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An ill-timed and ill-advised move by PM Harper - Editorial

We have just marked Remembrance Day.

As one speaker underlined during the service conducted in Bashaw, while Remembrance Day remains as relevant and as important as ever, there is clearly a new quintessence to the meaning of November 11.

This year’s ceremonies marking the day were characterized by the intense debate around the shrinking benefits and services that the Canadian servicemen and women find themselves entitled to.

Just days before November 11, there were protests all around the country, one of the biggest in Ottawa in front of the parliament, mostly staged by veterans who returned from their duty tours in Afghanistan.

The latest regulatory document on veterans’ benefits, the New Veterans Charter, in effect since 2006, has been hurting, because it makes the younger veterans, returnees from the Afghan theatre, feel they are less respected.

Everything in that document, from the one-time compensation payment conditions to the medical services, including psychological treatment for post-traumatic stress, seems to have been designed as if to say that sacrifices made in Afghanistan are not as valuable as those made during the World War I, World War II and Korean War.

A veteran of the Korean War, Bill Brayley, was quoted by national media as saying that his veteran’s pension is adequate but that he worried about young soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

“The veterans went out to serve and then they come back and what they’re coming against — it’s pathetic at times, it really is,” he said. “Men and women that have served for our country, they need respect and payback for what they have done.”

Well, as if the disrespect in the charter is not enough, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pulled out another rabbit from the hat, saying that his government would decide by decree to extend the mission of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

During a press conference in South Korea where he attended the G-20 summit, Mr. Harper said because the ongoing Canadian presence in Afghanistan would not be geared to combat, but a training mission only, he would not need authorization from the parliament.

He may be technically right, but he is morally wrong.

The Afghan theatre is not a conventional war environment, and in guerilla warfare, the enemy strikes wherever it can grab the opportunity to. One should not forget that Taliban could strike at the Interior Ministry building right at the heart of Kabul about two years ago and there is no guarantee that they will not destroy an institution where Canadian military personnel will be training Afghan soldiers.

Mr. Harper will be well advised to listen to what General Sir David Richards, head of the British armed forces, had to say last week: “The West can never defeat Al Qaeda.”.

- Mustafa Eric