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'A massive win,' MMF leader says on eve of Ottawa's apology for Métis veterans mistreatment

David Chartrand, who has led the charge for Métis veterans across the country, will be in Regina Tuesday to hear Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay apologize on behalf of Canada. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press files)</p>

David Chartrand, who has led the charge for Métis veterans across the country, will be in Regina Tuesday to hear Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay apologize on behalf of Canada. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press files)

OTTAWA — The federal government will do 'the honourable thing' Tuesday when it issues an apology for abandoning Métis veterans of the Second World War.

"The day has come where justice is done," Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand said Monday, adding the gesture will help the veterans' descendants move forward.

Chartrand, who has led the charge for Métis veterans across the country, will be in Regina Tuesday to hear Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay apologize on behalf of Canada.

It’s estimated that hundreds of Métis people enlisted as soldiers during the Second World War. Indigenous people signed up for service at a higher rate than the general population and were promised the same compensation as other Canadians, but it often didn’t materialize.

That left battle-traumatized Métis people without help from the federal government to get career training, find jobs or access necessary health care, Chartrand said.

"It’s not what they wanted; it’s what they were promised," he said. "A lot of them turned to alcohol to help the pain."

Many died young and their children grew up with far less economic security and emotional support than other veterans' families.

Ottawa compensated First Nations veterans in the early 2000s, but not Métis.

A February report from the House veterans committee said the lack of an apology was a barrier to reconciliation.

"The commemoration of past sacrifices is an irreplaceable unifying force that can open paths to easing disagreements, sincerely and mutually recognizing injustices, and committing to healing them," the MPs argued.

The report also noted that while most First Nations people were registered in band documents shared with Ottawa, there were fewer Métis records.

In June, the Métis National Council, which includes the MMF, signed a $30-million payment agreement with Ottawa. Chartrand has spent two decades pushing for a deal.

The agreement extends to Métis veterans alive as of June 2016; the bulk of the funding will go to a trust for scholarships and initiatives to commemorate Métis vets.

So far, the MNC has been able to confirm fewer than a dozen who are still alive.

One of them, from western Manitoba, will get a $20,000 cheque Tuesday. He served in Canada, but has a deceased brother who was deployed in Europe.

Chartrand said German troops took the brother as a prisoner of war after Canadians landed near Juno Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

He said many teenagers and young men stepped up in the Second World War, when government agents recruited soldiers in Métis villages.

"When they put the campaign out, our people went in droves; they almost emptied out all the men," he said.

Tuesday’s apology stems from a pledge Chartrand said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made before the 2015 election.

"For us it’s a massive win," he said.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Tuesday, September 10, 2019 at 2:12 PM CDT: Adds dropped word in headline.

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