The bill as it now appears is a reprint as it passed the committee. The original bill is altogether changed and modified, and for the benefit of the house the committee ordered a reprint. The report on the bill was unanimous.
There will be some modification of the present system. It will be seen from section 3 that the chairman shall reside in Ottawa, and that the other commissioners shall reside at such places as the
Veterans' Assistance Commission
chairman may from time to time direct. It is proposed that the commissioners shall be divided among different districts. For instance, there will be two quorums in Toronto, so that they may get the work cleaned up. There will be a quorum on the Pacific coast. It will obviate the expense to which commissioners have been put of travelling from Ottawa to the Pacific coast or to Nova Scotia.
I do not know whether my observations should be made at this point, but I wish to say one or two things about an instance which came to my attention, and I am suggesting that some provision should be made against such contingencies. The soldier I have in mind went overseas and performed the duties of a soldier in France. After being gassed or wounded he came back and was not in receipt of a pension. In order to seek a livelihood he went to the United States, in which country he died not long ago. In order to prevent his being buried in a pauper's grave certain friends of his in my constituency borrowed the money to defray expenses of his burial. I have written the minister stating these facts and he replies that there is no provision whereby the friends of a soldier, once he has been buried, may obtain any money from the last post fund. In this instance a friend borrowed the money -and I know this, because I endorsed the note-in order to prevent the soldier's burial in a pauper's grave. Now the minister says, *"Oh, he is buried; we cannot touch it." I am asking the minister if he could reimburse the friend who had no legal obligation to bury the soldier. I am just wondering why a person who spends money in this way should not be reimbursed, and if he is not I wonder why the last post fund was created. It will not do for the minister to say that there may be abuses. In the particular instance I have cited I really do not see why some provision could not be made. I am fully aware of the overreaching of certain people because they were soldiers overseas, but I think the particular instance I have mentioned should not be barred.
I regret, Mr. Chairman, that the instance mentioned by my hon. friend from Inverness-Richmond (Mr. MacLennam) would not in any event come up under this legislation. As he is well aware, the last post fund is a fund which is not directly under the control of the government. A large num-
ber of very generous citizens have devoted their time and have raised large sums of money for the purpose of seeing to it that no ex-member of the forces is unable to find proper burial. This fund is operated under certain regulations, and I am glad to say that we have been able to make arrangements for the burial of our soldiers in the United States, which hitherto has not been possible. I had an instance some years ago similar to that mentioned by my hon. friend, and I was unable to obtain repayment of the amount whidh had been expended on the burial of that soldier. Perhaps, if that matter could be looked into and pressure brought to bear on -the last post fund, something might possibly be done, but I hardly think we could do it under the Pension Act.
I wanted to bring the instance before the minister to see if something could not be done, for I am sure if he were seized of the facte he would be sympathetic because in this instance they really couldi not afford to borrow the money to bury this soldier. Possibly some rule prevents anything being done in this instance, but sometimes rules are very illogical, and on this occasion the rule was not very logical. If this man were above ground he would be buried by the last post fund, but the moment he goes underneath the ground he does not come under the fund.
Subsection 2 of section 5 provides that if a pension has been improperly given, but not as a result of fraud or misrepresentation, and if a veteran has been -receiving the pension for not less than five years, it will not be cancelled if the commission considers that cancellation would result in hardship. What is the reason for this new provision? Of course, cancellation of a pension would always result in hardship after a man has -been receiving it, and it seems to me extraordinary that simply because a man has been receiving a pension improperly for any -reason at all, he should continue to receive it when it is found out that he ought never to have had it.
In the early days of the work of the pension commission the number of claims that came in was, as one can readily understand, very great. T-hey were dealing with hundreds of claims, in fact, a hundred applications a day, away back in 1919 and 1920, and it can be readily understood that in some instances it was impossible to give them proper consideration.
Persons have been in receipt of a pension possibly ever since that time, and then owing to some accident or perhaps some review it was found that the pension was awarded and paid in error. Some instances which would have involved very considerable hardship were brought to the attention of the committee by the chairman of the commission himself. He felt that in some instances he could not cancel awards which had been made through error, and in order to make it quite clear that where undue hardship might ensue from cancellations, the commission would have discretion to continue the payment, and also to legalize the action of the chairman, the committee thought it was the proper thing to do to insert this amendment in the act. It is a departure, I quite admit, from ordinary legislation, but it must be remembered that this is remedial and beneficial legislation passed with the intent of bringing the greatest possible measure of justice to the ex-soldders and their dependents, and it was thought that a provision such as this should be recommended to parliament.
Have there not been instances where a veteran has been found to be receiving a pension larger than he was entitled to, receiving perhaps forty dollars a month when he should have received only twenty, and when the facts were ascertained has, not a certain amount been deducted from his pension each month until the overpayment had been returned to the government? Have there not been such instances?
I think it is well known to hon. members that within the last two or three years there has been a large number of reviews of pensions and pension assessments, and a number of pensions have been decreased, but in no case of that kind was reimbursement required from the applicant. There have been claims, and quite a large number, for reimbursement when the payment had been received through fraud, but not when it was due to an error or when there had been an overassessment.
I am not rising to raise any objection to this clause, but I would like .to say something about instances of real 'hardship that have come under my own observation quite frequently *of men who had undoubtedly served overseas and quite evidently sustained disabili-
Veterans' Assistance Commission
ties, but who through some error on the part of the soldier or some officer would be found disentitled to pension. Where there was some error or mistake on the part of the soldier or some officer, the soldier would be found to be disentitled to any pension. The rules have been carried out very strictly against a number of men known to me personally. If those who are entitled to pension but who do not come within the provisions of the law were treated with the same leniency as is contemplated by this section to be shown to men who are paid too much, I think this would remove a great deal of the dissatisfaction among soldiers. Within the week I had a letter from a man who served through the war. He was in the big drive of 1918 and came home badly wounded and suffered considerable hardship in the hospital in Halifax. I know he is not exaggerating his condition, but he is getting only a miserably small pension because of what I believe was a faulty examination in the early history of his application. To my mind that is a clear case of underpayment, but I cannot find any such lenient treatment as seems to be exhibited to those who are paid too much.
revision to which the minister has just referred, was there not a considerable number of instances where the pensions were stopped, not where pensions had been fraudulently granted but where they had been granted by mistake?