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House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.

Topics

Standing Orders and ProcedureAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order. The hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound.

Standing Orders and ProcedureAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Grey—Bruce—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe I heard the parliamentary secretary say that she has two children of her own. I am not sure of their ages, but I would find it very surprising if she and her husband would voluntarily give up the right to choose how their children were raised. Further, I would be surprised if she would give up the right to equal treatment by the government regardless of what that choice was.

If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development or other Canadian parents decides that both parents want to join the workforce and hire a friend, a relative, a local day care or, heaven forbid, a government bureaucrat to raise their children, or if they choose that one of them will stay at home to raise their children, if she is honest with herself, and I have no reason to think otherwise, I am quite sure that she would agree that she would want that choice to remain.

Let us do what is fair and right for the benefit of our future generations. It is all about choice.

Standing Orders and ProcedureAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are offering exactly that, real choice. My children were one and a half and three when I started out in the House, as a matter of fact.

The investment that we made in the Canadian tax benefit which will reach $10 billion by 2007 gives for the first child a maximum of $3,243 and a supplement of $239 to stay at home parents for each child under seven years old. That choice does exist at the present time.

All the opposition party is offering is $320; $320 is all a $2,000 tax break means to parents. That is what it is offering to parents at the moment. That is not a choice. It is politically expedient to say, “Let us have a tax break”, but that is not a real choice.

The real choice is on this side of the House. In fact we are offering tax breaks for low and middle income families. At the same time we are offering to those who choose to place their children in day care another choice. It amounts to $5 billion over five years. The provinces have agreed that we are going in the right direction.

Standing Orders and ProcedureAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise as a consequence of the response from the Minister of National Defence regarding the treatment of soldiers injured during the line of duty as members of joint task force 2, Canada's anti-terrorism unit. It is important to have the federal government go on the record to officially recognize that a problem does exist.

The Minister of National Defence's initial assertion to the House on February 2 that there was no problem other than some silly paperwork that may or may not be getting done is clearly unacceptable to Canadians. I was shocked, and I know many serving members of the Canadian military were, to find out that there was a problem with pensions for veterans and to hear the minister dismiss those concerns as a silly little political football to be kicked around by the government when accountability is called for.

Let me assure all currently serving members and veterans of Canada's armed forces that as long as one individual is denied benefits to which he or she is legally entitled, there is a problem and it must be fixed. I take the concerns of all veterans seriously. I would hope the Minister of National Defence would do the same.

Injured soldiers should not have to beg for their pensions. It is an absolute disgrace that a soldier who is disabled in the line of duty would be denied a pension, yet this has been the case for soldiers who are members of joint task force 2. As a result of the cloak of secrecy that the Prime Minister has placed on all activities of JTF2, its commanders are afraid to report injuries because they fear they are being charged under the Official Secrets Act.

While the government will not admit that recruitment efforts to the military have consistently fallen short, I am not surprised that potential recruits would be unwilling to serve if they thought they would not receive due consideration if injured in the line of duty with a special unit like JTF2 or in a special operation.

The effective date of entitlement for a military pension is usually the date of application. There is an agreement between the Department of National Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs to share medical information once a privacy release has been signed by the soldier. In the absence of any paperwork confirming that a soldier was in service at the time of injury, there is no documentation to confirm the injury even occurred.

When I asked my question in the House, there were JTF2 veterans who were being denied a disability pension for injuries received while being members of the Canadian armed forces. This problem has been going on for years and will only get worse, which reflects the element of danger associated with the war against terrorism.

A part of the solution may be the suggestion to designate all JTF2 activity as special deployment operations. This designation would allow for an injury to be reported without the need to provide details of the operation in which the injury occurred. By establishing a date of injury, the injured soldier would be able to establish a disability claim.

I find the government's insensitivity to the plight of the disabled veterans shocking. It is a problem that has been going on for years. This problem affects other soldiers than JTF2. Any soldier on a special deployment operation that the government refuses to acknowledge will find themselves in a similar situation.

During World War II soldiers who were used for chemical warfare testing were denied disability pensions. The government refused to admit to the Canadian public it was involved in that type of activity. In the absence of any documentation and a seal being placed on evidence by labelling it an official secret, most of those individuals died never receiving any compensation for being used as guinea pigs to test chemical weapons. It is shameful that more than 60 years would pass before some attempt would be made to remedy the wrongs done to Canadian soldiers by their own government.

Standing Orders and ProcedureAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised this issue before and I responded to her very clearly the last time these questions were asked. I am very surprised that she is asking this question again because we have made it crystal clear that there is not one person in the government, and I would dare say the House, that does not support our veterans. The government has gone to great lengths to make it very clear that we support them completely. We have put a number of innovative solutions forward to do just that.

The member has raised a particular situation with JTF2 members. I want to answer her question very directly so that there is no ambiguity whatsoever with respect to this response.

In 2001 we put $100 million toward JTF2, doubling the unit's capacity. In the most recent federal budget we put in an extra $2.8 billion for equipment. Some of that will go toward increasing the number of JTF2 members and also for new equipment.

I want to deal with the issue directly with respect to JTF2 operations and those who are disabled in the course of their duties.

We know that JTF2 is subject to stringent security. That security is there to protect their lives here in Canada and overseas because they are involved in highly secretive matters and this is done for their protection. That is clearly not an obstacle to their getting the benefits that they are due.

We have made it very clear that JTF2 members are entitled to exactly the same support and health services as other members. In fact, their duties and their activities are not obstacles to that happening.

The two ministers, the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Veterans Affairs, made it crystal clear that any person who sustained an injury in the course of his or her duties would receive those benefits in a very quick fashion.

In early 2001 we put forth the Centre for the Support of Injured and Retired Members and Their Families which will provide for confidential support and administration to injured members, veterans and their families. I want to make it very clear, as I did before to the member, particularly for those veterans who are listening, that any current or retired member of the JTF2, any veteran who has any issues with respect to benefits and who does not think he or she is receiving them, should contact the Centre for the Support of Injured and Retired Members and Their Families.

I also want to speak to the issue raised by the member with respect to those who were involved in chemical weapons testing. On February 19, 2004 we announced a $50 million recognition package for those members, for whom we have great respect and are deeply, profoundly thankful for the sacrifices that they made. So far more than 500 members have accessed this package. It is a $24,000 recognition package and does not affect the person's ability to receive other pensions and benefits.

To any members who are involved in this program, please call 1-800-883-6094 if you have not received any benefits under this and you were part of the chemical weapons testing that was a part of our military from the 1940s to the 1970s.

All of us are deeply proud and deeply grateful for the work that our Canadian Forces members do for this country day in and day out. I want to make it particularly clear to those members of the forces who are watching and to the member across the way that the government is committed to supporting them. Any JTF2 members who have any problems should contact the centre or contact me as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence. I will make sure that your concerns are dealt with. So far we have not heard from any members who have not received the benefits that they ought to have received.

Standing Orders and ProcedureAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

May I remind the hon. parliamentary secretary that he is to address his comments to the Chair.

Standing Orders and ProcedureAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the former DND ombudsman, André Marin, and the work done by his office in investigating the complaints concerning chemical testing during World War II. That report by the ombudsman certainly played a role in the program that was announced to compensate those veterans, as the program was announced at about the same time that the ombudsman's report was released.

History has a tendency of repeating itself. In this case, let us not repeat the 60 years of inaction that occurred with a different group of veterans. When a country has a secret elite military force controlled by the Prime Minister with no effective parliamentary oversight, people do fall through the cracks. This sort of thing will happen. I look forward to full disclosure as a resolution to this issue.

Standing Orders and ProcedureAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to repeat and make it clear that the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, and representatives of JTF2 have met. They have been assured that any information required by Veterans Affairs does not compromise the security requirements of JTF2. Said another way, if there are any concerns whatsoever, the Department of National Defence will make it very clear to Veterans Affairs, without any disclosure of any secret information, that any JTF2 members are eligible for benefits and that those members did receive their injuries in a service-related accident or activity as part of their duties.

I also want to say, as another piece of good news, that the Minister of Veterans Affairs will very soon be releasing information concerning a new benefits package for our veterans, which I think will be very helpful and exciting for them.

It is our duty to support our veterans. The Government of Canada supports our veterans. We will continue to work hard for them and do a better job in the future with their input and by working together with them. We will at least in part give to them the security that they desperately need.

Standing Orders and ProcedureAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:52 p.m.)