“The Canadian government has no obligation to its veterans.” This is the official position of the government’s lawyer in a class action suit filed by Canadian military veterans who want the Conservatives to uphold an eight-year-old promise to reverse the damage done to Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and its Charter.
In 2005, the government, led by the Liberal Party at the time, implemented a new charter which turned lifetime adjusted pensions into lump-sum payments of up to 250,000$. The former conditions had been in place since 1917 under Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Unionist government, which prompted the same lawyers’ dubious argument that “this government can’t be held accountable for measures voted almost a century ago,” near the end of the First World War.
According to Canadian Veterans Advocacy’s chairman Michael Blais, Stephen Harper’s administration not only broke (yet another) electoral promise – it broke its “sacred obligation,” the unwritten social contract between a State and its soldiers, the oath to take care of the wounded after they agreed to sacrifice their lives for their country. Loyalty, as it turns out, should go both ways, unless we’re unsuspiciously living in a totalitarian dystopia where soldiers are just cannon fodder and governments should not be held accountable for their well-being.
It’s a pity that veterans must resort to legal action against the government of the very country for which they were willing to shed their blood. A government that, being conservative, profits from almost unlimited sympathy from the troops since, among all of Canada’s political parties, it’s the only one that openly supports the troops to the point where it often crosses the line between patriotism and saber-rattling. A government that, while sitting in the Opposition, promised veterans they would undo the damage done by their political rivals and return their pensions to them.
Not only did they break their promise, but the embarrassing public statements by conservative members of Parliament keep piling up. A few months ago, the representative of the riding (similar to a Congressional District in the US) in which Canadian Forces Base Petawawa is located made a fool of herself. Cheryl Gallant (a conservative) said in front of a military crowd that their concerns about their careers following a PTSD diagnosis are, like their illness, “in their heads.” Not to be upstaged, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino called veterans who opposed current policy and cuts into VAC, “Opposition and union stooges,” referring to his perception that they were a part of a common agenda to save heavily-unionized civil servant jobs which the government aimed at cutting.
The fight against VAC’s gutting made another casualty. Retired Colonel Pat Strogan, a decorated infantry officer who led the first Canadian combat outfit since the Korean War in Afghanistan in 2002, was named Ombudsman for the Veterans in 2007, a thank-you gift from the government to a dedicated soldier who would, in their mind, keep mum. Much to their surprise, Stogran became one of Canada’s most vocal critic of the government’s policy towards veterans and resigned in 2010 after a high-level VAC official told him, “it’s easier for us when soldiers come back in boxes.” His appointment was unlikely to have been renewed anyway. Since then, he was also diagnosed with PSTD.
One question remains: How is it that countries like the US and Canada treat their veterans so badly? The most cynical yet most likely possibility is down the money trail – wars cost money, as does treating returning soldiers. But as Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) once said, “If a country can’t afford to treat its wounded warriors, maybe they should think twice before signing them off to war.”
As we all prepare to commemorate the centennial of World War 1, here’s some food for thought.
(Featured Image Courtesy: CTV News)