Hon. George Hees (Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Senior Citizens)) moved
that Bill C-100, an Act to amend the Pension Act, the War Veterans Allowance Act, to repeal the Compensation for Former Prisoners of War Act and to amend another Act in relation thereto, be now read the second time and referred to Committee of the Whole.
He said: Mr. Speaker, once again it is my pleasure to introduce legislation to this House which will be of benefit to Canadian veterans and their families.
Bill C-100 is omnibus legislation which will remove deficiencies that have been revealed within the existing legislation. We want our legislation to be fair and equitable to all veterans and their families, and Bill C-100 will erase injustices that have inadvertently been allowed to exist.
Spouses of former prisoners of war have been particularly affected, and that is why I am proposing that the Compensation for Former Prisoners of War Act be repealed, and that our POWs and their dependants be covered in the future by the Pension Act, as they were from 1971 until 1976.
I say this, Mr. Speaker, because I believe that Parliament on several occasions intended benefits in the Compensation for
Former Prisoners of War Act to parallel those in the Pension Act. Unfortunately, as there were two separate pieces of legislation, this did not always happen. Repeal of the Act will reduce future chances of this happening.
This legislation puts forward 12 amendments in all, but as many are of a housekeeping nature, my comments will concentrate on the more major items.
As I suggested a moment ago, the Compensation for Former Prisoners of War Act has been lacking in a number of areas, and I am proposing amendments to correct this. We will be improving areas that have been of concern to organizations such as the National Prisoners of War Association, the National Council of Veteran Associations, and the Royal Canadian Legion.
Hon. Members will know, Mr. Speaker, that we compensate former prisoners of war for their time spent in captivity. Also, as with all veterans, former prisoners of war may be entitled to compensation for any disability they sustained during the time of their service.
It is my belief that Parliament's intention had always been to recognize this dual entitlement in the calculation of survivor benefits. Indeed, this was the practice followed by the Canadian Pension Commission until 1986, when it was determined that the legislation, as written, did not include prisoners of war who had not been in receipt of a disability pension. Repealing the Prisoners of War Act and placing prisoner of war benefits in the Pension Act rectifies this situation and means that for all future applicants, dependant and survivor benefits will again be in step as intended.
Similarly, it was found that the POW legislation did not permit the Canadian Pension Commission to combine rates when it had to calculate survivor benefits. Prisoner of war compensation and disability compensation must now be determined independently, and this reduces the payments being made to a number of widows. The amendment before the House will allow the commission to return to its traditional methods and cap the maximum at one full survivor's pension.
This will be of particular benefit to widows of prisoners of war who had been in receipt of pension and compensation which, when combined, yield a total of 48 per cent or more. For example, a widow of a POW who had been receiving 25 per cent compensation and 25 per cent pension will currently receive a survivor benefit of half the 25 per cent compensation and half the 25 per cent disability pension. This amendment will permit the commission to add the two percentages and pay the higher full widow's pension instead of two proportionate pensions.
We are also proposing that the married rate should be paid for one full year following the death of a spouse. This puts our POW benefits in line with those that already exist for disability pensioners.
December 14, 1987
Hon. Members will recall that a similar amendment was made in Bill C-28, passed in February, 1985. I said then that it bordered on the inhumane to reduce a widow's income within a month of the veteran's death, and I feel exactly the same about the benefits paid under the POW Act. This amendment will keep these benefits in pay for a full year following the POW's death and thereby give the widow an opportunity to adjust to her changed circumstances.
I am sure that all Hon. Members will enthusiastically support another measure which will introduce further compassion into our legislation. The House will recall the plight of those Canadians who were held prisoner in North Africa during the war. These veterans had been unable to receive prisoner of war compensation because there was doubt as to whether they had been detained in enemy territory. Eventually, and happily, this matter was resolved, but not before these veterans had been denied compensation for many years because they did not meet the strict criteria.
Now we want the Canadian Pension Commission to have the discretion to grant POW compensation in specially meritorious cases such as the ones which came forward from veterans held prisoner in North Africa.
This flexibility already exists in the case of disability pensions and has enabled such deserving people as the veterans exposed to nuclear radiation in the 1950s to make application for pension.
1 have confined my remarks to the more important amendments contained in this legislation. All amendments, however, are designed to improve the existing legislation for veterans and their dependants.
Veterans and their families are very special Canadians, and I am confident that all Members fully appreciate the fairness of this legislation, just as I very sincerely appreciate the support the Bill has received from all sides of the House.
Subtopic: PENSION ACT, WAR VETERANS ALLOWANCE ACT AND COMPENSATION FOR FORMER PRISONERS OF WAR ACT MEASURE TO AMEND