War vet's plight strikes nerve with readers
Just as it wasn’t easy to liberate Holland from the Nazis, it is proving to be an arduous task to grant a veteran’s wish to have his son travel with him to the Netherlands to commemorate one of Canada’s greatest military achievements.
But the e-mails keep coming in — by the dozens.
All but a few are urging the Avon Maitland District School Board in the Stratford area to bend the rules and let one of its teachers — Rick Boon — accompany his 90-year-old veteran dad, Art, to Holland to mark the 70th anniversary of Canada’s efforts to liberate that northern European country during the Second World War.
The story has struck a nerve across the country.
“Make the right decision,” said reader Pauline Roque. “Do the right thing. Is this not what you teach the kids? Practice what you supposedly preach. The next generation is watching and learning from YOUR actions. Show them how to have respect and honour those who stand up for our rights and country. Show them how to be men and women.”
Wrote Carol Callaghan: “This may be the senior Mr. Boon’s last trip to the Netherlands. Let him go with his son to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands. This is a very important trip for Mr. Boon and the rest of the surviving veterans. Don’t spoil it for him. Lest we forget. We have. Remembrance Day. Let’s remember all year long — not just Nov. 11. I hope you will have a change of heart.”
There were some not quite as eloquent, but most were from Canadians wanting the best for Boon, who took part in D-Day, as well as the liberation of the Netherlands.
The criticism was targeted mostly at Ted Doherty, the school board’s director of education, who made the decision to deny the younger Boon, a history teacher, from taking unpaid leave so he could travel to Holland Friday with his father for a 10-day trip down memory lane.
Doherty explained that he made the decision in the best interest of the rules, his schools, the other teachers and, of course, the kids they teach. The elder Boon is poised to make the trip with his grandson, but has expressed the desire to travel with his son.
It should be noted accommodations were made for Rick Boon to travel with his father to the D-Day 70th celebrations in Juno Beach in France a year ago. Rick is not allowed to take vacation when school is in session.
When Michael Peake and I interviewed Art Boon Tuesday, he felt the board was being rigid and uncompromising.
“I know there are rules because I was in the military for 38 years and I made some of them,” he added. “But in that time, I bent a few rules, too. Rules are meant to be broken sometimes.”
Or softened, at least — especially when we are dealing with a veteran who may very well be making his final trip back to where he served so valiantly in his youth.
There is no question Doherty has a responsibilty to uphold a standard, but he also has to think of precedents and other concerns.
I have not been flooded with e-mails like this in years. The story has jacked people up.
But not everybody is in agreement. There are some who feel Doherty is being unfairly depicted in the media and being unfairly pushed into a corner.
“I have to compare the relatively open and welcome treatment of you by Mr. Doherty, to the repeated slurs ... in your article about him, several made by you personally. You don’t come off very well,” wrote Philip Aubin. “The fact that you have mounted a campaign against this individual is unsupportable. It’s one thing to report on a human interest story, it’s another to bully a public servant who is clearly doing his duty to the best of his ability. And you know that there are people out there who will take your call to arms to a point beyond the pale.”
Mr. Doherty is a professional and a capable bureaucrat. He did not run from Mike and I when we went to his office and did express his dismay at coming across as mean spirited. He said he also was hurt by some of the comments about himself and his board.
He also told me that it was his decision to make as a senior manager. He has made it and it is final.
When I say he is stubborn, I’m not suggesting I don’t like him. I do. But he is stubborn and is digging in his heels.
He wants to win what he calls an “unfortunate” public battle and have control of his employee.
But as a supporter of the military and particularly veterans, there is no question I, like many of those who sent e-mails, would like to win and get Mr. Boon’s son on that plane with his hero father.
But if there is no budging from Doherty, how is this possible?
The only other thing we can think of is the school board and its trustees. Could they vote to reverse this or to at least urge Doherty to reverse it?
Straford singer and songwriter Loreena McKennitt, an honorary colonel in the RCAF, said she quietly presented her position to see if the board would do exactly that Tuesday night.
“I did find some of the trustees listening,” she said.
But she also was told “they would need 30 days to consider” something like this.
They don’t have 30 days. The special occasion will be long over a month from now.
It seems the only way Art Boon and his son, Rick, are going to get on this airplane is if trustees make a tough decision.
McKennitt is urging them to do that. The local high school is having a demonstration urging them to do that. There will also be a community event in Stratford Thursday evening.
So far, the board has not seemed willing to do that.
Board Chair Randy Wagler said it is not something the board will be considering.
“This is a staff decision,” said Wagler. “Staff has made their decision.”