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Merchant seamen stage hunger strike on Parliament Hill

Those who served during Canada's wars expected danger at the hands of the enemy. But they were ill prepared for the fight that awaited some of them at home. Most veterans were welcomed home with open arms and assistance in putting their lives back in order. But several groups — native Canadians, Métis, merchant mariners and Hong Kong prisoners of war — found themselves ignored and denied the recognition and benefits so crucial to rebuilding their lives. For them, the fight would last another half century.

"We are the men that saved the world," says merchant navy veteran Ossie MacLean. He's one of four men staging a hunger strike on the steps of Parliament Hill, demanding compensation for almost 50 years without veterans' benefits. MacLean, a tough-as-nails septuagenarian, survived the Luftwaffe and wolf packs without blinking. Today, though, he's on the edge of tears. "Let us enjoy a little bit of life before we go six feet under," he tells CBC Radio in this interview.
. Merchant mariners were granted veterans benefits in 1992, but there was no settlement for the rehabilitation benefits they should have been receiving since the war ended. MacLean and his group felt that those benefits were worth at least $30,000 for each surviving veteran or their dependents.
. In 1997 the National Council of Veterans Associations applied to the Senate for a lump sum payment to cover these lost benefits, and for other veteran's benefits they were still not allowed to apply for. The hunger strike was an effort to bring attention to these issues.

. A second hunger strike began on Nov. 25, 1998.

. Ossie MacLean died at his home near Saint John, N.B. in 2002. He was 76.
Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: Oct. 1, 1998
Guest(s): Ossie MacLean
Host: Barbara Budd, Mary Lou Finlay
Duration: 6:54

Last updated: January 7, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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