Veterans in Revolt: Canadian Vets “Ignored By This Government”


Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper w/Poppy. Credit: Chris Wattie (Reuters)

Two weeks ago I commented on the markedly different response to the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and hundreds of suicides in the Canadian Military. Probing our collective grief and response, the focus was also on the Harper Administration and their willingness to intervene and disrupt the narrative around the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo to serve their own policy aims.

In the time since, many others have also commented on this point – including Andrea Polko, the girlfriend of Nathan Cirillo. The narrative has been further disrupted by veterans themselves – organized and individually – who are refusing to let this Remembrance Day be marked by anything other than the crushing austerity that some Veterans currently experience in Canada. This has been happening for some time with veterans affairs office closure protests from Coast to Coast, but the announcement by 6 Veterans groups last week that they are refusing to stand for photo opportunities with the Canadian Conservative Party is a major development. At the press conference Sean Bruyea, retired Captain, said veterans have been “widely and comprehensively ignored by this government.” Well, it’s getting a lot harder to ignore them now.

The band aids that the Harper Administration has been trying to apply to assuage this critique are also not working – Bill C-27 which would prioritize Veterans for Federal Job Postings is rightly being called out as pointless as it is passing during a Federal “job freeze.”

The “support the troops” rhetoric which the right wing have advanced to near consensus in previous years is now failing set up against the actual treatment of Veterans in Canada. This is a major development as that mythology was always more about supporting war efforts and Canada is currently desperately trying to ramp up it’s involvement in the Middle East. This point is not lost on Veterans.

Following the highly publicized and politicized death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, and in the context of the developing re-intervention in Iraq, tomorrow may be the most politicized Remembrance Day in Canadian history. Some are taking notice and it is unlikely that this conflict will be resolved before the 2015 Federal Election. As the Harper Administrations intervention grows over the next year – expect this discontent to grow and become more vocal. Many veterans will not quietly allow further combat roles for a clearly broken military.

The “support the troops” rhetoric has always been hollow though for many Canadian Veterans who’s “face don’t fit.” The military involvement of Muslims is currently unimportant in an age where Islamophobia is a political commodity. Similarly, the military involvement of Onkwehon:we (Mohawk – “Original People”) has long been ignored in this country. Last year at a Toronto Remembrance Day ceremony Toronto Police detained and removed an Onkwehon:we Veteran for refusing to put away the Hiawatha, Unity and Two Row Wampum Flags. Ignoring veterans who do not fit current policy aims is not a new thing, but the Harper Administration’s “austerity for Veterans” policies have swelled these ranks. Veterans are organizing, the media is covering it and they have momentum.

In 2011, celebrated journalist Robert Fisk wrote a scathing op-ed for the Guardian criticizing the political capital of the poppy – calling the politicians who wear it and advance war “pathetic creatures.”  The poppy though, made via prison labour, is still a massive fundraising effort for thin stretched Veterans. Veterans, between a rock and a hard place, have little options in a society where millions will be moved to action for one soldier slain guarding a memorial – but hardly any can be bothered by rising military suicides (160 since 2002 – set against 138 combat deaths – suicide is the top cause of death in the Canadian Military).

Veterans in revolt – is it any wonder? As the Harper Administration looks to assert Arctic sovereignty, advance intervention in Syria and Iraq, and win re-election, you can expect Veterans to be a thorn in their side. The camo facade is wearing off and Veterans are exposing the Harper Administration as pro-war and anti-soldier. Pathetic creatures indeed.