Mr. Nick Discepola (Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I have the privilege to rise in this House in support of Bill C-12, an Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act.
This bill provides RCMP members serving abroad as peackeepers in special duty areas with medicare benefits and death benefits. This means they will be covered 24 hours a day in case of work-related disease, invalidity or death.
We need to pass this bill as soon as possible.
Like any other government employees, RCMP members are eligible for government benefits if they suffer from a work-related disability or injury or if they die as a result of a work-related accident.
Pursuant to existing agreements, there is a difference between work-related incidents and those that are not and that difference is usually easy to make: the work-related incidents are defined as occurring only during work shifts.
However, in some cases, the distinction we need to make between “during working hours” and “outside working hours” is not so clear.
Take, for instance, the RCMP members who are currently serving abroad as peacekeepers.
Pursuant to the Special Duty Area Pension Order, the governor in council can designate as special duty areas any geographic area outside Canada where peacekeepers may be exposed to hazardous conditions not normally associated with service in peacetime. These dangerous areas are called “special duty areas”.
The bill acknowledges that when RCMP peacekeepers are posted in special duty areas, they never really stop serving and running risks, even when their shift is over.
Under the current act, RCMP members who are injured while posted in a special duty area must prove their disability is directly related to their service or the performance of their duties.
When Canada started taking part in international peacekeeping missions and sending members of the armed forces to areas of armed conflict, it was acknowledged that it would be unfair to oblige these individuals or their department to prove that injury or death was attributable to their work and occurred while the individual was on duty.
Under the Special Duty Area Pension Order, any injury, disease or disability sustained by a member of the Canadian Forces while on a peacekeeping mission in a special duty area is presumed to be directly related to the performance of his or her duties. In case of death, benefits are transferred to the victim's family.
Therefore, under this order, military personnel are considered to be on duty 24 hours a day for the purpose of employment- or service-related benefits. The order also acknowledges that the security of these people is always threatened.
However, in dangerous areas, even when serving side by side with Canadian Forces personnel, RCMP members are eligible for benefits only if the injury or disease occurs during a normally scheduled work shift.
RCMP personnel posted as peacekeepers in special duty areas are treated differently from their counterparts in the Canadian Forces, even though they face the same risks and circumstances.
At the present time, for instance, members of both forces are deployed in Haiti and the former Yugoslavia , which have both been declared special duty areas.
Under the Special Duty Area Pension Order, members of the Canadian Forces are considered to be on duty around the clock, if injuries, illness or fatalities occur.
On the other hand, RCMP personnel are considered to be on duty only during their shift. In keeping with the purest tradition of the RCMP, its members sought out this type of mission and volunteered for it. In so doing, they are perpetuating a tradition of which Canadians are proud, and one which has earned them their international reputation as major contributors to world peace and security.
Canada has an obligation to ensure that these courageous women and men, as well as their family members, are eligible for the same benefits as their Canadian Forces counterparts.
The purpose of today's bill is to remedy this abnormal situation.
I also wish to note that in addition to disability benefits, Canadian forces peacekeepers who are injured or taken ill while serving in special duty areas are entitled to the benefits provided under the veterans independence program. This program provides funds for services necessary to maintain a member in his or her own home as an alternative to institutional care. This includes housekeeping services and modifications to accommodate wheelchair access in a member's residence.
These special pension benefits take into account the increased risk associated with peacekeeping duties. The amended legislation will extend the same kind of program benefits to disabled RCMP peacekeepers.
This legislation reflects the changing role of peacekeeping in general. Adding to their traditional role as an arbiter of conflict, peacekeepers are now contributing to the broader reconstruction of society, the peace building phase that follows a peaceful settlement.
Through the volunteered services of RCMP peacekeepers, Canada has provided what many countries need most to sustain peace: respect for democratic tradition and a method for enforcing the rule of law. A troubled country may be able to build on the traditions and expertise demonstrated by the RCMP and Canadian forces peacekeepers to establish a new respect for law enforcement and respect for the law itself.
Passing this bill is the best and fairest action we can take. I am sure I speak for all members of this House in wishing that no Canadian peacekeeper, whether a member of the RCMP or a member of the armed forces, will ever need to use health insurance benefits, disability insurance or death benefits as the result of a mission to a special service area.
If such a need should ever arise, however, it would be only fair for RCMP members to benefit from the same extra protection, as provided in this bill for themselves and their family members.
I believe all members of this House recognize the importance, as far as equity is concerned, of the amendments being proposed to the RCMP pension plan.
I trust that I shall be able to count on the support of all the political parties in this House to ensure that this important bill is passed promptly.
Subtopic: Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act