Alfie Burt, 59, joined the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps in 1975. He plans to sit in the lobby of the Sydney, N.S., Veterans Affairs office until it closes or a decision is made to keep it open. CBC
Veterans taking part in a sit-in at the Veterans Affairs office in Sydney, N.S., broke down in tears on Wednesday, shaken by the federal minister's reaction to their concerns.
Even an apology from Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino couldn't console them.
On Tuesday, Fantino was late for a meeting in Ottawa to discuss the closure of Veterans Affairs offices in nine communities across Canada. A video from the meeting shows the minister and veterans having testy exchanges. Fantino left early.
A rotating group of four veterans have been sitting in the lobby of the Cape Breton Veterans Affairs office every day this week and have been keeping an eye on the coverage.
"I was tremendously disappointed with the minister's reaction," said Alfie Burt. "He wasn't there to listen."
The 59-year-old joined the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps in 1975 and says he suffers from chronic back problems as a result.
"I could just start crying right now. It just wasn't right," he said.
"What the frig is wrong with that guy? Like knowing you have people right across Canada saying you're not doing the right thing."
Fantino sorry, saying meeting ran long
Fantino released a statement on Wednesday apologizing for running late.
"Due to cabinet meeting that ran long, I was very late in meeting a group of veterans that had come to Ottawa to discuss their concerns. I sincerely apologize for how this was handled. Today, I am reaching out to those veterans to reiterate that apology personally," he said.
"I have been committed to having an open dialogue with the men and women who served Canada in uniform, but I realize that yesterday's regrettable delay has brought that into question."
The veterans are trying to stop the federal government from closing eight Veterans Affairs offices — including the one in Sydney — on Jan. 31. An office in Prince George, B.C., has already been closed.
Ron Clarke, a veteran from North Sydney, N.S., was at the meeting with Fantino on Tuesday and said he does not accept the minister's apology.
"I thought he would be a lot more professional than what he was. As a matter of fact, I found him very disgusting," Clarke told CBC News.
Clarke said the veterans want a commitment to keep the eight Veterans Affairs offices open, and to reopen the Prince George office.
"If they don't open the offices or keep them open, we the veterans — the serving members of the military and the citizens across this country — will let them know in 2015 that they made a big mistake here messing with the veterans," said Clarke.
"I want to see him resign, that's what I want to see. Either he resigns or I'd like to see his boss fire him. He's not a very compassionate man. He was ignorant, forceful and actually disgraceful."
The office in Sydney is on the list for closure, along with seven others across the country. The protesting veterans have said that without local staff guiding them through applications and program requirements, they would have been refused the help they now depend on.
Vince Rigby, 49, said memories of a civilian massacre in Bosnia still affect him.
"My emotions are flopping up and down," he said.
Rigby echoed the sentiments of NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and said Fantino should resign.
"He's not listening to us at all. I would like to see him go over to Afghanistan, put on a uniform, follow the soldiers through a foot patrol and then come home," he said.
"Seek out a young man that's got PTSD and follow him through your system through the DVA and then let us know how it goes."
Fantino's office has said the services veterans currently receive at the offices will be provided by a trained worker at Service Canada offices.
Veterans have said they don't think that plan will work.
"We have gentlemen in here right now who swear this office has saved their life," said Royal Canadian Air Force veteran Donald Lloyd Gardner. "There are still a lot of our young folk coming down the pipes.
"How many of the them are going to take their own life? They closed this office at what cost?"
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