Some have been forgotten
On Remembrance Day, Canadians will remember those who fell in service to their country. Their names are etched on war graves, on memorial walls and in family scrapbooks.
Every name of the war dead is accounted for. In the case of the two world wars, it doesn’t matter where or how they died. If they served in uniform, they are remembered officially.
An investigation by the Globe and Mail, however, has discovered gaps in the recent record. Some names are missing from the Afghan conflict. Military psychiatrist Dr. Greg Passey calls them “the unknown fallen,” or, as the Globe says, “the unremembered.”
They include 59 veterans of the Afghanistan war who committed suicide. That’s more than one-third of the 158 soldiers killed in the 13-year war. They are war dead, victims of wounds to their minds, yet their names are not engraved on the Afghan Memorial Vigil because they weren’t killed by gunfire, or blown up by a roadside bomb.
The high number of suicides and soldiers with mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder should have been a bugle call for emergency repairs to a system that has failed to help the walking wounded. Some 14,000 serving members are still receiving benefits for mental-health issues.
Veterans have long been fighting a losing battle for improved addictions treatment and other mental-health services, as well as better benefits and programs to help them transition out of the military.
The former Harper government talked a good game about wanting to ensure veterans and serving soldiers were looked after, but deeds never quite matched their lofty words.
Former senator and general Romeo Dallaire has frequently complained about “penny-pinching” by Veterans Affairs. He has called on the government to introduce a social covenant similar to one in Britain, where “a duty of care” to soldiers and veterans is recognized in law.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to spend an extra $100 million on family support, as well as re-establishing lifelong pensions for disabled veterans, which had disappeared in 2006. He has also promised to improve other benefits and to make it easier for injured veterans to move to civilian from military life.
These are grounds for optimism, assuming the Liberals follow through. (Continued: Winnipeg Free Press)
Commentary: Saturday November 14, 2015, Hamilton Spectator, Paul Berton, Editor-in-Chief
BERTON: Was Remembrance Day cartoon a cheap shot or needed comment?
A Remembrance Day cartoon drew criticism and compliments
We had more complaints than usual about an editorial cartoon that appeared in the newspaper on Remembrance Day this week.
Cheap political shot, cried one letter writer. Extremely offensive, said another. Sick political joke, said a third. Some thought it disrespectful to veterans.
On the other hand, Hamilton Spectator editorial cartoonist Graeme MacKay also received many accolades.
On Twitter and Facebook, the social media sites, he says he received more positive feedback than he has for any other cartoon this year.
Nailed it, said one on Twitter. TRUE, wrote another. “This was one of our longest and hard won battles,” said a third on Facebook.
The cartoon depicted two veterans at a cenotaph listing the many wars in which Canada had fought — First World War, 1914-1918, etc. — and added another: Harper Government, 2006-2015.
It is, of course, a cheap political shot, as are so many editorial cartoons. And many feel such humour on Remembrance Day is inappropriate.
And to be fair, the former Conservative government spent more on veterans than previous governments.
But it is also true the Harper government had a notoriously difficult relationship with veterans’ advocates and others, and that it was criticized roundly for lack of action on this particular file.
And without action and real change, all those words and remembering on Remembrance Day seem hollow.
In 2014, for example, it was reported that Veterans Affairs Canada returned $1.13 billion in unspent funds to the federal treasury between 2011 and 2013.
In other words, the government did not spend what it had itself decided was necessary. There’s nothing wrong with being budget conscious and trying to save the taxpayers’ money, but given the controversies surrounding the former minister, Julian Fantino, it did not seem right to many Canadians.
Fantino had a strained relationship — at best — with veterans’ groups.
In 2013, the veterans’ ombudsman said cuts to pensions and benefits would put some vets near the poverty line. Also that year, the department said it would close eight local offices serving veterans.
In January 2014, after arriving late for a meeting to talk about the closures, Fantino got into an argument with one of the veterans. It was one of several public missteps that some said made him seem inept, rude and insensitive.
Meanwhile, his department was under fire for shortcomings in delivering help and benefits to veterans — and for $4 million spent to advertise the government’s position.
In January 2015, he was finally removed from the post following much criticism.
Would MacKay have done the cartoon if the Liberals had been in power? Of course he would. An examination of all his cartoons would reveal he is equally critical of all parties, and won’t change.
Should we be making political statements on Remembrance Day? Shouldn’t we just silently mark the sacrifices made? Shouldn’t we leave the criticism for another day?
They are good questions, but these are serious issues. Many would say if we can’t talk about these things on Remembrance Day, when can we?
The cartoon wasn’t meant to disrespect veterans but to remind us we cannot forget them beyond Remembrance Day.
Paul Berton is editor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spectator and thespec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
— Graeme MacKay (@mackaycartoons) November 10, 2015