February 1964 Canada made a commitment to take part in the peacekeeping mission in Cyprus when Parliament was not sitting. However, the motion authorizing the deployment of troops was not passed until March 13, 1964.
Canada then agreed to act as an observer in Vietnam, reserving the right to send troops before any vote in the House, however. Canadian military personnel were deployed on January 27, 1973 despite the fact that the matter was not debated in the House until February 1, 1973.
The following year, Canada deployed forces to the Golan Heights as part of a United Nations operation. As mentioned before, Canada took part in the gulf war of 1991, but it had also participated in the implementation of the embargo prior to that. There was only one vote to support the UN resolution and no vote on the matter of sending Canadian troops.
In 1992, Canada sent 1,300 troops to Somalia under UNITAF and 750 solders under UNOSOM. There was only a partial debate in the House.
Since 1993, more than 2,000 peacekeeping soldiers have been deployed in the former Yugoslavia under the UN or NATO. These missions have been debated in the House of Commons. There was also the matter of Canada's participation in operations in Haiti and Rwanda.
The result of these debates was that Canada must be more careful in evaluating its participation, because of the costs and resources involved.
On February 9, 1998, there was a debate in the House on the issue of military action in light of Iraq's refusal to allow weapons inspections by the UN. The Prime Minister gave the assurance at that time that Canada would not make a decision without a public debate. However, the United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, announced Canada's participation in this operation the day before that debate was to be held.
In conclusion, it is easy to understand that these kinds of interventions in foreign countries are complex and delicate issues, but the fact remains that Canadian troops and RCMP members who take part in these operations should not have to suffer the consequences unjustifiably.
Our peacekeeping missions are commendable, despite the risks involved. However, we must show our gratitude and our appreciation to members of the armed forces and of the RCMP.
Throughout my speech, I mentioned the flagrant lack of debate concerning our participation in military operations or peacekeeping missions. It is clear that parliamentarians and, as a result, those who elected them, are excluded from the process. This is inconceivable. Our role must not be limited to approving executive decisions. We are the voice of our constituents.
We need to debate any issue that affects Quebeckers and Canadians. We are elected representatives and we take our role very seriously. The deployment of troops is a serious issue. We must change our bad habits and be accountable to our constituents.
In closing, I will say that members of the armed forces and of the RCMP who fulfill their mission deserve our appreciation, and so do our constituents. Obviously, we support the principle of this bill.