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.


  1. I can't say I am surprised. This story seems eerily similar to the plight of the survivors of the 1974 grenade explosion that killed 6 cadets and injured over 50 others at CFB Valcartier. The situation (and two books written on the subject) was sent to the Prime Minister, who passed the information on the subject to Minister Peter MacKay. The response said "the minister will appreciate being made aware of your concerns." That was in April. We don't expect to hear anything more from them. It is unfortunate that the ministers of Defence and Veterans' Affairs are unable to help. Mahatma Ghandi said, "A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable." I wonder how history will characterize this treatment of our veterans, and the cadets who are still suffering after almost forty years?
    Thanks for the article.
    Gerry Fostaty

  2. Thank you for the article. As a survivor of the 1974 explosion I am of the opinion that our governments (Past and present) have treated us like worthless human beings. So I am not surprised that Veterans are being treated the same.
    Yvan Fullum