That, given the Prime Minister has told veterans that they are “asking for more than we are able to give”, the House call on the Minister of Veterans Affairs to revoke the Veterans Affairs Canada benefits that have been extended to Chris Garnier, who is not a veteran, is incarcerated for second-degree murder and for interfering with the dead body of police officer Catherine Campbell, and is currently receiving benefits for a disability he sustained while committing his heinous crimes.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Twenty-nine days ago, veterans learned, and were quite rightly outraged at the news, that Christopher Garnier, a convicted murderer, was having his PTSD treatment paid out of funds set aside for veterans. Twenty-nine days ago we called on the to intervene and right this wrong.
At first, the and the minister's office stayed silent on the matter. Departmental spokesmen were sent out to speak instead. As it became obvious that the outrage was growing, the minister finally relented and issued a statement. He told veterans that he shared their outrage and told them that he would seek answers for them. All seemed well. Pressure had been applied and the government seemed to have heard and seemed to have been acting.
However, as of yesterday, 29 days later, veterans still have no answers and the can only say that he is waiting for his officials to provide him with a report. The minister's lack of action, quite frankly, has become more outrageous than the original decision to give veterans benefits to this murderer.
Therefore, we did what we do in these situations. We appealed to a higher authority, in this case the . We asked him if he believed that Chris Garner deserved the veterans benefits he is receiving. The was not even willing to answer that simple question.
The and his have failed to address this issue and failed to provide veterans the answer they deserve. Here we are today, 29 days later, forcing a vote on whether or not to do the right thing and revoke these veterans benefits being wrongly extended to a murderer. It is shameful that it has taken this long for the government to make a decision on such a straightforward matter. Then again, veterans will say that under this government, waiting far too long for answers has become the name of the game.
Even the veterans ombudsman will say this. In fact, he slammed the Liberal government in a report just a few weeks ago, showing quite clearly that injured veterans are being forced to wait months longer than promised to find out if they even qualify for benefits. It frustrates veterans to know that, while the government makes them sit and wait for answers, a convicted murderer who has not served a day in his life in the military is having his private treatment paid for with funds set aside for veterans, private treatment for a disability he developed strangling Officer Catherine Campbell, putting her body in a compost bin and dumping her under a bridge.
Can my colleagues imagine what veterans are thinking? In fact, can my colleagues imagine what Canadians are thinking? Veterans who have served this nation honourably are being made to wait an average of seven months for a decision, many of them dealing with PTSD issues. Some are waiting much longer for benefits that they have earned. Veterans cannot even get an update on the status of their own claims.
Today, we will be forcing the government and all Liberal MPs to make a decision on whether they believe Chris Garnier should continue to receive benefits meant for veterans or if they believe that the and the should revoke them.
Today, I am fully expecting that members on the government side will claim that our side is advocating for changes, reductions, and revisions to the family benefits. If they do, this is a clear act that we are on the right track, because it is a desperate argument. We have no intention of touching veterans benefits now or in the future. This is a one-off situation. It is something which the policy-makers likely never anticipated when they wrote the policy to extend benefits. When mass murderer Clifford Olson was in prison and receiving OAS benefits, they were revoked when we were in power. They were revoked because the then prime minister had the leadership skills to know it was wrong. He had the management skills to pull into a room the key people who made the decision to extend those benefits. He said in the House of Commons that he personally would take all action necessary to have the benefits revoked, even if it meant bringing legislation to the floor of the House.
Clearly, this is a one-off situation. It is not about the extension of family benefits, which are very important to many veterans and their family members. This is about a 30-year-old individual who never served one day of his life in a military uniform, yet Catherine Campbell, the person he murdered, wore two uniforms. She wore the uniform of a police officer and she was a volunteer firefighter.
Today, as we consider the motion and bring it to a vote, make no mistake, this is about the failure of leadership of both the and the . It is about their lack of ability to bring the decision-makers, those who made this outrageous decision in the confines of the walls of Veterans Affairs Canada to extend benefits, to the table quickly and to get an explanation from them. That is what one normally would do in the course of managing any organization or business. One would call the decision-makers to the table and say, “Explain this to me”.
If the minister is as outraged as he has said he is, why would he not do that as the first step? Why would he not travel to Charlottetown, where the offices of Veterans Affairs Canada are, sit in a meeting room with his senior officials and management people and ask what is going on. He could then come back to the House of Commons and answer to veterans and Canadians why this outrageous situation was allowed to happen in the first place. He could make a determination and have the backbone and leadership to answer the questions in the House, which the Liberals have been unable and refuse to do. It is truly shameful not only to the veterans it disrespects but the people of Canada in general.
This is an issue that needs resolution. The Liberals can intervene. They can do it, and they are refusing to do it. Instead, they are defending this individual getting these benefits. I trust my colleagues in the government backbenches will make the right decision today to get their leadership to correct this one-off situation.
Madam Speaker, we are here today in the seat of Canadian democracy, a place of free, safe and peaceful debate thanks to honourable men and women who have maintained peace and security during troubled times. Even as we speak, Canadian Forces personnel are keeping us safe across the country and around the world.
At this very moment, Canadian Armed Forces personnel are deployed far from their country, their loved ones and their homes. They are defending our nation's values of freedom and democracy. Some have been assigned dangerous missions, while others are providing desperately needed help to extremely vulnerable people. While many are maintaining peace and order, others are in training at locations all over Canada.
We have every reason to be proud of their work. I think it is safe to say that Canadians are proud of our Canadian Armed Forces. People in my riding, Richmond—Arthabaska, feel a deep sense of connection to members of our Royal Canadian Legion branches in places like Victoriaville, Richmond and Danville. We have tremendous respect for them, and I know they give so much back to the community.
All of this brings the following question to mind: why are we so proud of our soldiers and veterans in Canada? The answer is simple: because they look out for us, following a strict code of honour and showing dedication and loyalty at all times, while risking their own lives. They are proud to wear the maple leaf on their uniform everywhere in the globe, because the rights and freedoms we have in Canada are the envy of the world.
Although we may not personally know these men and women in uniform, we do know that we can count on them. This bond of trust is strong and genuine. In return, we have a duty to recognize our soldiers and veterans. The government must treat them and their families with respect and dignity. The government must provide them with support and assistance as long as they behave honourably.
Honour is very important, especially to those who serve or have served Canada. A single dishonourable act is justification for a soldier, veteran or family member to lose those privileges. Imagine, then, how our soldiers and former military personnel must feel when they hear this terrible story.
Please allow me to tell it.
In September 2015, in Halifax, Christopher Garnier, a 30-year-old civilian, cravenly took the life of Catherine Campbell of Truro, Nova Scotia. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2017 and sentenced to life in prison. Christopher Garnier never served a day in the Canadian Armed Forces. An expert at trial testified that Garnier developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of having strangled Ms. Campbell, put her body in a compost bin, and dumped her under a bridge.
However, as the son of a veteran, he qualified for support from Veterans Affairs Canada, which is still paying for his treatment for PTSD caused by the murder he committed. While behind bars, he is receiving treatment from a private psychologist funded through benefits intended for Canadian veterans, despite never having served our country. However, he would have access to similar support through the existing Canadian justice system.
The government is taking funds intended for our soldiers and veterans and using them to support a murderer. The family is outraged. Veterans are appalled. While some veterans are being forced to fight their government to access the services they are entitled to, a criminal is exploiting the system and the government is looking the other way.
Despite this atrocity, the Liberal government continues to support him financially. There is only one way out of this mess: immediately stop paying for this criminal's treatment under the veterans program.
The government must stop helping this murderer with money that is intended for our country's truly honourable men and women. The and the unfortunately do not want to talk about this case. They claim that the opposition should not be bringing up this issue in this political arena. On the contrary, I would say that it is our duty to talk about this tragedy in this chamber. It is a matter of respect, principle and honour.
We must break the silence in honour of the victim, her family, our men and women in uniform, and our veterans, who have been enraged by the government's decision. This is the opposition's role. We must denounce this foolish policy, which is yet another dismal Liberal failure, on top of all of their other failures. This is not the first time that the Prime Minister has treated our soldiers, our veterans, and their families unfairly. The current government broke its promise to no longer go to court against our soldiers and veterans. This government has spent millions of dollars in legal fees so far fighting them in court.
Members will recall that veteran in Alberta, whom the ridiculed at a town hall meeting when he said that veterans are asking for more than the government is able to give. This is the same government that did not hesitate to pay millions of dollars to Omar Khadr. This is the same government that has a policy to reintegrate Canadians who renounced our country to join ISIS. These traitors fought against our own Canadian soldiers. For what reason? What is the idea behind the Liberals' reintegration policy? Is the government truly weighing the risks and consequences of its actions?
What are we to make of the $200 million in the ' budget, for just last year, which is still sitting in the government's coffers, instead of being used to support our veterans? So many questions, so few answers.
The Conservatives never hesitated to act swiftly on cases like this. In 2010, when we found out that serial killer Clifford Olson was getting old age security, we immediately took steps to end the payments. When we asked the Prime Minister whether he believed that a criminal found guilty of killing a police officer should be getting benefits from the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Prime Minister did not answer. The has the authority and the power to cut off payments to this murderer, who is not a veteran, but he is using privacy as an excuse. He does not want to share any information. For the record, the opposition is not asking for information. All we want is action.
The and his government would do well to learn from our soldiers and veterans instead of attacking them. They could learn from veterans' loyalty, respect, discipline, devotion and, above all, their code of honour. Those who serve Canada honourably deserve better. The Campbell family deserves better. Canadians deserve better. This government has to right this wrong immediately. Enough with this scandalous injustice.
The Conservatives are calling on the to intervene, to stand up and address this outrageous injustice. If he does not, then we will, when we return to power in 2019.
Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak to this motion and our recent efforts to ensure veterans and their families receive the respect, support, care and economic opportunities they deserve as they transition to a post-military life.
While much has been said in the past few days, the fact remains that our government has placed the highest priority on making sure veterans and their families have the support and services they need, when they need them.
Our government also places that same priority on the privacy of Canada's veterans' personal information, which prevents us from discussing specific cases. When it comes to Canada's veterans and their families, we are not in the business of political opportunism. We are interested in getting veterans well again.
We can and should, however, look at everything our government has done in the last three years to improve benefits and services, not only for our nation's veterans but also for their families. We know that when a man or woman serves in the Canadian Armed Forces, their whole family serves with them.
Veterans Affairs Canada is a different department today than it was three years ago. It is driven by a new vision, with a focus on the well-being and successful transition of our Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP members, veterans and families.
It is this vision that saw us reopen the nine Veterans Affairs offices that were closed by the previous Conservative government, open a new one in Surrey and increase outreach into the north. It is this vision that saw us staff up and hire more than 470 employees after years of cuts. It is this vision that saw us bring benefits in line with where they should have been years ago.
Year over year, our government has committed more money to veterans programs and benefits, ensuring more and better support for veterans and their families, based on feedback directly from them. Their feedback has led to investments of $10 billion since 2016. Ten billion is a big number, a bigger number than most of us can really picture. I will explain in a little more depth how that number translates into the programs, services and benefits that our veterans now have access to every day.
First, I want to address an issue that has recently been brought up, which is lapsed funding. Over the past three years, Veterans Affairs Canada has seen a significant increase in demand for its programs and services, and that is a good thing. It means veterans are coming forward and getting the help they need. It means they are beginning to trust their government again. I am sure that is not easy to do after 10 years of distrust in the previous government.
In order to respond to this increased demand, the department has to request additional funds in the middle of the year. As many of my colleagues in the House are aware, these are the supplements. The department goes and asks Treasury Board for more money, because we have more veterans who want more of the programs and services they are entitled to, indeed, that they deserve.
Our services are demand-driven, so whether it is 10 or 10,000 veterans coming forward, they will receive those services. Instead of going back every day when we see another veteran come forward, the department estimates how many people will access benefits and how much money is needed. It is not an exact science, though.
This process guarantees that whether a veteran comes forward this year, next year or the year after that, we will always have resources available for veterans and their families to access programs and services.
Madam Speaker, as I was saying, this process does not guarantee that whether a veteran comes forward this year or the next or the year after that, we will always have resources available for veterans and their families to access programs and services. Lapsed funding does not result in anyone receiving less than they should.
Year over year, we have seen more financial compensation go to veterans and their families than in years previous, certainly in the previous 10 years. We have seen more veterans avail themselves of programs and services, and we have definitely seen more support being given to veterans than what the Conservatives failed to do in a decade.
I bring up the previous government because we know that they too had lapsed funding. This is not a new accounting method. It is how departments budget, but when we look at the Conservatives' record, when we look at the cuts in their Veterans Affairs departmental budgets, the cuts of 1,000 staff at Veterans Affairs and the closure of Veterans Affairs offices, it is a very different picture, one that veterans and Canadians see through.
I would like to dig in a little more on these benefits. Since January, I have held 41 town halls and round tables to meet with and hear from veterans, their families and stakeholders, and one thing I heard repeatedly was that veterans and their families needed better support and that change was needed. While there has been a lot of change at Veterans Affairs, my commitment to veterans and their well-being has remained the same. I am committed to ensuring that veterans' overall well-being is what drives everything we do. We want to make sure that veterans have purpose and are financially secure, safely housed, in good physical and mental health, resilient in the face of change, well integrated in the community, proud of their legacy and protected from political expediency.
When we look at these factors, we can all agree that without financial security, it is hard to focus on anything. That is why last December, we announced our plan to bring back a pension for life for ill and injured veterans. With that return of a monthly pension, the pension for life recognizes and compensates veterans for disabilities resulting from a service-related illness or injury with a combination of benefits that provide recognition, income support and stability.
Pain and suffering compensation is one of the main benefits. It is a monthly, tax-free payment for life that recognizes veterans' service-related pain and suffering.
This compensation is paid to members and veterans with a disability resulting from a service-related injury or illness.
Veterans and members can choose to receive either monthly payments or a lump sum, giving them the flexibility to choose what works for them and their families.
As well, additional support will be available for those with severe and permanent impairments causing a barrier to re-establishment and post-service life through the additional pain and suffering compensation. This will be provided as a monthly, tax-free benefit for life.
On top of that, the income-replacement benefit is a monthly program that will replace six current benefits and provide income support for those facing barriers to re-establishment. Additionally, veterans using this benefit will be able to earn up to $20,000 per year before any reduction to their IRB payment, and that benefit is 90% of their pre-release salary, which keeps up with inflation and includes a salary increase every year for 20 years to match their expected career progression.
Set to come into force on April 1, 2019, the new pension for life combines what veterans have asked for with the most up-to-date research and understanding of a veteran's well-being, but more importantly, the pension for life will become an integral part of that comprehensive approach to veterans' well-being, reinforcing all the programs and services available at VAC, of which mental health is a priority.
Another issue surrounding mental health we have talked about recently in this House is psychiatric service dogs. Some veterans have made it clear that service dogs could be beneficial for them if they are suffering with conditions like PTSD. That is why, earlier this year, we expanded the medical expense tax credit to recognize the costs for these service animals.
The department also invested in a pilot study to explore the use of service dogs as a safe and effective support for veterans with PTSD. As was reported last week, this study was recently completed, the department is reviewing its results and the final report will help to inform policy decisions related to service dogs.
We know that military service creates unique stressors for serving members and their families, both during and after service. Veterans Affairs Canada has concrete measures in place to address mental health, including the joint suicide prevention strategy. Announced last fall, the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs committed to a coordinated collaborative approach and identified over 160 initiatives dedicated to saving the lives of veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members. One suicide is too many, and with the two departments working together, we will be better able to help military service members and veterans reduce the risk, build resilience and prevent suicide.
Because families play an important role in a veteran's life, we recognize that they are there from day one. From base to base, from day to day, they bear intimate witness to the mental health struggles that some veterans deal with. That is why sometimes it could be determined by Veterans Affairs staff and medical professionals that access for a veteran's family members to counselling and other services would assist him or her better in achieving rehabilitation. Veterans Affairs staff consult and act on the recommendations of mental health professionals from across the country. The department has a nationwide network now of over 4,000 mental health professional who deliver services to veterans and RCMP and Canadian Forces members who have post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries. Veterans and family members can also find mental health information, support and resources at the 11 operational stress injury clinics and eight satellite clinics across the country plus use of telehealth services, for those living in remote areas.
It is fundamental that we continue to learn and share best practices. Our government recently launched a centre of excellence on PTSD and related mental health conditions that will allow us to do just that. Announced in May with the Royal Ottawa Hospital, this centre will create and share knowledge on veterans mental health treatments that work and place that information directly in the hands of mental health professionals and others working with veterans on a daily basis.
While mental health is a critical factor in a veteran's overall well-being, the department's vision aims to address all aspects of wellness. That is what led to the new and enhanced benefits that rolled out on April 1 of this year. Addressing families and well-being, financial security and education and training, all were designed with a veteran's well-being in mind. One of those new initiatives is the veterans emergency fund. Veterans or family members who may find themselves in an emergency situation can now apply for those funds 24/7, because as we know, emergencies do not only happen nine to five, Monday to Friday. Another is the caregiver recognition benefit, which provides a veteran's caregiver with $1,000 a month, tax free, recognizing the invaluable role caregivers play in caring for veterans.
Two other new programs that launched this year and are proving to be very successful are the education and training benefit and the career transition service. So far, more than 1,400 veterans have been approved for funding to further their education, and more than 900 Canadian Forces members and veterans have been approved for career transition services, and it has only been five months.
These are just a few of the real differences we are making in the lives of our country's veterans.
Whether having served in the Second World War, the Korean War, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cyprus or any other mission Canada has supported, every veteran has his or her own story based on his or her service, combat experience or injury.
Veterans' needs and the needs of their families and caregivers have evolved. They will continue to evolve, and we will evolve to meet them. Our government will continue to ensure that we are meeting their needs, enhancing their well-being, and helping them to successfully re-establish their lives after service.
Before I conclude, I would like to directly address the motion that has brought us here. As I have said previously in the House, I have instructed my department to look into this particular case and how this decision was made. I have reviewed the department's findings on this issue, and I am directing it to first, ensure that the services being received by a family member of a veteran are related to the veteran's service-related illness or injury, and where they are not, that the case be reviewed by a senior official before a decision is rendered. Second, I have requested that the department address its policy in providing treatment to family members who have extenuating circumstances, such as a conviction for a serious crime.
From now on, in cases with extenuating circumstances, the decision to extend treatment to a non-veteran family member must be made by an area director in consultation with our departmental health professionals.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today as a spokesperson for the federal NDP. I will be splitting my time with the member for .
First, let me start by saying that what happened to officer Catherine Campbell is absolutely shocking and heartbreaking. The pain to her family is unimaginable, and we must make sure this does not happen again. On behalf of all New Democrats, we send our condolences to her family.
The revelations regarding this case came as a shock to me, as they did to all veterans and their families and, obviously, to other members of this place and the and his department. It never should have happened, and the minister needs to fix it.
If one asked New Democrats how we have dealt with this highly unusual and outrageous case, I would note that I wrote a two-page letter to the minister on September 10 designed to make him aware of the media reports about the case and to ask him specific and pointed questions that came to me after reading the reports. I asked the minister three specific questions: was the decision to fund this care in accordance with any and all existing guidelines and/or regulations for the program and/or fund that was accessed; was the provision of care for illness unrelated to the service of veteran standard practice, and if so, what limitations are in place for such funding and provisions; and is funding still available to veterans in need of similar services from the same program and/or fund?
That said, in that letter, I let the minister know that I would be asking the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs to examine the regulations for this and other programs so they can be improved to ensure that all veterans and their families have access. To date, I have not heard back from the minister, but I await his thoughtful response before taking any further steps. New Democrats asked the government pointed questions in writing so we could find out what went wrong in this particular matter and, of course, work toward a solution to fix it.
Whenever we are talking about veterans benefits, we must discuss the challenges, the needs of veterans, and must have a wholesome conversation. All parties have expressed a desire to show respect and to help veterans and their families, but clearly we know that while the Conservatives were in government, they did not respect veterans. They cut services for veterans. Now the Liberals are making promises to fix the mistakes and are failing to do so.
Let us not forget the way veterans were treated under the Conservative government, which cut more than 1,000 caseworkers and staff whose jobs were to work directly with veterans to ensure that they had access to the programs and services they needed, as well as the follow up they needed. It closed nine Veterans Affairs offices that served more than 20,000 veterans. There was also the failure of the Conservative government to spend more than $1.1 billion approved by Parliament to help veterans.
However, it does not excuse the Liberal government's broken promises today and for its following in the footsteps of the Conservatives on so many issues facing veterans today. While money has been allocated to help veterans under the Liberal government, something my NDP colleagues and I wholeheartedly support, it is not what the Liberals promised and is clearly not enough.
During the 2015 campaign, the promised to re-establish lifelong pensions, but instead his minister has put forward a pale imitation of the venerable old program. As has been pointed out by independent sources, the benefits paid out under the Liberals' new lifetime pension are not even close to the financial benefits veterans would have received under the old lifelong pension. I hope the government will stop misleading veterans about this fact.
While the government made a point of criticizing the last Conservative government for not spending $1.1 billion approved by Parliament over just seven years, it has continued the same practice, leaving over $374 million unspent in its first three years. For some reason, the minister likened this to getting a credit when one buys gas at the station. This is not five dollars, $10 or $15 left at the pump; this is enough money to hire back the over 1,000 caseworkers who were fired by the Conservative government and who could help deal with the growing backlog of over 30,000 veterans waiting for their disability benefit application claims to be opened. Many of them are not even getting a response.
With regard to the provision of service dogs that veterans absolutely need, they just got a report back from their own department, which veterans have been waiting for for years. The government chose to follow that path of doing its own report and ignoring a report that was done in the United States previously. It wanted to do a made in Canada report, but now the Liberals are deciding to wait for a report out of the U.S. before they allocate more resources for service dogs. A tax credit is great for service dogs. We appreciate that step forward, but veterans need more service dogs. More veterans are falling through the cracks, but the government did not do what it should have.
The Liberals could have used that money to open more centres to help veterans. We heard from the ombudsman's report that many veterans are waiting well beyond the service standards set out by the government. Most of them are waiting more than four months. They are actually waiting six months. Women are waiting longer than men. French Canadians are waiting longer than anglophone Canadians. Why? The Liberals are failing to address and meet their own service standards.
Many veterans cannot find someone to answer the phone. I have been hearing from constituents and others across the country. I have a note from Rose Doucette, a former Canadian Armed Forces veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan and volunteered for an extended tour. She said she has had two claims in the VAC system since September 2017, that is, for over a year, and was recently told by a medical practitioner that the VAC wait time is now expected to be 24 to 28 weeks, but that even that was not likely. She was told that the new policy was never to discuss wait times with a veteran. She has also had four VAC reassessments waiting in the pipe since February 2018. VAC is not being truthful about its service to injured veterans. This is not how we should be treating our veterans.
I held five town halls in my riding this summer to listen to veterans. We heard someone say that the call centres are based on time zones that do not meet veterans' needs across the country and that people are not answering the phone. We heard from Vivian from Port Alberni who spoke about the application and appeals process impacting the families of veterans. She said that once a spouse gets through the system, they are sick themselves from dealing with it all.
Reg of Qualicum Beach also voiced his concerns regarding the long and convoluted process that generally requires multiple attempts.
Ken of Parksville expressed his desire for better communication with veterans when they submit an application or appeal. Confirmation and receipt with an approximate timeline would go a long way in addressing this issue for Ken. He is not even hearing back from VAC.
While the Liberals are patting themselves on the back, Ken, Vivian and Rose are all suffering, along with many other veterans across the country. Rick of Parksville summed up the feeling in the room. He compared it to medical insurance companies attempting to run out the clock on sick claimants to avoid paying them. We know that a lot of veterans will not get any benefits until their applications are approved. That means they are being left out and are leaning on family members to support them for the medications and treatment they need. This is absolutely unacceptable.
As New Democrats, we will continue to work in practical and meaningful ways to improve the lives of Canadian veterans and their families, because we think our veterans deserve no less from their political leaders. The huge problems that plague the current Liberal government and the Department of Veterans Affairs are a continuation of the Conservative legacy. All members ought to work together. We have to support veterans to make sure they get the services they are rightly owed and deserve.
Madam Speaker, I want to begin by extending my deepest condolences to Catherine Campbell's family. Ms. Campbell was the victim of a horrific crime, and I cannot imagine the pain her parents and loved ones must be feeling. I also want to tell the family that Catherine Campbell's name will not be forgotten.
This story reminds us of how much more work needs to be done to address violence against women. Ms. Campbell had gone through police training, but sadly, she is no longer with us.
It was very important for me to extend my condolences to Ms. Campbell's family and to let them know that she will be in my thoughts as I fight to end violence against women, with the support of the NDP and many MPs.
Regarding veterans' benefits, it is important to understand that there is a huge backlog and that the process is extremely long and complex. In many cases, soldiers with chronic back pain, to give an example, send in all their forms and benefit claims, only to be told that their injury is not related to their military service. They then have to fight to prove that the injury really is related to their military service. That is one of the reasons frequently cited for denying benefits.
We understand that privacy is required in the case of Chris Garnier. However, judging by the information we have received and the public statements that were made, including at trial, the injury for which he is receiving treatment is in no way connected to his father's military service. There is no connection between his injury and military service.
In my opinion, Veterans Affairs Canada should not be paying benefits in this case. Chris Garnier can get the care he needs from Corrections Canada, but Veterans Affairs Canada certainly should not have to pay for his care, since this injury has no connection to his father's military service.
I do want to point out that when family members experience psychological trauma, this trauma is sometimes connected to military service. During their career, soldiers must regularly tell their spouse that they are being deployed, but that they do not know where or for how long.
This type of situation creates a tremendous amount of stress for the spouse, who has no idea if the person will come home or what that person is getting into. That is extremely stressful. In the long term, it can have an impact on the mental health of the military spouse and that of their children. In this case, there is a very clear link between the need for psychological care for family members and the military service of the spouse.
In the case of Ms. Campbell, the crime was especially heinous. The monstrosity of the crime aside, the logical conclusion is that there is no link between the injury and the military service of the father. We are also talking about a 30-year old man, not a teenager or a child who was still in their parents' care or whose parent was a soldier or veteran at the time that the injury occurred.
The important thing now is to discuss what is currently going on with veterans. Let us be clear and honest. I know veterans who served under the Pierre Trudeau government, and those who served under the Chrétien, Martin, and Mulroney governments, and even under the current . Not one can say that everything went smoothly under any of those governments or any prime minister. The problems at Veterans Affairs Canada have been going on for decades.
Everyone is trying to solve these problems but sadly, over time, other problems are created, especially with respect to access to services, which often discourages people. Generations of veterans have wound up feeling abandoned because they have had enough of the endless back and forth with Veterans Affairs about their cases and the never-ending medical exams. That is unacceptable. To their mind, the injury they received during their military service is so obvious that it cannot be challenged. Unfortunately, veterans regularly abandon their claims because they are no longer able to go on fighting and they cannot understand why they are made to feel guilty about asking for what they are entitled to. These are real injuries and there is no doubt about their military service, but they are regularly required to fight with the department. That is unacceptable.
Veterans come to our riding offices asking for help. They come with two-inch files full of papers, including their medical file, correspondence with Veterans Affairs Canada and third-party medical assessments, in the hopes of solving problems that sometimes seem unthinkable. The compensation requested is sometimes $2,000 or $5,000. With everything that has been done administratively to block their claims, I am convinced that it is more expensive for the department to try to prevent veterans from obtaining reasonable benefits.
Facing these kinds of situations, which happen every day, and knowing that benefits have been awarded in some cases, people have every right to wonder what is going on in the department. Why is such nonsense happening? So many soldiers need treatment, but there are also family members who have to fight, deal with delays and are turned away six times before they actually manage to speak with someone.
This is not to mention one particular group that is being deprived of services: francophones. All too often, people have a hard time obtaining services in French. Unfortunately, I know a few veterans who have ended up accepting services in English simply to speed up the process. It is extremely frustrating. We need to take immediate action today to provide better services to veterans.
I would also remind members of the $372 million allocated to Veterans Affairs Canada that has yet to be spent. With that funding, how many employees could be hired in the various offices to provide services? It is worth doing the math, since $372 million is a huge amount of money that was supposed to help veterans, but has yet to be spent. We should all be thinking about immediate action we could take together, as members, to quickly restore adequate services for veterans and their families.
Too many people never speak of the sacrifices they make throughout their spouse's military career because they do not want to affect their health. We need to recognize their sacrifices and acknowledge that they are very much linked to their spouse's military service. Any benefits received should be related to military service.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
While I appreciate the opportunity to speak to today's opposition day motion, I truly wish the incident had never happened and I did not have to speak on this subject.
Today, we are calling on the Liberal government to explain why Christopher Garnier, a convicted murderer, is receiving disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada for post-traumatic stress disorder that he sustained while committing a heinous crime. I hate to have to state the details of the incident, but I feel it is necessary to do so in order for Canadians and my colleagues across the floor to understand just how offensive it is that the has continued to allow Garner to receive disability benefits.
In 2015, Chris Garnier senselessly murdered Constable Catherine Campbell, an off-duty police officer, by strangling her just hours after meeting her for the first time. He then put her remains in a compost bin and dumped her near a bridge in Halifax. Her remains were not found for five days.
In December of 2017, Garnier was convicted of second degree murder in the 2015 death of Constable Campbell. He and was given a life sentence, with the option to apply for parole after 13 and a half years.
This is an absolute tragedy. Constable Campbell was not only a police officer but a volunteer firefighter. She wore two uniforms and served the community with dedication. She had a family that loved, and still loves, her deeply.
When reports came out earlier this summer that Veterans Affairs Canada was providing disability benefits to a convicted murderer, I was personally appalled and I know all my Conservative colleagues and most Canadians were as well.
The disability being treated is PTSD. It was sustained by Garnier from strangling Constable Campbell to death. The PTSD did not cause him to commit the crime, and it seems that he is blaming her for his PTSD. Now the cost of this murder to receive therapy from a private psychologist is being covered by Veterans Affairs Canada, a.k.a. the taxpayer.
The indicates veterans are asking for more than the government can afford, yet he and his minister are prepared to give money, set aside for veterans, away to someone who does not deserve it and has not earned it. Yes, that is correct, Mr. Speaker. You, I and all Canadians are paying for a convicted murderer to receive therapy for a disability that was caused because he murdered an innocent woman. He did not wear a uniform a day in his life and never served his country as a veteran has.
The states that Garnier is receiving benefits because his father is a veteran, yet this still does not make any sense to me.
My father was a veteran, so I am familiar with how these things can work. When I was 30 years old, I did not receive any benefits due to my father being a veteran. I stopped being considered a vet dependant after the age of 25, and it only lasted that long because I was in university, as is the case for most Canadians.
When I was hit by a car as a young man and left with disabilities, would Veterans Affairs have come to my aid after my father retired? I wonder. How is it that Garnier qualifies as a dependant? Why is Veterans Affairs so quick to provide a murderer with disability benefits. If this was a mistake, why has the not used his authority to stop this from happening? It is shameful that the minister has no answers to these questions day after day and that he has the audacity to ask if we can simply let this debate rest for now.
I am a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. It is an honour and privilege to sit on that committee and do all that I can to be a voice for veterans and advocate on their behalf here in Ottawa. During my time on that committee, I have heard countless stories about the struggle that many veterans face when it comes to obtaining their disability benefits.
I remember my first Remembrance Day ceremony as a sitting member of Parliament. A young veteran, who had served in Afghanistan, came up to me afterward and was very passionate about his experiences and concerns. One of the points he left me with was to stand up for him and his comrades and not to let the bureaucracy cheat them out of the honour they had earned by serving Canada. As my father always said, “Now is the time to stand up and be counted.”
It seems extremely unfair that the men and women who have worn a uniform and have sacrificed their lives to keep Canada safe and secure have been pushed to the back of the line so a murderer, who never served for our country, can get benefits first. I have a constituent who has been waiting nearly a year and a half to receive his disability benefits, which deal with PTSD issues, with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Just last week there was another mefloquine rally on the front steps of Parliament Hill. Veterans who were subjected to this drug are fighting for their benefits in recognition of the huge impact that mefloquine has had on their lives and those of their families. People like Marj Matchee and David Bona are standing up and speaking for those who cannot. Where is their support from Veterans Affairs? They get none, yet a murderer who is a non-veteran gets coverage. These veterans had no choice but to take that medication. This murderer had a choice.
The penal system in Canada covers treatment for mental health issues, such as PTSD. This could include Garnier, yet Veterans Affairs Canada is footing the bill for his private psychologist. He does not need to use resources meant for veterans and their deserving families.
Why is the minister unable to explain the rationale behind this backward decision? What is taking so long for department officials to figure out how on earth this could have happened? Canadians want a response. In the meantime, the minister should use his authority to suspend the benefits until said response is provided.
It bears repeating the 's recent comments to a disabled veteran, stating that Canadian veterans were, “asking for more than we are able to give”. That comment was extremely offensive from the start, as our veterans have literally given their lives so we may live peacefully in our country. That highly offensive statement, compounded with the fact the government is paying for a murderer's PTSD treatment, is another virtual slap in the face to all veterans.
I am sure most of us here remember what happened to the former base commander at CFB Trenton, Russell Williams. He was convicted of committing two murders. Following his conviction, he was stripped of his commission, his ranks and awards by the Governor General on the recommendation of the chief of defence staff. His severance pay was terminated and the salary he received following his arrest was seized. His uniform was burned and his medals were destroyed.
Imagine the outrage Canadians would feel if they were paying for the private psychological treatment for Russell Williams for the PTSD he may have incurred while murdering somebody. It is a disgusting and abhorrent thought, yet this is essentially what is happening with Christopher Garnier. We get to pay for his treatment, all because his father, not him, is a veteran.
I want to make it clear that I and all my colleagues on this side of the House are 100% in favour of helping veterans and their families. Being a voice for our veterans family is one of my main goals at the veterans affairs committee. It is something I understand through my own personal experience, through multiple moves, multiple school disruptions, boarding schools, separations from my father, my parents, with challenges to myself, my siblings, my brother and my father. As they say, “Been there, done that”.
Ultimately, the issue here is that these taxpayer-funded back-allocated disability benefits are going to somebody who, one, has been convicted of murder; and two, should not qualify as a dependent, as far as I can tell.
This man took a life, violently and senselessly. Our Canadian veterans have dedicated themselves to saving lives, both at home and abroad. They commit to defend our country, its institutions and its way of life. This man has disrespected our way of life and dishonoured our country.
I call on the Liberal government to do the right thing and stop funding treatment for a convicted murderer once and for all. It owes it to Constable Campbell, to her family and to all veterans who have served our country.
Madam Speaker, about a month ago, members in this House found out that a man who was convicted of murdering a female police officer and desecrating her body had claimed that he suffered from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, from the act of his committing the murder. This is a man who has never served a second in Canada's military, yet we found out a month ago that he was receiving private health care services from Veterans Affairs to treat his PTSD which he incurred in the act of killing a female police officer. That is wrong. There is no equivocation on it. That is not something that should be happening.
The motion before us today asks the House to instruct the to revoke the benefits for this man. Let us get into the reasons why.
First of all, I do not think there is anyone who is listening to this who thinks that somebody who has never served a day in his life in Canada's military, who has suffered PTSD from his own atrocious criminal act, should be receiving benefits reserved for our men and women who have fought for our country. This is not somebody who fought for our country. This is not someone who served our country. This is somebody who committed such a vile act against one of Canada's citizens that he has been convicted of a serious crime and is serving punishment for it. For him to receive benefits is wrong. It is flat out wrong. This should not be happening. My colleagues should support this motion because he should not be receiving benefits.
Let us get into more technical details.
First of all, he already has access to mental health benefits. For my colleagues who might not be aware of this, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act states that the service shall provide every inmate with “reasonable access to non-essential mental health care that will contribute to the inmate’s rehabilitation and successful reintegration into the community.”
This man already has access to these services and yet he is getting priority benefits that are reserved for veterans and their families. Does he have an affiliation with Canada's armed forces? Sure, but does that make it right that a man who has committed a very serious offence has access to those benefits? No, it does not.
Our responsibility in this place is to correct wrongs when they happen. This policy should not allow this man to receive these benefits. Whose responsibility is it to fix that? It is the responsibility of the . Every single one of the Liberals who have spoken in here today, three years after receiving their mandate, have stood up and said that it is Stephen Harper's fault. They have said that it is Stephen Harper's fault that a man who was convicted of murder is receiving PTSD benefits from Veterans Affairs. Come on. Nobody believes that. Even Liberals are going to be hard pressed to believe that. Any Liberal member who stands up in here is saying, “Oh, it is Stephen Harper's fault.” Come on. They should do their jobs. The Liberals are three years into their mandate.
This morning, the , to cover a part of his body, his rear end, tweeted, “I have asked my officials to get back to me as soon as possible with the reasons for this decision.” That is the minister's job. He should not ask his officials for the reasons of this decision. He should go to his officials and say, “Fix it. He should not have benefits. Fix it now and I want every policy option on my desk in an hour or else somebody is going to suffer the consequence for it so that this does not happen again.” That is his policy. He should bring a memorandum to cabinet if that is what it takes. He should change the policy so that we can do two things.
The Liberals are standing up in the House saying that the Conservatives do not support benefits for families. Come on. It is the minister who stood up and explained to the Canadian media that the reason he was not spending money on veterans benefits right now and why there was unspent funds was because it was like a prepaid gas card.
Every single one of my colleagues here supports the benefits for families of veterans, because many of us understand what families go through when one of their loved ones is deployed or serves. Many of us have an intimate understanding of the long-term scars that can leave on a family and on a person. Of course we want to have benefits for these families. Of course we want to recognize their mutual sacrifice. However, when someone, regardless of his affiliation to that person, commits a crime that is so heinous that he is convicted and is suffering a punishment for it, and the PTSD he suffered was from desecrating a person's body, that person should not receive those benefits. That is a decision we can make in Parliament. That is why this motion is here today.
Every single one of those guys who stands up and says that it is Stephen Harper's fault or that we do not want benefits for veterans, it is those members who are abdicating their responsibility to our men and women in uniform, because by their defending this decision and allowing their minister to get off the hook for not dealing with this after 29 days, they are the ones who are holding back benefits for our veterans. They are the ones who have their priorities backward. The Liberals are three years into their mandate. If they wanted to do more for our men and women in uniform, they have had three years to do it. What do we hear? “It's like a prepaid gas card.”
We stood in here earlier this week and asked the and the minister over and over again if they thought it was right for this man to get benefits. The Prime Minister's response was that he should not have to answer that question. Come on. He should be a leader and stand up for what he believes in. I am standing up for what I believe in. I will proudly stand here and say that this man should not be getting benefits.
The has had 29 days to haul his officials in and say, “Fix this problem.” In any other universe that would be grounds for firing, because this is a no-brainer. That is all we are asking today.
My colleague from the NDP talked about different ways we could look at serving our veterans and their families more effectively. Yes, let us talk about that in this place. That is wonderful, but in this particular instance, for this motion, the business that is at hand today, every single member in the House has to stand up and say that it is not right that this man is getting benefits and those benefits should be revoked, and any sort of policy that allows this interpretation to happen should be changed so that someone who commits murder, who has never served a day in his life, does not get the benefits that are afforded to our men and women in uniform who have served for us. This man already has access to mental health services through the corrections act.
Anyone around the world who is watching this will be standing up and asking what is happening in Canada.
I cannot believe that the ' only response to this was to say he has asked his officials to get back to him as soon as possible. That is the minister's job. He has to go and ask his officials to fix this.
Every single member in the House should stand up and support this motion. Every single Liberal member of Parliament should be going into their caucus room on Wednesday morning and asking, “Why haven't you fixed this?” If it had been our minister, I can say right now that is what would have happened on Wednesday morning. If the Liberals want to call it Stephen Harper's fault, he would never have let someone take 29 days to respond to a clear-cut case like this.
On their record, the Liberals have had three years. At what point in time are they going to stop saying that it is someone else's fault? They should get their values straight and do something right for once.
Madam Speaker, my fellow members of Parliament have brought up an issue that is important not only to me and this government but to everyone in Canada, the well-being of members and veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families.
I would like to reassure the House that this government is committed to improving the health and well-being of our veterans. This government has made it a priority to provide not just all Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police members and veterans the support and services they so rightly deserve, but also their families.
Most Canadians understand that the government is legally bound to protect the confidentiality of its veteran clients. This is a responsibility that we take seriously. Veterans should never have to worry that we would expose their personal information or use them as pawns for the sake of political gain, which is why I am disappointed that we are here discussing this opposition motion and ignoring the issue that has taken place.
All of us feel disgusted at the crime that has taken place. This is a feeling shared by all members in this place and Canadians across the country, but it is more important to Conservative members to try to expose more personal information for the sake of headlines.
Their focus should be on the health and well-being of veterans, in particular their mental health, which is a priority for Veterans Affairs Canada and for our government. Mental health is critical to overall wellness, and we know how important it is when it comes to our men and women in uniform transitioning to life after service.
That is why this government is committed to helping veterans living with an operational stress injury get the help they need, when they need it, and, more importantly, in person whenever possible. The three recently opened operational stress injury satellite service sites will help with this.
It is important to note that currently 96% of applications of post-traumatic stress disorder are approved, up from where it was under the Conservatives.
We took seriously the concerns of the Auditor General who criticized the previous government for not doing enough to facilitate veterans' timely access to mental health benefits, so veterans can access supports even before their application is approved.
This is also why, if it is identified that a veteran could benefit from a family member receiving counselling or other services, the department steps in in order to help the veteran. The focus of providing mental health supports to a family member is always based on the best interest of the veteran's well-being, and the decision is always made in consultation with public health professionals.
Veterans Affairs Canada offers both direct and indirect support to veterans' family members through a variety of benefits and services. The following are a few examples: case management services, transition services, mental health services, rehabilitation services and vocational assistance, caregiver recognition benefit, public service health care plan, financial benefits and disability death benefits, pastoral outreach network, VAC assistance service, and operational stress injury social support.
By providing specialized, evidence-based assessment, treatment and support, along with educational programs for individuals, couples and families, Veterans Affairs Canada is better able to assist veterans and their families.
It is clear to this government that when members serve, the whole family serves with them, which is why their health and well-being is also a priority for us. That is why families are central in the suite of benefits, programs and services that my colleagues talked about earlier.
In addition to mental health support services, the veteran family program is available at all 32 of the military family resource centres across the country.
Both this past summer and last year, I had the opportunity to attend the military family resource centre at Base Gagetown. Individuals and families told me how much they appreciate the benefits and services that are being offered and their enhancement.
What this means is that medically releasing CAF members, veterans who are medically released and their families who are in need of assistance, will now have access to more services that focus on the well-being of the entire family. This can include mental health first aid, referrals to programs and services, and access to the military family services program. This is in addition to the recently announced centre of excellence on PTSD and related mental health conditions.
Everyone here understands the value of research and the need for scientific data to make informed decisions. We are committed to working with researchers, taking an evidence-based approach to developing new programs as part of our mission to better serve veterans.
The centre of excellence on PTSD will work to advance mental health research and support to improve the treatment of mental health conditions that impact veterans, Canadian Armed Forces members and their families. It will be a place where mental health professionals across the country can create and share knowledge on veteran mental health treatments that work. The research component will be critical as the centre will work to leverage scientific advancements in the area of military and veteran mental health while also developing best practices in assessing and treating mental health conditions.
A large part of the success of this centre will be through our partnership with the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research and capitalizing on the network of over 1,000 researchers at 43 universities across our great nation. As well, we will be working alongside many other recognized Canadian centres, institutes and universities. It will place it directly into the hands of other professionals across the country working with veterans on a daily basis. It will also focus on research, clinical program and tool development, education and outreach. The centre will provide important information to front-line health care service providers on mental health conditions specific to veterans and their families.
This is a perfect complement to the existing partnerships for mental health as offered through the operational stress injury clinics, which are commonly known as OSI clinics, and by individual health professionals located throughout Canada. When it comes to mental health for veterans, timely professional treatment is the key to recovery. It is why veterans affairs funds a network of 11 OSI clinics across Canada. Ten of these clinics provide outpatient treatment for PTSD and other operational stress injuries, and there is one in-patient clinic located at Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal.
This week will promote awareness and spark further discussion on the realities of mental health, for which much work needs to be done.
I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Mr. Speaker, the devotion of our men and women in uniform is undisputed and unparalleled. I assure my colleagues that just as veterans and their fallen comrades have made sacrifices to preserve our future, our government is committed to protecting them and their future. Our government made promises to veterans and all Canadians, and we are committed to keeping those promises. That is what we are doing. We have heard the concerns of soldiers, veterans and their families and we consulted the veterans' community, as well as veterans advocates and experts, on the best way forward.
That being said, we recognize that we will never make everyone happy. Our government has made a lot of positive changes over the past three years in order to better serve veterans and their families. New and improved Veterans Affairs programs have all the necessary ingredients for promoting well-being; an important one is the balance between financial, mental, physical and social well-being.
The result is a flexible set of benefits and programs that enable veterans and their families to decide what type of compensation is best for them. One of the promises was to provide a lifetime monthly pension. In his mandate letter to the , the clearly asked him to “[r]e-establish lifelong pensions as an option for our injured Veterans, while ensuring that every injured Veteran has access to financial advice and support so that they can determine the form of compensation that works best for them and their families.”
The new pension for life was announced last December and was designed to provide the greatest possible support for the most seriously injured veterans. This new approach consists of a combination of benefits that provide recognition, income support and stability for military members and veterans who suffer from a service-related illness or injury.
One of the benefits that we are especially pleased to provide is the compensation for pain and suffering. It is a non-taxable lifetime monthly payment in recognition of service-related pain and suffering. This benefit is based on the extent of the impairment, and the monthly and lump-sum options give members and veterans the opportunity to choose what is best for them and their families.
The additional pain and suffering compensation, which is also a monthly, non-taxable benefit, provides additional support for veterans who have a service-related permanent and severe impairment. This benefit is paid in addition to the pain and suffering compensation and is meant to recognize the barriers to establishment in life that veterans face after service.
The income replacement benefit is another monthly program that will provide income support to veterans who need financial assistance because they are experiencing barriers to re-establishment in post-service life due to a health problem resulting primarily from service. In some cases, the benefit may also be offered to veterans, survivors and orphans, should they need it.
We realized that what we announced in December might have seemed complicated, which is why held round table discussions with veterans and stakeholders across the country. We wanted to make sure that veterans and their families understand the scope and the impact of the changes we are introducing. These meetings were also an opportunity to hear what veterans and stakeholders think about the new approach.
Overall, many people are satisfied with these changes. We are all aware that the needs of Canada's veterans have changed a lot over the past century. Since the Pensions Act was introduced, Veterans Affairs Canada has ensured that its programs and services have kept pace with those changing needs by adopting a better approach that incorporates the financial, mental, physical and social factors that play a role in the successful transition to post-service life.
It is clear that the new pension for life meets the government's promise to bring back a lifetime monthly pension. More importantly, it reiterates the government's unwavering commitment to ensuring that all veterans and their families are treated with dignity, respect and fairness, which is really at the heart of everything we do.
Over $6 billion in initiatives were announced in the 2016 and 2017 budgets, and we are investing another $3.6 billion on top of that in the flexible package of benefits and programs that is the pension for life.
We are committed to providing financial compensation for service-related pain and suffering. We are committed to providing income replacement to provide financial support for veterans during rehabilitation or to compensate them for their loss of income. We are committed to providing education, work and physical and mental health support programs for veterans. We are committed to making veterans' lives easier.
We know that every veteran has their own unique history and situation. That is why pension for life was designed to give every veteran the flexibility to decide what form of compensation works best for them and their family during the transition from military to civilian life. Pension for life provides a full suite of financial security and wellness elements to help veterans and their families transition to the next phase of their life and make choices about what they want to do next, whether it be education, work or retirement.
We have made a lot of progress in enhancing support to our courageous veterans. The government will never stop working to improve the lives of our veterans and their families.
Following a review, the has informed the department that services received by the family member of a veteran must be related to an illness or injury connected with the veteran's service. Where they are not, the case must be reviewed by a senior official before a decision can be made.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs is directing the department to address its policy on providing treatment to family members under extenuating circumstances, such as conviction for a serious crime. From now on, in cases involving extenuating circumstances, the decision to extend treatment to a family member other than the veteran must be made by a director, in collaboration with departmental health professionals.
In this specific case, it is important to understand that we cannot comment any further on the shameful murder of Constable Campbell. Our hearts are with the family, and we offer them our condolences.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my good friend, someone whom I have great respect for, the hon. member for .
Before I stood up here today, I walked up to the third floor, as I often do. I went to the Memorial Chamber and looked at the Books of Remembrance. I do this because it serves as a reminder to me of the reason I have the privilege and the honour of sitting in our symbol of democracy. I do it often, out of respect for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. I do it for their families. I certainly appreciate the service and sacrifices that our members of our military and their families have paid to this country.
It is a sad day in this country when veterans who are suffering from PTSD have to stand in line behind a convicted murderer who never served a day in his life, in order to receive PTSD benefits. I never thought we would get to this point, but here we are on an opposition day asking the government to do something very simple: to stop the benefits to police killer, Christopher Garnier.
Members can imagine my surprise last week when we stood in question period and asked the about this issue. I asked what I thought were very fair questions about how this could happen and what he was going to do to resolve it. Of course, the Prime Minister stood up, as we have heard during the debate today, and talked platitudes about veterans, and the stood up and gave an infomercial on all the things his government is doing. If we ask veterans, the Liberals are not doing by them very well. Veterans will tell us that.
I had a follow-up question about how he could justify a paying PTSD benefits to a person who had killed a police officer, and a volunteer firefighter as well, meaning someone would had actually worn two uniforms in her community. How could the justify paying those Veterans Affairs benefits for PTSD to someone after he had murdered a police officer, Catherine Campbell? The answer from the Prime Minister was absolutely ridiculous. He accused us of fearmongering, of being insensitive to the issue. He refused to answer the question. He actually sat down and did not answer the question in question period in the House, where the opposition is obligated to hold the government to account. The reaction across the country since then has been nothing but incredible in terms of the outrage against the Prime Minister, and now the , for refusing to answer the question.
It showed, as I have said many times in the House, that the and the current Liberal government do not want an opposition. They want an audience. I have news for the Prime Minister and the government: we are going to continue to push on those issues that are important to Canadians, and this one certainly is. It is why we are standing here today, all day in Parliament, asking the government to stop this incredibly egregious act of paying a benefit for PTSD to a convicted police murderer who has never served a day of his life, not even one single minute, in Canada's military and yet is receiving those benefits.
In fact, on that day, within that question I posed to the , I suggested a fact, that if a serving member of Canada's military were to commit a murder, not only would their benefits be lost, but so too would be the benefits of their family. Christopher Garnier was not a dependant, as defined under any benefits plan. Certainly under the plan for us here in Parliament, we are entitled to benefits for our dependants, as do many other workplaces. Those benefits are paid up to the age of 21, and in the case of their children being in post-secondary education, they get those benefits paid until their dependants are 25. They do not get them when they are 30. They are cut off.
It is a really simple solution on the part of the government. We are standing here today not only on behalf of veterans and their families, including the Campbell family and friends, but more importantly for Catherine Campbell herself, the police officer who was killed by Christopher Garnier in Truro, Nova Scotia, to say at all levels that this is wrong. We are asking the and the to act on this case, which is well within their prerogative.
The reaction has been swift across this country. In fact, when this case broke almost four weeks ago, Stephen McNeil, the Liberal premier of Nova Scotia, said that he was initially stunned and shocked by the department's help for Garnier. He made this point in recent conversations with the veterans affairs minister and another Nova Scotia minister, whose title I do not quite know at this point as he seems to hide a lot. He stated:
I don't believe anyone in their drafting of this policy to look after military families believed that it would be looking after a convicted killer in our province, and I strongly voiced that issue with the federal government and with my colleagues and they will look into it.
Look into it? It has been four weeks. We have heard from Catherine Campbell's aunt, who wrote publicly on Facebook that Garnier had twisted the system and that she was sickened by it. She wrote:
There are actual veterans who returned from war, or multiple wars, and they are killing themselves because they can’t get help for the PTSD they suffer from through no fault of their own!
Subsequent to Thursday, the reaction I have received has been swift. There has has been anger and disbelief from right across this country. A serving RCMP member, a former co-worker of Constable Campbell, talked about the fact that they have been trying to receive PTSD benefits for seven years. There is another one that said that they received a letter, a FOAD letter, which they referred to as an “f-off and die letter” from Veterans Affairs. These are the types of examples of what people are telling me and my colleagues right across this country.
I think it was best said by Medric Cousineau, whom I call a friend. He is an advocate for PTSD service dogs. He was interviewed recently, and said that what Garnier was suffering from was not PTSD, but remorse, remorse for killing Catherine Campbell, remorse for putting her body in a composting bin, and remorse for dumping the body under a bridge.
What have we heard from Nova Scotia MPs? Nothing. Not a single word. Some of them will stand up today and tout the government's success with veterans. As I said earlier, that is arguable. We have heard nothing from Nova Scotia MPs. They sat there like crickets, when they should feel outrage about this case, the same type of outrage caused by this murder and the same type of outrage right now in Nova Scotia because of the government's abject failure to deal with the situation and remedy it properly.
We heard earlier that the minister was talking about bumping this down to some mid-level bureaucrats, some mid-level area managers, to decide in the future. I have news for the minister: That department belongs to the Government of Canada, it belongs to the Parliament of Canada, and it belongs to the people of Canada. If the is not going to accept responsibility and make the right decision for the sake of the Campbell family or the veterans who have to stand behind Christopher Garnier to gain those benefits, if he is not going to accept responsibility for what goes on in his department, for running his department properly and for doing the right thing, then what need is there for him? I call on this minister, the , to resign his post and put someone in there who can do the job effectively.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand here today.
I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the comments coming from some of our colleagues across the floor, some who I deeply respect with respect to their service to our country. However, it is the talking points. I have listened intently to this debate.
It was August 28 when I received a message from our veteran community, asking if I heard about Chris Garnier who had heinously murdered Catherine Campbell, a Truro police officer of six years, badge 137. Catherine was also a volunteer firefighter.
In the process of the legal battle that he and his family waged, they used every dilatory motion possible to re-victimize Ms. Campbell's family, such as putting a peace bond on her family members during the court case because Mr. Garnier's family felt threatened. When the sentencing came up, all of a sudden he had PTSD. From what? He had PTSD from the murder he committed. How did we find this out? An email was sent during the sentencing, which was only about a month and a half ago.
Since August 28, when I did a video on my social media, over 90,000 Canadians have viewed it and they are angry. The comments we have received have been incredible. People are furious. I want to read one for members. It states:
“I am not allowed to lend my voice to the outrage of providing services to a non-veteran convicted murderer, however, I am absolutely speechless. Well, perhaps not speechless, but I'm trying to be polite and professional.”
“ As a citizen of this country, I am so angry and ashamed. As a Veterans Affairs employee, this is not what I signed up for when I began my career, providing services to our veterans and their families. I love my job and it is an honour to support those who are willing to lay down their lives for me and my fellow citizens, but now I just want to go home with my head hung in shame. knowing what someone in my organization has approved.”
It goes on to say, “Under family services, it clearly states that we do not cover family members' own mental health issues. It is a provincial jurisdiction, or in this case, it is a Corrections Canada jurisdiction. We only directly support veterans' family members with their mental health issues only as needed for them to participate in a veterans rehab plan.”
I offer that to members. All we have heard from the minister straight across the Liberal caucus is garbage. There is no other way to put it. It is shameful.
Veterans and first responders are listening today. I have had, if not hundreds, possibly thousands of messages regarding this issue. Chris Garnier murdered Catherine Campbell. He is currently appealing his case now because the judge was heavy-handed in sentencing. Chris Garnier met Catherine Campbell and two hours later he murdered her. He dumped her in a recycling bin, wheeled her through Halifax and tossed her away like a piece of trash. Now he and his family are trying to milk the system, using PTSD as an excuse. It is shameful.
Through my work on Bill , we have worked hard in trying to break the stigma so those who are suffering can feel comfortable and know that when they come forward to talk about their stories, they will be believed. Now we have this dirt bag. I have said it, and I believe that with my whole heart.
This man is re-victimizing the family. He is taking advantage of a situation. He is using every tool possible. Now he is using PTSD as a mitigating factor, hoping to get some leniency in his sentencing. We have colleagues across the way, all whom I respect dearly for their service, coming out, spewing the talking points.
If a veteran commits a crime, he or she loses his or her benefits. My hon. colleague, the member for , mentioned it earlier that a 30 year old was not a dependant. To have a convicted murderer jumping in front of a veteran or a first responder who requires treatment is shameful.
The day after I posted my video, the minister said that he was seized with this issue. It has been 28 days. He stands in the House and blathers on. He had an opportunity at the beginning of this debate to talk about the action he had taken on this case, but he continued to spew political talking points. We can tell we are going into an election season, but on an issue like this, it is absolutely shameful.
I promised I was not going to get heated up, but I have received more messages from veterans.
One veteran says, “Hey, Mr. Doherty, I just want to scream and cry at the same time. I have been waiting in line for what seems like forever. Every time, veterans affairs has some excuse as to why. I served 21 years for my country, yet I have to continue to wait in line.”
Mr. Garnier has already been receiving this treatment, yet he was only just sentenced about a month and a half ago. He immediately jumped to the front of the line. How did he do that? We have a lot of questions. Is he highly connected? We do not know. It is absolutely shameful.
This veteran goes on to say, “I am so lit up. I don't know what to do. I don't even know if.... the thoughts that are going through my mind. I don't know what to do.”
I have two minutes left and I wish I had so much more time for this. It is absolutely shameful.
Catherine Campbell served our country and served our community. She wore two uniforms, and Christopher Garnier took her life.
It is not about hypothetical cases. It is not about “coulda, woulda, shoulda”. It is not about his father's treatment plan. It has nothing to do with that. That is what is being paraded out there. It has not even been brought up. What was brought up is that his lawyer has said that he needs treatment for PTSD because of the crime he committed, the murder he committed. That is shameful. He has jumped to the front of the line.
I am going to leave the House with this, because it is important.
Freedom is not free. Our brave men and women, who have served our country and our communities, have paid our collective debt for our freedom, our safety and our security. When they ask for help, rather than welcoming them and telling them that their bill is paid in full, they are continually refused service or told to go to the back of the line. Many of them are losing hope. We continue to lose veterans and first responders at a horrendous rate. Why? Because of issues like this. They lose faith in the process.
This is wrong. Those brave men and women, who put the uniform on every day in service to our country, to our community and to our flag, sacrifice for us. Christopher Garnier did not serve. Instead, he took the life of someone who served her community and who was willing to give her life for her community. The Campbells and our veterans and first responders deserve better than what they are hearing in the talking points from the minister.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I cannot imagine that there is a single heart in this place that does not go out to the family of Constable Campbell. We grieve with them and share the frustration of Canadians, who are upset that a convicted killer has received mental health services through Veterans Affairs Canada. Unfortunately, my friends across the way are taking advantage of a tragic situation to once again play politics with veterans benefits.
While it may be cathartic for some on that side to adjudicate this case in public, it is essential to protect the privacy of veterans who are clients of the department, and for that reason we will not be commenting on the specifics of any veteran's personal information, including the medical benefits that he or she may access.
Our government made a commitment to make it easier for the men and women who have served in uniform so courageously and given us so much to access the benefits that they so rightfully deserve. In 2015, we pledged to make it easier for veterans to access services. We said we would do more to support families, streamline benefits, reduce the administrative burden, improve the veteran's experience with Veterans Affairs Canada and help veterans make a successful transition to life after service. These were ambitious goals, and our government is making progress in leaps and bounds.
The veterans community told us loud and clear that we need to make it simpler, easier and more user-friendly to access the programs and services of Veterans Affairs. They told us about the effect of the backlog of applications for benefits and services and the time they have to wait for decisions to be made. They also told us that they do not always know about the suite of programs and services available to them, both of which are a result of the 10 years of cuts we saw under the Harper Conservatives.
Over the past three years, we have made significant improvements to both the programs and services available and our ability to communicate them to veterans. To make it easier for veterans to talk to our staff about these benefits, we reopened the nine offices the Conservatives closed, opened a tenth one in Surrey and hired over 475 new staff, including over 180 case managers.
We also increased service in the north. In 2017, our staff made 12 trips to Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse to meet with veterans and their families. Our staff is committed to ensuring our veterans and their families are better informed, served and supported. We owe veterans the means to get back on their feet and on with their lives, and that is what our department is committed to delivering every day: helping them to accomplish that with a successful transition and, after their release from the military, to rebuild their lives and enjoy a healthy state of well-being.
We learned from the 2016 life-after-service studies that while 52% of regular forces veterans report experiencing an easy or moderately easy transition to post-service life, 32% report having trouble. With the Canadian Armed Forces projecting an average of 2,500 medical releases per year over the next five years, we recognize the importance of strengthening our transition services to members.
We also recognize that no two veterans are the same. Each has his or her own personal history and experiences that result in different needs and challenges. This is why we hear so much about the department's flexible approach to benefits and services that can be tailored to each veteran and each family's individual needs. We have worked to create a system that can be adapted to each veteran's particular needs at that particular point in time. We saw that the cookie-cutter approach left some veterans falling through the cracks.
Our pension for life not only addresses the wide variety of needs of veterans but also takes into account feedback from veterans on the need to reduce the complexity of support programs available to them and to their families. Pension for life has three key pillars: monthly, tax-free financial compensation, services and benefits, and an income replacement benefit.
This income replacement benefit will consolidate six income support benefits into one single financial benefit to simplify the administrative demand on veterans and their families. Veterans told us to streamline our programs, and that is exactly what we have done.
Let me come back to the idea that no two veterans are the same. While some prefer to interact with staff in person, other veterans prefer to find information and manage their interaction with the department themselves, using online tools. Working with feedback gathered through the service delivery review, Veterans Affairs simplified its online system, My VAC Account. It made registration both easier and more secure, simplified the language and added functionality. Veterans can now communicate with department staff, including case managers, using secure messaging in their My VAC Account. They can ask questions about their benefits and services and get reliable answers from qualified agents.
The program is proving popular and is gaining more than 1,000 new users every month. The department has also taken concrete measures to improve service delivery by telephone, and is taking the initiative to reach out to veterans to get the information needed to support claims and explain benefits.
With all of these new enhanced benefits and services, and increased efforts to inform veterans of what is available to them, application rates have increased dramatically over recent years. For example, over the past three years we have seen a 32% increase in disability benefit applications. That is good news. It means more veterans are aware of the benefits for which they may be eligible.
To keep up with the rise in demand and ensure that veterans get the services and benefits they need when they need them, the government is spending $42.8 million over two years, starting this year, to improve service delivery to Veterans Affairs Canada. Following our announcement of this funding, Union of Veterans Employees president Carl Gannon Jr. tweeted, “$42.8 million over two years to rebuild service delivery capacity...I can more than live with this.”
We're going to do better to get veterans the benefits and services they need, when they need them. Following 10 years of nothing but cuts to funding and staff, we are rebuilding the trust of veterans with the investments needed to deliver services effectively and efficiently.
In addition to new funding, we have also made changes to ensure veterans receive the benefits they are entitled to. Veterans Affairs staff triage claims to ensure that veterans who apply for mental health services receive priority in their evaluation so they can receive treatment without delay. Mental health is an area where we provide access to services before a veteran is approved, in order to make sure they are getting the support they need to get better as soon as possible. Through additional staffing and process improvements, we have been able to increase the number of disability claims processed. For example, 96% of first applications completed for PTSD are approved.
As more veterans keep putting up their hand and asking for help, we want to make sure we have the staff and the capacity to make sure they have access to the services they need as quickly as possibly. To that end, we have hired more than 475 new front-line staff, new employees, to help ensure that veterans, Canadian Armed Forces members, RCMP personnel and their families are provided with the best possible services when and where they need them.
Make no mistake, Veterans Affairs continues to strive to provide faster, more efficient and higher quality service for our clients. I think all of us here can agree that Canada's veterans deserve respect, financial security and fair treatment. Be assured, our government is committed to treating our veterans with the care, compassion and respect they have earned.
It is important to remember, too, that there is a veteran involved in this case. The government of any day and any stripe has a responsibility to his or her health or well-being. What happened in Nova Scotia is a tragedy, and there is no person in the House who does not mourn with the family of Constable Campbell. No family should have to deal with the loss of their loved one. To play politics with so tragic a situation diminishes all of us and our responsibility to everyone involved.
We know there is always more to do, especially after inheriting a system left so neglected by the party opposite. We stand by our commitment to improve the lives of the men and women who have dedicated their lives to our peace and security.
[Member spoke in Cree].
I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the family of Constable Campbell. This is a terrible situation, and we all share a sense of outrage about what occurred. However, I would also like to offer my thoughts on this debate, because I have a specific perspective on this debate.
I have been serving for 22 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, and I am still a serving member. I am a proud member of the naval reserves in Canada. I remember when I first joined the Canadian Armed Forces, and I was posted to Valcartier, in Quebec, our military base, with the Van Doos. It was a fun and exhilarating time, as a young man, to join the regular forces to serve full time. It was also extremely tough. It was very hard. I remember from that early period, in the 1990s, when I first joined, the work that was done by our leadership to make families a centre of the services, the centre of life in the military.
I remember taking medical mental health training with my fellow soldiers. We had to take this yearly. I learned that there were three components to serving well and learning to serve well. They were ensuring that we had a good personal life, a good professional life, and a good family life. They were the three principal spheres, and if one of them was not working well, we would find and encounter great difficulties in our professional life. We would not be able to accomplish the mission that had been set out for us, so we could not miss any of these elements.
As a serving member for 22 years, I have always believed that families should be at the centre of military life. In fact, I had a family when I was in the military. I believe that this is actually the Canadian Forces policy. Though sometimes it is not always respected within the Canadian Forces, because sometimes mission requirements do take precedence, nonetheless there are policies that are there to defend families. In 2000, the Canadian Armed Forces recognized this and came out with the Canadian Forces family policy.
In this debate, one of the central questions we are actually talking about is the level or amount of services actually offered to families. The central question the Conservatives are asking is not the one that is politically expedient. It is whether the minister should have the arbitrary power to deny benefits to vets and their families, not using due process and not using administrative justice. Should ministers be allowed to be politically expedient when it suits them?
Conservatives are quick to the gun to take action now and to think later. We know that Conservatives are willing to use their ministerial executive power to punish vets and their families who offer criticism of the government, because they did so under their previous administration, under the previous regime. They did so when they silenced vets and released their medical information without their consent. They shared that medical information. I am going to talk about that in a bit, because it is central to this case as well. I will say that we must stand with vets and their families, come what may.
Another important aspect of this debate is that services are important, and the question is who actually gets those services. I remember that it was very difficult to obtain the services vets were entitled to, especially when I was in the military. However, if we believe that families are important, and we have a family policy, do we use this one case to then limit the amount of services offered to families? Bad cases make extremely bad law. The Conservatives love using bad cases, because it is easy, but this bad case would make extremely bad law. It would make bad rules, and it would make bad regulations.
Decisions today actually do matter. They impact the services that are offered, and they impact how those rules and regulations will be interpreted in the future, not only by us in this House but by the bureaucrats and functionaries who actually carry out the orders of the executive branch. The Conservative motion, in my opinion, would lead to a tightening of the rules. This would have unintended consequences for vets and their families.
I remember, during the war in Afghanistan, how we needed to support our families to ensure that we had the widest opportunity to offer all services. We had the freedom to offer those services to those families no matter what their situation, because each family was unique and each veteran's case was unique.
I have asked hypothetical questions, and people have not been happy that I have asked them, but I am supposed to ask questions. What do we do with a 16-year-old who has dealt drugs? She is the daughter of a veteran of 20 years who has PTSD due to his service. Should that 16-year-old be denied services, denied education benefits later, when she gets her life in order? Let us say that this 16-year-old committed an even more heinous crime than dealing drugs, something irreparable, destroying the lives of others in ways that cannot be repaired. It is a hypothetical case, but it is possible.
Conservative political posturing puts at risk benefits for the military family. It makes it harder for bureaucrats to give them the services they require. We could tighten the rules. We could satisfy the political expediency of the Conservative Party. We could take action now, think later and regret later.
As the member for said, let us talk about leadership. She talked about leadership in this debate. I remember a time, in 2009, with the war in Afghanistan going full regime, that cuts were made by the Harper Conservative government, the cabinet she was a member of and where she had the opportunity of forcing her leadership on her cabinet colleagues. They made cuts to the military while we were serving in Afghanistan. There were thousands of reservists serving on army bases right across the country. At my military base in Valcartier, I remember how the contracts of reservists, who were serving full time, were not renewed, even though they were waging a war and working very hard to advance the national interest of Canada and serving the government and the people of Canada. That put the mission in jeopardy. The Conservatives did not really seem to care about what we were doing. They just decided that they were going to tell people what they should be doing and not listen to them, even though they were the experts. Those reservists filled important roles. They were an important component of mission success for many units in Afghanistan and back in Canada, and the Harper Conservatives cut those jobs. They cancelled those contracts and caused chaos in the deployed units trying to fight a war.
I like to talk about what the Conservatives did in their decade of darkness for veterans. In 2014, retired general Rick Hillier, the former head of the Canadian military, was talking about suicide and mental health anguish among Canadian solders. He stated,
I don't think we had any idea the scale and scope of what the impact would be. I truly do not. This is beyond a medical issue. I think many of our young men and women have lost confidence in our country to support them.
Why would they not? The Conservative government at that time had killed the lifetime benefit for veterans. They did it on April 6, 2006, when it was in power and enacted the new veterans charter. The Harper minister insulted veterans and closed nine veterans offices. The Auditor General found the Harper government to be failing veterans. The Conservatives slashed 900 jobs in Veterans Affairs, despite pleas from managers. There was more than $1 billion not spent by the ministry to help veterans. A judge ordered the government to pay $887 million to veterans.
I do not believe we should release the medical information of veterans, even in debates in the House of Commons. When Sean Bruyea spoke out against legislation to strip vets of lifetime pensions, he never imagined in his dreams that the government of the day, the Harper government, would try to smear his reputation by using his medical records against him. His medical and financial details had been circulated after he criticized the new veterans charter. A Veterans Affairs official said that it was “time to take the gloves off”, which was reported in the Huffington Post. The Privacy Commissioner said that Bruyea's case was alarming and that the treatment of his personal information was very inappropriate. Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, a lawyer with expertise in privacy laws, said that the government's actions were despicable, dishonourable, unethical and also illegal. However, this never stopped the government from going ahead.
We can order bureaucrats to do what we want, but sometimes we need due process and time to think about these issues to make sure that we do not have unintended consequences impacting veterans and their families. It is most important that the considerations here be deliberate and well thought out, not simply dog whistle politics to try to score easy political points on the backs of veterans, using them for political expediency to advance the interests of one political party.
Mr. Speaker, here is another hypothetical.
A 50-year-old service member killed in the line of duty for his country has a 30-year-old son. If we start limiting the age of the family members who are entitled to services, saying “You're 30 years old”, and I am not talking about crime; I am talking about the age.
The Conservatives have led us down a path about age. They have said that over age 21, they are not entitled. Over age 25, if they are in university, they are not entitled.
What I am saying is there is a reason for that, because we do have service members who are 50 and who have a 30-year-old son, and that service member is killed. We need to be able to support those families, and make sure they have the services that are required to help them.
That is the question. How do we make the regulations better, so we can actually serve families, and respect each and every value that we have here in Canada, all the Canadian values that are extremely important? That is an important question that we need to answer and think about, not only ourselves but with bureaucrats. We need to talk to veterans to find out how we can make these regulations better and really ensure that the services get to the people who need them the most, and that is veterans and their families. Families are at the centre of military life.
Mr. Speaker, we can counter, as well, that the opposite side has ridiculous arguments and has presented a ridiculous debate, wasting the time of the House.
Nonetheless, I will continue debating this, because it is important to the families of veterans. If I had a 16-year-old son who committed a crime, who, for instance, was dealing drugs, and I happen to have PTSD, and maybe in the service of my country I did have some terrible, dark moments in my life, and I will admit to that, nonetheless if I knew that it might, later on, limit his ability, if he managed to set himself on the right track, to obtain services which he might be entitled to, I would want him to be able to obtain those services.
I want to be sure that when we are setting regulations, we are not cutting off people who should get them. I think that is most important to veterans. We can use one case to decide thousands of people's future, but we should not be doing that. We should use one case to just think about the one simple case.
If we want to open a larger debate about services actually offered to veterans, I think we should do so in a calm and more beneficial way, which would bring greater accord to people. I do not think this case is the way to do it. The Conservatives are simply trying to score easy political points off the backs of veterans and their families, using them as pawns in their own political games so they can promote themselves on social media and get more likes on Facebook. That is all the Conservatives are doing.
Mr. Speaker, this is one occasion when I am actually sad to have to rise in the House to speak on this issue. I normally begin my remarks with what an honour it is for me to rise on behalf of my constituents in Durham, on behalf of my experiences in the private sector and the charitable space and, as many members of the House know, speak to the issues that affect the Canadian Armed Forces, their families and our veterans. I said last week in the House that the Conservatives were going to be back here every day until the Liberals start to take some sense of ownership of their files. This is people's House. This is the House of Commons, where we are representing our constituents and the concerns of Canadians, be they veterans, family members, first responders or their families who are outraged by this situation.
I should say that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Christopher Garnier is not a veteran. He never served a day in uniform and yet he took the life of Catherine Campbell, who wore two uniforms of service for her community and country. She was a police officer and in her spare time, she was also a volunteer firefighter, a young Canadian we should be proud of and should celebrate the fact that she dedicated so much of her life to serving others. Christopher Garnier snuffed out that life and he should be treated accordingly. He should be given no benefits from the federal government, certainly not those that are safeguarded for veterans.
On all sides of the House, and the member for knows this, we have talked about the sacred obligation to our veterans. My first response when I stood in the House was to echo the words of Sir Robert Borden and the profound duty we owe to our veterans. In fact, I have echoed the sentiment of a World War I veteran who died in that conflict, Talbot Papineau, whose famous family now bears the name of the 's seat, on the obligations we owe.
From the moment someone joins the Canadian Armed Forces, at 18, 19, 20 or older until the end of his or her life, we owe veterans that obligation. For those seriously injured, that obligation includes supports, benefits and treatment. Mr. Garnier is not one of those people. There have been a number of absolutely false arguments put forward by the government in its stubborn refusal to just do the right thing, acknowledge there was an error and rectify it.
Mr. Garnier, in September 2015, as the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia has confirmed, killed Catherine Campbell and then desecrated her remains. I will not go into the sordid details, but they are horrific. In December 2017, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced in August of this year for killing a fine Canadian. What is horrific as well to not only the family but veterans across the country is that sometime ahead of his sentencing, he started receiving benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada.
The government's own documentation show wait times for assessment are getting past the nine-month mark on average. Therefore, in many ways, Mr. Garnier was placed ahead of veterans who are waiting for operational stress injury support, mainly counselling, psychiatric counselling and peer support services. How a convicted murderer, who never served a day in his life, received those benefits is a scandal and the failure to own that scandal by the is shameful. It was suggested that privacy or other reasons are preventing the discussion. I would invite anyone to see the coverage of the case in The Chronicle Herald newspaper or on CBC, where Mr. Garnier's lawyer told the court that his client has PTSD from committing murder, where the father of the killer admits to the court that his son has PTSD from a murder. That PTSD has nothing to do with his father's service in the Canadian Armed Forces.
However, for the to suggest that he does not know the file is a joke. Since I joined the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of 18 until this very day, I have either been in uniform or have been working to support those in it. When I was minister, I admitted where we fell short and worked with veterans to make a plan to make it right. I never lied, I never misled and I always read my briefings. I will debate any member on that side of the House any day on any of the issues related to Canadian Armed Forces and veterans. I will tell them, because the minister, we know from the news, does not read reports but shelves them, that there is not a single program within veterans affairs that Mr. Garnier would be eligible for or programs outside of it.
I was happy as a new member of Parliament to visit Can Praxis in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, which was trail-blazing equine therapy for a veteran, a first responder, and a member of their family who were struggling. There are some programs available for spouses and dependent children. However, we are not talking about any of those circumstances in the Garnier case. This is an adult, non-dependent who murdered someone. I am sure that murder and the horrific circumstances around it have upset his family, but that has nothing to do with the service related to that veteran. That veteran, the father, needs as much support as we can provide. His adult, non-dependent child is not eligible for any programming, and the very fact that he can be accelerated before his judicial proceeding and sentencing is even complete, receiving benefits that some veterans are waiting for, is a travesty.
What I would like to see instead of the hiding behind privacy, when all Canadians can see this entire sordid story online or in the newspaper, is for him to take some ownership. A mistake was made where someone said there was eligibility when there was no eligibility. There is no legislative requirement for Mr. Garnier to get support. There are no privacy concerns that the Liberals cannot discuss it. He is ineligible. In fact, if the father had committed this crime while he was in uniform, he would not be eligible for treatment. That is how black and white this issue is. The fact is that once the Liberals craft a talking point, they will not move away from it, when veterans and Canadians are asking them to show some reality here.
We are always going to have cases where we need to do better, where we find a veteran or their family has fallen through the cracks. Let us fix those cases and rebuild trust, and not erode the trust by showing veterans that we are going to allow someone ineligible to access benefits faster than them.
As the should know, if he would read up, the permanent impairment allowance many veterans receive under the new veterans charter, and we increased the PIA supplement, was the focus of my attention as minister. A vast majority of veterans receiving the permanent impairment allowance have operational stress injuries. It has been something the Canadian Armed Forces has been struggling with. I talked about it on the 20th anniversary of the Swissair crash, which was the first time I ever heard “operational stress injury”. That is why we were opening operational stress injury clinics and not administrative offices that people still do not use. It is amazing that the Liberals are still talking about those issues. It shows they do not understand.
As I said last week, if the had shown some leadership, I would rise in the House and thank him on behalf of my constituents, on behalf of veterans, for showing that if a mistake was made within the department that he will own, acknowledge and rectify that mistake. If they do not, they will hear us every day, because we are listening to Canadians. We are listening to military families and veterans who are discouraged and disappointed.
It is time for them to show ownership and stop this shameless treatment for Christopher Garnier.
Mr. Speaker, today our Conservative caucus is shining a giant spotlight on an egregious error that needs to be rectified.
Since the news that a convicted murderer is receiving assistance from Veterans Affairs Canada, the reaction from veterans and everyday Canadians has been swift and overwhelmingly negative. Some were in shock that such a thing could happen. One would think that the person who approved his paperwork would have immediately took this up the chain of command and said that something must be done. I would hope that he or she said that the policy should be changed and the decision must not stand. No one faults the original crafter of the policy, as who could have ever imagined that Veterans Affairs funding could ever flow to a convicted murderer. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing. The House is now seized with this issue. We are here now. Let us deal with this matter once and for all.
When the news went public about what had happened, I thought there had to be a terrible mistake. I agree with the when he said that people are frustrated with how this happened. I know he understands that this is inappropriate, but what I do not know is if he wants to change the policy.
Like most Canadians, I shake my head and wonder how a convicted murderer could be able to receive funding from Veterans Affairs Canada so he could go through private treatment while in jail after he brutally killed an off-duty police officer, but somehow it happened. Veterans Affairs Canada is actually paying for his private treatment. Somehow the promised review of why this was carried out is taking weeks to finish.
Somehow the saw fit to stand in this House and refuse to answer questions. Well, I have news for the . Not only will our Conservative caucus continue to stand up and ask the tough questions, but we will force him to vote on them. We want the and the entire Liberal caucus to support our motion to revoke the Veterans Affairs funding that is going to pay for the private treatment of a convicted murderer, someone who never served a day in the Canadian Armed Forces, who never wore the uniform, who never served our country, and who most certainly is not entitled to any private treatment paid by Veterans Affairs.
With this motion we want the to send a strong message to the entire veterans community that what happened is wrong and must be fixed immediately. It will also be an opportunity for every member to be on the record as to where he or she stands, and if the member wants to fix this egregious application of Veterans Affairs policies. We have to seriously think about if we do not revoke this funding, what sort of message it will send to every veteran out there who is wondering how this could have happened.
I will quote retired sergeant Colin Saunders, who organized a protest this year on Parliament Hill over veterans benefits:
In this circumstance, I find it really hard to chew on that we're spending taxpayers' money like that to help someone when we also have veterans that are having a really hard time getting treatment through VAC. Certainly, there's lots of veterans whose family members need help or need services and they're not getting it.
He is right. Sadly, there are those who are currently appealing decisions on why they are not receiving benefits, yet Veterans Affairs has the funding to pay for the PTSD treatment for a convicted murderer.
To stress the failure of how this happened, if the convicted murderer had in fact served in the Canadian Armed Forces, he would have been kicked out with a dishonourable discharge and probably would never have received benefits. However, in this case, because the convicted murderer was not actually a veteran, he gets to continue to receive assistance.
I will quote another veteran, Medric Cousineau, who is the founder of Paws Fur Thought, which helps place service dogs with veterans who need them. He said:
How can you have a department who will bend over willy-nilly and yawn to support that, who will drag its feet toward supporting service dogs for veterans.
He is absolutely right. This is the government that had almost three years to ensure that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could be paired with service dogs, and we just learned there will be further delays as a result of their inaction. Our veterans deserve programs and benefits designed to meet their ever-evolving needs, and yet under the Liberal government we have seen nothing but more backlogs and delays.
The Liberals have repeatedly demonstrated they do not intend on honouring all the promises they made to veterans during the 2015 election campaign. While we are not here debating the promises the Liberals have failed to implement, we are here to rectify a very serious error in the application of veterans benefits.
This decision is wrong on so many levels, and the longer it takes to fix it, the more veterans and Canadians will continue to lose faith in the system. They are losing faith in the who had the gall to tell veterans, “They are asking for more than we can give.”
Not only did he make that flippant remark, he refused to apologize for it. The reason that comment stung and made people's blood boil is that we see waste and out of control spending on a weekly basis. The topic of today's debate is just another example of misplaced spending that should never have happened.
While the Liberal government just wrote a $4.5-billion cheque to a Texas oil company, it has a very difficult time keeping the promises it made to our veterans, and the veterans community is paying attention. They will not soon forget the 's comment or overlook payments to provide private treatment to a convicted murderer. They are deeply upset that after the Prime Minister promised not to take veterans to court, he did exactly that. They are angry that he did not keep his promise to establish lifelong pensions as an option for injured veterans.
While I know the does not like facing these tough questions, that is what Parliament is for. He can continue to throw insults and downplay the whole fiasco, but we will not stay silent. We are here to hold the government's feet to the fire and make it accountable for its actions. Shrugging this off and pretending that it does not matter will not make the problem go away. We want the funding to cease immediately, and we want the policy changed so this situation never happens again. We would be shirking our responsibilities as parliamentarians if we did not fix this in the most expeditious manner.
I implore my Liberal colleagues to vote in favour of this motion, to stand with us and send a strong message that funding meant for veterans should never go to convicted murderers. Let us be united in condemning what has transpired and pledge to never let it happen ever again.