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Day of Honour, day of hypocrisy

By: 
John Bell

March 26, 2014

Cape Breton Island is one of the most magnificent natural regions of the country. The clash and union of rugged landscape and ocean creates an austerely beautiful place, and anyone who visits Cape Breton Highlands National Park or hikes even part of the Cabot Trail leaves with an unforgettable experience. So what better place to put up a ten-story high monument to war.
 
The Madonna-like “Mother Canada” statue will be the centerpiece of “Never Forgotten National Memorial”; the patriotic theme park will also feature the “We See Thee Rise” observation deck and the “Commemorative Ring of True Patriot Love”, with plaques listing all the overseas cemeteries where Canadian soldiers are buried. And over there, beyond the 300-car parking lot, will be the “With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary”, complete with gift shop, interpretive centre and restaurant. Vimy veal scaloppini, anyone?
 
Commodifying and militarizing parks
I only wish this were all a joke. It is deadly serious to Tony Trigiani, the Toronto-area CEO whose brainchild it is. The head of the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation has sunk an undisclosed amount of his own cash in the project, and is soliciting donations to cover the expected cost of $60 million.
 
Trigiani told the Cape Breton Post that the middle of a national park is the ideal location. He argues it will be protected there, so no one will be able to put up something tacky next to it, like a car wash. I guess that means my idea for the Maple Leaf Forever Flea Market (featuring “Glorious and Free Coffee” with every purchase) needs a rethink.
 
Sadly, the idea has the support of Parks Canada, and of the Harper government. Once devoted to protecting our few remaining natural areas, under the Tory regime Parks Canada has become just another vehicle for commercialism and militarism. The crass exploitation of Cape Breton’s natural beauty in the service of cynical love-it-or-leave-it patriotism is standard operating procedure for the Stephen Harper Government. The events of March 20 provide a revealing glimpse into Harper’s method, not to mention his dead and shameless soul.
 
"Day of Honour"
On that day Harper declared May 9 a “National Day of Honour” in “recognition and commemoration of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan.” There will be a parade in Ottawa and calls for a moment of silence across the nation. After 13 years of pointless war and occupation, after 161 Canadian families were left to deal with the death of a loved one, after squandering an estimated $20 billion, we are supposed to celebrate the wretched Afghan war.
 
A parade? We should turn our collective back on the festivities. A moment of silence? We should roar our disgust and contempt for the chicken hawk politicians of every party who sanctioned this horror and waste.
 
But the Tories will play the old game of bait and switch: if you slam the war, you disrespect the warriors. Support our troops. If you think a militaristic theme park in the middle of a national park is a vile waste of money, you must be a traitor. Support our troops. If you expose the “Day of Honour” for the shallow militarist hype that it is, you insult the dead and the survivors. Support our troops.
 
Harper's war veterans
But something else was happening on March 20. The Stephen Harper government was in court fighting a lawsuit brought against it by Canadian Forces veterans. In 2005 the Tories brought in the New Veterans Charter. In essence it was a money saving maneuver; wounded veterans would no longer receive lifelong pensions, but would get lump sum payments.
 
In their class-action suit, vets argue that historical precedents and promises dating back to WWI constitute a social contract. In return for their loyal service and sacrifice, the government is responsible to help and support them through their lives. In court, government lawyers argue that statements from past politicians–like Tory Prime Minister Robert Borden, who assured troops on the eve of Vimy Ridge that survivors would receive life-long support–are not legally binding and don’t constitute a social contract. Such promises by past leaders are only “political statements.” In other words, they are just opportunistic bullshit, useful at the time but without meaning. Sort of like when Harper says, “Support our troops.”
 
So on March 20 wounded veterans and their advocates were forced to fight for their rights in court, and Stephen Harper made a “political statement” about a “Day of Honour”. Pop quiz: which thing grabbed the headlines that day?
 
Hypocrisy
Never in my experience has there been a Canadian government so adept at hypocrisy as the Stephen Harper government. No government has made such lofty “political statements” while treating real veterans so badly.
 
So far this year five Canadian soldiers have committed suicide. Between 2010 and 2012, the Canadian Armed Forces recognizes 43 confirmed suicides. The number is a deliberate lowball; the CAF does not count suicides of female personnel, reservists or retirees. Veterans advocates slam the government for underestimating the seriousness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and for dangerously under funding staffing and treatment to deal with PTSD.
 
We have witnessed the shameful insults hurled at old soldiers by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino. We have seen the Tories close down eight regional centres dealing with the needs of vets, all in the interests of balancing their budget. We have seen Harper turn every civic occasion into a “political statement” about our glorious military, while he allows soldiers with invisible wounds to suffer and die in despair.
 
It is time for veterans to turn this phony “Day of Honour” on its head. Make it a day to demand decent pensions, real health care support and real respect, not just for veterans but also for all the people who work and serve them here at home.

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