Delayed by a year, Legion delegates finally met in a virtual convention hall and found strength in unity
August 13-15, 883 accredited delegates assembled online for The Royal Canadian Legion’s 48th Dominion Convention and focused on membership, public awareness and efforts to support Canada’s veterans.
Delegates entered via a password-protected portal.
Due to the pandemic, the in-person convention planned for Saskatoon in August 2020 was rescheduled to August 2021. In April, however, it was decided it would be safest to move it online.
Consultants were hired to design and produce the online convention. Delegates entered via a password-protected portal to find a home page designed to look like a convention hall lobby. Menu items were accessed by clicking on doors: convention hall, agenda, election resources, documentation, trade show, Legion booths. A help-desk button was always on screen. The proceedings took place in the virtual convention hall.
The convention started informally on Friday, Aug. 13, with workshops and presentations.
Randy Woolman, CEO of Impact AV Solutions, the firm that produced the virtual convention and the engine behind it, gave a briefing and answered delegates’ questions on how to navigate the convention website. Questions and comments were sent in as texts, delegates could chat with each other, and votes would be cast via the site.
Four workshops followed on public relations, homeless veterans, membership and the MemberPerks program.
Representatives of the Lerners LLP law firm briefed delegates on the class action launched against Aviva Insurance Company of Canada on behalf of Legion branches and similar veterans’, service and legacy organizations across Canada (except in British Columbia) whose insurance coverage for loss of business income relating to COVID-19 has been denied by Aviva (www.lerners.ca/cases/canadian-legion-class-action).
Instead of a delegates’ parade and remembrance ceremony, Saturday started with a video montage combining a historic speech by Prime Minister Lester Pearson, a poignant slide show backed by the Dire Straits song “Brothers in Arms,” and veteran John Babcock, the last known Canadian veteran of the First World War, reciting: “We must never forget our fallen comrades. I pass this torch of remembrance to my comrades. Hold it high.”
Brigadier-General Guy Bélisle, Chaplain General of the Canadian Armed Forces, gave the invocation: “The Legion and the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service share a close bond. We are united in our commitment to honouring those who have given of themselves at the highest level.”
Chair Bill Chafe asked delegates to pause for a moment of silence to remember fallen comrades, including several named who have died since the previous convention in 2018.
The support focused solely on branch survival.
Chafe also thanked the Saskatoon local arrangements committee for its convention planning, adding that the convention in 2028 would take place in Saskatoon.
Larry Murray, Grand President of Dominion Command, noted how Legion branches have “stepped up to the plate to support and to help in countless communities throughout the pandemic.
“Another top priority of the Legion during the pandemic was to help many branches in serious financial difficulty avoid permanent closure. Dominion Command initially provided relief using national reserves to the extent feasible, and then by successfully seeking assistance from government for the first time in the Legion’s nearly 100-year history. The support focused solely on branch survival. Remarkable work has also continued in many other critical areas, including support of homeless veterans and those suffering from operational stress injuries.”
Tom Irvine recounted highlights of his three years as Dominion President.
“This experience has meant a great deal to me,” he said. “We have created or strengthened policies. When we learned that groups with discriminatory ideals were looking at [using] our branch facilities or working with our members, we put an end to it.
“Regarding stolen valour, I’d had about enough of people pretending to be veterans or displaying awards they did not earn. We took clear steps to remind members how the Legion handles cases of stolen valour and the repercussions they face if found guilty.”
Irvine then highlighted several projects and initiatives advanced during his term, including Leave the Streets Behind, the Legion’s homelessness action plan; the Veterans Organizations Emergency Support Fund, the federal support for veterans’ non-profits or registered charities to maintain operations during the pandemic; and Operation Harmony, a committee formed to ensure the Legion is inclusive, diverse and socially respectful.
Irvine also focused on the future. “In keeping with our strategic plan,” he said, “we still need to increase our membership base to 300,000 before our 100th anniversary in 2026. We currently sit at 250,000.”
When the chair called for a vote to carry the Dominion President’s report, the proceedings came to a halt.
There was an issue—a software glitch—with the online vote: a bottleneck was preventing all the votes from getting in and being counted within the allotted time. While technicians worked behind the scenes, officers in the convention command centre at National Headquarters found a procedural solution.
“We are going to proceed with all the prerecorded addresses and reports, with no questions today,” said Chafe. “We will not move the reports or deal with questions and resolutions until tomorrow.”
The technical issue was fixed overnight, and the voting got back on track on Sunday.
The remainder of Saturday was packed with committee reports and guest addresses, beginning with Debbie Sullivan, the 2020-21 National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother.
“My experience in Ottawa on Remembrance Day last November was surreal,” said Sullivan. “As I stood in front of the National War Memorial, I thought of all those mothers who stood there before me. We all had the same goal: to stand united for honour and freedom and to protect what our veterans sacrificed for and continue to fight for.”
Reports and related budgets were presented by each committee chair, including Dominion Executive Council; Veterans, Service and Seniors; Poppy and Remembrance; Membership; Public Relations; Sports; Defence and Security; Operational Stress Injury Special Section; Rituals and Awards; Constitution and Laws; and others.
Dominion Treasurer Mark Barham presented the financial statements, including the statement of revenue and expense. The 2020 year ended with net income from operations of $2,158,286, before the COVID-19 relief distribution of $2,486,069. The bottom line was a net expense of -$327,783 for the year. The 2021 budget is for a net revenue from regular operations of $4,325.
Bruce Julian, chair of the membership committee, reported that despite the pandemic, the committee has been implementing the strategic plan to modernize the membership experience for branches and members and focusing on turning membership around.
Membership grew in the first quarter of 2020.
Online participation by branches has increased and the members online renewal process has been improved (members can now join local branches online). As a result, 76 per cent of 2020 memberships were processed online. A new automated telemarketing initiative was tested this year and an electronic membership card was scheduled to launch in September.
However, membership continued to decline since the last convention: down 2.1 per cent in 2018, down 2.1 per cent in 2019 and down 3.5 per cent in 2020. As of March 2021, it was down 15 per cent year-over-year. Total paid membership at year-end 2020 was 248,427.
“Advancement in our business modernization processes helped save our membership during the pandemic,” said Julian. “We remain extremely optimistic about growing Legion membership, and here’s why: 60,000 new members joined the Legion over the past two years (2019 and 2020). The Veterans Welcome Program continues to grow and has welcomed over 5,000 new veterans. Almost 10 per cent of all members have signed up for auto-renewal. And, we cannot forget, membership grew in the first quarter of 2020 (pre-pandemic), for the first time in 30 years.”
The report drew several questions from delegates seeking clarity on whether mail-in membership forms are still accepted (yes), whether automated telemarketing would continue (yes) and whether the electronic card means the end of the plastic card (no).
Sunday morning brought elections, and elections brought the credentials report: 883 accredited plus 1,384 proxies for a total voting strength of 2,267.
First Vice President Bruce Julian of Beachville, Ont., Branch was acclaimed as Dominion President.
Vice-Presidents Owen Parkhouse of Morell, P.E.I., Branch; Angus Stanfield of Sooke, B.C., Branch; and Brian Weaver of Capt. Brien Branch in Essex, Ont., were nominated for First Vice. Parkhouse was elected.
Stanfield and Weaver were then included with other nominees for the three Vice-President positions: Berkley Lawrence of Carbonear, N.L.; Branch, Sharon McKeown of Pte. Joe Waters Branch in Milton, Ont.; Chris Richardson of Dominion Command Branch; and Chris Strong of Innisfail, Alta., Branch. Stanfield declined the nomination. Lawrence, McKeown and Weaver were elected.
Acclaimed for another term were Chair Bill Chafe of Sarnia, Ont., Branch and Treasurer Mark Barham of North Calgary Branch.
Chafe allowed ample time for delegates’ questions, all of which were submitted as texts, and the voting proceeded without a hitch. Eighteen resolutions were carried. And some defeated resolutions were noteworthy.
One brought-back resolution recommended a clause be added to the By-Laws: “Any person convicted for pedophilia or sexual abuse/assault under the Criminal Code of Canada and/or is registered on the national or provincial sex offender registry will not be allowed to apply for membership or to transfer an existing membership within The Royal Canadian Legion.”
The Legion supports the intent of the resolution, of course, but it was defeated on process grounds. Dave Eaton, vice-chair of the constitution and laws committee, explained: “The resolution proposed specific wording to amend the Legion’s By-Laws which did not align with Criminal Code concepts and provisions and that, as worded, would be difficult to apply and enforce.”
He added that it would be preferable to have a comprehensive policy prepared by the membership committee to address which offences would prohibit membership.
Another brought-back resolution—that Canada Border Services Agency officers serving for not less than two years should be added to the 10 existing criteria for Ordinary Membership—elicited questions and comments from delegates. “Why not all first responders?” asked one delegate. “How can they be considered a veteran member?” asked another. The resolution was defeated.
Jim Rycroft, chair of the constitution and laws committee, read numerous bylaw revisions, all of which carried. He also announced he was stepping down after 19 years in the position.
Irvine, chair of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League committee, gave the final report of the convention, beginning by noting the death of Brian Watkins, Canada’s council member on the RCEL executive committee. His widow, Libby Watkins, will continue as Canada’s representative. The Legion supports veterans and widows in Caribbean countries whose organizations and governments are unable to provide full care for their needs.
“I believe in this organization and what it accomplishes every day.”
Fundraising support for the RCEL declined dramatically in recent years, said Irvine, particularly due to the pandemic. He reported that only $22,800 had been raised to date and asked delegates for their support. By the end of August, $119,650 had been raised.
With business completed, Grand President Murray installed the newly elected officers.
“I believe in this organization and what it accomplishes every day,” said new Dominion President Julian. “I support and applaud our efforts at refreshing our message, modernizing our processes and streamlining our procedures to better serve our members’ needs and hopefully attract a newer, more diverse generation of Canadians.”
In his closing comments, Chafe noted that some 1,450 questions and comments had been received that day alone, and that best efforts would be made to respond to each. “There were some glitches,” he said, “but it was good overall.”
Fittingly, the final words of the convention were spoken by the late Rabbi Reuven Bulka, whose Remembrance Day benediction from 2007 was replayed in a video:
“Today, we hear the welcome expression ‘We support our troops.’ But that does not tell it all. More than mere support, what should be on our lips and in our hearts is ‘We love our troops.’ We love our troops because of their selflessness…because of their unswerving love of Canada…because of their bravery and their dignity in combat…and because through them we gain a more vivid, vital appreciation of all the veterans who fought on behalf of Canada for global freedom.…
“As the troops fought and fight for freedom, ours is the supreme responsibility to give meaning to that freedom by embracing the language of respect, the language of inclusion, the language of harmony.”
The 49th Dominion Convention is scheduled to take place in Saint John, N.B., in August 2024.
At the helm
DOMINION PRESIDENT Bruce Julian, 69, has 44 years of Legion service and is a life member of the Beachville, Ont., Branch. He has served in the 3rd and 4th battalions of The Royal Canadian Regiment and at every level of the Legion, rising to president of Ontario Command in 2013. At the national level, he has served on Dominion Executive Council as chair of the public relations and membership committees, vice-chair of the veterans, service and seniors committee and as a member of the poppy and remembrance, public relations, dominion convention resolutions, Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, veterans consultation, finance (pay and budget) and veterans, service and seniors committees. He is currently chair of the veterans, service and seniors, Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, dominion convention resolutions and going forward committees, and is vice-chair of the finance (pay, budget, investment and pension) and veterans consultation committees. He is also the current vice-chair and former chair of Canvet Publications Ltd. Julian is a recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, as well as the Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal and Fire Services Long Service Medal, awarded by the federal and provincial governments respectively. Julian farms for a living and enjoys travelling, fishing, reading and time with his family. He and his wife Darlene have two children, Jaclyn and Joseph, and three grandchildren, Brandon, Megan and Ella.
FIRST VICE Owen Parkhouse, 57, has served the Legion for 22 years and is an ordinary member of Morell, P.E.I., Branch. He has served at the branch level, rising to first vice of Prince Edward Island Command and is the P.E.I. representative for the operational stress injury special section. At the national level, he has served as chair of the public relations committee and was zone representative for Eastern U.S. Zone. He is currently chair of the membership and centenary committees, vice-chair of the dominion convention resolutions and veterans, service and seniors committees and is a member of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, finance (pay and budget) and going forward committees. He is also the current chair of Canvet. Parkhouse is a recipient of the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers. He served 25 years in the Canadian Forces, was deputy chair of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and is a director with the Last Post Fund and St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. Parkhouse has many activities and interests. He and his wife have a daughter.
VICE-PRESIDENT Berkley Lawrence, 67, is a member of Carbonear, N.L., Branch and has spent 18 years with the Legion. He served in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals for 33 years and has served at every level of the Legion, rising to president of Newfoundland and Labrador Command in 2017. At the national level, he has served as chair of the local arrangements committee for the 2016 dominion convention in St. John’s and vice-chair of the poppy and remembrance committee. He is currently chair of the poppy and remembrance committee, is a member of the finance (budget) and going forward committees and is the zone representative for Europe Zone. Lawrence enjoys travel and outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting and ATV riding. In addition to his work with the Legion, he is a supporter of Meals on Wheels. Berkley and his wife Sarah have three children—David, Michael and Teri—and five grandchildren.
VICE-PRESIDENT Sharon McKeown, 65, is a life member of Pte. Joe Waters Branch in Milton, Ont., and has been a member of the Legion for 40 years. She has served in a variety of roles at all levels of the Legion and was the first woman to be elected president of Ontario Command. As a member of the Dominion Executive Council, she has served as vice-chair of the public relations committee and is a former member of the membership committee. She is the current chair of the public relations committee, a member of the finance (budget) and going forward committees and is the zone representative for Western US Zone. McKeown retired from a 35-year career as an insurance professional in 2012. Over the years, she has dedicated her time to organizations including Scouts Canada, Girl Guides of Canada and the Lions Club, and remains active in her branch’s Ladies Auxiliary. She is a recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal and Palm Leaf, the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She and her husband Bill have two children and three grandchildren.
VICE-PRESIDENT Brian Weaver, 73, has 48 years of Legion service and is an associate member of the Capt. Brien Branch in Essex, Ont. He has served at every level of the Legion, rising to president of Ontario Command in 2015. At the national level, he is currently chair of the sports committee, a member of the finance (budget) and going forward committees and a zone representative of Eastern U.S. Zone. He previously served as a member of the poppy and remembrance and veterans, service and seniors committees and was zone representative for Western U.S. Zone. He is also on the board of directors for Canvet. Weaver is a recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal and Palm Leaf. After 34 and a half years, Weaver retired in 2003 from Daimler Chrysler Corporation. In his spare time, he enjoys golf and darts. He and his partner of 34 years, Debra Gill, have five children, Kenny (deceased), Lisa, Jeff, Kelly and Erin, and five grandchildren.
TREASURER Mark Barham, 63, is a life member of North Calgary Branch. He has been active with the Legion for 46 years and risen through the ranks to become treasurer of Alberta-Northwest Territories Command. Currently, Barham serves at the national level on Dominion Executive Council and is in his fourth term as chair of the finance (pay, budget, investment and pension) committee and is a member of the going forward committee. Barham is a recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal. He is a director of the Whitney Victoria Barham Foundation. He retired after selling his interest in a restaurant chain. Barham enjoys fishing, hunting, hockey and writing.
CHAIRMAN Bill Chafe, 63, is a life member with 43 years in the Legion. He served with the First Hussars Reserve Regiment and is currently a member of Sarnia, Ont., Branch. Chafe has risen through the ranks to become Dominion Command chair. He is currently serving his third term at the national level as a member of the constitution and laws, finance (budget) and dominion convention resolutions committees, in addition to new service on the going forward and veterans, service and seniors committees. He is also the secretary of the Canvet board. He works with CIMS Limited Partnership and in his spare time enjoys all things Legion, travelling and sports. Chafe is a recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal and Palm Leaf, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He and his wife Laurie have two children, Sharon and Bill, and seven grandchildren.
IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT Thomas Irvine, 66, served for 23 years with the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, including active duty in Egypt with the United Nations Emergency Force. He has spent 33 years serving the Legion and is currently a life member of Hemmingford, Que., Branch. Irvine rose through the ranks of Quebec Command to provincial vice-chair, vice-president and three terms as provincial chair. For 10 years, Irvine served as dominion chair and has spent 19 years on national committees, including chair of the membership, Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, dominion convention resolutions and veterans, service and seniors committees, and vice-chair of the going forward and finance (pay, budget, investment and pension) committees. He also served on the constitution and laws, dominion convention resolutions, focus on the future, poppy and remembrance, veterans consultation and sports committees. He is also a former chair of Canvet. He is currently vice-chair of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League committee, a member of the finance (budget and pay) and going forward committees, and a director of the Legion National Foundation. He retired from TD Canada Trust in 2004, is a member of the Freemason’s Harmony Lodge No. 131 Grand Registry of Quebec and is a seven-time past master of Argyle-Elgin Lodge No. 7. Irvine is a member of Montreal’s Black Watch Veterans Association and is a recipient of the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. His hobbies include walking and public speaking. He and his wife Paulette have four children—Jennifer, Wanda, Tom and Tim—and five grandchildren.
GRAND PRESIDENT Larry Murray, 74, retired in 1997 after 33 years with the Royal Canadian Navy and as acting chief of the defence staff with the Canadian Armed Forces. He joined Fisheries and Oceans Canada that year and was appointed associate deputy minister. In 1999, he moved to Veterans Affairs Canada, where he served as deputy minister. He subsequently served as deputy minister with Fisheries and Oceans from 2003 to 2007. At the Legion’s national level, he has served as ex-officio of the focus on the future and defence and security committees. Currently, he is chair of the veterans consultation and Op Harmony committees, continues as ex-officio of the veterans, service and seniors committee, is a member of the going forward committee and is a director of the Legion National Foundation. He is the former chair of the Board of Directors of the Public Policy Forum and past president of the Nova Scotia Mainland Division of the Navy League of Canada. He was the first chair of the Veterans Ombudsman Advisory Committee, an external member of the National Defence Audit Committee and honorary Colonel Commandant of the Chaplain Branch of the Canadian Armed Forces. At present, he is chair of the Independent Review Panel on Defence Acquisition. Murray’s awards include Member of the Order of Canada, Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Member of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, NATO Special Services medal, Vimy Award from the Conference of Canadian Defence Associations, Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation, Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation, 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He and his wife Claudia Buckley have six children and enjoy spending time with their seven grandchildren. In his spare time, he enjoys volunteering, kayaking, gardening, jogging and reading.
Carried by convention
The following resolutions were passed by the Dominion Convention in August.
Members of The Royal Canadian Legion meeting at the 48th dominion convention send greetings to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, express their loyalty and allegiance, and pray that she continues to guide the countries in the Commonwealth.
DOMINION EXECUTIVE COUNCIL
1. (NS/NU) Recommends that The Royal Canadian Legion should cause all Royal Canadian Legion publications to have linking capabilities from index subjects to their articles as per the linking procedure in the Rules of Procedure Manual.
Late resolution 1. (DEC) Recommends that, given the requirement for Canada-wide unity of this national imperative and recognizing the importance of improving cultural and heritage awareness, understanding injustices and commemorating loss, The Royal Canadian Legion and all its commands, branches and members extends its unreserved support, however possible and appropriate, and in collaboration with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, to assist in this healing journey.
VETERANS, SERVICE AND SENIORS
2. (VSS) Recommends that The Royal Canadian Legion recommend to Veterans Affairs Canada to implement the Veterans Survivors Fund immediately; and that the Legion recommend to the federal government to fulfil its promise to eliminate the “Marriage after 60” clause.
3. (ONT) Recommends that Veterans Affairs Canada and the Ministry of Health immediately survey the 14 LHINs [local health integration networks] and produce a list of all veterans waiting placement in LTC [long-term care] facilities; and that legislation be enacted to re-designate all vacant PABs as Preferred Admission Beds to allow immediate placement of all waiting veterans in LTC facilities and that those facilities be in the areas close to the veteran’s normal residence.
4. (NB) Recommends that The Royal Canadian Legion, on behalf of all Canadian Forces veterans, strongly advocate to extend the eligibility of “VAC Contract Beds” to include all Canadian Forces veterans.
POPPY AND REMEMBRANCE
5. (BC/Yukon) Recommends that Section 402 (ii) of the Poppy Manual be modified to include the monitoring of medical alert systems to a maximum of $1,500 annually.
6. (AB-NWT) Recommends that Dominion Command be approached to amend Article 130 (b) of the General By-Laws and Article 208 (h) of the Poppy Manual to amend the Poppy Year for all branches to read commencing on the 1st day of January each year and terminating on the 31st day of December each year.
7. (AB-NWT) Recommends that Dominion Command be approached to amend the General By-Laws and Poppy Manual for the Poppy Year for all provincial commands to be the calendar year; and that Dominion Command be approached to amend Article 130 (b) of the General By-Laws to read: “The financial year for all poppy accounts will be the calendar year.”; and that Dominion Command be approached to amend Article 612 (a) of the Poppy Manual to read: “Provincial Commands are required to submit an annual audited statement of the Command Poppy Trust Fund Account for the previous fiscal year by 31st of March each year.
8. (AB-NWT) Recommends that the inclusion of “spouse” be added to Section 402 vi (a) to allow the granting of bursaries to a spouse of a veteran.
9. (ONT) Recommends that 10 per cent of the cost of maintenance for coin-sorting machines designated to count/sort/wrap coins collected during the annual Poppy Campaign be included in Section 403 ii (k) along with the purchase of same.
10. (ONT) Recommends that the option of electronic money transfer, contactless payment and tap donation for direct deposit into Poppy Trust Funds of branches for poppy donations be immediately made available to all branches.
11. (NB) Recommends that The Royal Canadian Legion should be lobbying our provincial and territorial governments to have their Canadian veterans’ sacrifices made part of the school curriculum, so that their memory will never fade away and will forever be remembered.
13. (ONT) Recommends that Dominion Command provide the number of years on the lapel pins to reflect the total number of continuous membership that a member has regardless of previous category.
15. (NB) Recommends that Article 903 (a) be changed to read “Every branch shall be entitled to send to a convention two (2) delegates for every 100 voting members or fraction thereof and one (1) delegate for the remaining 100 members or fraction thereof.”
CONSTITUTION AND LAWS
16. (NB) Recommends that A) The Royal Canadian Legion remove By-Law 101 (p); and B) The Royal Canadian Legion revises their General By-Laws to reflect the use of gender-neutral language.
DEFENCE AND SECURITY
Late resolution 2. (D&S) Recommends that to effect meaningful change the Dominion President of The Royal Canadian Legion call on the government to establish a fully independent Office of the Inspector General of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence reporting to Parliament.
RITUAL AND AWARDS
*216 (BC/Yukon) Recommends that all medals including commemorative medals distributed and sold by Dominion Command to branches, districts, zones, ladies’ auxiliaries and provincial commands be clearly identified as not for resale; and that all medals distributed by Dominion Command to be awarded by the various levels of the Legion are not intended for resale.
*Denotes non-concurred resolution brought back to the floor by a command and approved by convention.