I spent 5 years in the Veterans Affairs machinery, being chewed up and spit out at various levels along the way. The same amount of time my father fought the Nazis in World War II. Veterans Affairs initially rated my injuries and disabilities at 5%, or $14,000 for a ruined spine (cervical and lumbar). It was devastating. Not just on a personal care level, dealing with the effects of my injuries, but at a professional level as well. The military is an honour based institution. You are honoured with a salute. You are honoured to give a salute. You consider it an act of honour to look after the welfare of your men, and to complete a mission with them. Your Regimental battle honours (flag) are just that - honours earned by men and women before you. The sense of dishonour and betrayal imparted on you from the bureaucracy and political masters of Veterans Affairs can destroy you if you don't have the support to take it on. I was lucky, because I had that support from my family. Many are not, and many end their lives is sheer frustration at a system that denies them their honour and desperately needed help.
That brings me to the Liberal government, Justin Trudeau and Kent Hehr. During the last election the Liberals promised to recognize the "sacred obligations" Canada has to its veterans - especially its injured and disabled veterans. Trudeau himself made statements about it several times on the campaign trail and as Prime Minister:
"For 10 years, Stephen Harper draped himself in the Canadian flag, then betrayed the men and women who fought for it."
"There are a lot of court cases across this country that this government has taken on to deprive veterans of their benefits, to go after individuals for unreasonable reasons... we would actually cease (them) if this government changes on October 19."
Then after being elected, and as Prime Minister, Trudeau pledged:
"We are also committed to ensuring that new and significant investments are made to meet the scared obligation that we have to our veterans."
All that changed this week. The federal government ended the year long truce with six veterans who sued in the British Columbia courts to have the sacred obligation of the federal government to its injured troops upheld, and the treatment of those veterans to reflect that principle. The Harper government went to the BC Court of Appeal to have the lower courts decision overturned that the six veterans had the right to file such a class action lawsuit. However, with the installation of Erin O'Toole as Veterans Affairs Minister, the appeal by the government was put on hold for a year to negotiate an honourable result. This week the federal government notified the court it intended to continue the appeal of the veterans' right to launch the class action suit.
The documents submitted to the court by the Liberals painfully, and humiliatingly, denounce any obligation whatsoever to injured and disabled veterans:
" the submissions made by [former Conservative attorney-general Rob Nicholson] on the hearing of the appeal, and as set out in the factum filed by him, accurately reflect the current position of the federal government...
The House of Commons motion referenced by the plaintiffs (6 veterans), while it records the opinions of the then members of Parliament on the matters referred to in the motion, does not have the force of law and cannot bind the federal government."
There is nothing that cuts so deep as a betrayal of trust. There is nothing that is more important to the dignity of the individual soldier than the honour of his service. Trudeau, and his Liberal government managed to destroy it all by this one court action. His minister Kent Hehr appeared on CTV's Power Play show with host Mercedes Stephenson yesterday and several times reiterated "Canada's sacred obligation to its veterans". He did so while trying to wiggle out of the straight forward questioning of the host on the government's court actions. His words range hollow. His own government's position is his words mean nothing and are simply the "opinions of the then members of Parliament... (which) does not have the force of law".
The Liberal Party has made a very serious mistake in stabbing the veterans of this country in the back. It took decades for veterans, and military people in general, to look past previous Liberal governments and their treatment of the military. That leap of faith has now been dashed. The lingering wound of betrayal is festering in all veterans as we seek not only to have our own wounds looked after, but those that inevitably come after us. It is a brotherhood ( and that includes our fellow female soldiers). The brotherhood now knows how easily, and without a bit of shame, a Liberal government can leave the bitter taste of betrayal in their mouths. It means we now have to fight another battle together against another government, but for the Liberals it means that whatever bond they had hoped to hold with the vast veteran community, and military community at large, is as broken as any betrayed bond can be. Anything other than a complete reversal of the Liberals "new" position, and anything other than a new minister, will bury the Liberal Party of Canada and leave it dead in the eyes of veterans, and military men and women, across this country who honourably served it.