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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament October 2000, as Bloc MP for Châteauguay (Québec)

Won his last election, in 1997, with 45% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Speech From The Throne October 14th, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member speak about his family's history. It was interesting. However, after four months of inactivity, I was expecting to hear something about the throne speech.

The purpose of a throne speech half way through a term of office is not the same as one at the beginning of a term of office. Right now, there are problems. The focus of the member's speech could have been very specific.

I would like the member to take a few moments to talk to us about the constitutional crisis, the fisheries crisis, the health and education crisis, the transportation crisis, the poverty crisis, the EI crisis and the millennium scholarship crisis.

After four months of inactivity, I think it is time to deal with serious issues and leave family history aside.

Bilingualism April 20th, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I would draw to your attention another example of the application of the two official languages in this country. only.

I recently received a 78 page publication from the Department of Veterans Affairs, on media coverage of the 55th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic. While the title appeared in both official languages, 61 pages were in English and only a page and a half were in French. What a fine proportion.

However, the arrogance does not stop there. Declaration 31 on the 55th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, which I made in the House on June 3, 1988 in French, appeared in this document in English only.

QuebecKers agree with Mr. Bouchard and his government. The defence of French and of the culture of our people cannot be left to a unitarian and centralizing federal government.

Government Services Act, 1999 March 23rd, 1999

Madam Speaker, the interpretation is not coming through. I think something is not working.

War Veterans Allowance Act March 11th, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at third reading of Bill C-61. This bill amends the War Veterans Allowance Act and certain other acts in consequence thereof.

It is with respect and honour that I will pursue at third reading the same objective I pursued at second reading, which is to improve the services provided to veterans and their dependents, to ensure the recognition of a unique status for all those who participated in these wars, and to pursue the retroactivity claim for merchant navy veterans.

Even though the bill is very incomplete, the Bloc Quebecois supports it because it provides benefits to veterans and because, for the first time, those who served in the merchant navy are given the same status as other veterans. This legislation is governed by the same acts that recognize the critical role of merchant navy seamen in the victory of the nations that fought for freedom. This legislation also puts some order in the various acts that apply to veterans and it ensures a degree of fairness.

The bill meets the concerns of a number of associations. During the debate at second reading, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs announced that the House would respond positively to a key priority of the National Council of Veterans Associations, by allowing former prisoners of war to receive the special allowances. He indicated that, in passing these changes, the House would also respond positively to the number one veteran's priority of the Royal Canadian Legion, which is to increase pensions for survivors.

The merchant marine veterans presented two demands: recognition under the same laws and the benefits they did not receive for the past 50 years retroactively.

Why is the government denying today what it wanted yesterday? The Minister of Veterans Affairs said the following before a committee on April 29, 1998, and I quote:

I have personal knowledge of this. It was the fall of 1991. Three members of the opposition, including myself, took it upon ourselves to address what I personally had felt had been an injustice for many, many years, and the other members agreed with me.

In opposition, this member tried to repair the injustices. Now, in power, as the minister, he remembers nothing.

Why did this member, now Minister of Veterans Affairs, not include provision for retroactivity in his bill? Is he really serious as he cries over the fate of these veterans?

On the whole, this bill is intended to correct the anomalies of the past and to include financial compensation, which would repair the deeds of negligence of a previous government. That government passed a bill giving numerous benefits to armed forces veterans returning to Canada after World War II, but did not extend these benefits to merchant navy seamen, who volunteered to serve their country.

In 1992, legislation was tabled to give merchant navy seamen the same benefits to which army veterans are entitled, but not the same status.

It took 45 years for the role played by merchant navy seamen to be recognized and the same benefits, but not the same status, to be extended to them. Now they are being given the same status as members of the armed forces, but not the retroactive benefits of which they have been deprived all these years. Their demands are slowly being met. However, the average age of these veterans is 75.

Thus the bill is incomplete, since it does not accept retroactivity of the rights now recognized for merchant seamen back to the time they joined the battle. They have been deprived of 50 years of benefits. They have suffered all their lives because of this refusal.

Unlike other veterans, they never had the advantage of financial assistance for trade training or university. They never had priority for public service hiring, they never had access to land, housing or business funding.

At one of the committee hearings, a witness told us that most merchant seamen would discuss their post-war experiences amongst themselves, but hesitated to do so publicly, because they felt ashamed, although they were wrong to feel this way. They felt it was their fault that they could not support their families the way their fellow Canadians who had been in uniform could, with the help of government subsidies.

Yet they too were in the line of fire. In 1941, the monster Adolph Hitler issued the following order: “Attack the merchant marine, particularly on the return route, with all possible means. Sinking merchant marine vessels is more important than attacking enemy warships”.

The merchant seamen were exposed to dreadful working conditions and heavy loss of life. They sustained more losses than any other Canadian combat forces. During World War II, 13% of merchant seamen lost their lives, or one in seven. Personally, I would have preferred to be on board an armed ship and attack the enemy rather than on a defenceless cargo ship to be used as a human shield.

These brave Canadians, who plied the corridors of hell, played a vital role in our war effort, one as vital as that played by the regular forces, and one that is recognized throughout the world.

It would appear from the strong support the public gave the former merchant marines who organized a hunger strike on Parliament Hill, that they do not support the longstanding government negligence in this matter.

The government has fallen short of its responsibilities and of the justice required by the sacrifices these men have made, because from the outset, it could have included retroactivity in this bill.

It is hypocritical, even. It gives the impression of wanting to gain time and let history hide the facts, and when the hour has sounded for the last of these brave defenders of freedom, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, as has happened in Europe at certain commemorations, will weep warm tears over the fate of these defenders of democracy. However, he is untouched by their great suffering, especially their mental suffering.

At second reading of this bill, all the opposition parties called for either retroactivity or a lump sum payment to replace the benefits they did not receive after serving their country. Only the Liberal government remains intractable.

Great Britain gave full veteran status to the merchant marine seamen in 1940. In the United States, merchant navy veterans gained the same status as regular forces veterans in 1988, while Australia recognized full equality in 1995. Here in Canada, they had to wait until 1992 to get the same benefits, but not retroactively.

In 1993, the government decided to improve its image by inviting a few merchant navy veterans to participate in a pilgrimage to Liverpool, to commemorate the battle of the Atlantic. In 1994, the government made another symbolic gesture with the placement of a merchant navy book of remembrance in the memorial chamber. It lists the names of Canadian merchant mariners who lost their lives.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs said, at second reading of this bill, and I quote:

I want to assure members that merchant navy veterans are veterans in every sense of the word and this bill underscores that fact. By using the same acts to respond to the needs of both merchant navy and armed forces veterans we send a powerful signal that we value the service and sacrifice performed by the merchant navy during the wars.

If this intention and this assurance are real, why did the government not recognize the mistake made in this bill, apologize and make the whole thing retroactive?

Members will agree with me that Canadian merchant navy veterans can no longer wait: they have already been waiting for over 50 years. In addition to social benefits and disability pensions, they need a compensation package. Does the government have the necessary money?

An examination of the amounts not spent by the Department of Veterans Affairs over a 15-year period shows that it is not for lack of money that merchant navy seamen are not being compensated.

The Public Accounts of Canada lists the amounts not spent by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the years 1982 to 1997. They are as follows: in 1982-83, $22,903,618; in 1983-84, $56,128,372; in 1984-85, $70,082,937; in 1986-87, $33,631,696; in 1987-88, $56,647,600; in 1988-89, $56,050,578; in 1989-90, $40,103,973; in 1990-91, $35,262,562; in 1991-92, $20,073,856; in 1992-93; $50,489,052; in 1993-94, $154,747,329; in 1994-95, $113,023,778; in 1995-96, $83,742,347; and in 1996-97, $49,530,866.

A total of $887,960,424 was not spent. Merchant navy seamen are asking for approximately $40 million.

This bill could have restored this unspent money. For reasons unknown, the government put these funds into general revenue, as it does with the EI surpluses, cuts in provincial transfer payments, and unpaid commitments to Quebec.

In this regard, the following amounts are owed to Quebec: $435 million for Hydro-Québec towers after the ice storm; $58.7 million for the Palais des congrès de Montréal; $33.6 million for the Oka crisis; $70 million for day care centres; $86.7 million for young offenders; $351.4 million for social assistance. And I could go on and on. The total unpaid bill for Quebec is $3,807,400. The refusal of this government to pay retroactivity to the merchant seamen is just one of many similar acts.

Instead of solving problems, the government is concerned only with looking good, with enhancing its visibility. Such is the case, for example, with the millennium scholarships, although education is a provincial responsibility. Today the federal government is going to invest billions of dollars on window-dressing to create havoc and create duplication just to improve its image.

Nevertheless, in 1993, merchant marine veterans agreed to join with armed forces veterans in a visit to Liverpool to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic.

Last year, they were again part of the delegation to commemorate that battle, and were also along on the pilgrimage to mark the 50th anniversary of various World War II battles and campaigns

I was also there. The Army veterans' recognition and respect for the merchant seamen was obvious. The merchant seamen showed no bitterness. Why are they still being refused what they are entitled to, 50 years later?

The government is very good about these pilgrimages. They make it look good. But all this show does not, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, do much for the merchant marine veterans. As we saw last summer, right here in front of the Parliament Buildings, it just leads to hunger strikes and to despair.

Is it not this minister's mandate to provide veterans, civilians and their families with the benefits and services to which they are entitled, in order to ensure their well-being and self-sufficiency within the community and to ensure that all Canadians remember their accomplishments and their sacrifices?

Was it ensuring their well-being and self-sufficiency, was it fulfilling the governments' mandate in this respect to refuse the same benefits and services to which merchant seamen were entitled retroactively, right up until 1992? And what about that other responsibility, of ensuring that all Canadians remember that war? The people of Europe and Asia, who lived through it, already do remember.

What happens in these former theatres of war in Europe or in Asia when a whole contingent of youth and invited guests turns up? Most of the time, a handful of local people attend. I think these veterans should be allowed to return once in their life to a theatre of war accompanied by a relative. But at the moment, it is pretty much always the same people who go on these trips: the deputy minister and his team.

Why not establish a real national day of remembrance in Canada? It is Canadians we should be informing and involving. We should open Parliament the entire day to school children and veterans with their relatives, their MP and their minister and take the evening to remember those who were lost. In my opinion, providing documentaries to the media is a means of keeping alive the memory of their dedication. Having a real day of respect, of thanks and of commemoration. This first day could be devoted to the members of the merchant marine to compensate for the error of the past.

In committee, I introduced an amendment that was ruled out of order. However, included in the bill, it would have resolved the problem once and for all. It read as follows:

All payments of allowance or other benefits under the Pension Act or the War Veterans Allowance Act in respect of a merchant navy veteran of World War I or World War II or a Canadian merchant navy veteran of the Korean War are payable for a period beginning on the day on which that veteran would have otherwise first become entitled to the payment if the provisions of this Act had been in force on the date of commencement of World War I, World War II or the Korean War, as the case may be.

I once again call on the government so that the members of the merchant marine may obtain justice and the reparation of past errors through retroactive redress or a lump sum payment.

The Budget February 18th, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, who initially claimed the opposition was doing a very good job. However, I would like to tell him that we are here not just to criticize the government. I myself came here to resolve the constitutional crisis, this abyss toward which Canada keeps moving.

That said, when he talks of consultation and transparency, I think we have to take it with a grain of salt. Barely a few days before the budget was tabled, the premiers met to discuss health and the provincial transfers. There was never any question at that point of returning the money with criteria other than those used to determine where to cut.

I would like to know today whether my colleague thinks the Prime Minister had consultations and acted with transparency?

War Veterans Allowance Act February 12th, 1999

Madam Speaker, it is with great respect that I rise today on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-61, an act to amend the War Veterans Allowance Act, the Pension Act, the Merchant Navy Veteran and Civilian War-related Benefits Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs Act, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act and the Halifax Relief Commission Pension Continuation Act and to amend certain other acts in consequence thereof.

The purpose of this bill is to provide financial compensation to make up for our governments' negligence.

The government passed legislation providing numerous benefits for armed forces veterans returning to Canada at the end of World War II, but refused to help merchant navy veterans who were trying to resume their lives, which had been interrupted when they volunteered to serve their country, particularly during the two world wars in the heavily torpedoed convoy lanes.

For over 50 years, the Canadian merchant navy veterans, the fourth arm of the fighting services as they were called during World War II, have been discriminated against by the government because they were paramilitaries.

This bill will correct certain anomalies and has the support of the Bloc Quebecois. But unless these individuals receive retroactive compensation and the same treatment as their military comrades, the injustice inflicted on them by our government will never be erased.

It is important to give some background when talking about the merchant marine. On November 16, 1939, two weeks after Great Britain declared war on Germany, the first merchant marine convoy left the Port of Halifax.

This convoy opened the war-time route to England and the Soviet Union, carrying vital supplies to overseas allied forces, and many of the crew members on these ships lost their lives. Their losses were proportionately higher than those of all the other military forces.

The merchant navy was the backbone of the supply system in the North Atlantic that helped preserve the freedom of the British and of their allies. At the beginning of the war, Canada's merchant navy, which was governed by the very strict measures in the Canada Shipping Act, had a total of 37 ocean going ships and about 1,400 seamen.

The government played an active role in the evolution of the situation. A Canadian interdepartmental merchant navy commission was established. A crown corporation, Wartime Merchant Shipping Limited, was set up in 1941 to look after the merchant navy and, the following year, the Park Steamship Company was created to supervise merchant seamen and ships under construction.

Recruiting offices were set up to send people where demand was strongest. Merchant seamen were under the authority of DND's naval section. Ships left in convoys or alone, with sealed orders from the British admiralty that were handed out locally by the commander of the naval forces.

In spite of the casualties, by the end of the war, Canada had 157 ships and some 12,000 seamen, or an additional 120 ships and 10,600 seamen. We had the third largest merchant navy in the world.

On February 8, 1944, C.D. Howe, the Minister of Munitions and Supplies, said on CBC radio that “without our merchant seamen, our combat forces would have been immobilized and the brilliant campaign in North Africa would not have been possible. We would not have succeeded in landing on the coasts of Sicily and Italy”. Without our seamen, thousands of soldiers would not have been transported to the battlefields of Europe or the Pacific, as members of inter-allied operations clearly remembered. They were also responsible for delivering Malta.

Their precious cargoes made them immediate targets for the Axis powers. The German strategy was to follow the merchant marine to cut the supply lines to Canadian ships. German submarines and planes knew their itineraries and unmercilessly attacked the merchant ships. In addition, the German submarines hunted them up and down the Atlantic coast in an effort to find them, monitor them and catch them.

In fact, in 1942, they penetrated deep into the Gulf of St. Lawrence where they attacked a convoy and sunk six merchant ships, including two Canadian ships and two of their Canadian escorts.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill admitted, and I quote: “I was much more concerned over this battle than I had been over the glorious air battle known as the Battle of Britain”. He acknowledged that all would have been lost had the merchant marine failed. However, it succeeded and kept the British and their allies in the war.

Before the start of the second world war, the German navy had planned a campaign to attack allied merchant marine ships en route from North America. The destruction of the merchant marine ships, which were neither well armed nor well armoured, became the prime objective of the Nazi warships, planes and submarines.

Packs of 10 or 12 German submarines roamed the Atlantic to hit and sink the supply ships. German aircraft bombarded them as they approached the coast of Europe. German warships disguised as cargo ships used their hidden deck guns to attack the merchant marine fleet at sea. Alone or in convoy, these ships faced the risk of attack at any point.

As the orders of the German high command indicate, the merchant seamen were at the heart of the Battle of the Atlantic. As the merchant ships were constant targets for enemy ships, the allied warships were unable to detect or combat German submarines. Until 1942, the mere sight of a submarine periscope was enough to put convoys to flight. Slower replenishment vessels trailed behind and were torpedoed. Merchant ships were not equipped for serious fighting.

While they were required to carry anti-aircraft guns as well as gas and fire protection equipment, merchant ships were seldom able to defend themselves against torpedoes, bombs and shells launched by heavily armed enemy ships. This was what the merchant marine was up against during the war.

In other cases, the most valuable cargo was placed in the middle of the convoy, the surrounding ships acting as buffers. The ships on the outside were the easiest targets. When under attack and heavily damaged, they were left to their own devices. If the ship sank, seamen then faced the perils of freezing water, icy gusts of wind and 10-foot waves. They knew they were likely to die. The German submarine commanders had received the order to take no prisoners. Fortunately, some did anyway.

It was not until 47 years after the second world war that legislation was finally introduced in this respect.

In 1992, the government passed a bill to correct these anomalies, namely the Merchant Navy Veteran and Civilian War-related Benefits Act. This act provided wartime merchant seamen with the same rights to all the benefits that were currently available to the armed forces, but not retroactively, and without recognizing the merchant navy as a paramilitary force.

Bill C-61 introduces some technical changes by which merchant navy veterans will be covered by the major pieces of legislation that apply to veterans, but once again without retroactivity.

At the present time, benefits to merchant mariners fall under the legislation applicable to civilians. This denigrates the efforts of these veterans, yet they plied the same waters as the navy, faced the same enemy aircraft as the airforce, had to dodge the same bullets as the army. Canada did not, however, consider them veterans. In all other allied countries, they would have been entitled to the same benefits and the same war service status as other veterans.

In short, this omnibus bill makes it possible to amend a number of acts at one time with a very specific objective in mind. Primarily, these changes will make it possible for the programs available to veterans to be extended to merchant navy veterans.

I repeat, the Bloc Quebecois is in agreement with these principles of equality, of recognition, of equity, and of support for all those who risked their lives, or lost their lives, in the cause of peace. Our greatest regret, moreover, is that this government was so long in acknowledging the role played by the merchant mariners in the two world wars and in Korea, and most especially the fact that it refuses to grant retroactivity for benefits merchant mariners did not receive, while army, air force and navy veterans did.

The major features of this bill are as follows: inclusion in the definition “member of the forces”; payment of a veterans allowance under the provisions of the War Veterans Allowance Act; a prisoner of war allowance; assessment increases for survivors of disability pensioners; deadline extension for termination of war veterans allowance payments; regulations assigning funeral and burial programs to a non-government body, such as the Last Post Fund; continuation of pension payments for those blinded during the 1917 Halifax explosion and provision for the board to review earlier decisions.

Recently, three former members of the merchant marine staged a hunger strike on the steps of the Parliament Buildings in order to obtain compensation for something that should have been sorted out right after the war ended.

As Bloc Quebecois critic, I recognize that merchant mariners have suffered for too long at the hands of government bureaucracy.

Former members of Canada's merchant marine have been fighting for a very long time for recognition of their courageous actions before, during and after World War II. Members of the merchant marine were the first to enter the war and the last to come back to peace. They transported our troops and supplies to Europe throughout the war, and brought them back afterwards.

It is true that merchant mariners working on board the Park Steamship Company's vessels formed a union in 1944 in order to improve their working conditions, obtain mattresses, drinking water, food, blankets and better wages, and that they were reluctantly recognized by the government, although they had promised not to strike.

Nonetheless, a special V-Day commemorative ceremony was organized in February 1944 in Montreal to honour merchant marine veterans and their contribution to the war effort. Newspapers ran headlines reading “Merchant marine veterans demand soldier status”. And throughout the war, they were constantly referred to as Canada's “fourth armed force” by many of the politicians of the day, including Prime Minister Mackenzie King, C.D. Howe, the Hon. J.T. Michaud, Minister of Transport, and many others. The idea was taken up by the media and the House of Commons, but dropped when the war ended.

After the war, merchant seamen were no longer needed. The fleet was privatized. It was estimated that less than 4,000 jobs would be available to the 12,000 seamen, who were very badly treated, even though they asked to be considered as veterans in order to get the related benefits.

When we ask the minister why he will not retroactively give merchant navy seamen what soldiers got, he says that merchant seamen are entitled to the same benefits as other veterans. What he does not say, however, is that they do not get equal treatment when it comes to retroactivity. In my opinion, without equal access to retroactivity, there can be no equal treatment in terms of the benefits involved. This is why Bill C-61 is not complete.

After World War II, merchant navy veterans were deprived of all the benefits that other veterans enjoyed. These seamen were paramilitaries. Yet, they were ignored by the government for several decades and this is why I plan to move an amendment to the bill, so that they can be entitled to tax-free retroactive compensation. This retroactivity would compensate merchant seamen for lost opportunities, while also ending the discrimination practiced by previous governments.

Where these people discriminated against because they formed a union so as to be treated like human beings, or because the fleet was privatized?

Let me give you some examples of discrimination. The governments denied that merchant seamen were the “fourth arm of the fighting services” or the “fourth arm of the armed forces” as they were called during the war.

They denied that merchant seamen were bound by their enlistment contracts. They could not leave at any time they wished; they were assigned to their post by order in council and by ship's articles. They were thrown in prison, if they were absent without permission.

The authorities denied that they had suffered the highest losses of all the services, even though this fact was admitted during the war. They were easy prey in the submarine war.

The authorities denied that they had criss-crossed dangerous waters for the six long years of the war. The war went on in their theatre longer than was the case for any other service.

The authorities denied that they had sailed under admiralty orders.

They denied that the merchant mariners were badly paid. They were not as well paid as their counterparts in the navy, although government files indicate otherwise.

The authorities denied that they were subject to disciplinary measures, although they reported to the judge advocate general of the navy, and were part of the structure of the military operations groups and could be incarcerated by the military police and the RCMP.

The authorities denied they paid income tax.

After the war, they could build houses for their military comrades if they worked in construction, but they could not get one of their own.

There were not given the employment preference reserved for the military in the public service. The Canadian Corps of Commissionaires was not open to the merchant marine until 1989.

They had no say in the drafting of Bill C-84 in 1992.

In 1946, briefs were submitted to the special veterans affairs committee of the House of Commons calling for their inclusion in the veterans rehabilitation programs. Most of the demands made at that time have never been dealt with.

They were denied representation at official Remembrance Day ceremonies, although they had been represented during the second world war.

And then there is the whole miserable history of the Hal Banks period. In 1963, after nearly a year of investigation, the industrial inquiry commission on the disruption of shipping, under British Columbia Justice Norris, brought down a report that strongly denounced Banks, his methods and his associates.

In it, Banks was compared to Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini because of his dictatorial tendencies. Justice Norris described the outcome of his acts as “industrial death”. Sailors were deprived of the opportunity to work at sea and labelled as communists and thus unemployable on land.

They were subjected to brutal treatment. One of the most favoured means of dissuasion was to put a sailor's legs up over the curb of a sidewalk and then to jump on them in order to break them. These acts of brutality were not reserved for sailors alone; even captains were attacked for something as minor as delaying a sailing.

Since the merchant mariners' average age is 77, and that of the prisoners 87, the following retroactive benefits are being demanded: a public apology by the federal government; reimbursement of income tax with compound interest; reimbursement of forced savings and unclaimed wages; compensation and benefits retroactive to the date of death or injury for medicare and the veterans independence program, benefits under this having been refused since its inception; a tax-exempt lump sum payment for merchant mariners with wartime service, with an additional amount for merchant mariners who were POWs for more than 36 months; exemption from income tax for the rest of their lives; and inclusion of unionized merchant mariners in the programs available to their comrades.

Government can afford to rectify the situation since there are millions of dollars in unspent funds available, according to Public Accounts of Canada, Volume II, part 1.

To conclude, given that neither Bill C-61 in 1961 nor Bill C-84 in 1992 rectified the situation, I hope this government will not make the same mistake today with Bill C-61.

While the minister was seen on a number of occasions, at memorial services in Europe, crying his heart out for those who died 50 years ago, he remains ice-cold today, apparently unmoved by the representations of their surviving brothers in arms, who are suffering physically and mentally.

I think this circus has been going on long enough. I ask that this government take action and rectify once and for all the situation of merchant seamen and retroactively grant them these benefits.

Division No. 298 December 3rd, 1998

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on Bill C-43, an act to establish the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.

I would remind the House that the government had announced in the throne speech of 1996 that it would establish this agency to convert the current Department of National Revenue into a semi-independent agency.

The agency's mandate would be to act as a tax collector in Canada, but not only for the federal government. Indeed, as provided in the legislation, the agency could negotiate with provincial and municipal governments agreements for the collection of all kinds of taxes, including sales taxes, property taxes, and so on.

We cannot approve this legislation which, from the start, aims only at centralizing the collection of taxes in this country, at downsizing the national revenue department workforce and, mostly, at establishing an agency that, once again, will come into conflict with the Quebec revenue department.

The quasi-independent agency would allow the revenue department to hide behind it to avoid taking its responsibilities. It would avoid its obligation to protect taxpayers against abuses of power. This is worthy of the imagination of officials who want to increase their power at the expense of the minister in order to make decisions in his stead.

Here is what is to be found at section 30(1) of the bill:

  1. (1) The Agency has authority over all matters relating to general administrative policy in the Agency; the organization of the Agency; Agency real property; and personnel management, including the determination of the terms and conditions of persons employed by the Agency.

And who is going to suffer? Certainly not senior managers, because those officials will have the power to pay themselves salaries like those in the private sector. It will be the support staff, the ones responsible for processing the claims, in short, the majority of the employees. This agency is more open to patronage and abuse of power.

The minister does not seem to realize the importance of the powers he is giving to unelected officials who are not accountable to anybody. Under the present structure, Revenue Canada is fully accountable to parliament and to the taxpayers.

However, parliament will have less control over the agency than it does now over the department. An agency would feel much less compelled than a department to be accountable, to provide answers to questions and deal with concerns raised by members on behalf of the public. Do we want to see the government resort once more to an agency to avoid answering questions on tax collection? The answer is no.

With the creation of an agency that collects taxes for provinces and municipalities, do we have any idea of the volume of confidential data this agency will have? With an agency of this size, an incredible quantity of personal and financial information will be in the hands of a single institution, which will be less accountable before parliament and before the minister than Revenue Canada is currently.

The main purpose of the Canada customs and revenue agency is to conclude new tax administration agreements with the provinces. When this bill was introduced, the government did not have a single agreement. Quebec and Ontario were opposed, because this level of taxation should be the responsibility of the provinces, which should administer it. The western provinces, which seemed cool to the idea at the start, are now opposed to it. Even Prince Edward Island has told Ottawa that it is not prepared to transfer other tax powers to the federal government.

So where is the support? The department itself says that the provinces want the agency to prove its mettle before they decide to give it more of their tax programs. It is outrageous to think of supporting the creation of a new bureaucratic structure in the hope that the provinces might participate in it. There are no agreements, but hundreds of public servants have already been released to work on this new agency the minister of revenue wants to impose on us.

The business world should be the first to be interested in this agency. And yet, the CCRA failed to impress small and big business. The bodies representing small business expressed their distrust of the massive powers to be centralized in this agency. In a poll, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business indicated that 40% of the businesses that participated in a study Revenue Canada commissioned from the Public Policy Forum saw no point in having this agency. Over two thirds of these businesses felt that, with such an agency, the costs relating to their dealings with the department would be higher than they are under the existing structure.

By establishing a quasi-independent agency, the government is increasing the risk of fraud and of the sale of confidential information, for which there is a very lucrative market right now in the private sector.

As members can see, there are no benefits in establishing such an agency. Quebec opposes the federal government's intention to centralize all tax revenue collection activities in one Canada-wide agency.

The Bloc Quebecois will continue to oppose the establishment of this agency, which does not benefit the taxpayers in any way, but may in fact cost them all they got, especially in terms of democratic rights. When problems arise, having to do with the administration of taxes or wrong decisions by Revenue Canada, we will no longer be able to question the minister. He will reply that the agency is calling the shots. And democracy will suffer.

The agency is a costly exercise both in terms of money and time, the product of some wild brainstorm of senior department officials. It is an idea in search of a rationale that has yet to be found. We must put a stop to it before any more public funds are sunk into it. Any number of improvements can be contemplated within the existing structure, and they would not involve the kind of costs and disruption inherent in the establishment of an agency that is neither wanted nor required.

What does the taxation employees' union think of it? It has ten arguments against this idea. First, by creating a tax collection superagency, Ottawa's influence would reach right into our communities.

With this agency, accountability to the public and to parliament will be weakened. The agency could threaten our privacy. Fourth, the agency is a classic example of empire building by Ottawa's senior bureaucrats from the isolation of their ivory towers. Fifth, the primary reason for establishing this agency is to sign new tax agreements with the provinces. Sixth, small and large businesses are not impressed with the new agency. Seventh, the agency will bring about new hidden taxes. Eighth, it will bring new costs. Ninth, the agency is already wasting money even if it does not yet exist. Tenth, the agency will be more bureaucratic than Revenue Canada.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois opposes this bill and will be voting against it.

Remembrance Day November 3rd, 1998

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure today to rise in honour of Veterans' Week, from November 5 to 11. This week is set aside to commemorate the contributions and sacrifices of the men and women who gave up their lives for peace, democracy and our freedom.

As they gather around the cenotaph on November 11, thousands of people will remember the courage of those who died at the front fighting for peace in the great world wars. This moment in honour of the memory of these people should be a time of reflection on the atrocities that have marked world history. Often, the past may appear to explain the present, but it can never convince us that human lives must be sacrificed for a cause, whatever it may be.

Thousands of them died in the line of duty, were wounded or taken prisoner. On Remembrance Day we honour their memory and that of all the other veterans of 20th century wars.

War also affected the lives of all those left behind by the soldiers who died in the war. Their families will remember this great meeting with destiny that was beyond their control and the painful moments that will remain always.

On this Remembrance Day there will be veterans who are surely remembering their friends and colleagues as they were before they fell. I think of the wives making their last farewells as their husbands went off to war, never to return, of the parents whose children never came home.

Let us remember, so that there is never again an armed conflict, and our children never have to learn the horrors of war. We have a duty to ensure that Remembrance Day receives the respect due to it, and retains its position among our noble traditions.

I have travelled with veterans' delegations returning to visit the battlefield sites, and the graves of their fallen comrades. Veterans now in their seventies and eighties trying to locate the resting places of comrades who lost their lives in their twenties, if not younger.

I have always been impressed with their appearance at these ceremonies, as they stand stiffly at attention, just as they did when they were still in the Forces. As soon as the speeches and prayers are over, they wander off in search of the resting places of their dead comrades, lost in their memories and grief for a brief moment.

These unforgettable experiences have made me realize the reality of war. Such pilgrimages are both extremely sad and extremely gratifying, gratifying because of the appreciation shown by those who were liberated by our veterans. For instance, during my visit to Dieppe in 1997, I realized that our servicemen were true heroes in the eyes of the French.

These men and women did not forget the hard lessons of 55 years ago and they remember that our veterans liberated them. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the armistice that brought World War I to an end. On November 11, 1918, all of humanity pledged that there would never be another war. This universal hope was short-lived.

Twenty years later, the world had already forgotten the war's atrocities and launched into an even more deadly conflict, World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. Six years of civilian and military losses. Six years of fighting for our freedom. These were the six most defining years in history.

On behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I pay tribute to the men and women who gave their lives during the two world wars, the Korean war and in numerous UN peacekeeping missions.

Let us hope, as they did, that there will never be another war.

National Defence Act June 10th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate at third reading on Bill C-25, an act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Ever since he tabled this bill, the Minister of National Defence has been trying to make us believe that the proposed amendments to the military justice system will ensure greater transparency and improved accountability on the part of his department and the Canadian forces.

It is true that the bill includes some accountability mechanisms. The new grievance board, the new military police complaints commission and the judge advocate general will release annual reports that the Minister of National Defence will then have to table in Parliament. These reports are in addition to those of the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Provost Marshal of the Canadian Forces, and other reports issued by the new monitoring committee set up last fall by the Minister of National Defence.

Soon, we will literally be flooded with annual reports from DND. While the Department of National Defence has long been criticized for lacking transparency, its new will to account to the public is somewhat surprising.

However, in spite of this apparent openness, I have doubts about the objectivity of these various authorities in drafting their reports, considering how close they are to the institution itself. The judge advocate general, the chief of the defence staff and the provost marshal are all members of the military; the members of the monitoring committee are friends of the minister; finally, the chairman of the grievance board will work in close co-operation with the chief of the defence staff.

Under the circumstances, it is reasonable to think that we will not have access to very objective reports. When it comes to transparency, more is required than these reports to make Quebeckers and Canadians stop feeling that the Canadian forces are a state within the state.

Since parliamentarians will not have free access to a critical and impartial analysis of defence issues, they will not be able to properly monitor military affairs.

Admittedly, my comments may seem harsh, but the issue here is not to launch a personal attack on those who will have to submit annual reports, but to be aware of the difficulty of objectively criticizing an institution of which one is a member. Generally, it is preferable to have an impartial outside observer.

This is why, as the Létourneau commission recommended, we believe that an inspector general, working independently from the Canadian armed forces and accountable to Parliament, would ensure a fair, neutral and balanced analysis of the activities of the military, which the present bill will never be able to do.

Not only does the Bloc Quebecois think it would be preferable to have an non-political and independent review body, but all other parties in the House have also expressed the same view.

The Minister of Defence tells us that the Somalia commission of inquiry's recommendation regarding the office of inspector general is being implemented, but in other ways. Among other things, the minister is referring to the review committee he set up last fall.

As we pointed out at second reading of the bill now before us, this committee bears no resemblance to what the Létourneau commission wanted to see. This review committee is composed of eight individuals who will examine the implementation of the changes announced in the department and in the armed forces. These people will have no say, however, regarding the actual conduct of the Canadian armed forces.

In addition, the minister is deliberately not pointing out that this committee has a mandate of only two years. In the end, what will there be for it to do? A few annual reports here and there in order to meet the accountability requirement.

The minister is thus misleading the public and giving the impression that he is agreeing to an inspection. We are not so foolish as to think that there will be a real inspection, independent of military activities.

In his various interventions on Bill C-25, the minister has also said that implementing the amendments to the National Defence Act will increase the fairness and effectiveness of the military justice system. Bloc members have raised several procedural shortcomings in summary trials during second reading of the bill. Time prevented us from discussing the problems associated with the military justice system specific to courts martial. We therefore welcome the opportunity today to comment on this matter.

The National Defence Act provides for four different types of courts martial: the general court martial, the disciplinary court martial, the standing court martial and the special general court martial. The first two are comprised of a military judge and a committee whose membership varies the same way that of a jury does in a civilian criminal court.

The members of this committee are the triers of fact, which means that they determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. It is therefore up to the committee to sentence any accused who has been found guilty. However, this prerogative of sentencing is abolished by the bill before us, and it will fall to the military judge. This amendment brings the military judicial process more in line with ordinary criminal procedure.

Even though it will no longer have authority over sentencing, the committee will nevertheless continue to determine guilt or innocence of the accused. Its judicial independence and impartiality is therefore of paramount importance to the accused.

At present, only commissioned officers can sit as members of general and disciplinary court martial panels. The bill ensures greater openness to non-commissioned members by allowing them to serve on courts martial under certain circumstances. However, since court martial panels remain composed of military personnel, the issue of institutional independence remains.

Can a military tribunal, made up of military personnel and therefore likely to be affected by military culture, really be impartial within the meaning of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Is it really independent enough to render a verdict without reasonable apprehension of bias?

According to the principle of impartiality, a court must not be influenced by either the parties or outside forces, except to the extent that it is convinced by the arguments on the point of law being disputed.

The decision makers' status must guarantee freedom from all outside influence. As we know, military personnel undergo periodic performance evaluations which can impact on their career advancement as well as their pay. A member of the military may therefore find himself in a situation where his performance as part of a court martial can be evaluated. The assessment might, therefore, reflect the satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, of his superior.

It is true, however, that the Queen's Regulations and Orders were amended several years ago to prevent any consideration relating to the performance of a member of the military from affecting his promotion or pay.

Can we reasonably believe, however, that this change in the regulations has had the expected results? In other words, can the person evaluating a member of the military really disregard that individual's performance in a court martial?

Similarly, can a member of a court martial panel really disregard the fact that he is running a risk if he goes against the will of the military establishment?

Despite the changes to the regulations, the risk is still there. What effect does this have? It leaves us with committee members who may not be totally independent and whose judgment may be influenced by outside forces or considerations .

Earlier we pointed out that the bill now allows non-commissioned members to sit on a court martial, under certain circumstances. This opening up of the system to include non-commissioned members is probably the result of the negative image projected by the court martial of certain members of the Airborne Regiment, in connection with the incidents in Somalia.

The public as a whole gained the impression from these events that the lower ranks were the designated fall guys, while the senior ranks escaped unscathed. These cases also left the impression that court martial panels were too heavily stacked with Defence Headquarters brass with interests to protect.

Now they are trying to reverse engines by indicating a willingness to allow non-commissioned members to serve as members of court martial panels. Imagine, however, the pressure there will be on non-commissioned members to go along with the wishes of high ranking officers on court martial panels. Imagine the pressure there will be on non-commissioned members to conform to the military establishment. Imagine the consequences on military careers of stepping out of line.

This is not an attack on the personal integrity of NCMs who serve as members of court martial panels. It must be admitted, however, that the knowledge that a general or disciplinary court martial panel includes a non-commissioned member in a position of vulnerability might cause a reasonable and well-informed person to entertain a reasonable doubt as to the tribunal's impartiality.

At the risk of being repetitious, I wish to say that my remarks are not intended as any sort of attack on soldiers. We must simply be aware of the risk of hierarchical influence.

The U.S. military court of appeal has already described hierarchical influence as the mortal enemy of military justice. Despite the sanctions in the Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces, the problem of undue hierarchical influence remains intact.

This does not mean that a court martial is always impartial, except that the knowledge that a general or disciplinary court martial panel includes soldiers might cause a reasonable and well-informed person to entertain a reasonable doubt as to the tribunal's impartiality.

The very composition of general and disciplinary court martial panels does not meet the requirements of section 11( d ) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The bill does not answer concerns about the impartiality of court martials. Under the circumstances, would it not be appropriate to simply abolish the court martial committee, which, one way or another, will always be open to criticism, and replace it with a real jury of civilians, which would be more in keeping with the standards of impartiality and independence guaranteed by the charter?

I would also like to say a few words about the new commission to review complaints about the military police. Under the bill, the commission will examine complaints of misconduct by the military police. It will also look into complaints of interference by members of the Canadian forces and senior officials in the department in its investigations.

At first glance, there is merit in creating a new commission. Unfortunately, the Minister of National Defence missed the opportunity to give this body real powers to intervene, because the conclusions and recommendations of the commission are not binding. In fact, its conclusions and recommendations are reviewed by one of the authorities provided by the legislation. According to the type of complaint and respondent, the reviewing authority will vary. It may be a provost marshal, the chief of staff, the deputy minister or the minister himself. In other words, the final decision on treatment given complaints rests with one of these individuals.

Therefore, the commission has no decision-making authority, since the final decision on the handling of complaints rests either with the military—the provost marshal or the chief of staff—or with the executive—the minister or the deputy minister. The minister therefore considered it enough to create a body similar to the public complaints commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or its imperfections.

So what exactly is the point of creating such a commission when, in the end, the result is the same? Once again, had the minister really wanted to change things he would have created a commission with real powers instead of trying to fool us by setting up an empty commission?

In closing, I must say that the Bloc Quebecois will not vote in favour of Bill C-25. Contrary to what the minister claimed, we do not think that the amendments made to the bill will ensure transparency in the military justice system and increase its fairness.

On the one hand, the accountability mechanisms provided by the bill will not ensure a better review of the activities of National Defence and the Canadian forces. On the other hand, since the standards that apply to military justice do not offer the same constitutional guarantees as those of civil criminal courts, we cannot support the bill. It is a matter of respect for all military personnel. They, like any other Canadian citizen, have a right to be treated fairly. Otherwise, their right to equality before the law is compromised.

Battle Of The Atlantic June 3rd, 1998

Mr. Speaker, last May I took part in the 55th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, accompanied by other parliamentarians and Canadian navy and air force veterans.

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest and most important naval campaign of the entire war. Great Britain's survival and the liberation of Europe depended on the supply convoys of the merchant marine, protected from marauding enemy submarines by the Canadian navy.

This battle was costly in Canadian lives: 2,024 lives lost, including 752 Royal Canadian Air Force members and 1,200 merchant mariners.

I salute the courage and determination of these veterans and thank them on behalf of us all. We shall always remember them.