A new approach to helping Commonwealth veterans

July 30, 2019 by Legion Magazine
Dominion President Tom Irvine (centre) stands with members of the Dominion Executive Council outside Legion House in Kanata, Ont.
Tom MacGregor

Dominion Executive Council approved a new plan during its April 13-14 meeting in Ottawa that would greatly improve living conditions for impoverished Commonwealth veterans and their survivors in the Caribbean.

The plan was presented by Chris Warren, secretary-general of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-services League (RCEL). It would see the London headquarters assume responsibility for providing pensions to veterans and survivors in most Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean while at the same time raising their standard of living.

Currently, The Royal Canadian Legion is responsible for 51 veterans and 89 widows in 16 countries in the Caribbean. The pensions supplied by the Legion currently allow for one hot meal a day. A widow or survivor receives half of a pension. The pensions are delivered by veterans’ organizations, which are the counterpart of the Legion in each respective country.

The change is in light of money provided by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID). That money will be provided to the RCEL with the proviso that it goes directly to the veterans’ organization in the designated country.

The designated countries on the DFID list are Antigua, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.

Under the new plan, the Legion will continue to look after veterans in the seven Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean not on the list. Those countries are Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, St. Kitts, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos Islands. However, only three countries—Bahamas, St. Kitts and Trinidad and Tobago—currently have veterans or survivors receiving pensions.

Under the new arrangement, the nutritional value of the pension would increase to 2,400 calories, to two meals a day. At the same time, the plan would provide equal pensions to both veterans and survivors.

The increased cost to The Royal Canadian Legion is estimated at $25,000 a year over five years. The veterans are all Second World War veterans and their numbers are expected to decline significantly in that time.

The Legion would continue to provide poppy supplies and other types of support to all the Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean.

In other business, Dominion Treasurer Mark Barham reported that Dominion Command had a surplus of $277,165 in 2018, up significantly from the forecasted $53,759.

Dominion President Tom Irvine presented the Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee report. DEC agreed to allot $90,000 in poppy funds to support the RCL Masters Scholarship for a three-year cycle. The scholarship is announced each year at the forum of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research.

DEC also agreed to provide financial support for the Quinism Foundation, Project Healing Water Fly Fishing Canada and Project Trauma Support.

Poppy and Remembrance Committee Chair Angus Stanfield reported that the new digital poppy program proved very successful in 2018. Money collected from the campaign was distributed to the branches. DEC agreed that money collected by the campaign in the future would go to the national poppy fund, where it can be used in communities that have need but inadequate local funds.

DEC defeated a motion that would limit monetary awards in the poster and literary contests to winners in the top three placements. DEC agreed that poppy funds could be used to support up to 50 per cent of the cost to construct, maintain or preserve a cenotaph owned by a Legion branch. This is an increase from 25 per cent previously allowed.

Public Relations Committee Chair Owen Parkhouse reported that the committee had been busy in the new year as the position of minister of Veterans Affairs was in flux. This led the Legion to release a statement regretting the rotating door at the minister’s office and questioning the government’s commitment to veterans. The Legion issued another news release welcoming the appointment of Lawrence MacAulay as minister.

Irvine reported that planning is going well for the next dominion convention, which will be held Aug. 22-27, 2020, in Saskatoon. The 2022 convention will be held in Saint John, N.B.

Going Forward Committee Chair Bruce Julian presented a draft policy for Legion branches to handle cases of Legionnaires wearing medals or uniforms to which they are not entitled. Although this is not a new phenomenon, it has become more public with instant communications available through social media. In particular, the group Stolen Valour Canada is very active in pursuing individuals who misrepresent themselves and posting their findings on its website.

DEC approved the policy which allows the individual to be heard and tell his or her side of the story. However, misrepresentation of military service is a criminal offence and can reflect badly on the branch and the Legion as a whole. If the individual refuses to remove the offending medal or uniform, the branch can notify authorities of the criminal action. If the person’s action discredits the Legion, the branch can lodge a complaint under Article III of the General By-laws.

In provincial command reports, Saskatchewan Command President Lorne Varga reported that the command had bought a new building and will be moving this summer. The command also launched a successful Red Shirt Friday campaign to show support for the Canadian Armed Forces. More than 700 shirts were sold in just a few months.

Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario Command President Ronn Anderson reported that he represented the Legion when the Royal Canadian Mint unveiled the Armistice $2 coin
in Winnipeg. St. James Branch in Winnipeg also hosted a segment of the television reality show “Amazing Race Canada,” in which contestants participated in a darts game in order to advance to the next event.

Ontario Command President Sharon McKeown said the command launched a pilot project at two branches for a literary contest for seniors based on the Legion poster and literary contests for students.

Quebec Command President Ken Ouellet showed members the new licence plate the province is introducing for veterans. 

Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command President Mel Crowe reported that after 55 years of continuous service, the command Youth Leadership Training Camp had to be cancelled in 2018 due to unforeseen liability issues.

Newfoundland and Labrador Command President Berkley Lawrence reported that planning is beginning to restore the National War Memorial in St. John’s in time for its centennial in 2025.

In closing, DEC members thanked National Executive Director Brad White and Financial Services Director Tim Murphy for their years of service and wished them well in their retirements.

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