Rally to Protest Closure of Sydney Veterans Affairs Office

Statements

Senator Statement Senator Jane Cordy December 3rd, 2013

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, on November 9, I was privileged to attend a rally in Sydney, Cape Breton, in support of our veterans, which was attended by 3,000 to 4,000 people. I would like to commend the many people who attended the rally in support of the Cape Breton military and RCMP veterans. The rally was organized by local veterans and volunteers to provide the community with the opportunity to come together and voice their displeasure with the decision to close the Sydney Veterans Affairs office. I would like to publicly thank them for their work.

The show of support for Cape Breton military and RCMP veterans was very encouraging and very moving. To watch the veterans walking or riding in their wheelchairs along George Street, surrounded by thousands of people, was very emotional. These are veterans who fought for justice and fairness around the world on behalf of all Canadians. They should not have to fight for fairness on their return home.

With the closing of the Sydney office, 4,200 military and RCMP veterans and their families will be left without support. Now veterans are told by this government to call a 1-800 number, or log on to a website, or get an app for their iPhone, or travel to Halifax if they require assistance.

Veterans showed up in force on November 9 to march in protest against the closures. Representatives from the 28 Cape Breton Royal Legion branches, the Cape Breton Naval Veterans Association, the Cape Breton chapter of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping; the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada, the Korea Veterans Association of Canada, the Cape Breton Highlanders Association and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans' Association were all there.

Each and every person who attended the rally took time out of their weekend to show their support for the veterans and I was honoured to be part of this support. But, honourable senators, the veterans need more than community support — they need this government to listen to them and to the people of Nova Scotia.

I would like to quote veteran Mel Birmingham of Southside Boularderie, who wrote in the Cape Breton Post:

Our veterans who served on the front lines don't deserve to be served by a phone line. They deserve face-to-face, personal service from those best qualified to help them with their concerns and questions about pensions, health care and other services to make their civilian lives better after serving their country.

Minister Fantino announced last Thursday that the Sydney office will close on January 31, 2014. The 13 full-time and 4 part- time employees in the Veterans Affairs office will be gone. The minister, in what he is calling a compromise, plans to add one Veterans Affairs caseworker to Service Canada locations.

To quote Ron Clarke, a 73-year-old veteran and organizer of the rally, this is a "totally ridiculous" idea. He also stated, "We do not need a ticket to get in a lineup."

Honourable senators, surely Minister Fantino can meet with the veterans in Cape Breton. Surely our veterans deserve respect and our help when they return after serving our country.