The issue: Languishing Legions
We say: Canada needs to step up
Last week a federal government spokesperson appeared to leave the door open in terms of branches of the Royal Canadian Legion being eligible for some form of Covid-19 relief.
Before the pandemic the Legion was one of the best or the only places (and probably the most affordable) to grab a beer and socialize in many of the five NWT communities that host a branch.
Like conventional hospitality businesses dependent on a steady revenue stream to keep the boat afloat, branches across the country are staring down a crisis. According to national reports, 157 of Canada’s 1,381 Legion halls are facing closure. One of them is in the NWT, the president of the Alberta command wouldn’t say which one.
Unlike conventional bars and clubs, however, the Legion is an organization that provides a range of support to Canadian veterans, including former RCMP officers, some of whom could now be described as being part of our most vulnerable population, in each community it serves. But unless you’ve accessed these services, odds are you’re not aware of them. The most visible example is probably the Poppy Fund, which as the name entails is supported by sales of pin-on “poppies” in advance of Remembrance Day and donations. That money – more than $16 million from 19.8 million poppies in 2017 – is held in trust by the branch that collected it and used to support veterans and their families.
Their work also includes helping veterans deal with the Veterans Affairs ministry, funding for training and education, accessibility modifications, support for cadet units and more.
No matter which branch in the NWT is most at risk, the numbers show that if one of them does close, at least 10 per cent or possibly more than a third of the 1,107 Legion members North of 60 would be orphaned.
In Yellowknife, where the Legion also adds to the proud military presence of Joint Task Force North, a shuttered branch would leave a noticeable gap and add to the urban blight already well rooted closer to Range Street and the downtown core.
It’s a dark tunnel to stare down for an organization that spends so much time, energy and yes, cash to provide a light to some of those among us who need it most. The response of the ministerial spokesperson that Legions “may” be eligible for the Emergency Community Support Fund above is underwhelming to say the least.
None of the veterans the Legion serves told their nation they “may” report for duty. The plight of the organization may not be the hottest political potato on the national scene, but if the decision-makers in Ottawa can’t see any of the good reasons to pay Legionnaires a little more respect, pandemic or no, they “may” find themselves sitting on the opposite side of the House of Commons sooner than they think.