Legion’s president voices misgivings about day to honour Afghan vets

Planning for the National Day of Honour was ’secretive,’ many legion branches not notified until this week
A Canadian soldier from the NATO-led coalition force walks past tents at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, June 28, 2007. Two Western security guards were killed when their convoy was attacked by a suicide car bomber in the Afghan capital on Thursday, police officials and witnesses said. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly (AFGHANISTAN) - RTR1R8WX
Finbarr O'Reilly /Reuters
Finbarr O’Reilly /Reuters

The federal government has proclaimed today a “National Day of Honour” to commemorate the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan, which stretched from the deployment of a small contingent of soldiers in 2002 to the return of the last troops earlier this year. Among the planned events is a parade in Ottawa from the Canadian War Museum to Parliament Hill.

This interview with Gordon Moore, Royal Canadian Legion’s dominion president, generated immediate reaction when it was published here on the morning before the May 9 commemorations, particularly because Moore voiced his firm objection to a plan to hand over the last Canadian flag flown in Afghanistan to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

On the morning of the ceremony, Harper’s office confirmed that the Prime Minister will, after receiving the flag in the afternoon, pass it along to Governor General David Johnston, as Moore insisted was proper. A spokesman for Harper said he would not “comment on the process” that led to the change, but said this afternoon’s ceremony will be “respectful and singularly focused on the efforts and sacrifices of the more than 40,000 Canadians who served in Afghanistan over the course of Canada’s 12-year mission.”

Here is our interview with Moore that helped focus attention on the flag issue and more:

Q How is tomorrow’s National Day of Honour shaping up from your perspective?

A It’s going very well across the country. Unfortunately, though, we do have branches that just received their notice yesterday in the mail, or the day before. To put something together in one day is pretty hard for them to do. They’re going to try.

I am very disappointed in the government in that the notice we did get was the week of April 7, that first letter. A second letter, from the Prime Minister’s Office, was April 10, saying [they] were going to be mailing letters across the country to all the Royal Canadian Legion Branches.

If we had been notified back in January, or in the initial stages of planning, we could have made this, the honour day, something that everybody would have kept in the backs of their minds for years to come. Unfortunately, it was a very secretive program and so this is what we can do.

Q Have you been given any explanation for why it was done in such a secretive way and the details came to you so late?

A No. No one has called me on it or emailed expressing that at all.

Q On the details, who sent that April 7th letter that first alerted you to the Day of Honour plan?

A That was Veterans Affairs. The April 10th one was an email from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Q And what did that one tell you?

A It told us that a letter was all prepared—had a picture of the Prime Minister on it—and the letter was being mailed out by the Prime Minister’s Office to our 1,460 branches across the country.

Q How come some branches only got the letter this week?

A We live in a vast country. You get up into the Northwest Territories. One branch in the Gaspé called and said, ‘We just got the letter yesterday, what do we do?’ We said, ‘Do your best.’

Q How about the events planned for around Ottawa and on Parliament Hill—are you happy with how they’ve been organized?

A Well, you know, Nov. 11 is the day we remember all who paid the supreme sacrifice. Having this honour day for Afghan veterans is a day of closure for some. I know some of the Afghan veterans and their families are not going to watch any of it on TV, they’re not coming to Ottawa, they want nothing to do with it, because they are disappointed with the way the government has treated them—lack of respect and communication, and they’re not getting the benefits they need.

Q Are you suggesting it would have been better to just set aside some time for extra attention next Remembrance Day for the Afghanistan veterans and those who died there?

A The Royal Canadian Legion is in charge of Remembrance Day here in Ottawa. We could have had all of the pictures of the 158 who paid the supreme sacrifice on the big screens, like we’ve done for the past two years, and shown some respect to them at that time. Why the government is doing it this way, I’m just not sure. I just pray to God that there’s no politics involved in this.

Q There have been some questions raised about the protocol of a centrepiece of tomorrow’s ceremonies—the plan to give the last flag flown by Canadian troops in Afghanistan to the Prime Minister, rather than to the Governor General. Do you have a feeling on that particular gesture?

A Very much so. Governor General David Johnston is the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. He and he only should be receiving the last Canadian flag that flew in Afghanistan.

Q Where are you going to be tomorrow?

A I’m going to be on the Hill. I received an invitation last week to attend, from the Minister of Veterans Affairs. I’m going to be showing respect. But, at the same time, my only purpose for tomorrow is to be able to show respect to our men and women in uniform and our Afghan veterans. That’s the bottom line.