On May 9, 2014, amidst the pomp and circumstance of marching bands, dignitaries and aircraft buzzing overhead, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the crowds gathered on Parliament Hill that the names of the 158 soldiers killed in Afghanistan would be engraved “on the hearts of all Canadians who cherish freedom, justice and human dignity. These are the things they died protecting. Canadians are safer and Canada is stronger because of their sacrifice.”*
A noble statement but not as meaningful as the promise made by Prime Minister Robert Borden to Canadian troops preparing for the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Prime Minister Borden said “no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.”**
Prime Minister Borden was explicit: “The men by whose sacrifice and endurance the free institutions of Canada will be preserved must be re-educated where necessary and re-established on the land or in pursuits or vocations as they may desire to follow. The maimed and the broken will be protected, the widow and the orphan will be helped and cherished.”
The Canadian government enshrined this promise in legislation and honoured it for 93 years—until it was obliterated by Prime Minister Harper.
Harper betrays veterans
In 2006 the Harper government convinced the House that veterans would be better served by eliminating their access to benefits under the Pension Act in favour of “new” benefits under the New Veterans Charter.***
In fact the opposite was true. The New Veteran’s Charter reduced the compensation available to Afghanistan war veterans who went to war under the Borden promise and returned home under the Harper promise.****
This betrayal is the result of the Canadian Forces two-pronged strategy. First, instill pride in the Forces and provide a competitive quality of life and rewarding careers to its members and employees; and second, improve resource stewardship by balancing investments for current operations against investments in people, infrastructure and equipment required in the future.
Mr Harper’s New Veteran’s Charter demonstrates that soldiers who were grievously injured, but did not die in Afghanistan, don’t fit the second prong of the strategy. They are no longer “resources” meriting “investment” because they can’t be deployed in current operations and certainly can’t be used to fight future battles.
So Mr Harper simply kicks them to the curb and moves on.
The Honour of the Crown
Mr Harper forgot one tiny detail—he was attacking warriors.
In Oct 2012, six vets injured in Afghanistan started a class action against the Harper government.
The six include Mark Campbell, a 47 year old major in the Princess Patricia Light Infantry who was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when he got caught in a Taliban ambush and hit by an IED. The explosion blew off both of his legs. It took 90 minutes to evacuate Mr Campbell in the midst of an intense gun battle and an additional 25 minutes to helicopter him to the field hospital at Kandahar Airfield. A few days later Mr Campbell was flown to a hospital in Germany and from there to the U of A hospital.
Mr Campbell and his fellow litigants are relying on the government’s promise to help them put their lives back together again…and the New Veterans Charter simply doesn’t cut it.
The veterans are represented by Donald Sorochan, a Vancouver lawyer, who has taken on the case pro bono. Mr Sorochan says the Harper government is bound by “the honour of the Crown” and must honour the promise made by Prime Minister Borden in 1917. The New Veterans Charter violates this promise because it leaves injured veterans worse off than they were under the Pension Act. He wants the New Veterans Charter struck down and veterans’ benefits and compensations under the Pension Act restored.
Harper’s lawyers respond
Mr Harper’s lawyers’ responded with an application to kill the lawsuit on the basis that it failed to disclose any reasonable claim and was unnecessary, frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process– legalese for the veterans don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.
Mr Harper’s lawyers also argued that Prime Minister Borden’s promise was nothing more than a “political speech” and was never intended to bind his or subsequent governments…something well worth remembering when Mr Harper starts campaigning in 2015.
The BC Supreme Court disagreed with Mr Harper’s lawyers. The veterans are free to proceed to trial with the “honour of the Crown” argument as well as Charter and Bill of Rights arguments.
Duty and decency
The veterans’ case is complex. It involves the principles of parliamentary sovereignty, the expansion of “the honour of the Crown” principle beyond the aboriginal law context and other significant legal issues. One way or another it will find its way to the Supreme Court of Canada—where Chief Justice Beverley McLachin (recently the target of a scurrilous attack by Mr Harper) will have an opportunity to consider the conduct of Mr Harper’s government.
Regardless of how the courts decide, the words of Sir Robert Borden ring true. “Duty and decency demand that those who are saving democracy shall not find democracy a house of privilege, or a school of poverty and hardship.”**
Duty and decency also demand that a prime minister who fails to honour the promises made by past prime ministers at least refrain from squabbling with the veterans over who should receive the last Canadian flag that flew in Afghanistan. Mr Harper appeared to be under the mistaken impression that he, not the Governor General, was the Commander in Chief of the Canadian Forces.
Mr Harper finally agreed to hand the flag over to Governor General, but only after he had received it first.
Duty and decency demand honour—a concept Mr Harper has utterly failed to grasp in his dealings with Canada’s war veterans and his bickering with the veterans charged with bringing the last Canadian flag in Afghanistan home to the Canadian people.
*Calgary Herald, May 10, 2014
**See the Miller Thomas website for the legal documents relating to the Scott v Canada (AG) class action http://equitassociety.ca/legal-action
***Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act SC 2011, c 12
I wonder if it will cost more to defend this complex lawsuit than it would to provide the benefits these veterans are entitled to.
I know soldiers who gladly went and did their duty and would do it again because they are loyal to their oath and their country. I remember all the years that the unofficial motto of the Canadian Forces was “we have done so much, with so little for so long we can do anything with nothing”. It is easy for a government and the politicians to send our soldiers, men and women into harms way and on our behalf. Most of those politicians have never served, do not understand the consequences, most Canadians do not even understand the consequences.
I remember during this long war that nothing has been accomplished. Afghanistan is still a failed state, it has been a failed state since Alexander the Great and it will be long after the generation of young men and women who have fought there have long since passed. No this war accomplished nothing besides the loss of 158 brave young people whose lives were cut short and countless others lives shattered. I think if you asked a vet from WWII, they could say they accomplished much. I bet many servicepersons are questioning why they fought this war at all. However they did because that was their job.
However the war is over, the medals handed out and we now want to forget about it. I remember all the “we support our troops” bumper stickers, vehicle magnets and other patriotic items. Maybe we need new ones that say “we still support our troops” and “we support out veterans”. We owe our troops a debt of gratitude, they get sent into battle without a choice. They are sent by a government that supposedly represent us. It is up to each of us to ensure that these young men and women who gave their lives and who still give their lives deserve some loyalty in return and we should do our duty to them as well.
Excellent comments Einar. The one that resonated with me the most was “most Canadians do not even understand the consequences”. You’re absolutely right. It’s not until you learn the individual stories of these men and women that you get an inkling of what they went through. The legal documents filed in the case describe how these soldiers were injured and what they went through after their injuries. One fellow, 20 year old Kevin Berry, injured his knees in an “emergency dismount” from his jeep. His knees were badly torn up but due to the “high operational tempo” and permanent shortage of personnel he was sent out to patrol the streets of Kabul in knee braces carrying 15 kilograms of supplies and equipment, 30 kilograms of body armour and 1000 rounds of ammunition, a radio and other equipment. That’s more than 45 kilograms (or 99 pounds) of stuff when he could barely walk. It’s gonig to take time and money to get this young man back together again. The government absolutely has to step up!
Ugh! Again shame on Mr. Harper! All I hear from military families is “They are trying to take away this… or they have taken away that.” Terrible treatment for men and women who risk their lives.
Imadeit: you made an important point about military families. They also suffer as a result of the Harper government’s changes to the compensation and support program. Harper’s government managed to downgrade the support to both the vets and their families by telling the House that he’d engaged in the most thorough consultation ever undertaken with the vets on this topic. This was not true but the New Veterans Charter flew through the House in less than a minute based on this assurance. It was only after the vets tried to access their “new improved” benefits that they realized what Harper had done. And yet he has the audacity to call a National Day of Honour and think that he’s done all he needs to do to live up to the promise of Sir Robert Borden.
.. again we see the shallow character of The Harper Party. I often wonder how those among the 2500 + ‘Justice’ lawyers, or the multitude of outside lawyers explain to their families just what they will do for such a dark, deceitful, obstructive, secretive government. Strange how silent Arthur Hamilton has suddenly become. Did he retire? Normally he would be leading the 900/hour charge for his dear friend Stephen Harper.. but now the right wing brigade follows Guy Giorno, who seemingly also represents Nigel Wright.. It will be fascinating to learn what startling strategy leaks from the Harper War Room to defend the Harper Government from its own Veteran victims. Lovely that The Harper Government embraces the ‘value’ that promises made by a Prime Minister are just political speech.. cheap, meaningless.. partisan chatter.. and not worth spit.
I too wonder about the government’s lawyers and how they come to terms with perpetuating Harper’s destructive policies. A legal document filed by the veterans’ lawyer states that “given the unlimited resources of the Crown, applications to strike pleadings are known to private lawyers as “page 1 in the [government’s] defensive playbook”, an obstructionist strategy described by other courts as “trench warfare” in an effort to prevent the case from being heard at all.
The contrast between the government’s outside counsel who charge the astronomical rates you’ve described, and the veterans’ counsel who is running this case for free says it all.
For me the overarching issue is how can the Federal Government expect loyalty and respect from our forces, when they treat them with such disregard, even betrayal. As a Canadian I am ashamed of this. The subtext cries out for commentary, too. Harper declares this war was about Canadians’ freedom and safety. Is that what it was about? How are we, in the present day, (or the world, or the Afghan people for that matter) better off for our loss of these 158 soldiers. Is it sacrilege to ask this question? I know the soldiers and their colleagues don’t question the why’s and wherefores- they “just go”. All the same, their sacrifices shouldn’t be taken for granted, and I grieve for their families.
Elaine, you’ve asked a very important question about why we go to war in the first place. I’d be interested in hearing the readers views on the rationale behind the War in Afghanistan, which at 12 years was the longest war in our history.
With respect to the soldiers though, you’re right, they’re asked to go and they go, no questions asked. The legal documents contain a moving paragraph that says when a Canadian puts on the uniform, he or she makes an extraordinary commitment to place the welfare of others ahead of themselves. A veteran…is someone who at one point in their life “wrote a blank cheque made payable to the “government of Canada” for an amount of “up to and including their life”.
And this is how the government of Canada under Harper pays them back…it’s shameful.
This situation is not just shameful, this is to me mental rape. They know our men and women cannot say no to their demands runing the risk of treason. People should not join the military if this is the treatment they will get back from their own government. Interestingly enough there is always money when it comes to buy equipment and send them out to other countries. They have just sent some troops to Nigeria at a cost of 250 thousand dollars a day. As long as the money is spent as propaganda to show the world we care, it is never a problem. When the soldiers come back and need medical help, then it is an internal matter and can be hidden and denied. What a despicable attitude.
This is an amazing situation but there is another one that to me is as unbelievable. This is the women raped in our military. The Macleans magazine just published another major article on this and it seems that both the government and military leaders think that this is somehow in the minds of women serving in their ranks. Worse, women’s complaints are useless and mean nothing. Summarizing, women are just there to satisfy their male colleagues sexual needs. According to the military police, women should be firmer when they say no. Amazing really when one thinks that we are in Canada, not in Nigeria. This is so absurd that in the case of Stephanie Raymond, after her complaint, they actually moved the rapist to the office where she worked and after she requested they be separated, she was the one that was moved and deemed ‘unfit to continue her service’. WOW – this sounds like the Congolese troops in action.
Now I understand why a friend of mine that served in Bosnia during the calamities there, told me that local women did not welcome the UN troops with open arms when they were moved there to protect the population from Serb attacks. They were between the repeated rapes from the Serbian troops or the less frequent from the UN troops. By the way the UN troops in that part of the world were basically from the West, including Canada.
The older I become the more I respect and love my three loyal dogs at home. What a filthy species we are.
Carlos, your comment about treason reminded me of a couple of facts set out in the pleadings–soldiers unlike any other “employees” cannot disobey an order or avoid risk by using their own judgment in a particular situation. Also it wasn’t until 1998 that the National Defence Act was amended to eliminate the death penalty for soldiers “showing cowardice in the fact of the enemy” (Canada abolished the death penalty for everyone else in 1976). Since WWI, WWII and the Korean War, our soldiers have engaged 42 military actions all over the globe. Recently Harper sent them off to the Ukraine. Given that Harper isn’t prepared to back away from Canada’s military commitments to others, it’s appalling that he would back away from his commitment to our soldiers.
I don’t know the details about the Stephanie Raymond situation, but it like she’s been treated abysmally. Thanks for the heads up.
Talking about humans and continuing on our Soapbox suggested reading, here is a very ‘encouraging’ article.
Interesting article Carlos. I find it hard to believe that companies are “surprised” when it turns out that an employee or a contractor hired by an employee engages in bribery, especially when the company is working in a country where bribery is rampant. Every big company (and the smaller ones too) have compliance programs that include training in how to conduct business lawfully. There’s no excuse for this behavior. Clearly these companies think the risk is worth it.