Veteran left out in the cold

The Harper government promotes itself as a strong supporter of the men and women serving in the Canadian Forces. But its dealings with Canada’s veterans often tell a different tale (Mitch MacDonald, “Vet loses home,” The Guardian, 22 June 2012):

A veteran’s advocate is blaming Veterans Affairs Canada for abandoning Fabien Melanson despite admitting to a mistake that destroyed the former Van Doo’s home and life.

Just a year after holding a week-long hunger strike in front of the VAC headquarters in Charlottetown, it appears the Cap-Pele resident will lose his ancestral Acadian home.

Over the past year, Melanson and his advocate Jeff Rose-Martland say they have also been waiting for VAC minister Steven Blaney to return numerous phone calls, faxes and messages to his office.

The hunger strike ended with VAC apologizing to Melanson and giving him a letter admitting they were responsible for problems that plagued Melanson for more than six years, leaving his house in shambles while also re-igniting the soldier’s post-traumatic stress disorder and prompting a suicide attempt.

However, a year after the fact, the veteran and his advocate are still waiting for a call back and will now likely lose his house to due VAC’s inaction. The bank began the process of re-possessing Melanson’s home at the start of June.

The ordeal has been brought up in the House of Commons more than once, most recently when opposition critic for Veterans Affairs Peter Stoffer called out VAC minister Steven Blaney on the issue.

“Once again Minister Blaney shows his true colours when it comes to the quality of life of our veterans. Mr. Melanson is a decorated soldier who deserves our utmost respect. Minister Blaney must fix this appalling situation immediately,” said Stoffer.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has also come under fire recently for not providing documents to the Military Police Complaints Commission investigation of the tragic suicide of Afghan War veteran Stuart Langridge (Chris Cobb, “Defence minister MacKay tells suicide probe chair not to contact him directly,” Postmedia News, 24 June 2012):

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has told the chairman of a federal inquiry probing the suicide of Afghan war veteran Stuart Langridge not to contact him directly again.

The apparent rebuke of Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) chairman Glenn Stannard comes at the end of a ministerial letter in which MacKay rejects a request to release key documents to the inquiry.

The defence minister was under fire in the House of Commons last week for refusing to waive his solicitor-client confidentiality and release military police papers.

In his letter to Stannard, MacKay states that Supreme Court of Canada rulings forbid him from waiving the privilege all clients enjoy in their dealings with lawyers.

In his publicly released request sent to MacKay early last week, Stannard asked for limited access to documents that are directly related to the Langridge case but were written after military police detectives had consulted defence department lawyers.

Stannard, in effect, told MacKay his reading of the Supreme Court rulings was wrong and that the ‘client’ in any solicitor-client dealing still maintains the absolute right to waive privilege.

MacKay is officially the ‘client’ in dealings between DND lawyers and other military employees.

“The government of Canada remains committed to the MPCC to the fullest extent possible,” says MacKay in his letter, telling Stannard to communicate through federal lawyers next time he wants to contact him.

“I would ask that in future any communication on substantive issues pertaining to the hearing be done through (government) counsel,” writes the minister.

A spokesman for Stannard refused to comment on the letter but said the MPCC chairman would discuss the matter in public session at some point.

MacKay’s spokesman did not respond to an Ottawa Citizen request for comment.

Commission lead lawyer Mark Freiman said the documents are vital to the commission’s work.

“They are right at the centre of the issues this commission has to grapple with,” he said.

Stannard now has to decide whether to seek a ruling from the Federal Court, a process he told MacKay could be lengthy and expensive and prolong the Langridge hearing.

The troubled Afghan veteran hanged himself in March 2008 at CFB Edmonton shortly after being ordered back to base at the end of 30 days of psychiatric treatment.

Photo Credit: DND

Tags: Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Department of National Defence, Fabien Melanson, Military Police Complaints Commission, Stuart Langridge, veterans, Veterans Affairs Canada