Halifax council won’t add Afghan war dates to front of city’s main monument

FILE - The cenotaph in the Grand Parade currently recognizes Canada's war in Afghanistan on one side.
FILE - The cenotaph in the Grand Parade currently recognizes Canada's war in Afghanistan on one side. File/Global News

An Afghanistan veteran says he’s “gutted” that Halifax council has turned down a request to engrave the dates of his war on a prominent side of the cenotaph in the city’s central square.

The cenotaph in the Grand Parade currently recognizes Canada’s war in Afghanistan on the back of the monument.

However, retired chief warrant officer Bob Thompson launched a movement last year to have the dates of the conflict engraved on the front of the memorial, facing the large parade square where people stand during Remembrance Day services.

The side facing City Hall currently includes the dates of the beginning and end of the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.

Thompson said he was deeply disappointed he didn’t achieve the two-thirds majority needed to rescind an earlier council decision against adding the Afghanistan dates. The vote was 8-7 in favour.

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“I’m gutted. I’m sitting home here trying to figure out how to keep momentum on this going,” he said in a telephone interview.

READ MORE: Grand Parade cenotaph will soon include Afghanistan War

The veteran said he first noticed the Afghanistan war dates weren’t as prominent during a ceremony in 2017 and has been lobbying for a change since then.

During a posting in Ottawa, he’d noticed the National War Memorial had added the name of the mission in Afghanistan – with the dates 2001-2014 – on a side of the memorial clearly visible to the crowds and parading soldiers during Remembrance Day ceremonies.

He started collecting signatures for a petition in favour of giving Halifax residents similar, highly visible exposure.

“We did the hard slugging over there for 13 years,” said Thompson, noting the 138 killed in action and 20 further deaths related to the conflict.

“We earned the place below the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.”

There were also 635 Canadians either wounded in action or otherwise harmed as a result of participating in the Afghanistan mission.

Coun. Sam Austin, who voted against the motion, said there’s limited space left on the front of the monument to add new names of additional wars.

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He said there may have been space for one more set of dates, but that would then raise the question of what to do about future conflicts.

“I might have voted for something that was to ask us to look at options,” he said in an interview.

“We might have been able to cram it in there … but it kicks the can down the road, because if history is any judge, at some point we will be involved in another conflict and then we’re most definitely out of space.”

WATCH: New addition to Halifax cenotaph (Oct. 15, 2015)

However, he said he doubts the issue will fade.

“At some point we’re going to have to have some kind of protocol on how we will handle it.”

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Meanwhile, Thompson says he may resume his campaign of standing at the base of the cenotaph and collecting signatures in support of changes to the monument.

He has also been online with fellow members of the Royal Canadian Legion seeking photos of cenotaphs that include the Afghanistan conflict in a prominent view.

Coun. David Hendsbee, who brought the motion forward, said the efforts to give Afghanistan veterans greater prominence on memorials will likely continue in Halifax and other communities.

“Two of the those who died were from my own area, and I felt to honour them, I should at least make the request,” Hendsbee said. “I wish the vote could have gone differently.”