Despite the bitter cold––minus 25 with the windchill––more than 50 people gathered outside the Veterans Affairs Canada office in Brandon today to witness the closure of the office and the loss of face-to-face services to veterans.
Local veterans who served in WWII, the Korean War, the War in Afghanistan and representatives from the RCMP Veterans' Association attended to speak out against the closure and call on Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maquire, Minster for Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reopen the offices and fully restore the face-to-face services veterans deserve.
Veterans laid flowers and wreaths to memorialize the closure. During the ceremony, veterans shared their thoughts and feelings about the closure.
"We put our lives on the line, we spilled blood and now all we're getting is lip service. I'm ashamed of this government and of Minister Fantino," said Korean veteran Peter Ewasuik.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and Brandon District Labour Council President Cory Szczepanski were also in attendance to show their support for veterans.
"There's no other place I'd rather be than standing here in the cold, standing up for veterans like they did for us," Szczepanski told the crowd.
Brandon veteran Martin Haller planned the event and was pleased with the turnout. "People braved the bitter cold to stand up for veterans today. I had a 91-year-old man riddled with cancer come out with his wife because he said it was important to him to be there and show his support," Haller said.
Before the ceremony, about 10 veterans went into the Veterans Affairs office to present the remaining employees with flowers. "We wanted to show our respect to the workers and say thank you for being there for us and let them know we'll be there for them," said Haller.
The closure was just one of eight closures across the country, including offices in Kelowna, Brandon, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Sydney, Charlottetown and Corner Brook. The office in Prince George closed a year ago.
In Saskatoon, veterans gathered for a press conference at the Delta Bessborough. Bill Dubinski, 83-year-old veteran, recalled his reaction to the closures. "When Stephen Harper was first elected in 2006, I thought of him as a champion for our armed forces. My thoughts were, 'Isn’t it great that we have a guy who’s going to look after our troops and our veterans?' And then this happened. Was I ever mistaken."
Marianne Hladun, Regional Executive Vice-President for the PSAC Prairie Region reminded the packed room that this doesn't only affect older veterans.
"The younger veterans may not require these services now, but what about tomorrow, next week or next year? When they go to turn to Veterans Affairs for support, it won’t be there," Hladun said. "We will keep rallying around this issue until the offices are reopened and full services are restored to our veterans. The fight is far from over."
On January 31, 2014 the federal government closed eight Veterans Affairs offices across the country, including offices in Kelowna, Brandon, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Sydney, Charlottetown and Corner Brook. The office in Prince George closed a year ago. Protests were held throughout the Prairies to speak out.