Question Period: the Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs
Pursuant to the order adopted by the Senate on December 10, 2015, to receive a Minister of the Crown, the Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, appeared before honourable senators during Question Period.
Service Dog Standards
Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals): Minister, thank you for being here. My question involves post-traumatic stress disorder as well, in relation to service dogs, the training of service dogs and the national standard that has been worked on.
It had been expected that the Canadian General Standards Board would develop a national code of acceptable training and behaviour standards for service dogs. But a few weeks ago the board announced without explanation that it would not be proceeding with this work. It’s clear the government recognizes the value of service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The recent budget even announced expanding the medical expense tax credit to recognize the cost of service dogs.
However, as you undoubtedly know, having an acceptable national standard is one of the conditions for turning the 2015 service dog project into a permanent program. Organizations like the Royal Canadian Legion and Wounded Warriors Canada are worried about the announcement that the board will not be proceeding.
What is your department doing to ensure that a national standard is developed? Who is developing it, how will it be implemented and what is the timeline?
Hon. Seamus O’Regan, P.C., M.P., Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence: Honourable senator, yes, indeed, the Canadian General Standards Board was tasked some time ago, before my time, with coming up with a standard particularly for service dogs for veterans — psychiatric service dogs, service dogs in the cause of PTSD. A decision was made at the time that perhaps this would be a good opportunity to find a general standard for service dogs in total. They were not able to come to an agreement after some years. When the board made the decision I approved of it and the reason I approved of it was because there was a great danger that the standards for veterans themselves would be diluted. In trying to find an agreement amongst everyone and for service dogs that could be used for many different purposes, it was my strong feeling that the standard we needed for PTSD and for veterans themselves would be diluted. I did not want that to happen, so I supported their decision.
We will be moving very swiftly to find a standard that is targeted towards veterans and PTSD particularly, and I wish the standards board luck in finding one for service dogs as a whole, but my mandate and my purpose is for veterans and particularly those with PTSD.
Senator Day: Can you tell us a little bit more about how you will be going forward? You indicated you will, into the future, be moving forward. This is important to move ahead with very quickly.
Mr. O’Regan: I’m not wasting any time. I didn’t waste any time in that decision when it came forward to me that they were not able to reach agreement. I won’t waste any time with this. We’re working with international standards and I have been talking with Medric Cousineau at Paws Fur Thought who is a terrific, almost a crusader in this cause about coming to those standards very quickly.