Royal Canadian Legion expels members for wearing unearned military commendations

OTTAWA — The Royal Canadian Legion says it has taken a landmark decision to expel two members for wearing military commendations they did not earn as the 95-year-old veterans’ organization crack downs on instances of “stolen valour.”

Legion dominion president Thomas Irvine would not identify the two members in an interview with The Canadian Press this week, except to say that one is from Ontario and the other from British Columbia. Each was given an opportunity to explain their actions before being expelled.

“The Legion has taken a big hit over the years on different cases of stolen valour, and justly so,” Irvine said of past criticisms the organization was not doing enough to curb such behaviour by members. “But I’m tired of it. We’ve got to put a stop to this.”

The wearing of unearned military medals and commendations has long been a sore point for serving military members and veterans. It is also an offence under the Criminal Code, with a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Police in Cornwall, Ont., last year charged a man, Terrance Birch, with wearing military medals he did not earn. He appeared in court in December and is due to re-appear for pre-trial motions on Feb. 5. Attempts to contact Birch were unsuccessful.

Not only do those who make illegitimate claims of military service or sacrifice degrade the honour of those who have served, Irvine said, they also tarnish the reputation of the Legion if they are members of the organization.

“Stolen valour is stolen service and it’s just totally wrong,” said Irvine, who was a military reservist for 23 years, including a peacekeeping tour in the Middle East. ”This kind of stuff has to stop within the legion, it’s got to stop, period, within Canada. It’s against the law.”

That is why he personally pushed for new bylaws and direction to punish those found to have claimed service or commendations falsely, Irvine said, which includes automatically expelling for life any members convicted under the Criminal Code of unlawfully wearing a military uniform or medal.

Stolen Valour Canada, an online group that uses social media to call attention to people alleged to have worn military medals and commendations they did not earn, applauded the legion’s decision to expel the two members and crack down on similar incidents.

“We remember the blood, sweat and tears that it took to earn a piece of metal attached to coloured ribbon, a strip of cloth or an embroidered badge, and that is why we get somewhat emotional about them,” Stolen Valour Canada said in an unsigned email.

“It’s really quite simple, if you didn’t earn it, don’t wear it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Royal Canadian Legion

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