Metis veter­ans re­ceive apol­ogy

Min­is­ter ac­knowl­edges shabby treat­ment af­ter re­turn from war

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - ARTHUR WHITE-CRUM­MEY

In what’s likely to be the last ma­jor fund­ing an­nounce­ment in Regina be­fore the ex­pected start of the fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign on Wed­nes­day, the govern­ment tried to make things right with Metis veter­ans who served in the Sec­ond World War.

On Thurs­day at the Regina branch of the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion, fed­eral Veter­ans Af­fairs Min­is­ter Lawrence Ma­caulay pre­sented a $20,000 cheque to one of the last sur­viv­ing Metis veter­ans, 93-year-old Nor­man Goodon.

It’s part of a $30-mil­lion pack­age of fed­eral com­pen­sa­tion to ad­dress long-stand­ing griev­ances that Metis peo­ple were de­nied ap­pro­pri­ate ben­e­fits and sup­port af­ter they re­turned home from the war.

Ma­caulay said the sol­diers served valiantly, honour­ing their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. But he ac­knowl­edged that they later faced “prej­u­dice” and “poverty.”

“They left this coun­try not know­ing the en­emy they would face nor the coun­try or the peo­ple they would have to de­fend,” Ma­caulay told a packed room. “They were nonethe­less in­stru­men­tal in Canada’s ac­tion to pro­tect ba­sic rights and freedoms around the globe.

“We apol­o­gize that the ben­e­fits of­fered the veter­ans af­ter the war were not de­signed to meet the needs of the Metis veter­ans.”

The Metis Na­tional Coun­cil’s (MNC) min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for veter­ans, David Char­trand, said the Metis sol­diers left as broth­ers and sis­ters with their com­rades in arms. But it wasn’t that way when they re­turned to Canada.

“When they came home, they did not re­al­ize they’d have another bat­tle, that dis­crim­i­na­tion would set its course into ac­tion, and they were again go­ing to be left to fend for them­selves,” he said.

“Many of th­ese veter­ans told me with tears in their eyes that when they went to ask for sim­ple things like even eye­glasses, they were shunned away.”

He said many were sim­ply told to re­turn to their traplines.

Most of the money will go to a legacy fund to sup­port ini­tia­tives like ed­u­ca­tion or mon­u­ments. The MNC has only suc­ceeded in track­ing down about a dozen Metis veter­ans who served in the Sec­ond World War. The fam­i­lies of those who’ve passed away in the past three years will also get cheques sent to their es­tates.

Nor­man Goodon’s brother, Fran­cis, is one of the re­cently de­parted. He died just eight months ago. Nor­man was the younger brother, and was still on his way to the fight when the war ended. But Fran­cis was a pris­oner of war who’d fought at Juno Beach.

Nor­man doesn’t speak much th­ese days. All he’ll say is that he’s look­ing for­ward to us­ing his cheque to buy a state-of-the art scooter. But his son John ex­pressed what the mo­ment meant to the fam­ily.

“It’s too bad that he’s not here to get this ...” John said of his un­cle Fran­cis. “He had a hard time. I do be­lieve that. When he first came back. He had al­co­hol prob­lems.”

First Na­tions veter­ans, who were de­prived of their ben­e­fits by In­dian agents when they re­turned to their re­serves, have al­ready re­ceived sim­i­lar com­pen­sa­tion.

But Metis veter­ans were never recorded as such when they signed up to fight.

They were sim­ply “Cana­dian” or “French.”

That’s made it far more dif­fi­cult to track them down 75 years later. Ac­cord­ing to Char­trand, the ef­fort has re­lied on ads, meet­ing and word of mouth to find Metis veter­ans at care homes and even other coun­tries.

He said they even found one 99-year-old vet­eran in Lon­don, Eng­land, and handed him his $20,000 cheque.

They also vis­ited a 106-yearold Metis vet­eran in On­tario this Au­gust.

Char­trand has spent about 20 years wait­ing for this day. He spoke of what he viewed as com­plete dis­in­ter­est on the part of the for­mer Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment, and said he be­lieved Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau had kept his prom­ise by de­liv­er­ing on the com­pen­sa­tion and apol­ogy.

Asked what mo­ti­vated him to strive for so long, Char­trand said it was the sight of grown men crying.

He spoke of a trip he took with veter­ans, in­clud­ing Fran­cis Goodon, to the Juno Beach memo­rial in France around 2004.

“There was not one ar­ti­fact to the Metis ...” he said. “I see tears com­ing down. That hurts.”

But the apol­ogy is a sig­nal, 75 years late, that those men haven’t been for­got­ten.

He thinks Fran­cis would have been hon­oured.

“I guar­an­tee there’d been tears com­ing down his cheeks,” said Char­trand. “He would have been so proud to fi­nally be here to hear that apol­ogy him­self.”

TROY FLEECE

Be­fore a packed room at the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion in Regina, Min­is­ter of Veter­ans Af­fairs Lawrence Mcau­ley ac­knowl­edged that Metis veter­ans weren’t treated fairly af­ter the Sec­ond World War de­spite the sac­ri­fices they made while fight­ing for Canada.

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