Star investigation gets action  Canada  


MPs hear soldiers 'scream'


Jun 17, 2009 04:30 AM


David Bruser

                                         STEFANO RELLANDINI/REUTERS
Canadian troops take their places aboard a CH 147 Chinook helicopter before a patrol in Kandahar province


Federal MPs will probe the supports available for Afghanistan war veterans and their families after a Toronto Star investigation found a growing problem of post-tour violence that is landing soldiers in jail and their victims in hospital.

The Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs voted unanimously to launch the hearings after members reviewed the Star articles.

"It is not normal for these veterans to be committing illegal acts. These people are screaming for help," said NDP Member of Parliament Peter Stoffer, who is a committee vice-chair. "We need to help, and the best way is to study this issue and provide immediate recommendations, not just federally but provincially as well."

Liberal MP Judy Sgro, the committee's other vice-chair, said she made the motion.

"These stories really opened the door to an area that people don't want to talk about. Our soldiers go over there, we pray they don't get killed and then they come home and we think it's over," she said. "(The Star stories) require us to think more about the decisions we make to send the soldiers abroad."

The committee made up of MPs from all major parties will likely begin the investigation in September once Parliament resumes after summer break, Sgro said.

The Star series, War at Home, found soldiers landing in court after assaulting their wives or children. Others were charged after barroom assaults or drunk-driving accidents that injured others.

Many of the soldiers in the stories went to war without a criminal record but now report to a probation officer or child services worker, or both. The problem is escalating, presenting police, lawyers, judges and psychologists with a new and dangerous class of offender.

An online poll of more than 2,600 Star readers shows 74 per cent believe the military is not doing enough to help veterans returning from Afghanistan.

"We're asking the very best of Canadians, our sons and daughters, to go overseas to what we call the worst place in the world. When they come back and they have serious challenges, we need to make sure that they're not abandoned, that all their needs and the needs of their families are carefully met," Stoffer said. "We can't leave them to themselves."

Defence Minister Peter MacKay's office welcomes the review and will support "anything that helps us further identify the road forward on this."

"I'm really glad that it's not partisan, that everyone is of the same view on this," said spokesman Dan Dugas, referring to the unanimous vote to launch the probe. He added that the Harper government is already making efforts to improve supports available to returning soldiers, including a recent commitment to spend $98 million to hire more mental health care providers.

Meanwhile, another federal committee The Standing Committee on National Defence is expected to release a report today on how the military deals with soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sgro said the veterans committee hearings could include gathering information from other federal departments, as well as interviews of military families.

Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson was unavailable for comment yesterday.