This article is a repeat of The Toronto Star’s column by Tim Harper, March 6, 2012. BONNIE
There has been no shortage of ways in which Canada’s war veterans have been stripped of their dignity, denied their rights or ignored by their government.
But Calgary West MP Rob Anders found another way to demean men and women who put their lives on the line for this country.
He slept through part of a Halifax committee hearing — “almost hitting his head on the table” as he lapsed into dreamland, according to one witness — where two veterans trying to help homeless vets were testifying.
First, he denied he dozed, lashing out the offended Afghan war veterans, calling them “NDP hacks” and supporters of Vladmir Putin.
Then, under pressure, he tossed an apology through the Parliamentary Press Gallery on a Friday night.
Then he finally and grudgingly rose in the House of Commons Tuesday to apologize, not for snoozing his way through his job, but for the comments he made when his behaviour was questioned.
The veterans, David MacLeod and Jim Lowther of Veterans Emergency Transition Services, did not accept the apology, nor should they.
But they should consider the source.
Last autumn, Anders dozed off during Question Period, blaming that on the whiplash he suffered when he was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler, although he offered no more details of the accident.
In years past, he gained infamy for blocking unanimous consent to make Nelson Mandela an honourary Canadian citizen and the resignations of most members of his riding association who wanted to open his Calgary riding to a nomination fight.
But Anders has managed to heap more scorn on the country’s veterans at a time when the budget of Veterans Affairs is under scrutiny in the House of Commons.
The minister, Steven Blaney, is trying to streamline a process in which veterans were left in the dark regarding decisions made on their disability benefit decisions.
The veterans ombudsman Guy Parent, in a report last month, sampled 213 disability decision letters sent between 2001 and 2010 and found them drowning in bureaucratese, denying veterans an opportunity to appeal a flawed decision.
Not a single one clearly stated the reasoning behind a decision.
There have been ongoing cases of veterans who have been too noisily complaining of their government treatment upon discovering their personal information had been compromised.
Most recently, Harold Leduc, a member of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board who spent 22 years in the military, says he was being smeared with the release of his private medical information because he too often sided with veterans in his decisions.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered his board to pay him $4,000 for the harassment he suffered at the hands of his colleagues.
A Federal Court is hearing arguments in a class-action lawsuit filed by veterans accusing the government of clawing back benefits.
There are too many stories of veterans being disrespected at hearings of the VRAB, going to the media to try to gain benefits, or occupying MPs offices to gain attention.
This week, New Democrats used their allotted opposition day to push Blaney to keep his department clear of this month’s budget cleaver.
The party’s veterans affairs critic, Peter Stoffer, pointed out that the average veterans case worker deals with more than 900 individuals.
His Liberal counterpart, Sean Casey, told Blaney that 40,000 members of the Canadian Forces have been deployed to Afghanistan since 2001 and one in four have returned with physical or psychological problems.
He said it was disgraceful that the government awards $13,000 for burial costs for a Canadian Forces member who dies in service, but only $3,600 when retired service members die.
Casey maintained it took 16 weeks on average for a veteran to receive a hearing aid.
These issues and more were discussed when Blaney appeared before the veterans affairs committee Tuesday afternoon.
Anders was not there. His office did not answer the phone in Ottawa.
The NDP gave notice that it would try to vote Anders off the committee when it next meets.
A small step toward restoring some dignity for Canadian veterans.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. firstname.lastname@example.org