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House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was copyright.

Topics

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I was hoping the member could update me on two issues.

The first issue deals with the 700 Canadian military personnel who participated in almost 30 nuclear weapons trials in the United States and the South Pacific between 1946 and 1963. The soldiers participated as test subjects, so that military officials could determine the results of the nuclear blasts on them. Many of these atomic veterans have experienced serious, long-term health difficulties and diseases.

In addition, 200 Canadian Forces personnel helped with the decontamination efforts and cleanup of the Chalk River nuclear plant in Ontario, following the reactor accidents in 1952 and 1958. In 2008 the Conservatives promised an ex gratia payment of $24,000 to these atomic veterans. The ex gratia payment is not really a large amount for people with big medical bills and illnesses. I would like to ask the member to give us an update on the status of these veterans. If he cannot do it tonight, perhaps he could send it over in future days.

The other question I had concerns agent orange. I would like an update on that question as well. While in opposition, the Conservatives pushed for a full public inquiry and a full compensation package for veterans and civilians exposed to agent orange at CFB Gagetown from 1956 to 1984. By the way, that is just one year before John Diefenbaker became prime minister. The current minister, in opposition, made some statements about the government acting immediately, compensating all victims, and moving towards an independent public inquiry. He said that in June 2005.

Since the Conservatives have come to government, however, only a small number of people have received the payments, the compensation of, I believe, $20,000, and there is still no public inquiry.

I would ask the member if he could update the House on those two issues. I know he does not have a lot of time to do it right now, but if he could follow up in writing at a future date, that would be fine.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Chair, I am glad the hon. member left me with a few seconds to point out that this stuff started half a century ago. In the last half century, only one government has done anything about this.

Some people may be focused on public inquiries, I do not know why. We actually took action. We are the only government in the last 50 years that has done anything about this. That shows that we do care. It shows that we take action while others talk about things.

It is never enough. I acknowledge that. Things were done in the 1950s that we did not understand then. That is certainly not our fault. It is not anybody's fault. The simple fact is that we have heard a lot of talk over the last 50 years about doing something. The only government that has done anything is this government, and we are proud of it.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the government for agreeing to hold this debate at the request put forward, because it is an extremely important issue for all Canadians, not just for veterans. All Canadians have an interest and a concern about what is happening to the people who fight for this country, serve this country, risk their lives for this country and come home expecting to be treated with respect and dignity and rely on the Government of Canada to provide those services.

First of all, let me say that I want to thank the Minister of Veterans Affairs who has sat through each and every word of this debate tonight, and that is not always the case, I understand, with debates like this. He is listening carefully to everything that is being said, some of it not so complimentary of his government. However, the fact that he is listening provides some hope that changes will continue to be made.

I want to agree with one thing the previous speaker said, that yes, progress is being made. I do not think there is any doubt about that. Progress is being made in the last couple of years in terms of recognition of the full effects of PTSD resulting from activity in serving overseas, the psychological injuries of service. It is important that these injuries be recognized, understood and in fact given equal weight when it comes to dealing with benefits and recognition for service and the sacrifices that were made.

A good example of what needs to be done comes from the case of Corporal Langridge that was brought before the House last week. This came here out of necessity because he was not properly dealt with and his family was not property dealt with after he returned from Afghanistan and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He ended up, as is known now, committing suicide on the Canadian Forces base in Edmonton, and his family had to go through a very difficult time to try to get some understanding and justice, and they ended up coming here to Ottawa to do that.

I understand that decisions have been made since his mother came here. She met with the minister and with the Chief of the Defence Staff, and some issues are being resolved.

It is important, I think, that we recognize that this individual whose death occurred as a result of his psychological injuries in Afghanistan is a casualty of war just like other individuals who return with injuries that cause their death.

We had a very unfortunate and sad circumstance. Brian Pinksen from Newfoundland and Labrador was injured in Afghanistan and died this summer as a result of his injuries. These sacrifices ought to be honoured in the same way.

We had another comment, and I will not indicate the member who said it because it is an unfortunate comment in relation to a person who has been fighting very hard for veterans since he was appointed. That is Colonel Pat Stogran. It has been suggested that the responses and the things that have happened in the last little while have not been as a result of somebody's press conference. I want to say this about Colonel Pat Stogran and his work as the ombudsman for veterans. He has done remarkable work in drawing to the attention of the Canadian public and the government the deficiencies that exist in the program for veterans in this country.

I do not think anyone in the House or anyone in this country who knows anything about it would say that there are no deficiencies in the way veterans' programs have been delivered in Canada. I think that is a given.

I do not claim to be an expert on veterans affairs, but when I hear the stories I have heard over the last two years, some of them brought to light by Colonel Stogran as the ombudsman, which was his job to do and when I saw the way he was treated by the government in terms of not renewing his work and his appointment so he could continue his work and the unfortunate way he was treated when he appeared before the veterans affairs committee by members of the government, I was shocked.

He was appointed by the government, to its credit, a colonel who had been a commanding officer in Afghanistan. He had served his country for many years. He understood veterans and their needs and drew attention to the problems. He complained he was not given the tools, information and co-operation he needed to do his job. I found The way he was treated with some kind of disdain by the sitting members of the government on that committee was horrendous.

When we hear that veterans are going to food banks in increasing numbers, as my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, pointed out, that is very disturbing.

We have some terrific examples of positive things that are being done. In some cases, they are being done by the veterans themselves, by way of example. I think Master Corporal Jody Mitic's name was mentioned here tonight. I want to also add Corporal Andrew Knisley's name.

These two veterans, who claim to have three arms and one leg between them, having been injured in Afghanistan and suffered amputations, participated in a motor car race in Newfoundland and Labrador this September, called “Targa Newfoundland”. Their manager, retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, who has some interest in car racing himself, offered to manage this team. They went to Newfoundland and Labrador and were sponsored by Canada's Acura dealers and Honda Canada.

They participated in this rally, raising money for the Soldier On campaign. They demonstrated, through their actions, their courage, determination and their willingness to soldier on.

It was very interesting and inspiring to hear them talk on the radio in interviews and on television in our province in September about what drove them to do that, why they wanted to keep active and why they felt so strongly about it. It was also about those who had been inspired by their courage and actions to not see themselves as being injured for life, but in fact trying to make a life for themselves despite their injuries. I think it was extremely positive.

A lot of work needs to be done to improve the lot of veterans in the country. We would not be having the demonstration on November 6, this Saturday, if it were not for the concerns that exist across the country. Veterans and supporters of veterans have worked together to organize it. This is unprecedented in our country.

What is happening now is that people are realizing the government, while it prepared for a war in Afghanistan, did not prepare for the consequences of that war. The consequences are far stronger, far larger and much longer lasting than were imagined. These costs were not taken into consideration with the other costs of participating in this war.

Many things need to be done and many improvements need to be made. Much consideration needs to be given to the ideas that have been brought forward by Pat Stogran to the complaints that have been brought forward, legitimately, ones that have to be dealt with, and more improvements have to be made.

I hope I will have a few more minutes in questions and comments to elaborate on some of these issues.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Conservative Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to begin by thanking all of the members who participated in this evening's debate. I believe that the issue of services to veterans deserved this debate. I listened carefully to their suggestions.

Of course, many good suggestions can be valid and worthwhile. But at the same time, the Minister of Veterans Affairs has to deal with priorities. We have implemented various measures to ensure that seriously injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan will no longer have financial problems. That is why we will provide various types of support, such as the $58,000 minimum payment for these veterans, which I mentioned, along with the options we will offer in connection with the lump sum payment.

The other point I would like to address is the question members raised about the ombudsman, Mr. Stogran. I would like to thank him because it is not easy for an ombudsman to start a new job in a brand-new position within a department. In fact, it can be extremely difficult. But at the same time, the suggestions and comments he offered were constructive, and we found them useful, together with our own thoughts and analyses, in making changes and improvements to the veterans charter. I would like to thank him for his help and I believe that the person taking over from him will be able to make further progress.

This week, November 11, is Remembrance Day, a day that I hope to share with all Canadians. How will they remember our veterans? What will they do to support our veterans?

Once again, I would like to thank all of the members for their excellent suggestions.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Chair, I know there are a lot of people across this country who will be showing an interest in the events of Saturday, November 6, and I am hoping that the minister will make a statement similar to that of the Minister of National Defence with respect to his employees who raised the concern that they have been told not to attend this demonstration and show their concerns that may be raised. I hope he can provide the kind of assurance that the Minister of National Defence did to military personnel in suggesting that it was perfectly all right for them to exercise their freedom by attending this demonstration. I would like the minister to do that same thing.

The minister also, earlier tonight, talked about the distinction between traditional veterans and current veterans. We have DVA pavilions, for example, one in St. John's, Newfoundland that was part of the old General Hospital. It is only available to Korean or World War II veterans. We have peacekeeping veterans, some of whom are in need of the kind of care that is provided by these DVA pavilions, but it is not available to them.

We talk about the dwindling number of veterans going to Ste. Anne's Hospital. If the veterans were entitled to get the services that are provided, the access to these hospitals and to these DVA pavilions, then they would be used and veterans would not have to go elsewhere or do without the kind of service they actually need.

My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore mentioned some individual cases. We had a serious one in St. John's, Newfoundland this summer where a person with Alzheimer's ended up in a facility that was inadequate for the kind of expectations that his family had for a veteran who served his country.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Chair, more than 800 food hampers will be delivered to needy veterans and their families in Calgary alone this year. Homeless people do not have the documents needed to support their claims and this lack of documentation causes problems when they are in crisis and need immediate help, as supporting documentation is needed to qualify for help from Veterans Affairs Canada. This system puts homeless veterans at a real disadvantage.

Could the hon. member comment on whether a national strategy is needed to deal with homeless veterans?

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Chair, that is one of the areas that makes a lot of people feel sad to know that veterans are unable to have adequate housing in this country.

We need a national housing strategy, period. Obviously veterans are a very important client group that would need to be addressed, but we are in desperate need of a national housing strategy in this country.

We did have one. In fact, we had one up until the mid-1990s and were recognized worldwide as being a leader in national housing policy. So that is something that has been lost. I will not mention what party was in power at the time.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

You can. Go ahead.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I can? I thought we were being non-political here tonight.

Obviously we do need a national strategy to look after housing for homeless veterans and for anybody in Canada who needs affordable housing.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Chair, I want to pay tribute to the veterans affairs minister for being here for the entire debate tonight.

A person in Ontario wants to remind all of us that it takes six years for members of Parliament to get a pension but that it takes older members of the military 20 years to get a pension and 25 years for new members which is clawed back until the age of 65 or when they become disabled.

My question is for the hon. member for St. John's East who is the defence critic for our party.

A gentleman in my riding served 31.5 years in the military and is being 3(b) released, which means that he is being medically released. He paid into the EI system for 31.5 years so he thought he would be able to collect EI sick benefits. Unfortunately, he was told that even though he paid employment insurance benefits for 31.5 years, because he would be in receipt of an annuity he could not collect employment insurance sick benefits even though he was being medically released from the military.

In the final minutes of this debate I would like to thank everyone for their comments. I would like to give my hon. colleague from St. John's East the opportunity to say how wrong it is that someone who has paid into a program for 31.5 years and is medically released from his job cannot collect EI sick benefits.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Chair, it would be very difficult for me to say as eloquently as my colleague how wrong that is. He has spoken very passionately about this in the past. I fully agree with him that this should not be allowed to happen to someone who has paid for 30 years into the EI program.

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 10:30 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 53.1, the committee will rise and I will leave the chair.

(Government Business No. 7 reported)

VeteransGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 10:30 p.m.)