Gov't to cover families' travel expenses to Afghan mission tribute
Published Thursday, April 3, 2014 2:43PM EDT Last Updated Thursday, April 3, 2014 10:04PM EDT
The Harper government is backpedaling on letters sent to family members of Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan that said they will have to pay their own way to an event commemorating the mission.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said Thursday the families’ expenses will be covered, but details are still being finalized and will be announced soon.
Nicholson said the letter sent to all 158 next-of-kin families was “premature” and contained “false information.”
But CTV News has learned that last month, the Prime Minister’s Office, National Defence and Veterans’ Affairs began contacting charities in the private sector to come up with a fundraising plan to cover some of the families’ travel costs. That suggests the government knew all along that the military had no intention of picking up the tab for families of fallen soldiers.
The letter, dated last month and sent by the "Director of Casualty Support Management" at National Defence, invites familiesto the National Day of Honour service in Ottawa on May 9. It describes the event as a way "to commemorate our service and our sacrifices in order to achieve the security and stability we brought to Afghanistan."
But in the next paragraph, it tells family members: “your attendance would be at your own expense.”
Many families of fallen soldiers told CTV News they do not have the financial resources to pay for a flight to Ottawa and a hotel.
Family welcomes reversal
The mother of Sgt. George Miok, who was killed in Afghanistan, said if the government does pay for her family to attend the service, “that is really appreciated.”
“We miss him. Every day. Every hour, every minute of the day,” Anna Miok said.
“I don't want anybody to ever forget my son, because I think he did a big sacrifice for this country.”
The Mioks already had to pay $4,000 out of their own pockets to attend their 28-year-old son’s repatriation ceremony.
Opposition questions messaging
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asked the federal government about the mixed messaging during question period Thursday.
“Now the minister is trying to shift the blame, claiming that he’s not responsible for the note sent out by his own office,” Mulcair said. “Enough with the excuses. These families have already paid a greater price than most of us can even imagine. Will the minister of defence minister take responsibility for this latest insult and guarantee that the expenses of the families of fallen soldiers will be taken care of completely by the government?”
Nicholson’s parliamentary secretary, James Bezan, replied that the letter was “premature, incorrect and contained false information” because the event’s details have yet to be finalized.
“The government’s position is expenses will be covered,” Bezan told the House.
“Our government is proud to commemorate our military’s mission in Afghanistan on May 9 with a National Day of Honour and encourage all Canadians to participate. This day will give Canadians an opportunity to reflect on the courage and sacrifices made by our brave men and women.”
Below is the letter sent to families. If you can't see it on your mobile device, click here.