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Canadian Politics: Support Our Troops! When It’s Suits Us.

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Any time that someone dares to criticize Canada’s policy in Afghanistan they are accused of not supporting our troops. The theory seem to be that by demanding that they be returned home rather than being blown into a million tiny pieces in a war they have no business fighting you are sapping their morale.

Steven Harper and his government have been singing the same refrain ever since they took office; no decent, patriotic Canadian would say anything against our armed forces being in Afghanistan because that wouldn’t be supportive. We have to rally behind them and let them know we believe in them and the job they’re doing, otherwise they may not feel appreciated.

Over and over again they reiterate how proud they are of the men in Afghanistan who are risking their lives on a daily basis because they sent them there. They have become emotional pawns in a publicity war between the government and those in the opposition parties. By accusing the opposition of not supporting the troops the government is trying to take the spotlight away from the issues about the war.

Instead of allowing for a debate on whether or not it’s the right thing for our country to be doing sending troops over to Afghanistan they are attempting to turn it into an either you care about the soldiers or you don’t. In actual fact the issues at hand have nothing to do with anybody’s feelings about the soldiers, save for the fact of is the mission in Afghanistan worthy of spending their lives on it. I would think if you believe it’s not and you say so then you care at least as much, if not more, for the troops as those who believe it is okay for them to die there.

Of course there is a lot of irony involved with this government’s emotional pleas to support out troops. This is the same government that moved to cancel lowering the flag on parliament hill when a soldier was killed in Afghanistan. It is the same government that tried its best to forbid ceremonies at the airbases when those who had made the “supreme sacrifice” returned to Canada.

It was only after the families of the first fatalities starting protesting in the press about the lack of respect the government was showing their children that they began to relent somewhat. I’d hate to think what the case would have been if the government weren’t in a minority position and were trying to win a majority in the next election. They can’t afford to alienate anybody who might be their natural constituency or not only won’t they win a majority in the next election they could be defeated.

In fact, a recent poll already shows that the lead they had built up recently has now evaporated again and they are falling back to the same position they were in at the end of the last election. The fact that this poll was taken before the recent revelations that the government had been lying about what they knew and didn’t know about the treatment of prisoners of war that Canada was turning over to Afghanistan security forces might mean they are even worse off than this poll shows.

But what could hurt them even more than those revelations are the reports starting to come out of the office of the armed forces ombudsman on the treatment of soldiers’ families by the Department of Defence. Although the two investigations that Yves Côté, military ombudsman currently reported on could be laid at the feet of previous governments as they date back to 2002 and 2005 respectively, the current folk won’t be able to dodge it completely as some of the problems reported on are more recent.

What the report says is that the means of transmitting information to the families of two soldiers, one suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and the other killed in a training exercise, have been without compassion for the feelings of either soldier’s family.

As a result of the investigations into those two cases Mr. Cote says he also came across records of numerous occasions where families of wounded soldiers requesting information about their child’s welfare have been treated like a bureaucratic problem rather than human beings. Now he doesn’t offer any dates for those letters but as casualties have escalated substantially in the past year one, and the report has only just been tabled it’s easy to believe the practise has continued to this day.

In fact his conclusions lead one to believe that is the case as he said he is very troubled that the families of Canadian armed forces personal continue to be treated like second-class citizens to this day. That would mean that the current government has been in power for part of the time that this report covers, and has done nothing to implement recommendations that were made by the military ombudsman’s office in 2005 that the treatment of families by the ministry needed to be improved upon.

Mr. Cote’s primary concerns are the military’s unwillingness to deal with the requests for information. He experienced delays of up to twelve months in accessing reports, something that had never happened before (none of this information is of military importance nor could revealing it harm soldiers in the field) and families’ requests for information were first ignored and them treated with disdain.

What will he find when he finishes his next investigation – the treatment of families whose children have died in service to their country? Already we’ve seen the message sent by this government is that the less said or done about them the better, and families were insulted by their behaviour. If that was official policy it is more than likely it will be reflected in the attitudes displayed by the Defence Department.

What I wonder is how this qualifies as “Supporting Our Troops”? Surely part of that support has to extend to the families whose children, brothers, and husbands are being put at risk in the war zone? Don’t you think if you were serving overseas that you would want your family to be able to find out how you are doing as quickly as possible and be treated compassionately if you were injured? How would you feel if you knew that your parents were being treated like a pest if you were injured and they were trying to find out how you were?

I’d be pretty pissed off. That’s how I’d feel.

The next time the government goes on and on about how much they support the troops, ask yourself what that really means? Ask yourself if a government really cared about the people it sent overseas wouldn’t that include treating their families with respect and compassion? You would think so, wouldn’t you?

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Richard,

    Interesting article about a government that evidently cares about a policy of shipping soldiers out to a distant battlefield but does not care at all about their fate once they are wounded or dead – or even if they succeed in their missions once they arrive on the battlefield.

    It behooves one to ask why does the government of Canada wish to send troops to Afghanistan if they are evidently not concerned about their welfare once they arrive on the field…

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    We generally have a poor track record when it comes to putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to truly honouring our soldiers and their families. It’s one thing to get up and speak eloquently – as Richard alludes to – on the floor about them and quite another to back it up with action.

    It’s not surprising. Look at how we’ve allowed our military to whither.

  • http://www.SupportUSA.org Adam

    You can help show your support of the troops at supportusa.org