22 June 2012

Government Stonewall Buys Media Silence

Silence used to be career suicide for a politician. Politicians would feel compelled to answer questions, even if there was no content in their response. Side-stepping, dodging, ducking, and verbal dancing were skills essential for public office. Even when annoyed by their evasion, one could always admire the skill with which a question was handled - just like acknowledging a well-shot goal by the opposing hockey team.

The Harper Government has abandoned that. They don't do verbal puck handling. They just shut up.

Take, for example, Bev Oda's months long vow-of-silence regarding that altered memo. Or the Harper Government's refusal to disclose budget details.

Or Steven Blaney.

Regular readers have heard about Cpl Fabien Melanson before. Summary: in 2004, VAC made a mistake and sent his pension to someone else for 5 months, the result of which was the loss of his home and a suicide attempt. He's been fighting for justice since; and me with him. Minister Blaney can - and should - act to remedy this; that's the job of a minister.

Minister Blaney has employed the silent treatment. For over a year, he has not only refused to act, he has refused to interact. Neither he nor his office will respond to emails, phone calls, faxes, or messages relayed via other MPs and Senators. Not a word to Fabien.

For Minister Blaney, this tactic seems to be working. Since he refuses to comment, the media won't cover the story. For the press, 'minister holds his tongue' is not news, it isn't a story. Fabien's loss has already been reported. Blaney's continued inaction is not news worthy.

But that is the point: the key issue behind Fabien's entire struggle has been the uncaring VAC bureaucracy and its refusal to take responsibility for what it did. By refusing to discuss it, Blaney is continuing the abuse of this veteran.

And he's getting away with it. Because 'no comment' is not news.

At the beginning of this month, Fabien's property and land were repossessed because he cannot afford the repairs. The minister did not intervene. However, we were assured, through multiple unofficial sources, that the Minister's office was sending a letter. Three weeks later and no correspondence has appeared. More silence; the Minister was just buying time with vague, unofficial, assurances.

Since we cannot respond to a non-existent letter, there remains nothing to report in the media.

There should be public outrage. This veteran has been mistreated for 8 years and, in a few weeks, will lose everything because of the VAC bureaucracy. The person who is responsible for veterans won't speak to or about him. The public should be offended that any Minister would keep silent over such an affair.

They should be. But they won't. Because the public won't hear about it; the media won't report it.

The House closed this week. Question Period will be over until the fall. Minister Blaney will get another two-and-a-half months to ignore Cpl. Fabien Melanson. By the time the Commons resumes sitting, Fabien's property will be disposed of and the devastation VAC began in 2004 will be total. I imagine the Minister will claim then that the issue has been resolved.

But you likely won't hear about that either.

By then, it will be old news as well.

Which is, after all, the point of all this silence: if they keep quiet long enough, the problem goes away. The budget passed without disclosure. Oda was never held to account for altering a legal document. And Fabien Melanson will no longer have property to fight for.

01 June 2012

Minister Neglects Duty, Vet will lose Home

The ongoing saga of Fabien Melanson hit another low yesterday.  Our appeals to Minister Steven Blaney (VAC) have gone unanswered.  We needed him to act quickly to prevent Fabien from losing his house.

Blaney has mailed us a letter.  Apparently.

So much for today's deadline for saving the house and property.

The situation is very simple: in 2004, VAC made an error and sent Fabien's pension to the wrong account.  It took VAC 5 months to fix, an unreasonable amount of time.  The loss of income halted renovations on Fabien's home and it received significant weather damage.  VAC paid the back-pension but has done nothing about the impact those missing funds had.

VAC admits, in a letter from last June, that they were responsible for the error and the Fabien suffered as a result.  The Department doesn't have a policy for dealing with this.  That means that the Minister is the one who has to make it right.  We've been trying to get the Minister involved for a year.  He still has not responded to any of the emails, faxes, or phone calls made to his office (although, it seems, there is a letter in the mail.)

Minister Blaney had the responsibility and authority to resolve this.  He also has a responsibility to engage with the veterans who need his help.  Not only is it common courtesy, it is also part of his job.

I find that Steven Blaney has neglected his duties to a massive degree.  If he will not perform the responsibilities of his position, then he should have the decency to step down.

If you agree, or if you think what happened to Fabien is ridiculous, so something; write or call the media.  Tell your friends to do the same.  Neve rmind your MPs - government ignores us and Opposition is powerless.  The only way this may be fixed is massive public outcry.

Write a letter to a newspaper.  Phone a radio Call-In show.  Email your favourite news provider.  Call local TV.

Tell everyone who will lister what has happened to Fabien and how you feel about it.

You can include information from this news release:


Veterans Affairs Inaction Costs Veteran Home; Advocate Calls for Minister’s Resignation

St. John’s (Our Duty) – Cpl Fabien Melanson of Cap-Pele, NB will lose his house tomorrow, the end result of a 2004 clerical error by Veterans Affairs, and his advocate is calling for the Minister to resign.

The Van Doo veteran served in Croatia and liberated a hospital in Bosnia. He retired to his hometown when his PTSD prevented him from serving. Then his real war began.

In 2004, Melanson’s pension went missing because Veterans Affairs sent it to the wrong bank account. Despite constant calls, VAC did not correct the error for 5 months. By the time he did get his money, Cpl Melanson’s finances were in ruins. So was his house - the missing pension halted renovations and weather damage rendered the veteran’s home unliveable.

For the next 7 years, Fabien Melanson fought with Veterans Affairs to get them to fix his house. It took a hunger strike last June to get VAC to acknowledge their responsibility. But VAC claimed it ‘had no mechanism” for paying for the repairs.

“That’s highly misleading,” says Melanson’s advocate, Jeff Rose-Martland, “The Department may not have a policy, but it does have a way to do so. The Minister can do it.”

Rose-Martland is referring to ex gratia payments, where a Minister can use discretionary funds to address issues which fall outside of normal procedures.

“We’ve been trying to get the Minister to fix this for a year. We sent our first appeals for help during the hunger strike. We have been emailing, faxing, and phoning regularly since, but the Ministry has been unresponsive. I did speak with an aide in February who said they were looking into it; that’s the only response we’ve had.”

Tomorrow, Bridgewater Bank will proceed with legal action to sell the property. “Fabien’s been doing his best to meet his obligations, but 8 years of being homeless have taken their toll. Most of his income has been going to pay the mortgage on a house he can’t live in, and to store his possessions. He got behind in his payments, Bridgewater discovered the condition of the house, and the clock has been ticking since. We have until tomorrow to provide them with a payment plan and construction schedule.”

As Melanson has no funds for rebuilding, sale of the property is inevitable and Rose-Martland says the Minister is to blame.

“Ever since he was appointed Minister, Steven Blaney has had both the authority and responsibility to fix this,” he says, “VAC admitted their responsibility a year ago; the Minister has a duty to make reparations. The Minister should have been seeking us out, not the other way around. Now, Fabien is going to lose his house and land, and the Minister still won’t act. He won’t even pick up the phone.’

Late today, Rose-Martland received word that the Minister will reply. By mail.

“Since Bridgewater Bank said they were going to sell the place, we’ve been hounding the Minister’s office, begging him to do his duty. He ignored us; no response at all. This afternoon, we found out – through sources other than the Ministry – that they have mailed a letter to us. An 18th century reply to a 21st century problem.”

The advocate is now calling for the Minister to resign. “Since he was appointed Minister, Steven Blaney has had a duty of care to see this issue resolved,” says Jeff Rose-Martland, ”He has willfully ignored that responsibility and is in dereliction of his duty. If he will not discharge his duties as required, then, as a citizen, I ask him to resign his position as Minister Responsible for Veterans Affairs.”

The distraught veteran is unavailable for comment.

Jeff Rose-Martland
President, Our Duty Inc