STANDING COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL
DEFENCE AND VETERANS AFFAIRS
COMITÉ PERMANENT DE LA DÉFENSE
NATIONALE ET DES ANCIENS COMBATTANTS
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, March 23, 1999
The Chairman (Mr. Pat O'Brien (London—Fanshawe,
Lib.)): I call to order the meeting of the
House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence
and Veterans Affairs.
Colleagues, we have two witnesses who have followed
our procedure and requested to appear. I understand
there are some other people who may be interested.
Maybe I can start the meeting this way. Of course we
have a procedure we have to follow, in fairness to
everybody, and if a person or group wishes to appear
before the committee, they certainly have the right to
do that, but it's not as simple as just walking in and
saying it that day. However, if there are people who'd
like to, and if there's time.... I don't want to
shortchange these witnesses or the members' questions,
but if there's time and there are other people, then I
will let the committee decide.
But if those people
aren't heard today and if they wish to appear,
then I would encourage them to follow our
normal procedure and write to the clerk, and we will do
our best to schedule them, because we want to make
sure, in hearing about this important issue, that no
group or individual who wishes to appear will be
With that explanation, just before we go to the
witnesses, I would ask the committee's indulgence
for a second and mention to you that we discussed our
potential plans for some task-oriented travel around
the issue of procurement, and I asked the opposition
parties, if they would, to ensure that their House
leadership is supportive of such trips.
I wonder if I can ask each member, starting with
Mr. Hart, if they have had that opportunity. This is
just so that we
know where we stand before we ask the
clerk and our researchers to undertake considerable
work to draw up the details of that trip. So can we
ask each member, starting with Mr. Hart, if the parties
are agreeable and so on?
Mr. Jim Hart (Okanagan—Coquihalla, Ref.): I
sent a letter to both the House leader and the whip,
and I also made representation to the chief defence
critic. From every indication I have, there would
be no problem with these trips.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Hart.
So we have the Reform Party
commitment that they would be supportive of those trips
that we discussed a couple of meetings ago.
Mr. Laurin, who represents the Bloc Québécois, have you looked
Mr. René Laurin (Joliette, BQ): No problem.
The Chairman: Okay, so we have support from the
Mr. Gordon Earle (Halifax West, NDP): No problem.
The Chairman: Thank you.
So the NDP is
indicating full support for the trips that we
tentatively approved recently.
Mr. Price for the Progressive
Mr. David Price (Compton—Stanstead, PC): As
for the PC Party, anything
to do with the committee travelling we feel is
very important, and we'll be part of it.
The Chairman: Okay. Thank you very much.
I know the majority members feel that way,
and I'm happy that all the
members of the committee are indicating full support of
the parties for the trips that were discussed to study
the issue of procurement. Obviously
our staff here have heard that, and I would ask them now
to begin the preliminary work to get us ready for those
trips when our schedule permits.
Thank you very much.
Now we're going to go to the witnesses.
Mr. Laurin, on a point of order.
Mr. René Laurin: I have a question about the dates of the
Could we please be informed of the possible dates before the
final decision is made? Meetings with other delegations are already
scheduled; more specifically, there is one in June on veterans, and
I would find it unfortunate if the dates of the trip conflicted
with other commitments.
The Chairman: Yes, that's a very good point.
I would ask the staff to come up with some possible
dates for us. They know what our commitments at
committee are. We
certainly want to see this issue through, if at all
possible, before we interrupt it in any way, except
we may have to take a break for estimates when the
Minister of National Defence is available. So
maybe in the near future we can get a report
back from the whips with possible dates for the
trips, projecting what our business will be.
Thank you. That's a very good point.
Mr. David Price: In relation to
that, we should keep in mind the NATO
which many of the members of
SCONDVA are already on and do attend. That's at the
end of May.
The Chairman: Thank you very much for that
reminder. Maybe the staff can come back with some
proposals for us.
I appreciate the indulgence of the witnesses while we
cleared up some important business that's been
We're here to hear the thoughts of these two witnesses
on the issue of compensation, or potential
compensation, for the merchant mariners. We'll start
with the Merchant Navy Coalition for Equality.
Mr. William Bruce, are you going to start, sir?
Mr. William Bruce (Canadian Merchant Navy Veterans
Association; Merchant Navy Coalition for Equality):
The Chairman: Welcome to the
committee. We're happy to hear your submission, and
the members will ask questions when you're
Mr. William Bruce: Thank you very much, sir.
Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the standing
committee, my name is William Bruce. I am grateful and
thank you sincerely for the opportunity to be before
you, to meet you parliamentarians, our representatives,
in the hope of seeing a satisfactory conclusion to the
outstanding injustice against Canada's merchant seamen
that has gone on far too long.
I had the pleasure of doing this on June 3, 1993 in
support of my merchant navy POW shipmates.
like to introduce a few people who are at the hearing
today. George Shaker is a witness along with me; he's
here with his wife Yvette. Mr. Gordon
Olmstead wanted to come, but he couldn't. Mrs.
Dorothy Olmstead is here
with her son Donald, who would like to
see how these committees
work, as his dad has appeared before them very often.
Allan MacIsaac is chair of the MCE
and president of the CMNVA. As you know,
we represent the largest
number of wartime merchant seamen of the merchant navy
Bill Riddell from the Merchant Navy
Association isn't here, but you know him. Tom Brooks,
master mariner, is a former interim coalition
chair. Mr. and Mrs. John Vernie are here. Mr.
Fred Enderoff is here from the Naval
Officers' Association and has been most supportive.
Mrs. Muriel MacDonald is the coalition's executive
director, whom you have met.
Professor Foster Griezic is an adjunct
professor of Canadian history at Carleton University
and has been the coalition's MS adviser and consultant
for more than a decade, as
you well know.
My shipmates, Cliff Craig and Vic Fouve, are
survivors of the torpedoed and sunk SS Point
Pleasant Park, February 23, 1945. Mr. Everett
Arsenault of Terrebonne, also of the Point Pleasant
Park, wanted to be here, but is unable to attend
because of ill health. And Mr. Jim Murray is here
from the Canadian Merchant Navy Prisoner of War
My final point before presenting my brief is this.
The Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command made
a presentation on Thursday, March
18. I was disappointed and angry at the brief. They
have not supported us in the past. They have not let us
be regular legion members. I know; I'm one of those
merchant seamen they didn't let in. So is my
shipmate, John Gill of Greenfield Park, Quebec. They
wouldn't let him in either.
They say they support us now, yet they want to
bring in the ferry command and others. That's
nonsense. They say they speak for the merchant navy.
We don't speak for the legion. Why are they trying to
revert to the problems that were created in 1991
through their CON group, when they were doing the
same thing? It's disgusting.
I just want that to be on record. They met with us so
that we could work together. Why are they not working with
I'm here before you to emphasize what I see as Bill
C-61's weaknesses and to make a few recommendations
on how you might correct the merchant navy situation
before we all die.
I also want to illustrate how we
were recruited to join and obliged to serve as members
of a training school. This is directly tied to Bill
C-61, which will amend the restrictive, exclusive, and
narrow Bill C-84, which it will replace.
Part of the reason I am before you today is that
although the Honourable Mr. Merrithew,
the then Minister of Veterans Affairs, promised that
the merchant navy would be
equal to our military war comrades by Bill
C-84, we were not.
Indeed, his successor, the
Honourable Kim Campbell, in a letter of April 8, 1993,
stated that we were only to be
given access to some of the
benefits and services. In another letter of April 30,
1993, she admitted that
the merchant seamen's eligibility
for pension benefits was to be as close to wartime
military eligibility as possible, not equal.
well, the definition of “service”, she admitted, was
circumscribed so as not to include training at
Prescott, at St. Margaret's, at gunnery school,
when travelling to catch a
ship as instructed, or in manning pools or when we
sailed in coastal waters
where ships were torpedoed and sunk by Nazi U-boats and
Canadians were killed. I took the service training, but
for some reason it doesn't count.
Now Bill C-61 will
correct some of the gaps and complaints of the
merchant navy. We will finally be officially
recognized as war veterans, since we'll be placed under
the War Veterans Allowance Act, though some
military veterans said it couldn't be done.
Similarly, we will be put under the
Pension Act. Again, some military veteran
leaders said it couldn't be done.
navy will be recognized as a service, and all the
service time will be recognized so that we'll finally
have the same access to some, although reduced,
benefits that our military comrades received.
are serious gaps in the legislation. Before mentioning
them, let me point out why we merchant seamen merit this
legislation and the ex gratia compensation, which is
absent from this legislation, and why our POWs must have
all their time in prison of war camps accepted,
recognized, and pensioned by the government—something
that is also absent from the
We are wartime veterans.
I was recruited into the merchant navy as a teenager. I
felt obliged to serve Canada. I tried to enlist in the
army. I was rejected because of defective vision in
my right eye. While walking in Montreal's Central Railway
station, I saw a sign stating, “Canada needs you. Join
the merchant navy.” Wanting to serve my country, I
did. I volunteered.
I was sent to the Merchant Navy
Marine Engineering School in Prescott, Ontario. I spent
three months there taking a course on boilers, engines,
and pumps. The government paid me the grand sum of $5
for a seven-day week. That was lower than the lowest
pay given to a person in the armed forces. Furthermore,
I had to buy
my own street and work clothes.
At the school, before I
arrived, an accident killed two trainees and wounded
another. The government considered these
“hypothetical” deaths and injuries. The dead were
included in our Book of Remembrance due to the efforts
of Professor Griezic.
There was a forced obligation to serve. We were
paramilitary. On completion of the course, I couldn't
leave even if I wanted to. I would have been picked up
by the military police or the RCMP. I was sent to the
manning pool in Montreal to await a ship. I couldn't
leave there either.
We were disciplined by the
merchant navy seamen's order and the Judge Advocate
General, Navy. While waiting for that ship, I was given
a weapons training course by the Royal Canadian Navy
ratings. Aboard ship, merchant mariners were assigned
places on the manning of the guns. We should have
been designated war veterans in 1945, not 54 years later
under Bill C-61.
There was an obligation of service to do what we were
told. The merchant navy was commanded to deliver the
goods. We sailed under sealed Admiralty orders. We
delivered the military through a war zone to get them
to their destinations or theatres of war. We delivered
foodstuffs and war materiel. We sailed in dangerous
waters. We helped raise the siege at Malta. We fought
the enemy and were killed or injured, and many of our
comrades were taken prisoners of war.
Then came the government's post-war neglect and unjust
treatment. We couldn't get the benefits given to the
military. I and a friend who was discharged from the
navy went to a Montreal Veterans Affairs office seeking
benefits and help. My friend was greeted with open
arms. I told them I was in the merchant navy. They
asked if I was injured at sea by enemy action. I said
no. They replied, “There are no benefits for you.”
Later I went with my navy veteran friend to get a
licence as a stationary engineer, Quebec board. My navy
friend could take the course immediately. I was told I
had to have 18 months' experience as an apprentice under
an engineer before I could sit for a test for my
licence. No wonder merchant mariners are bitter towards
the Canadian government for how they treated us.
The above proves why the government's neglect and
unjust treatment must be corrected with an ex
gratia payment, as our military Hong Kong
and merchant navy Far
East POWs received—not the same amount, but rather
$20,000 for each merchant seaman or his spouse and an
additional $20,000 for each merchant navy POW—to
compensate for the government's mistreatment of us.
No mention was made of merchant navy POWs in Bill
C-84. There are improvements in Bill C-61 for merchant
navy POWs and their spouses, but it's not enough.
I do not intend to go into the merchant navy
POW situation that
Mr. Gordon Olmstead has championed so well, and which
has been now placed in the capable hands of a fellow
shipmate and former POW, George Shaker. He will speak
Our wartime comrades who spent time in prisoner of war
camps in Europe, Japan, and other locations in Asia have
been treated in worse ways than we have. They too are war
veterans. Although they were captured by the enemy
when their ships were sunk and then transported and
isolated in POW camps, and were under their enemies' military
discipline and their own type of discipline under their
military comrades, they too are not considered war
The Honourable Mr. Merrithew stated on June
17, 1992 that we were purposely excluded from this
designation. I have asked a number of MPs what we are
if we are not war veterans. I still have not received
an answer. If we are, then we should be placed under the
same legislation as Bill C-61 proposes. This is the
same situation as in Australia.
Since merchant navy POWs spent such a long period—an
average of 50 months—in internment camps and
faced such difficult conditions, it makes sense to
provide them with time-based compensation, which I
strongly recommend. That must be included in Bill
All their time should be pensionable, not stop
after 30 months, as is now the case. It can be
extended to 36 months in special circumstances, but to
stop at 30 months is to ignore two-fifths, or 40%,
of their time
spent in camps. If you MPs only received pensions for
two-fifths of the time you spent in the Commons, I
imagine you would agree with that, wouldn't you?
I'm going to have to close.
My shipmates and I are insulted by Mr. Chadderton, who
says we should get $150 to $200 a month to live for
54 years of injustice. At $150 a month, that means $38
a week, $1,800 a year. If you live five
years, that's $9,000. What an insult.
What a bargain for $50,000, which even Mr.
Chadderton, in his brief
in October, said we should get. There is
something very, very wrong here.
The cost of such compensation for POWs should not
create a burden on the Canadian government coffers.
The DVA has been returning millions of dollars to the
Treasury Board each year. As well, only a small
number are involved. Our obligation of service to
Canada and the war effort, and the government's
post-war neglect and
discrimination against us, I am certain you will agree,
merit no less.
Thank you. Merci.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Bruce.
We'll now go to the first round of
questions for 10 minutes, starting
with the Reform Party and Mr. Hart.
Mr. Jim Hart: Thank you very much, Mr. Bruce, for
your presentation today.
I must say that back in
1993, when I was first elected, I thought this
issue was going to be dealt with very quickly by the
Government of Canada. Certainly there is an injustice
here. The folks I got to know over the
last few years in this issue—Mr. Olmstead and also
Foster Griezic—have done a good job of presenting the
case. Hopefully your interventions will help
the process along.
I would like to just get a little bit more
clarification on the POW compensation, if you could
maybe talk about that a little bit more. I know that
other veterans who were POWs, on average, spent less
time in POW camps. Can you explain why it is that
merchant mariners actually spent more time than those
people and other services?
Mr. William Bruce: May I refer to Mr. George
Mr. Jim Hart: Sure.
Mr. George Shaker (President, Canadian Merchant
Navy Prisoner of War Association; Merchant Navy
Coalition for Equality): The Battle of
which was from 1939 to 1943, was the longest battle of
the war, and I would say about 90% of the merchant
seamen who were taken prisoner were taken during that
time. More ships were sunk during that period
than at any other time of the war. It started to
dwindle off in 1943—fewer ships were sunk then—but
the bulk of the prisoners were taken during that
period, from 1939 to 1943, so they were all in a
prison camp for four years
The Chairman: Excuse me. Mr. Shaker,
were you going to address the committee as well?
Mr. George Shaker: Yes.
The Chairman: Okay. My
apologies. I think it will flow better then if we just
go to you, Mr. Shaker, at this point and let you make
your comments. Then I'll come back when you're through
and we'll start with Mr. Hart and his questions. My
Thank you, Mr. Bruce. Now we'll hear from Mr.
Mr. George Shaker: Mr. Chairman and honourable
members of the standing committee, I am the president
of the Merchant Navy Prisoner of War
Association, which is a member of the Merchant Navy
Coalition for Equality.
On behalf of the association, I would like to thank
you for the opportunity to appear before you.
like to dedicate this brief to Mr. Gordon Olmstead,
who has been, for many years, unwavering in his
efforts to obtain dignity and pride for the merchant
navy and the merchant navy POWs.
I would also like to
thank Foster Griezic, consultant for the Merchant
Navy Coalition for Equality, who has been invaluable in
researching the historical background of the Canadian
merchant seamen during wartime and their treatment.
At this point I'd like to introduce another point
that maybe has been lost. It doesn't have anything to
do with my brief, but it refers to the merchant navy
Far East POWs and their horrendous experience in the
Japanese camps. It is important to single them out,
because the government continues to
When they, along with
the Hong Kong and Buchenwald
POWs, were given an ex gratia payment, the merchant
navy POWs were not even mentioned in the statements or
press releases of the Honourable Mr.
Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs, or the Honourable Mr.
Mifflin, Minister of Veterans Affairs. Indeed, it
was Professor Griezic, who is now involved in the
interviewing, who contacted these survivors and gave
their names to the department to ensure that they
included their names for the payment. I have the list
of names here if anyone wishes to see them.
The brief I am presenting represents some
history of the Canadian merchant navy and my personal
history as a merchant seaman and prisoner of war. As
well, it is a request for compensation for the government's
unjustifiable denial of rehabilitation and
demobilization benefits given to my military comrades,
which we have been without since the end of World War
Our government can rectify past discrimination
cost-effectively, without waiting for the imminent
deaths of our merchant navy men and women who gave
their loyal support and their lives to the Canadian
government's war effort. We aging Canadians have been
sorely treated by successive Canadian governments.
This government has the opportunity to correct that
wrong and would merit accolades from all Canadians for
We thank the members of the government and the other
parties for their cooperation in passing Bill C-61.
I also thank those members of this committee who spoke
with vigour in support of wartime merchant seamen
during the second and third readings of the bill.
After 54 years, equality will be provided with the
wartime services, which has never been achieved by the
Canadian merchant navy and the merchant navy POWs.
The government is well aware of the discrimination
against merchant navy seamen and merchant navy POWs.
The requests for benefits and war veteran status made in
1945 and thereafter still have not be redressed. I was
one of those who corresponded with the minister, Ian
MacKenzie, seeking support, as did Gordon Olmstead.
Veterans Affairs continues to contend that POW
compensation was paid to military and merchant marine
personnel on exactly the same basis and in the same
amount. The compensation is described as
being on a time-based scale. It ends after 30 months.
What happened to the 48 to 58 months spent in the POW
camps by the merchant seamen?
The Honourable Mr. Merrithew,
Minister of Veterans Affairs, admitted to the legion's
convention—resolution 4 in 1992—that the
length of imprisonment is something measurable. This
concept with which it would be difficult to disagree,
but it is not practised by the department.
Canada's merchant navy officers and sailors were Canadians
serving under Canadian government and Admiralty orders
on behalf of the Allied cause. We were on war alert
one week before World War II began. We carried the
soldiers, air crew, war workers, fuel, food,
and every kind of war supply across the Atlantic to
Britain and to Russia and around the world, wherever the
Canadian effort needed these to be taken.
Research by Gordon Olmstead, our distinguished
immediate past president, shows that approximately
war-time merchant seamen volunteered their services in
World War II. According to government records, we
suffered the highest losses of any of the services:
navy, one in 47; army, one in 32;
air force, one in 16. We
had the highest percentage of POWs. Some ships were
lost in our own St. Lawrence River due to U-boats.
We were told we were the lifeline of the war
effort. We were told we were an essential
service. We were told we had to get our cargoes
through. We were proud Canadian sailors from every
province. Our crews spoke both French and English.
Our ships were slow, often alone without naval
protection and subject to attack by German submarines,
surface raiders, and aircraft. We sailed the North
Atlantic in winter, before radar and modern survival
equipment or search and rescue methods. To this was
added the constant prospect of an encounter with an
efficient and often cruel enemy.
We were not considered equal to our military
comrades who we transported through a war zone to
other battle zones in the Mediterranean, Europe, and the
Pacific. We were paid less than our military
counterparts. We paid
income tax even on our war bonus in
1942. We had compulsory war savings
deducted, which few
saw afterwards. We could not get into military hospitals
and get health care. We had no workmen's
compensation and had very restrictive pensions and no
The background for Canadian merchant seamen captured
by the enemy in World War II is the context of the
Battle of the Atlantic, the longest battle of the war.
It was a time of crippling merchant navy losses that
have not been recognized by Canada's
government or historians.
Fully 198 Canadian merchant seamen
who encountered the enemy were captured from the sea
when their ships were sunk. This was a higher
percentage than in the other services. We were prisoners
longer than any of the other services. Most spent four
years—48 to 58 months—in prison camps in Europe, but 23
spent over three years in the Far East. The conditions
in the Pacific theatre were degrading, and merchant
seamen prisoners were treated as lower than any
Medical evidence in Canada and the U.S. verifies the
deleterious impact of enemy incarceration. The
Herman report in 1973 recognized the
linkage between being a prisoner and early
death, premature aging, stress, trauma, nervousness or
nervous disorders, anxiety, insecurity, and other
physiological or psychological effects. Research
and publications on U.S. ex-POWs confirm the results of
incarceration. No study has been done on Canada's
POWs, nor have they been kept track of in any official
Merchant navy prisoners of war were resourceful,
resilient, independent, and patient. They needed those
qualities in abundance when they returned home in 1945
to find themselves officially unwelcome, afloat or
Merchant navy POWs did and do receive some
benefits, but the government's discrimination against
them continues. That should be ended immediately, and
I hope the military veterans' associations will
lend their support openly and actively to have that
My story as a POW pales beside the stories of
those who were
terribly maimed or burned in the war and then left to
fend for themselves. Most were ignored by government
and some were actively hindered by it.
In October 1940 I graduated from the Electronics
Institute of Canada and received a certificate from
the Department of Transport as a radio operator. I had
also applied for a commission in the air force. I was
offered a position as radio officer aboard the Canadian
steamship A.D. Huff, and I joined the Huff
in Halifax. The Huff had a crew of 42 and was a
general cargo ship carrying iron ore from Dartmouth,
Nova Scotia and newsprint from Dalhousie, New
We sailed to Great Britain. We
received coded orders from the
Admiralty for which route to take. We were to have no
protection until we arrived off Scotland, where we would
join several other ships in convoy. We formed a convoy
at Oban, Scotland and sailed down the east coast of
Britain with planes and cruisers as escorts. The
Battle of Britain was still in progress. We arrived in
London to witness the docks burning from bombs dropped
by German aircraft. We had to anchor in the bay until
the loading zone was cleared.
We sailed out of London on February 11, 1941,
up the east coast to join the convoy at Oban.
The convoy left with escorts, but as before, the escorts
returned to their bases after 300 miles at sea. Once
again we received coded orders from the Admiralty as to
our route back to Canada.
At about noon on February
22, 1941 the A.D. Huff was about 500 miles from
Halifax when a small plane flew over and dropped a
rolled-up message on deck. It was
given to Captain MacDowell,
who glanced at it, threw it overboard, and gave
orders for full speed ahead.
Coincidentally, the ship of one of the members
Mr. Bruce introduced, Jim Murray, was sunk six hours
after our ship was sunk. We were sunk by the
Gneisnau, and his ship was sunk six hours later
by the Scharnhorst. We were both
just off the coast of
Canada and the United States.
The aircraft that was
sent over was a spotter plane from the German pocket
battleship Gneisnau. The
captain ordered me to send out
the signal that we were under attack by an enemy
As I started to send the signal, the German battleship
opened fire. Two shells burst overhead, and the next
three shells hit the engine room. Two engine-room crew
were killed, five men were burned, and our first officer,
Mr. Kerr, was badly burned while saving the
We received no reply from shore, since the
battleship used a powerful spark transmitter to drown
out our messages. In any event, Canada had nothing to
send that might have been a match for the
Gneisnau's power or speed.
The captain ordered us to abandon ship. My
operator, Gerald Conrod, and I left the radio room.
The next salvo of shells hit it. We jumped over the
side. Lifeboats had been lowered. We were glad to be
picked up along with Captain MacDowell and the bosun,
Ernie Shackleton. As we pulled away from the sinking
ship, the Gneisnau hailed
us to come alongside and took
us aboard as prisoners of war. Thus began my 1,528
days of enemy incarceration as a prisoner of war.
We were transferred in mid-Atlantic to a prison ship,
the Ermeland, and sailed to our first prison
camp in France. After 10 days we were loaded into
boxcars for our first German POW camp, Stalag 10B. The
Germans treated us no differently from how they would
have treated us had we been
serving in the Canadian army, air force, or navy. To
them we were combatants.
During this time I had an
operation on my ankle, which had been injured when I
transferred from the battleship to the prison ship. I
fainted from the pain on roll call one morning and
was taken to the camp doctor.
The Germans did not fill in the Canadian government
reports for injuries. All the camp records were
apparently lost or destroyed after the war. The lack
of Canadian government reports of injuries was used by
a cynical Canadian administration to deny veterans
their proper compensation. I experienced this
firsthand when the Canadian government
challenged my own
During my time in hospital I got news from
Canada that I had been offered a commission in the air
force. However, as luck would have it, the Germans
wouldn't let me go home to take the physical.
In 1942 we were marched to a naval prisoner of war camp
known as Marlag and Milag Nord, which consisted of
merchant navy, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Navy
prisoners. We started to receive
Red Cross parcels soon after we
arrived in this camp. However, there were long
stretches when parcels did not arrive. After the
Allies crossed the Rhine, the parcels stopped coming
altogether. I lost 48 pounds living in German prison
Our camp was liberated on April 28, 1945 by the
British Second Army, with the sound of bagpipes leading
them down the road. I am no fan of the bagpipes, but
heard a more beautiful sound in my life.
The Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy prisoners
were moved out of camp and flown back to Britain first.
The Canadian merchant navy POWs were not sent back to
Britain until later. Luckily we arrived in London on
VE Day. We were treated magnificently by the British.
Canadian servicemen were taken to Liverpool and
returned to Canada on the Isle de France
immediately. The Canadian merchant navy prisoners
of war were
repatriated last. When we Canadian merchant navy
prisoners of war got home to Halifax, there was no
fanfare, no one to meet us. I myself did not arrive in
Toronto until June 16, 1945. We felt so desolate that
most of us wanted to go back to England.
Alone amongst the western Allies, the Canadian
government failed to treat its Canadian merchant navy
veterans as veterans. The British recognized their
merchant navy as deserving full compensation
immediately following the war. The U.S. did the same.
The Australian government followed suit soon after.
The Canadian government has failed to recognize and
compensate the merchant navy equally to all other
branches of the armed services that served in World War
Just as an aside for a minute, in preparing for this
presentation, I took the opportunity to review my
personal papers, and I am providing copies of them to
the committee if they wish to see them. I was
surprised to find, on reviewing my statement of
detention allowances, that my allowances
one month prior to my return to Canada. I paid for my
return to Canada, and income tax was deducted. The
rationale has never been explained. I have the
papers here to show that. If anybody wishes to peruse
them, you may do so.
I have recommendations for benefits for merchant navy
POWs. The following compensation proposed is justifiable,
reasonable, cost-effective, and makes sense. It is but a
small part of what the government owes we Canadians for
their discrimination and neglect.
One, full time-based compensation should be provided
to all POWs and merchant navy POWs. The time-measured
compensation must be extrapolated beyond 30 or
36 months to be equitable, and there should be a
commensurate increase for the period beyond the 30 or
36 months. The department supports this in theory, as
did the minister in 1992. Now it needs to be
Two, POW compensation adjustments should be made
retroactive to the original merchant navy POW
submission in 1989. Costing should be minimal.
Three, merchant navy POWs or their spouses, in view of
their abysmal treatment by successive governments, should
be granted a tax-free, $40,000 lump-sum, ex gratia
payment for that mistreatment and for denied reconstruction
Four, wartime merchant seamen and seawomen or
their spouses, in view of the purposeful discrimination
and neglect by successive governments, should be granted
a tax-free, $20,000 lump-sum, ex gratia payment for
the post-war benefits or opportunities denied them.
Five, injured wartime merchant seamen or seawomen or
their spouses, in view of the lack of workmen's
compensation for merchant seamen during the war and the
purposeful discrimination and neglect by successive
governments, should be granted a tax-free, $5,000
lump-sum, ex gratia compensation.
And six, although, because of the age of merchant
navy POWs and merchant navy seamen, It's Almost
Too Late, to use
Senator Jack Marshall's telling title to his fine
report in 1991, the government should keep
better track of the few remaining and should act before all
wartime merchant seamen are dead.
I would like to add a final comment. Most surviving
POWs are now in their 80s. Many are ill and are
unable to maintain a dignified standard of living. For
the few remaining and their spouses, there is an immediate
need to receive a lump-sum compensation in order to
live their remaining time in some degree of comfort.
To do less would be indefensible.
Thank you for your kind attention and consideration.
I would be pleased to answer any questions. I have
some material if you wish to see it.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Shaker.
I'm pleased that you
mentioned Mr. Olmstead's work in this matter. We
regret that he's not able to be here today, but we're
glad his wife and son are here.
Many of us have had the pleasure of meeting, and a few
of us of travelling, with Mr. Olmstead. He's a fine
gentleman, and we're pleased that you are presenting the
case today, you and Mr. Bruce and others who are here.
As we begin questions, I would note that I have
regrets from two critics who are absent, Mr.
Goldring from the Reform Party and Mrs. Wayne from the
Progressive Conservative Party. They're both absent
for reasons of personal and/or family illness. I
thought that should be on the record, because they both
have a keen interest in this matter in particular, as
well as in all the matters that come before this
committee, but they're quite interested in this matter.
With that for the record, I'll begin the first round
of 10-minute questioning with Mr. Hart from the
Mr. Jim Hart: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you again, Mr. Bruce and Mr. Shaker, not
only for your presentations, but
for your service to Canada
in the merchant navy.
I would like to ask you about the lump-sum payments.
You've asked in the third recommendation for a
tax-free, $40,000 lump sum for mistreatment and denied
reconstruction benefits. Can you explain how that
figure was arrived at?
Mr. George Shaker: If
you have a little patience, I'll read you something
that might explain it.
Mr. Jim Hart: Sure.
Mr. George Shaker: This is a letter dated
September 1954. It says:
This is a claim for maltreatment of
the above-named claimant while a prisoner of war in
I'm the claimant.
I find from the evidence that the claimant was a
Canadian within the meaning of
the War Claims Rules at all
relevant times and that the claimant was in custody a
total of 1528 days. He was transported by box-car on
5 occasions. He was in the direct custody of the
Gestapo a total of 36 days. I also find that the
claimant suffered unusually severe
maltreatment in the
following respects: (1) March between camps. (2) 35
days in hold of prison ship.
In all the circumstances of
the case I recommend that the claimant be awarded
I think we should be awarded more than $482.40, and
$40,000 is a very small claim to make for all
Mr. Jim Hart: Yes, I would agree
that $400 doesn't seem
like much compensation whatsoever.
Has there been a formula though? Is there a formula
of some kind that your association used?
Mr. George Shaker: Some in the association wanted
to make it retroactive, and retroactive would have
amounted to somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of
dollars. I was in for four years, two months, and six
days, so a retroactive amount would have come to over
$100,000. We think the government would not
accept the retroactive payments, so we're giving the
government a chance to come up with a $40,000 ex
gratia payment so that they might agree to a sum
think is a reasonable amount.
Mr. Jim Hart: I've been watching this issue since
1993, and it really is a non-partisan
issue, although the committee is split up between the
government members over there and opposition members
over here. I've talked to members from all
sides of the House, and it's hard to find anyone who
would say you don't have a legitimate claim.
The government can move awfully quickly when it wants
to. Today in the House of Commons, I think later on,
we'll be passing a bill in one day on back-to-work
legislation. Yet when it comes to an issue such as
merchant mariners, who have waited 54 years for proper
compensation, the wheel moves very slowly.
Both of you made excellent presentations, but I was
wondering if maybe you could personally tell us
your feelings about why Canada—I won't even say the
Government of Canada, because I don't want to be
partisan—has literally turned its back on merchant
navy veterans, and what it has done specifically to your
life because that has happened.
Mr. George Shaker: I don't know whether I could
give you a complete answer, but the merchant navy has
been given a bad name from way back in the 1940s and
1950s. One of the causes was bringing Hal Banks into
the picture for the Canadian Seamen's Union. From
that point onward, the merchant navy's reputation
and its picture in the eyes of the public was as a bunch
of rabble. But we are not a bunch of rabble.
With my acceptance into the Royal Canadian Air Force
after I came back, I was glad to be a merchant seaman,
because they were treated so badly, and their
because of someone like Hal Banks, had made them seem
like a bunch of communists and rabble.
I have a letter that was sent to me from a captain of
a ship that was in Cuba. The whole crew of this
particular ship, the seamen, were told to
go on strike, and the Cubans put them in jail. When
they were all in jail, one of
my shipmates—we called him Boots Munro—was
making a good story for them
and telling them, “Goddammit, I was a prisoner of
war in Germany for four years, and now I'm in a jail in
Cuba and they're calling me a communist.”
how the merchant navy was treated after the war. This
was in 1949. He'd joined the merchant navy, and they
were just made to look like....
That's my opinion as far
as the public is concerned about the merchant navy.
It's just in the past few years that the merchant navy
has started to feel a little proud of itself.
Mr. William Bruce: I would like to add something.
I hate to use this word in front of you gentlemen, but
I blame the politicians for this too, over the years
since 1945. They've known the story up to this
date, and nobody's moved on it.
Mr. George Shaker: Sir Winston Churchill said
the merchant navy was the backbone of the whole of World
War II. Many others politicians mentioned that if it
were not for the merchant navy, the war would never
have been won. There are so many comments in the history
books and whatnot about the merchant navy. Whether
they're in the history books or not, they were made by
very high-ranking men.
They should recognized, because the
other countries have recognized them all. We were
treated so well in England. When we arrived back in
England, we were treated better than the military,
as far as I was concerned.
Mr. Jim Hart: As you say, if the military hadn't
had the supplies the merchant mariners were
delivering, the war effort probably wouldn't have gone
the way it did go.
Mr. George Shaker: That's right.
Mr. Jim Hart: Those are all my questions. Again,
I thank you very much for your
presentation, and I salute both of you gentlemen and the
work the merchant mariners did for all Canadians.
Mr. George Shaker: Thank you.
Mr. William Bruce: Thank you.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Hart.
Mr. René Laurin: I would first of all like a little more
information about Mr. Bruce's presentation. You said that shortly
before you arrived at the merchant navy's Marine Engineering School
in Laval, an accident happened in which two trainees were wounded
and some actually killed.
The government said that these were hypothetical deaths and
injuries. I don't understand what is meant by the word
“hypothetical”. Does that mean that the government simply
considered these to be accidental deaths? What is the meaning of
the word “hypothetical” in this case? Did they not believe it was
true? What was meant?
Mr. William Bruce: All this transpired before I
got to the school, you understand. These two accidents
happened before I got to the school. They were
training; they were on a little boat and the boiler
exploded. Two chaps were killed.
recognize them, because they were merchant seamen.
The government didn't recognize them being dead.
They said they were “hypothetical” deaths. But now
their names are up on Parliament Hill, in the Peace
Tower, in the Book of Remembrance for merchant seamen.
Before that, they didn't recognize them as
Mr. René Laurin: That is quite strange, Mr. Chairman. If you
are not a member of the Armed Forces, you cannot die? That is
almost what it amounts to, apparently.
I have another question. Mr. Bruce referred to two $20,000
amounts that would be paid to members of the merchant navy who
served during the war, or the spouses of those who died, and
another $20,000 for those who were POWs.
Does that mean that people who belonged to the Merchant Navy
during the war, and who were subsequently taken prisoner would be
entitled to two $20,000 amounts?
Mr. William Bruce: If I understand you
correctly, my answer is that we want the $20,000. We
want that for what we never got after
the war. The armed forces got housing, they got small
loans, and they got to go to university—McGill
University, l'Université de Montréal. They all became
lawyers or politicians.
Mr. René Laurin: Yes, but that is not what I was getting at in
my question, Mr. Bruce.
Let me give you an example. One merchant seaman could have
crossed the ocean and been taken prisoner within a month, whereas
another might have served three or four years and then have been
taken prisoner. In the latter case, the person would have been
involved in the war for three years and then taken prisoner,
whereas in the first case, the person would have had almost no
involvement in the war, but was a POW for four years.
Does the $20,000 you are asking for cover both of these cases,
or would the person who both served in the war and then was a POW
be entitled to two $20,000 payments? I don't know whether I am
making myself clear.
Mr. William Bruce: The point is that the merchant
seamen want a $20,000 lump sum, and the prisoners of
war, I believe, deserve another $20,000.
Do you understand my reply?
Mr. René Laurin: So a merchant seaman who was not taken
prisoner would get only $20,000?
Mr. William Bruce: Every merchant
seaman who served in World War II deserves
$20,000 for benefits he didn't receive after
the Second World War. And as for our prisoners
of war, they deserve $40,000.
Mr. René Laurin: Extra?
Mr. William Bruce: That's $20,000 and $20,000.
Mr. René Laurin: I have another question. I know it is rather
sensitive, but I'm going to ask it nevertheless. Don't think badly
of my intentions. I am simply trying to determine the context in
which you are making your demand; I'm not passing judgment on it.
I would like to know how, when you ask for a lump-sum payment,
that could make up for the poor treatment you may have endured?
Personally, I acknowledge that you deserve compensation and
different treatment from what you've been getting, and I hope the
committee will be making some recommendations along these lines.
However, I wonder how we can best correct some mistakes made in the
past. Suppose I were to give a car to someone today who would have
liked to have had a car 30 years ago, and who for whatever reason
did not have one. If I give him a car at a time when he can no
longer drive, would that really be righting the mistakes made in
That's somewhat how I see the lump-sum amount. Do you think
the lump-sum payment would correct the fact that compensation had
not been paid? Would it not be better to give you a pension,
perhaps a somewhat more generous pension, something you would be
able to use for the years you have left? I would like your opinion
Mr. George Shaker: There are so many parties, not
necessarily prisoners of war, but seamen and prisoners
I have two seaman friends in Toronto who
are now incapacitated. One of them
is in the hospital, in K Wing of the military
hospital. He's lost all his memory and
senses, but his wife is still living, and she is now hard
of hearing. She's losing her hearing constantly.
This $40,000 compensation for prisoners of war would help
her, not necessarily him. He's in the hospital; he's
being taken care of. But it would help her to finish her
days in life with a certain dignity and comfort.
Mr. René Laurin: In a case such as that, wouldn't it be better
if his wife were to get all the care she needs rather than getting
a lump-sum payment?
Mr. George Shaker: What treatment are you talking
about? She's capable of walking around, but she—
Mr. René Laurin: Yes, but you say that she is hard of hearing.
Given that the average age of veterans is 89, I imagine the woman
in question must be almost that old.
How could the $40,000 improve her quality of life? Wouldn't
the best way of saying thank you be to give her a better quality of
life? Wouldn't it be better for her to have better treatment,
better health care, better housing? Wouldn't it be better than
giving her a lump-sum payment, which would not necessarily make her
Mr. George Shaker: If you have been living at a
certain level in life for so many years, in this day
and age you require a good sum of money to keep living
at that particular level, and at the cost
of living now, your money dwindles quite fast. If
she does get a small amount such as $40,000, that
is not going to last her long, whether she's 72 or
82. It's not going to last
her long, but it might help her to keep her present
quality of life as it was in the past, because her
husband cannot do anything for her now.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Laurin.
Thank you, Mr. Shaker.
Mr. Shaker, you made reference
earlier to some additional documents you had. I wonder
if you could table a copy of those with the clerk—after
the meeting is fine, or now if you have them
handy—because it could be useful to the committee in our
deliberations. If you don't have an extra copy now, we
could arrange to have one.
Mr. George Shaker: My wife has them in the
background. When she brings them forth—
The Chairman: Okay, very good. Thank you. We'll
give them to the clerk then.
I'll go now to the majority side and Mr. Wood, the
parliamentary secretary for veterans affairs.
Mr. Bob Wood (Nipissing, Lib.): Thank you, Mr.
Mr. Shaker, I'd like to ask a couple of things.
Following up on Mr. Laurin's questions, on page 10 of
your brief, when you talk about the compensation,
you have a lot of numbers there, and I guess I'm a
little confused about
what it all adds up to and how we
can find out about this. In paragraph C you're
asking for a tax-free $40,000 lump sum; in paragraph
D you're asking for $20,000; and then in paragraph E
you're asking for a $5,000 lump sum for POWs. Does
that all add up?
Mr. George Shaker: No, no. The $5,000 is extra.
That's to compensate for not receiving any
compensation. I'll ask Mr. Griezic to
explain that particular item.
The Chairman: Well, unfortunately, gentlemen, Mr.
Griezic is not part of the delegation today. I suppose
if the committee's agreeable, we can have him come.
Mr. Wood, do you want to hear from Mr. Griezic?
Mr. Bob Wood: I don't know what the schedule
is. If Mr. Griezic is going to be coming before us
later in another capacity, I can certainly wait
The Chairman: Yes, we'll be hearing from him later
I think all of us, gentlemen, had the same problem Mr.
Wood is trying to express. It's $40,000, $20,000, and
$5,000, and we're not sure how....
Mr. George Shaker: The $5,000 is compensation
because they had no workmen's compensation at that
time. If anyone was injured, they went to
hospital and had to pay for
having their injuries taken care of and whatnot. The
$5,000 is to compensate for that particular thing.
If anyone in the services
was injured, they were taken care of without any cost
at all. The military doctors or the naval doctors or
whoever took care of them with no cost.
If anyone in the merchant navy was injured and
sent to a hospital, they had to pay for their own
That compensation of $5,000 is only for
anyone who was injured and could prove he was
injured or incapacitated at the time he was with
the merchant navy.
Mr. Bob Wood: So what you're saying is—and
correct me if I'm wrong, because
I might get this messed up—you're looking for $65,000
in all for spouses?
Mr. George Shaker: No, no.
Mr. Bob Wood: You say a $40,000 lump sum
for mistreatment and denied
reconstruction benefits, a $20,000 lump sum for
post-war benefits or opportunities denied, and then a
tax-free $5,000 lump sum for compensation.
Mr. George Shaker: No, you're reading that wrong.
Mr. Bob Wood: All right. Please correct me.
Mr. George Shaker: The $20,000 is for merchant
seamen only. That's a lump sum for merchant seamen.
Mr. Bob Wood: Or their spouses.
Mr. George Shaker: Or their spouses. Then there's
an additional $20,000 for merchant navy prisoners of war.
That's a total of $40,000 for merchant navy prisoners of war
and a total of $20,000 for merchant seamen, not a
Mr. Bob Wood: Okay. I got you. All right.
How can we ever find out about merchant navy seamen or
their spouses? We've been led to believe
that a lot of those records have been destroyed.
Mr. George Shaker: I have records.
Mr. Bob Wood: Of all of them? There are 12,000,
right? We've been told there are 12,000 merchant
navy people who enlisted during the
war. Is that right or wrong? We've been led to
Mr. George Shaker: If you have not kept track
of the merchant seamen, we have kept track of the
merchant navy prisoners of war, and I have records of
them with me right now. If you want the list of merchant
seamen, I can give you the list now. If the government
itself hasn't kept track of them, they will have to
take our records.
I have here 1991, 1995, and current
records of merchant navy seamen and spouses who are
Mr. Bob Wood: Are you saying the living ones?
Mr. George Shaker: This is merchant navy prisoners
of war. I don't have records of merchant navy seamen.
Mr. Allan MacIsaac, who is the president of the
Canadian Merchant Navy Coalition for Equality, might
have some records.
Mr. William Bruce: Let me explain that our
group is now compiling a list of merchant seamen and
their spouses, not prisoners of war.
Mr. Bob Wood: Mr. Bruce, what I'm trying to
get at is how many merchant navy seamen are still
living, and their spouses. When you
talk about compensation, sir, are you talking about
people who have passed away and their spouses are still
living, or are you talking about merchant navy seamen
who are still alive and their spouses?
Mr. William Bruce: If they're deceased, it
goes to the spouse. It ends there.
Mr. Bob Wood: Are we talking about the ones who
are living now, sir, or are we talking about the ones—
Mr. William Bruce: If the spouses are living and
their husbands are dead, they should get what they're
entitled to for the merchant seamen who are dead.
Mr. Bob Wood: That's a number of people, though,
right? How would you find out?
Mr. William Bruce: Well, if the government has kept
The Chairman: It would help, Mr. Wood,
if you'd put your full question and the witnesses
could hear the full question, and then we'll hear their
full response without any interruption from anybody. I
think that will help.
Mr. Bob Wood: This is a rather complicated
formula for how we go about it;
that's all. I just want to get some clarification
of how many people we're talking about here—whether
we're talking about 12,000 or
5,000. I don't know. I just wondered if our
witnesses had a ballpark figure of how many spouses
are living and how many merchant navy people are
living. That's basically what I'm trying to get at.
Mr. William Bruce: Don't
quote me on the correct amount, but I believe
about 2,200 are left out of the 12,000.
Mr. Bob Wood: That's merchant navy, sir?
Mr. William Bruce: Yes, sir.
Mr. Bob Wood: And how many spouses? Do you have
Mr. William Bruce: No, I don't, but as I just
told you a moment ago, we're compiling a list.
Mr. Bob Wood: Okay. Will you be able
to submit that list to us later on?
Mr. William Bruce: I imagine they're in the
process of doing it. Mr. MacIsaac will be
appearing before this committee?
Mr. Bob Wood: Yes.
Mr. William Bruce: Well, I imagine he will bring
the list. He
might not have the total amount, but we're getting a
number of replies to this question.
Mr. Bob Wood: Good. Excellent.
The Chairman: Mr. Shaker, do you want to add to
Mr. George Shaker: Mr. Wood, the last figure I
heard from Allan I think was around 1,769, if I remember
right. It might be as Mr. Bruce quotes. It's around
the 2,000 mark, I believe.
Mr. Bob Wood: Okay.
In your statement you claim that other
Allied countries have recognized and compensated their
merchant navies. While I agree with you that all
the countries have recognized their merchant mariners
as veterans, I was wondering if you could
clarify how other countries, such as Australia or the
U.S., as you mentioned, have compensated their merchant
navies, and when they did this.
Mr. George Shaker: I don't have the exact dates.
I have the exact dates in a record at home. They were
in a brief presented by someone else. I
know they have recognized them, but I don't have
the exact dates for which period they recognized them.
They didn't recognize them the same as the British did.
The British recognized them immediately after the war.
The exact dates of the others came later. The
United States came first, and then the Australians came
afterwards, but it was quite some years ago. It wasn't
just recently; it was quite some years ago, soon after
the war. After the British recognized them,
the others came after.
Mr. Bob Wood: Thank you.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Wood.
Now we'll go to Mr. Earle from the NDP for 10 minutes.
Mr. Gordon Earle: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I won't
need 10 minutes, because the points I was going to
ask about have been clarified through previous
I do want to, however, for the record, commend
both witnesses for their presentations and
let them know that certainly this is an issue
we are very supportive of, and we would hope
we can come to some reasonable conclusion on this
I also want to, for the record, pay a
tribute to Mr. Gordon Olmstead for the fine work
he has done on this issue. We regret that he
cannot be with us. We realize he's in ill health at
the moment. Certainly for the record we want to
record our appreciation for the work he has done
on this issue concerning the merchant navy.
The Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Earle.
For the Progressive Conservatives, Mr. Price.
Mr. David Price: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
you very much, Mr. Bruce and Mr. Shaker, for your
presentations. I bring to you regrets from
Elsie Wayne. As you know, she's been a strong person
behind this, and she is an associate of mine. Normally
I sit on more of the armed forces part of it, but today
I will be backing her up, because she really can't be
There were a couple of surprises that
I'd like to hear you expand a little on. Mr.
Shaker, you mentioned that you had to pay for your
passage back to Canada from England after the war?
Mr. George Shaker: Yes, back to Canada from
Mr. David Price: And then to home?
Mr. George Shaker: Yes, I had to pay for it. I
have it on record.
Mr. David Price: I found that really quite
Mr. Bruce, you said you came under the
military justice system, under the JAG of the navy.
Mr. William Bruce: Yes, sir.
Mr. David Price: Therefore if you tried to
desert or any crime was committed or anything, you
Mr. William Bruce: Yes, you could be put in prison
without a trial, with six months of hard labour.
Mr. David Price: And no other civilians came under
that that you know of?
Mr. William Bruce: Well, we were civilians. We
were only the ones who were fingerprinted. I guess they
didn't trust us.
Mr. David Price: That's my point. So you really
were being treated as military. It's quite
Did you have to carry arms, or did you carry arms?
Mr. William Bruce: Yes, on the ships. As I stated
in my brief, when I came to the manning pool in
Montreal, which was in a four-star hotel, the old Place
Viger Hotel—it's an office building for the City of
Montreal now; it was a CPR hotel—I waited there. Next
door the Royal Canadian Navy had a weapons training
centre, and we took the weapons training.
And we manned the ships.
Aboard the Canadian ships they had such a thing as the
DEMS. There were navy guys aboard the ships on the
guns. We manned the guns with the navy on the ships.
As I say, in 1945 they
should have called us veterans, not 54 years
Mr. David Price: Yes, I agree. I'm trying to
bring out a little more.
I also look at other functions on
a ship, for instance on a navy ship, where, let's
say, cooks and people in the galley, as well as
people back in Canada who were
loading these ships, were part of the military.
I guess it's very similar to the
types of jobs you were doing.
Mr. William Bruce: I shovelled my way around
the world, shovelling coal.
Mr. David Price: Yet the treatment was quite
Mr. William Bruce: Yes. We still had
discipline, as it states.
Mr. David Price: Okay.
Mr. Shaker, as we speak, how many merchant
navy prisoner of war veterans are left
living today? That number, I imagine, is rather
Mr. George Shaker: Including the Far East
prisoners, it's fewer than 50.
Mr. David Price: And from documents I have here,
an average of 13 are dying a month.
Mr. George Shaker: It just depends which month
Mr. David Price: It's an unfortunate number also.
Mr. George Shaker: In response to something you
were mentioning before,
we had a Royal Navy gunner aboard our ship who
handled the gun.
Mr. David Price: So you always had a mix of armed
Mr. George Shaker: We had a company of the Royal
Navy. So, as Bill says here, we had guns.
Mr. David Price: Yes.
It was clearly stated
before that there's no question the nerve line of the
war was the merchant navy, the material coming across
from Canada and from the States.
I actually did have written down that
in 1939 the British made the merchant
navy equal to their other military, and in 1986
the United States purchased life insurance plans, and
also that the Germans had compensated their merchant
navy, which I was surprised to hear.
Those are the questions I have for right
now. Thank you.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Price.
We'll go now to a five-minute round of questions.
If time allows, when the members are through with
questions, there is another person, Mr. Marsolais, who
said he would like a minute or two. If not, we'll
invite him back another time. We'll see how the
We start the second round always
with the opposition side. Mr. Hart, you have five
Mr. Jim Hart: That's okay. All my questions have
The Chairman: Okay.
Do you have any other questions, Mr. Laurin?
Mr. René Laurin: No. Thank you. Everything has been covered.
The Chairman: Thank you.
Mr. Wood and then we'll come back to Mr. Earle.
Mr. Bob Wood: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Shaker and Mr. Bruce, it was just brought to
my attention by the research
people that when we're
talking about compensation, a subject that has
been brought before this committee before is the
payments also going to the estate. They'd go to the
merchant navy member or their spouse, but also could be
paid to the estate.
A voice: There's no record of that, I don't
Mr. Bob Wood: I think we did. Yes, it's come up
before in some of our deliberations, maybe not right
The Chairman: I believe, Mr. Wood, I recall Mr.
Chadderton making that point too: if the spouse
of the sailor is deceased, then the payment would be
made to the estate. I seem to recall that. Several
of us are recalling that. We'll get
that clarified and the discussion—
Mr. Bob Wood: How do you feel about that?
Mr. George Shaker: How does the government feel
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Bob Wood: You're the witness. We can always
Voices: Oh, oh!
The Chairman: The way it's supposed to work is,
Mr. Wood gets to ask the question and you have to give
him an answer.
Voices: Oh, oh!
The Chairman: It's a serious question though. Do
you have a thought at this time, or would you rather
Mr. George Shaker: I have no thought on it at this
time, because I don't think the government is going to
agree to it anyway, so what thoughts could I have on it?
Mr. Bob Wood: Okay, that's fine.
Mr. William Bruce: May I say something, sir?
The Chairman: Yes.
Mr. William Bruce: I have a letter here that I
received from Mr. Chrétien, dated September 19, 1991.
Thank you for your letter
regarding the Merchant Navy veterans of World War Two.
The Liberal Party has raised this issue in the House of
Commons. I have enclosed a copy of remarks made in the
House of Commons by Mr. George Proud, the Liberal
critic for Veterans Affairs, supporting recognition
of the contribution of Canada's Merchant Seamen.
Again, thank you for your letter regarding this
Mr. Bob Wood: Could we have that
tabled, sir? Do you
mind giving it to us so that
we can get a copy of it and give it
back to you?
Mr. William Bruce: Will I get it back?
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Bob Wood: Yes, you sure can.
Mr. William Bruce: When he brings it back, I'll
read what Mr. Proud said.
Mr. Bob Wood: In the meantime, can I ask
Mr. Shaker one more question?
A couple of newspaper articles have suggested the
merchant mariners only received the same benefits as
regular force members 12 days ago, when Bill C-61 passed
third reading in the House. Is it not true that
members of the merchant navy have had full access to the
same benefits since 1992?
Perhaps you could share
with us your personal experiences, particularly in
regard to access to POW programs and when they became
available to the merchant navy.
I recall that they became available in 1976. I could
be wrong, but I think it was back there sometime. I
don't know if you took advantage of them or not. Could
you elaborate on that a little bit?
Mr. George Shaker: I am a pensioner. I have
two new knees. I applied for a pension for my
first knee, which I injured transferring from one
ship to the other, when I also injured my ankle. I
applied for a pension earlier. Then in 1992
I applied for a pension for it, and I couldn't
prove that my knee had been
injured, because there was no record.
10B they had no record of any injuries at all or of
whether you went to the hospital or not in there. I
was in the hospital in Stalag 10B. Witnesses to that
have all died since. I tried to find somebody who
remembered taking me there, but I haven't been able to
They finally gave me a pension for my left
knee in 1992, but I didn't get
it until 1996, retroactive.
I got the retroactive payment in 1996.
Then I also
applied for my right knee, which I injured in the
camp playing English rugger. They accepted that. The
only reason they accepted that was I had letters
from my brother asking how my knee was, and I had
written to him telling him my knee was doing fine and
I had been in the hospital for three days. He
saved all my letters. I took them to the lawyer at the
pensions office, and she said I would get a
pension for that. So I got a pension for both knees.
But as far as pensions go, I don't think I'm getting the
pension I deserve. I can't really give you a
figure, because it's hard to give you a figure. I don't
know how the pension people work as far as that's
My knee doctor's phone number is 492-KNEE. He's
one of the best in Toronto, so I have two good knees
now. But just
a couple of days ago I was walking around and my leg
collapsed, because I have certain.... I take an
anti-inflammatory pill and other pills to keep me
on my feet and keep me walking, but I can collapse
Other than that, there's no figure I can give for
that. The compensation of $40,000 is minimal as
far as I'm concerned. All the merchant navy POWs should
get that compensation, not necessarily for pensions, but
for the lost opportunities. My brother
paid for my education, and then I was trying to
get an honours degree at university, but I had to quit,
because my mother....
There were seven children in our family, and my
father died when I was four years old, so my mother had
to take care of seven children.
I'm just about 80
years old now.
My brother took care of me after the war, more or less,
and paid for my university education. At that time I
finished a BA in two years so that I could go and work
with my brother, who wanted to go into some business.
So that's what I did. There was no money there at
all. The amount of money we had....
With the lack of education and
the loss of opportunities for
me, I could have maybe been in Chrétien's place or
something like that if I had had a little better
education. So that's part of it.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Wood.
Mr. Bob Wood: I just want to thank Mr. Shaker for
sharing that with me.
I appreciate very much
your doing that. It was nice to hear you say that.
The Chairman: Thank you very much.
We have other questioners. If we could go
to those, we'll have a
chance to bring out some more points.
Mr. Earle, do you have any
Mr. Gordon Earle: No.
The Chairman: Okay, thank you.
Mr. Clouthier, did
I see you with a question?
Mr. Hec Clouthier (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, Lib.):
Mr. Bruce, in your deposition on page 2, I believe, you
going to the Merchant Navy Marine Engineering School in
Prescott, Ontario, and you got the grand sum, as you
said, of $5 for a seven-day week. You said the
Government of Canada paid that?
Mr. William Bruce: It was the Department of
Mr. Hec Clouthier: The Department of Transport of the
Government of Canada paid you for that?
Mr. William Bruce: Yes, sir.
Mr. Hec Clouthier: Okay. When you actually
were a merchant mariner on the ship, did the Government
of Canada pay you? Who paid your salary?
Mr. William Bruce: It was a steamship company. A
company was started by the Government of Canada called
Park Steamship Limited. We worked for Canadian Pacific,
Canadian National, and different shipping companies.
Mr. Hec Clouthier: But your actual pay, your
Mr. William Bruce: We got paid by the shipping
Mr. Hec Clouthier: Okay.
Mr. Shaker, when you were a
prisoner of war, were you paid for any of that by the
Mr. George Shaker: No. The Department of
Transport paid my pay, but they also deducted every cent
I spent in England. We didn't have any money when
we came back from the prison camp, so we used to
draw...I think it was £20 per day that we were allowed
to draw from Canada House in London.
I didn't get back to Canada until June, so we had
almost a full month to have a good time. We used to
draw £20 from Canada House practically every day to
have a good time at the pubs and whatever. That was
deducted from us when we got back to Canada.
Mr. Hec Clouthier: So when you
were actually on the
boat before you got taken prisoner, you were paid by
some shipping company.
Mr. George Shaker: It was the Canadian
International Paper Company.
Mr. Hec Clouthier: But then when
you were a prisoner of war,
you were paid by
Transport Canada for that time you spent in prison?
Mr. George Shaker: Right.
Mr. Hec Clouthier: Interesting.
Okay, fine. Thank you.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Clouthier.
Mr. David Price: I need a little clarification.
Mr. Shaker, you said you had a friend in a VA hospital.
As a merchant navy prisoner of war, when were you
allowed to have access to VA hospitals? How long has
that been? And to follow up that question, just so
that you can have the
two in mind, do the merchant navy vets, not the POWs,
have access to VA hospitals, or have they ever had
Mr. George Shaker: I don't really know.
I had my ankle operated on, and in 1947 I went
to my family doctor because I had
a red streak going up my leg, starting
from that scar on my ankle. My doctor asked
me where I got the scar, and I told him where I got the
scar, and he said, “Well, you'd better go to Christie
Street Hospital”, which was the veterans' hospital
at that time. I went to Christie Street Hospital
and they gave me a
penicillin shot in the behind, and the next day they
sent me home.
When I applied for my ankle, the
pensions doctor had a look at my ankle and
said, “That's a pretty good scar. It's okay now. You
can't get a pension for that.” And that was the end of
So I guess if you had an injury, you were eligible
for it, but if you didn't have an injury, you had no
chance of getting into a hospital as a merchant navy
man, not like the military.
Mr. William Bruce: May I interject before I get
thrown out of here?
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. William Bruce: Merchant seamen were admitted in
the 1950s, as Mr. Shaker stated, and then they stopped,
and then they started again.
So we are now entitled to go
into Ste. Anne's, the only military
hospital left in the country.
Mr. David Price: You said you
were admitted in the 1950s and then it stopped.
Mr. William Bruce: It stopped for some reason, I
don't know, but it started again.
Mr. David Price: Was it a long period of time?
Mr. William Bruce: I imagine it was for a period
of time. I don't know how long.
We have five
merchant seamen in Ste. Anne's military hospital. We
had seven two weeks ago; two died.
Mr. George Shaker: You had to prove that you were
injured during the wartime period to get in.
Mr. David Price: Okay, but that in itself is
saying you were looked at as military people.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Price.
The last questioner for these witnesses is Mr. Wood.
Mr. Bob Wood: Mr. Shaker, I was so engrossed in
your story, I forgot to ask this. I don't know
if you told me
this or not, but when did you start getting POW
compensation of any kind?
Mr. George Shaker: When did it start?
Mr. Bob Wood: Yes.
Mr. George Shaker: In 1992.
Mr. Bob Wood: Okay.
You were talking about some of the post-war
benefits available to merchant mariners. Have they been
taken into account in your compensation numbers in
Mr. George Shaker: Yes.
Mr. Bob Wood: Okay.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Wood.
Mr. Bruce and Mr. Shaker, thank you very much for
attending this committee today and for your
interesting briefs and for taking our questions. We
appreciate it very much.
Mr. Marsolais has asked to speak to the committee,
and now that we have some time, we've agreed
to try to give him about five minutes. We didn't
realize that he did wish to speak.
forward, Mr. Marsolais. The reason I'm asking you to
make your submission in about five minutes is I'd like
to give the members a few minutes at least to ask a few
questions. We must conclude at 5.30 p.m., as our normal
agenda calls for, because we're looking at
votes in the House at any time.
So with the committee's agreement—and I
assume everybody is agreeable—
Mr. Bob Wood: I've heard some of his story
before at a meeting, and I think
everybody should get an opportunity to hear Mr.
The Chairman: So if we could ask you to make your
submission, sir, in about five minutes, that will give the
opportunity for questions. Thank you.
Mr. Willis Marsolais (Individual Presentation):
I want to thank you very much. I don't
believe I will have the time to present this.
The Chairman: You can do one of two things, Mr.
Marsolais: you can table it for the record or you can
make a few brief comments and come back.
The problem is this. The committee is
certainly open to hearing anyone who
wishes to speak to us, but it has to be on a forewarning
basis, and I guess maybe there was some
misunderstanding on your part of the process. So let
me suggest this. You could make a few comments now and come
back another time, you could make a few comments and
table your brief, or if you don't want to proceed on
that basis.... I'll leave it up to you, sir. What
would you like to do?
Mr. Willis Marsolais: A few questions were
asked here this afternoon. When the U.K. and the
The Chairman: So you'd like to address yourself
to some of the questions you've already heard?
Mr. Willis Marsolais: That's correct.
The Chairman: Okay, why don't you go ahead and do
Mr. Willis Marsolais: Okay.
The British merchant navy became veterans
of war in 1939, when the war
broke out. The Australians followed in 1940. I
sailed on British ships. I can't go through my whole
brief, but I'm just saying that in 1939 the
British merchant navy were compensated as prisoners of
war, everything across the board that they were asking
for. They received it in 1939 in Britain. As for the
U.S., I don't know, but in Australia it was the same
In 1941 I was taken a prisoner of war aboard a
ship called the Danskie, which was a Polish
ship. I was wounded that evening and I was taken into
Germany. I was thrown into the hospital there, where
they took the bullet out of my leg. I was put into a
jail and kept there for seven weeks. Then,
after seven weeks in jail, I was transferred to where
the mariners were in Stalag, where the marine base was.
They said they had no room for me there.
I was classified not as a prisoner
of war. From what I was
told, I was going to be shot,
because I was a civilian in a
foreign country. Then I was taken to camp 10 near
Belgium. I stayed there for seven months.
Eight of us were taken out of there and transferred to
I got home in 1944, thanks to the people of France who
helped us get out. When I got over to Kent, I was
so happy. I stayed in the hospital in Kent for three
I had three brothers overseas. They were in the
army. One was a paratrooper, the other were two
ordinary soldiers. My brother who was in Scotland
was killed in the invasion of Normandy in 1944. I
asked the Red Cross if they'd pay my way down to the
Beaver Club in London
to see my brother, but when I got
down to the Beaver Club, his collarbone was broken
from a jump.
I came back to Yorkshire. I was only a boy.
I didn't know what I got into when I joined the
merchant navy. And I suffered, believe me, I
think more than
anybody else I know of. And I'm suffering today.
If you read my brief, everything in there is true.
When I came back to Halifax in 1944, they
told me that in Montreal they opened up the Place Viger
Hotel for the merchant navy. I got a ticket
to Montreal from one of the paymasters.
When I got there, my leg was swelled up like a
stovepipe. When I got to Montreal, they sent me to the
hospital in Montreal.
I hadn't seen my parents. My
parents didn't even know where I was. I couldn't get a
letter home through the Red Cross whatsoever, because
the SS officers wouldn't allow it. They told me at the
manning pool in Montreal that I had to join to go down
to where these gentlemen were at the engineering school.
I had all the experience before. Why did I have to go
through it again? This is what I told Captain Richards
at the manning pool. I said, “I spent 18 months in
prison.” He said, “There's nothing we can do about
it. That's the way the Department of Transport
So I was sent to Ottawa. I stopped in to see my
parents. When I came back, I was going to be fired,
because I went to see my parents. That's how strict
the merchant navy was.
Anyway, I went down to the school
where these gentlemen were in Prescott, Ontario. I
only spent a week there. Then they shipped me to
Montreal, back to the manning pool. Captain
Richards asked me, “Are you able to work?” I said,
“Yes, I am. I am able to work.” He said, “Does
your leg bother you?” I said, “Not really.” I was
When I stayed at the Place Viger Hotel, I came
downstairs one morning and my name was on the board,
just like these gentlemen. If they stayed at the Place
Viger Hotel, they know that as you came the down
the stairs, there was a big board with your name
on it. Am I right or wrong?
Mr. William Bruce: That's right.
Mr. Willis Marsolais: It told you what time
you were leaving and
everything that night. Anybody could have walked into
the Place Viger Hotel, any spy of any kind in Canada, and
seen what time that boat was leaving.
Believe me, there was no
security. Am I right?
Mr. William Bruce: Right.
Mr. Willis Marsolais: There was no security there
I never got any help from
anybody, except the Department of Transport, when I ended
up in the hospital in Montreal. The doctor in the hospital
said to me, “Who beat your ass?”, because every blood
vessel in my back was.... It was a mess.
This doctor said to me, “If I get you out of the
merchant navy, Mr. Marsolais, I'll send you
to live with my parents in Toronto and I'll give you a
good education.” I said, “No, thank you. I have
brothers overseas; I'm going back.” And I
went back sailing.
I went to South America. I went to
England 18 times, back and forth.
I got back from my last trip in 1946. I didn't go
on only one trip; I was on different ships.
The manning pool was in one of
the most beautiful hotels in Montreal at that time.
The sheets and service were just like the members
of Parliament have here on the Hill. Believe me,
the service was beautiful.
The Chairman: Not the place I stay in.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Willis Marsolais: Pardon me, then. But at the
Vichy Hotel—am I right?—the sheets and the rooms
were beautiful, just like a hotel room, and we were
well taken care of by the Department of Transport.
I'm not ashamed to say I'm a Liberal and always will be
a Liberal. And I'm with no coalition, believe me.
I've known Gordon Olmstead for
many years. Gordon Olmstead
is a gentleman, 100%. He's in my heart. But I worked
with Gordon Olmstead, and we didn't agree on a lot of
things. Gordon did a lot for
the merchant navy, believe me.
I don't know what to say any more, but when my
brief comes up another time, I'll be able to continue
what I have to say.
The Chairman: That's fine. We appreciate your
sharing with us some obviously difficult memories. Thank
you very much, sir.
We have time for a couple of brief questions, if anyone
has some. No?
Then thank you very much. If you'd like to
come back, Mr. Marsolais, you understand now how to
contact the clerk, etc.? Okay.
To all three of you gentlemen, thank you very
much for sharing your stories with us today and taking
our questions. To the rest who have come in
support of you, thank you very much.
The committee is adjourned until Thursday morning at
9 o'clock sharp. Thank you.