Afghanistan veterans are seen during a remembrance ceremony at Valcartier army base near Quebec City August 30, 2011.
Credits: BENOIT GARIEPY/ QMI AGENCY
“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”
— Jose Narosky, aphorist
When Canada sent our armed forces into harm’s way in Afghanistan, and into a hostile land so distant that many Canadians would be hard-pressed to find it on a map, our troops responded by risking both life and limb for the dutiful honour of representing their country.
In cynical circles, it was called a fool’s mission.
In the right circles, however, it was called patriotism, which is a rare commodity among the left-leaning who take democracy for granted and ignore just how it was obtained and then protected.
Perhaps they should visit Vimy. Or Beny-sur-Mer.
Democracy is never easily won, not in world wars and certainly not amid the tribal rivalry and terrorist activity such as in the mountainous and inhospitable terrain of Afghanistan.
Any journalist who spent time embedded with our troops outside the wire of Kandahar has come home talking about how, if Afghanistan isn’t hell on Earth, it is certainly in the same postal code.
The Highway of Heroes from CFB Trenton to the morgue in downtown Toronto witnessed 158 caskets take the final journey home from Afghanistan, while figures released by the Department of National Defence (DND) in early 2011 show that the total number of Canadian soldiers injured and wounded during those nine years of actual war had reached 1,859 by the end of December 2010 .
This is no small price.
It was absolutely disheartening, therefore, to learn via documents recently tabled in Parliament that the Harper government — so pro-active at the outset with the multi-millions necessary to ensure our troops were properly kitted and armed for a long war in Afghanistan — had then spent $750,000 in legal fees to fight some of these very same veterans over the clawbacks to their military pensions.
While the Harper government has since abandoned its legal fight against these wounded and often maimed veterans, it is unconscionable to think it spent so much money before finding a conscience — if, indeed, it was a conscience that was found.
It was likely more a realization that it was never going to win the case, and therefore more a matter of cutting losses — optically rather than financially — than a sudden pang of guilt. Skeptics, however, cannot be blamed for thinking the Harper government is still hiding something from the public. For why else would Justice Minister Rob Nicholson cite solicitor-client privilege for refusing to give Parliament itemized accounting of its legal fees?
After all, when an invoice totals $750,000 for legal advice, it would be well worth seeing who got what, how much, and why. Lawyers, of course, would rather slit their wrists than publicly cough up details on how much their brilliance cost taxpayers.
And they tend to stick together on this. The class-action suit, launched in 2007 by veterans’ advocate Dennis Manuge of Halifax, himself injured in the Bosnian conflict, involved upwards of 6,000 disabled veterans whose long-term disability pensions were reduced by the amount of money the monthly Veterans Affairs pension added to their cheques for pain and suffering.
DND apparently looked at these awards for pain and suffering as “income” and, in response, clawed it back on the veterans’ pensions so that they got virtually nothing for being legless, disfigured or having to ride around on a battery-powered wheelchair when, only months before, they were leading vigorous assaults on the Taliban.
It was last May that Federal Court Judge Robert Barnes rejected the government’s arguments that a clawback was justified — “unreservedly,” was the word used — and, a month later, both Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney threw up the white flag of surrender, caged its lawyers, and negated an appeal.
But not before spending three quarters of a million dollars fighting our wounded soldiers before coming to a settlement. That settlement, which includes retroactive payments, could reach
$600 million, a small price to suffer considering the price already paid.
And then there is the collateral damage of soldier suicides, and their internal battles with the very real demon of post-traumatic stress disorder. For them — wounded, crippled and mentally traumatized after serving their country in war — to be forced to sue the government that sent them into harm’s way for what amounts to nickels and dimes in a multi-billion-dollar federal budget was added insult to their injuries.
But the government suing them back? Indefensible.