Originally, when I first saw this story, a week or so ago, I wasn’t going to comment … I didn’t want to rub salt in the wounds which I know some personal friends still feel. But then the media picked it up: both Murray Brewster, writing for CBC News, and Vassy Kapelos on CBC’s Power & Politics show interviewed Ms Anne Snyder, mother of Captain Jon Snyder who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2008, who said ““I wasn’t given that opportunity to go to that event, but none of us were … [adding] … It’s kind of an insult”” and I decided I needed to say something.
Now, I have mixed emotions about war memorials … I live right here in Ottawa, in the city centre, and I often walk by the imposing National War Memorial, and I recall that I was there, with my mother who was wearing her silver (memorial) cross, when the then Governor-General, Adrian Clarkson dedicated the tomb of the unknown soldier and said, specifically, that it was not just for those who were “unknown,” known but to god as it says on so many gravestones in so many Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries when the partial remains of soldiers who could not be identified, often because they were blown to bits, are buried, but also for those, like my own father, who were killed in action at sea and have no known grave. I also walk by the memorials to the men and women of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery who were killed in all of Canada’s wars and military missions by the Ottawa Memorial for those killed in while serving or training in Canada with the Commonwealth Air Training Plan who also have no known graves. There are many other memorials, here in Ottawa and in cities, towns and villages all across Canada, some remember one or two individuals, some a battle or campaign, and some a regiment or service and some are for the animals that have served in wars. In almost every case I can walk up to them and touch the stones or the brass plaques or, in the case of HMCS Sackville, even walk inside them. Each person can visit each memorial and, for his or her own good reason pause and reflect and remember … except for one: the Kandahar Memorial. It is hidden away in a secure military HQ complex in the suburbs of Ottawa.
Why is that?
I remember, back in 2015, that Erin O’Toole, who was then the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs ~ sent in to clean up after the political disaster that was Julian Fantino ~ announced that the Kandahar Memorial would have a permanent, publicly accessible home in Ottawa. It was not a decision without some controversy, because the site, Richmond Landing, which is also home to an almost unknown Royal Canadian Navy memorial, is not central or well known to anyone except inveterate walkers like me.
I also remember that decision was amongst the very first ones overturned, in 2015, by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. My sense, at the time, was that the new Trudeau regime wanted to cancel everything associated with the Afghan War and with the former, Conservative, government’s support for the US-led campaigns in Iraq and Syria. Everything possible that had been done by the previous government was shelved; the Afghan War was a particular bête noir for the Liberals because, while Canada had joined it under a Liberal (Chrétien) government and expanded our role under another Liberal (Martin) government, the Trudeau Liberal had painted it as “Haper’s War.”
But I believe the real reason is buried somewhat deeper. I think that Justin Trudeau and his inner circle opposed the war in Afghanistan ~ and that’s OK because many other good, decent, honest Canadians did, too ~ but I think Justin Trudeau and his inner circle also hold the Canadian Armed Forces is low regard; I suspect that they know little and care even less about the men and women who serve Canada, and the idea of “honouring” those who died in Afghanistan, in a war they thought ill-advised, was, simply, more than they could stomach.
Fast forward to 2019 and it’s an election year and someone decides that something ought to be done about the Kandahar Memorial, but the whole project had been left in bureaucratic limbo as DND, Veterans Affairs, Public Works and the National Capital Commission and heaven alone knows who else had fingers in the pie, and, eventually, because the government had made a promise, of sorts, to find a home for the monument and there was, now, a pressing need to put a tick in that box, someone recommended that a “home” could be found inside DND’s new (and off-limits to the public) Carling Camus HQ in West End Ottawa.
Now, after someone, and I believe it must have been someone very close to the less than stellar Harjit Sajjan and his Deputy Minister of National Defence Jody Thomas, decided that “insulting” the families of those who gave their lives to serve Canada was an acceptable price to pay to keep the whole thing under the rug … where Justin Trudeau wants it. But, a problem arose, in the media, and the problem is now real. Justin Trudeau has, predictably, said … “I dunno, it wasn’t me,” which is pretty much what he’s said about everything that goes wrong from Mark Norman’s
persecution prosecution through to his insults to our Trans-Pacific Partnership trading partners, and has laid the blame off onto the broad shoulders of General Jonathan Vance, who will, quietly, bear about 99% of the political blame for this. That’s OK, General Vance has been CDS for almost four years (he was appointed by Stephen Harper in July 2015) and he’s almost due for retirement and, one hopes, an opportunity to continue to serve Canada (he’s only 55 years old) in some other important capacity … either in government or in the private sector.
Now, Don Martin, of CTV News, in his “last word” segment on Thursday afternoon, lays all the blame on General Jonathan Vance. I do not. I believe that General Vance failed to “go public” and thereby embarrass the Trudeau cabinet ministers and the Privy Council Clerk’s minions who did orchestrate this blunder but I really, really believe, and most earnestly hope that he had little else to do with it, beyond accepting the blame.
I suspect, given this bit of a brouhaha, that the monument will be moved … somewhere, eventually. In the highly unlikely event that anyone in government gives a damn about what the soldiers think, the soldiers’ favourite forum, Army.ca, has been discussing this since 2010.
What is important is that Canadians remember that it is Justin Trudeau, himself, who is being “mean-spirited” and who has “snubbed” Canadians veterans and the families of those who made the supreme sacrifice, not Jonathan Vance and not even Harjit Sajjan. He, Trudeau, cancelled Erin O’Toole’s plan to put the memorial on public view in Ottawa and, as with other moral issues, this speaks to Justin Trudeau’s deeply flawed character. He can promise to get answers, but every thinking person must know that he made this happen; he knows the answer because he did it.
Hiding the Kandahar Memorial deep inside a secure HQ building was a monumentally stupid thing to do … it was, also, about what we have all come to expect from the Justin Trudeau and his regime.
It is time for a change.