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National News

Minister to apologize to dead veteran's mom

OTTAWA - The government blunder that delivered a one-cent cheque to the mother of a dead Canadian soldier will never be repeated, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson vowed Wednesday in the House of Commons.

And at least one other cabinet minister is blaming an unidentified bureaucrat for the mistake, saying that the government employee responsible for the error should apologize.

Nicholson, who issued his own abject apology for the mistake Tuesday during question period, repeated himself Wednesday and said he has arranged to speak personally with Cpl. Justin Stark's mother, Denise.

"Immediately after question period I contacted the department. I received assurances that something like this will not happen, there will be better communications," Nicholson said.

"We've contacted this woman and a telephone call has been arranged ... and I will personally convey our apologies for this unacceptable incident."

Stark, 22, a reservist with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, took his own life in October 2011 after a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

His mother recently received a one-cent cheque in her son's name from Public Works. It was dated Feb. 28 and marked "CF Release Pay."

Denise Stark, who was already emotionally distraught at the loss of her son, was "devastated," said Keven Ellis, a friend of the Stark family who heads a motorcycle group that supports veterans, the North Wall Riders Association.

While it remains unclear why the cheque was issued, Nicholson said it was the result of what he called a "bureaucratic screw-up."

Speaking Thursday after question period, Treasury Board President Tony Clement was more pointed, accusing a civil servant of making "a very insensitive and terrible error."

"And I think that that individual should come forward and apologize," he said.

Clement's comments came in response to suggestions that cuts to the government's payroll system may have been to blame for the cheque being issued.

Donna Lackie, president of the Government Services Union, said that while Public Works printed and delivered the cheque, the data and information used to create it would have come from the Department of National Defence.

The department would have no way of knowing why the cheque was requested, or the background story on the person whose name was on it, she said.

"Public Works produces all of the paycheques, and basically do it based on data that's transferred from the federal departments," Lackie explained.

"So, there's no way that Public Works would have ever extracted that one-cent cheque. It's not the first time a one-cent cheque has gone through."

The Simcoe Reformer reported in 2011 that Stark spent much of his tour of duty working to secure the town of Nakhonay, a small village 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city squarely in the heart of Taliban territory.

Several tribunals were held to determine whether his death was related to his work as a soldier, but it's unclear whether they ever reached a determination.

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