By DAVID PUGLIESE, OTTAWA CITIZEN October 28, 2013
A battle is under way on social media as angry former soldiers accused the president of the Ottawa South Conservative Association of branding one of the country's veterans' advocates as "extreme" and claiming he and his group are threatening Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The blog post by Conservative organizer Daniel Dickin has incensed some veterans, who point out that former soldier Mike Blais never threatened anyone.
Veterans say Dickin and other government officials have undertaken a smear campaign against those like Blais who criticize the Conservative government for failing to meet the needs of former soldiers.
In an online post on his blog, Dickin wrote that Blais published ideas for what veterans could do on Remembrance Day, including booing Harper, spitting on him and egging MPs' offices.
"Unfortunately, simply by threatening violence against elected officials (including the Prime Minister) and vandalism against public offices, this group has lost all credibility as a non-partisan, professional advocate on behalf of Canadian veterans," Dickin wrote under the title, 'Extreme veterans group threaten to assault Prime Minister.'
He wrote that Canadian Veterans Advocacy, or CVA, has "taken a turn for the extreme."
But in the original Oct. 18 post in question, Blais actually stated that CVA does not condone protest and the list of disruptive activities he wrote about were "things suggested or I have read, heard in my travels about what veterans might do on R(remembrance) Day."
"I spoke briefly to our liaison in the minister's office this morning, as considering the nature of the traffic here lately, I felt it was important to reiterate, as president of the CVA, that we will not be active on R(emembrance) Day," Blais noted in his post.
He wrote he would not stifle discussion by frustrated veterans on the group's social network. But Blais also added, "You may discuss this issue on a personal level — ie leave the CVA out of it — if you please."
Blais, who will be in Ottawa next week to meet with government officials, said in an interview he is concerned Dickin's comments are aimed at trying to discredit him and the CVA.
He said he has written a "friendly" letter to Dickin to point out what he wrote is not true. "You have to consider his motives," said Blais, noting Dickin's Conservative Party connection. "I'd like an apology from him but I doubt I'll get one."
But Dickin said he did not single out Blais and is not out to smear him. "At no time did I state that Mr. Blais was 'extreme,' but rather that the group's direction, for which Mr. Blais is at least partly responsible as the founder and President, had turned to extreme means of making their views known," Dickin wrote in an email to the Citizen.
Dickin stated that by listing the disruptive activities others were talking about, "Mr. Blais made it seem that these criminal activities were endorsed, credible forms of protest."
He said dozens of veterans agree with his view of CVA. "Unfortunately, they have recently turned to opposing everything the federal government does and using social media to organize negative, sometimes libellous, comments against Conservative MPs, ministers, and Senators," Dickin noted. "Unfortunately, rather than supporting their fellow veterans (including me), they've chosen to attack anyone who notices this trend."
Dickin said he is a full-time member of the Canadian Forces.
He stated in his email that as a result of his posting about CVA, he has been "viciously attacked through social media and anonymous emails."
Veterans advocate David MacLeod issued a statement Monday, noting Dickin's claims about Blais were malicious as well as inaccurate. He pointed out that in the original posting, Blais specifically stated he did not condone protest, was not taking part in any disruptive activities and wanted the CVA left out of any such debate.
"Mr. Dickin you and the Conservative Party of Canada, owe Mike Blais, at the very least, a very public apology," wrote MacLeod.
In early 2012, MacLeod and fellow veteran Jim Lowther received an apology from Conservative MP Rob Anders. Anders described both men, who volunteer their time helping homeless veterans, as "NDP hacks" and supporters of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.
But the two were both card-carrying Conservatives. Lowther served in Bosnia and Afghanistan. MacLeod served in Cyprus, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.
Ottawa veterans advocate Sean Bruyea noted that Blais's group has recently been using the Access to Information law to obtain internal government records showing veterans are not being properly cared for. "It appears the Conservatives are up to their old tactics," said Bruyea, who himself faced a campaign orchestrated by Veterans Affairs staff after speaking out. "Mike Blais has always been completely lawful. He has never threatened anyone."
Bruyea also received an apology from the Conservative government and a financial settlement after sensitive personal and medical information was illegally shared by Veterans Affairs officials.
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