Remembrance Day marked as veterans groups decry government changes

Canadians will gather to mark Remembrance Day today, but at least two groups of veterans are expressing anger at the Conservative government over its policies.

War memorial and pensions subject of complaints by legion and advocacy organization

A poppy is placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier following last year's Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa. This year's Nov. 11 commemorations are drawing keener interest because of the recent killing of two soldiers on home soil. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canadians will gather to mark Remembrance Day today, but two groups of veterans are expressing anger at the Conservative government over its policies.

The main Remembrance Day event in Ottawa will be held at the National War Memorial, where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed nearly three weeks ago, two days after a man in Quebec drove his car into Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, killing him.

Ottawa police said there will be an increased police presence around the memorial where Cirillo was gunned down the morning of Oct. 22, and off-duty officers will be able to wear their uniforms to the ceremony and carry their sidearms.

The ceremony comes as the government faces criticism over its plan for the National War Memorial itself. Veterans Affairs said Monday that it will inscribe the dates of the wars in Afghanistan and South Africa — the Boer War — on the war memorial, something to which the Royal Canadian Legion objects.

The inscription "In Service to Canada / Au service du Canada" will also be added to the memorial to formally recognize all Canadians who served in the past, serve now or will serve in the future, according to a news release from Veterans Affairs.

Single out Afghanistan

Scott Ferris, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Legion, says adding the dates from specific wars neglects many people who served as peacekeepers or in other capacities.

"If they do single out just Afghanistan, well then what happens for all of the men and women that served during peacekeeping missions, or in Cyprus, or Lebanon or Egypt, or maybe they were in Bosnia?" Ferris said in an interview with CBC News.

"What about the men and women who serve today, who serve and make the ultimate sacrifice here in Canada," whether in attacks like the one on Cirillo, or in a training accident, Ferris added.

"The men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, or the RCMP and our protective services in general, put their lives on the line for us every day. This National War Memorial is for all of them and we can't single any one group out."

Ferris said the inscription "In the Service of Canada" would cover everyone.

Hopeful about changes at Veterans Affairs

While the legion is concerned about the government neglecting peacekeepers prior to the Afghan war, the Canadian Veterans Advocacy is ramping up its complaints over unfairness it sees in how Afghan veterans are treated.

Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Oct. 25 to pay tribute to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a reservist from Hamilton who was killed there three days earlier. Since Cirillo's death, people have travelled in droves to the war memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
The veterans are opposed to changes proposed by the last Liberal government and implemented by the Conservative government that provide a lump sum payout rather than a lifelong pension, calling it a different standard of treatment. They're also upset the government has closed a number of Veterans Affairs offices.

They're asking veterans not to let their names be used in government news releases. They're also asking veterans not to be photographed with government officials in photo ops.

But a spokesman for the group says it looks promising that the government just named former chief of defence staff Walt Natynczyk to be deputy minister of Veterans Affairs.

"I think it's a positive development. I mean, this is Uncle Walt. This is the chief of national defence. This is the man that led us in combat for many years. We have high expectations on the equality standards," Mike Blais said. 

"However, I have seen other [deputy ministers] be posted and be thwarted by the government. Now, it doesn't matter how strong General Natynczyk might fight for us if the government is not listening. If the government keeps focusing on this budget, putting a budget over the needs of veterans, there's going to be problems," Blais said.

Princess Anne at Ottawa ceremony

The ceremony at the War Memorial will be attended by a number of federal leaders, as well as Princess Anne.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will attend the Ottawa ceremony, along with:

  • Vice-Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, Princess Anne's husband.
  • Laureen Harper, the prime minister's wife.
  • Gov.-Gen. David Johnston and Sharon Johnston.
  • Senate Speaker Noël Kinsella.
  • Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.
  • Gen. Thomas Lawson, chief of the defence staff. 

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will attend the ceremony in Halifax.

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