The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Veterans, supporters protest against closures of Veterans Affairs offices

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Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, on Thursday January 30, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, on Thursday January 30, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - Hundreds of veterans and their supporters rallied Friday in several cities to protest Ottawa's decision to close eight Veterans Affairs offices across the country.

About 200 people gathered outside a Veterans Affairs office in Windsor, Ont., including many veterans wearing medals.

Theresa Charbonneau, the mother of Cpl. Andrew Grenon who was killed in Afghanistan, told the crowd that the government should be ashamed for taking the service away.

Charbonneau said while the veterans are not a large group, they need the government's help.

"And more than that what they have done for this country is huge," she said.

Afghan veteran Bruce Moncur said the rallies will send a clear message to the federal government.

"Canadian soldiers are the best at adapting and overcoming all obstacles set before them," Moncur told the Windsor rally.

"Document the problems that are bound to come from these closures and prove the Conservative government wrong for closing these branches," he said.

In Sydney, N.S., people gathered in the cold where an organizer said the closure will mean more than 4,000 people who received services from the office will no longer get the care they need.

Retired sergeant Ron Clarke, 73, said speeches were made and two black wreathes were laid on the door of the Sydney office by two Veterans Affairs workers.

"We wanted to do a type of funeral for the closing of the office," Clarke said.

"We need these offices to remain open for people like myself with post-traumatic stress disorder," he said.

Gatherings were also planned in Brandon, Man., Thunder Bay, Ont., Charlottetown and Corner Brook, N.L., where the offices are being closed. Another office has already closed in Prince George, B.C.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Tom Marshall added his voice to those protesting the closures Friday in a letter to Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.

Canadians respect their veterans and expect they will receive the highest quality service, no matter where they happen to live, Marshall said.

In Saskatoon, veterans held a news conference to speak out against the closure of the Veterans Affairs office in their community.

"This is a reckless decision that will hurt the men and women who have served this country," said veteran Bill Dubinski.

"These closures are betraying our veterans everywhere," he said.

Fantino has said services are just being shifted to Service Canada centres and online, which he claims will enhance access, and blames the public outcry on the union representing the Veteran Affairs staff.

The president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union called Friday for Fantino to resign immediately over the closing of the offices.

"Fantino's bullying, disrespect and indifference aimed against our veterans is nothing short of breathtaking," said OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

(AM800, The Canadian Press)

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