News Highlights – 30 May 12

  • Syria (1)  Canada (among other countries) give all Syrian diplomats the boot over latest violence – more here
  • Syria (2)  Australia backing France re:  possible military action (but not the U.S.)
  • Syria (3)  Former Syrian detainee underwhelmed  “…. Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar — for one — is wondering why, 14 months after the start of the uprising and after 13,000 alleged deaths at the hands of the Assad regime, Ottawa is waiting until now to act. Arar, who was detained and tortured in Syria as a terrorist suspect for more than a year after being extradited by American officials, says Canada is doing “too little too late.” “The Syrian [Canadian] community — at least the majority — have been asking the Canadian government since the last year to expel the Syrian diplomats from the Embassy,” he told Yahoo! Canada News in an interview, Tuesday. “People forget that [the Houla incident] is not the first time children are being slaughtered by the [Assad] regime. People forget that this is what the regime is. So why would Canada wait until now to take this action?” Arar argues that Canada and the international community is not doing enough. He says the Assad regime is buoyed by the fact that the UN has no appetite to intervene and that its ‘peace plan’ is essentially a joke ….”
  • Well done  The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, and the Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Veterans Affairs, (Tuesday) announced that the Government of Canada will not appeal the Federal Court’s May 1, 2012 decision regarding the offset of Pension Act disability benefits from the Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP). “The men and women who serve and sacrifice in Canada’s name need to know that their Government will stand behind them and provide the benefits they need when their service is complete,” said Minister MacKay. “I am pleased to announce our government will discontinue the offset for Long Term Disability benefits.” Since 2006, the Government of Canada has put in place a wide range of programs and benefits to support ill and injured Veterans, military personnel and their families. These complement the Long Term Disability group insurance plan for Canadian Forces (CF) members that is administered under SISIP. This program has done a tremendous amount of good by giving veterans with a long-term disability a benefit equal to 75 per cent of their pre-release salary. “I am happy to announce that our Government is taking action to harmonize our disability benefits at Veterans Affairs to reflect the planned changes to SISIP,” said Minister Blaney. “With these changes, Veterans Affairs’ disability pension will no longer be deducted from the Earnings Loss Benefit, as will be the case with the War Veterans Allowance and the Canadian Forces Income Support Benefit. This is a very positive change for our men and women injured in service to Canada who will now receive the benefits and services they are entitled to. Our Government will continue to stand up for them the same way they have stood up for our great country.” ….” – more from mainstream media here
  • What the Minister of National Defence said in the House of Commons yesterday on the SISIP lawsuit  “…. This morning I had the opportunity to speak with Dennis Manuge, who was part of the class action. I informed him of our government’s decision not to appeal the recent ruling regarding the long-term disability insurance plan. We sought the court’s clarification. We agreed with the decision. We will act expeditiously to ensure that these benefits are provided to our veterans and our current members who need it as soon as possible. We will extend this approach, as well, to the earnings loss benefit program, as well as two other relevant programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs. We care for our veterans. This is the right thing to do.”
  • From the lawyers leading the SISIP legal fight  “Following a long five-year class action lawsuit between disabled veterans and the Government of Canada, disabled veterans expressed relief that the Federal Court of Canada decision in their favour will not be appealed. “This has been a long five-year class action lawsuit between disabled veterans and the Government of Canada and its is great to see that they are doing the right thing,” said Canadian veteran and lead plaintiff Dennis Manuge. “They have listened to Canada’s disabled veterans, and clearly they wanted to do the right thing.” …. the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, and the Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Veteran’s Affairs, announced that the Federal Government of Canada will not appeal the Federal Court Decision. “The Federal Court of Canada ruling and the acceptance of the ruling by the Government of Canada, provides hope for Canada’s disabled, ill and disadvantaged veterans who have been taken advantage of for far too long,” said Manuge. “This has been a very difficult experience for Canada’s disabled veterans, including me, on a personal, emotional and financial level and it is a relief to know that we are one step closer to being reimbursed.” ….”
  • Column on SISIP litigation  “…. it took the court decision earlier this week for Ottawa to end the clawback. The real test of fairness will come with the next step in the process: Determining compensation for injured military members whose disability benefits were stripped away by an uncaring government.”
  • CF Ombudsman on Canada’s decision on the SISIP legal fight  “I welcome the Government of Canada’s announcement today that it will accept the Federal Court decision of May 1, 2012 and put an end to the clawback of disability benefits from Canada’s veterans. Our office identified this government policy as grossly unfair in 2003 and we have continued to push for its elimination since then. Those who have suffered as a result of this policy – former Canadian Forces members who have had to retire as a result of their injuries – are the most disadvantaged of our veterans. They often suffer from serious psychological or physical injuries incurred while serving their country. And yet they have been penalized – in some cases, severely penalized – by rules that are unfair. As the Government of Canada begins to work with veterans to find a satisfactory resolution, I call on the Minister of National Defence to fully rectify this fundamental unfairness by reimbursing injured Canadian veterans as soon as possible.”
  • Veteran’s Ombudsman getting ready to speak to politicians  “On Thursday, May 31, I will be appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs to speak to the Transformation underway within Veterans Affairs Canada. My appearances before parliamentary committees, both in the House of Commons and the Senate, allow me the opportunity to speak directly to decision-makers, promote Veterans’ issues and raise awareness of the challenges faced in the Veterans’ community. My statements, along with those of the other witnesses called before the Committee, will be reviewed and compiled by committee members who will then draft a report and recommendations based on our testimony …. The parliamentary committee process is a powerful enabler for citizen engagement and in an upcoming blog I will explain how we can use this process to pursue change. I’ll be back in touch after my committee appearance to discuss this further.”
  • Congrats to Canadians sharing an award for brain research helping wounded warriors!The Brain Mapping Foundation Awards a US Army colonel and 3 Distinguished U.S. and Canadian Scientists at its Gala in Toronto: The 2012 Humanitarian Award of the Foundation goes to Colonel Geoffrey S.F. Ling (United States Army/DARPA) and the Golden Axon Leadership Award will be shared by Drs. Mike Y. Chen (USA), Michael Fehlings (Canada) and Cheryl Rogers (Canada) – The Brain Mapping Foundation is one of the world’s leading cutting-edge scientific organizations, focused on pushing the boundaries of science, technology and medicine in order to rapidly advance the treatment of neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, brain tumors and neurodegenerative diseases. The organization works closely with the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT) in order to help both wounded warriors and civilians afflicted with such neurological conditions …. Dr. Fehlings is a world-class neurosurgeon with multidisciplinary vision. He showed his remarkable leadership skills as local chairman of the 9th Annual World Congress of SBMT in Toronto, Canada. “Dr. Fehlings’ strong character and leadership has served the University of Toronto as well as his patients very well because he has brought some of the world’s finest neuroscientists to Toronto in order to advance state-of-the art clinical care for his patients,” said Dr. Jay Pillai, who is Director of Functional MRI in the Neuroradiology Division of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, as well as the Secretary of the SBMT. Dr. Roger’s leadership was critical for success of the 9th Annual World Congress of SBMT, which has brought together more than 700 of the world’s finest scientists, engineers, and physicians  across many specialties and disciplines in the neurosciences from Canada and abroad. “Dr. Cheryl Rogers’ passion for helping humanity is remarkable. She has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help bring the finest technology, science and medicine to Canadian wounded soldiers and civilians who are suffering from a variety of neurological disorders,” said Dr. Michael Roy, President Elect of SBMT …. ”
  • Afghanistan  More (from the CEFCOM Info-machine) on an American Special Forces unit receiving an award for helping out in Operation Medusa  “The Green Berets of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) have the rare honour of being the first non-Canadian unit to receive the Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation. Representing Governor General David Johnston in a ceremony held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on 23 May 2012, Lieutenant-General Stuart Beare, Commander of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, presented the scroll, pennant and personal insignia of Canada’s highest honour for valour in combat by a military unit to current and former members of the Green Beret battalion. Major-General Charles T. Cleveland presided at the ceremonial presentation in his capacity as in-coming Commanding General of U.S. Army Special Operations Command ….”
  • “The Canadian Forces are filled with brave men and women, but those in the military’s search-and-rescue units have a special kind of courage. Known in the trade as SAR techs — search-and-rescue technicians — they train to jump out of the backs of airplanes in the worst kinds of conditions in order to save someone else’s life. But our SAR techs are being horribly let down by their political masters who, for nearly a decade, from Jean Chretien through to Stephen Harper, have failed to provide them with the aircraft they need to do their jobs safely and effectively …. It’s high time federal leaders were seized with the urgency of fixing our broken search-and-rescue system.”
  • The military has confirmed that two search and rescue technicians with the Canadian Forces were involved in a training exercise when a fire broke out at an air base in central Labrador. However, 5 Wing Goose Bay is not commenting on what role the training exercise had in the start of the fire, which is now the subject of two investigations. Both the Department of National Defence and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Natural Resources are investigating the fire that started Friday and expanded through the weekend before being brought under control. Capt. Dave Bowen, the public affairs officer with 5 Wing Goose Bay, said in an email to CBC News that the two members of the forces who had been training “immediately reported the fire and responded with the equipment they had with them, and worked alongside firefighters to help contain the fire.” DND is not commenting, for now, on what type of training the technicians were conducting ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (1)  Opposition MPs are asking whether the government has something to hide, after a Conservative motion to wrap up the public accounts committee’s investigation into the controversial F-35 fighter jets purchase. The motion, introduced during a closed-door meeting of the Commons public accounts committee, would ensure the committee proceeded to write its report without hearing from any more witnesses. “We’ll do everything that we can to prevent it,” Liberal MP Gerry Byrne told CBC News. “This is too substantive, this is too important… these are issues that need to be in the public domain.” During question period on both Monday and Tuesday, opposition MPs asked why the government wanted to stop the committee from getting to the bottom of the controversy. “We have heard from the auditor general not once, not twice, but three times. We have heard from departmental officials not once but twice,” Andrew Saxton, the parliamentary secretary to the president of the treasury board, told the House of Commons Monday. “It is time to get on with writing the report.” Saxton’s Monday Commons statement, the essence of which he repeated on Tuesday, was the first public indication that the committee’s work may be nearly over ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (2)  Still more message discipline in Question Period “…. we have had a thorough study of the Auditor General’s report. In fact, we have had the Auditor General come to committee on three separate occasions to discuss this chapter. We have had senior officials from the departments come to committee on two separate occasions. We have had the Parliamentary Budget Officer come to committee to discuss his calculations. We have had ministers also come before the committee of the whole for hours to answer all of the questions of the opposition. It is time to get going and for the opposition to quit playing political games and get this report written.” – more here.
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (3)  One reporter’s take  “With no disrespect intended to Canada’s auditor general, the debate over the F-35 stealth fighter is starting to give me a headache. What started as a well-meaning exercise in fiscal accountability has developed into almost a daily buzz saw of claims, accusations, innuendo, exaggeration, outright lies and verbal flatulence. That’s not to say what has been unfolding in Ottawa is unimportant. Quite the contrary, it’s incredibly serious and depending on how it all ends, the debate over this yet-to-be-proven, supposedly radar-evading, very, very, very expensive aircraft could have far-reaching implications for how we are governed ….”
  • What’s Canada Buying?  “Chemical Agent Sensor Simulator(s),” someone to clean up lead, asbestos and mould in/around Trenton/Belleville, Petawawa, Kingston, Borden and North Bay, 100 x “Pack, Life Raft and Survival Equipment”, 60 x sandbag filling machines and someone to do the drapes at the Brits’ single quarters in Suffield.
  • A reminder:  under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “any person charged with an offence has the right …. to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal”  ….  Two reserve soldiers in Winnipeg face weapons and explosives charges after police seized some stolen military training weapons, as well as firearms and ammunition. Winnipeg police say they found the weapons on Sunday from a home on Royal Mint Drive, in the southeast end of the city, after they went there on reports of a dispute. One of the items seized was a “thunderflash,” an explosive device that military officials believe was taken during a training exercise, says Lt. Donna Riguidel. “It’s to create battle noise when you’re on an exercise. So they found that,” Riguidel told CBC News on Tuesday. “That is considered a military training weapon because … it is an explosive.” Military officials have determined that no weapons were taken from Minto Armouries, where the two reservists trained, Riguidel said. “As soon as we found out that there were weapons and everything, there was actually a count done,” she said. “They didn’t even trust the paperwork. They brought people in to make sure that everything was there that’s supposed to be there.” ….” – more from the Winnipeg Police Service here (or here if the link doesn’t work) and from media here, here and here.
  • Big bosses will be no-shows for major military hardware trade show  “Canada’s defence minister and top soldier are both planning to skip this year’s CANSEC arms trade show in Ottawa, their offices have confirmed. For Mr. MacKay, who is jetting off to Singapore to attend a high-profile defence conference, it’s a break from a four-year tradition, as he has attended every CANSEC since he was shuffled into the job in August 2007. CANSEC is a yearly exhibition in Ottawa put on by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries. It showcases weapons, armoured vehicles, ships, fighter jets, and other military technology that the big names in the sector are peddling. …. This year, there will likely be no LAV photo-ops for Mr. MacKay. He’s scheduled to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore from June 1 to 3, and to speak on the final day, said spokesperson Jay Paxton. To get there on time, he must leave the country on May 30, the same day this year’s CANSEC begins, the spokesperson said. The dialogue, put on by the British think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies, will feature United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, according to media reports. Also not attending this year’s CANSEC is the country’s top soldier, Chief of Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk. This year, the general is “otherwise completely booked for the first day, and will be out of the country for the remainder of the conference timeframe, and a little beyond, attending to business,” wrote Lieutenant-Commander Kris Phillips, his public affairs officer, in an email ….”
  • Editorial on former Manitoba MLA now doing military liaison work full-time  “The Manitoba government has not been very convincing in explaining why it is paying former MLA Bonnie Korzeniowski $85,000 a year, plus expenses of $105,000, to do a job she was doing for free as part of her legislative responsibilities …. The most important function, however, is keeping an ear to the ground for intelligence about the future of the Canadian Forces in Manitoba. The Department of National Defence employs 5,576 personnel in the province, including 3,154 regular force and 1,439 reserves. …. The military is the province’s largest employer and has a significant impact on the economy and social fabric. A full-time government job to monitor the military, however, is an abuse of the public purse. It should either be a part-time position, or, more appropriately, one of the legislative responsibilities of a government MLA.”
  • A new agreement between Seneca and the Canadian Forces (CF) will provide aspiring Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots with the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Aviation Technology degree and their military wings certification in just four calendar years. “This partnership will provide future Royal Canadian Air Force pilots with a high-quality degree education,” said David Agnew, Seneca President. “For more than 40 years, Seneca has been a leader in the education and training of professional pilots for the global aviation industry.” This new partnership will blend the academic requirements for Seneca’s Aviation Technology degree with the training mandate for an RCAF pilot. Candidates who are accepted into the combined program will receive a completely subsidized Bachelor of Aviation Technology education in conjunction with state-of-the art Canadian Forces pilot training. Graduates will immediately gain job experience flying helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft or fighter jets as part of the RCAF ….”
  • The man accused of stealing a Confederation College plane in 2009 continues to wait to discover his fate. Adam Leon’s laywer, Neil McCartney, filed an argument in writing Monday morning on whether his client can be prosecuted in Canada after having already been convicted and jailed for two years in an American prison for illegally entering the United States and interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft. Leon, 33, has been charged with theft over $5,000 after taking the aircraft for an unscheduled flight from the Thunder Bay airport. He was arrested in Missouri, after being pursued by U.S. fighter jets and finally landing on a secondary highway. Following his release last year, Leon was deported back to Canada, and was charged with theft by Thunder Bay Police ….”
  • War of 1812  A New Brunswick regimental colour that flew proudly over what was possibly Canada’s first handpicked army during the War of 1812 is being restored. The six-foot-square colour survived a 1,100-kilometre trek during the winter of 1813 from Fredericton to Kingston to help defend Canada from American invaders and several battles during the two-year war. The restoration is expected to cost thousands of dollars. “The 104th Regiment of Foot was raised by Col. Martin Hunter, a British officer,” Gary Hughes, a curator of history and technology at the New Brunswick Museum, told the Toronto Star Tuesday. “In my mind, I think this was a Canadian regiment before there was a Canada … it was the only Canadian raised regiment to ascend to the line at that point,” Hughes said. About 600 men started out from Fredericton in mid-February, 1813, and 52 days later they arrived in Kingston in mid-April, having lost just one soldier. Not long after arriving they participated in an amphibious raid on Sackets Harbor, New York, across Lake Ontario from Kingston ….”

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