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Kabul guards want military danger pay

Chris Wattie, Windsor Star, 3 Oct 05

 

Military guards at Canada's heavily fortified embassy in Afghanistan have been denied the same tax-free status granted to their fellow soldiers in the Canadian headquarters in Kabul, just a few kilometres up the road.

 

That has irked some of the members of the Military Security Guard Unit, a little-known elite unit that guards Canadian embassies around the world, who say they are doing a job that is at least as dangerous as those done by the regular forces.

 

"We've been fighting this since they brought it in," said one military police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's complete BS. You tell me what's more dangerous: guarding an embassy in the middle of downtown Kabul or sitting behind barbed wire and guard towers in Camp Julien?"

 

The federal budget of March 2004 gave a blanket tax exemption to members of the Canadian Forces or police officers serving in the most dangerous overseas missions.

 

$6,000/MONTH

 

Soldiers, sailors or airmen deployed to missions in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, the Middle East or the Congo are eligible for the exemption, which covers up to $6,000 a month in pay.

 

Thousands of soldiers have served in Afghanistan since the tax break came into effect in 2004, but Lt.-Cmdr. Denise La Violette, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces, said the embassy guards do not qualify because of a technicality - they are not considered part of the military mission.

 

"Nobody's arguing the point that the (embassy guards') mission is high-risk," said La Violette. "But right now the legislation limits that tax exemption to serving military personnel."

 

"They're not officially considered to be on military operations when they're posted to an embassy."

 

The embassy guard unit in the often restive Afghan capital is made up of about 10 military police officers.

 

They are responsible for protecting embassy staff and the grounds of the fortress-like embassy, a walled compound in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan district that was formerly the headquarters of a drug baron.

 

"It's a full-time job protecting that building," said one military police officer who served with the guard unit in Kabul last year. "We had quite a few close calls."

 

In March, a convoy of embassy vehicles being guarded by members of the unit was hit by a roadside bomb planted in a wheelbarrow.

 

Two of the guards sustained minor injuries from the blast, which left a 1.5-metre-wide crater beside the busy road. It was caused by a powerful remote-controlled bomb.

 

LaViolette said the Department of National Defence is reviewing the guard unit's situation, but added that any change in their tax-free status must be approved by the federal cabinet.

 

"If there are people working in similar situations, then they should get similar benefits and pay," she said. "But you have to understand that we have to work under the existing legislation. We can't just come out and say, on our own, that these guys should get the exemption."

 

40 EMBASSIES PROTECTED

 

The Military Security Guard Unit protects 40 Canadian embassies and consulates around the world, said Major Barry Shaw, the commander of the unit.

 

Currently, the tax exemption applies to soldiers serving on missions assessed at the military 's highest levels of risk: Level Three and Level Four, on a scale from zero to four.

 

La Violette said a Level Three risk is defined as a mission where "loss of life is possible," while Level Four is an operation where "loss of life is probable."

 

Level Four missions include Operation Athena, the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, Operation Jade in Lebanon and the West Bank, Operation Sculpture in Sierra Leone and Operation Crocodile in the Congo.


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