Sunday February 01, 2015

Legion misstep is unfortunate

This is the last thing the Royal Canadian Legion needs.

Canada's Governor General travelled to France last weekend to commemorate the 70th anniversary of one of the bloodiest chapters in Canadian military history, the Dieppe Raid, where 3,623 of the 6,086 predominantly Canadian soldiers who made it ashore were killed, wounded or captured.

Meanwhile, the Cranbrook, B.C. legion caused a storm of fury after publishing a shockingly racist "joke" in its monthly newsletter targeting Aboriginals.

The legion reacted to ensuing outrage by pulling the paragraph off the page and replacing it with an explanation that it was only meant as a joke. The explanation did not include an apology.

In an interview, Cranbrook legion president Edith LeClaire said: "Obviously people can't take a joke," and referred to her age, 63, as though that has anything to do with anything.

On the other hand, maybe it does. There are fears that legions are slowly becoming obsolete as they service an increasingly aging population while failing to attract a new wave of veterans as members.

There's a stereotype that paints the older generation as not having kept up to changing attitudes about what's acceptable in describing various cultures. Often, "jokes" aren't intended as hurtful, but they are.

The story out of Cranbrook has only corralled those who believe legions should no longer exist. People who post such online comments as: "The Royal Canadian Legion's glory days were the 1950s, and it would be best if it faded away into edentulous entropy." (Translation: toothless degeneration.)

Kamloops legion president Walter Giesbrecht can testify to this generation gap. Although the local club is paying its bills, he said the Canadian military personnel returning from Afghanistan would rather hang out at the JR Vicars Armoury where they have a lounge.

But the idea that legions are filled with antiquated racist notions because its members are aged is ridiculous, said Giesbrecht, who says he rarely hears such remarks in the Kamloops legion. (And honestly, since when does someone have to be old to be racist?)

He adds that the Kamloops legion has close ties with the Tk'emlups Indian Band. No surprise there - a lot of First nations soldiers have fought and died for our country.

The irony of this whole thing is that First Nations organizations across Canada would probably be the last groups to advocate the shutting down of legions.

That's because they share a proud and decorated history of heroic veterans. And their descendants remember their brave exploits every year on November 11, including those in Dieppe.

The Legion remains an important venue for the fellowship of our veterans, and they remain honoured for what they've done for us. One very ill-advised "joke" doesn't change that.

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