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Sacred site or rallying point? The politicization of Canada's National War Memorial – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

The sacrifices of Canadians who fought and died for democracy and freedom during the Korean War were honoured during a small ceremony last week at the National War Memorial.

The ceremonial plaza, located a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill and which includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, was built for such acts of remembrance.

This year, though, Canadians have seen far different images of the memorial, including acts of vandalism, and as a rallying point for those opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It has sparked concern about the sacred site dedicated to Canada’s war dead being used for political purposes, and a debate around what steps could be taken to better protect it.

Last weekend, someone was seen draping Canadian and American flags on the tomb as part of a ceremony streamed live online. Photos and video were widely shared on social media before the accounts, which appeared linked to supporters of the “Freedom Convoy,” were closed.

It sparked an outcry, including from Defence Minister Anita Anand, who called it a “desecration.”

It also prompted calls for more security, including from the Royal Canadian Legion, which had first made such a demand after the memorial was seen as disrespected, including through public urination, near the beginning of the three-week protest that seized downtown Ottawa this winter.

On the eve of Canada Day, army reservist James Topp addressed hundreds of people gathered by the cenotaph and compared himself and others fighting vaccine mandates to the unidentified Canadian soldier killed in the First World War whose remains were buried in the tomb.

Facing a court martial for publicly criticizing federal vaccine requirements while wearing his uniform, Topp had arrived at the tomb following a four-month march from Vancouver, during which he became a celebrity to many people opposed to vaccines and the Liberals.

“That’s us. We are the Unknown Soldier,” Topp told the crowd, which included a number of people wearing military headgear and medals to indicate their status as veterans.

“What did we have in common with that person? We had courage.”

A group called Veterans 4 Freedom, which supported Topp’s march and includes members with links to the “Freedom Convoy,” also organized a rally at the memorial during the “Rolling Thunder” event in April, where members gave speeches against vaccines and pandemic restrictions.

“Canadians have to sacrifice to keep our freedom,” one speaker told the crowd. “They went to France. They fought in the South Pacific, the Battle of Britain. They sacrifice with their lives. But nowadays, we have to sacrifice in a different way.”

Veterans 4 Freedom declined to comment. Topp referred to his June 30 speech.

David Hofmann is an associate professor at the University of New Brunswick and co-lead of the government-funded Network for Research on Hateful Conduct and Right-Wing Extremism in the Canadian Armed Forces.

He said political movements need symbols to succeed, and that it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that some groups in Canada are now trying to turn the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to such purposes.

“It is a powerful symbol,” Hofmann said. “You have the Unknown Soldier, the ultimate martyr, someone who can’t even be remembered for their name. And you have these individuals trying to equate what they’re doing with a sense of martyrdom.”

Retired brigadier-general Duane Daly, who was instrumental as head of the Royal Canadian Legion with the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier more than 20 years ago, disagreed with those wanting use the site “as a centrepiece for political dissent.”

“That’s a tomb,” he said. “If they want to make a statement like that, go to Parliament. That’s what it’s for, not the tomb.”

Others have suggested some of those using the memorial to amplify grievances against the government actually represent the opposite of the selflessness for which the sites are dedicated.

“The Unknown Soldier died for his country. He died in a selfless act,” said Youri Cormier, executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute think tank.

“When you honk and scream about an idea of personal freedoms that excludes one’s duty to his or her nation, obeyance of the law and respecting the principle that one’s freedom ends where it infringes on the freedoms of others, it’s putting self before nation.”

It is in this context that some such as the legion and Cormier, who noted that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va., is defended around the clock by armed military members, have called for greater security at the memorial.

“No one is allowed to usurp or appropriate the sacred ground of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for some stunt or campaign,” Cormier said. “This sacred space is not for the taking.”

Public Services and Procurement Canada says the site is monitored 24-7, but wouldn’t comment on calls for more security. While the Canadian Armed Forces has a ceremonial guard at the memorial for tourists, Ottawa police are responsible for site security.

The killing of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo by an Islamic State sympathizer in October 2014 prompted a review of security at the memorial, and the eventual placement of military police. But their job is to protect the ceremonial guards while they are on duty.

Exactly what type of security measures should be adopted now isn’t clear.

Most experts agree authorities should not limit or restrict public access to the memorial, partly because the vast majority of visitors to the site are respectful — but also because such a move could play into the hands of some groups.

“In some respects, that’s more dangerous because it feeds into the victim mentality that we’re being silenced, that we’re being oppressed,” said Barbara Perry, director of the Centre of Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University.

Officials erected fences around the memorial at the start of the “Freedom Convoy” after a woman stood on the tomb. But they were later taken down by protesters. Many of them identified themselves as veterans and said they were reclaiming the site — a message repeated as a reason for gathering at the cenotaph during the “Rolling Thunder” event this spring.

Retired lieutenant-general Mike Day also pushed back against the idea of American-style restrictions at the memorial, such as ropes and fences preventing the public from getting close.

“All national monuments need to be accessible. I accept that comes with a cost,” said Day.

“But I think the cost of walling them off and not making them accessible is greater. I accept, therefore, that there will be individuals like we’ve seen who will take advantage of that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2022.

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Industry minister to represent Canada at former Japanese PM’s funeral

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OTTAWA — Federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will represent Canada at former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to visit Japan and attend Tuesday’s funeral, but cancelled those plans to oversee recovery efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged much of eastern Canada and parts of Quebec.

Describing Abe as a friend and ally of Canada, Champagne says the former Japanese prime minister played an important role bringing the two countries closer together.

Trudeau was slated to meet current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as Japan prepares to take over as president of the G7 and the Liberal government finalizes its new Indo-Pacific strategy.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Champagne says he doesn’t know if he will meet Kishida on behalf of Trudeau.

But he says in addition to paying respects to Abe, he expects to meet Japanese officials to discuss the bilateral relationship and areas of mutual co-operation.

“Certainly, I think Prime Minister Kishida knows how deeply engaged we have been, certainly on the industrial, commercial and economic front,” he said.

“And we’ll be meeting with a number of people. I just don’t know if the meeting with the prime minister will still be happening.”

Champagne was in Japan delivering a speech to business representatives in Tokyo when Abe was assassinated by a gunman in July.

The industry minister says it was a surreal moment when he learned the former Japanese prime minister had been killed.

“I was literally giving a speech,” Champagne said. “I was like three-quarters into it and suddenly I started to see people looking at their phones. And someone came to the podium and advised me that something very tragic had happened.”

Abe’s state funeral is a sensitive topic in Japan, where such memorials are uncommon and the late leader’s legacy remains disputed.

Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after the Second World War, was assassinated with a homemade firearm nearly three months ago.

In a reflection of deep divisions, an elderly man reportedly set himself on fire to protest the funeral, and more demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

⁠— With files from The Associated Press.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Couple proceeds with wedding amid chaos in P.E.I. from post-tropical storm Fiona

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CHARLOTTETOWN — Naomi and Tyler Wheeler have lived through a pandemic, wildfires, heat waves, minor earthquakes and most recently a post-tropical storm that laid waste to huge swaths of Atlantic Canada.

As the former hurricane Fiona pounded Prince Edward Island on Saturday, devastating much of the province, the couple pledged to weather storms — and any other apocalyptic events life sends their way — together.

In front of just 16 guests, down from the 85 they’d hoped to entertain, the Wheelers professed their love for each other and exchanged rings at the Rodd Charlottetown hotel in the capital city’s downtown core.

The couple officially tied the knot in Halifax in 2017 in a small ceremony and decided to have a party later.

“We tried to schedule it three times,” Naomi Wheeler said with a laugh. “And then COVID kept getting in the way. Of course, a hurricane happens when we reschedule.”

The couple live in the bride’s California home town, while the groom hails from Montague, P.E.I. They wanted to have a party for Tyler Wheeler’s family and other friends who wouldn’t be able to make it to Los Angeles.

They landed in Charlottetown Wednesday when Fiona was churning its way through southern waters. But as the storm approached Canada and warnings grew stringent, their friends cancelled. The couple was disappointed but understood. They wanted their friends and family safe.

“There was the whole stages of grief about it,” Tyler Wheeler said. “We’re just kind of in disbelief that this could happen.”

The couple then simply decided to go with the flow, said the bride.

“The flow is just a hurricane.”

The wedding was delayed by an hour-and-a-half while the officiant, Sarah Haberl, and the groom helped patch up a family member’s roof. The Wheelers first met as students at a 2013 party in Montreal. Later that evening, the pair recognized each other at a club where they had gone to act as “wing people” for friends.

“We were terrible wing people,” said the bride.

Nine years later, as Fiona raged, the couple finally celebrated their love and friendship with their closest friends in a storm-adapted ceremony they said was sprinkled with personal touches.

The room was lit with 30 candles and three iPhone flashlights. The invocation and vows were read by candlelight and a headlamp, Haberl said.

The ceremony included a poem, a little bit of the childhood of the couple and had some “lovey-dovey things,” she said.

The rings the Wheelers eventually exchanged were first passed around the room so guests could offer a blessing on them.

The raspberry and vanilla swirl cake was topped with fresh flowers and made by the groom’s sister-in-law.

One of the first songs partygoers danced to was the well-known sea shanty ‘Barrett’s Privateers.’

“We had to get a little bit of Nova Scotia in there,” the groom said.

Amid the celebration, the couple said there was a touch of sadness because the groom’s grandparents couldn’t attend.

Reflecting on their ceremony and the past few whirlwind days, the bride said they didn’t realize how fast and how bad things could get with the weather. But Naomi Wheeler said she also feels overwhelmed by the amount of support she got and how everyone came together.

“I think we embraced it. It was a lovely, lovely, cosy, intimate evening,” she said. “I feel very loved.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

 

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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Canadian military facing a recruitment crisis – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

The Canadian Armed Forces is sounding the alarm over a severe shortage of recruits to fill thousands of vacant positions, with the shortfall so bad that senior officers are now calling it a crisis.

On a cool Tuesday afternoon, Robert Romero walks out of the Canadian Armed Forces’ recruiting office in downtown Ottawa with an envelope full of papers in his hands.

Originally from the Philippines, Romero does not have any direct experience with Canada’s military; his interest is largely derived from a sense of adventure and some of what he saw about soldiers in movies as a kid.

“I idolized them,” he says. “I got hooked. So then I started researching about it and I got more into it.”

Romero is one of 11 people who have just written an aptitude test to identify which military occupations prospective recruits are qualified to fill. He pulls his results from the envelope: intelligence officer, meteorological technician and cook.

He will now talk it over with his parents to decide which career interests him, whether he wants to write the test again or abandon the whole exercise.

Canada’s military is supposed to be in a period of growth as new demands increase the need for trained soldiers, sailors and aviators. The Liberal government in 2017 laid out a plan to add thousands of full and part-time positions.

While the plan came after years of troop shortages, there were signs the military was turning a corner as recruitment began to outpace departures.

“We were just starting to gain momentum when the pandemic hit,” says Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who is responsible for overseeing military recruitment and training.

Recruitment cratered during the first year of COVID-19 as the military shuttered recruiting and training centres. The result: only 2,000 people were enrolled in 2020-21 — less than half of what was needed.

Nearly 4,800 recruits were enrolled the following fiscal year as lockdowns and restrictions were eased.

But Brodie says the military is getting about half the number of applicants it needs per month to meet the goal of adding 5,900 members this year.

The shortfall is expected to exacerbate the current personnel shortage, with about one in 10 of the military’s 100,000 positions unfilled.

“We are without a doubt in an applicant crisis right now,” Brodie says.

Many industries are facing labour challenges, and Statistics Canada reported record job vacancies in June. But the pandemic and labour shortage have coincided with what Brodie describes as a “cultural reckoning” for the military.

That has been marked by allegations of misconduct against top officers and concerns about a growing disconnect between the military’s makeup and Canadian society as a whole, leading to a push for greater diversity in the ranks.

Those efforts include targeted recruiting of under-represented groups, including women and Indigenous people, and broader moves to create a more inclusive workplace by easing dress rules, which Brodie suggests are bearing fruit.

Still, fewer Canadians are opting for a military career and it is not fully clear why.

“I don’t think we’ve got a good answer anywhere. I think there are so many factors and components and dimensions of the why,” Brodie says.

The Defence Department is trying to better understand the problem, she added. It is also looking at possible solutions such as financial incentives, ways to improve work-life balance, and addressing public perceptions of the military.

Brodie was unable to say whether the push for diversity is hurting more than helping, at least in terms of sheer numbers, by turning off the military’s traditional recruiting pool: young, white men.

“We can’t measure the impact of that right now. It’s too early,” she said. “But to be very, very clear — we want suitable candidates, and suitable candidates are those that first and foremost reflect the values of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The impact of not having enough new recruits is both short- and long-term, putting additional pressure on current members and meaning there are fewer people who can rise through the ranks and fill leadership roles later.

The shortfall isn’t uniform across the military. Certain occupations have more than enough applicants. But some are facing such severe shortages that signing bonuses of up to $20,000 are being offered in 25 of the military’s approximately 100 trades, including cook, meteorological technician and many navy jobs.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Clark is senior recruiter in Ottawa. In recent weeks, his staff have been at different events such as the Gatineau Airshow and a comic book convention to make their pitch.

“We’re selling the benefits of being in the Canadian Armed Forces,” he says. “The pension, the medical, the dental, the education piece, continuing education, as well as a pretty interesting career where you get to travel around the world, potentially, and get paid to do it.”

Recruiters are given targets to meet, with spots divvied up by trade, as well as minimum targets for female recruits and maximums for men. There is also a high-level push for what the military still refers to as “visible minorities” and Indigenous people.

“Diversity is what we’re after,” Clark says.

Ottawa is unusual in that it is close to meeting its recruiting targets, which Clark attributes to the large number of military families in the capital. But many other places are not, including traditional military communities.

“We’re really seeing even places like Kingston that used to have a huge population of applicants, we’re seeing the well drying out,” says Maj. Simon Rocheleau, who is responsible for managing recruiting efforts across northern and eastern Ontario.

Rocheleau has a number of theories to explain the situation, including the state of the economy, the lack of a major mission like Afghanistan to drive awareness, and concerns about sexual misconduct.

Outside the Ottawa recruiting centre, Jeremy Langlois has just finished the aptitude test. The 21-year-old chef wants to fly jets, but didn’t score high enough. He will take the test again in 30 days in the hopes of qualifying.

“If that doesn’t work out, well, then I’ll have to re-evaluate and think about stuff,” he says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

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