Cy Burke of the Charlottetown branch of the Royal Canadian Legion was a member of the colour party that participated in the D-Day memorial service at the cenotaph in Charlottetown.
©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Canadian soldiers joined Allied troops on June 6, 1944, to battle the Germans on the beaches of Normandy. On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Canadian veterans are gathering on Parliament Hill for a different battle.
Veterans protesting in Ottawa claim the federal government has made it unnecessarily complicated to access benefits they’re entitled to. They accuse the government of hoping claimants will give up or die before they ever see a penny.
Retired Major Mark Campbell lost both legs in Afghanistan, but he told reporters Wednesday that the trauma he feels is the sense of betrayal he has experienced since returning home.
This is the latest shadow cast on Veterans Affairs Canada, whose headquarters operate in this province, and its minister.
VAC Minister Julian Fantino last week walked away from the wife of a former soldier who is living with post-traumatic stress disorder. After the snub, Fantino’s office claimed the minister did not realize who she was, even though she followed him down the hall calling to him, “Mr. Fantino, can I talk to you as a spouse?”
Does it matter who he thought she was? It is not only impolite to turn your back on, and walk away from, someone calling your name, it is also a bad move politically for an elected Member of Parliament.
We would find Mr. Fantino’s excuses more palatable if the minister hadn’t acted this way before.
In January, a group of veterans — including one from Prince Edward Island — travelled to Ottawa to meet with Mr. Fantino in an effort to save nine Veterans Affairs district offices from closing. Mr. Fantino was late to the meeting, was rude to the veterans and finished by saying the office closures were going ahead. Is this the kind of attitude Canada wants to present to the men and women who fought for our safety?
A similarly tough stance is greeting veterans seeking clarity on Canada’s commitment to them.
In Great Britain, the government has a “duty of care” spelled out for making sure members of the military can access benefits. Maj. Campbell has joined five other Canadian soldiers looking for a similar covenant with Ottawa.
Lawyers for the Justice Department intend to argue that Canada has no extraordinary obligation to its soldiers and the current government cannot be bound by the promises of its predecessors.
We cannot overstate the importance of Canada’s Armed Forces. These men and women have left their families and homes, have risked their lives, limbs and minds, and gone willingly into danger to protect Canadians and citizens of countless countries around the world. Upon return, the wounded have been treated like someone trying to defraud taxpayers.
What purpose do the red tape and roadblocks serve if not, as this week’s protesters allege, to make accessing benefits so difficult veterans give up or die trying?
Mr. Fantino has lauded the benefits available to Canadian military members. He notes compensation can add up to $10,000 a month for some veterans. He fails to appreciate that veterans are not demanding more money — they are fighting for access to it. They are struggling for dignity. They are asking for respect.
Canadians will gather at D-Day commemoration services today to remember the sacrifices men and women have made for our freedom 70 years ago. This outward mark of respect should be backed up with a clear covenant of care.