Advertisement

Legion, MPs urge Ottawa to issue jubilee medal for pandemic volunteers

Click to play video: 'The growing push to honour Canada’s front-line workers with Jubilee Medals' The growing push to honour Canada’s front-line workers with Jubilee Medals
WATCH: The growing push to honour Canada’s front-line workers with Jubilee Medals – Dec 2, 2021

With less than a month to go until the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee year, the Trudeau government has yet to decide if it will do what the Harper government did for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and award commemorative medals to Canadians who enriched their communities and country through service.

Read more: Top 5 Diamond Jubilee celebrations around the world

In 2012, the federal government of the day issued 60,000 Diamond Jubilee medals – medals awarded to a wide range of Canadians such as firefighters, police officers, community volunteers and Indigenous leaders. Canadian celebrities like Justin Bieber and Gordon Lightfoot received a Diamond Jubilee medal. So did the Canadian 2012 summer Olympic team during a special ceremony in Centre Block on Parliament Hill.

“The athletes were all brought up to the [House of] Commons to go onto the carpet and meet a whole bunch of MPs. And it was a very special moment for a lot of us,” Adam van Koeverden said in an interview earlier this week. Van Koeverden, who won four Olympic medals in kayaking, including gold, was a member of that 2012 team and is also a Diamond Jubilee medal recipient. Van Koeverden is now the Liberal MP for the Ontario riding of Milton.
Story continues below advertisement
Prime Minister Stephen Harper presents Olympic kayaker Adam van Koeverden with the Diamond Jubilee medal during a ceremony in the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Sept. 19, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Most of the MPs van Koeverden met in the House of Commons that day in September also received a Diamond Jubilee medal, for their service as parliamentarians, including the MP for the riding of Papineau, Justin Trudeau.

But, in 2021, the government now led by the member for Papineau appears ambivalent about proceeding with a similar jubilee medal program in 2022.

The Royal Canadian Legion asked the Trudeau government two years ago if it would proceed with a medal program and has received no reply either way. The Legion’s national leadership, which supports the idea of a special jubilee medal to recognize service, is now worried there will be no medal program.

“Are we going to lose something by not having a … jubilee medal? We’ll live, but we’ll live more poorly because of it,” said Steven Clark, the Legion’s national executive director. “A Platinum Jubilee medal really serves two purposes. First, it recognizes an unprecedented and significant milestone: 70 years of Her Majesty’s reign. But equally important, it is a way to recognize service in the community of those individuals, whether they are military RCMP, first responders, teachers, long-term care workers, people who have made their communities and therefore the country better.”

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Diamond Jubilee program costs $8.1M, nearly $660K over budget: documents

Indeed, the advocates for a platinum medal argue that there is a particularly special opportunity to recognize front-line workers that assisted in the pandemic as well as those who have helped respond to recent natural disasters and extreme weather in British Columbia, Atlantic Canada and elsewhere.

“We have many volunteers who’ve never been honored and never asked for any recognition who have been honored in the past,” said Cheryl Gallant, a Conservative MP from Ontario. “And we have a whole new crop of people who have been donating their time, not just during the pandemic, but [in my riding] we had floods in 2017, 2019. So what we’re seeing down east, in the West and in B.C. is really bringing back a lot of memories and those people we want to cherish as well.”
Click to play video: 'Archives: Ron Southern receives Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal' Archives: Ron Southern receives Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal
Archives: Ron Southern receives Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal – Jan 21, 2016

In the last Parliament, Gallant sponsored a petition to the House of Commons that gathered more than 1,800 signatures in support of a Platinum Jubilee program. The same e-petition has been re-submitted in the current Parliament and remains open for signature.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’re so blessed to have the Queen with us after 70 years of her service and we missed the Sapphire Jubilee five years ago,” Gallant said. “So this is all the more important to the people who we want to honor.”

Read more: Barbados celebrates as it officially becomes a republic, cuts ties with British monarchy

Gallant’s caucus colleague, Pierre Paul-Hus was an army Lieutenant-Colonel in the Régiment de la Chaudière, based in Lévis, Que. The Queen is the honourary Colonel-in-Chief of that regiment and, because of that, Paul-Hus was once invited to Buckingham Palace to be received by Her Majesty on behalf of the regiment. Paul-Hus, too, wants the government to proceed with a Jubilee medal program.

He was so frustrated with the Trudeau government’s inaction on the file, he made a direct appeal to Buckingham Palace, writing a letter that made reference to his and the Queen’s common interest — the “Chaudieres.”

“It’s why I feel that today as an MP, I feel that I can relay this to Her Majesty, to ask if she can do something for us,” said Paul-Hus, who represents a Quebec City-area riding. “With the pandemic, we have a lot of stories of people being involved to help Canadians, and I don’t understand why Justin Trudeau and his government don’t want the medals.”

Story continues below advertisement

“I want you to tell me why you are not going to issue that medal. And that’s what we’d like to hear,” said the Legion’s Clark on Tuesday. “If you’re going to issue the medal – great. If you’re not, tell us why.”

On his way into the House of Commons Wednesday, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said the matter was still under consideration.

“We’re looking at the different options at this moment to see what’s better to celebrate this event so we’ll have more information later,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Rising number of Canadians support dropping monarchy: poll' Rising number of Canadians support dropping monarchy: poll
Rising number of Canadians support dropping monarchy: poll – Mar 1, 2021

The 2012 program cost the federal government about $8 million, a cost which, at the time, drew some criticism from groups like the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and even some Conservative MPs.

The Harper government was generally enthusiastic about celebrating Canada’s ties to the monarchy and to Queen Elizabeth in particular but, a decade later, there may be a feeling that attitudes in the country toward the monarchy may have shifted away from that institution, particularly among Quebecers and Indigenous Peoples.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Majority of Canadians want to ditch the British monarchy. How feasible is it? 

Still, advocates of a Jubilee Medal program argue that its value to Canadians is less Canada’s colonial and imperial past and more about the contributions of special Canadians to the present and future life of the country.

“I know there’s a lot of conversations around the monarchy and their relevance in 2021,” Van Koeverden said. “But if it’s an opportunity to thank front-line workers, health-care workers and volunteers over the last two years that we’ve had, I think it’s worth it.”

Sponsored content