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Record of Discussion – Commemoration Advisory Group

February 4, 2020
1230 – 1530 (EDT)

In Attendance

Commemoration Advisory Group Members

  • Dr. Steve Harris, Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence, (Co-chair)
  • Derrill Henderson, National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada & Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada
  • Ray Kokkonen, Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association
  • Danny Martin, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Lieutenant Colonel Jim Mills, Team Lead National Commemorations, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Canadian Armed Forces
  • Gerry Wharton, Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans in Canada
  • Dr. Lee Windsor, University of New Brunswick Gregg Centre

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • John Embury, Director of Communications
  • Benjamin Sparkes, Policy Advisor

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Paul Thomson, Director General, Commemoration Division, Veterans Affairs Canada (Co-chair)
  • Shannon Hartigan, Project lead – 2020-2030 Strategic Plan for Communications
  • Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Robert Walker, Strategic Advisor, Commemoration
  • Bill Crabb, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Regrets

  • Charles Cue, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (Observer)

Opening Remarks

Dr. Steven Harris welcomed the members and thanked Veterans Affairs Canada for arranging the morning consultation session on the new National Monument to Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan.

Commemoration – Proposed Way Forward

Veterans Affairs Canada led the discussion on a way forward for commemorative programming that was first discussed at the July 30, 2019 meeting. This new approach proposes to focus on the missions and contributions of Canada’s military in different regions of the world as part of a five (5) year rotating thematic cycle starting in 2021. It was stressed that under this proposed approach, the Department would ensure that it would continue to conduct commemorative programming for traditional milestone events.

The proposed five year cycle to highlight Canadian Armed Forces international peace and security missions in different regions of the world could be as follows:

  • 2021: Middle East
  • 2022: Europe (focusing on The Balkans)
  • 2023: Asia (focusing on Afghanistan)
  • 2024: Africa
  • 2025: The Americas (including here at home)

The idea is to conduct an event to launch the particular thematic year and subsequently conduct a ’Signature Event’ to recognize Canada’s contribution in the particular region. National Peacekeeping Day would be more prominently highlighted.

Discussion

  • Members were supportive of the concept of a regional approach to commemorative programming, while still carrying on with the traditional (First World War, Second World War and Korean War) events that Veterans Affairs Canada presently conducts or supports.
  • While commemorating and recognizing Canadian Armed Forces missions in the different regions of the world, there should also be an education component for each mission for the public.
  • There will be opportunities to not only commemorate events or notable military anniversaries, but for community and other partners to recognize the accomplishments of our younger Veterans
  • It was suggested that the new approach for 2021 be a phased approach that focusses on a limited number of events in the first year. It was noted that some organizations would be challenged to assist with implementing this initiative and that 2021 may be too early for the complete program. It was proposed that during the bridge year, Veterans Affairs Canada could focus on the “Signature Event” for the region as a way to pilot the new approach.
  • The members did not support designating a new \ nationally recognized day that specifically recognizes the service of Veterans who served after the Korean War. For all agreed that that day already exists as Remembrance Day.
  • Members agreed to assist in communicating the new approach and to support the new way ahead. Veterans Affairs Canada would need to provide the various organizations with an information package to provide clear messaging to respective organizations through mailing lists and meetings.
  • It was agreed that the 2020-2030 Strategic Plan would be shared with the members.
  • In response to a question on the need for change:
    • Canada’s Second World War Veterans are aging and another contingent to Europe may not be possible;
    • It is important to consider different demographics, such as youth and new Canadians and to find ways to connect with them;
    • It is important to tell the stories of post-Korean War Veterans as accurately and well as we do for Veterans of the World Wars and the Korean War; and
    • In many cases, we must commemorate these regions and missions in Canada, as travel to former contested regions may not be feasible or safe.
  • The representative from the Royal Canadian Legion noted that 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the Poppy as a symbol of remembrance. Perhaps as part of the transition, Veterans Affairs Canada could use this as a symbolic passing of the torch to focus on newer Veterans.

Well Being and Recognition

Post-Korean Canadian Armed Forces missions were often quite complex and reflect a changing geopolitical landscape. Although some of these United Nations missions have been controversial on the geopolitical level, there remains a need to focus on the service of Veterans.

  • 2021: Middle East
  • 2022: Europe (focusing on The Balkans)
  • 2023: Asia (focusing on Afghanistan)
  • 2024: Africa
  • 2025: The Americas (including here at home)

The idea is to conduct an event to launch the particular thematic year and subsequently conduct a ’Signature Event’ to recognize Canada’s contribution in the particular region. National Peacekeeping Day would be more prominently highlighted.

Discussion

  • In an attempt to reach post Korea Veterans, possible changes to traditional ceremonies could be considered. It was agreed that commemoration is two-fold; a solemn portion when dealing with missions that cost lives and a celebratory piece to recognize service. An example was used of the upcoming commemoration of the Liberation of the Netherlands and Victory in Europe, which will include elements of both solemnity and celebration.
  • The members felt that there is an opportunity to structure these thematic years so that no Veteran feels left out and to ensure they all feel recognized.
  • There was a lively discussion on how to recognize Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces’ domestic operations. It was felt that during the theme year focusing on the Americas (2025), these domestic operations could be highlighted.
  • For domestic operations, Veterans Affairs Canada should be prepared to help communities who wish to organize an event or activity. An example given was the City of St John’s and the recent snowstorm.
  • There was discussion of how to recognize Canadian Armed Forces members who were killed during training exercises both at home and oversees (Americas, Europe, etc.).

Next Steps

Veterans Affairs Canada plans to consult with educators in order to tailor learning products to their needs and to consult with Veterans and still-serving Canadian Armed Forces members about their views on the commemoration of the missions they were involved in and how they would like their service recognized.

Commemoration Advisory Group members expressed willingness to share information about the strategic plan and consultation opportunities with their membership. Other opportunities suggested by the members were the following:

  1. Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada National Convention in Winnipeg in August 2020;
  2. Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command Convention in Saskatoon from 22-26 August 2020;
  3. National Council of Veterans Associations annual general meeting in November 2020;
  4. Veterans Associations; and
  5. Canadian Armed Forces briefings.

Closing Remarks

Dr. Harris stressed the need to recognize the service of all and to educate Canadians on all of these missions and conflicts. Paul Thomson thanked everyone for their time and dedication.

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