OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government has tapped a former army officer as Canada's new veterans ombudsman, six months after the last watchdog quit amid frustrations over the post's lack of independence
Retired colonel and Afghanistan war veteran Nishika Jardine is the fourth person to serve as the veterans ombudsman and the first woman to fill the post since it was created in 2007.
Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay announced Jardine's appoint on Wednesday as Canadians marked Remembrance Day with scaled-back ceremonies across the country due to COVID-19.
“The veterans ombudsperson plays a vital role in raising awareness of the needs and concerns of both individual veterans and the community as a whole," MacAulay said in a statement.
"I’m confident that veterans across the country will be well-served by retired colonel Jardine. I look forward to working with her to improve the lives of our veterans and their families.”
Jardine, who was born in India and retired from the Canadian Armed Forces last year after 37 years in uniform, succeeds Craig Dalton, who quit suddenly in May after only 18 months on the job.
Dalton at the time expressed some frustration with the office's lack of independence from the federal government.
Those concerns largely echoed complaints from the veteran community, with many expressing a lack of trust for the office given that the ombudsman reports to the minister of veterans affairs rather than Parliament.
There have also been concerns about the office's narrow mandate, which largely focuses on reviewing individual cases in which veterans are denied benefits rather than studying and addressing systemic problems.
A report commissioned by Veterans Affairs Canada and released earlier this year described the restrictions on the ombudsman’s mandate as “key barriers” to the office's ability to help many veterans in need.
Veterans Affairs Canada has said it plans to conduct its own assessment but has not said when it will be complete.
Jardine’s appointment comes as tens of thousands of veterans have been left waiting months and sometimes years to find out whether they qualify for federal benefits and services because of service-related injuries.
The Liberal government has promised to hire more staff to deal with the backlog, but MacAulay said this week that he does not expect it to be reduced substantially until 2022.
There have also been concerns that many veterans are being prevented from applying for benefits because they cannot get the necessary medical reports and other documentation due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2020.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press