1974: LEST WE FORGET, PART 1

“Cerebral lacerations by projectile” — Remembering the grenade explosion at CFB Valcartier

by Robert Smol

This is a group shot of some of the army cadets from 10 Platoon who took a break on an armoured personnel carrier a few days before the explosion. Six teenaged boys were killed and 54 injured in an explosion on CFB Valcartier on July 30, 1974; 140 boys survived the explosion. Somehow, a live grenade was inadvertently placed with a box of dud ammunition. When its pin was pulled during a lecture on explosive safety, tragedy ensued. (from as you were, goose lane press)

This is a group shot of some of the army cadets from 10 Platoon who took a break on an armoured personnel carrier a few days before the explosion. Six teenaged boys were killed and 54 injured in an explosion on CFB Valcartier on July 30, 1974; 140 boys survived the explosion. Somehow, a live grenade was inadvertently placed with a box of dud ammunition. When its pin was pulled during a lecture on explosive safety, tragedy ensued. (from as you were, goose lane press)

IN 1974 A TOTAL of 41 Canadian Armed Forces personnel (including six army cadets) were killed while on service overseas and here in Canada. Outside of the military community, their sacrifices and the ordeal of their families and friends went largely unnoticed by the Canadian public. In the series 1974: Lest We Forget, Robert Smol tells the story of the little-known events that plagued the CAF 40 years ago.

On a rainy day on July 30, 1974, the lives of 138 members of Company D at CFB Valcartier Cadet Camp were to be changed forever when, during a safety lecture, a group of regular army instructors from the base allowed samples of “dummy” explosives to be distributed among the cadets.

Unknown to everyone present was that a live M-61 grenade had been negligently placed in the same box as the dummy explosives. The inevitable happened when 14-year-old Cadet Eric Lloyd ended up pulling the pin on what he was made to believe was a fake grenade.

The resulting explosion, in the crammed makeshift classroom, killed Lloyd and five other army cadets. Fifty-four other cadets were wounded that day.

But for the military tasked to train and care for the cadets, it seemed that Company D’s 42 per cent casualty rate in one single day was not enough to prompt a modicum of care and compassion.

Taking a break on the firing range during the ill-fated summer camp, (from left to right) Gerry Fostaty, Bahadur Banzal, and Aleth Bruce strike a pose for a photo. As a lower-level instructor at the camp, then 18-year-old Fostaty’s job was to get 40 or so cadets in order and assist in training and maintaining discipline. (from as you were, goose lane editions)

Taking a break on the firing range during the ill-fated summer camp, (from left to right) Gerry Fostaty, Bahadur Banzal, and Aleth Bruce strike a pose for a photo. As a lower-level instructor at the camp, then 18-year-old Fostaty’s job was to get 40 or so cadets in order and assist in training and maintaining discipline. (from as you were, goose lane editions)

Painful stories of the survivors, now in their 50s and early 60s, describe a systemic effort at cover-up by a military bureaucracy determined to deflect responsibility away from itself and trying, unsuccessfully, to place blame on the teenaged cadets.

ROUTINE SAFETY LECTURE

Ironically, what took place in the barracks that afternoon was a routine safety lecture — the object of which was to ensure the ca­dets were aware of the potential dangers posed by any discarded explosives they may find on the base. The person conducting the lecture was Captain Jean-Claude Giroux, who at the time was the officer commanding the Ammunition Section on the base.

“This course was to tell them not to touch anything,” stated Captain Giroux in a Statutory Declaration made to the Sûreté du Québec on August 12, 1974 and released under the Access to Information Act. “My goal was that they react to the sight of any nondescript device.”

Because it was raining that day, the decision was made to hold the lecture indoors in the company barracks. “The bunk beds had been pushed to one end and we were all sitting down cross-legged,” says Colin Caldwell, who was among the 138 cadets crammed into the makeshift classroom.

As Captain Giroux and his assistant, Private Claude Pelletier, were conducting the lecture they allowed the boys to handle some “dummy” explosives that they brought along with them as illustrations.

“The regular force instructors were there to show everyone what not to do if you see any of these explosives — that they should not touch them because this is what they do and they are all dangerous,” says former cadet instructor Paul Wheeler, who currently works as a culinary arts instructor in Saskatchewan. “But they said you could play with these samples that they had because they were dummies.”

What had not come to the attention of the base instructors was the fact that a live M-61 grenade was among their display dummy explosives, which they were allowing the cadets to look at and handle.

Released under Access to Information, a confidential message dated August 2, 1974 from the Base Security Officer to National Defence headquarters states: “Interviews conducted yesterday tend to indicate that the instructor may have had in his hand a green grenade at one time. The cadets interviewed also indicated that the green grenade was passed around the classroom. They do not recall seeing the instructor checking to see if the grenades were safe.”

SMOKE, STILLNESS AND SCREAMING

Fifteen-year-old Peter Van Kampen was sitting behind Eric Lloyd when he pulled the pin on the grenade he was handling between his legs on the floor.

“I just saw black smoke and a ringing in my ears and chaos. After that I could just hear people screaming and yelling. I got up and turned around, and as I was running there was a young man lying on the floor so I grabbed him and dragged him out the door. It was such a loud bang you didn’t hear it,” recalls Colin Caldwell. “What I recall was the incredibly loud ringing in my ear and the room filled with smoke and cinder. People were fleeing the room and I got up and was being pushed from behind.”

While staggering for the exit with the other cadets, Caldwell recalled seeing Eric Lloyd on the floor “still somewhat moving.”

“He was cut open from head to groin.”

A memorial parade held about 10 days after the explosion in CFB Valcartier in 1974. Fostaty writes in his book it was the first time they had officially heard who died in the explosion. During the ceremony, a bell chimed after each name was read: Yves Langlois, Pierre Leroux, Eric Lloyd, Othon Mangos, Mario Provencher, and Michel Voisard. (from as you were, goose lane editions)

A memorial parade held about 10 days after the explosion in CFB Valcartier in 1974. Fostaty writes in his book it was the first time they had officially heard who died in the explosion. During the ceremony, a bell chimed after each name was read: Yves Langlois, Pierre Leroux, Eric Lloyd, Othon Mangos, Mario Provencher, and Michel Voisard. (from as you were, goose lane editions)

Wheeler, who was sitting at the end of the barracks on one of the bunk beds recalled, “We just sat there, stunned, as the smoke started to clear. There were maybe somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or 30 of the cadets who were obviously injured or dead. Then we just went up and started to see what we could do to help the ones that were still left in the barracks.”

Among the other cadets still able to provide assistance was Van Kampen, who was helping the shocked and wounded out of the barrack until he collapsed from the shrapnel wound in his right leg.

“I had a couple of holes in my leg and I didn’t realize I had been wounded.”

Shortly thereafter cadet staff and base ambulances began ap­pearing on the scene. Among them was Sergeant Gerry Fostaty, an 18-year-old cadet instructor who was working in the orderly room down the hall when the explosion happened.

In his 2011 book As You Were: The Tragedy at Valcartier, Fostaty describes walking into the room and seeing “a large black burn hole in the floor” and where “blood was splattered and smeared all over the walls ... A cadet stood up and went two steps towards me. He was shaking violently and his left arm was covered in blood. He stopped right in front of me and just blankly started at me, so I walked him outside where he could be taken care of.”

Among the cadets killed in the barracks as a result of the grenade explosion were:

  • Yves Langlois, age 15
  • Pierre Leroux, age 14
  • Eric Lloyd, age 14
  • Othon Mangos, age 14
  • Mario Provencher, age 14
  • Michael Voisard, age 14

WHY DON’T THEY GET OUT AND HELP?

According to Van Kampen and Fostaty, the reaction of some of the medical personnel on base appeared to be less than heroic.

In his book, Fostaty recalls the indifferent response of one of the base ambulances that arrived at the scene of the incident.

“A green army ambulance drove up over the uneven ground and bounced to a stop near us … The medic on the passenger side rolled down the window and, over his right shoulder, threw two first-aid kits on the ground beside me. He then rolled up the window and lit up a cigarette. I remember thinking, ‘Why don’t they get out and help?’ There were injured, bleeding, and dying people littering the ground all around the ambulance. Did they think this was a training exercise?”

Evacuated among the wounded to the base hospital, Van Kampen was to wait unattended in a corridor for six hours before he was finally operated on.

“They just dropped us everywhere and anywhere,” he said. “The doctors and nurses had no idea what was going on and they lost track of us. I think they were shocked themselves.”

The place where Van Kampen was left to wait was directly across the makeshift morgue where, whenever the door opened, he could see the bodies of the dead cadets. To make matters worse for his family, the army mistakenly informed his parents that he too was dead.

An army cadet checks into the D Company orderly room on his first day. Facing the cadet (from left to right) are Paul Wheeler, George Fostaty, Gary Katzko and Yvan Fullum. (from as you were, goose lane press)

An army cadet checks into the D Company orderly room on his first day. Facing the cadet (from left to right) are Paul Wheeler, George Fostaty, Gary Katzko and Yvan Fullum. (from as you were, goose lane press)

By the time the base hospital finally got around to operating on Van Kampen’s leg they had run out of anesthetic. In spite of the fact that Valcartier is only 25 kilometres from Quebec City and its civilian hospitals, the base medical personnel went ahead and operated on the teenaged cadet without anesthetic.

“When they tried to remove some of the shrapnel from my knee and around it, they just gave me a piece of wood and told me to bite on it,” remembers Van Kampen.

Meanwhile Caldwell, who was in shock after the incident, was provided with an anti-depressant but, in a miscommunication with the medical staff, ended up overdosing on his meds.

“I was supposed to take a quarter tablet four times a day, but I was taking four,” he says. “I was in a complete daze for the next four days.”

Immediately after the incident the survivors were sequestered on the base, denied any counseling, and forbidden to contact their parents.

“We were separated from the rest of the camp,” recalls Wheeler. “Communications with the outside world were shut off and we were not allowed to make phone calls.”

“No one came to talk to us about it at all,” says Van Kampen. “I just remember they fixed us up, threw us in our room. And all I remember is the next day the officers showed up and rummaged through our clothing, grabbed our clothing and said, “It’s gone — we need it for evidence.”

INTERROGATION IN THE BUNKER

The military inquiry, organized in the days following the incident, has been almost universally described by the surviving cadets as more of an “interrogation,” where the intention of the panel of senior military officers was to try and assign blame for the incident on the cadets. The inquiry was held underground in the nuclear fallout shelter on the base.

“That whole episode of the inquiry was incredibly surreal,” recalls Caldwell. “We were taken to basically a door in the ground that had a couple of armed guards in front of it. You go through an airlock and down below you are seated in front of a table with senior officers who are asking you questions that you may or may not be able to answer.”

At the time of the inquiry Van Kampen had already been released from the base hospital and was at home with his family in Montreal. When the military vehicle showed up to take him back to Valcartier, he and his family were told that he would just be talking with the other boys.

“The next thing you know, we are at this underground bunker and they put us in separate rooms. Then they take us out indi­vidually and put us in front of a group of officers who are yelling at us, trying to get us confused, and telling us that we had done it. They wouldn’t listen to a word we said.”

Recalling the aggressively hostile approach of the military inquiry, Wheeler believes that “life would have been a lot easier for the Department of National Defence if it had been something that they could blame on the cadets ... It was just like something out of a movie,” he recalls. “You were fired a question from one person and before you had a chance to answer you were fired a question from another trying to catch you off guard.”

In his book, Fostaty recalled one of the officers at the inquiry actually presenting him with a live grenade. “‘What the hell are you doing with that in here?’ I said, before thinking. It came out of me like a breathy gasp. They pretended not to hear.”

In the end, the military investigations and coroner’s inquiry determined that careless storage procedures on the base resulted in live grenades being mixed with dummies. None of the cadets were found to be at fault. Instead, the coroner’s inquiry assigned responsibility to military authorities for allowing “a climate of negligence and carelessness” to exist in the areas responsible for the storage and distribution of explosives. On March 11, 1975 the Quebec District Coroner found Captain Giroux criminally responsible for the incident.

However, Captain Giroux’s subsequent trial before a civilian court resulted in a verdict of not guilty on June 21, 1977. He was therefore allowed to continue in the Forces and went on to serve for many more years thereafter.

STILL AWAITING COMPENSATION

Forty years later, National Defence refuses to assume any legal liability for what happened. To date, only a few of the cadet instructors and officers who were part of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves at the time of the incident have been able to receive some compensation for their injuries from Veterans Affairs Canada.

Others like Van Kampen are still left to deal with the physical and mental scars of their experiences. When he was operated on at the base hospital in 1974, not all the shrapnel from the grenade was removed. Forty years later, Van Kampen still carries fragments from the grenade in his leg.

“I’ve had x-rays taken and they could still see it in there. And when I go through an airport scanner now it always goes off.”

Not visible to modern technology are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that many of the former cadets and their families have been coping with since.

“I went through this phase, which is common with PTSD, where you stay in one place until you get triggered and then you just run,” recalls Wheeler.

IN THE MILITARY’S CARE AND CONTROL BUT NOT THE MILITARY’S RESPONSIBILITY

The legal dilemma for the teenaged cadets rests in the argument that, though they were under the direct control and supervision of the military, they are still not legally members of the Forces. As a result, the Canadian Armed Forces does not assume any responsibility for injuries occurring while training as cadets.

It is an argument that Jack Harris, NDP defence critic, disputes.

“Regardless of any of these legal questions,” says Harris, “this government has a moral and political obligation to take responsibility for the consequences of what happened to these cadets and I don’t think they could hold up a legal barrier to this.”

After months of lobbying from both the survivors and the official opposition, in May 2014 the minister of National Defence, Rob Nicholson, announced that he had authorized the ombudsman to look into what happened at CFB Valcartier in July 1974. At the time of writing, the investigation is still ongoing.

An Incredible Journey


text by Jason McNaught

photos by Richard Vandentillaart

Soldiers, CEOs and Olympians work together to secure the same goal: Making a harrowing once-in-a-lifetime trek to the North Pole. This fundraising expedition was organized by True Patriot Love and made possible through generous donations from several Canadian companies and individuals.

On skis, sleds and snowshoes, soldiers, top executives, Olympic athletes and guides — 52 in all — stretched out over a kilometre in Canada’s Arctic, pulling all of their food and supplies across the barren landscape. Their goal, 100 kilometres away, the Magnetic North Pole.

On skis, sleds and snowshoes, soldiers, top executives, Olympic athletes and guides — 52 in all — stretched out over a kilometre in Canada’s Arctic, pulling all of their food and supplies across the barren landscape. Their goal, 100 kilometres away, the Magnetic North Pole.

IT FELT SURREAL, striding through the entrance of the Chateau Laurier Hotel just after sunrise on April 19, to watch a team of ex-soldiers and CEOs prepare for a expedition to the Magnetic North Pole.

Piled on top of the Chateau’s polished marble floors was a mix of hiking packs and heavily-taped cardboard boxes, all waiting to be loaded into two waiting buses parked just outside. If it wasn’t for the people busily scurrying about in high-tech outerwear sipping complimentary Starbucks coffee, early 20th century explorer Sir Robert Peary would have felt right at home under the warm glow of the ornate chandeliers, tugging at his winged moustache in the reflection of the gleaming brightwork and polished wood adorning the walls.

But the days of Arctic explorers like Peary are long gone. The soldiers and CEOs filling the room with a thick mixture of nervous anticipation and excitement aren’t headed into the great unknown, like Peary and his contemporaries — they’re embarking on this trip because of the unknown.

A LITTLE UNDERSTANDING, PLEASE

Canadians generally revere their men and women in uniform, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand them all that well. Nestled into the corner of the lobby that Easter Weekend, taking in the scene of puffy jackets and constantly shifting supplies, one of the CEOs motions toward a group of soldiers. Many of these guys and girls, he begins, have had a hard time transitioning into civilian life, and one of the largest problems is finding a decent job.

A lot of people think soldiers are trained to fight in wars, not to excel in the office or the boardroom, and those popular misconceptions mean that a lot of former soldiers get passed over when hunting for jobs as civilians. This expedition isn’t just about overcoming mental and physical thresholds; it’s about building relationships and increasing understanding between some of the nation’s top CEOs and those who have chosen to serve their country as soldiers.

As the boxes continue to pile up and then slowly disappear through the brass revolving doors of the hotel’s front entrance, a prosthetic limb comes into view, laying on top of one of the bags. The soldiers about to embark on their journey to the North Pole won’t tell you they’ve been hard done by, but it is quite obvious many of them haven’t had it easy. When you’re missing body parts or suffering from severe mental wounds, life hasn’t been a cakewalk. After a career in uniform serving the best interests of the country, it seems almost unthinkable that veterans would have difficulty finding a job. But it’s a cruel world, and soldiers unfortunately see far too much of it — in and out of uniform.

A hockey stick was among Canadian Women’s Hockey Team Captain Caroline Ouellette’s gear. She and other members of the expedition played a game of pick-up hockey with some of the kids of Resolute Bay. The team spent three days there, acclimatizing to the conditions and testing their equipment. (jason mcnaught, esprit de corps)

A hockey stick was among Canadian Women’s Hockey Team Captain Caroline Ouellette’s gear. She and other members of the expedition played a game of pick-up hockey with some of the kids of Resolute Bay. The team spent three days there, acclimatizing to the conditions and testing their equipment. (jason mcnaught, esprit de corps)

An article by CTV News anchor Kevin Newman highlighted the challenges veterans face when trying to find meaningful employ­ment: “It’s the lower ranks who really need a hand extended: combat engineers, snipers, mechanics … What I’ve discovered in some recent research, however, is that these veterans are being released into civilian life wholly unprepared with the skills necessary to find civilian work. Even more troubling, Canada (uniquely) has no workable solution for employers to find veterans when they are committed to hiring them.”

TRUE PATRIOT FRANCIS

Enter True Patriot Love (TPL), the organization responsible for bringing together veterans and CEOs in the lobby of one of Ottawa’s most famous landmarks. True Patriot Love is a national fundraising organization that directs funds to military charities that have the infrastructure and expertise to deliver focused programming.

Shaun Francis, a co-founder of the organization, is a tall man with dark, short-trimmed hair and accompanying beard. He looks younger than perhaps he actually is, which is a good thing, considering he’s the CEO of his own health care company. As the mass of people in the lobby move from the hotel and form lines to board the two white buses waiting for them on the side of the road, Francis goes with them and heads for the bus at the rear. He dips his head while walking down the aisle, and then piles into one of the seats in the back by himself. Despite being partially responsible for 52 people about to trudge their way through miles and miles of snow and ice in sub-zero temperatures, dangerously isolated from the outside world, Francis seems unusually relaxed.

He leans over the seatback and politely introduces himself. Since graduating from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, he appears to have not wasted a minute squeezing the ever-lovin’ shi* out of life. As a poster boy for incredible time management, Francis divides his time between TPL, running his own company, serving on various boards, and occasionally lecturing in the astute world of academia. He’s like a concentrated version of Tony Robbins without the self-help books.

Francis is passionate about the mission of TPL, and the fact that his organization is there for soldiers where government programs or funding is inadequate. For all his attributes, his ability to fill a room with a veritable collection of Canada’s most powerful and influential people willing to pay a princely sum to support our troops, ranks among the best. Just how powerful? At TPL’s inaugural dinner in 2009, every living Canadian prime minister attended, welcomed by none other than the Big Cod himself, former Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier, who served as chair for the evening.

Members and their gear were loaded onto smaller aircraft — a retrofitted DC-3 and a Twin Otter — and shuttled in small groups from Resolute Bay to the team’s base camp, just north of King Christian Island.

Members and their gear were loaded onto smaller aircraft — a retrofitted DC-3 and a Twin Otter — and shuttled in small groups from Resolute Bay to the team’s base camp, just north of King Christian Island.

As the bus rolled along the Airport Parkway, away from the EY Centre’s vast empty parking lots and the National Research Council’s marshmallow-like white wind tunnel, Francis continued to talk about the important work TPL is doing for Canada’s soldiers. Since their first dinner, the organization has raised a total of $18 million, which is applied towards family health and support, physical health and rehabilitation, and mental health and wellbeing. That’s a lot of money, but it also inadvertently sheds light on just how much our soldiers — particularly veterans of the Afghan war — need the help. This expedition, the largest one of its kind, raised over $1.8 million for the organization.

DEPARTING DEMONS

The bus takes a left before reaching the Ottawa International Airport and snakes its way through a few industrial buildings before pulling up to the private Esso Avitat terminal. Someone gets up, gives some quick instructions about where to stack the gear, and the soldiers immediately jump into action. Francis continues to speak passionately to me about TPL until he’s off the bus and then, with a handshake, is off into the crowd. Duty calls.

As soon as the first members of the TPL group make their way through the sliding glass doors of the terminal, they’re mobbed by a small contingent of reporters, armed with microphones, digital recorders and impossibly large cameras. The large windows directly in front of the entrance show a huge expanse of weathered pavement stretched out beneath a clear blue sky, but curiously, no plane. A large German shepherd roams around freely, his crate parked in the middle of the floor; but no one seems to mind. One of the guides later explains that the friendly pooch, sidled with the intimidating moniker “Demon,” will be making the trek alongside the group of soldiers and CEOs — just in case any polar bears happen to get a little too curious.

Some people take their places on the oversized leather furni­ture, others take to their cell phones, and some head right back out into the frigid air to grab a smoke, staying out of the crowd.

The Royal Canadian Regiment’s Sergeant Bjarne Nielsen (centre), 34, lost his left leg and left elbow when he was injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010. Seated on a specially designed sled, Nielsen is assisted on this stretch of the journey by Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team Captain Caroline Ouellette (left) and teammate Geneviève Lacasse (right).

The Royal Canadian Regiment’s Sergeant Bjarne Nielsen (centre), 34, lost his left leg and left elbow when he was injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010. Seated on a specially designed sled, Nielsen is assisted on this stretch of the journey by Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team Captain Caroline Ouellette (left) and teammate Geneviève Lacasse (right).

The whole area, longer than it is wide and not much larger than a three-bedroom apartment, fills quickly. The reporters drag their victims from the clogged artery of the lobby to less crowded areas, and the rest mingle together chatting about what the next few days hold in store. It’s obvious that the group hasn’t really gelled yet. There’s some friendly chatter, but there is a marked divide between soldiers and CEOs. For some of them, this expedition is just about the only thing they have in common. The warrior of the boardroom is a much different animal than the warrior of … well, war.

SNOW BOUND

You could hear it when it finally arrived: a mammoth First Air 737 pulling up to the terminal. After the stairs touched down on the tarmac, it all began to seem real. Bjarne Nielson, or “B” as they call him, had enough of waiting. When asked about the expedition, he remarked, “I’m really looking forward to it, but right now, I just want to go.”

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a small lady in navy coveralls and a safety yellow vest appears at the glass sliding doors leading out to the tarmac. It’s go time.

Everyone ambles out of the building in a hurry, weighed down by carry-ons as the media rush to get out ahead of them. Some clutch iPads, others snap pictures with their cell phones or cameras. The mood really isn’t what one would expect. You’d think — finally — after all the preparation and waiting for this moment, people would be pumping their fists into the air and high-fiving, but there really isn’t too much of that. Maybe anxious­ness is giving way to nervousness. After all, the plane is taking them one step closer to one of the most inhospitable regions on the planet. All the high-tech gear in the world won’t change that.

Francis and the team arrive in Iqaluit for a brief stopover, and then board their First Air 737 for Resolute some hours later, finally bedding down for the night after gobbling down chilli and garlic bread at their hotel, the South Camp Inn.

OLYMPIAN OUTREACH

One of the most northerly hamlets in all of Canada, with an aver­age temperature wallowing around -15 degrees Celsius, Resolute Bay is but a smattering of houses clinging to existence on a desolate spec of Cornwallis Island, overlooking the Northwest Passage. If that sounds bleak, it should. Even Inuit didn’t live here until the government forcibly relocated them to the location in the 1950s — from northern Quebec — in a misguided effort to bolster Arctic sovereignty during the Cold War.

Day Two of the expedition was more about community outreach than it was about trying to keep your eyelids from freezing together while skiing into blinding sunlight. Two of the group — neither soldiers nor CEOs — had a little work to do.

Geneviève Lacasse and Caroline Ouellette, members of Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team, took a trip over to the gymnasium and gave local kids an Olympics presentation. The gold-medal duo must have seemed like superheroes to the young crowd as they handed out hockey books, pins and lined up for pictures. If that hadn’t already placed the kids on cloud nine, the Bauer-sponsored hockey game at the rink that followed definitely put them there. Says Lacasse, “One of the kids on the bench told me that it was the most amount of people he’d ever seen in the arena.”

THE WAITING GAME

The excitement of Day Two gave way to the feeling of disappoint­ment on Day Three, as the group opened their hotel blinds to less than ideal conditions. High winds and reduced visibility meant another day in Resolute, watching Jaws reruns, playing cards, checking (and re-checking) gear, and enjoying the gener­ous hospitality of the locals. But by Day Four, soldiers, CEOs, Olympians and the film crew were getting a little antsy. Low clouds and increasing wind at the starting point, a short flight away, was deemed too risky to attempt.

Some returned to the rink, laced up their skates, and played pick-up with the locals. The more ambitious among them set out on a hike up a nearby mountain, while others continued to test out their gear or relax in the warmth of the hotel.

Day Five showed a lot of promise, noted expedition director Hil­ary Coles. Gear was loaded up on smaller aircraft — a retrofitted DC-3 and a Twin Otter — in preparation to shuttle small groups off to base camp, just north of King Christian Island.

If the arriving party expected to be greeted by a sense of euphoria and excitement upon arrival of their long-awaited destination, the guides warned otherwise. Francis blogged, “We are told by our guides that many of us will experience serious anxiety once we are deposited on the ice and after our plane departs, leaving us in dense silence, thousands of kilometres from other human beings.”

Only a fraction of the group would experience this solitude on Day Five. After ferrying two loads of people to base camp, the weather window closed, splitting the group and leaving the aircraft stuck on the snow-packed runway at Resolute. Half would spend another night in the comfort of the hotel, while the other half would toss and turn in tents pitched atop a frozen sea.

The 52-person True Patriot Love – Arctic Circle 2014 expedition team celebrates after reaching their destination: Canada’s Magnetic North Pole.

The 52-person True Patriot Love – Arctic Circle 2014 expedition team celebrates after reaching their destination: Canada’s Magnetic North Pole.

AND SO, IT BEGINS …

The weather gods were smiling as the contingent rose up from their soft pillows in the early morning hours of the expedition’s sixth day. It wasn’t long before they joined the rest of the group, who undoubtedly were still a little bleary-eyed, having huddled in their mummy bags in the frigid cold while trying to keep out the ever-present daylight that invaded their tents.

Reunited, they all set to work right away, soon forming a long column spread over a kilometre in length over the expansive white terrain.

Each day of the expedition unfolded like the next. As each ski lunged forward, the group faced the same expected challenges: wind, terrain, cold, and exhaustion. It didn’t take long to settle into routines. But something else was happening. Life had been reduced to its simplest form. It no longer mattered who’s a solider, who’s an Olympian, or who’s a CEO. Material possessions, social standing, and bank account size won’t help anyone in the trek to the North Pole. Everyone’s equal, and everyone’s needs are the same: shelter, warmth and nourishment. The playing field has been levelled — and it’s equally unforgiving. There’s nothing like a common goal and the threat of freezing to death to bring people together.

After a day of skiing over miles of snowpack and ice, muscles burn and shoulders ache while setting up camp. Richard Weber, the lead guide, introduced everyone to his own “Weber Cocktail,” what sounds like a disgusting combination of maple syrup, powdered milk and whiskey.

Preparing dinner, Francis explained, “is a ritual that can take three hours.” Putting up the tents takes 20 to 30 minutes. Melting the snow for cooking is a process than can take two hours. Eating the meal, a social occasion in a heated tent, may last an hour.

After the kerosene heat is shut off, the temperature in the tent begins to plummet, and everyone races for their sleeping bags. With food and shelter covered, warmth takes precedence over everything else. Each person tucked in for the night is armed with a pee funnel and a bottle, so that the need for a little midnight relief doesn’t amount to a frozen willie before being munched on by a polar bear.

LASTING MEMORIES

As the 52 trekkers came within a few days range of the Pole, a line of Canadian Rangers appeared in the distance. However, they arrived with bad news. A storm was approaching. If the team wanted to reach the Pole before the storm hit, they’d have to double-up a day, skiing a total of 24 kilometres on weary legs and strained backs.

At 1930 hrs on Day 11 of the expedition, equal parts exhausted and elated, the long string of skiers arrived at their destination, breaking out into a rousing rendition of O Canada.

Less than two weeks before, 52 trekkers boarded a First Air jet in the Nation’s Capital encumbered by all the stereotypes society indiscriminately heaps upon them. The wealthy executive and the battle-scarred soldier would otherwise rarely cross paths, let alone create meaningful relationships with one another in the “real” world.

As soldiers and CEOs stand interspersed and wrapped in insulated red and white parkas at the culmination of their journey, there are no guarantees that their bonds won’t weaken when plunged back into the daily rigours of their lives. Hopefully, their memories won’t. Because it’s those memories — the ones carved out in the most adverse conditions — that show the world just what soldiers can do when they swap their camouflage for a suit as a civilian.






Inside Gadhafi’s Libya: A first-hand glimpse of life under siege during those final days

By Scott Taylor

(Editor’s Note: This article ran in September 2011 in Esprit de Corps Volume 18, Issue 8).

The streets in front of the Foreign Ministry building in Tripoli are lined with rubble after a NATO air strike. A poster of President Moammar Gadhafi is used in a poor attempt to hide some of the damage. (photo by scott taylor and daniel heald, esprit de corps)

The streets in front of the Foreign Ministry building in Tripoli are lined with rubble after a NATO air strike. A poster of President Moammar Gadhafi is used in a poor attempt to hide some of the damage. (photo by scott taylor and daniel heald, esprit de corps)

Since March 19, 2011 Canada has taken a lead role in the NATO enforcement of the UN-authorized no-fly zone in the skies over wartorn Libya. Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard commands the allied air operations, and seven Canadian CF-18s are committed to the bombing campaign aimed at downgrading the battle readiness of Moammar Gadhafi’s government forces.

By the end of July, after four and a half months of air interdiction, NATO planes had flown more than 20,000 sorties over Libya and conducted more than 7,000 bomb attacks against Gadhafi-held sectors. Despite the massive support from international air forces, to date the Libyan rebels had made only minor advances against the Gadhafi loyalist forces.

To better ascertain just what damage has been done by the NATO attacks, and to gauge what impact this has had on the morale of the Libyan people, publisher Scott Taylor and cameraman Daniel Heald ventured into Gadhafi’s stronghold on a fact-finding mission from August 1 to 7, 2011. What follows is a brief account of that trip.

(Editor’s note: This trip took place prior to the sudden capture of Tripoli on the night of August 21. The observations detail what conditions were like inside the Libyan capital on the eve of its capitulation.)

With a no-fly zone in effect over Libya, and the rebels controlling all eastern land approaches, there remained only one entrance into Gadhafi’s Libya and that is via a coastal corridor through Tunisia. There was a second Tunisian border crossing further south, but it is now firmly in the possession of the rebels.


The closest airport to the Libyan border is at the Tunisian beach resort town of Djerba, which is where Daniel and I met our two protocol agents who escorted us into Tripoli. The Libyans wore dark suits and drove a black Mercedes sedan, complete with official government license plate. This ominous image ran in stark contrast to the horde of scantily-clad German holidaymakers at the Djerba airport arrival gates.

In total, it takes about four hours to drive from Djerba to Tripoli and this includes processing visas at the border. Our arrival at dusk on August 1 coincided with the first day of Ramadan, which meant that the usually crowded border checkpoint was virtually deserted. On the Tunisian side of the border, we noticed that the numerous, sprawling tent cities erected to house expected Libyan refugees were veritable ghost towns. It seemed a tragic waste of resources to have fully equipped camps sit empty while news reports continue to describe the desperate need for such facilities in drought-stricken Somalia.

By the time we entered the Libyan frontier, it was completely dark and the main highway was hauntingly deserted. Many of the towns we passed showed only glimmers of light through mostly shuttered windows. One glowing exception to this was a massive oil refinery at Zawiya that was lit up like a Christmas tree and clearly visible even over the horizon. How NATO had not targeted this facility only became more perplexing throughout our trip, especially as we began to realize just how crippling the gasoline shortage had become for Gadhafi’s Libya.

(Editor’s note: At time of writing, both Zawiya and the oil refinery were under attack by rebel forces.)

With reduced shipments of crude oil and a shortage of international workers (most of whom fled during the initial days of this crisis), the lone refinery is able to produce only a trickle of gasoline. However, without that limited supply, Gadhafi’s loyalists would quickly devour all remaining fuel reserves. As it was, enraged customers waited up to 48 hours in kilometres-long lines for gas, and the price per litre had soared from a subsidized pre-war price of 25 cents to a fast-climbing 4 dollars a litre.

We soon learned that our protocol (intelligence) escorts had plenty of clout with Libyan police and security forces, racing well above the speed limit and jumping all queues at the numerous checkpoints. But even they dared not risk exerting their authority to allow us to film the lengthy gas line-ups or the several fistfights we witnessed as we drove past them. It has even been reported that gunfights between frustrated customers are not uncommon. However, the sight of two Canadians setting up tripods to film that despair — when Canadian war ships are enforcing the embargo — would probably have resulted in similar violence and the protocol agents were not too convinced of their ability to protect us.

As we approached Tripoli, the manned checkpoints became more numerous and far more diligent. Some were no more than 400 metres apart. The security forces staffing these roadblocks wore a variety of civilian and paramilitary attire, and their standard weapons were the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifles.

Present in their ranks were a surprising number of young teen­age boy soldiers and an even more astonishing number of female soldiers, complete with traditional hijab head coverings. The majority of these civilian soldiers were volunteers who mobilized into pro-Gadhafi militia following the start of the crisis. Their presence in Tripoli freed up the regular Libyan army forces for deployment to the front lines around Zlitan, outside Misrata in northwestern Libya.

Oil tankers and freighters in Tripoli harbour are riding high, revealing their empty cargo holds, and the jetty sits abandoned as a result of the UN-imposed embargo. (scott taylor, esprit de corps)

Oil tankers and freighters in Tripoli harbour are riding high, revealing their empty cargo holds, and the jetty sits abandoned as a result of the UN-imposed embargo. (scott taylor, esprit de corps)

The number of random gunshots heard throughout the city at all hours of the day indicated that weapon handling and discipline remained a challenge for the Libyan volunteers. One Tripoli-based foreign diplomat recounted one of his experiences. When he asked for directions at a checkpoint, a Libyan soldier gesticulated with his Kalashnikov and unintentionally fired a burst of rounds into the tarmac. Both the ambassador and the shooter were shaken by the sudden accidental gunfire, but unharmed.

The assessment of the regular Libyan forces is far more favourable. One international observer, who is based in Libya and considered a Middle East expert, ranked the Libyan army on par with the Jordanian military, and therefore among the best in the Arab world.

While Canada was quick to recall our ambassador to Libya in the early days of the crisis, and has recently expelled the last of the Libyan diplomats from Ottawa, a great number of countries continue to maintain a diplomatic mission in Tripoli. The most prominent of those embassies that are still open are the Russian and Chinese, while most African countries still maintain close ties with Gadhafi officials.

Following the April 13 bomb attack that killed Saif al-Arab, Gadhafi’s youngest son, Libyan mobs vandalized the embassies of Italy and France, the two of the countries they hold most responsible for the international intervention. The only European NATO member nation operating an embassy in Tripoli at the time was Hungary. As such, the Hungarian diplomats provided consular services for all European and North American passport holders. Given the tension, violence, and uncertain circumstances, Daniel and I made every effort to keep the Hungarians posted as to our whereabouts. They were incredibly professional and courteous in return.

Despite five months of NATO air attacks, life in the Libyan capital of Tripoli continues at a normal pace in the old city marketplace, including the selling of hijabs in markets just like this one. (scott taylor, esprit de corps)

Despite five months of NATO air attacks, life in the Libyan capital of Tripoli continues at a normal pace in the old city marketplace, including the selling of hijabs in markets just like this one. (scott taylor, esprit de corps)

Throughout our week-long stay in Libya, there were numerous occasions where, by virtue of the sound of their jet engines, we became aware of NATO aircraft patrolling the skies above. We also witnessed several incidents of distant bomb strikes. What was surreal about this was that Tripoli did not possess any air raid siren system, nor did they engage in any anti-aircraft fire at the unseen planes heard overhead. Lit up like any modern city during the night and bustling with crowded markets during the day, the people of Tripoli simply absorbed the bombing and carried on.

We were taken to several different bomb sites to photograph the damage; in most cases they were either government ministry offices or houses of Libyan leaders. In each case, whether it was the demolished foreign ministry or Gadhafi’s private home, the limited yet complete destruction was a grim testimony to the pinpoint accuracy of NATO weaponry.

That said, it is impossible to bomb a crowded city of one million inhabitants for five months and not create what NATO spokespersons call “collateral damage” or “regrettable accidents.” Our Libyan handlers ensured that we were taken to several sites where families and children had been killed, and yet there was no visible evidence that they were the intended military targets.

One of the most repeatedly hit targets in Tripoli is the leader’s compound, the walled facility that housed Gadhafi’s offices and command centre. While it has long since been pounded to rubble, it seemed as though NATO was content to keep striking the long-vacant compound to demonstrate its unchallenged martial power while knowing that there would not be any chance of killing innocent civilians in the process.

Outside of the compound walls, a small Bedouin-style tent city had been erected. There, many of the Libyan tribal leaders had taken up residence to show solidarity with Gadhafi. After NATO began its bombing campaign on March 19, Gadhafi’s popularity and support rose to about 85 per cent by early August. Of the 2,335 tribes that constitute the Libyan population, barely 300 supported the rebels, unlike the remaining 2,000 who had pledged their renewed loyalty to Gadhafi at a massive meeting in Tripoli on April 5 – 6.

The defiance of the Gadhafi loyalists in the face of NATO’s overwhelming advantage in weaponry did not come without considerable cost. One of our escorted visits was to the El Khadra Hospital, where we were allowed to film crowded wards full of wounded men. The official line was that they had all been victims of NATO airstrikes, but my limited Arabic enabled me to confirm that the majority were soldiers wounded in front-line battle. The tiny Libyan military — the total population of the country is just six million — means that they do not have a separate hospital for soldiers. However, it was impressive to note the standard of health care available at these facilities, which would rival that of Western Europe. Both doctors and administrators claimed that, despite the huge influx of casualties, they had yet to run short of medicine and equipment.

Wounded fighters and civilians alike are treated at the El Khadra Hospital in Tripoli (above and left). Images of President Moammar Gadhafi adorn all the bed spaces. (scott taylor, esprit de corps)

Wounded fighters and civilians alike are treated at the El Khadra Hospital in Tripoli (above and left). Images of President Moammar Gadhafi adorn all the bed spaces. (scott taylor, esprit de corps)

Although the international news of the week was focused on the collapsing US stock market and street violence in the UK, inside Tripoli all eyes remained focused on the war close at hand. Every morning, the hotel lobby would be abuzz as people tried to discover whether the government forces were still holding in the besieged Mediterranean port of Brega, if the front line remained at Zlitan, and whether the rebels had advanced northwards from the western mountains. The retention of Brega by Gadhafi’s forces is arguably a key element in maintaining his regime’s power. Even though the rebels already control the oil fields in the east, it is not until they seize the port facilities in Brega that they will be able to export oil.

While western nations may be supplying the rebels with arms and NATO supplies the air force, until the rebels can start exporting oil they are not able to pay for the war materiel being loaned to them.

In the final days prior to our departure, the NATO air strikes had intensified against the power grid and communications systems. With satellite TV destroyed and internet service knocked out countrywide by air strikes, it will be increasingly difficult for the Gadhafi regime to make the plight of their people known to the outside world. When this destruction is added to the challenges faced as a result of the fuel shortage and the dwindling stockpiled food stores, there is a strong likelihood that Libyan civil society will degenerate into personal struggles simply to survive.

In the end, this strategy may indeed result in a civil uprising to oust Gadhafi, or he may choose to submit to NATO pressure in order to spare his people further suffering. If that does transpire, it will be interesting to see how history judges NATO’s military intervention in the name of humanity.

Postscript: In the days following Taylor’s and Heald’s visit, the Libyan rebels made a series of startling advances. First they captured the critical oil refinery at Zawiya and then began making probing attacks against Tripoli from the west. On the night of August 19, rebels infiltrated Tripoli from the eastern suburb of Tajoura, attacking several mosques during the evening prayers. Despite official dismissals of the rebel threat on state-run TV, by the afternoon of August 20, the regime leadership began losing its nerve. A number of armed Gadhafi loyalist intelligence officers entered the Rixos Hotel that housed all of the foreign media and announced they were now, essentially, hostages and that the fate of the regime was to become their fate. However, that threat quickly dissipated as rebel forces rapidly entered the city from all directions, including an amphibious assault on the Tripoli harbour. By August 21, the rebels claimed control of 80 per cent of the city, while Gadhafi loyalist resistance was sporadic and dispirited. At the time of writing, Moammar Gadhafi had still not been captured and his loyalist forces were still fighting in Tripoli and other cities, including Brega.

Release the Crazies

In the wake of Afghanistan, many CAF members have been released from service, suffering from unseen wounds. DND’s inability to follow up means many are left feeling alone — and angry at the system.

by Jason McNaught

(story continues below photo)

As the sun begins to set, a Canadian Armed Forces combat engineer walks through fields in Afghanistan, fearful that an explosive might go off at any time, taking a part or all of him. The stress of combat and being in dangerous situations can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and other non-visible wounds. (Corporal Shilo Adamson, Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND)

As the sun begins to set, a Canadian Armed Forces combat engineer walks through fields in Afghanistan, fearful that an explosive might go off at any time, taking a part or all of him. The stress of combat and being in dangerous situations can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and other non-visible wounds. (Corporal Shilo Adamson, Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND)

DOZENS OF THE CAF’S most damaged soldiers are released from the military each year, left to their own devices as civilians, trying to make it in a world without structure, routine, or purpose.

They call nearly every week. You pick the receiver up and aren’t really sure what you are going to get at the other end of the line. One simply said — rather cryptically — “I’m coming to Ottawa, and I’m going to start a war.” And then we never heard from him again.

But mostly, when they get you on the phone, the best you can do is listen. Because you don’t really get a chance to say anything after “Hello.” They’ve been waiting for a human on the other end of the line, and when they finally get one, it all just comes out at once like the bursting of a giant dam of frustration and sadness and anger rushing through the receiver. You grab bits and pieces of information — the flotsam large enough to hold onto — and as the torrent keeps coming, you keep knitting these tiny, disjointed fragments together, trying to make sense of it. But sometimes it’s too late for these guys. Sometimes they don’t make much sense at all.

Once a soldier has been discharged from the Canadian Armed Forces, they are no longer a member of the Department of National Defence and aren’t included in statistical research or databases. Specifically, DND doesn’t keep track of the number of soldiers who commit suicide after their release from the military. After all, they’re civilians.

What the department will tell us is that 183 active duty soldiers took their own lives between 2002 and 2014 — more than were killed in combat in Afghanistan during Canada’s 13-year mission. By its own admission, DND explains that this is “not surprising as CF personnel are a screened employed population and would be expected to have lower rates of suicide as well as lower rates of other medical problems.” That comment highlights the real problem. As much as the CAF would like to appear in the public eye as committed to the well-being of its soldiers, what do you do for a young man or woman in the infantry that’s come forward with serious mental health issues? You certainly don’t put a gun in their hand.

That’s what makes this a very sensitive issue. Once a soldier is broken, his or her mental wounds may never heal. DND will pay for their cocktail of prescription medications, cover expenses for counselling, transportation, medical bills, etc., but out of the 4,500 soldiers that leave the Forces each year, 1,700 of them won’t be doing it of their own accord. Some are discharged outright, others make a pit stop at the beleaguered Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU), but eventually, a broken soldier will be freed into a world that, for some, will represent the polar opposite of their time in uniform: an environment with no structure, no support, and no purpose. And it’s here where some of them may choose to take their own lives.

That’s what makes DND’s official suicide rates in the CAF so … well, misleading. They’re mandated to screen out the soldiers that pose the highest mental health risks through the “universality of service” rule, and then make statements designed to convince the general public that they don’t have a suicide problem, going so far as to add that they can find “no consistent relationship … between deployment and the risk of suicide in the CAF.”

On December 1, 2005, personnel from Task Force Afghanistan attended a memorial service at Kandahar Airfield for Private Braun Scott Woodfield, 24, of Eastern Passage, N.S. Pte Woodfield was killed and four others from the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment were injured on November 24, 2005, when their LAV III rolled over while on a routine patrol between Kandahar and a forward operating base (FOB). He is one of 158 Canadian soldiers who died in the Afghan theatre between 2001 and 2014. (mcpl robert bottrill, cf combat camera, dnd)

On December 1, 2005, personnel from Task Force Afghanistan attended a memorial service at Kandahar Airfield for Private Braun Scott Woodfield, 24, of Eastern Passage, N.S. Pte Woodfield was killed and four others from the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment were injured on November 24, 2005, when their LAV III rolled over while on a routine patrol between Kandahar and a forward operating base (FOB). He is one of 158 Canadian soldiers who died in the Afghan theatre between 2001 and 2014. (mcpl robert bottrill, cf combat camera, dnd)

The 183 soldiers that took their lives in uniform either didn’t show up on DND’s radar, or were in JPSU and hadn’t been transitioned out before they did it. That means Trooper Stephan Jankowski, who committed suicide shortly after being discharged from the Army by gulping down the medication used to treat his PTSD, won’t be included in the CAF suicide rate. Neither will Corporal Leona MacEachern. She retired from the military after suffering from serious mental wounds and ended her life by driv­ing her car into an oncoming transport truck on Christmas Day. Her husband described it as a “desperate final act,” but again, according to DND, it’s not their problem. They were civilians.

We read it all the time in the papers. “They’ve fallen through the cracks.” But what we’re failing to understand here is that no one is really falling … soldiers with serious mental wounds are walking through a gate that’s being opened for them.

There is an aggravating tragedy to all of this. These “former” soldiers were once deemed suitable to fight for their country. They were tested physically and mentally, put through their paces, and earned a spot in a fraternity with supposedly deep and lasting bonds. They weren’t depressed or mentally ill to begin with. They had friends, good memories, kids they loved and who loved them. And then something, or a series of things, began an unravelling. An unravelling that would lead them to isolation, to the loss of their uniform, their job, their livelihood, and sometimes to the gun, the pills, the knife, or the rope that would end their pain and suffering.

And week after week, we hear from these people: the ones who are the next to die. Former soldiers bleeding out in a dark corner of a room somewhere with gaping mental wounds — festering, infected, pustulous, hideous wounds that no one seems to know how to treat. DND can strip them of their uniforms and label them civilians, but they will always be soldiers, and we can’t forget that — no matter how “crazy” they’ve become.

Why? Because dying was easy compared to what these men and women are going through. The ones who find our number, or leave messages sometime through the night, seem inescapably trapped in a horrible nightmare they can’t snap out of. Esprit de Corps was once uncovering corruption and holding those responsible to account. Somewhere on the continuum between then and now, this raison d’être seems to have changed into an entirely different beast, one that currently has the magazine fielding calls on behalf of ex-soldiers suffering from all manners of mental wounds, where “making things right” isn’t as straightforward as uncovering hidden truths. Sometimes the people that call us just want someone to reach out, and be reached out to — but a lot of them are very, very angry.

DND’s policy of releasing the most damaged soldiers into the world and forgetting them isn’t just irresponsible, it’s extremely dangerous. And they’re either ignoring them, or they have no idea how people outside the military who pose a potential threat should be dealt with. Here’s a recent example:

In early May, Esprit de Corps took a call from a veteran who believes that his chain of command at 8 Wing Trenton collectively waged a psychological war against him, ultimately forcing the former captain to retire from the Forces. After a few discussions with the veteran, who now believes he will never be able to work again unless his name is cleared, he told Esprit de Corps that he was going to reciprocate the treatment he suffered at the hands of those people by waging his own psychological war against them. When asked to elaborate, he simply said, “An eye for an eye, and blood for blood.”

Not sure what to make of the threat after being emailed a list of names, Esprit de Corps decided to contact 8 Wing in the hope they would have a procedure for dealing with situations such as this. At first, the Military Family Resources Centre was contacted. After trying to establish how to proceed, the call was transferred to the Military Police. The story was relayed again, and again the call was transferred, this time from one MP to another, and then another. When Esprit de Corps finally were able to get the ear of an MP who agreed to take the call, even before hearing the full account of the story, he explained that he was transferring the call to Public Affairs. “But we have a list of names.” Perhaps the individual should at least be contacted, we suggested. But that fell on deaf ears.

The call was transferred once again, and the person on the other end of the line did not pick up. Esprit de Corps then called every Public Affairs officer listed at 8 Wing. All were either on leave or away from their desks. Finally, the decision was made to contact DND’s Media Liaison Office. At this point, we got someone who was prepared to listen.

Admittedly, the woman on the other end of the line didn’t understand why we would con­tact the media relations office about the problem. We explained repeatedly that it wasn’t for a story. It was a matter of due diligence. Esprit de Corps felt that close to a dozen people at 8 Wing may be in danger. She said she’d run it by her superior. We asked her name. She replied, “Patricia,” declining to give her rank and surname. Several follow up emails were made to the media relations office. No response.

Esprit de Corps contacted the veteran’s former padre at 8 Wing, imploring him to run it through the proper channels. He refused to speak about the topic based on confidentiality rules. Another email was sent to the Media Liaison Office. This time we asked to be contacted when there was movement on the file. A short time later, we were contacted by an individual who introduced himself as a supervisor at Public Affairs. He explained that he was aware of the problem, but didn’t give away any info on how the situation would be dealt with.

By this time, it has been weeks since the initial phone call was made. And to date, more than a month later, no one from DND has reached out to this veteran to try and diffuse the situation, or investigate the threat. Meanwhile, this individual’s anger grows day by day. With no job, and no purpose, the outrage over his alleged treatment has entirely consumed him.

Many soldiers have fallen “through the cracks” of a bureaucratic system that seems unable to cope with members having difficulty dealing with the unseen wounds of post-traumatic stress. Many turn to drugs, alcohol and, if unable to live with the pain and anguish, suicide as a final means of ending the pain. (master seaman steeve picard, combat camera, dnd)

Many soldiers have fallen “through the cracks” of a bureaucratic system that seems unable to cope with members having difficulty dealing with the unseen wounds of post-traumatic stress. Many turn to drugs, alcohol and, if unable to live with the pain and anguish, suicide as a final means of ending the pain. (master seaman steeve picard, combat camera, dnd)

This isn’t an isolated incident. For more than a year, Esprit de Corps has been reaching out to DND in order to provide them with the opportunity to reach out to these injured ex-soldiers, because simply writing their story, getting a reaction, and then forgetting them doesn’t sit well with the magazine’s collective conscience. But Esprit de Corps’ patience is wearing a little thin. Calls from outraged and disillusioned veterans aren’t slowing down — they’re increasing. It’s time for DND to take responsibility for the products they’ve created, and come to terms with the magnitude of the problem that’s now resting at the department’s feet. Veterans shouldn’t have to call us to get help.

We’re fighting a new war now, and Canada is losing. More than 183 soldiers have already died. Countless others have been lost out of uniform. Our government just spent somewhere in the neighbourhood of $22 billion dollars attempting to eradicate the Taliban and rebuild another country, but for some reason, they’re only feigning an assault on our nation’s greatest threat to domestic security, while the bulk of defence dollars are spent on new ships, armoured vehicles and fighter jets. Build one less Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship. Build one less fighter jet. Find the money … host a bake sale at DND HQ. Do anything, because hiding behind a thin wall of carefully crafted statistics isn’t going to make this enemy go away.

The 5 Ws of Remembrance Day

By: Michael Nickerson

Michael Nickerson is a freelance writer and satirist based in Toronto. His website is www.NickersonOnline.com

Michael Nickerson is a freelance writer and satirist based in Toronto. His website is
www.NickersonOnline.com

REMEMBRANCE: THE ACT of remem­bering or process of being remembered.

It seems a simple enough idea, es­pecially when the Canadian Oxford Dictionary phrases it so succinctly. And when it comes to things like remembering a password or having your smartphone remind you of something, it usually is. When it involves setting aside a whole day to remember things like conflict, courage, stupidity, sacrifice and death, well, that’s something else entirely. No simple task, that. And with another Remembrance Day come and gone, there seems to be much confusion surrounding the whole issue.

Opinions abound as to the who, what, where, when, why and that lonely how. Of course, the ‘when’ should be fairly easy to figure out — all the more so with six provinces giving people the day off as a statutory holiday in case they might forget. And the ‘where’ tends to be well advertised if never particularly well attended; bad weather, diaper changes and late morning hangovers tend to get in the way of the best of intensions. Though even a mo­ment’s remembrance in the shower before work can still make all the difference.

This all assumes you’re considered eligible to participate. One would think that when it comes to the question of ‘who’ can engage in this act of remembrance, particularly with something so important, all Canadians would be included. Silly thinking there, old chap. It’s become an exclusive club. An aboriginal veteran who quietly unfurled a flag to honour his First Nation comrades during a recent ceremony was arrested for breaching the peace; veterans wanting to protest their treatment by the government they served were told to shut up or stay home; pacifists were just expected to be out of sight and out of mind.

So, assuming one is lucky enough to get into this club that grants you the privilege of remembrance, ‘what’ should you be remembering exactly? According to Veterans Affairs Canada, it’s “the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace.” One assumes the good folks who look out for Canadian veterans aren’t referring to their birthdays.

And indeed they aren’t. According to Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, the whole exercise is to “bring vital parts of our history to light to learn the stories of perseverance from our men and women in uniform, and to show our gratitude.” It seems all so very inspiring when you put it like that, doesn’t it?

For those of us raised on stories of abject horror from veterans who wanted to instill in young minds the idea that what they went through should never be repeated, it also comes across as a G-rated take on an R-rated snuff flick. But that’s neither here nor there, because what you’re actually remembering is apparently not that important; it’s ‘how’ you go about it.

In short, be careful what poppy you wear, pilgrim. Along with the afore­mentioned snubs of First Nation veterans as well as those other veterans wondering where their government went to, it was made clear that Remembrance Day pop­pies are, and mark these words, always to be RED. White is out. Take those pacifist leanings elsewhere. Show up, be quiet, and enjoy the air show, missing man formation or no.

Which brings us to the ‘why’ of things. Why remember at all, be they acts of war, those who have engaged in such acts on our behalf, or the reasons they were asked to in the first place? Many refer to George Santayana and his well-worn quote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” an adage that more often than not is cited by professional historians looking to stay relevant. Yet we keep repeating the same mistakes, sending men and women into conflict without first doing our utmost to avoid it. We quote history to justify more violence, rather than to remind ourselves to seek a peaceful alternative. Canada no longer actively tries to advance the possibility of peace, but instead finds ways to belligerently pursue the opposite.

Meanwhile, many seem more con­cerned with the dead of wars both one and two hundred years removed than the living who have survived our country’s call to duty, be they volunteer or professional. And military spending continues to be based more on promises of economic kickback than need or purpose.

For there is another thing to consider: people have stood by for millennia and let their leaders and societal elites lead them into conflict. If nothing else, remember that.


Who supported the Canadian Armed Forces more: Pierre Trudeau or Stephen Harper?

by Robert Smol

IF THERE IS ONE PERCEPTION of Canada’s military that both the left and right can agree on, it would be that our military is bigger, better equipped and more operationally active under Harper. Whether it’s to dote on or denigrate our current prime minister, we all seem to accept Harper’s exuberant public affairs love-in with everything military as proof that our military has indeed grown stronger under our current Conservative government.

Released in May 2008, the Canada First Defence Strategy is the Harper government’s comprehensive plan to ensure the Canadian Armed Forces will have the people, equipment, and support they need to meet the nation’s long-term domestic and international security challenges. (jason ransom, government of canada)

Released in May 2008, the Canada First Defence Strategy is the Harper government’s comprehensive plan to ensure the Canadian Armed Forces will have the people, equipment, and support they need to meet the nation’s long-term domestic and international security challenges. (jason ransom, government of canada)

RECENT LIBERAL LEADERS, on the other hand, are widely perceived as lacklustre at best when it comes to supporting our men and women in uniform. And nowhere does that “enemy of the military” legacy strike stronger than in our collective memory than with Pierre Trudeau.

If you served, as I did, while Trudeau was in power you just accepted that Trudeau was the “enemy of the military.” Was it not Trudeau who was responsible for starving the Canadian military of funds and equipment and reducing the size of our Armed Forces to unaccepted levels? Was it not Trudeau who maintained unacceptably low levels of troops deployed overseas? Was it not Trudeau who did not procure sufficient material to support out troops?

But dare we dispense with perception and, instead, look at historical facts, a very different perception of the military under Trudeau emerges. In spite of the occasional military cuts he was so derisively credited with, Trudeau actually exceeded Harper’s current record in terms of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) defence spending, military size, procurement, deployments overseas, casualty rate, and nuclear defence.

Let’s begin with who was actually ready to take a bullet for Canada.

RELUCTANTLY STANDING ON GUARD FOR CANADA?

Steven Harper, in spite of his incessant rhetoric in support of the military, never served a day in uniform. Pierre Trudeau, as a young healthy man in the 1940s, was conscripted into the Canadian Army Reserve under the National Resources Mobilization Act. Though Trudeau’s brief, rudimentary and part-time service was as far from heroic as one might have imagined, it was military service nonetheless and would have made Trudeau a military veteran today. Harper never has — and never will — earn this right.

ARE WE REALLY COMMITTING MORE OF OUR FINANCIAL RESOURCES TO THE MILITARY?

In the 1970s and 1980s, we were consistently told that our military was being financially starved by Trudeau’s government. Back then, the point of reference for Trudeau’s critics always seemed to be his government’s GDP spending on defence, which seldom exceeded 2 per cent. Granted, during Trudeau’s first two terms in office GDP spending on defence declined from 2.5 per cent in 1968 to what we thought was an “all-time low” of 1.6 per cent in 1979, rising again in the 1980s to just under 2 per cent in 1984.

But, looking objectively at the data, if the Trudeau government of the 1970s and 1980s was “uncommitted” to providing financial support to the Canadian Armed Forces, then Prime Minister Harper is a true financial deadbeat. Since Harper took office in 2006, GDP spending on defence has never exceeded 1.4 per cent, which is actually lower than even the alleged “all-time low” under Trudeau. Based on data provided by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, GDP spending on Canada’s military in 2012 stood at around 1.14 per cent of the country’s GDP.

WHO HAD THE BIGGER MILITARY WITH A BIGGER FOOTPRINT IN THE WORLD ?

Today, the size of our combined regular force stands at 68,250 members. But, like the bone-thin anorexic who thinks they are still fat, the common perception today is that we have a “big military.” Perhaps some might argue that having a military less than half the population of Kingston, Ontario, is more than enough to defend the second-largest country in the world. So be it. But how does the size of today’s regular military, which under Harper varied from 62,703 (in 2006) to 68,703 (in 2011) compare to that under Trudeau?

Liberal dynasty in the making: Pierre Elliott Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson together following Cabinet changes in April 1967. Each of these men would leave their mark in Canadian history. (duncan  cameron, library and archives canada, pa-117107)

Liberal dynasty in the making: Pierre Elliott Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson together following Cabinet changes in April 1967. Each of these men would leave their mark in Canadian history. (duncan  cameron, library and archives canada, pa-117107)

When Trudeau came to power in 1968 the Canadian Forces stood at 101,600, declining to what was then perceived as a “pathetically low” 77,000 in 1976. But what Conservatives and the military community then considered a savage suppression of Canada’s military strength, was actually 8,297 more men and women in uniform than the “peak” size of the Canadian Forces under Harper’s Conservatives. Furthermore, as with defence spending, the size of Canada’s military gradually grew during Trudeau’s last term in the early 1980s to just under 83,000 or 14,750 more than our Canadian Armed Forces of today.

Perhaps now it should not come as a surprise that, under Trudeau, the Canadian Armed Forces had a much more sub­stantial military presence in the world — both within NATO and on peacekeeping missions.

In terms of our commitment to NATO, the worst our numeric presence ever got under Trudeau was in 1972, when we had 2,800 troops committed to NATO postings overseas (not including air force personnel deployed to Europe). Of course, when the period of détente died and the Cold War got hotter, that number increased and, by the time Trudeau left office, we had 6,700 military personnel committed to NATO.

Compare this to Harper, whose efforts to bolster NATO with Canadian Armed Forces personnel peaked in 2011 when 3,214 personnel were deployed overseas. In 2012, our commitment to NATO reached a low of 886 troops — or 1,914 troops less than the alleged darkest days under Trudeau.

Also, consider the fact that while Trudeau frequently had more combat troops and air squadrons committed to NATO, he also had far more Canadian soldiers deployed on peacekeeping missions, primarily in the Middle East. Under Harper we have never seen more than 274 troops deployed in any one year on peacekeeping missions. Trudeau’s commitment to peacekeeping varied from 467 in 1972 to a high of 1,963 peacekeeping troops deployed overseas in 1979.

TRUDEAU’S ARMY: A VERY DEADLY PLACE TO SERVE

If there is one area of defence where Harper has received unfair negative publicity, it is in the area of military casualties. During the war in Afghanistan, both the media and the public became sensitized to the fact that Canadian military personnel were getting killed, leaving the impression that military fatalities were somehow a new reality for today’s military.

But as those of us who served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the 1970s and 1980s know full well, the military under Trudeau was anything but a casualty-free zone.

It may come as a total surprise to many, but while the alleged peace-loving Trudeau was in power a total of 328 Canadian military personnel were killed in the line of duty. That is 135 more than the total number of casualties under Harper’s Conservatives.

Back then our troops were getting killed in Cyprus, Egypt, Syria, Africa, Europe and while training here in Canada. Indeed, it was on August 9, 1974, under Pierre Trudeau’s watch, that the Canadian Forces experienced its largest single day loss when nine Canadian military peacekeepers were killed by the Syrian army.

In fact, last year marked another “low” for Harper’s military legacy, one we can all celebrate. In 2012 the Canadian Armed Forces, for the first time ever, lost only one person. Granted, that is still one too many! But the fact remains that the Harper government has managed to bring our military casualty rate down to a level that the patron saint of the Liberal party could never remotely achieve while in power.

WHO WAS READY TO FIRE NUKES IN DEFENCE OF CANADA?

Largely erased from our collective historical memory today is the fact that during the Pearson/Trudeau dynasty from 1963 to 1984 Canada had a restricted tactical nuclear weapons capability. Although actual custody and control of the nuclear warheads remained in the hands of U.S, military, the Liberal governments of Pearson and Trudeau had units of the Canadian military deployed to fire nuclear weapons should a threat to Canadian air space arise. These included two CIM-10 BOMARC surface-to-air interceptor missile sites in Ontario and Quebec, with each carrying a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead, as well as one army surface-to-surface missile battery that could fire W35 nuclear weapons.

And while Trudeau had the above units dismantled in 1972 (mainly because their counterparts in the U.S. were set to be dismantled as well), he did allow the Air Force to hold onto the AR-2 Genie air-to-air rockets, which also had the 1.5 kt W-25 nuclear warhead. This weapon remained in service here in Canada until 1984 — the year Trudeau left office. So it was only under Trudeau’s successors, namely Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, that Canada could honestly say it had ridded itself of nuclear weapons.

In spite of Harper’s bellicose military rhetoric on the idea of Canada’s military ever carrying nuclear weapons again, on loan from the U.S. or otherwise, as we once did under the Pearson/ Trudeau governments is so far removed from our shrunken military-capability mindset that it is not even considered for debate.

PROCUREMENT PERCEPTION AND REALITY

We also love to scoff at Trudeau for his alleged lack of commit­ment in providing new equipment for the navy and air force.

Admittedly, on the air force side, the Harper government has made some progress with the acquisition of 15 CH-147 Chinooks, 17 CC-130 Super Hercules and 4 C-117 Globemaster III aircraft for Canada’s Royal Canadian Air Force. As recently reported, there is talk of scaling back the planned yet long-delayed purchase of 28 C-148 Cyclone helicopters for the RCAF.

A group of children gather in front of Montreal’s Quebec Provincial Police headquarters to see armed soldiers and an Iroquois helicopter policing the area against terrorists during the 1970 October Crisis after the War Measures Act was instated. The suspension of civil liberties in Quebec was politically controversial. When the crisis was over, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau pledged to refine and limit the application of the Act in internal crises, but by the time of the defeat of the final Trudeau government in 1984, the Act had not been modified. Not until 1988 was the War Measures Act repealed and replaced by the Emergencies Act, which created more limited and specific powers for the government to deal with security emergencies. (lac/pa-129838)

A group of children gather in front of Montreal’s Quebec Provincial Police headquarters to see armed soldiers and an Iroquois helicopter policing the area against terrorists during the 1970 October Crisis after the War Measures Act was instated. The suspension of civil liberties in Quebec was politically controversial. When the crisis was over, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau pledged to refine and limit the application of the
Act in internal crises, but by the time of the defeat of the final Trudeau government in 1984, the Act had not been modified. Not until 1988 was the War Measures Act repealed and replaced by the Emergencies Act, which created more limited and specific powers for the government to deal with security emergencies. (lac/pa-129838)

But just how impressive is this track record when compared to Trudeau, whose government procured 138 then top-of-the-line CF-18 fighter aircraft in the early 1980s? This is more than double the number of fighter jets that the Harper government tried, and failed, to purchase with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter debacle. But it does not stop there.

A decade before the CF-18 order was executed, the Liberals also procured 135 CF-116 light attack strike and reconnaissance fighters, which were in operation from the late 1960s to 1995. The Trudeau Liberals can also be credited with the design and building of the 18 CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft that became operational in 1980 and which are still in use.

Today, Canada’s entire blue water fleet of 12 frigates and three destroyers were either launched while Trudeau was in power, or had their budget and building program approved by Trudeau. But as the navy Trudeau built now rapidly ages, just how much of an improvement has Harper made?

After six years in office, the only new naval shipbuilding projects Harper’s government has been able to finally launch includes a much-delayed contract for three joint support ships (JSS) as well as a contract for seven Arctic offshore patrol vessels (AOP). To date, there is no firm contract to build replacements for the frigates and destroyers that were launched or were designed and contracted under Trudeau’s watch. In addition, Canada’s existing fleet of 12 minesweepers are being retired under Harper.

So, almost 30 years after Trudeau’s retirement from politics, and 13 years after his passing, the Royal Canadian Navy con­tinues to sail primarily with ships from the Trudeau era.

PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING

So why is it important that we continue to make comparisons like this today? The reason is that politics is about perception — and the perception that Harper’s Conservatives have so successfully managed to create is that they are the only true and understanding “friend” of the military. This mistaken perception has been tacitly enabled by this country’s centre and left, who often refuse to realize that a viable defence posture can and should be part of their political platform.

If we blindly accept the mistaken belief that, under the Conservatives, we have supported and developed a stronger military, Canadians on all sides of the political spectrum will be far more accepting of any proposed defence cuts, believing that there actually is fat to cut.

There isn’t.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who never felt he needed to pander to the military to make himself look strong, may not be turning in his grave. But surely his legacy might well start screaming for a reality check.

HELMETS TO HARDHATS Helping former soldiers find new careers in the trades

By Laurel Sallie

ON NOVEMBER 6, 2013 Esprit de Corps reporter Laurel Sallie sat down with former Brigadier General Greg Matte to discuss the many benefits the not-for-profit organization Helmets to Hardhats has to offer recent veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Many Canadian Forces members develop numerous diverse skills during their service, including carpentry and  construction. Helmets to Hardhats Canada helps turn these skills into a new career for retired service members interested in the construction industry. Pictured, a Haitian carpenter works with members of the 3R22R Battle Group to build a temporary shelter for the Haitian community of Leogane, Haiti, following the catastrophic earthquake that rocked the island in 2010. (cpl pierre thériault, combat camera, dnd)

Many Canadian Forces members develop numerous diverse skills during their service, including carpentry and  construction. Helmets to Hardhats Canada helps turn these skills into a new career for retired service members interested in the construction industry. Pictured, a Haitian carpenter works with members of the 3R22R Battle Group to build a temporary shelter for the Haitian community of Leogane, Haiti, following the catastrophic earthquake that rocked the island in 2010. (cpl pierre thériault, combat camera, dnd)

WHAT DOES A VETERAN have to offer that you won’t see on his or her resume? Resiliency. The ability to adapt to a new challenge. A teamwork mentality. Dynamic multi-tasking skills. An innovative and creative mind and much more. These individuals are tasked with protecting the safety and freedom of our country and, in the process, they become equipped with skills and a mindset that aren’t particularly mainstream. So what happens when the military no longer becomes an option due to injury, lack of support, or any number of other reasons?

Men and women now often enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces at such a young age that the resume padding experi­ences that are offered to their peers — such as university or college, extracurricular activities, and/or part-time jobs — aren’t a reality for soldiers. This leads to an inability for many veterans to compete in the job market, a poor outcome for the individuals who enlisted their lives for their country.

Joe Maloney is not a veteran, but in many ways he is a hero. This American boilermaker saw the inadequacy of soldiers returning home without an opportunity to transition into civilian life with pride and ease. Maloney called for change in his own country and, in 2003, he saw the genesis of the American Helmets to Hardhats (H2H), a program that bridges the gap between the military and the construction industry.

In many ways the trades are an impeccable fit for the men and women who serve. The similarities between the trades and the military are numerous: a sense of brother- and sisterhood, long hours, gruelling work in often tough conditions, a necessity of teamwork, stressful circumstances, and often a nomadic lifestyle as one has to go where the work is. This is a job description veterans find extraordinarily similar to their military careers.

American veterans took quickly to the new prospects that H2H had to offer. Maloney wanted Canadian veterans to have the same advantage. As a result, the American tradesman spearheaded the initiative to start Canada’s own H2H program. And after years of lobbying to trade unions, labour associations, and the three layers of government as well as a serendipitous meeting with Jack Layton on a flight from here to there, Helmets to Hardhats, a non-for-profit program, was introduced as a line item in the 2011 budget.

CWO (ret’d) Mike Nassif (left) had an illustrious career in both the Regular and Reserve forces of the CAF prior to joining H2H in October 2012 as director of placements. Executive director BGen (ret’d) Gregory Matte has been a driving force in H2H Canada’s success, helping to expand the notfor-profit agency’s accessibility and reach for transitioning veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces. (laurel sallie, esprit de corps)

CWO (ret’d) Mike Nassif (left) had an illustrious career in both the Regular and Reserve forces of the CAF prior to joining H2H in October 2012 as director of placements. Executive director BGen (ret’d) Gregory Matte has been a driving force in H2H Canada’s success, helping to expand the notfor-profit agency’s accessibility and reach for transitioning veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces. (laurel sallie, esprit de corps)

“There was a need for skilled people who are dedicated and who can work outdoors in challenging environments,” said Greg Matte, executive director of H2H. “We have a bunch of veterans who have served their country and who are having a hard time getting a good job. Why don’t we bring those two together?” said Matte of the need for a similar program in Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government offered a one-time grant of $150,000. Provincial governments followed suit as Alison Redford offered $150,000 from the Alberta government, Dalton McGuinty $150,000 from the Ontario government, and New Brunswick showed their support with a $50,000 endorse­ment. Although this may not seem like much in terms of funding, Matte said the legitimacy that politicians give to the program by endorsing it so publicly is just as beneficial. Harper continued his endorsement by having it mentioned in the 2013 Throne Speech.

Some aren’t as quick to promote this cause, however, citing a hesitation to have individuals with visible or non-visible injuries operating heavy machinery or in such an impactful environment. However, contractors don’t hold the same opinion, Matte said. He shared the experience of when he had asked an employer what position he would give an individual who had lost both his legs below the knee in an explosion? The answer was simple: crane operator.

“What they got in the way of a disability came from serving our country, so let’s give them a break,” Matte said. In the construction industry, there is admiration for the work the vets have done. “They don’t look at them for their single disability; they look at them for their many abilities.”

The accepting nature extends to all aspects of the program, including age and length of retirement from the CAF. “A man closer to his 60s than his 50s and retired for more than 20 years wanted a change,” Matt said. He did a welding course in Charlottetown and applied to dozens of jobs in the area, but he didn’t receive a whiff of interest. “He contacted us and, two weeks later, he was moving to Edmonton with a car eer.”

There is one requirement and three main questions that Matte and his colleagues ask of every person registered with H2H and looking for a new career. Grade 12 math is required. You can acquire this high school credit in night classes or through online courses. “Then I ask them three questions. Number one: what do you want to do? There are over 60 trades and many opportunities. Number two: where in Canada do you want to do this? Jobs aren’t everywhere and, depending on what they want to do, they may have to move. And number three: when can you be ready?” It really is that easy and inclusive, Matte said.

This program works because the training is paid for so the veterans don’t have to worry about coming up with the funds right away, Matte said. And even though these vets don’t have the skills right away, the employers and crew “Don’t mind because they show up on time, they work hard, and they bring the tray of Tim Hortons coffee.” It isn’t long before these individuals move up the ranks.

“Someone that I bring to them, a vet, is very much a rough diamond. But they understand that if you buff them up and give them the training, in five years they’re going to be a foreman or a general foreman or a manager or a general manager. These people rock,” Matte said.

The testimonials on the H2H website speak to this excite­ment. As Steve Fox, business agent from IBEW Local 105, wrote about hiring a vet, “I was impressed with this vet’s enthusiasm and determination during the qualification process, as well as the manner in which he quickly adapted to the subsequent Level 1 safety training. He is now dispatched to a new health care centre as a first year electrical apprentice, and is very excited about his new car eer.”

Former Corporal Ted Collins CD, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces for 13 years, served in Bosnia during Operation PALLADIUM and was a member of the first tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan. When he found it time to retire, Collins found out about H2H through a friend. He thought it would be a good fit for him.

“I served the Canadian Forces from 1994 to 2007. A week later, I became a boilermaker. I have now begun my travels as a boilermaker as I have taken jobs in Sarnia, Toronto, Pickering, and Kincardine. I look forward to continue my travels and learn new trade skills with the Boilermakers,” wrote Collins on the H2H testimonials page. And there are many more just like this.

“They were committed to serving their country, but they’re ready to move on, and now they’re committed to starting a new career,” Matte said of the veterans registering for H2H and this program wants to be an extended hand ready to help these individuals. “This may be a national program, but there are vets in every town. We want to help them.”

Fantino’s Fantasy

BY MICHAEL NICKERSON

Michael Nickerson brings a civilian’s view and a critical wit to the realm of military commentary. His writing has appeared in a range of publications, including The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

Michael Nickerson brings a civilian’s view and a critical wit to the realm of military commentary. His writing has appeared in a range of publications, including The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

Only weeks into the job and his work is done. Or so you might think. Having just taken the reigns of Veterans Affairs during the summer cabinet shuffle, Jolly Julian Fantino issued a heart-warming statement to veterans and Canadians everywhere. He talked of devotion, care, support and honour; a love letter of sorts to veterans, and an assurance to Canadians. The Harper Government™ cares and supports our veterans. Always has, always will. Someone pass a tissue. Sniff. Sniff.

To hear Fantino tell it, all is just about perfect with his new portfolio. Built on a sound foundation that is the New Veterans Charter, and backed up with fresh funding, a Veterans Bill of Rights, a new Veterans Ombudsman and dramatically improved (his words) range and quality of services for veterans, his ministry is ticking over like a well-oiled machine. One can almost see him pinching himself for his good luck, and planning a long vacation until the next election. There’s nothing to do, after all.

Strangely for Jolly Jules and his newly inherited charges at Veterans Affairs, there are those who take issue with these warm and fuzzy notions. They take issue with the New Veterans Charter, viewing it as a betrayal and a cash grab. Where Fantino talks of care and support, they see callousness and bureaucratic belligerence. There are legions of Canada’s war veterans who don’t seem to be living in the same fantasy world as their appointed minister.

In their world, they have had to complain, publically protest and take the very government and country they served to court, be it for disability claw backs or the patent injustice of cost saving over commitment of the charter Fantino so expounds.

You wouldn’t think Canadian veterans would have to do such things, but they do. Most recently, six Afghanistan War veterans filed a class action lawsuit last fall to fight against the lump sum payments provided under the New Veterans Charter instead of the lifetime pensions under the old Pension Act. It is a fight to restore a long-term commitment, what the Royal Canadian Legion calls a social contract, between veterans and government, one that has existed since Canada fought WWI.

Like many fights, like many wars, it has been all too avoidable.

The government’s legal response to all of this was not particularly jolly; more like cold and clinical, as one might expect from lawyers, if not from a veteran-supportive government. The response to those veterans, in short, was: we owe you nothing. Once you’re paid off, we’re done. Go away. And please judge, toss out this “frivolous and vexatious” lawsuit.

For those who have been following the issue, The Harper Government’s™ legal response is not surprising. It has involved a long-term exercise of debate and criticism met with rhetoric and whitewash. The first Veterans Ombudsman, Col. (ret’d) Pat Stogran, has had to publically and courageously raise hell, losing his job, and having his criticisms and character publically questioned to the point of ridicule. His successor, Chief Warrant Officer (ret’d) Guy Parent, to his credit, has kept the heat on (if at a low boil) with both an evaluation of the New Veterans Charter and preparation of critiques and suggested changes in anticipation of this fall’s parliamentary review.

There have also been a myriad of media stories and reports about veterans and their families suffering the physical and mental effects of war, conflict, and the rigours military service demands. Add to that the protests, rallies, and documentaries, and one wonders why the disconnect between Fantino’s fantasy land and the reality veterans face exists at all?

If my recent experiences are anything to go by, it’s because the “average” Canadian hasn’t bothered to understand the issue.

At a Liberal by-election candidate’s “meet and greet” for Justin Trudeau’s handpicked replacement for Bob Rae, namely Chrystia Freeland, former journalist and now champion for the middle class, the question was posed to her (by yours truly): What are your thoughts regarding the New Veterans Charter? “I’ll have to dodge that one” was the response. Handpicked indeed. What was worse was a supporter who expressed his unmitigated support for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms he thought I was talking about. Irony.

So why does this continue? Because Canadians are happy to wave flags, rename highways, inscribe scotch bottles and wear ribbons, pendants and bumper stickers in support of veterans, thinking they’re doing the right thing. They’re not. And until they realize that, Fantino can keep living his fantasy.