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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was chair.

Last in Parliament April 2014, as Liberal MP for Scarborough—Agincourt (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 45% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans Act November 20th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I thought I would be polite to the minister. When the minister comes up with such rants, I am going to try to be very nice, because if I were to say that when God was giving out brains, the minister might have heard “trains”, it would be irresponsible of me.

If I were to say that for ages I was telling the minister that medical files were being destroyed, but he was in denial until it hit the press this morning, or if I were to say that 26,788 veterans would be affected and encourage the minister to look the veterans in the eyes, as I have been doing constantly, and they have not been listened to, then I might be correct in the first statement I made. I said we teach our soldiers to defend us. If push comes to shove, they will defend us.

Unfortunately, after all the accolades that I was trying to sing to the minister or say to minister for his years of service as a police officer, if he were not right now standing up to defend our veterans, it would be a disservice to the House of Commons and a disservice to his record as a police officer.

Mr. Speaker, through you, I have a last challenge for the Minister of Veterans Affairs. Would he do the right thing and look the veterans in the eyes? Turn around, Minister, there is a veteran up there.

I know, Mr. Speaker, I should not have said that.

Look him in the eyes, Minister—

Priority Hiring for Injured Veterans Act November 20th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, you were sitting in the chair yesterday when there was an exchange between this side of the House and the government side about medical records that have gone missing.

I understand the parliamentary secretary has said something to the effect that after looking into it, there could be some people whose files could be missing.

I want to quote from an article that appeared today in The Globe and Mail on page A4. It is headed “Veteran continues to search for missing medical files”, and it reads as follows:

Former infantry corporal Kenneth Young tried for years to obtain the medical records related to his treatment at a now-closed veterans’ hospital only to learn they had been destroyed in 2009, along with more than 27,000 boxes of other veterans’ medical files.

That is 27,381 medical boxes of files to be exact.

The article continues:

He kept pestering the bureaucrats to find them “and it got to the point where they said ‘don’t write us any more. If you have any other problems or questions, contact the Privacy Commissioner.’ Which I did,” he said. “A few months later [the Privacy Commissioner] called me up and said ‘well, your files were destroyed.’” The Privacy Commissioner’s office sent Mr. Young an e-mail from 2009 in which Valerie Stewart, the supervisor of national information holdings for Veterans Affairs, explained to department staff that Library and Archives Canada had “reviewed the hospital patient files and determined that they do not have archival value.” Ms. Stewart went on to say that officials at the Veterans Affairs department had “determined there is no potential research value in these files,” and urged that “we proceed with the destruction of these files ASAP.”

The article goes on to quote the parliamentary secretary, mentioning him by name, which I shall not do because I know we cannot in this House, who said, “Indeed, no active, living veteran's file was involved in this process.”

There we have it. I know I am not supposed to show this to the House, but here is the picture of the veteran. He is alive. He is 65 years old, yet the department had him as dead.

There are many other such veterans whose files have gone missing, have been “plucked”, if I may use that word, as a lot of veterans are saying. There are even orderlies coming forward saying that they were ordered to cleanse the files and encouraged to pull stuff out of the files.

I accept my hon. friend's view of his mistake, and I hope we both wish Mr. Young to live to be a very old man.

That said, in the spirit of friendliness, allow me to speak to Bill C-11 and say that we will be supporting it.

However, I will start off by proposing a change straight off the bat. Maybe the minister will take this as an offer that we on this side of the House would like to work with him.

I could be mistaken, but in looking carefully at this bill, I did not see any funds allocated in order to provide a bridge for the veterans so that they can learn the job they are applying for or to give them training for the job they are applying for.

A lot of the veterans were in the army. We taught them one skill: to kill or be killed, to survive in order to be able to kill tomorrow, if I can put it bluntly. From the stories they have been telling us, not only have they learned how to do a lot of things, but many have said that they were trained to provide us the democracy we have here today.

I am sure that the minister, in his previous life as an officer, was also trained in some of these very skills. However, we also have to provide the necessary tools to apply those skills in new jobs that have supposedly been opened in the department.

That said, I hope the minister will take this as an offer and say that the government will provide the training and the money that are needed. Since this is a bill from the government, with changes that require money, this is something the minister can certainly look into.

There are two small problems. Placing injured veterans at the head of the hiring line is an empty pledge unless money for readjusting and retraining comes with it, especially in an era when the federal government is laying off government workers and there is a hiring freeze. On one hand, we are saying that we are going to give veterans the right to be at the front of the line, and on the other, we have hiring freezes. I still have a little bit of difficulty comprehending that.

Bill C-11 should not replace the government's obligation to help Canadian Forces members stay in the forces, if that is their wish. I keep referring to Corporal Dave Hawkins and Corporal Glen Kirkland. I will get to them in a few seconds.

Soldiers wounded in Afghanistan are coming forward about being discharged from the military against their will and before qualifying for their pensions. This breaks a Conservative government promise that service members injured in the line of duty should serve as long as they want in the Canadian Forces.

According to the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, soldier support centres have been left acutely understaffed and unable to provide for troops dealing with physical and psychological injuries. The purpose of the centres is to help injured soldiers and members of the forces return to active duty and transition to civilian life.

This brings me to the issue of the nine centres the minister is so bent on closing. I would invite the minister, if he wishes, to take a trip. As a matter of fact, I will go with him to see the veterans. I am sure that the NDP and everybody here would go and meet the veterans.

Look at Ron Clarke, who for years has been a Conservative member. If I were to repeat in the House what he said about the minister in that part of the world, I would probably get kicked out. He says, “my royal...” whatever. It is unparliamentary so I will not repeat it. Maybe I will let the member or somebody tune into YouTube to see it.

I will say, though, that they want to close nine centres. That is 26,788 veterans who will have to drive. Veterans will have to drive from Windsor, Ontario, to London, Ontario. That is a two-hour drive. Veterans will have to drive from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. If it is winter, and they have to go over Kellys Mountain, it is not a pleasant drive. It can take a veteran five or six hours to get across. If some of the veterans are 80 years old, are we asking them to do that drive? Is that what this country is asking a veteran to do? The veterans fought to put us in front of the line. These are the veterans who fought for us to have the democracy we have in the House. I am sure that is not what the minister wants.

Here is an opportunity for the minister to say that yes, he might have made a mistake. Yes, we are going to wait another 15 years until the Second World War veterans and the Korean War veterans, who are the primary people using the centres, have left us behind. We are not going to ask an 80-year-old man or woman to fill in a form with somebody on the line at the 1-800 number. We are not going to ask a veteran to be at the back of the line at a government services office, when he or she fought to keep us in front of the line.

I am sure that the minister, being a veteran of the Toronto, London, and Markham forces and the OPP force, knows for a fact that not only veterans have fought to protect this country. Police officers who risk their lives in duty on an everyday basis need to be respected and in front of the line.

Maybe the minister wants to reconsider the judgment made. Maybe it was made before he got there. Maybe he wants to consider that having the veterans go through all those hoops is not the Canadian way. When the minister swore an oath to protect some of us who live in Toronto, London, or York Region, and the majority of the members of Parliament in this House who live in Ontario, we needed to respect what he did for us.

Why, in the same breath, are we disrespecting the thousands of veterans who were not hesitant for 30 seconds to give up their lives for us in World War II, Korea, the United Nations, NATO, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Croatia? The list goes on and on.

The minister might have a change of heart and when he goes home tonight will say that we will keep those nine centres open for the next couple of years, especially for World War II and Korean War veterans.

In the past year, the Canadian Armed Forces has been forcing personnel with service-related injuries to leave the Canadian Armed Forces before they qualify for their pensions. Corporal Glen Kirkland, who suffers from physical and emotional wounds as a result of a Taliban bomb that killed three comrades, was being forced to leave the CAF because he did not meet the military universality of service requirements.

Last June, the Minister of National Defence said in the House of Commons that any Afghan vet injured in combat would not be released as a result of these injuries.

Recently, Corporal David Hawkins, a reservist from St. Thomas, Ontario, with post-traumatic stress, was forced out a year before he was able to collect a fully indexed pension. On October 30, 2013, the Minister of National Defence said in this House of Commons, “...we want to thank Corporal Hawkins...”. That is a great opening. He continued, “...for his service and sacrifice for Canada”. That is outstanding. He continued, “Before being released, members of the Canadian Armed Forces work with the military on a transition plan. Ill and injured Canadian Forces members are provided with physical, mental and occupational therapy services for their eventual transition to civilian life. Members are not released until they are prepared”. Well, Corporal Hawkins was released before he was well prepared.

If Corporal Hawkins were to apply to get a job with any department, he might have to get a bit of training. He might need a couple of bucks to get retrained in order to apply. Maybe some money will have to be allocated in the department so that this injured vet, suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, is able to qualify to do that job. Corporal David Hawkins was not prepared to be released.

The Minister of Veterans Affairs is trying to find a way to show that the Conservative government is caring for injured veterans while not coming clean on a lot of these issues.

I will continue. The Veterans Ombudsman stated in a press release, when he made the following observations on Bill C-11:

...under the new legislation, the system will have to adjudicate an individual's file to determine if the medical release is related to service or not. This could add additional red tape to the release process and potentially delay the ability to access priority hiring upon release. will create separate classes of Veterans for federal priority hiring...all medically releasing [sic] Canadian Armed Forces members should be treated the same way, because there is an inherent service relationship for every Canadian Armed Forces member who is medically released because the individual can no longer serve in uniform. ...losing one's career as a result of a medical condition is unique to service in the military.

Other questions were raised by the Veterans Ombudsman. Maybe the minister might want to stand up and answer them during question and answer.

Which department will do the adjudication? What documentation will be used in the adjudication process? Will benefit of the doubt criteria be established? How long will the process take? How much visibility will the member have in the process? Will there be an appeal process? If a definition is made that a medical release is not service related, will it affect the decision-making for another benefit program, such as the disability award?

I can say what is in the media. This is from November 8:

Sensing the lousy optics of unhappy vets during Remembrance Week, the government has pledged to give discharged soldiers first crack at civil service jobs. Given that the feds are cutting staff, this is an empty promise. And it’s doubtful many of those scarce jobs could actually be filled by soldiers unfit for military duty.

Here is another one from the National Post. “Ottawa fails veterans with cynical displays of show over substance”. Barbara Kay writes:

Recently the government proudly announced two new initiatives. The first pledges to give priority to veterans seeking civil service jobs. But Mr. Parent points out that thousands of veterans are incapable of working due to injuries suffered during their service. And since hiring freezes are in place over most of the federal departments,“priority” consideration for frozen jobs is not of much use. The other initiative increases funding for vocational rehabilitation programs to $75,800 per veteran. But the fine print belies the seeming generosity. The money is allocated at $2 million over five years, spread over 1,300 veterans. That comes to $1,500 each, unless 40-some veterans get all of it.

I hope that the Minister of Veterans Affairs has paid attention and will have the generosity today to accept the amendment from this side of the House that money be allocated for veterans to be retrained and that there be a sum for each veteran. Second, I hope that the minister stands up, after my pleading with him, and says that they will keep these nine centres open, which affect 26,788 veterans, for the next 10 or 15 years. If he gets up and says anything about the 600 points and “da de da de da and we're going to their houses”, the veterans are watching. They know that it is totally bellowing. We will leave it at that.

Afghan Veterans Monument November 19th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

If a member of the House intentionally misleads the House or misrepresents the facts, that is a serious matter. It is a serious offence. The parliamentary secretary has intentionally misled the House when he said that there are no records. There were three people that I put forward to him.

Therefore, I would ask whether the parliamentary secretary would like to withdraw his statement that he is 100% sure that there are no people.

Afghan Veterans Monument November 19th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise, first to thank the member for Palliser for moving this motion and second to lend our support to it.

The member made some comments about the hard work of the minister. Question mark? He mentioned some of the listening to the veterans community that the minister is doing. Question mark? We need to make sure that our soldiers and their sacrifices are recognized.

For my family, this year has been moving. The Silver Cross Mother chosen this year by the Legion was Niki Psiharis. She was the mother of Sergeant Christos Karigiannis, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007.

We need to move beyond just recognizing our veterans from Afghanistan to recognizing our veterans from other wars. This was brought up in committee today. I hope that as we move forward, we, as the House of Commons, start recognizing, not only the 158 men and women who sacrificed themselves in Afghanistan, but also the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform in other areas, whether that be in Cyprus, the Middle East, the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia or Hercegovina. We need to make sure that we recognize them.

There are other facts and figures that we need to recognize, besides putting up a monument and saying, “Here we are. Here is a great monument and we recognize your sacrifice”. We need to make sure that the government is accountable to the veterans for the centres that it is closing. It is closing nine centres across Canada. It is closing centres that look after our veterans. They are Veterans Affairs centres where veterans can go, whether they are 60, 80 or 90 years old, to ask for help. In Windsor, for example, the centre is closed and a veteran will now have to go to London. The Thunder Bay centre has been closed. The Sydney centre in Nova Scotia has been closed and the veteran will have to go to Halifax.

I had the fortune, or whatever we want to call it, to take the drive from Halifax to Sydney in Nova Scotia to attend the rally of 3,500 to 4,000 veterans who were marching and asking the government not to close the centre. This was a couple of weeks ago. I have to tell the House that going over Kelly's Mountain was treacherous. Now, the Conservative government will force our veterans to drive down to Halifax if they are looking for help. The government is saying it is not going to do this, but it is going to send doctors or nurses and case officers to their homes. However, 27,688 veterans will be affected by the closure of these 9 centres.

It raises the question on the one side of saying that we are going to erect a monument, while on the other side the Conservative government wants to stick it to the vets.

I congratulate my colleague for bringing the motion forward. I ask him as we go forward that he speak to the minister and encourage him to take the veterans to heart. The new veterans charter is something we are going to be looking into at committee very soon. That has to be addressed and it has to reflect what the veterans really want.

Erecting a monument or bringing a monument back from Kandahar where we have lost 158 men and women is one thing; we need to do that in order to honour their memory. However, to truly look after them and say we care about them is outside of that window of opportunity between November 4 and November 11 when we have Veterans' Week and the minister and the Legion bring the veterans here for a meeting where they say “thank you” and give them a pat on the back and take pictures that the minister posts on his website. “That is a great job, minister”.

The veterans are looking for more. Unfortunately, the Conservative government is failing to give them more.

The government makes vitriolic attacks on people who bring forward real issues, such as the issue of 27,381 boxes of medical records that the Department of Veterans Affairs ordered destroyed. That is the vitriolic attack of the minister on people who bring forward an issue.

Not only that, there are people like Sean Bruyea, Harold Leduc, and others, whose medical files have been breached. On one side, we talk about erecting monuments, and on the other side, they stick it to the vets. I hope that the government gets itself together, and as we move forward, we support our vets. We support our vets, because there is nothing less we have to do for them.

Do not remember them only from November 4 to November 11. Remember them 24/7, 365 days a year. When we see veterans, go up and thank them for their service to our country. If it were not for those vets, the 158 men and women and five civilians who died in Afghanistan whom we put in harm's way, we Canadians would not have democracy. We would not be able to stand in the House of Commons to debate, to speak, and to exchange ideas. Every one of us owes our position in the House to the sacrifices men and women made in order for us to have our democracy.

As we move forward, we on the Liberal side will be supporting this. I caution the government that the veteran community is looking, the 1.4 million veteran family is going to hold the government accountable and is going to hold its feet to the fire. We can dance and sing and say that we are going to do things, but we owe our veterans more.

We owe veterans, such as Mike Pehlavian, who is homeless at this very moment, in Vancouver, B.C. He is 36 years old. He came back from Afghanistan. The only thing holding the top of his body to the bottom of his body are two pins on his side and one pin on his back. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He is homeless. We owe him not just the lump sum we are going to give him. We owe it to him to make sure that we are there to follow up with him.

It is one thing to say that we are going to honour the men and women who have died, but we have to honour the men and women who have suffered, who have been hurt and are coming back from Afghanistan. Over 1,500 soldiers are coming back hurt, and they need to know that we stand beside them. We owe them the courtesy to say that we as a country that put them in harm's way, that we parliamentarians who asked them to engage, are not going to forget them.

It is a moral obligation we have to these men and women. It is nice to have the song and dance of erecting a monument, which we support. However, the moral obligation is that the government deliver to men and women who are now returning as veterans and are suffering, men and women like Medric Cousineau, who are out there living in woodsheds. He lived in a woodshed for 25 years, because he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We owe him and what he has given to this country the dignity to look him in the eye and say that we respect what he did. We treasure what he did and are never going to forget what he did for this country.

I hope that my colleagues across the way will join me as we call upon the government to give veterans the respect they deserve. Lest we forget.

Veterans Affairs November 7th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, in order to apply for benefits from Veterans Affairs, veterans need their complete medical files. Veterans Affairs has destroyed 27,381 boxes of medical records. I know of at least three veterans whose files were destroyed.

I have two questions for the Minister of Veterans Affairs. Has each veteran been advised that their file was destroyed? Can the minister guarantee that no veteran has been affected due to the destruction of their file? Yes or no? Or, will he go and support Robert Ford?

Veterans' Week November 6th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I am truly humbled to speak on behalf of my leader and the Liberal Party of Canada as we honour the men and women who have answered the call to serve their country. A lot of them are here today and we need to recognize them, and a lot of them are now missed as members of Parliament.

Throughout our history, young Canadians have enlisted to fight for freedom in faraway lands. They have answered the call to serve in two world wars, and the Korean War, as peacekeepers and as peacemakers. They have left home, their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, their sweethearts and their wives and children. They have gone to fight for freedom and justice. They have gone to fight for those who are oppressed and persecuted. They have gone to keep warring sides apart and to maintain shaky peace treaties. They have gone to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

I cannot imagine facing what each of them has faced. I cannot imagine the rush of adrenalin as they face the enemy or come under fire. I cannot imagine seeing their comrades being killed or wounded, and I cannot imagine the horrors they have witnessed.

In 1914, young Canadians from across the country enlisted to fight in Europe. By the end of the First World War, 619,636 had gone to war. George Herald Baker, a member of this House of Commons, was one of the 66,000 who did not come home. Through the blood of our soldiers, Canada won its place at the treaty table.

Unfortunately, the war to end all wars did not end all wars. Once again, between 1939 and 1945, 1.1 million young Canadians went off to war, and 45,400 did not make it home. There were 54,000 Canadians who came home with physical wounds, and countless others came home with psychological wounds.

Between 1950 and 1953, 26,791 Canadians served in the Canadian Army Special Force, in Korea. There were 1,516 young Canadians who did not come home and 1,042 were wounded.

Since the Korean War, more than 1,800 Canadians have fallen in the line of duty. They were serving on peacekeeping missions and other foreign military operations, on domestic operations and training. The 158 Canadians who have fallen in Afghanistan are included in this number. Others have returned home with physical and mental wounds.

These men and women exemplify the best of what it means to be a Canadian: strong, caring and compassionate, with a sense of justice and a willingness to defend and protect the weak and the helpless.

In 2005, I had the privilege of visiting two DART camps, one in Sri Lanka, after the tsunami, and one in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. In Pakistan, I watched as a young Canadian doctor spoke to an injured child in his own language. I heard about doctors and medics who put on their boots, strapped their medical supplies to their backs, climbed the mountains, and delivered medical care to those who were too injured to make it to the DART hospital.

In 2006, I had the opportunity to go to Vimy Ridge and saw the soaring monument to the 3,598 Canadians who lost their lives during that four-day bloody battle. I saw the landscapes that still bear the scars of the exploding shells. I saw the trenches where our soldiers lived and died.

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month each year, we remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

However, every day of the rest of the year, every time we see a veteran or a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, we should stop and take a moment to shake their hands and say, “Thank you for your service. We are in your debt”.

Lest we forget.

Foreign Affairs November 5th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I just wish that the minister would rise and withdraw what he said, absolutely. They were not my words—

Points of Order November 5th, 2013

Hold on. Hold on. Let me repeat this. He put words in my mouth that I do not think my leader is going to—

Points of Order November 5th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I find it very distasteful for the minister to answer a very important question by turning words that I never—

Veterans Affairs November 5th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Veterans Affairs is closing nine VAC service offices. The minister is leaving 26,778 veterans out in the cold. This is just another example that the Minister of Veterans Affairs could not care less.

My question to the minister is, when is he going to get up and vote that they stay open? When is he going to do the right thing, which is look after our veterans?