Gen. Jonathan Vance says the Canadian military meant no disrespect to families of fallen soldiers, amid criticism over the decision to hold a memorial event without inviting them.
The event, which included a dedication of the Afghanistan Memorial Hall, was held just outside Ottawa on May 13 by the Department of National Defence (DND).
But the military didn’t reveal details of the event to the public until May 16, when it posted about the event on Facebook and Twitter.
The Canadian Armed Forces’ Facebook page explained that it had held a dedication service in partnership with DND at the new Afghanistan Memorial Hall at the National Defence headquarters. The event was attended by senior military members and management.
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Most notably, the dedication featured the Kandahar Airfield Cenotaph battlefield memorial, which was built by military members in Afghanistan. The cenotaph holds significance for many Afghanistan veterans and families of the fallen.
The social media posts have been flooded with comments over the past days, with Canadians demanding to know why families were not invited.
“As a veteran and someone who was responsible for procuring the remembrance plaques, this decision to keep the public from the memorial is wrong,” one Facebook user, named Lynn Fonger, wrote.
Another, named Ed Kellner, added:
“Why put it in a place where the families of those who were lost have to ask permission to view the monument. This is such a huge insult to those families and to the country.”
The DND explained its reasoning in an email statement to Global News but did not specify why, exactly, families were not invited.
“Given the solemnity of the memorial and to ensure a dignified, dedication service, a quiet, limited service was held in honour of those we have lost,” the statement read. “The decision to hold a humble, internal event was made by senior leadership to ensure proper reverence.”
The statement also explained that the public was not informed of the event until days later so that the military could reach out to families first.
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“We also waited a few days before posting event details on social media in order to ensure correspondence with the families of our fallen had sufficient time to be delivered,” it read.
It added that the families were sent letters with a “standing invitation” to visit the memorial, which is not open to the general public.
The department said that it “understands” the sentiments of families and members of the public who are upset by the move.
Vance added he has asked his team to come up with plans to allow access to anyone who wants it.
The location of the memorial, inside the national headquarters, is also being criticized as it is not public.
A 2011, military group had recommended that the cenotaph be placed outdoors in Ottawa, where families and the public could access it whenever they desired.
While in Vancouver on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is looking into the situation. Trudeau noted that he will “make sure this is done right,” but did not say whether the cenotaph will be made public.
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“We’re working with the DND to understand what that decision they took was on the cenotaph, and ensure that it is a monument that will be there for everyone who wants to remember and celebrate those veterans who stood for Canada on far-away lands,” he said.
In a statement provided to Global News, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called the situation an “appalling insult” to the families.
“It seems like Justin Trudeau’s government is embarrassed of Canada’s role in Afghanistan. He should immediately apologize and hold a public dedication,” Scheer said.
— With files from The Canadian Press