City officials are saying no to a request from one of Saskatoon’s top soldiers to include local Afghanistan veterans in a free parking program.

'A veteran is a veteran regardless of where they served ' - Lt. Col Tony Engelberts

The request came in a letter from the commanding officer of the North Saskatchewan Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Tony Engelberts.     

In that letter he wrote, “Our Regiment has seen its share of heartaches since the combat mission began in 2006; with some members being injured on their deployments to Afghanistan, and unfortunately some having to pay the ultimate sacrifice as well.”

This morning, however, a report will go to city council’s Administration and Finance Committee, suggesting that the program not be extended to include local veterans of Afghanistan.

It’s a decision that makes no sense to Engelberts.    

LC Tony Engelberts

Lieutenant Colonel Tony Engelberts wrote to city hall asking that Afghanistan veterans be included in Saskatoon's free parking program. (Courtesy Lieutenant Colonel Tony Engelberts)

 “A veteran is a veteran regardless of where they served.”

The report from city administrators suggests the Veteran Parking Program was never intended to be a permanent program. It goes on to say that in 2007, council adopted the current criterion that excludes Afghan veterans, with the intent to have a sunset clause to abolish the program over time.

“I think somebody wrote up the report, didn’t necessarily mean to marginalize anybody’s service or a veterans status, and that’s the way it can be perceived by some,” said Engelberts. “It’s not that they are after the free parking, it’s that they are after the recognition that they are a veteran that should be treated the same as all other veterans.”

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Councillor vows to stand with vets

There are approximately 100 Afghanistan veterans in Saskatoon. Extending the free meter parking program to them would cost an additional $8,000, increasing the annual operating costs of the veterans program to about $40,000. 

The Administration and Finance Committee doesn’t have to follow the recommendations of administrators at city hall.  City councillor and committee member Eric Olauson is already on the record saying that extending the program is a small price to pay.

"I think that we owe our veterans a great debt, and I think this is a small price to pay to recognize the service that they've done for our country."

Olauson thinks he can find support for his position on the committee, and that they will, in fact, be able to extend the program, and include the young men and women who fought in Afghanistan in Saskatoon’s Veteran Parking Program.