Mr. Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay—Superior North, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to this opposition motion. It deals with what happened over 40 years ago when the federal government and the government of Quebec came together to create Forillon National Park.
The park is located in a beautiful part of a spectacular region. It is on the tip of Gaspésie in eastern Quebec. Unfortunately, as we have heard today in this House, the way the park was formed was not beautiful. It was rather ugly.
In 1969, over 1,000 people were forced to leave their land to make way for the park. There were 225 families who were made to leave. The fact that this was done in more than 20 cases to make way for various parks across Canada does not make it any more right.
The Bloc opposition motion seeks an apology from the House to the residents there who had their homes, land and businesses expropriated by the government to make way for the park.
This kind of thing should not happen. People should not be forced to sell their homes and land to make way for government-created parks in a draconian way. It is hard to leave land one loves and have loved for generations.
Many years ago I helped to create many parks in northern Ontario. The largest was Wabakimi Wilderness Provincial Park near Lake Nipigon in northwestern Ontario. It is a beautiful area of almost 9,000 square kilometres that should be preserved for future generations and it is.
I worked hard for many years, not only to create that park, but to make sure that the rights of trappers, first nations people, hunters, tourist operators, nearby residents and other local and traditional users were respected. In helping to create the park, there were no expulsions of residents.
I can only imagine what it would be like for families who have lived in a spectacular setting such as that for generations to have to leave against their will.
One of the worst situations occurred at Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick which was expropriated the same year as Forillon from the people who lived there. There were 250 families comprising over 1,000 people who had their homes levelled to create that 250 square kilometre reserve. There were 10 Acadian villages affected.
Governments were as insensitive to the Acadian residents of Kouchibouguac as they were to the inhabitants of Forillon. But it was not just the Acadians who were impacted. The Mi'kmaq people have a centuries-old spiritual and cultural connection with Kouchibouguac. The park lies within traditional hunting and gathering territories for the Mi'kmaq.
At the time, the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, someone named Jean Chrétien, said that the new development would allow accommodation for more urban people and ease demand for other parks in the Maritimes.
In 1980, the federal environment minister and the New Brunswick premier established this special inquiry for Kouchibouguac National Park to examine the social and economic impact the establishment of the park had on former residents.
A court ruling in 1979, in favour of the expropriation, led to some 200 people actually rioting in the park. Following a second riot several weeks later, a special commission was created which criticized the government's actions and granted expropriated residents an additional $1.6 million in compensation.
One resident, Jackie Vautour and his family, refused to leave the park and turned down several offers from the government. He endured violent confrontations before being forced to leave. Vautour challenged the expropriation in court, but eventually had to move into a motel where he was tear-gassed by the RCMP when he refused to leave after the government stopped paying for his room.
This situation, coupled with what happened with the Forillon expropriations that same year, shamed the government into changing its ways, thank goodness.
National parks created since then are mostly in sparsely populated areas, like Canada's north.
The Canada National Parks Act was amended in 2000 to prohibit the expropriation of people's land in order to create new national parks. However, despite those steps, the fact remains that the government has only taken tentative steps to rectify the wrongs committed.
This year, the government is introducing a special entry pass for families for several generations whose properties were expropriated during the creation of these parks. It will allow former owners kicked off their land to go back and enter it for free. The government may think it is being magnanimous by waiving entry fees for people to visit the land taken from them, but it is not making it very easy to get these entry passes.
Individual parks and historic sites will be responsible for the distribution of the passes. Eligibility will be based on existing historic records, if any still exists, or a committee has to be struck and a committee process navigated to determine whether or not someone can get a pass.
Last year, the environment minister received a petition from hundreds of people whose property was expropriated at Forillon. They asked for five generations, not three, to be given free access to visit their ancestral homes. That is a very reasonable request, given what has happened. That is a first step. People do not just need to be able to visit their family homes once in a while, but also their parents, grandparents and ancestral families who are buried in three cemeteries inside the park.
By and large, the way the whole situation has been handled by the government has not been very good. The 2010 Forillon National Park management plan recognizes that the government has not been sufficiently attentive to the families whose homes it expropriated.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my remaining time with the hon. member for Churchill.
The Forillon National Park management plan states:
The current commemoration of the former residents – particularly those whose lands were expropriated – of their history and their contribution to the park’s identity does not meet the community’s expectations. Finally, the local population’s sense of ownership of the park is still finding opposition due to the memory of the expropriation.
Finally, in view of the 2010 celebrations for the park’s 40th anniversary, a commemorative site will be created in the park especially dedicated to those whose lands were expropriated, and an exhibition dealing with their history and that of the settlement of Forillon will be presented there.
One of the expropriated homes in the park was made into an exhibit, telling the stories of 17 people who were forced out. Some plaques will be placed around the park to commemorate places where families used to live. In many places we can still see the foundations where homes stood before they were bulldozed or burned to the ground.
The government is giving out passes and making commemorative plaques and picnic tables but so far it has not offered an official apology. Knowing the history of expulsions in this country, particularly with our Acadian peoples, one would think the government would have more sensitivity about expropriations and expulsions.
What the exiled residents of Forillon want is a simple gesture of civility and an admission that something was done that should not have been done. They want an apology. Many suffered financially from the expulsion and most suffered emotionally to see their homes and lands taken away from them. An apology is the least the government can give.
Members may notice that the motion does not ask anything of the government. It asks this House to issue that apology instead. I am interested in asking the members of the Bloc why they are asking the House of Commons rather than the government to issue this apology. I can hazard a guess. After waiting so long for an apology from the federal government, the surviving exiles from Forillon who lost their homes are getting fewer in number and they probably have little confidence that the government will issue an apology in their lifetime.
We, the members of this chamber, are being asked to fill that void of leadership and show the compassion that the federal government has not. I am pleased to be given the opportunity to oblige. This is basic decency. I will be supporting the motion and I urge all parties and all members of the House to do so in order that it will pass unanimously.
Subtopic: Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic: Opposition Motion—Forillon Park