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Meet the modern-day voice of Canada's veterans
« on: May 26, 2014, 06:49:02 PM »
Meet the modern-day voice of Canada's veterans

David Pugliese More from David Pugliese
Published on: May 26, 2014Last Updated: May 26, 2014 11:35 AM EDT

In the last several years, a new breed of veterans’ advocates has emerged, including Mike Blais, founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy. Unlike many of their counterparts from years before, these veterans don’t believe in remaining silent or working behind the scenes.

They have faced the ire of Conservative MPs and party organizers. Last year, Blais was branded an extremist by Daniel Dickin, president of the Ottawa South Conservative Association, who claimed that Blais advocated threats and civil disobedience. In fact, Blais had spoken out against such activities.

Blais joined the Canadian Forces in 1977; seven years later, he suffered a serious back injury during a mission in Cyprus. In 1993, he was medically released from the military.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Why did you start Canadian Veterans Advocacy in 2010?

A.  The foundation of that was a sense of duty to those in my regiment who were serving in Afghanistan. I was the president of the local RCR (Royal Canadian Regiment) association. I went to a ceremony in Hamilton and I got talking to these young fellas. Man, I was stunned: These guys were coming home with serious wounds and felt like they were being cast adrift.

Another reason was the manner in which the government treated Pat Stogran as Veterans Ombudsman (he had been outspoken on behalf of veterans and his term was not renewed). That was one of the reasons I organized the first Canadian veterans’ day of national protest, because of the way he was so unjustly treated.

Q. You seem to have become the focus of a number of Conservative MPs and party members who have launched personal attacks on you. Why?

A. I’m a volunteer. I’m a veteran. The message I may bring may not resonate too well with the government but it’s a message that has been decided by the wounded veterans and their families. It’s not Mike Blais picking words out of my hat. I’m the voice of many who are afraid to speak out.

Q. What about the more traditional organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion?

A. They abandoned us with their support of the government’s New Veterans Charter. They would support a standard (of support) that is much lower for the modern veteran, than the standard they had fought so strongly for, for the traditional veteran, myself included.

I’m on the Pension Act. I was injured when I was 35. My pain and suffering award could almost equate to $2 million by the time I die. Meanwhile, Afghan veteran Maj. Mark Campbell gets a $280,000 lump-sum award for losing two legs and other serious injuries including severe PTSD. What the hell happened there? Why are we treating a veteran like that?

Q. Do you think things will improve?

A. I believe there will be improvements. I believe that because a movement is starting to rise. I feel that it started when the veterans came in to Ottawa from down East about the Veterans Affairs district office closures and the abhorrent way that Minister (Julian) Fantino treated them. I think that was a tipping point.

For a while, it seemed it was modern veterans fighting for modern veterans and the old guys were kind of on the sidelines. But when that happened with Fantino, when he disrespected that 88-year old World War Two veteran, when Afghan veteran Bruce Moncur who has five per cent of his brain removed because of his injuries, was disrespected, I think a lot of multi-generational veterans got really pissed off.

Q. Any closing words?

A. I would encourage all veterans to reach out to their MPs. We cannot affect change on the New Veterans Charter until we get all MPs from all parties to embrace their sacred obligation to veterans. Now we have the Liberals on board. We have the NDP on board. Now it’s time for the veterans’ community to focus on the Conservatives. At this time they are the only political organization in Canada who is not fulfilling their sacred obligation to veterans.

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