When the clock strikes 11 a.m on Remembrance Day in Chilliwack, B.C., retired Air Force captain Claude Latulippe will be at the local cenotaph paying homage to former comrades and to the many other Canadians who gave their lives for their country.
But, when it is time for Mark Strahl, the local Conservative MP, to lay a wreath, Mr. Latulippe and other veterans will face away.
It is a gesture that Mr. Latulippe, 65, says he believes will be repeated in communities across Canada. Veterans, he said, want to turn their backs on the Conservative government “just like the Conservatives are turning their backs on veterans.”
The tension between Canada’s veterans and the government has been building for years over policies that veterans say ignore their sacrifices and leave them with less than what was provided to previous generations of soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Protest is not something that comes naturally to former members of the armed forces, said Mr. Latulippe. “Military don’t march against authority,” he said. “Military fall in line and do what they’re told.”
But demonstrations of previous years have been successful in moving the government to resolve some critical problems and could prompt action on others, he said.
The list of current grievances is long.
It starts with the New Veterans Charter, which became law in 2006. The charter replaced a system that provided disabled veterans with a pension for life with one that offers a lump-sum payment of up to $276,000.
Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent has said the charter will leave hundreds of the most severely disabled veterans living in poverty in their old age.
In fighting a case brought against the charter by a group of severely disabled veterans, the government is arguing that the Crown has no sacred duty to care for veterans – a position that has outraged former military personnel.
Veterans are also upset that some disabled members of the military are being dismissed before they have put in the 10 years of service required to qualify for a pension.
They are angry that the Veterans Affairs offices in nine Canadian communities are being shut down.
And they are frustrated with a burial fund that is available only to veterans with incomes of less than $12,010 a year.
“If you want to be cynical, it appears that the government wants to balance its books on the backs of our heroes,” said Peter Stoffer, the Veterans Affairs critic for the NDP.
Some veterans, even those who are most frustrated with the government, argue that Remembrance Day is sacrosanct – that it is a time for honouring the dead and not for protest. Mr. Strahl shares that view.
“I have the utmost respect for our veterans and the sacrifices they have made for our country. I support their right to demonstrate and protest,” said Mr. Strahl. “However, I don’t support the politicization of Remembrance Day. On this one day, we should be united in honouring those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and set politics aside.”
Mr. Latulippe said the decision to make any demonstration during the Remembrance Day ceremonies, even a silent one, must be left to individual veterans.
But “the government says we are doing everything we can to help you guys out. Well, they have to ask some of the injured veterans that came out of the Afghanistan war about that,” he said.
Some veterans’ advocates say they have seen an increased willingness in recent months on the part of the government to talk about the issues facing veterans.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino has called for a review of the New Veterans Charter. Mr. Fantino said the government has invested almost $5-billion in new funding to enhance veterans’ benefits, programs and services.
“We have already made dramatic improvements – and will continue to strive for enhancements – to ensure that the tools and assistance relied upon by Canada’s veterans remain as effective, efficient and accessible as possible,” he said Sunday in an e-mail.
And Michael Blais, the president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said doors to ministers’ offices that have been closed to him for years are now being opened – perhaps because the government is feeling the heat of the protests.
Mr. Blais will not be among those veterans participating in Remembrance Day protests. It is the one day of the year, he says, when his heart is not in the fight.
But many other veterans will be making a statement, said Mr. Blais. And all Canadians, he said, should be asking themselves whether the government has a duty to care for veterans.
“That’s why we still assemble on Remembrance Day. We may not know who they were or what they have done but we still come and pay two minutes’ solitude for them,” he said. “Well, this year is different. This year, we have a government that does not believe it has a social contract, it does not believe it has a sacred obligation.”Report Typo/Error