Military volunteers are being taken for granted

LOUIS CUPPENS  –  Jun 11, 2018

During World War 2, the Canadian government awarded the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal to recognize “the many that responded to the call and served” – and every member of the Armed Forces was presented with the medal, regardless of where they served.

After 1 March 1947, this medal was no longer presented. How has Canada chosen to recognize those who volunteer and serve Canada in the years since?  These volunteers have and continue to willingly give up their rights and freedoms with such commitment that they would lay down their lives for Canada. Surely such volunteerism should be recognized by Canada, but it is not.

Canada has been very frugal in the presentation of medals to recognize military volunteers. During 1967 a Centennial Medal was struck and issued sparingly. The same occurred to celebrate the 125th anniversary of founding – medals again issued sparingly. On Canada’s 150th birthday, Members of Parliament were each given a few lapel pins to award to the deserving in their area – few military members were so recognized. The Senate also struck its own medal that same year, many awarding it to themselves and without any focus on the military.

Let us compare Canada’s dismal effort with that of the UK. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medals is a perfect example. The government of the UK chose to present the medal to every member of their Armed Forces. Our government chose to present the medal to just a few members of each unit within the Canadian Armed Forces. Imagine soldiers of Canada and Great Britain, side by side, fighting the Taliban, where every soldier of the British Forces has such recognition and only the rare few of ours do. Our soldiers are puzzled by this, as both countries have the same sovereign.

The Government of Canada was slow to formally recognize members of the Canadian Armed Forces who served in the Korean War for which hostilities ended in 1953. It took years of public complaint and outcry before Canada's own medal of recognition was issued (along with the Special Service Medal) to recognize the Veterans of the Korean War. All other nations involved in that war had done so just after combat operations had ceased, but not Canada. Why is this?

Surely the reason is not the cost of these medals of recognition (approximately $15 per medal, or less, depending on quantities). This is a small amount to recognize the many who generously give up their youth and young adult life to serve Canada with unlimited liability. If the government deems such recognition to be beyond their means, this writer is confident that a number of veterans’ service organizations would gladly provide the funds for such recognition.

Some Members of Parliament and Veterans’ support organizations have brought forth legislative proposals and petitions to re-instate the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal without success. Successive governments have responded to the demand indicating that such recognition already exists within the framework of decorations available to Canadian Armed Forces personnel. This is incorrect. The first level of recognition to a military volunteer is only reached after honourable service of 12 years. What about the many others who have volunteered to put their lives on the line, including members of the Reserves, who serve for less than 12 years?

The 2016 Convention of the Royal Canadian Legion passed a resolution asking the Government of Canada to re-instate the Volunteer Service Medal. Thus far, there has been no response – it seems the Government of Canada chooses not to recognize the unselfish volunteerism of present and former members of Canada’s Armed Forces despite the urging of so many.

This writer urges you to engage your elected Member of Parliament and appointed Senators to re-instate the Canadian Volunteer Service Member with effect from 1947. Our military volunteers deserve such recognition, and nothing less. Shame on us for not doing so in a timely manner.

Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Louis Cuppens,
Special Advisor Advocacy,
Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association