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February 23, 2015

Why not vote for Harper: mistreating the Canadian military

Scott Stockdale

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Canadian military personnel who could find themselves in harm's way defending Canadian interests may want to consider purchasing private health insurance to protect against possible debilitating injuries, if the Harper government continues it's current policy.

In early March 2006, when newly-elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Canadian troops in Afghanistan telling them: “We're not going to cut and run; that's not the Canadian way and that's not my way ... I'm behind you and the Canadian people are behind you,” who could have imagined that nine long years later his government would have spent nearly $700,000 in court fighting a class-action lawsuit by wounded Afghanistan veterans, who need money for their long-time care?

At the time of the early March 2006 visit, Maj. John Blythe said many at the base in Afghanistan were impressed the prime minister selected Afghanistan as his first foreign trip and were gratified to hear the government supported the mission.

"The morale was at an all-time high right after his speech," he said.

It seems these Canadian soldiers misunderstood Prime Minister Harper's comments about being behind them to mean he would support them in their time of need.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's more likely that what Mr. Harper meant when he said “I'm behind you” was that he was thousands of kilometres behind them - safely out of harm's way - and willing to fight to the last drop of their blood, if it would burnish his image as a strong leader willing to stand up to terrorists.

Meanwhile, the group of former Canadian Forces members – Daniel Christopher Scott, Mark Douglas Campbell, Gavin Michael, David Flett, Kevin Albert Matthew Berry, Bradley Darren Quast and Aaron Michael Bedard -- filed the class-action lawsuit, arguing that new compensation rules imposed by the Veterans Charter violate their constitutional and Charter rights.

In 2006, the Veterans Charter eliminated lifetime disability payments for injured soldiers and replaced them with lump-sum payments.

Lawyers for the former soldiers argue that the compensation offered now falls far short of compensation for injured non-military workers, and by civil courts in cases of accidents or personal injuries.

But the Harper government is not listening. Justice Gordon Weatherill rejected a request by lawyers for the Attorney General of Canada to toss the case.

In their statement of defence, lawyers for the Harper government argued that Ottawa has no special obligation to wounded veterans who fight the country's wars, and it is unfair to hold it accountable for decisions made by lawmakers a century ago.

The president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, Mike Blais, is calling on the government to negotiate a settlement rather than pursue the court case any further.

Mr. Blais called the legal fees incurred by the government “unconscionable,” and said Canadians would be “as appalled as I am” to see how hard the government is fighting wounded veterans in court.

“They shouldn’t be spending money on lawyers fighting a man who has lost two legs, his testicles, sustained serious internal (and) brain stem injuries, complex PTSD,” Mr. Blais said.

Indeed, Prime Minster Harper should be called to account in the court of public opinion: he should explain to Canadians why he feels this is the Canadian way.

Under questioning from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Harper said the government wouldn’t comment on matters before the court. However, Mr. Harper part of the problem, not part of the solution. 

What other leader of a country in a liberal democracy would have the gall to claim that the government has no special obligation to injured veterans who fight the country's wars - especially one who is continuous saying that keeping Canadians safe is his number one priority, thus justifying the war in Afghanistan and the current military action in Iraq? Albeit he's constantly being egged on by the right-wing media in Canada - i.e., the National Post never tires of characterizing Mr. Harper's warmongering as “a more muscular foreign policy.”

Moreover, it's apparent that this increases his poll numbers, as there's always a new bogeyman threatening Canadians' safety.

As the mission in Afghanistan concluded Mr.Harper told Sun media reporter Brian Lilley, in March 2014, he is sure the effort was worthwhile, pointing to the "tremendous professional lessons" the military has learned, the humanitarian aid delivered, the schools built, the changes in agriculture and government brought to the Afghan people.

"It has achieved its central objective," Mr. Harper said, pointing out that Afghanistan is no longer a security threat, or a staging ground for international terrorism.

But that, of course, doesn't mean the threat of international terrorism has been eradicated, or even diminished, for that matter. Indeed, Mr. Harper is constantly pointing this out as a justification for Canadian military action in Iraq.

An Abacus Data poll conducted in early March 2014 showed 83% of Canadians said they were "proud of the Canadians who fought and served our country in Afghanistan." Yet that same poll showed that 79% felt "Very little has really been gained for all causalities and money spent fighting the war in Afghanistan."

Is there any reason to assume the results of the Harper government's adventures in Iraq will be any different, or that wounded veterans will fair any better, as long as Mr. Harper remains Prime Minister?

Judging by the fact that his poll numbers have increased significantly since he sent Canadian military personnel to Iraq, maybe this is the Canadian way.  Perhaps Mr. Harper is right when he says” “A great evil has been descending on our world.”

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