Veteran who staged hunger strike will lose house after all

Veterans Affairs inaction, minister’s refusal to discuss matter blamed for foreclosure

Published on June 1, 2012
Fabien Melanson is staging a hunger strike in front of Veterans Affairs Canada headquarters in Charlottetown.
Guardian photo

A New Brunswick veteran who held a hunger strike outside Veterans Affairs Canada headquarters in Charlottetown a year ago will lose his house and property today after all.

Veterans Affairs’ inaction and the refusal of Minister Stephen Blaney to discuss the matter are being blamed for the foreclosure.

A year ago, Cpl. Fabien Melanson, a veteran of the Royal 22nd Regiment, gained national attention with his two-week hunger strike at VAC headquarters. He started the hunger strike in early June of 2011.

The former Van Doo was protesting VAC’s repeated failure to take responsibility for a 2004 clerical error which sent his pension to the wrong bank account for five straight months. The loss of income halted renovations to his St-Andre Leblanc home, leaving it damaged and unliveable.

In an official letter, dated last June, Veterans Affairs acknowledged their error and the financial hardship it caused. Privately, the department told Melanson it had “no mechanism” for addressing the harm done to him.

Melanson ended his strike June 15 after an official apology from Keith Hillier, the VAC's assistant deputy minister for service delivery. Hillier also suggested Melanson's case be reviewed, and provided the veteran with contact information for a case manager in his home region of Cap-Pele, N.B.

Canadian country singer Julien Austin was also going to help with fundraising for Melanson.

The minister of Veterans Affairs has the authority to issue ex gratia payments — outside of policy — in such situations. Melanson has been appealing to Blaney for assistance for a year without response.

Now, time is almost up. The ruined house and property will be repossessed today and sold.

The mortgage holder has given Melanson until then to provide a detailed reconstruction and repayment plan.  

Otherwise, Bridgewater Bank will proceed with legal action and sale.

Jeff Rose-Martland, advocate for the veteran, has been trying to get Blaney to act.

“The minister refuses to engage,” he says, “Emails, phone calls, faxes, nothing. The closest thing we have to a response was a phone call in February from an assistant, who said they were looking into it.”

“The minister keeps saying in the House that he cares about our veterans,” adds Rose-Martland. “I don’t see him caring about this one.”

Rose-Martland said VAC admits its error, admits Melanson suffered as a result, but won’t fix the problem.

Melanson is going to lose his property — his 160-year-old Acadien ancestral home — because the minister will not discharge his duties, he added

“Minister Blaney has a duty of care to Fabien Melanson, to see that this wrong is corrected. In refusing to even enter discussions, Minister Blaney is neglecting his responsibility.”