Robyn Benson, PSAC

What do Conservatives have against our veterans, anyway?


I didn’t think I’d have to blog about this issue again for a while longer, but the Conservative campaign against our veterans is getting nastier, and it’s time for Canadians to speak out. After all, Remembrance Day is in less than two weeks.

Defending those who have risked life and limb to defend us seems like a natural Canadian impulse. But why should we have to? Veterans should need no defence, least of all against their own government. Yet what we’re seeing is an excess of ideological spite directed against a group of Canadians who once might have been seen as part of the Conservatives’ natural constituency. (If that was ever so, it isn’t any more.)

Anyone who dares to criticize or actively oppose a measure of this government appears to be fair game for smearing and dirty tricks. And veterans who have recently been doing plenty of both, in their own defence, have been on the receiving end for some time.

The latest example has been the antics of a Conservative operative in Ottawa, accusing the head of a veterans’ advocacy group, Mike Blais, of advocating violent extremism. It was a stupid and sloppy move—Blais’ actual words state the exact opposite—and it has produced a social media backlash. But the operative in question is a military reservist, who for some reason has been permitted to make public partisan statements on behalf of Stephen Harper for some time, even though military orders permit no such thing without chain-of-command approval. Once this all went public, he was ordered to resign from the South Ottawa Conservative Association and cease his noisy political activities.

The mystery, of course, is how he had been permitted to go on for so long, and why it took a public outcry before the military acted. Perhaps we can see the same sort of benign neglect in the Conservative-leaning press: here we have the same person writing a letter to the National Post, posing as an ordinary citizen and praising Harper to the skies, nowhere identified as an official Conservative organizer.

Was this sleazy attack on Blais a on-off? Not at all.

The government went after outspoken veterans advocate Sean Bruyea back in 2006, circulating his private medical records to attempt to discredit him. When the story broke, it turned out that he was far from alone. Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran, a fierce defender of veterans’ rights, had his own records accessed 400 times. He was given the heave by the Conservative government in 2010—but he didn’t go quietly.

Then there was Harold Leduc, a member of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, who sided with veterans a little too often for the powers that be. His private medical records were circulated and he became a target of gossip and innuendo: the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered the Board to pay him for the harassment he suffered at the hands of other Board members.

And then there were Jim Lowther and David MacLeod, working to house homeless veterans. They were denounced by sleepy Conservative MP Rob Anders as “NDP hacks” and, unbelievably, supporters of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. As it happened, both veterans were card-carrying Conservatives.

There’s a pattern here.

And it parallels that other pattern: treating our veterans with contempt, which has now gotten to the point of dumping wounded veterans before they can qualify for military pensions. The New Veterans Charter, with its numerous shortcomings, allows the Conservative government to save money on the backs of disabled veterans. The feds also tried, unsuccessfully, to get a lawsuit by several Afghanistan vets tossed out of court, on the incredible grounds that the government didn’t owe any special obligation to them. And then there are all the regional Veterans Affairs office closures, which will effectively deny many of our vets access to the services they need.

It’s a mystery to me—targeting veterans in this mean-spirited fashion while still beating the drum for the War of 1812. Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf is, of course, a part of who we are and what we do on November 11. But if we want to honour the spirit of Remembrance Day, let’s remember the living, as well as the dead.

[Photo credit: Pawel Dwulit, Canadian Press]

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on November 1, 2013 8:30 AM.

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