Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity speak to private member's Bill C-334, and act to amend the criminal code with respect to the wearing of war decorations.
As a member of the federal New Democratic Party I stand in support of this move to allow families of deceased veterans to wear their veterans' war decorations on Remembrance Day. Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand have already enacted such laws and I believe it is high time that the Canadian government followed suit.
I recognize that not all veterans feel the same about this issue. It is with the deepest respect for veterans on both sides of this debate that I offer my thoughts.
Veterans feel passionate about this issue because the medals and other recognitions of effort were earned the hard way and speak of great sacrifice, effort and love for this country.
However, such a law would, in effect, keep these efforts, this bravery, valour and commitment to Canada alive through the families of the veterans. Surely family members would wear these badges of honour with the dignity which they deserve.
The section of the criminal code which this bill would amend was legislated at a time when there was serious cause for concern about people who had not served sporting medals they had not earned. However, I believe that allowing family members to wear their deceased loved one's medals on Remembrance Day is a way to maintain the honour and respect that the medals reflect. Otherwise, years down the road when there are no more veterans of the two world wars and the Korean war, the medals earned through valour and effort will be gone from the landscape of Remembrance Day and the very essence of Remembrance Day, which is to remember. That very essence would be lost a bit.
That is why I have decided to support the bill. I certainly had hoped that the federal government would support this effort, but from the speech I heard earlier I see that the government does not want to support it. That does not surprise me too much because far too often we see situations where the government does not support our military and our veterans the way it should.
I had a rather sad occasion a few months back when a veteran came to my office with his war medals. He wanted to turn the medals over to me because he was so disappointed and so discouraged with the way he saw the government treating veterans. He had been a member of the merchant navy and also a member of the regular service, but he cited a number of examples as to why he was concerned and why he felt discouraged about the way the government was treating people who came back home from missions who were ill, people who had served in the merchant marine and so forth.
It was quite a sad state of affairs to listen to this individual, who had obviously, through bravery, through valour, through commitment to his country, devoted a good portion of his life, and he had earned these medals.
I talked with him quite a bit and suggested that perhaps his family may have some reason to want to have these medals as a legacy, as a part of their heritage to reflect what he had done. I also suggested that, regardless of what may have happened to make him disappointed with the government, regardless of what had taken place, when he earned his medals he earned them for a reason and the value should not be diminished by the poor treatment he has received since then.
Nonetheless, he was very much concerned about returning these medals, and I think even today he still wants to do that. It is very sad. I am really appalled that our government would relate to our people in a way that citizens would feel this way about the service they have performed.
I am appalled that the government has not brought justice to those veterans who were wrongly put in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Those Canadian troops who suffered the horrors of living in Buchenwald deserve appropriate compensation and it is up to this Liberal government to ensure that such compensation is delivered. It is appalling that this government tried to buy the silence of these veterans for about $1,000 each.
One of these veterans, a constituent of mine who I have spoken about before, Mr. William Gibson, made it clear that this so-called compensation was offensive. This constituent, who survived the horrors of Buchenwald concentration camp, sent the cheque that he had been given back to the Liberal government with the word refused written across this payoff, which he felt was insulting to him.
Those veterans, who were interred in the Nazi Buchenwald concentration camp instead of a prisoner of war camp where they should have been, feel very let down by their government. Other governments have had the ability to convince the German government to provide appropriate reparation. Our government has failed itself and failed these brave Canadians miserably. I do not understand the inability of the government to secure a just settlement for these Canadians. It is something that we will continue to work on and continue to push because we feel it is necessary that justice be brought about in that situation.
Perhaps even more insulting than the cheque to these Canadians, were the words that the Minister of Veterans Affairs, in his accompanying letter, said when he presented his cheque to them. He said “I am delighted to be able to close the chapter on this longstanding issue”.
Indeed, we should be concerned because the issue is not closed and there should be more action to try to resolve this outstanding issue. The issue was raised in committee in 1994, in letters to the veterans affairs, defence and foreign ministers in 1997. It has been raised many times but the government has not succeeded in bringing about justice in that situation.
I will close with a comment my constituent made when addressing the Nova Scotia government committee on veterans affairs in February 2000 concerning this issue. He said “We have been fighting for German compensation since 1945, but we haven't got it yet and I don't know if we ever will get it because I don't think there is anybody in Ottawa who has the intestinal fortitude to go after it”.
I would ask the government to respond positively to this issue. Such a positive response would encourage our veterans to be proud of what was accomplished through their devotion and dedication to their country.
The bill we are looking at today is a step where the government could respond positively, could again inspire our veterans and their families with the kind of hope and inspiration that makes them proud to have served their country. This could be done by recognizing that certainly the loved ones of these veterans would only want to wear these medals because of their pride in what their loved one has done and has sacrificed for this country.
Positive action on this bill by our government would give the families of the deceased veterans cause to be proud to wear these medals knowing that while they did not earn the medals, the medals reflect the accomplishments of their loved ones who fought and died for freedom and for the love of this country and their fellow human beings. That is a very noble thing for the government and parliament to consider.
We are not talking about enabling people to make false representations. Nobody has that in mind with this bill. It is important that we look at this in a positive way rather than trying to find a way to prevent this from taking place. Let us remember them. We must remember them and we will remember them.