October 7, 1949 (21st Parliament, 1st Session)


Clarence Gillis

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Gillis:

Just a minute. I have taken this letter up with the minister. The minister has had it in his hands since September 21. This is October 7. He is checking it. As I said at the beginning, I am confident that the minister-and I have known him for a long time-so far as he is able to do so, will correct any injustice to service personnel; but this regulation cannot be changed by the minister himself. Probably it has to be changed by the treasury board. Nobody knows who comprise the treasury board. They say what is to be spent and what is not to be spent, and these regulations come from that board. That is why I said I was not being critical of the administration. I have done a lot of business with them over the years. I have confidence in their honesty and ability, but I am doubtful of the people who are writing regulations that change basic legislation passed by this house.
I will await the minister's -answer to this. I am raising this question deliberately, in order to get those who are behind the scenes, and who have usurped the powers of the House of Commons by changing legislation passed here, to think about it. That kind of thing was all right during the war, in an emergency, when you had to do things fast, but an emergency does not exist today. Veterans problems are definitely fixed now. We have accepted them, and we have them on our hands. The members of this group are prepared to sit on a committee of this house to do what we can to help the adminis-
Supply-Veterans Affairs tration pass legislation which is fair and adequate, and in keeping with the service rendered by the service personnel of this country.
There is also the matter of the difference between the War Veterans Allowance Act as applied to personnel of the second world war and the War Veterans Allowance Act as applied to the personnel of the first world war. This matter was mentioned by the hon. member for Nanaimo. I am not going to repeat his argument. In the second world war England was a theatre of war. I am now thinking in terms of the widow section of the War Veterans Allowance Act. A widow of a veteran of the second world war who saw service only in England can qualify for a pension under a provision of the War Veterans Allowance Act, but a widow of a veteran of the first world war who saw service only in England cannot so qualify. This should be corrected. The widow of a veteran of the first world war has reached the age where she no longer has earning power. She is in the age group of from fifty-five to sixty-five. You have to be old to get the old age pension; she is too young for that. She has no earning power. The members of her family have grown up and have their own responsibilities and obligations. There are thousands of them across the country. They have no income, and they will come to you and tell you that they have no home. We should amend that section of the act, because if one widow is entitled to it on the basis of service in England, then we should have amended the act properly when it was amended and included the veterans of both wars. It is a great injustice to see an old lady in these circumstances. Because her husband unfortunately did not get over to France in the first world war, she is discriminated against, but the pension is being paid to a widow thirty-five or forty years younger who still has earning power if she wants to use it. If anything, the situation should be reversed, but definitely the discrimination should be removed; widows of both wars should be treated equally. This is another matter the veterans affairs committee should study thoroughly.
I should like to refer to another subject. It has been unfinished business for a long time. I have taken it up on many occasions in the house and in the veterans affairs committee. The hon. member for Vancouver-Quadra will recall it. I refer to divorce as applied to the soldier. I have taken cases up with the commission. I have talked it over with the chairman of the commission. I have discussed it in the house with the Minister of Justice. This is the way it works.

Supply-Veterans Affairs During the first world war the wife of a soldier went to the United States and divorced him while he was overseas. He came back to Canada. Not being a lawyer, he went out and found himself a wife. He applied to the proper person for a marriage licence, went before a clergyman and was married. He was in receipt of a disability pension. He applied to the commission for the dependent's pension for his wife. He was informed that he was not legally married; that the United States divorce did not apply in Canada, therefore his wife could not receive her portion of the pension. I raised this question in the house in 1940. At that time the minister of justice told me that in order to do anything about the matter it would be necessary to change the Canadian divorce laws. I do not think it is necessary to change the Canadian divorce laws, but if it is necessary, they should be changed. At the time I asked the minister of justice this question: If the man was not divorced, why was he not arrested and charged with bigamy? Why was he issued a legal document and permitted to go through a church marriage? That should be corrected. It was not corrected. The war was on, and in the aftermath of the war there were many other problems. But the question was referred to the veterans affairs committee for special study, and a report was to be made with respect to it.
I have run into two or three other similar cases. For instance, a Canadian boy married an English girl in Canada. She goes back to the old country and gets a divorce. He is stuck here in Canada and cannot do anything about remarriage. I am not suggesting a remedy. I do suggest, however, that the committee on veterans affairs should be reconstituted. The section of that committee which was giving special study to these matters included some good lawyers. They should be put to work again, and a report of some kind should be made to the house.
I have in mind another problem. A boy joined the air force early in the war, went through all the training, and qualified as a pilot. He was posted to one of the civilian flying schools as an instructor-pilot. My information is that he did not ask for that posting, he was sent there. While on a joyride one night he fell off a hay wagon and his skull was fractured. He is home, and in bad condition. He was refused a pension on the ground that he was employed by a civilian section of the service, and was told that he should make application elsewhere for compensation. Surely this is an obligation of the government. By virtue of the fact that he enlisted, took the training and qualified in the regular service, I suggest
IMx. Gillis.]
that there is an obligation resting on the government, and that he is entitled to compensation. In the services one goes where he is sent and asks no questions.
This boy is suffering from a fractured skull. The matter was taken up with the commission, and an adverse ruling was given. Perhaps these are small irritations, but they could be removed. None of them is very difficult; they just require the application of common sense. But we cannot get down to details and work out legislation unless we have men sitting in and giving the matter special attention. If the fisheries committee want to change a label on a salmon can, they meet, work on a bill, perhaps for hours, and approve it. I cannot understand why the government should be averse to reconstituting the committee. I worked with the minister more than twenty years ago in connection with veterans problems. He knows the problems, and I would like to continue to help him by bringing these small irritations to his attention so that he may proceed to remove them and those who were promised everything when the war was on and were hailed as heroes may get a square deal. The amount of money involved would be small.
I should like to bring to the attention of hon. members who may serve on the committee-and I say that because I am reasonably sure it will be set up; there are enough veterans in the house to see that it is set up- the fact that one reason for our having so many veterans problems in all parts of the country is that we have no proper social security measures. A large number of the problems which are dumped into the Department of Veterans Affairs really belong to some other organization, and have to be financed in some other way. But until we have a proper over-all social security set-up in this country, which will provide industrial pensions on a contributory basis, and adequate old age pensions, we shall have to take other action. The problems of first world war widows are not war problems. These widows should be given enough to enable them to live in comfort without having to present themselves as special problems connected with veterans affairs.
Until we have proper social legislation we shall have to continue to pass these matters over to the only department of government which has within its control legislation to ease the burden of these people in their old age. I plead once again with the minister that he set up a committee as soon as he can, so that we may get to work.

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