Foreign service. The Coffee Break: 17 March 2014.
Earlier an article appeared on CBC’s website that talked about how the Royal Canadian Legion – Canada’s veterans association – had asked a veteran to remove and return his veteran plate in what they deemed was an error in decision-making. The veteran identified himself as a US Army veteran who served in Vietnam told CBC that he was disappointed in the Legion’s decision, and that he should be allowed to keep the plate. The link to the full article will be posted at the end of this piece.
Right so where do we begin; a man serves in a foreign army, in a foreign war that has nothing to do with Canada, and yet he expects the Royal Canadian Legion to honour his service time with the veterans license plate? According to CBC, the criteria for a veteran license plate is service in either the Canadian Forces, or one of Canada’s wartime allies. However in Ontario (the case being from Manitoba) veterans of Vietnam do qualify for the license plate. This presents an interesting scenario as those who fought for a foreign military outside of the wartime ally criteria are eligible for a veteran plate, whereas in Manitoba the same cannot be said for veterans living in that province.
The veteran stated that he joined the US Army because he did not want to wait for a year on the Canadian Army’s list – this of course was the case as the Army’s intake had to be evenly paced and not rapid. When an individual goes off to fight in another nation’s military outside of wartime allies, do they really qualify as the home nation’s “veteran?” When I go off to serve in – say – the French Foreign Legion, am I fighting for Canada, or for France (though technically the Legionnaires fight for the Legion, which in turn fights for France; Foreign Legion culture dictates Legionnaires are loyal to the Legion)?
There is no doubt that the veteran served with honour, as the medals on his chest in the article’s photo says it all. However when it comes to veteran status, it can be difficult as veteran plates are generally reserved for those who had a direct/indirect impact on a particular country – Vietnam certainly was not a war Canada was involved in, and there was no real consequence when South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnam forces. Canada continues to drive along as it always has, unaffected by events in Southeast Asia at the time. Now a reply to the article in the comments section pointed out that the province of Alberta used to only issue veteran plates to regular force veterans – full time soldiers, police officers were included under this category. While this left a ton of reservist (part time) soldiers out of the pool, the federal government eventually stepped in to change this so that reservists would be eligible for the license plate. That scenario right there is a clear “action needed” scenario as the reservists served Canada, and should therefore be eligible for the veteran plate. However I am inclined to agree with the Legion on this decision in that Vietnam veterans should not be eligible for the license plate – or veterans of foreign armies who were not Canada’s wartime allies – because their service was neither in the interest of Canada, nor was it in the interest of preserving Canadian sovereignty.
Now there can be arguments over preserving a nation indirectly, but we would then open the flood gates to enable our former enemies to claim veteran status: “I served in the Italian Army in 1941” one man would say, “I did so for 18 years, therefore I am a veteran, and should be eligible for a veteran plate! I only served with the Italians because I thought it would help Canada!” Veteran plates are there to honour those who served Canada, and preserved Canadian interests, and not those who fought either for another nation whose interests were not shared with Canada, or who fought for our enemies. The man wanted action, and he said so himself in the article that “he was 19 years old when he signed up with the US military, as he did not want to linger on the Canadian army’s year-long waiting list.” Well good sir, you should have waited patiently for that year until the Canadian Forces calls you to serve: it was entirely voluntary, and you would directly – without a doubt in your mind – be serving Canada and her interests.