Monday, November 3, 2008

Atomic vets get the shaft

It is a story of contrasts. While Canadian military vets exposed to US atomic bomb testing are ignored and demeaned by Canadian government officials, that same government shells out big bucks and hoopla for a planned Remembrance Day vigil.

From journalist David Pugliese's blog:

Canada’s atomic veterans were exposed to radiation during multiple nuclear blasts in the U.S. as well as cleanup duties during a couple of accidents at the Chalk River nuke plant in the 1950s. Many have come down with various cancers and other illnesses which they attribute to their exposure….and they want compensation from the government because of that...

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has offered them each $24,000, a generous amount according to the government. “All those who serve their country, past or present, deserve the respect, admiration and care of a grateful nation,” Mr. MacKay said in the announcement several months ago. (Mr. MacKay did not invite any of the vets to his speech where he announced the compensation package….his office said that was the job of the University of Calgary, the organizers of the event)

The vets responded to the offer that they’ll see the government in court.

What’s interesting is what the vets say are the ongoing attempts by DND to stymie them from getting some of the official documents that could help their legal case... (link)
Pugliese goes on to detail how DND is withholding unclassified documents from these vets and instead referring them to a painfully slow appeals process - for vets who are an average of 77 years old.

For edification, consider the upcoming spectacle for Remembrance Day, with vigils and nighttime projections on government buildings in Canada and London UK, complete with the Queen's participation. Pricetag: over three hundred grand:
Veterans Affairs Canada's Community Engagement Partnership Fund has generously contributed $340,000 towards the production of the national Vigil on the War Memorial in Ottawa, the simultaneous webcast of the event, and support for the coordination of other Vigil sites. (link)
The difference is of course that dead soldiers (and nearly all WW1 vets have passed away now) are more politically useful than living ones, who may have a thing or two to say about how politicians make hay of their experiences. Of course, remembering WW1 is more consistent with the "Canada fights" mantra than recalling the Canadian Forces' history as atomic guinea pigs for the Americans.

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