Retired air-force veteran Claude Latulippe does not know whether he and his sons were alone in turning their backs to the cenotaph when a representative of the federal Conservative government laid a wreath on Remembrance Day.
Mr. Latulippe was standing with his family in the crowd of a couple thousand people who gathered Monday morning at the monument in downtown Chilliwack, B.C.
When the time came for the representative of Mark Strahl, the local Conservative MP, to lay a wreath, Mr. Latulippe faced the other way. “How many more did it, I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t check because, for me, it was a personal thing.”
But he is convinced it was also the right thing.
Mr. Latulippe said his father-in-law returned from the Second World War and was treated properly by the government. But his nephew, he said, came back from Afghanistan “full of shrapnel” and had to “fight every inch of the way to get what he got, and he got practically nothing.”
Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada were, for the most part, the usual sombre affairs unmarred by loud demonstration. But many of the country’s veterans are unhappy with the Conservative government, which some accuse of failing those who have served – especially those returning from modern-day conflicts.
The focus of the anger is the New Veterans Charter, which came into effect in 2006 and provides disabled veterans with a lump-sum payment rather than the pension for life that was offered to previous generations of soldiers, sailors and airmen. Inflaming the outrage is the government’s position, stated in court this year, that it has no sacred duty to care for veterans. And there are a myriad of other complaints, including the closing of Veterans Affairs offices.
Brian McMaster, who was in the military for 16 years and served in Bosnia, was in the large crowd that gathered Monday in the snow squalls around the National War Memorial in Ottawa. No veterans are being treated fairly, Mr. McMaster said after the ceremony, dating “all the way back to peacekeeping vets and Bosnia vets and Cyprus vets and all the UN vets.”
Mr. McMaster said he was discouraged to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s entourage arrive at the monument. While his Conservative government talks a lot about supporting veterans, its treatment of them has been “shameful,” Mr. McMaster said. “It means that I, a natural-born Conservative, will not vote for this party any more.”
Gordon Moore, the Dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, who laid a wreath at the National War Memorial, said his group has had more success in changing federal policy though negotiation than demonstration. But veterans are angry, Mr. Moore said. “There are a number of issues that have to be dealt with in the New Veterans Charter and the government is fully aware of those.”
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino has called for a review of the charter. He also points to billions of new dollars that he says the Conservative government has invested in veterans’ programs and services. And some veterans’ advocates say they sense a recent increased willingness on the part of the government to listen to their concerns. But the frustration over the government’s treatment of those who have made sacrifices for their country appears to be widespread.
Michel Houle, a retired captain who served 37 years, was also at the Ottawa Remembrance Day ceremony. “We have events such as this to remember our veterans,” Mr. Houle said. “But, if we look closely at how many veterans are being left behind due to accidents or PTSD or wounded or all that, I think we have a lot of them who are being forgotten.”