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'I would like to call for Mr. Fantino's resignation'

OTTAWA — A Cape Breton veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder is calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.

Ron Clarke of Georges River was among a group of veterans and supporters who were scheduled to meet Tuesday with Fantino at his government headquarters in Ottawa.

However, when the delegation arrived they were told Fantino had been called away on business.

"I would like to call for Mr. Fantino's resignation — his resignation or fired," said Clarke during a phone-in press conference Tuesday evening. "What he (did) today, what he (did) to us today is unbelievable, unacceptable and shameful. The way we were treated is just not, not kosher."

Chris Aylward, national vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada which is represents Veterans Affairs front-line workers, described Fantino's response on Tuesday as "absolutely appalling."

The Public Service Alliance of Canada has been running a campaign against the closures, including a rally held in Sydney in November, which attracted thousands of people.

"(Monday) we had a time confirmed with the minister's office for 5 p.m.," said Aylward. "(Tuesday), the veterans went to the minister's office and waited and waited and waited, and were told the minister was called away on business and he will not be able to meet with you."

Aylward said more upsetting was the fact that Fantino showed up minutes before the group was to hold a press conference and acted "rude" in dealing with one of the veterans.

"Minister Fantino decided to show up and say 'Hello,'" said Aylward. "He answered a few questions, he got rather rude with one of our veterans, and then he decided to quickly leave. That is unacceptable for a minister, it's unacceptable to these veterans and it's unacceptable to veterans across this country."

The trip to Ottawa was considered a final plea to the federal government to reverse its decision to close the Veterans Affairs offices.

Nine communities across Canada will be affected by the office closures. The office located on George Street in Sydney is among those scheduled to close Friday.

Clarke reiterated his pledge Tuesday to work to defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in the next federal election if the closures go ahead, despite being a lifelong Conservative himself.

“If these closures go ahead, these veterans standing with me today and thousands like them across Canada will organize to hold this government accountable when Canada goes for their next election,” said Clarke.

In addition to Sydney, offices in Kelowna, B.C., Saskatoon, Sask., Brandon, Man., Thunder Bay, Ont., Windsor, Ont., Charlottetown, P.E.I., and Corner Brook, N.L., are slated to shut down as part of a move to more online and remote services. A ninth office has already closed in Prince George, B.C.

Clarke noted that during a previous trip to Ottawa, he travelled with another local veteran who also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He noted they suffer in different ways.

“Me, I’m very emotional. Him, he can’t stay around crowds. So when they said they were closing the office down, he moved into the woods, he’s living in the woods, him and his family, and I have deep concerns, not only for him, but for his family,” Clarke said, his voice breaking.

Bruce Moncur, 30, from Windsor, Ont., received a serious brain injury while serving in in Afghanistan in 2006. He called on Fantino to stop what he called a policy of “delay, deny and die.”

“When you keep getting the door slammed in your face, you just end up giving up,” he said. “It’s the no-go policy. If you’re told no enough times, then you’ll go away.”

An email seeking a statement from Fantino’s office by the Cape Breton Post did not receive a reply by deadline Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Liberal MP for Sydney-Victoria, Mark Eyking, raised the issue of office closures in the House of Commons.

“These offices are going to have their doors locked on Friday and thousands of veterans will be left out in the cold," said Eyking. "Will the prime minister come to his senses and change this mean-spirited decision?”

Following Eyking’s question, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told veterans that his party will work to reopen all centres in 2015 if the current government fails to do so.

Meanwhile fellow Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner, representing Cape Breton-Canso, slammed Fantino's actions.

“I am disappointed in his callous rejection of their requests,” said Cuzner.

The sentiment was echoed by NDP Veterans Affairs critic Peter Stoffer  

“The Conservative government continues to betray Canadian veterans when they’re at their most vulnerable,” he said. “The fact that they are moving forward with these closures is proof of the Conservatives’ lack of compassion for our veterans.”




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