That this House issue an official apology to the people whose properties were expropriated to create Forillon Park for the unconscionable manner in which they were treated, and that the Speaker of the House send the representatives of the people whose properties were expropriated and of their descendants an official copy of the Journals of the House of Commons indicating the adoption of this motion.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured, and also very humbled, to rise today to speak about the people who were expropriated from Forillon. They were treated without justice, respect or dignity.
I would also like to point out that today marks a rather unusual anniversary. Another injustice occurred on February 10, 1956. On that date, Wilbert Coffin was hanged. Today, the members of his family are holding a very special ceremony in the Gaspé region.
Injustices have occurred, both in the case of Wilbert Coffin and in the case of the people expropriated from Forillon. Again this week, another case of injustice involving employment insurance was brought to the attention of my office. Recently, as we know, changes were introduced to reduce the number of hours of work required for employment insurance eligibility from 910 to 840 hours. That is 70 fewer hours, but this can still mean the difference for two particular young people. One is six hours short of being eligible. He has 834 hours of work to his credit instead of 840 hours, and according to the rules, is not eligible for employment insurance. This was the first time that he had ever applied for employment insurance. The situation was the same for the other young person who was short 20 hours of work. I can think of many unfair situations happening in the Gaspé region, the Magdalen Islands, elsewhere in Quebec and in the world.
Thus, fundamentally, when we talk about an injustice like the one the people expropriated from Forillon were victims of, we are talking about all injustices. When we fight one case of injustice, when we fight for respect and human dignity, we are fighting for all human beings who have faced similar situations in the past, are facing them now, or will in the future.
Getting back to the issue at hand, I would like to mention the co-operation and involvement of two individuals. The first is Lionel Bernier, who wrote a book in the early 2000s about the fight for Forillon. He served on a commemorative committee in 2010, which somewhat eased the pain of those who were expropriated. Another individual, Marie Rochefort, is still fighting today on behalf of a group of expropriated persons. These people, their committee and supporters are keen to meet with anyone interested in the plight of those expropriated from Forillon.
The story of Forillon is the story of the creation of a national park. I will give a bit of background information. The park was created in the late 1960s or early 1970s by Jean Chrétien, who at the time was the minister responsible for parks. At that time, a number of people—225 families to be exact—lived on the land that was slated to become Forillon Park. These families had cleared the land and built their homes there. Another 1,200 or so people had title to land in what was to become Forillon Park. There is the basic context.
This was not a park carved out of an uninhabited area. It was already home to a community. People were led to believe that the creation of a park would bring tremendous wealth to the Gaspé. There was talk at the time of 3,000 jobs, of many jobs down the road for a lot of people. There was also talk of major economic spinoffs. Sadly, however, the realization dawned in 2005 that Forillon Park had created the equivalent of 70 full-time jobs. A total of 70 people work at Forillon National Park which lies at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.
So this is what happened. People had been living on their land for years. They thought they would continue to live their lives on this magnificent peninsula. Suddenly, they were swept away by a tsunami similar to the high tides we have seen strike elsewhere. The tsunami was supposed to bring with it development, growth and benefits, but the sad truth became apparent with the passage of time. These people were caught in the middle of a chain of events.
I represent the riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, but back then, there were other elected provincial and federal officials representing the same region. They were complicit in these events and in the sad story of these people.
When these people originally settled on this land, they were thinking about growth, the future and their families. Suddenly, the bulldozers arrived and their lands were expropriated to make way for a park, with the promise of tremendous growth in the Gaspé region. Moreover, they were paid very little for their land and properties.
Caught in the middle of these events, some people accepted their fate because they could see a glimmer of hope. They were told that they would have to leave their land, move into town or go somewhere else. But at the end of the day, they found themselves in a situation where they were offered very little for their land compared to going market rates.
Just think of it. When Forillon National Park was created, the 225 families who lived on this land were forced to find somewhere else to live. Those with very strong ties to this region wanted to stay in the Gaspé region, in the town of Gaspé in particular. However, property and home prices had risen because of the anticipated increase in development. These people had to find other pieces of property to purchase, and that with very little money. They had to spend substantial sums of money to purchase another piece of property and a home. Many of them had to go into debt.
Many could not accept this ridiculous state of affairs. They fought back. To use once again the analogy of a tsunami, they were engulfed by a giant wave. Those who were unable to accept the creation of Forillon National Park, with its promise of wealth and development, were forcibly expropriated.
How is a person supposed to react to a government official in a nice suit? We have talked a lot about white-collar crime these days, but other kinds of crime are committed as well. Back then, these people were caught in a no-win situation. Roughly 1,000 people in five municipalities were affected. We are talking about 214 residential properties, 355 buildings, 1,400 woodlots and 8 factories.
And what of the famous promises I alluded to earlier? I can give the House some idea of the exact numbers involved. The park was supposed to generate tens of millions of dollars in investments and create 3,000 jobs, including 700 permanent jobs. The creation of the park was also going to lead to an exponential increase in the number of visitors each year.
In 2005, the town council of Gaspé reported that the park employed 35 persons all year and 100 more during the summer, or the equivalent of 70 full-time jobs per year. At the time, 3,000 jobs were promised, but in reality, only 70 jobs were created.
I will not sing you a song about the fate of these people. There is, however, a song by Paul Piché, and another lesser known one, La chanson de Forillon, or Song of Forillon, with lyrics by Maurice Joncas, a Gaspesien, and music by Pierre Michaud. There are almost enough people here to sing it as a choir, but that is not what we are here for. I will read the lyrics to you:For generations, they lived on this land
To live or die was the law of the people of Forillon.
Fishing boats in summer, axes and stoves in winter,
Sharing happy times, that was more or less their world.
But others came to survey, to measure and trample on the land.
From Ottawa they sent bulldozers to clear it all away.
Québec agreed and told the people to leave it all behind.
Now bid goodbye to your land, your home, your family, your friends, your Gaspésie.
Leave your homes for Montreal, Gaspé, Québec or someplace else.
Even with your broken hearts, everything will work out fine.
Go and die in the big city; it's not so hard to do.
A tree uprooted always dies.
Our land, our Gaspésie, will be transformed one day,
Of that we can be sure.
Strangers will come to Forillon and not remember
The ones who cleared this land a hundred years ago.
For generations, we lived on this land,
To live and die, that was the law of the people of Forillon.
Fishing boats in summer, axes and stoves in winter,
We no longer share those happy times.
Now everyone pays at the gate.
Those lyrics accurately reflect the spirit of the day. The last line says it all, “Now everyone pays at the gate”. There used to be a village, a church, a community and a cemetery. The descendants of those who lived in Forillon National Park had to pay an entrance fee just to be able to visit their family's roots and pay their respects. That is the sad reality. When we think about what happened to these people, we get the clear sense they were not shown an ounce of respect.
That is the battle we are fighting today, the battle for recognition of what happened. Another battle needs to be fought in Quebec City, but that will take place in another theatre, the National Assembly. Quebec was complicit in this situation, but we have work to do here in Ottawa.
That work has been done in certain circumstances, particularly the cases of Mirabel and the Indian residential schools. Now it is the turn of those who were expropriated to create Forillon National Park. Now, 40 years after the fact and many painful memories later, the people are asking for something. They have been given access passes for the three generations of descendants living in the area. This gives them free access to the park and means they do not have to pay at the gate to visit the park to pay their respects to their families or reconnect with their roots. But they want five generations to receive these access passes, not just three. That is one part of the issue.
In addition, these passes should not be limited to just the 225 families who owned homes or property located in the park. I mentioned woodlots and other properties. We are talking about roughly 1,500 people. Although it would not cost a lot to give them all passes, that small gesture certainly would mean a lot, and therefore not be so small, after all.
So I obviously urge parliamentarians of every stripe to stand united in the House of Commons on this motion. In fact, it is merely a first step. For Parliament to make a formal apology is one thing, but we also want the government to formally apologize to each and every person to whom this kind of thing has happened, is happening or will happen.
I met with these people, and I visited Dolbel-Roberts House in Forillon National Park. The museum tells some of their history. People have shared their stories on video, on tape and now on DVD. With heavy hearts, they describe what they went through and the tremendous pain of it all. And for that pain, we owe them our consideration today.
I want to commend my leader and my political party, the Bloc Québécois, for taking the time to look into this issue and allowing it to be our focus for an entire day. As I said before, by devoting a day to one particular injustice, we are actually tackling all injustices. And there are plenty to chose from. There is no shortage of injustice, we might say. This is an initiative the Bloc Québécois is proud of, but it is also taking a non-partisan approach. I hope it will be taken in that spirit. I am the first to speak, and others will follow, including members from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party. I hope we will unanimously support this motion.
This motion is not intended to fix everything. Keep in mind the situation I described. Today, all these people who have come here would, on one hand, prefer not to remember what happened, to forget completely, because nothing in the world could possibly right the wrong done to them. But on the other hand, they have a little voice inside telling them this would nevertheless be helpful, just as it could be helpful to those who are and will be watching us today. They may appreciate the fact that we are telling them what happened, making them aware of the injustice that occurred, of the disrespectful and undignified manner in which some people were treated. It helps to hear what happened. In any case, it helps me to talk about it.
As a native of the Gaspé region, I know very well that we have endured all kinds of situations throughout our history, which continues to unfold. Given what we know about the creation of Forillon National Park, about those who were expropriated, about the sad anniversary of Wilbert Coffin's hanging and about all the other injustices, the very least we can do today is to recognize what happened. When you make a mistake this big, the least you can do is to consider apologizing.
The former member of Parliament for my riding made some mistakes, and I apologize for that to all those who were expropriated in connection with Forillon National Park. Had I been the member at the time, there is no doubt the situation would have been much different.