Canadian law must change on who allowed to wear war medals
Guest opinion by F. Ben Rogers- I hope that Legion members take a moment to read my views on the Royal Canadian Legion today. We have watched many changes over the years, some sensible changes, some not so. I recall an event back in early 1964 whilst serving in the Royal Navy. I was stationed in Halifax with the 6th Submarine Squadron. I, along with two shipmates, attempted to enter a Legion Branch in Dartmouth N.S. Even in uniform we stopped at the door and informed we could only enter if invited by a member.
Move on to the 1980s and we hear that Indian veterans wearing turbans are refused entry because one must remove headdress when entering a legion. However, it seems today those once-ever-so-rigid rules have done a complete about face. It would appear today almost anyone might apply and receive membership.
There is a reason for this, membership has been falling off drastically in the last decade and many branches are failing. There are as many veterans in Canada today as at the end of the Second World War. The problem is few of the newer veterans are showing an interest in the Legions.
I can’t speak for all the branches, only those local ones to which I’m familiar. The feeling I have when entering a branch today is comparable to entering most local bars or watering holes. Along the walls are banks of gaming machines and tables filled with strangers. Probably the gaming machines are essential to the survival of the business.
I have attempted to make changes and to hopefully attract the interest of those many veterans who stay away from the legions. Yet with every turn I run into roadblocks from those in Command provincially. One item that needs to be changed is the law pertaining to who may wear medals. Section 419 of the criminal code states only the owner of a medal may wear it. However, should a mother-widow or family member chose to wear their late loved ones medals to a Remembrance Day ceremony, as they do in most other Commonwealth countries, that person is subject to arrest and prosecution. The maximum penalty is a fine of $5,000 or six months in jail.
I see no harm in amending this section of the law to allow family members to show their pride and respect for their late loved ones. It does not mean relatives must wear these medals on Remembrance days, it merely allows those who chose to, to do so.
Changes are desperately needed; the Legions must be more visible to the general public. We need to visit schools more often and talk with our youth, not just on Nov. 11. Branches should be commemorating other events on a more visible scale, the Battle of the Atlantic, Battle of Britain, D Day and the more recent conflicts How about the occasional church parade once in a while.
I have learned one important fact as a regular speaker at Remembrance services in Island schools for the past 17 years. I enjoy telling the students of my experiences during the blitz, the air raid shelters, shortages, ration books and the blackouts etc. Children show a great interest and ask many and widely varied questions . . . many are drawn to my own medals. They ask about them want to touch them and learn about them.
I hope that Legion members reading this article will consider what I have stated. If you agree with me, then please let your branch know how you feel about this law. I have endeavoured to have the law amended through a resolution. My Provincial Command turned it down last year. This year I reworded it and asked it be forwarded to the Dominion Command Convention in June of this year in NL. Once again it was turned down at Provincial level.
The most upsetting part of this issue is why my resolution should be blocked. One would think to ask why, and believe me I have asked many times, but have yet to get a reasonable answer. One of the usual opposition answers cited is in regard to the phoney sergeant, Frank Gervas. None of that has any bearing on the amendment I have proposed. Whatever law is in place there will always be someone ready to break it.
That unfortunately is life and we can’t change it. However, it does not mean we should not attempt to improve existing laws where we find flaws.
F. Ben Rodgers of Abram-Village is a member of Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 17, Wellington