Should Canada's military veterans be treated any differently from other workers? In at least one context, the federal government says, No.
Last fall, six former service members hurt in Afghanistan sued to overturn Ottawa's new rules for compensating injured veterans.
Justice Department lawyers in British Columbia want their class-action suit dismissed as frivolous and an abuse of process. Moreover, they reject their view that Ottawa has any special moral and social obligation to veterans.
This is a startling position for any government to take, and strikingly inconsistent coming from the current one.
Just consider the many occasions when the Harper Conservatives have asserted their unwavering support for the troops – not to mention the millions spent this summer to celebrate past battlefield triumphs in the War of 1812.
While it may be argued the positions taken in a B.C. courtroom are more about legal niceties in a workplace-compensation case than they are about bedrock principle (Ottawa asserts that its new practice of paying out lump sums to injured soldiers rather than a life-time pension is perfectly lawful), that doesn't eliminate an inconvenient truth: veterans are indeed different from other federal employees – by the very nature of their service, and by the physical perils they accept to face as part of it.
Does it really need to be pointed out these are people who volunteer to put themselves in harm's way for the sake of Canada's national interest?
To suggest the federal government doesn't have a particular moral and social obligation to those who have served in the Canadian Forces is an affront, and veterans' advocates are right to characterize it as such.
Of course, Ottawa is entitled to try to hold the budgetary line through fair compensation, but the position it's taking in the B.C. case relative to its broader obligations comes off as small-minded.
If bean-counting imperatives are being used to diminish the sacred obligation this country's national government has long affirmed toward its veterans, that's bad policy.
If the veterans advocacy groups' vow to make it an issue in the next federal election comes to fruition, it could end up being bad politics as well.