Friday, April 06, 2007

Comparing bills

As a follow-up to this post, a commenter over at Closet Liberal tries to claim that the Veterans' Bill of Rights put into force by the Cons meaningfully resembles what veterans themselves wanted. So let's take a look at the Bill of Rights which the Royal Canadian Legion proposed a year ago, presumably in response to the Cons' promise to implement such a bill:
Canadian veterans, who have committed their lives and “service” for the freedoms Canadians enjoy today are special citizens. They deserve recognition, benefits and services to maintain an appropriate quality of life during all stages of their lives. Their special status should be recognized in all jurisdictions, federal, provincial and municipal.

Veterans have a right to be treated with courtesy, with respect and in a timely fashion in all their contacts with Veterans Affairs Canada at all levels of the Department. This respect, courtesy and timeliness of service must also be demonstrated to their families and dependants.

Veterans have a right to be fully informed of all programs and benefits to which they are eligible. In that respect, Veterans Affairs Canada has a responsibility to inform not only their current clients; it also has a responsibility to reach out in providing information to potential clients.

Veterans have a right to be provided with equal benefits in any part of the country in which they or their dependants reside. Geographical location should not determine the quality or level of service provided. Confidentiality of information must be preserved.

Veterans have a right to receive fair and equal treatment, irrespective of rank, position, or status. They should be treated with tact, comprehension and understanding. They should be involved in the decisions affecting their care and the formulation of programs and benefits.

Veterans have a right to receive referral and representational assistance in presenting their claims for benefits and services in the official language of their choice. This assistance should be broad based, and should not be restricted to governmental agencies.
In other words, the Royal Canadian Legion's original request for a bill of rights provided all the substance that the Cons' final draft doesn't: it contained substantive rights beyond those which already existed by statute, and placed a direct onus on the government to ensure that veterans were made aware of the benefits available to them (rather than merely saying that the government would pay those benefits as required). Indeed, a comparison between the two only highlights just how empty the Cons' final draft was.

Of course, it's fair enough to point out that the Royal Canadian Legion's official line is that the Cons' bill represents some progress. But that should surely come with acknowledgement that some veterans have also criticized the bill's flaws:
"It's far too vague, it's far too wishy-washy to give veterans what they really deserve," said Sean Bruyea, an ex-captain in the intelligence corps.
Meanwhile, it's also worth noting that the Cons are refusing to act on yet another reasonable request from veterans - this one for hearing aids to help veterans who may have suffered hearing loss in combat. Which adds one more reason to think the Cons' commitment to Canada's veterans doesn't extend any further than the bare minimum to provide them with an immediate political benefit.

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