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Record of discussion - Commemoration advisory group

19 April 2023
1:15PM – 3:30 PM (EST)
Virtual via MS Teams

In Attendance

Commemoration advisory group members

  • Simon Coakeley
  • John Moses
  • Dr. Steve Harris, Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence
  • Anne Hurtubise
  • Robert Jardine
  • Captain (Retired) Ray Kokkonen, Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association
  • Robert Jardin
  • Major (Retired) Gerry Wharton, Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada
  • Dr. Lee Windsor, University of New Brunswick Gregg Centre (Co-chair)

Guests

  • Paul Lopes, Thinking Big (Digital Plan presentation)
  • Erin Linkletter, Veterans Affairs Canada (Digital Plan presentation)
  • Sam Chong-Luke (Digital Plan presentation)

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Paul Thomson, Director General, Commemoration (Co-chair)
  • Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy, Director, Policy, Learning and Recognition, Commemoration Division
  • Pamela Harrison, Senior Director, Engagement and Events

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • John Embury, Director of Communications, Minister’s Office
  • Derrill Henderson, National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada and Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada
  • Caitlin Bailey, Vimy Foundation

Regrets

  • Captain (Retired) Danny Martin, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Andree Gracie

Opening remarks

The VAC co-chair welcomed the members and highlighted the labour disruption and offered to have the members reach out to Paul or Sylvie if they have any questions or concerns. Highlighted that student guides are not impacted and are therefore sites in Europe remain open.

Paul Thompson highlighted Cemetery and Grave Maintenance Evaluation and the recent media articles on the funding the Department received to address the backlog of maintenance of grave markers. Paul highlighted the success that 98% of the backlog was addressed with the additional funding and we continue to work to secure funding to ensure we do not get into a backlog situation again.

Paul Thompson highlighted the 70th anniversary of Korea and commemorative programming plans and the 25th anniversary of Swiss Air in September in Nova Scotia. The Swiss Air commemorative efforts align with our objective to commemorative domestic operations and key commemorative dates of Peacekeeping anniversaries and that Peacekeeping will be the theme for Veterans Week this year.

Paul Thompson provided an update on Juno Beach Centre and the milestones that have been achieved on the finalization of the lease for the land to be maintained for commemorative purposes going forward and plans for the repatriation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to Newfoundland for 2024. 

Paul Thompson highlighted the upcoming Invictus Games 2023 in Germany and Canada as the host country for the 2025 Games will be announced during the closing ceremonies in Germany.

Discussion:

  • Will share the link to the Funeral and Burial Evaluation (link was added to the chat)
  • Would like additional information on the repatriation and ceremonial plans for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Newfoundland.
  • Suggestion to connect to Canada Post or Canadian Mint for a commemorative coin or stamp to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 2025.

Commemorating modern veterans

Lee Windsor introduced the subject and challenge of commemorating the service and sacrifice of modern Veterans. He emphasized how it is a cultural change to move away from the tradition of honouring the fallen and instead recognizing the service of those who served and are still serving our country.

CAG member encouraged us to introduce new way to recognize the contributions of CAF members and wreath placements and monuments are not the only means to commemorate service.

The Director, Policy, Learning and Commemoration ran through a presentation that highlighted the consultations the Department has completed on the Future of remembrance that informed our strategic plan and our path forward. Through the consultations, participants were in favour of a more inclusive approach that included focusing on modern operations like the Cold War, peacekeeping, NATO missions and domestic operations. Commemorative efforts need to include highlighting the roles and participation of reservists, RCMP, police and humanitarian efforts. 

The issue was framed on how should Veteran service be commemorated and recognized in a way that is relevant and meaningful. For example, the Gulf War Veterans feel their service hasn’t been prospering commemorated because their service is not recognized on the National War Memorial or any other National monument.

Discussion

  • Need to take lessons learned from other groups on how they commemorate service and underrepresented groups
  • We must recognize versus commemorate and discuss/define “serving your country” isn’t just those who deployed and fought for their country. There are Veterans who served in different ways and their story needs to be recognized and shared as well.
  • Broaden our approach to commemorate service would include broadening our partnerships in commemoration and how they are taking new approaches to recognize service and discussions with existing partners like the Legion moving away from their traditional approaches as well and expanding their recognition efforts to modern efforts.
  • VAC co-chair highlighted that the Commemorative Partnership Program has increased the number of projects the Department has supported for modern commemorative efforts.
  • Canadian War Museum is preparing a new exhibit on Battle of the Artic, that focuses on the Cold War, modern and domestic operations.
  • Not all modern conflicts are free of controversy in how best to commemorate the service and sacrifice of these conflicts.
  • A resource concerning recognition of Indigenous veterans (Remembering Canada's Forgotten Soldiers at Contemporary Powwows (icaap.org) and regarding the Canadian Rangers (https://cjtm.icaap.org/content/28/28_hoefnag)
  • Education has to be a central pillar given the general lack of public knowledge on the depth and breadth of modern CAF missions – shift the focus from building monuments to public awareness educational campaigns (learning memorials versus monuments)
  • Non-traditional ways of connecting youth to younger Veterans closer to their own age, sharing personal stories, sharing stories of how countries have changed, for example Korea today versus Korea during conflict or Gulf War Veterans efforts to build the modern Kuwait.
  • Speaking to new Canadian where Canadian peacekeepers served in their countries and their experiences as a means to recognize the service from the inhabitants of the countries under conflict.
  • Reservists are important to include in our list of those who need to be recognized.

VAC’s digital plan

Guest presenter, Paul Lopes (Thinking Big) and Erin Linkletter presented the concept around establishing a blueprint for a digital plan to support VAC’s commemorative efforts.

Activity questions were asked with the group providing reflection from the perspective of recognition within their community, online and in the news, at home and from Veterans Affairs or other veteran groups.

Activity questions:

  • When was the last time your service was recognized appropriately?
  • How can we encourage more Veterans to share their stories?

Commitment made to share progress on the development of the Digital plan.

Closing remarks

  • The VAC Co-Chair thanked members for meeting. Plans are in place for face-to-face meeting in Ottawa on May 16, dependant on the labour disruption situation.
  • Group member requested confirmation that there will be no disruption of the 75th Peacekeeping event given the labour disruption and Paul Thompson confirmed that activities will proceed.
  • Overview of May 29 event – International Day of United Peacekeepers – 100 Veterans on parade in Ottawa followed by reception at Shaw Centre with school kids.
  • Member raised the War memorial committee that existed prior to the pandemic and questioned if the committee still existed. Paul Thompson confirmed that the program does still exist and we will circle back with information.
  • Update requested on Afghanistan Monument, Paul Thompson advised that we are awaiting decision points on announcement date for awarding the design contract.
  • Thanks extended to Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy and her team’s efforts on this committee and commemorative efforts.
  • John Embury thanked the group for their active participation today.
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