The mother of a dead Hamilton, Ont., soldier who received a cheque for one cent from the federal government has accepted an apology from Defence Minister Rob Nicholson but said the incident has reopened wounds.
And she has in turn received a promise from Nicholson to review her son's death and the military's conclusion that his suicide was not related to his tour in Afghanistan.
Denise Stark, speaking from MP Wayne Marston’s office in Hamilton, said Nicholson called Thursday morning to personally apologize.
She said she thanked him for the formal apology but explained, "how our wounds have been reopened since receiving the cheque."
Stark said she told Nicholson she didn't believe the act was intentional but that she would like to know something positive comes from it and that another family doesn't have to go through the same experience of receiving a similar cheque.
"I know not everyone will agree with what I have done, however, those people should feel blessed they don't walk each day in my shoes," she said. "The death of a child is tragic but a death related to war, well, I don't have the words to describe. Then add to that, death by suicide and it just adds another layer to my grief."
Promise to follow through
She took the opportunity of Nicholson's call to express her family's unhappiness with the military's handling of his suicide.
As of now, Stark's death isn't considered "military related," even though he shot himself in the armoury in Hamilton while on duty, Marston said. Stark's family has been dealing with inquests and military tribunals about the incident for years.
Nicholson has told the family that he will "follow through on the family's concerns" about the preliminary outcome of the hearings into their son's death. "Almost a year after we were briefed verbally by the board of inquiry about its findings, we still await confirmation of a final report," Stark said. She and her husband still aren't satisfied by the board's "confident conclusion" that her son's tour in Afghanistan did not cause him trauma.
"There is no financial gain for Justin's death being linked to his job or his service," Stark said. "It only involves having the recognition that those who died in theatre also have."
Marston says there are 50 similar investigations happening in Canada right now about military suicides.
"We have a full-on crisis happening."
The cheque was first raised as an issue in question period Tuesday in the House of Commons. Cpl. Justin Stark, a 22-year-old infantry soldier with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, killed himself in the John W. Foote VC Armouries in Hamilton in October 2011.
Stark’s mother received a cheque in the mail for a penny — presumably for owed military pay — from the federal government a few days ago. National Defence Minister Rob Nicholson told Parliament Wednesday that his staff had arranged a call for Thursday so that he could “personally apologize” for an “unacceptable incident.”
The Defence Department has assured Nicholson there will be “better communication” so nothing similar happens again. “This is what this woman is owed,” he said.
But this isn't the only one-cent cheque sent out to a Canadian Forces member in recent months.
'They lie through their teeth'
Kelly Carter, a Canadian Forces member from Alberta, sent CBC News a copy of a nearly identical cheque for a penny he received in January. It's also marked "CF Release Pay," just like the cheque sent to Stark.
"I don’t believe anything the Canadian Forces say, they lie through their teeth," Carter said in an email. "Staff tell ministers lip service to make them happy, but the same problems resurface again. What a waste of time, money, resources and paper."
MP Marston told CBC News that another armed forces member had contacted him about a one-cent cheque as well. "If there's more of them, that's more of a concern," he said.
Nicholson did not specify why the payment to Stark was issued, nor did he explain exactly what measures were being taken to make sure this doesn’t happen again. CBC News received no response to requests for further clarification on the matter.
Marston said he doesn't believe any will be forthcoming.