Volume 93, Issue 41

Thursday, November 11, 1999


A Canadian soldier's story

Death So Noble searches for the real WW1

Merchants still left out in the cold

Merchants still left out in the cold

By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

When the Canadian Armed Forces returned from the Second World War, most of the soldiers were in need of financial support. The government compensated these individuals for their efforts, however, in recent years another group of men have surfaced seeking their just desserts.

The Merchant Marines were not demobilized when the war ended in 1945. Instead, they continued to travel the seas, transporting supplies to a devastated Europe. However, in 1946 the Merchant Marines went on strike and the Canadian government realized they could no longer support these men overseas. The cost of labour, therefore, became too expensive and they were sent home.

Since they were not demobilized as the other armed forces were, they were not privy to the same benefits. "The government cut off the merchant marines and basically left people high and dry," explained Peter Ambroziak, dominion secretary treasurer for the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada.

"There were about 10-12,000 Merchant Marines altogether who didn't receive any benefits and this issue of compensation is still outstanding," he added.

Ambroziak's organization functions as a mouthpiece for veterans to the government. ANAVETS fights for veteran support and has taken the issue of the Merchant Marines under its wing.

"The difficulty with the Merchants is that they do not function as a homogeneous group. We're dealing with a variety of groups and there's no collective discipline. This makes it harder for the government to put a package together for them because we don't know how many there are."

Alec Connelly, press secretary for George Baker, Minister of Veteran's Affairs, said there are two broad forms of assistance for veterans. In the first, the individual must demonstrate their injury is war-related. The second is an allowance assisting war veterans whose income is near poverty.

"Not every veteran will receive benefits. There are 500,000 veterans in Canada and only a third receive benefits. And the Merchants are entitled to all, but they must go through the same process of applying," Connelly said.

The Merchant Marines are not seeking these rewards, but are instead seeking compensation for the re-establishment benefits, Connelly said. "This was given to the armed forces and could be used to apply credit to buying a house and the amount is determined by the number of days they served. The merchants are now asking for compensation for this and not a pension."

As of yet, the minister was unable to achieve a consensus on the number of Merchant Marines and therefore cannot calculate a formula for their package, Connelly added.

Some problems surfaced last year, when Merchant Marines from New Brunswick came to Parliament Hill and went on a hunger strike, Connelly said, adding the government will continue to meet with the veterans until a consensus is met.

Capt. Tom Brooks, an advocate for the Merchant Marines who served in the war, said he does not believe the government is doing enough for them. "We've given them our package which gives $24,000 for each Merchant and $20,000 extra for the Merchants who were taken prisoner during the war."

The difficulty is that in 1947, many records detailing the proper number of Merchants were destroyed. However, Brooks said there are now 24,000 marine veterans and surviving spouses. These numbers are calculated from the Merchant Navy Coalition for Equality, which includes four associations and the Canadian Merchant Veteran Association. These groups, he said are working in a unified position to seek compensation.

"The armed forces and the marines did get gratuities, but the forces got educational grants, land grants and business loans. The Navy didn't get any of this and we're looking for our re-instatement credit and these grants," Brooks explained.

Brooks added he hoped the Merchants would have another report to send to the Ministry by the end of this month when they will be able to sit down to prepare a compensation package.

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