Spirited actions of veterans and their supporters across the country

The Harper government’s three “Ds” for the military are now “Deny, Delay, Die” rather than “Defence, Diplomacy and Development,” says a young veteran of the war in Afghanistan. “The Prime Minister claims the opposition to the closures is trouble-making stirred up by ‘unions.’ However, the emcee pointed out that it is the Harper government which is being self-serving. Had it not been for the action of PSAC, veterans and others would have been in the dark and the government would have simply slipped the closures through Parliament without anyone knowing until after the fact.”

TML Daily (Feb. 3) – ON JANUARY 31, thousands of Canadian military veterans, many in their 80s and 90s, from World War II to the present, along with people from all walks of life including many representatives of trade unions, participated in actions at the Veterans Affairs Canada district offices slated for closure that day in eight cities across the country – Kelowna, Saskatoon, Brandon, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Sydney, Charlottetown and Corner Brook. A common demand at the actions was for the immediate resignation of Minister of Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino and Prime Minister Harper because of their despicable treatment of veterans.

The actions come as the veterans and their organizations, side by side with the workers responsible for providing services to them, have been organizing for months to challenge the closures and the government’s attempt to fool veterans by presenting these attacks on their well-being as improvements in efficiency that will not impact veterans’ access to the services they require. They are resolutely demanding that the government stop dismissing veterans’ concerns and nickelling and diming them through service cuts.

Veterans’ concerns go beyond the office closures and address the anti-human and anti-social manner in which they are being treated. They are opposing schemes that would see the government rid itself of social responsibility for those it has sent to war by giving lump sum payments to injured veterans and then leaving them to fend for themselves, rather than receiving the lifetime care they require for their mental and/or physical injuries.

An example of the government’s callous disregard for veterans are the recent suicides of soldiers who served in Afghanistan. Veterans, their loved ones and those who provide them with care strenuously object to the government’s dismissive attitude towards the care required by soldiers who return home with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses. All of this has confirmed to veterans that the Harper government does not respect their rights despite its claims to “honour their sacrifice,” while the epitaph for fallen soldiers “Lest We Forget” rings completely hollow.

In order to try to fool veterans and justify the closures, the government endlessly repeats the disinformation that veterans will get the same services despite the large reductions in staff and the closure of offices which mean that veterans in some places face the prospect of having to travel eight to ten hours to the nearest office to get face-to-face assistance from Veterans Affairs.

Delegation of veterans, young and old, go to Parliament to raise their concerns about cuts to services and meet with Minister of Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino, who was an hour late, January 28, 2014.

The veterans are not buying the government’s claims and on January 28, a delegation of veterans made a special trip to Ottawa to hold a press conference and meet with Minister of Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino. Fantino, showing great disrespect, not only showed up 70 minutes late for the scheduled meeting but then spent his time with the veterans trying to undermine their claims. He further insulted them by saying they were being duped by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and claiming the union’s only interest is to save its members’ jobs, an odious remark that has also been repeated by the Prime Minister in the Parliament. Minister Fantino’s disrespect toward the delegation of veterans is exactly what the closures and other anti-social changes will do to thousands of veterans – force them to make special trips far out of their way to have someone lend them an ear, only to have to wait and then be denied the services they require. The self-righteous remarks by the Minister and the Prime Minister underscore that they see nothing wrong with this.


Veterans hold press conference on Parliament Hill, January 28, 2014.

A Navy veteran and local Legion president who took a day off work to speak at the protest in Thunder Bay was incensed at Fantino’s remarks about veterans being “duped” by PSAC. “What right does he have to tell me, as a Canadian citizen who defended democracy for 25 years, who I can talk to, speak to or associate with?” he demanded.

In another move to dismiss the concerns of veterans and their supporters, the Harper government used its majority to “punt” an opposition motion from the NDP which called on the Parliament to vote to keep the offices open. The vote, which was to take place on Wednesday, January 29 before the Friday, January 31 closures, was moved to Monday, February 3, after the offices were closed.

Clearly Harper and his ilk cannot believe that veterans would not simply “trust” vague promises about maintaining services and demand their rights be affirmed.

Maritimes


Sydney

In Sydney, Nova Scotia close to 1,500 people participated in a “wake” outside the local Veterans Affairs office. The closure of this office means that more than 4,000 veterans will no longer be able to get personal service at the Sydney office. One of the speakers, retired sergeant Ron Clarke, participated in the January 28 meeting in Ottawa with Minister of Defence Julian Fantino on behalf of veterans. “All we’re trying to do is wake the government up,” he said. “We wanted to do a type of funeral for the closing of the office. We need these offices to remain open for people like myself with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“We’ll see how many Conservatives are in agreement with the Prime Minister,” he added. “Those who are voting for the closure of the offices will pay the price. And we’ll see to that.”

Veterans and their supporters placed black wreaths outside the office and donned black ribbons to show their dismay at the closures. A week before, four veterans held a sit-in at the office.

Protests were also held in Charlottetown, PEI and Corner Brook, Newfoundland. In Corner Brook, local veterans and others travelled from all over western Newfoundland to participate.

Ontario


Windsor

In Windsor, some 200 veterans and their supporters held an energetic rally outside the Veterans Affairs office. They were joined by many community members and representatives of local unions. Speakers unanimously denounced Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative MP for Essex Jeff Watson for the contempt shown to veterans. The also expressed outrage at how the serious concerns they have been raising have been ignored or dismissed.

The closure means that the closest office for Windsor veterans to get direct personal service is two hours away in London. One of the speakers announced that the Legion in London has decided to bar Conservative MPs from their facilities until the decision to close the Veterans Affairs offices is reversed.


Windsor

Local NDP MP Brian Masse rejected the government’s claims that there is no loss of service from the closures, as services will simply shift to Service Canada offices. He pointed out that his office already gets calls from constituents who use Service Canada and complain of long line-ups and having to wait hours on the phones. One veteran pointed out that when he goes to Service Canada he now packs a lunch, knowing it will be a long wait to see someone.


Thunder Bay

Veterans spoke with great emotion about their betrayal by a government that says it honours their sacrifice. One young veteran of the war in Afghanistan who sustained a serious head injury that makes it difficult for him to remember names said that he would not forget the name of Conservative MP Jeff Watson who had spoken in Parliament of how he would remember the young soldier’s sacrifice, a promise now shown to be empty. He also commented to the media that the Harper government’s three “Ds” for the military are now “Deny, Delay, Die” rather than “Defence, Diplomacy and Development.”

The Prime Minister claims the opposition to the closures is trouble-making stirred up by “unions.” However, the emcee pointed out that it is the Harper government which is being self-serving. Had it not been for the action of PSAC, veterans and others would have been in the dark and the government would have simply slipped the closures through Parliament without anyone knowing until after the fact.

At protests in Thunder Bay, veteran Peter Ewasuki said: “We put our lives on the line, we spilled blood and now all we’re getting is lip service. I’m ashamed of this government and of Minister Fantino.”


Thunder Bay

Western Canada

Veterans in Brandon and Saskatoon held actions at the offices slated for closure.

In Saskatoon, where 4,500 veterans will be affected by the loss of the local office, veterans and their supporters held a press conference. There, 83 year-old Bill Dubinski told the crowd that he feels betrayed by the government’s decision. “You see how badly it’s going, and what’s going to happen to those people who put their lives on the line expecting that they were going to get some assistance?” he said.

The only affected city where a public protest was not reported was Kelowna, BC. Veterans there reportedly feared reprisals if they spoke out.

A ninth Veterans Affairs office in Prince George, BC was closed prior to January 31 and the demand is that it should also be reopened.

(With files from TML correspondents, Postmedia, CBC, CTV, GlobalNews, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, RJI200 Radio; Photos: TML, PSAC)

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