Cornwall woman spearheading plan to get free transit rights for Canadian vets

Published on July 3, 2014
Historian Sara Lauzon stands with a visitor's registry at the Cornwall House of Refuge exhibit.
Adam Brazeau

CORNWALL, Ontario - A chance meeting with a Second World War solider has turned into a drive to get Canada's war veterans free access to public transit - and maybe more.

It's still early days, but Sara Lauzon, a Cornwall woman who is studying in Ottawa, said in an interview it's her belief vets who have sacrificed so much for Canada should be allowed to ride in buses and perhaps by rail, for free as a token of respect.

And she's already found some powerful allies.

Staff from the office of Sen. Judith Seidman, a Conservative senator from Quebec, have indicated their willingness to support Lauzon.

But beyond some words of encouragement, Lauzon will likely be expected to do much of the heavy lifting. She's already reached out to decision makers at OC Transpo in Ottawa, her local MP David McGuinty and - at Seidman's urging - Via Rail.

A representative from Seidman's office confirmed the senator is sympathetic to Lauzon's plan, but is unsure how much she can help in what is largely a municipal issue.

"It's really a small token of appreciation," said Lauzon. "We need to continue to remember the vets who are still living."

The idea came to her when she was waiting in line with others to renew her OC Transpo bus pass. In line head of her was a feeble old man, who was counting what Lauzon believed to be a collection of small change, so that he could come up with enough to pay the fee.

"I went up to him to shake his hand, and he told me this amazing story," she said.

Instead of getting the man's name she got the tale of how he used his brother's name, at age 15, to sign up to fight for Canada in the Second World War. His brother has just married "and he didn't want to see the marriage end because he had to go and fight," said Lauzon.

"He had signed up, and been sent overseas before his family could do anything to stop it."

The vet, said Lauzon, continued his selflessness by also fighting in the Korean War.

"You put your life on the line, why should you have to pay for something like public transit?" said Lauzon.

Cornwall currently offers a break for vets looking to use city buses.

"Cornwall already offers free transit for vets, and I would be pleased if other municipalities would offer the same," said Jason Setnyk, chair of the City of Cornwall's transit committee.

The next step for Lauzon will be to wait for replies from the contacts she has made in Ottawa, to see how receptive they are to her idea.

And if they say no?

"I'm pretty persistent," she laughed. "I'll try to find a way around it."

Lauzon has gained a following locally for her work on Cornwall history, including work on the former House of Refuge in the city.