While our thoughts may focus on the moments in which soldiers have gone to battle to face a known enemy, we tend to forget another kind of foe facing the troops. This one isn't human, however, it's microbial. Indeed, infectious diseases have claimed millions of lives and at times left those who fight in dire straits.
When military officers meet to dine, there is no gentle tapping of the glasses to draw the attention of the group. Nor is there a gentle "excuse me" murmured at ever increasing volume until the room settles down. Nope. A genial, but no-nonsense fellow briskly raps a gavel at the front of the table and immediately has your attention.
I want to thank Bruce Moncur for his piece, "Trudeau's Liberals Anything But Sunny Ways For Veterans," and for attending Veterans Affairs Canada's (VAC) stakeholder summit on May 9 to 10. To date, it was the department's largest and best-attended, and he made some invaluable contributions both as a member of the greater assembly and individually when we had an opportunity to speak one-on-one during a lunch break. Bruce points out in his piece that Budget 2016 did not include all of the items in the mandate letter I received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when I took office as minister of veterans affairs in November 2015. He's right.
The attack was the signal for a carefully laid Taliban ambush. Villagers scattered in all directions as the platoon came under withering fire from across the river, but amazingly there were no other casualties. Kevin called in for a dustoff chopper and ordered that smoke grenades be popped to mark our position but they landed too far away, so Kevin helped hustle my 200-pound carcass over a hundred metres to the chopper, where my Canadian stretcher had to be shoehorned into the American Black Hawk.
The Liberals promised a "leaner, more agile" military, raising concerns over the size of the military. With our current commitment and the promised renewal of UN peacekeeping missions, Canadian soldiers will not be able to sustain such a high operational tempo, let alone if we slash our military numbers.
The Canadian Forces will once again have to wait to receive new much-needed equipment. Whether it is new fighter aircraft, ships or vehicles, the federal budget has postponed more than $3.7 billion in military spending until 2020 -- or later. As a matter of fact, the latest federal budget is another slap to the Canadian Forces' face. Bill Morneau, Canada's finance minister, said the Liberals are postponing defence spending to figure out defence priorities.
This week, we learned that the Toronto Police Service will be ordering C8 carbine semi-automatic assault rifles for front-line police officers. The assault rifles, produced by arms manufacturer Colt Canada for the Canadian Forces, will cost $2,500 each, and will be in patrol cars on the streets of Canada's largest city by May. Toronto becomes only the latest municipality to acquire a weapon described on its website as "battle proven in harsh combat environments."
Despite recent headlines, Canadian rates of suicide and attempted suicide have remained largely unchanged over the last several decades. What has changed is that we've seen increasing rates of suicide in the Canadian military recently, after stable rates for decades. The problem of suicide is not limited to the military in Canada; indigenous populations, especially in northern remote communities, have high rates of suicide. We need a unified approach across provincial and federal sectors to reduce suicides in the military, among veterans and civilians.
Just as the Conservative government committed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should commit to passing the Victims Rights in the Military Justice System Act as soon as Parliament resumes. There is no reason not to do so. Equality before the law is good, common-sense policy, and supporting our troops is always the right thing to do morally and politically.