On the orders of the day:
Hon,. GROTE STIRLING (Minister of National Defence): Mr. Speaker, I beg to lay on the table report of the commission which was appointed to investigate conditions in the rdlief camps of British Columbia. I should like on this occasion to make a statement thereon.
The report is presented by the Hon. W. A. Macdonald, C. T. McHattie, and the Reverend E. D. Braden,, appointed a commission by order in council P.C. 861, dated April 1, 1935, to inquire into the conditions obtaining and all and any complaints which have been made with respect to the administration and management of the camps established by the Department of National Defence in the province of British Columbia.
In view of the general interest in this report as evidenced by the many enquiries made by hon. members of this house, I think it would be of interest should I briefly recapitulate the principal points adduced by the commission from the evidence which they collected in the course of a most comprehensive survey of the situation during which, in addition to public hearings in the larger centres in British Columbia., they visited 46 separate camps; in all 277 witnesses were examined.
The greatest care was exercised by the commission in order to ensure that all who wished to testify should have a full and fair opportunity of so doing and men were encouraged in the absence of members of the camp staffs to freely state any oolmplaints and grievances which they might feel they had.
The commission " questioned all witnesses as to matters which were likely to create a grievance in camp life, such as food, cooking, sleeping accommodation, sanitation, medical attention, recreation, consideration of complaints and other matters." It may be assumed therefor, that every possible complaint or cause of complaint has been fully enquired into.
The commission reports:
We are quite satisfied that the officers commanding these military districts properly performed their duties in administering and managing these camps, and' that they acted with fairness and ability in discharging a new and difficult task.
The military districts referred to are military districts Nos. 11 and 13 with head-
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quarters .at Ksquimalt and Calgary respectively. As regards the superintendents of groups of projects, the statement is made:
We contacted all the superintendents, and from the results obtained in their work, they appeared quite competent. When you consider the responsibility borne, the nature of the duties performed, the difficulty of maintaining discipline, and the nature of the employment of the thousands in these camips, then, almost without exception, they filled their positions satisfactorily.
The exceptions referred to relate to the cases of two individuals .only out of the many whose services were commented upon. In one of those cases, in the light of all circumstances, the commission report:
We are not disposed to make any adverse criticism of this superintendent.
In the other case the evidence is of a failure in certain administrative arrangements and of a lack of judgment in the individual concerned. The replacement of this man has been under consideration for some time but action was deferred pending the reports of the investigation. Definite arrangements have now been made to replace him.
Several complaints of mail being tampered with were received. In this connection the commission reports:
We find that the charges were not supported by evidence.
As regards foremen in individual camps, after commenting on the difficulties inherent in their position, the commission state:
The foremen, as a whole, acted properly and patiently.
Certain, individual cases, where complaints against foremen appeared well founded, were brought by the commission to the attention of the superior authorities concerned. These cases are not qpecificaly set .out in the commission's report but as soon as full particulars are .available they will be dealt with as the circumstances may require. It is pointed out however, that during the period of administration by the Department of National Defence, 192 changes of foremen and subforemen have taken place and of these thirty per cent- were for disciplinary reasons or in-coimpetency.
One of the complaints made against the camps was the so called "militarization." The commission states:
We feel no hesitation in reporting that it did not, and does not, exist in the slightest degree.
As regards food, the commission stated:
We consistently investigated this important feature of camp life, and became satisfied that
the meals which had been, and were being, served to the men were good then, and had been so, long prior to our visits.
Reference is made to occasional "bad cooking which may have spoiled good food" and the steps being taken by the Department of National Defence to remedy this situation through the establishment of a school of cooking. The first of these courses has been completed and a second is under arrangement. The capacity of the course is for thirty candidates. In other comments on the satisfactory quality of the food supplied, the commission make a reservation as to the quality of milk and the condition of meat in certain cases. They state that the complaint respecting milk " has now been remedied." As regards meat they state that "care has been taken to provide for a proper supply of meat" but that "on several occasions, the strictness which should have been applied in requiring fulfilment of the terms of the contract was neglected." This matter is being further inquired into and the necessary action will be taken to terminate those contracts where neglect has been shown. There is definite information, however, that in many cases meat not up to the standard has been returned to the contractors at their expense.
The commission reports:
There was a complaint made as to beds, but this has been remedied, although an objection still exists in some of the camps.
Further particulars of this are being obtained and consideration will be given and also to a suggestion as to the issue of "cotton sheets."
The commission states that generally speaking they were satisfied as regards cleanliness of dining rooms, kitchens, bunk houses and store rooms, especially the kitchens. They refer to cases of vermin and comment that "steps were being taken to cope with the situation." They remark that "cleanliness was a characteristic of the men in the camps." They refer to one camp in which rats had become a menace. This matter will receive prompt and effective attention. During the past three weeks the rats have been practically eliminated by the use of gas. Except as regards one camp where immediate remedial action is being ordered, the commission reports favourably on sanitation and the same is true as regards water supply. They refer to "the wonderfully good health which prevailed."
As regards medical attention to the men in the camps the commission report investigating complaints as to laok of attention and neglect and state that they found these "not substantiated by evidence."
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