Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Calgary Nose Hill.
While I appreciate the opportunity to speak to today's opposition day motion, I truly wish the incident had never happened and I did not have to speak on this subject.
Today, we are calling on the Liberal government to explain why Christopher Garnier, a convicted murderer, is receiving disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada for post-traumatic stress disorder that he sustained while committing a heinous crime. I hate to have to state the details of the incident, but I feel it is necessary to do so in order for Canadians and my colleagues across the floor to understand just how offensive it is that the Minister of Veterans Affairs has continued to allow Garner to receive disability benefits.
In 2015, Chris Garnier senselessly murdered Constable Catherine Campbell, an off-duty police officer, by strangling her just hours after meeting her for the first time. He then put her remains in a compost bin and dumped her near a bridge in Halifax. Her remains were not found for five days.
In December of 2017, Garnier was convicted of second degree murder in the 2015 death of Constable Campbell. He and was given a life sentence, with the option to apply for parole after 13 and a half years.
This is an absolute tragedy. Constable Campbell was not only a police officer but a volunteer firefighter. She wore two uniforms and served the community with dedication. She had a family that loved, and still loves, her deeply.
When reports came out earlier this summer that Veterans Affairs Canada was providing disability benefits to a convicted murderer, I was personally appalled and I know all my Conservative colleagues and most Canadians were as well.
The disability being treated is PTSD. It was sustained by Garnier from strangling Constable Campbell to death. The PTSD did not cause him to commit the crime, and it seems that he is blaming her for his PTSD. Now the cost of this murder to receive therapy from a private psychologist is being covered by Veterans Affairs Canada, a.k.a. the taxpayer.
The Prime Minister indicates veterans are asking for more than the government can afford, yet he and his minister are prepared to give money, set aside for veterans, away to someone who does not deserve it and has not earned it. Yes, that is correct, Mr. Speaker. You, I and all Canadians are paying for a convicted murderer to receive therapy for a disability that was caused because he murdered an innocent woman. He did not wear a uniform a day in his life and never served his country as a veteran has.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs states that Garnier is receiving benefits because his father is a veteran, yet this still does not make any sense to me.
My father was a veteran, so I am familiar with how these things can work. When I was 30 years old, I did not receive any benefits due to my father being a veteran. I stopped being considered a vet dependant after the age of 25, and it only lasted that long because I was in university, as is the case for most Canadians.
When I was hit by a car as a young man and left with disabilities, would Veterans Affairs have come to my aid after my father retired? I wonder. How is it that Garnier qualifies as a dependant? Why is Veterans Affairs so quick to provide a murderer with disability benefits. If this was a mistake, why has the minister not used his authority to stop this from happening? It is shameful that the minister has no answers to these questions day after day and that he has the audacity to ask if we can simply let this debate rest for now.
I am a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. It is an honour and privilege to sit on that committee and do all that I can to be a voice for veterans and advocate on their behalf here in Ottawa. During my time on that committee, I have heard countless stories about the struggle that many veterans face when it comes to obtaining their disability benefits.
I remember my first Remembrance Day ceremony as a sitting member of Parliament. A young veteran, who had served in Afghanistan, came up to me afterward and was very passionate about his experiences and concerns. One of the points he left me with was to stand up for him and his comrades and not to let the bureaucracy cheat them out of the honour they had earned by serving Canada. As my father always said, “Now is the time to stand up and be counted.”
It seems extremely unfair that the men and women who have worn a uniform and have sacrificed their lives to keep Canada safe and secure have been pushed to the back of the line so a murderer, who never served for our country, can get benefits first. I have a constituent who has been waiting nearly a year and a half to receive his disability benefits, which deal with PTSD issues, with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Just last week there was another mefloquine rally on the front steps of Parliament Hill. Veterans who were subjected to this drug are fighting for their benefits in recognition of the huge impact that mefloquine has had on their lives and those of their families. People like Marj Matchee and David Bona are standing up and speaking for those who cannot. Where is their support from Veterans Affairs? They get none, yet a murderer who is a non-veteran gets coverage. These veterans had no choice but to take that medication. This murderer had a choice.
The penal system in Canada covers treatment for mental health issues, such as PTSD. This could include Garnier, yet Veterans Affairs Canada is footing the bill for his private psychologist. He does not need to use resources meant for veterans and their deserving families.
Why is the minister unable to explain the rationale behind this backward decision? What is taking so long for department officials to figure out how on earth this could have happened? Canadians want a response. In the meantime, the minister should use his authority to suspend the benefits until said response is provided.
It bears repeating the Prime Minister's recent comments to a disabled veteran, stating that Canadian veterans were, “asking for more than we are able to give”. That comment was extremely offensive from the start, as our veterans have literally given their lives so we may live peacefully in our country. That highly offensive statement, compounded with the fact the government is paying for a murderer's PTSD treatment, is another virtual slap in the face to all veterans.
I am sure most of us here remember what happened to the former base commander at CFB Trenton, Russell Williams. He was convicted of committing two murders. Following his conviction, he was stripped of his commission, his ranks and awards by the Governor General on the recommendation of the chief of defence staff. His severance pay was terminated and the salary he received following his arrest was seized. His uniform was burned and his medals were destroyed.
Imagine the outrage Canadians would feel if they were paying for the private psychological treatment for Russell Williams for the PTSD he may have incurred while murdering somebody. It is a disgusting and abhorrent thought, yet this is essentially what is happening with Christopher Garnier. We get to pay for his treatment, all because his father, not him, is a veteran.
I want to make it clear that I and all my colleagues on this side of the House are 100% in favour of helping veterans and their families. Being a voice for our veterans family is one of my main goals at the veterans affairs committee. It is something I understand through my own personal experience, through multiple moves, multiple school disruptions, boarding schools, separations from my father, my parents, with challenges to myself, my siblings, my brother and my father. As they say, “Been there, done that”.
Ultimately, the issue here is that these taxpayer-funded back-allocated disability benefits are going to somebody who, one, has been convicted of murder; and two, should not qualify as a dependent, as far as I can tell.
This man took a life, violently and senselessly. Our Canadian veterans have dedicated themselves to saving lives, both at home and abroad. They commit to defend our country, its institutions and its way of life. This man has disrespected our way of life and dishonoured our country.
I call on the Liberal government to do the right thing and stop funding treatment for a convicted murderer once and for all. It owes it to Constable Campbell, to her family and to all veterans who have served our country.