Canadians have been proudly serving their country and our allies since our inception. Millions of Canadian men and women have served in every major conflict and have undergone the most horrific of losses of lives, limbs and health than anyone could ever have imagined.
- A total of 619,636 men and women served in the Canadian forces in the First World War, and of these 66,655 gave their lives and another 172,950 were wounded. Nearly one of every ten Canadians who fought in that war did not return.
- In the six years of conflict in the Second World War Canada enlisted more than one million men and women in her armed forces. Of these, more than 45,000 gave their lives in the cause of peace and freedom.
- Nearly 27,000 Canadians served in the Korean conflict, and another 7,000 served in the theatre between the cease-fire and the end of 1955. Nearly 1,600 Canadian troops were injured and over 500 died.
Given the sacrifices that Canadians made it is only fitting that Canada developed special programs to look after our veterans and their families. From 1916, when a military convalescent hospital was established at Deer Lodge for returning WWI soldiers, to today returning Canadian veterans continue being treated with care and attention by employees of the federal government.
After World War II, a plan was developed to assist the re-establishment of a million young veterans by the newly formed Department of Veterans Affairs and its predecessor the Department of Pensions and National Health. Priority was given to the Veterans in staffing the Public Service.
In the early days, the hospitals and offices of the newly formed department were staffed by veterans only, but as those veterans aged a new and professional corps of caring Canadians sought to serve those who had served so well. As the need grew so too did the Department and soon those who worked for the Department began to form loose organizations of staff and finally in 1952, the Department of Veterans' Affairs Employees' National Association, part of the Civil Service Federation of Canada was formed.
In 1954, this association became the first federal employees association to be recognized by the federal government and a new era for federal public sector workers had begun. The next twelve years of our association were very exciting and organizing meetings were being held to sign up members from coast to coast.
In the early 1960's association members were growing more and more frustrated with their employer. They were upset that their wages were being kept artificially low, technology was beginning to threaten many of their jobs, and their once solemn promise of job security was continually being eroded.
With all of this happening it was no wonder that members of all these associations were ripe for what came next, the formation of trade unions.
According to the official records of the Canadian Museum of Civilization,
Governments were not pleased when their employees chose to challenge these changes through unionization. The federal and most provincial governments initially rejected demands for collective bargaining rights. Frustration among civil service workers with what they perceived as government stalling began to boil over in the mid-1960s. Part of the problem was the fact that the workers had few avenues through which they could command a government's attention, as federal and provincial employees, with the exception of those in Saskatchewan, did not have the legal right to strike.
In 1964, discussions were opened to create one national organization of veterans' affairs employees. This idea attracted J.C. Carlo, a veteran of World War II, working as a clerk with the Department of Veterans' Affairs in Quebec, who had a vision of not only one union for his department, but also one union for all federal workers. As the President of the Department of Veterans' Affairs Employees' National Association, J.C. Carlo convened a meeting of all other federal government association leaders, of which the majority were veterans, in early 1966 to discuss the formation of one union to represent all federal workers. Later that year founding conventions were held for our new Component, the Department of Veterans' Affairs Component and our new union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Of course we all know now that J.C. Carlo, a veteran of World War II was the first National President of DVAC . The first National President of PSAC Claude Edwards, was also a veteran and a member of DVAENA.
Long before the Government passed legislation in 1966 to provide for collective bargaining; activists and leaders were already building our union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada. And yes, Brothers and Sisters a UVAE member, Brother J.C. Carlo, helped to lead the charge. J.C. Carlo, a veteran of World War II, is in fact, the Grandfather of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Can you believe that the majority of members in our union during that time were all veterans.
Yes, the Government of Canada did pass legislation to introduce collective bargaining, but they did it to appease the workers and the veterans' associations on one hand and to control them with the other. The Federal Government introduced and passed the Public Service Staff Relations Act and the Public Service Employment Act in 1966 but our Component, DVAC, and our union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada was united and ready for them when they did.
The last thirty years have not been easy for our members or the Department. The Government's decision to phase out or close most of the hospitals was a severe shock but we have survived. We changed our name in 1990 to the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees. We saw a large portion of our members regionalized to picturesque Prince Edward Island and lovely Kirkland Lake and the Department changed names to Veteran Affairs Canada. As our veterans aged and died the whispers of our Department being reorganized or disappearing began to surface.
And then a very surprising thing happened. To paraphrase Mark Twain "the rumours of our demise are greatly exaggerated". Today UVAE and the Department are growing again. Despite the fact that we have not had a global war for a long time, Canadians have been fighting, have been injured, and have died serving their country in Europe, Asia and the Middle East in the last thirty years.
From Cyprus to Bosnia, from Albania to Afghanistan Canadian peacekeepers, reservists, and soldiers have undertaken vital yet very dangerous missions. There are over 45,000 Canadian veterans of the Vietnam War alone. And modern war brings its own form of horror. That horror is manifested in the atrocities that are committed and witnessed by our soldiers and peacekeepers. Ethnic cleansing, mass murders, sexual assault and rapes, random and planned acts of terrorism are but some of the events that our men and women have been forced to witness. These criminal acts have brought personal, physical, and medical horrors to these same women and men. One result of bearing witness to these horrors is what we now call post traumatic stress disorder and it is another new mandate of our work.
A network of clinics has been established to deal with Operational Stress Injury. Those clinics are run by a team of professionals working closely together to provide specialized treatment for clients with mental health issues. The National Centre at Ste. Anne’s Hospital is developing and managing this network of clinics. The treatment offered in
In recognition of the contribution of Canada’s armed forces to our country and to the world, the Canadian government passed a new law, the New Veterans Charter. This new law represents the largest reform of benefits for Canadian veterans in the last 60 years.
This New Charter passed in 2006 offers the veterans the following programs and services:
Job placement services, disability award and other benefits, group health insurance, rehabilitation services, financial benefits, individual case management as well as support for their families.
A Veterans Ombudsman position was announced in 2007. The Ombudsman has the responsibility to assist Veterans to pursue their concerns and advance their issues. The Ombudsman also upholds the Veterans Bill of Rights.
Lately, legislative changes granting more support for Allied Veterans and their families received Royal Assent. In light of the amendments, low-income Allied Veterans of the Second World War who have lived in Canada for at least 10 years will be eligible to receive the War Veterans Allowance and Health Care Benefits.
Our job serving Canada's veterans is not over by a long shot. We welcome the new mandate and the new challenges of serving veterans, peacekeepers, reservists, military, RCMP and the Merchant Navy.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge my predecessors, the members of the National Executive, past and present, the Local Executives as well as all who support the cause of organized labour. I particularly want to thank those who work hard to improve the lives of our veterans.
I would like to encourage you to be proud of your dual role, serving our veterans and their families as well as supporting your Union.