Mr. George A. Drew (Leader of the Opposition):
Mr. Speaker, today I intend to present a motion such as is made possible at this stage of the proceedings of the house. It is one which I hope will receive consideration from members on all sides of the house having regard to its subject matter and also to the importance of the subject at a time when we actually have before the house the consideration of estimates for the Department of National Defence which it is anticipated may come close to $2J billion with the supplementary estimates that will be submitted later. Without going into the details of any matters now before any committee of the house, it is only necessary to draw the attention of hon. members to the fact that since this subject was last discussed only a few days ago attention has been drawn to still further examples of widespread theft and looting of government property in military establishments across this country.
If these things were happening in an isolated camp, or even in one or two camps, there might not be the same reason for returning once again to a subject which goes to the root of the confidence which can be placed by members of the house and the people of Canada in the administration of a department which is seeking an allocation of public funds that will amount to almost half of the total raised by taxes from the people of Canada during the coming year. Members of the house have been well aware for some time of the concern that has been expressed in the press and elsewhere about losses, thefts, incendiary fires and looting in government camps and storehouses throughout the country.
Our attention was directed to this subject very dramatically by the nature of the thefts that occurred at Petawawa. Since that time there have been further thefts in Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, British Columbia and elsewhere throughout Canada, all of a nature which suggests a complete break-down of the
administrative supervision of public property by the Department of National Defence. Nor is it simply a case of this concern being expressed by laymen. It would seem that this concern is being expressed in equally forceful language by those in uniform. The Calgary Herald of May 13 reports the contents of a letter written by Colonel J. S. Ross, officer in charge of administration, western command, to the heads of branches and staff, to the heads of services and to units and subunits under his authority. As reported in the Calgary Herald of that date the letter contains the following statement by Colonel Ross:
The adjutant-general has expressed sincere concern at the apparent laxity revealed by the current scandals at Montreal and Petawawa. The trials resulting from these episodes may bring substantial penitentiary sentences to guilty parties.
However, such action will not necessarily redeem lost confidence in the army by the minister, the members of the house, the press or the general public.
There have been numerous incidents of a similar nature, all of which indicate a very distinct lack of higher level supervision. Further, it is apparent that some of the younger officers have not grasped the fact that they are custodians of crown property, and that their action in becoming involved in various fraudulent enterprises displays a moral laxity which can only be described as shocking.
The most recent scandals involve officers and men in the sale of government stores and the appropriation of government stores for their own personal use.
It is of the utmost importance that such irregularities be curbed forthwith. Accordingly you are directed to impress on all officers under your command the necessity for increased vigilance and good personal example.
Drastically increased supervision is to be exercised immediately.
Unit, subunit and detachment commanders are to fully understand their personal responsibilities.
The line of responsibility within your organization is to be clearly defined so as to ensure a clear-cut disciplinary course in the event of slackness or dishonesty coming to light.
Heads of services, units, subunits and detachment commanders will be answerable for future irregularities developing within this command.
That is the end of the quotation in the Calgary Herald of May 13 from a letter attributed to Colonel J. S. Ross. I have pointed out that I am reading from this newspaper report, and that is my only source of information in regard to this letter. I would point out, however, that unless it is disclosed that such letter was not written by the officer in charge of administration, western command, then this house has reason to pay particular attention to certain words contained in that letter written by an officer occupying a position of considerable responsibility in the Canadian armed forces.
May I refer hon. members to one particular sentence in the letter-and I quote again: "There have been numerous incidents of a similar nature, all of which indicate a very
distinct lack of higher level supervision". That quotation suggests reasons why hon. members of this House of Commons should seek in every way in their power to bring about reforms which will examine with the most complete and searching inquiry every detail of the supervision, protection and accounting in relation to these vitally important public stores.
These are not just ordinary stores. These are not simply valuable pieces of public property. This is property which is part and parcel of the costly and vitally important preparation for the defence of Canada in case our security should be threatened. Therefore any method that is followed should be one which will assure that supervision either at the lower or at the higher level, as mentioned by Colonel Ross, will be examined dispassionately, judicially and completely.
Since this matter was first under discussion in the house during the present session, not only have there come to the attention of hon. members and the people of Canada incidents in particular camps, but there have become available reports of theft, looting and fires, some of them incendiary, which have resulted in the last two years in a loss estimated by the Department of National Defence at a figure of more than $7 million. There may be some question however as to whether those figures in themselves even approach the actual value of the losses to the people of Canada. It will be recalled that the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Claxton) spoke of losses at Farnham as being in the neighbourhood of $3,500. If the accounting methods of the Department of National Defence report a loss of only $3,500 at Farnham, then the statement given of the total loss as in the statement prepared by the department, showing a loss of more than $7 million, should contain figures very much higher than it actually does.
What prompts me to raise this question with some sense of urgency this afternoon is that within the last few days it has been disclosed that the individual who was asked to undertake some form of inquiry into what had occurred at Petawawa is not actually in Canada at this time. One of the reasons why this in itself should call for immediate attention is that Colonel Currie's reputation, both as an accountant and as a man of great personal integrity and ability, did convey to the public a measure of confidence when the statement was made that he had undertaken to do this work.
No one would question either the accounting ability or the personal integrity or the high standing, in the esteem of Canadians who know him, of Colonel Currie, whose
Military Establishments-Fires and Thefts name was placed before us as the man who had been asked to carry out certain inquiries about which we are not too clearly informed.
It has been pointed out already in this house that, no matter what Colonel Currie's personal standing may be, that in itself is no substitute for an inquiry conducted under appropriate terms of reference which would give the inquiry the opportunity to go into every detail of the situation which has been described in such forceful terms by Colonel Ross in the letter quoted by the Calgary Herald. Since it has been stated that Colonel Currie has left Canada and is in England, and that this was with the knowledge and permission of the Minister of National Defence, and that such inquiries as are being conducted are being carried forward by his staff, then it does seem appropriate that we should examine with the utmost care just what measure of authority the staff in Colonel Currie's office really have to conduct an inquiry into laxity in administration which, according to the letter of Colonel Ross, if that is correctly reported shows a distinct lack of high-level supervision over government stores.
When the Minister of National Defence was asked under what authority Colonel Currie has been appointed to conduct an inquiry he replied that it was under section 4 of chapter 43 of the statutes of Canada, 1950, volume I, at page 473. This is known as the National Defence Act. Section 4, which is the section the minister put forward as the statutory provision under which Colonel Currie acquired his authority through a letter from the minister, reads as follows:
The minister shall have the control and management of the Canadian forces, the Defence Research Board and1 of all matters relating to national defence including preparation of civil defence against enemy action, and shall be responsible for the construction and maintenance of all defence establishments and works for the defence of Canada.
That is the whole section and it contains no reference, by implication or otherwise, to an inquiry of any kind. This is the section which says that the minister shall have the control and management of the Canadian forces. Under the authority of that section the minister has written to Mr. Currie to ask him to do certain things at the Petawawa camp. It was said before, and it should be repeated, that under the letter written to Mr. Currie by the minister, Mr. Currie has no authority whatever to call for the production of documents, to compel the attendance of any witness or generally to do any of the things that are essential to the conduct of an inquiry such as I am sure most Canadians thought had been initiated when they read the announcement by the minister. The section merely says that there will be a minister.
Mr. Speaker, without getting away from the real consideration which should be in the mind of every member here, may I suggest that this does reflect the superman complex
Military Establishments-Fires and Thefts
with which we seem to be dealing so frequently in this house. There is a minister appointed, and according to him he has the authority to do anything, therefore it is not necessary to bother about the public Inquiries Act or any other act that was designed by this parliament to authorize the kind of inquiry which should be under way at this time. In fact, one might almost hear the minister say, in the words of Gilbert and Sullivan:
The law is the true embodiment,
Of everything that's excellent.
It has no kind of fault or flaw,
And I, my lords, embody the law.
The minister is appointed. He is in charge of the establishment, and therefore he embodies the whole law, and his wish expressed in a letter to Mr. Currie is adequate to conduct an inquiry, which certainly would be one of the most important inquiries conducted in this country if it were carried forward with the measure of authority which such an inquiry should possess.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I am going to present a motion, and in doing so I wish to refer to certain arguments which indicate an attitude toward inquiries provided by the public Inquiries Act which seems to be strangely inconsistent, not only with the attitude of this government on other occasions but also with the history of inquiries of this nature both here and in Great Britain, from whose records we gain so much when we seek precedents of value in dealing with matters of this kind. When it was suggested on another occasion that an inquiry under the public Inquiries Act should be conducted, the Minister of Defence Production (Mr. Howe) belittled the suggestion that an inquiry of this kind could serve any useful purpose. He stated on an earlier occasion that a group of experts had been brought in from Chicago.
Subtopic: THEFT AND FIRES IN MILITARY ESTABLISHMENTS -AMENDMENT, MR. DREW