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The Veterans Revolt: Charting A Year Of Rising Anger & Despair

Across Canada this past year a new entity has emerged into Canadian public life: the angry veteran. In courtrooms and hospital rooms and on Facebook pages, this group of former soldiers—largely but not all Afghan vets—have come out swinging hard against the government, the New Veterans Charter and the standard of care they receive. They don’t all belong to the same group and they themselves often don’t see eye to eye, but this is their story laid out in just the bare outline, arranged into a series of facts, events and quotes to form a chronology of anger and disappointment.


Master Bombardier Travis Halmrast
Nov. 25, 2013

Master Corporal William Elliott
Nov. 26, 2013

Warrant Officer Michael Robert McNeil
Nov. 27, 2013

Master Corporal Sylvain Lelievre
Dec. 3, 2013


Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson

Dec. 4, 2013: Amid the rash of suicides, Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson releases a video aimed at addressing the problem. In the video, he says “suicide is an international public health concern,” but that we “have an expert health care system to support us,” if only the soldiers will end the “self-stigma” and come forward to get help.


Former Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier. [PHOTO: SGT. MARCO COMISSO, ARMY NEWS]

Former Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier.

Dec. 15, 2013: During this wave of suicides, former Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier notes that many of our “young men and women have lost confidence in our country to support them” and makes a call for a public inquiry into the treatment of veterans in Canada. He writes on his personal Facebook page: “I’ve read a couple of the transcripts of the interview and already heard folks in the media refer to it. Just to be clear: I’m advocating a public look, (a public inquiry or even a Royal Commission) at how we treat our veterans here in Canada, whether they are serving or not. Because, even with all the stories we have heard in recent weeks, I believe the greater problem lies outside the CF. How can we build on the many good programs and people working hard in support now, and make sure, as a nation, that we get this right. God knows that if we had screwed up our missions, there would have been lots of public investigation into what had gone wrong, why and who was to blame! Canada’s sons and daughters in uniform stood tall in our defence. Canada now needs to stand tall in defence of them.”

Retired Corporal Leona MacEachern
Dec. 25, 2013

Corporal Adam Eckhardt
Jan. 3, 2014

Corporal Camilo Sanhueza-Martinez
Jan. 8, 2014

Lieutenant-Colonel Stephane Beauchemin
Jan. 16, 2014

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino. [PHOTO: CPL. DARCY LEFEBVRE, DND]

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.

Jan. 28, 2014: A group of disgruntled veterans arrive in Ottawa to meet with Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino in an attempt to stop Veterans Affairs Canada from closing eight offices, which they said would negatively impact their ability to receive care. In the event, Fantino showed up 70 minutes late and then stormed off, telling the veterans the decision had already been made. Not only were the veterans outraged by the ill-treatment, but calls for Fantino to be fired were made in Parliament the next day. “What the minister did yesterday was disgraceful. The only thing we want is a commitment to keep open the eight offices and reopen the Prince George office. Veterans have earned that respect,” said a joint statement from the veterans at the meeting. That same day, Fantino issued an apology, stating the delay was “due to a cabinet meeting that ran long.”

Sergeant Ronald Anderson
Feb. 24, 2014 

Feb. 28, 2014: The government cuts a cheque for one cent and sends it to Denise Stark—the mother of Corporal Justin Stark, an Afghan veteran who committed suicide in 2011 at age 22. “It’s humiliating and degrading,” said Keven Ellis on behalf of the family. “It took the wind out of [Denise’s] sails. It’s been two-and-a-half years and she gets a cheque in the mail from the government addressed to her son for one cent? This woman lost her son…” Following the incident, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson personally apologized for the “insensitive bureaucratic screw-up” and said it wouldn’t happen again. Denise Stark accepted the apology.

April 9, 2014: Published on the Military Minds Facebook page by one of the administrators with a little note attached, saying “The more things change…”

“I would like to be able to make people see that those pale set faces and lean forms in ragged muddy uniforms sweeping on the foe with a godlike faith and high purpose, being faithful even to the uttermost agony of rent torn flesh, broken bones, shattered nerves with shattered souls or spirit, were not merely military machines, not blood thirsty man killers in a feast of blood and slaughter but just plain lonely Canadian boys that played at their mothers knees, carried their books to school, played hockey or baseball, living their short lives at home feeling all the little joys and sorrows. Left sweethearts and mothers behind as well as all the hopes or prospects of their youth and their ambitions.

Turned their backs on it, facing this hell—fighting, bleeding or dying because they believed it was the right thing to do.

How many of our leaders, teachers and preachers who heckle and insult the orphans and widows these boys left behind could rise to their spiritual height and claim courage?

At this time 15 years after the war they are still dropping off one by one. Lingering half sick and wholly sick both in body and spirit. Occasionally we hear of one of them taking his own life and immediately we hear some wise-cracker suggesting that these returned men are sort of nutty anyway.

There is a strange and terrible contrast between people’s attitude toward the dead soldier and the live one. It seems sometimes as though it was a serious mistake for any of them to come back to their home land, for their welcome seems to be very hard mixed and questionable and continues to this day.”

–Frank S. Iriam, Canadian sniper, scout and observer who served in World War I from August 1914–September 1919. Gassed and wounded in action. Written in 1933.

April 28, 2014: Afghanistan war veteran Chris Dupee was the founder of the Military Minds peer-support group for veterans with post-traumatic stress issues. As his own battle with PTSD reached a critical point, he posted this on his Facebook wall.

“Get diagnosed with PTSD, your career clock starts ticking. Basically the moral of the story is, shut the f–k up and take it if you want to continue in the forces. I say that but don’t really mean it, your mental health is number one, so deal with it. That said, a release is the true beginning of your fight. In my case I have 5 mouths to feed and a roof to keep over our heads. I won’t get my pension because I have not served 10 years. By the time of my release it will be 9 years and 8-9 months…

If I got out with at least a pension, I’d know no matter what, my mortgage would be paid for, and I’d just try and find a job to cover off the rest. Now I’m all f–ked up, no pension, no job, but many mouths to feed. I understand I’m just a waste to the forces, and if I’m not deployable, well then I’m not employable, it’s now my job to bow out and let someone else in.

This stressor has weighed so friggen heavy on me it’s not fit. I signed the dotted line to be a soldier for the rest of my life, I was set, but made the mistake of putting my hand up and saying I’m f–ked up sir “tic toc tic toc.”

I am probably at my worst right now since the day I put my hand up, yet they look me in the eye and say I’m doing so much better, but here, take this prescription. FML. Time to figure out what’s next.”


The last Canadian flag flown in the Afghanistan mission passes from Harper to Johnston. [PHOTO: ADAM DAY]

The last Canadian flag flown in the Afghanistan mission passes from Harper to Johnston.

May 8, 2014: Royal Canadian Legion Dominion President Gordon Moore objects to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s intention to receive the last Canadian flag flown in the Afghanistan mission during the ceremony at the National Day of Honour. Instead, said Moore, the flag should be accepted by Governor General David Johnston who “is the commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. That’s who we as former members and serving members hold in respect because he is our commander. I firmly believe that’s who should be receiving the flag.” The Globe and Mail picks up on Moore’s complaint and gives the story prominent coverage. In the end, the flag passes from Harper to Johnston.

May 9, 2014, was officially designated the National Day of Honour to provide a sense of closure for the end of Canada’s war in Afghanistan. Many veterans did not appreciate the gesture. Captain Wayne Johnston (now retired) who is the founder of Wounded Warriors Canada, is quoted in the Sun newspapers on May 10: “Yeah, I’ll say this, and you can write it if you want,” said Johnston. “The last refuge of a scoundrel is patriotism. Right now, I’m sorry, I view this prime minister and this government as scoundrels,” he added. “They think a f–king parade is going to change my mind?” asked Johnston. “Not a f–king chance.”

Meanwhile, Bruce Moncur, a wounded Afghan veteran and the founder of the Canadian Afghan Veterans Association, wrote a column published on the Huffington Post Canada.

“When I was asked to write about the Day of Honour I found it difficult. I knew that the sooner I finished the better, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around it. The ceremony itself went off without a hitch. The military worked within the seven-week time- frame flawlessly, DND followed the word of command and put on a parade that would make Caesar jealous, while cities across Canada honoured the 40,000-plus Afghan veterans with a display of gratitude that was truly appreciated. Despite these facts, I have misgivings about painting a happy picture of military affairs in Canada. One day of organized remembrance does not undo the actions—or lack thereof—of our government on every other day. I fear that our veterans continue to be mistreated and disrespected within a system that ignores their sacrifices on a daily basis.

When I arrived at the ceremony I did not anticipate having to march on parade. I was conflicted, and yet I fell in to ranks. A retired colonel began to delegate, immediately appointing a Regimental Sergeant Major RSM to form us up. They began to call out drill, but I could not bring myself to follow the word of command. Being called to attention, after all of the grief my injury caused me, was too difficult. Veterans Affairs of Canada legislation is set up in such a way that a penetrating head injury like the one I sustained in Afghanistan will garner you 10 per cent of 298,000 dollars. I will not come to attention.

The conservative government is currently arguing that the “moral obligation” owed to injured veterans spoken of by former Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden does not apply to those veterans now. When we were a poorer country, with more veterans and less people, there was a moral obligation. But when we are a richer country with less veterans and more people, the moral obligation no longer applies. I argue that you must possess and act in honour to declare a day in support of it.

This should be a cautionary tale to everyone. The veterans’ inability to come together proved to be their downfall…”

On June 4, 2014, Retired Major Mark Campbell who lost both his legs in combat in Afghanistan travels to Ottawa to attend a protest on Parliament Hill. Campbell is one of the six former soldiers currently suing the government to establish their fair treatment under the New Veterans Charter.

“This is not what has me punching and trying to kick in bed at night,” said Campbell, referring to his missing legs. “My trauma continues every single day (because of) my sense of betrayal at the hands of the Canadian government.”

“Right now,” Campbell told the Canadian Press in early June, “based on the lawsuit, the government of Canada’s position is that there is no special relationship and the government of Canada has no special responsibility towards soldiers more than—and I quote—‘welfare recipients.’”

“[Changing that] would be beneficial for those who are serving, because they would know once and for all that the government has their back should they be injured in the line of duty—or worse, killed,” he said.

Master Corporal Denis Demers
Sept. 12, 2014


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