The COVID-19 pandemic has brought bad news for many people, businesses and organizations and the latest appears to be the Royal Canadian Legion halls across the country, according to CTV News.
The majority of legion halls are not eligible to take part in the various federal aid programs which means they may have to shut down hundreds of their facilities.
The reason that legions are ineligible for the new funding programs is that they are not directly linked to the fight against COVID-19 despite the fact that thousands of businesses currently have access to billions in federal aid so that they may survive the pandemic.
“We're a 95-year-old organization. And in that 95 years, we have prided ourselves on being self-sufficient, we have not reached out for funding. But these are unprecedented times,” said Steven Clark, National Executive Director.
Legions aren't just a place for veterans to meet, many see their local legion as the heart of their community. People can rent them out for their local events, Remembrance Day celebrations and community fundraisers are held there. With the lockdown restrictions still in place however people cannot rent out the legions, which is where much of the money comes from to keep them open.
There are 1,381 Royal Canadian Legions across the country and currently 357 are facing financial hardship while it's estimated that 124 of them will likely close permanently.
On two separate occasions, the Royal Canadian Legion wrote letter to Prime Minister Trudeau's office to relay their current situation involving their inability to receive any temporary federal aid however they say his office has yet to respond. The Prime Minister's office argues that claim, saying they did reply to one of the letters.
Jessica Eritou, a spokesperson for the Office of the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development suggested that the legion "may" qualify for the Emergency Community Support Fund however that program is geared toward helping community organizations adapt their programming in the era of the pandemic whereas the majority of the problems faced by legions are their operational costs, which would not be covered under that funding.
“We've had, of our 1,381 branches 167 have applied for federal assistance programs, but unfortunately only 55 have received that funding so it's still a very small percentage,” said Clark.
The Royal Canadian Legions are now asking the federal government to expand their parameters regarding funding so they may potentially access other funding that could apply to their rent and utilities.
Certain legion branches have employees on their payroll which would make them eligible for some assistance but the vast majority are operated on a volunteer basis so they are not.
Emergency funding has been sent out to various legions from their national headquarters and many have launched crowdfunding initiatives but the money is going out as quickly as it's coming in and the money earned from then annual National Poppy Campaign cannot be used to cover operational costs.
Prior to the pandemic legions had already been struggling to garner new membership but the extra financial strains brought on by COVID-19 may be their coup de gras.
“It’s extremely dire. We were good for the short haul, but as this keeps going, and we don’t know really where the light at the tunnel is going to be, we’re just not going to be able to survive,” said Jerry Lava, President of the Kenora Legion.
“We’re depleting our savings now to make sure we can maintain our expenses. We’ve mothballed pretty well everything in the branch we could,” he added.
John Embury, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada wrote a statement to CTV News regarding his department's response to the pandemic, which he said “is ongoing, and we will continue to explore ways to ensure that we’re providing Canadians and our community partners with the support they need.
"Branches like this are the first point of contact for veterans and offer them crucial services and support, and that’s why so many are worried about what the future holds.
“I come to the legion and I meet old friends, and the comradery. It’s a place where you come and tell your story,” said Joel VanSnick, who is the Royal Canadian Legion’s district commander for the Ottawa-area which includes 62 branches.
“Once our legions are shut down, they’re gone... Where are veterans going to go to meet?” said Embury.