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News - Veterans - 18 Sep 2008

News Item 833 of 1373 

Veterans: 18 Sep 2008
Sacrifice medal:- Vets want their medals

Peacekeeping vets fume at Tories for denying them their medals.

OTTAWA - A growing number of wounded Canadian peacekeepers say they've been "forgotten" by a Conservative government they say is more focused on Afghanistan than properly recognizing all those who've sacrificed for their country.

They're angry that eligibility for the recently created Sacrifice Medal is backdated only to Oct. 7, 2001, when Canada formally entered the Afghan conflict.

The cutoff means soldiers who were wounded and killed in the Second World War, the Korean conflict and in dozens of peacekeeping missions around the world do not qualify for the recognition.

"That's what's really burning a lot of people," said Fred Doucette, 57, a retired captain who was wounded in the neck by shellfire in Sarajevo in 1995.

"It's like we are forgetting a whole chunk of history and sacrifice."

"The eligibility debate has been tearing up the Internet since the citation was announced Aug. 29 by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean."

In an email to members of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association and the Canadian Association of Veterans of United Nations Peacekeeping, Doucette said he was "shocked, dismayed and insulted" by the criteria.

Many agreed with him.

The controversy is just the latest to rock what is usually a core Tory constituency - military members and their families - during the federal election campaign.

The medal criteria also excludes some soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan because they did not die from hostile fire, much to the dismay of surviving families.

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper further stirred military angst when he declared the military mission in Kandahar would come to end on schedule in 2011.

When one grieving father criticized the decision, he was dismissed as a partisan Liberal supporter by a Conservative staffer, who later apologized and was unceremoniously booted off the campaign. Doucette has written the prime minister and intends to grill Tory candidates on where they stand on the medal.

In over four decades of peacekeeping operations around the world, roughly 115 Canadian soldiers were killed and hundreds of others wounded, many of them by hostile fire.

Doucette, who suffered hearing loss and nerve damage because of his wounds, said he personally knew two soldiers killed on operations, as well as one who lost both of his legs due to hostile fire.

He said peacekeepers have been uneasy since former defence minister Gordon O'Connor announced in 2006 that a new medal similar to the U.S. Purple Heart would replace the understated Canadian army tradition of wounded stripes.

"We always had a bad feeling about how they would backdate it," the 32 year veteran infantry officer said in an interview from his home near Fredericton, N.B. "It's like Canada never had an army before 2001, (like) no one ever died or was wounded prior to 2001."

The round, silver medal is 36 millimetres across, has a clasp at the top in the form of the Royal Crown and is attached to a red, black and white ribbon.

On one side, there's a profile of the Queen wearing a crown of maple leaves and snowflakes. The other side features an image from the Vimy Memorial with the word "Sacrifice."

New Democrat veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer said thereƕs no reason for the restrictions. When the Canadian Peacekeeping Medal was struck in 2000, eligibility was backdated to the first mission in 1948, he added.

"The reality is we had a lot of guys killed in Bosnia and we had a lot of guys hurt in Bosnia, Cyprus and elsewhere," Stoffer said.

Doucette said the Canadian public "doesn't realize we were fighting and dying on these types of missions."

On August 9th, 1974, nine Canadian peacekeepers were killed when their plane was shot down by a Syrian missile.

"What about them?" Stoffer asked. "Don't they deserve recognition?"

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THE CANADIAN PRESS
 

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