Members of the Canadian Forces killed or wounded since Oct. 7, 2001, may be eligible to receive a newly minted honour—the Sacrifice Medal.
The Sacrifice Medal was announced Aug. 29 by Governor General Michaëlle Jean. It was created to recognize members of the CF, a member of an allied force, or a Canadian civilian under the authority of the Canadian Forces who died or was wounded under honourable circumstances as a direct result of hostile action.
While it is a new honour for the CF, the Sacrifice Medal replaces the Wound Stripe, which was a distinction worn on the sleeve of soldiers who had been wounded in action.
“Our soldiers deserve our utmost respect and deepest gratitude,” said Jean. “This medal recognizes the valued contribution of those who sacrificed their health or their lives while serving Canada.”
The silver medal features a contemporary portrait of Queen Elizabeth wearing a Canadian diadem of maple leaves and snowflakes. The words “Elizabeth II Dei Gratia Regina” and “Canada” appear along the side. On the reverse is the image of the weeping mother from the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. The medal hangs from a ribbon with a 10-millimetre central black stripe flanked by red edges and one-millimetre white stripes.
The Sacrifice Medal falls in the Canadian Orders, Decorations and Medals Directive between the Royal Victorian Medal and Gulf and Kuwait Medal. A bar may be awarded for further occasions which would warrant the award of the medal.
In the weeks after the medal was announced, the question of exactly who does and does not qualify for the award quickly became a public issue.
First there was the question of the start date for eligibility: Oct. 7, 2001. As retired major- general Lewis MacKenzie said in an interview, “the only thing that’ll be controversial is those people wounded since the end of the Cold War who won’t get it.”
Indeed, with more than 100 Canadian soldiers having died in peacekeeping operations since 1951—with quite a few as a result of hostile action—the decision to limit the medal to the beginning of the Afghan conflict is sure to draw continued controversy.
“The Royal Canadian Legion is in favour of the medal as it was originally designed,” said Dominion President Wilf Edmond. “However we weren’t in favour of the eligibility date. But a medal that is to be issued to replace the Wound Stripe and to note sacrifice is a favourable move.”
Besides death in hostile action the medal will be awarded for wounds that require not less than seven days of treatment in hospital or an equivalent course of treatment; exposure to the elements as a consequence of an aircraft, vehicle or vessel being destroyed or disabled by hostile action; harsh treatment or neglect while a captive of a hostile force; or exposure to nuclear, biological or chemical agents by a hostile force. The medal would also be given for mental disorders that are, based on review by a qualified mental health-care practitioner, directly attributable to a hostile or perceived hostile action.
Still, a cursory examination of the eligibility criteria shows there are some grey areas. For example, soldiers are eligible to receive the Sacrifice Medal if they are “hit by bombs dropped by our own or allied forces planes, or hit by misdirected naval missile, artillery or rifle fire by our own or allied forces.” They are not eligible to receive the medal if they are hit by bullets fired by Canadians who are deemed to have negligently discharged their weapons.
Of course, determining which types of friendly fire are a result of negligence and which are just accidents is something that frequently requires a long legal battle in court.
Ben Walsh of Regina has launched a campaign to have the eligibility criteria widened to allow his son to receive the new medal. Master Corporal Jeff Walsh, 33, was killed by a bullet from a comrade’s rifle while on mounted patrol in Kandahar in 2006.
His campaign has been joined by the parents of nearly a dozen other soldiers who died of various causes in Afghanistan—such as vehicle accidents on the dangerous roads or falling down a well during a night-time patrol—but aren’t eligible to receive the medal.
“We understand that there will be challenges,” said Edmond, “however, we do stand behind the original intent of the issuance of the medal.”
During the general election Defence Minister Peter MacKay asked the Department of National Defence to re-examine Walsh’s eligibility. He has also appealed to the honours policy committee, a multi-departmental board that overseas the rules for federal honours, to reconsider the rules.