Mr. DOUGLAS (Weyburn):
has not yet answered the question I put to him before supper, and one which I asked the
Minister of National Defence some time ago. I asked what happens to the men who were called to report on April 9. My interest is not that of having any man kept out of training, if he ought to be in training. My interest is that the whole question of calling up men for military service shall be as fair and impartial as possible, so that people will not feel that there is any discrimination, or that any particular person or group of persons is being penalized.
With reference to the men called on April 9, there was a piece of serious muddling somewhere. I do not know who was responsible. However, I am asking the minister to look at the facts. Order in council P.C. 2252 was passed on March 23 and tabled in the house on March 24. It was passed along with other orders in council. They were not generally made known throughout the country until March 25. The minister knows just as well as anyone that there are hundreds of little hamlets throughout Canada where the people get their mail only once a week. There are thousands of people, particularly in western Canada, who do not get even a weekly paper. Many of these people knew absolutely nothing about the new regulation. Those who . did know did not properly understand it. As a matter of fact, the newspapers generally inferred that the exemption for men on the farms was automatic. Proof of that is that the minister himself subsequently issued a press release trying to clarify the situation.
Even those who did understand the regulations were in a quandary. When I returned home for the Easter recess many of these men came to me, or called me by telephone. They were men who had made applications for postponement, but who had been refused postponements on the ground of the regulations as they existed prior to March 23. I telephoned the board and they said, "Why, not only can we not consider postponements under the new regulations, but we have hundreds of applications for postponements under the regulations as they were before March 23, and we have not been able to reach them yet." Some of those cases were still being heard on the morning of April 9. Some men were granted postponements, turned round and went back home.
The other evening I asked the Minister of National Defence a question along this line, and his reply was much the same as that made a little while ago by the Minister of National War Services. The Minister of National Defence said at that time, as reported at page 2154 of Hansard:
He should have made his claim then. The rule is that if he does, and shows that he was wholly or partly engaged in agriculture at
War Appropriation-War Services
that time, the burden is on someone else, I suppose the army authorities or the Department of National War Services, itself, to show that he was still, even though wholly or mainly engaged in agriculture, not essential thereto.
I "do not know why he has not made that application. Perhaps he has.
Then he went on to say:
If he has not made that application and has gone into the service he may still apply to the commanding officer, who will refer the application to the board through the district officer commanding.
But that is a totally different thing. Then the minister is reported as follows, on the next page of Hansard:
My hon. friend is under a misapprehension when he speaks of a provision having been made. The only provision which has been made is the provision that when an application is made for compassionate leave-not for seeding, but for leave under special circumstances- the commanding officer makes a recommendation, whatever it may be, and passes it on to the district officer commanding, who sends it to the board.
These are two different things: the one-postponement from military service; the other-leave on compassionate grounds for a
stated period of time.
I would not want these men to feel that they had been misled by anybody. But they made reference to members of parliament and to the board, and said, "We have been called. Some of us have asked for postponement and have been refused. Some of us did not ask for postponement because, under the regulations as they existed prior to April 23, we were not eligible. Now comes a new postponement, two weeks before we are due to report. What are we to do?" In every case they were told, "Unless you get word not to report, you should report. Otherwise you are liable for action under the war services regulations." These men came in and reported. If some young man stayed at home and said, "I am not going to report until I have had a decision regarding my application under the new regulations for indefinite postponement", he still has a chance to get a postponement. But these other men are now out of the jurisdiction of the Department of National War Services and under the jurisdiction of the Department of National Defence. They cannot obtain postponements now. But they can apply on compassionate grounds for leave to do spring work. It'is a pretty serious situation. In some ways these men were almost enticed into Regina under false pretences. They were brought there under the impression that it was impossible now to apply for leave under the new regulations.
The secretary of the board told me frankly, "We have hundreds of applications made
under the old regulations. We cannot begin to deal with the new regulations at the present time." Yet, according to both the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of National War Services, these men were eligible to make application. Nevertheless the board was not in a position to hear their applications or proceed with their cases.
I believe with reference to this group that something ought to be done. Either the regulations passed on March 23 should have been held over until after April 9, or they should have been brought down early enough so that these men would have had some opportunity to make their representations to the board. It is a serious matter for the men, because this is not a matter of training for thirty days or even for four months. It is a matter of service until the end of the war. I believe the impression will be prevalent in some quarters that these men were called in and told to report without being informed, as they should have been, that they had the right to make an appeal for postponement.
One other question I should like to ask the minister has to do with the press release. He says that, a definite change has taken place with respect to this order in council. I am not clear as to where the fundamental change is. As the regulation stood prior to March 23, if a man were called he had the right to make an application for postponement on certain grounds. The onus was on him to prove that he had the right to such postponement. The board was to decide, and its decision was final. It seems to me the change is that instead of the man having to satisfy the board as to his right to postponement, the board must satisfy itself that he has that right.
The minister said a little while ago that these regulations were mandatory. They are mandatory only on the board to satisfy itself. It is the prosecuting attorney and the judge.