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Senior, compliant, veterans only please

Harper snubs recent vets at their own club

by Miles Howe

Harper at Fredericton Royal Canadian Legion. [Photo via Stephen Harper's facebook]
Harper at Fredericton Royal Canadian Legion. [Photo via Stephen Harper's facebook]

Fredericton, New Brunswick -- Yesterday, as is being reported, Roger Montefrisco, along with several other Canadian Armed Forces veterans, were refused entry to Branch #4 of the Royal Canadian Legion, in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the campaign trail, was at the Legion to announce a plan to expand the Primary Reserve from 24,000 members to 30,000.

The stop was also a photo opportunity for Harper to press palms with several aged veterans, who apparently also happen to be Legion members. The elderly veteran demographic in the Maritimes has been a particular thorn in Harper's side, where the iconic Ron Clarke – along with thousands of others – have marched in the streets to protest the closure of local Veterans Affairs offices.

Military glorification for Harper, who has never served but has praised every military adventure from the war of 1812 to the Boer war, only works when those who actually have served are either deceased or obligingly supportive of his rhetoric. Disillusionment, or even the minimum of difference of opinion, are not accommodated.

The Royal Canadian Legion, responding to queries as to why it yesterday refused entry to CAF veterans, noted that the Harper event was “private”, hence they had no part in who was or was not granted entry. While this may or may not be true, pending the appearance of a receipt for a rental of the facility (which has been requested from the Conservative Party), it does raise issues related to which veterans are 'Harper approved' and which veterans are left outside – and why.

“There was no bus, nothing wheelchair accessible for disabled veterans,” says Montefrisco. “Look at the photos. There was nobody there actively serving from Gagetown. No young veterans. Only folks in suits and ties and five or six older veterans.”

“Yesterday, we got word that the prime minister was going to be there. But we weren't there to protest. We weren't holding any signs. Some of us wanted to talk to [Harper], because we're concerned. There are lots of suicides. Someone took his life just two weeks ago on the firing range at Gagetown. There are also issues related to Veterans Affairs.”

The issues, according to Montefrisco, are related to pensions, and especially to services – or the lack thereof - available to veterans now transitioning from active duty back to civilian life.

“When you're serving your country, you're proud,” says Montefrisco. “Your boots are shined, you have the Canadian flag. Us, now we don't get that from certain services when we come back to Canada. People forget that when it's time to come out of the military, that's a big step that can be just as poisonous.”

Montefrisco notes that the closure of Veterans Affairs offices – and their subsequent replacement with the comparative impersonality of hotlines, switchboards and Service Canada offices – is part of the alienation that can lead to new veterans 'falling through the cracks'.

Existing treatment available to veterans with anxiety disorders, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is also an issue that Montefrisco would have liked to speak with the Prime Minister about.

“You see how some of us end up on the streets, or addicted to drugs,” says Montefrisco. “It would be nice if we had a place just for us, because when you get put into a rehab, you're there with other people, civilians. As a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, you can't allow yourself to share, because some of this stuff that you're trying to work through could be confidential. You can't heal that way.”

If a turning of the Prime Minister's cheek to certain veterans and their concerns – and a celebration of other veterans – was the (unintended) result of yesterday's media event, then perhaps the local Legion branch was indeed the ideal setting.

Veterans, Montefrisco among them, have long noted that the Legion has become increasingly two-tiered, with recently returning vets on the bottom. Montefrisco notes that he is not a member of the Legion, firstly because he alleges he and his daughter were refused service at his first Remembrance Day dinner, in 2011. Secondly, he notes that he does not consume alcohol.

“I'm sober. A lot of new veterans now, we can't consume alcohol. Because the pills they prescribe and alcohol mixed together is perfect recipe for suicide,” says Montefrisco, who mentions the growing popularity of local veteran-specific cannabis club 'Marijuana For Trauma' as an alcohol-free alternative gathering – and treatment – spot.

The Legion does, ostensibly, maintain an arm's length relationship with the Canadian Armed Forces. In the spirit of symbolic appropriation, however, Montefrisco notes that if he wants to have a red poppy on his licence plate – the iconic symbol of remembering those who served – he needs to apply through the Legion. Just as a Harper event is a gatekeeper-styled event, so too does the Legion becomes the gatekeeper of validation.

“I have an ID card that says I'm a veteran. I have a certificate that says I served two tours of duty,” says Montefrisco. “Service New Brunswick knows who I am. Why should I have to go to the Legion to get papers signed if I want a poppy on my licence plate?”


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