Hon. DOUGLAS ABBOTT (Minister of National Defence):
With the indulgence of the house I should like to make a statement concerning the dumping of footwear at the Point St. Charles dump in Montreal.
On Friday, August 9, during the discussion of the foreign exchange control board bill, the member for Lake Centre (Mr. Diefenbaker) referred to the dumping of footwear on the Point St. Charles dump. In particular he referred to a report contained in the Montreal Star of August 8, 1946, as having stated that the Department of National Defence knew but
would not tell the names of its officials who were responsible for the destruction of shoes, although such information was known to the department. On his making this statement I replied that I had not yet seen the article but that the department had not refused to name any of its officials; that a thorough investigation had been made; that a complete report was available and that I would make a full statement at the appropriate time, adding that I did not consider that this was during the discussion of the foreign exchange control board bill.
On reading the article I found that the statement was to the effect that the department had refused to reveal the names of the civilian dealers responsible for the dumping of the footwear. So far as I can ascertain, the Department of National Defence has not refused to divulge these names, and my understanding was that the names were furnished to the press by my colleague, the Minister of Reconstruction (Mr. Howe), a week or ten days ago.
When the matter of the alleged dumping of footwear on the Point St. Charles dump in Montreal was first brought to the attention of the military authorities through an article which appeared in the Montreal Daily Star of July 10, a court of inquiry was immediately set up to look into the whole matter. The court assembled on July 12, the president being Lieutenant-Colonel H. E. Vautelet, and the members, Captain A. E. Jenner, Captain S. P. Dunham and Captain J. A. Forget. A number of witnesses were examined and an exhaustive inquiry conducted into the whole matter, as a result of which it was ascertained that the footwear dumped on the Point St. Charles dump was part of approximately twenty tons of scrap leather, mixed with canvas shoes, purchased on April 25, 1946 from War Assets Corporation scrap division, Montreal, by Gorodensky Registered of 101 Ontario street east, Montreal, for a price of some $40, being at. the rate of $2 a ton. An official of the purchasing concern testified that the material had been purchased in anticipation, of disposing of it as scrap rubber or scrap leather, that upon arrival of the material it had been examined and found that the leather and rubber were mixed together and that the purchaser was unable to sell it without separating the two. As the cost of labour would be more than that which could be recovered from the material, he decided to dispose of it by throwing it out on the Point St. Charles dump.
The court of inquiry clearly established that the military authorities had nothing to do with either the sale or dumping of the footwear in question. It was also ascertained
by the court that on a previous occasion, namely, on or about May 2 or 3, another quantity of scrap material, which included scrap leather and canvas shoes purchased by Imperial Metal and Waste Company of Montreal from the J. H. Block Equipment Corporation and by the latter corporation from War Assets, had also been thrown away on the Point St. Charles dump as having been found to be unsaleable and of no commercial value.
The proceedings and the findings of the court of inquiry to which I have referred were immediately forwarded to national defence headquarters here in Ottawa, and as a result of the information contained therein, a joint statement on behalf of the Department of Reconstruction and the Department of National Defence was made at the eveining sitting on July 19 by my colleague, the Minister of Reconstruction.
Subsequently on July 27, as a result of further reports that were brought to our attention, officials of War Assets Corporation, a civilian representative on my own staff and representatives from the army and Royal Canadian Air Force visited the War Assets reclamation depot at Valleyfield, Quebec. At that time various bales, bundles and bags of footwear and other articles of clothing were opened and examined to see if any articles had been mutilated or slashed. Articles which had recently arrived at the depot and which had not yet been examined by War Assets employees were examined, as well as articles which had been examined and sorted by War Assets employees, and no articles were found which had been mutilated or dashed but which were otherwise serviceable.
The seR-ice representatives requested War Assets employees at the Valleyfield reclamation depot to segregate any articles which would indicate that they had been slashed or mutilated and to advise the service representatives so that further investigations could be made in an effort to trace down the source of such mutilation. I may say that no such articles have been reported since this request was made.
Concerning the practice of War Assets Corporation, I am not in a position to make a statement, although I have a copy of a statement made to the press on the 7th of August by Mr. J. H. Berry, president of the War Assets Corporation, in which he said in part:
I must confirm that, prior to conducting this investigation, canvas shoes, which, in the opinion of the officials of the corporation, were not usable or repairable were cut by corporation inspectors at Valleyfield. This was done in accordance with previous and long-established practice. This cutting by the corporation has always been confined to footwear which, as
War Assets-Army Supplies
stated, was considered unusable and not repairable and, if it is true, as has been stated, that there were several hundred pairs of new shoes placed on the dump in a cut condition, I can find no trace of this cutting having been done by the corporation inspectors. . . .
We have now stopped cutting all canvas shoes, even when they are categorized as unrepairable and of no value in their present form as a shoe, but exactly how we are going to merchandise them as shoes, we do not yet know as we believe there will be some difficulty in finding a market for them other than as scrap.
The point as to whether it is fair policy for the corporation to sell at scrap prices unrepairable. unusable, and non-disinfected shoes without mutilating them remains to be considered by the corporation.
In conclusion may I say we have not been able to ascertain how or by whom the footwear dumped on the Point St. Charles dump was slashed, as is alleged to be the case, nor is there any clear indication as to how many shoes were allegedly mutilated. It has not been army practice to mutilate footwear since 1941, and no evidence has been adduced to show that there has been such mutilation by military personnel.
I realize the importance of an incident such as this which might appear to indicate a wilful waste in the handling of public property. I appreciate that this is not an appropriate time to discuss this matter in detail. I shall be glad to do so, however, when my estimates are before the house, which I hope will be within the next few days.
Subtopic: ARMY SUPPLIES-STATEMENT AS TO DISCARDING OF SHOES AND SLIPPERS