The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ex-soldiers protest impending office veterans affairs office closures

  • Print
Veteran Ron Clarke joins fellow Veterans and PSAC members as they hold a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, January 28, 2014. The groups is asking ask the government to reconsider its decision to close Veterans Affairs district offices in nine communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Enlarge Image

Veteran Ron Clarke joins fellow Veterans and PSAC members as they hold a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, January 28, 2014. The groups is asking ask the government to reconsider its decision to close Veterans Affairs district offices in nine communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino appeared to add insult to injury late Tuesday in firmly rejecting the pleas of ex-soldiers to halt the impending closure of eight of the department's regional offices.

A scheduled meeting with a delegation of veterans, at least one from the Second World War, was abruptly cancelled and the group met with senior Conservatives, including MP Laurie Hawn and the minister's chief of staff.

Just before veterans were set to hold a late evening news conference, Fantino met with them in a basement office on Parliament Hill to reinforce the message that the centres would close on schedule.

"The decision has been made," Fantino said before leaving for another meeting. "We have found alternate accommodations that we feel will adequately address veterans and their needs."

Centres — in Kelowna, B.C., Saskatoon, Brandon, Man., Thunder Bay, Ont., Windsor, Ont., Sydney, N.S., Charlottetown and Corner Brook, N.L. — are slated to shut down Friday as part of a move to more online and remote services. A ninth office has already closed in Prince George, B.C.

One veteran, Ron Clarke, said the minister's brusk and disrespectful treatment has succeeded in alienating him from a core Conservative constituency, and he urged ex-soldiers to take out their frustration at the ballot box in 2015.

"I would like to call for Mr. Fantino's resignation — or firing," Clarke said. "Mr. Harper and his Conservatives had best be prepared for the next election. There are two (other) parties who said they'd open our offices, and (soldiers) might want to think about voting for them, but not the Conservatives."

Seven veterans, including Roy Lamore whose service dates back to the 1940s, says he and others feel betrayed by a government that promised to take care of them and younger soldiers.

"These closures will put veterans at risk," Lamore, a resident of Thunder Bay, told a Parliament Hill news conference. "I hope the government is listening. Why do we, as veterans, have to beg?"

But earlier in the day during question period in the House of Commons, the prime minister brushed aside the criticism and noted that veterans can still get everything they need from the less specialized 584 Service Canada offices coast-to-coast.

With the declining veterans population, Stephen Harper suggested, the Second War World-era structure had out lived its purpose.

"There are a small number of service centres that are being closed that frankly service very few people, had very few visits," Harper told the House of Commons.

"That's being replaced with 600 service centres across the country, and in an increased number of cases employees will actually go and meet veterans instead of the other way around."

Harper also pointed to increased investments the Conservatives have made under the New Veterans Charter.

NDP Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair linked the imminent cuts to the increasing number of soldiers and ex-soldiers who've taken their lives since the fall.

"When our forces are facing a crisis of eight military suicides in two months, there's never been a more important time to maintain those services," Mulcair said.

Former corporal Bruce Moncur, who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2006, says the online system has increased frustration even among his Internet-savvy friends seeking benefits and treatment.

Filling out forms and navigating the department's bureaucratic maze has taken him up to a week, he said, when just one office visit would have sorted it out in a morning.

Moncur, who suffered a shrapnel wound to the head, says he believes it's a deliberate strategy to reduce use of services.

"When you keep getting the door slammed in your face, you just end up giving up," he said. "It's the no-go policy. If you're told 'No' enough times, you'll go away."

Following the meeting, Moncur pleaded with veterans to not be discouraged and file for the benefits to which they are entitled.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents Veterans Affairs staff, has been running a high-profile campaign against the closures. One of the frontline workers, Michelle Bradley, said she feels defeated and ashamed because veterans will no longer get the personal service they deserve.

The union says the specialized knowledge of veterans staff cannot be replicated at Service Canada centres, where the public applies for employment insurance and even social insurance numbers.

The inability to access services, particularly mental health, could have dire consequences, other veterans warned.

One ex-soldier at the news conference soberly recounted the struggle of a comrade, who took his own life years after being wounded in Cyprus.

The Harper government plans a series of commemorations this year to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France, as well as the centennial of the start of the First World War.

"It's really convenient to show yourself in such a commemorative way, except services are required," said Moncur. "I think the money would be better spent to help veterans that need the help."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Jim Flaherty remembered at visitation as irreplaceable

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Deer in Canola field near Elma, Manitoba. 060706.
  • A monarch butterfly looks for nectar in Mexican sunflowers at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Monday afternoon-Monarch butterflys start their annual migration usually in late August with the first sign of frost- Standup photo– August 22, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think Manitoba needs stronger regulations for temporary workers?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google