03/04/2014 05:24 EST | Updated 05/04/2014 05:59 EDT

Rob Nicholson: 'Screw-Up' Sent One-Cent Cheque To Dead Soldier's Mom


OTTAWA - Canada's defence minister has apologized to the family of a soldier whose mother received a government cheque for one penny following her son's death upon his return from Afghanistan.

Rob Nicholson says an "insensitive bureaucratic screw-up" resulted in the one-cent cheque being sent to the mother of Cpl. Justin Stark.

The cheque, dated Feb. 28, was sent from the Public Works department, and was marked as "CF Release Pay."

It's not clear why it was sent, but a clearly incensed Nicholson told the House of Commons that he would look into the matter.

Stark was a 22-year-old Canadian Forces reservist who died in late October 2011 in an incident at an armoury in Hamilton, Ont. His seven-month tour of Afghanistan had ended earlier that same year.

Several tribunals were held to determine whether Stark's death was related to his tour of duty, but it was unclear whether they ever reached a conclusion.

New Democrat MP Wayne Marston says the cheque has made matters worse for Stark's mother, Denise, who he described as being in a "fragile state."

Marston says he appreciated Nicholson's pledge to look into the matter, but that he didn't want to assign blame for the cheque being issued.

Rather, he said, Nicholson should put measures in place to ensure that a similar incident doesn't happen in the future.

Stark was an infantry soldier with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada.

Word of the cheque came as NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer called on the Harper government to provide more help for the spouses of Canadian Forces veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

"There shouldn't be any hesitation when it comes to helping the families of our heroes," Stoffer told a news conference Tuesday on Parliament Hill.

"Veterans' families aren't asking for much — they simply want to be treated with dignity."

Spouses including Paula Ramsay told a news conference that the military should hire social workers to help soldiers and their families suffering from PTSD, rather than wait to hire more psychiatrists.

Canada's veterans ombudsman recently issued a report that included several recommendations to assist military families, including more education and counselling services.

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