Madam Speaker, I would first like to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Joliette, who will be also be speaking on the same subject.
Allow me also to congratulate our colleague on his exceptional work, the work that he has done to allow us to have this debate for an entire day. We are trying in some small way not to correct the injustice, but at least to honour the people who had to suffer that injustice and to offer them an apology. May the apology come from those responsible, the Government of Canada.
I would also like to offer special thanks once more to the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for his work on the Wilbert Coffin case, clearly another injustice—at least, work is being done on it—but most of all for the work he is doing for the marine industry, for fishers and for his riding. I am making that aside—something I rarely do—because there are members from all parties in this House who do exceptional work, and today, I would like to draw attention to the work done by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
That work has made it possible for us to debate his motion today, and I am going to read it for the benefit of those who are watching. The motion moved by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine reads as follows:
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.
My Liberal colleague previously made the point well: this does not correct the injustice, but, out of respect for the people who suffered it, it allows this House to express regret for what happened. It also allows those who represent it through our civic activities to demonstrate the regret officially, as we are preparing to do. I join my Liberal colleague in his wish: it is essential that the Conservatives vote for the motion as well.
It is more than a symbol. It is the expression of a will to demonstrate than an injustice occurred. The only way to do so with no political colours staining our gesture today is for the Conservatives to vote with us, with the opposition parties.
My colleague rightly said that we must not needlessly recall the past, but often the past sets us back in a particular context. It is a mark of respect that we owe the victims.
It all happened in 1970, but the process was set in motion in 1963. In 1969, there was an agreement involving the government at the time, headed by Mr. Trudeau. And Mr. Chrétien was the spokesperson on the issue for the Canadian government. So Mr. Chrétien came to an agreement with his Quebec counterpart in the Union nationale, Gabriel Loubier. There was already one major dissenting voice in the National Assembly at the time, and that was Marcel Masse. He felt that this was something that was unacceptable. He saw it and he pointed it out.
I found our colleague’s comments about the past interesting, when he spoke a bit earlier: if this were to happen again today, there would be the same concerns as there were then.
At the time, however, nothing was done to put a stop to this initiative, which is why it is so important to go beyond regret and apology. What will we do in the future to prevent such a thing from happening again?
For the benefit of the people watching, I will summarize the brief that the Forillon expropriated persons commemoration committee submitted last April to the environment minister at the time, Jim Prentice. In 1970, under Mr. Trudeau’s government, over 1,500 families were expropriated, and 225 families lost their property. The expropriated properties were burned by the federal authorities, and in some cases the owners were hired and forced by the government to personally burn their own property, which they had built through their own hard work.
Many of us come from small communities, often rural communities, and our home is where we belong. It situates us in life, and for a family, it is the secure foundation that allows us to develop and build our lives. Suddenly these people were told that they no longer had their home and that if they did not want to burn their house, they would be forced to do so. Then, gradually, their telephone service was cut off, then the electricity. They were prevented from going to fetch the wood on their farm for heating. That is what happened.
We have an obligation to remember such a thing. It was terrible for the people and their descendants to have to go through that. Parents at the time were powerless, and unable to provide this security for their family. The children and grandchildren were witnesses to this. Today they are 60 or 70 years of age, and they have carried this with them all their lives. Out of a sense of obligation they have told their children and grandchildren about this, as any self-respecting people would do.
A great Quebec poet, Gilles Vigneault, once asked what fruit can grow when one does not know the tree from which one descends.
We all have the duty to pass on where we are from, who we are and what we have experienced. Some will say that this is over. But no, it is not over. They cannot even go back there, to their homes, their property that was turned into a park, without having to pay to go and honour their ancestors.
One woman told me that to go and pray at the graves of her husband, her family and her two children, she had to pay. But it was their land.
To this day, these people are feeling the after-effects. To this day, these people are living with this memory, this trauma that will live on, and rightly so, given that we have this responsibility to pass on who we are.
Today, we are talking about a gesture that is symbolic to us, but very important to them. We must tell them that we know what happened to them. We know what that decision was rooted in, and we must make sure that it does not happen again. We are particularly aware of the impact that it had on them and we are apologizing to them for it.
And it is the motion from the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine that is urging us to do it. Let us not miss this opportunity. Our Conservative friends from Quebec who are the same age as us lived through it. The whole of Quebec remembers. It was far away from where I lived, because I was on the other side of Quebec, in Abitibi. Even though it happened in the Gaspé, I can almost tell you the entire story because Quebec's consciousness was awakened by this abuse of the people of Forillon.
Today, I think that our colleagues, particularly the Conservatives from Quebec, are duty-bound to raise the awareness of their colleagues from the other provinces about the situation and to vote with us so that we can finally tell the people of Forillon that we are sorry, that we ask their forgiveness and that we are going to make sure that this does not happen again.