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Dead soldier’s family ‘devastated’ after getting one-cent cheque from Ottawa

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson stands in the House of Commons during Question Period on March 4, 2014.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ottawa tried to settle accounts with a soldier who took his own life two-and-a-half years ago by sending his family a cheque for one cent.

The "release pay" in the amount of a penny arrived last week at the Hamilton, Ont., home of Denise Stark, whose 22-year-old son, Justin Stark, was found dead at his barracks in the city armouries in October, 2011, less than a year after he returned from Afghanistan.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson railed against the bureaucratic snafu on Tuesday when it was raised in the House of Commons by Wayne Marston, the New Democrat MP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek.

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"I agree with the honourable member that this is absolutely ridiculous. I send the apologies of everyone in the government to his mother. We thank that individual for the service he gave his country," Mr. Nicholson told Parliament.

"That being said, this is an insensitive bureaucratic screw-up," the minister said. "I have just learned of it now, and I will take steps immediately to ensure that something like this should never happen again."

Mr. Marston said Ms. Stark has spent much time in the past two years sitting through tribunals while the military debated whether her son's death was work-related. "One cent. After all this mother has gone through, this is inexcusable," Mr. Marston told the House.

Ms. Stark was too distraught to discuss the cheque with reporters. But "she was devastated," said Keven Ellis, a family friend and president of the local chapter of the North Wall Riders Association, a motorcycle group that supports veterans.

"She goes to the mailbox. She's having a decent day. Then she opens up the mail and sees a letter from the government addressed to her son," Mr. Ellis said. "Right away, her mind starts racing: 'What can this be after 2 1/2 years?' She rips it open and it's a cheque for one cent from our government."

It has been an awful struggle, Mr. Ellis said. Ms. Stark does not want an apology from the government, he said, she just does not want any other family to go through this.

But he said Mr. Nicholson's words were very strong. "I can't say that he could have reacted any better. No excuses, no nothing. 'We made a mistake and it won't happen again.' "

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Corporal Stark was a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. He spent his time in Afghanistan on patrol in a small village west of Kandahar City and told the Dunnville Chronicle when he returned that he would be glad to go back. "There was easy times and hard times," he told the paper, "but it was fun."

Editor's note: an earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the regiment with which Justin Stark had served. The correct spelling is Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. This version has been corrected.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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