Jeff Rose-Martland Headshot

Soldiers Give Up Their Rights So They Can Risk Their Lives

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Veterans often cite the irony that those who fight and defend freedom experience it the least.

Take the case of Cpl. Steve Stoesz.

Last week, Cpl. Stoesz spoke out about National Defence's planned cuts to military health care. DND plans to cut 25 jobs from a special unit that deals with post-traumatic stress disorder, and soldier suicide. The good corporal is justifiably worried about the impact those cuts will have. He fears his fellow soldiers will be left without the mental health support they need.

Someone raising concerns over job cuts has been a daily news item since the budget was announced. But this is a very different affair; Stoesz could go to jail for having voiced his opinion.

Canadian citizens may be shocked to learn that the Canadian Forces do not have the same Charter Rights as the rest of us. They give up those rights when they enlist.

In particular, they do not have freedom of opinion and expression. Both the National Defence Act (S. 129) and the Queen's Regulations and Orders (103.60)prohibit members from criticizing the Department of National Defence or the Government of Canada. It is considered Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order and Discipline.

In most cases, such a law makes sense for the military. It is used to suppress mutiny and rebellion. As citizens, we don't want our troops even discussing such things. If a soldier does start to speak out against his commanders or against our government, we need to be able to take swift and decisive action against that person. One thing that is required of a soldier, above all else, is loyalty. Unquestioning loyalty. Absolute loyalty.

Which is why Stoesz is in trouble for criticizing his betters. He wasn't 100% loyal to the idea of soldiers killing themselves because the books need to be balanced, and he said so.

Now he's in even more trouble. After his first interview, Cpl. Steve Stoesz was ordered to keep his trap shut. Instead, the corporal went on national TV and told everyone; not just his opinion of the cuts, but also about the gag order. This means he is open to even more charges, including Disobeying a Lawful Command -- which, by the way, is punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Imagine that: you fight and are injured for your country, and you wind up in prison for the rest of your life because you said you didn't like the budget.

Now you and I both know that he's not likely to get that. That punishment is probably reserved for disobeying orders in combat. But nonetheless, Stoesz is in serious trouble: those are just two of many charges he could face.

Stoesz says he doesn't care, that this is too important an issue to be quiet about. He won't shut-up-and-soldier. He was willing to die in Afghanista,n and the war over veteran benefits is far more important.

Which, I think, gets right to the heart of the matter.

There is a subtext to national service. Those who serve agree to give up their rights because that is essential to doing the job. In exchange, they rely on every superior rank -- including citizens -- to see that they are treated fairly and justly, to ensure that they are cared for when they need it. They exchange rights for trust. When we betray that trust, we cannot demand to withhold rights as well.

As for the soldier, ask yourself this:

What is worse for military discipline? Steve Stoesz talking on the news? Or the Conservatives gutting mental health support to the troops?