Victoria-area veterans are now looking to go elsewhere after city council voted to ask the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada to pay the cost of staging “military events” in Victoria.
One crew of vets, John Appler and his shipmates from the Royal Canadian Navy, are setting sail for a different port.
“We’ll find another community that respects their veterans,”said Appler in an interview with The Province. “We’re boycotting Victoria. And I doubt we’ll be the only veterans group that does.”
Appler, who took park of the Canadian deployment of military personnel during Vietnam in the 1970s, spent eight years in the navy. The navy’s mission at the time was “to protect Canadian peacekeepers overseeing the implementation of the Paris Peace Accords at the end of the Vietnam War.”
“We were ready to sail into Saigon at a moment’s notice to evacuate our peacekeepers if there was trouble,” said Appler, a former weapons technician.
Out of his eight years of service, Appler spent three months in the South Pacific. Appler still hangs on to a piece of the hull of the HMCS Terra Nova which he was a crew member of years ago. The piece was presented to all former crew members after the ship was decommissioned in 1997 and sold for scraps in 2009.
Appler was ready to arrange an upcoming reunion of his shipmates in Victoria when the city’s council voted to ask Veterans Affairs Canada to pay for “military events” in the city, including Remembrance Day.
After enjoying a fully catered lunch on taxpayer dime, Coun. Ben Isitt declared he was “standing up for taxpayers” when he moved the motion to seek the money, a motion proposed on D-Day, of all days.
Isitt, a self-described “anti-militarist,” has also criticized the city’s bid for the Invictus Games for wounded solders. He has also criticized bids for appearances by the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, commonly referred to as the “Snowbirds,” the Canadian Air Force’s aerobatic flying team.
These anti-military moves are what left a bitter taste in Applers mouth.
“It was disrespectful and insulting,” he said. “Veterans have paid more than enough already, including those who laid down their lives. This city council seems to have forgotten that. We were deeply offended, especially when they did it on a day that has so much significance to Canadians.”
Appler, who keeps in touch with former shipmates via Facebook, said the reaction to Isitt’s request, as well as the city’s money demand was instant.
“People were really upset about it,” he said. “It didn’t take long for us to decide on a boycott and I think Victoria should brace for more backlash.”
Appler, who worked for IBM after his time in the navy, said he has heard from several other veterans groups who are also angry about Victoria’s request.
“I sent an email to the city and told them, ‘Be prepared for a veterans’ boycott.’ ”
Appler says a boycott is no empty gesture, either. A boycott, Appler says, would cost the city money in lost tax revenue and business.
“We’ve had good attendance at our reunions over the years,” he said. “We stay in the hotels, eat at the restaurants, drink in the bars. That’s revenue to the city. If they’re so worried about the tiny amount of money they spend on Remembrance Day, maybe they’ll be just as worried about losing revenue from a bunch of veterans.”
According to the Province, the cost of a Remembrance Day service at the cenotpah on the front lawn of the B.C. legistlature is $15,200. That figure tallies up to 0.006 per cent of the city’s $245-million annual budget.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot of money to get so worked up about,” Appler said
“We’re hoping for 50 people for the 50th anniversary,” he said. “Hopefully enough of us survive. We’re all getting older.” A fathering which the group now plans to hold not in Victoria, but in another city.
Whenever the shipmates meet together, they always make a visit to the graves of fallen comrades. That includes Cpl. Ned Memnook, who died of a viral pneumonia inflection on the Vietnam mission in a Singapore hospital.
“That really shook us up and still does,” Appler said. “It’s another reason the decision by Victoria city council hurt us so much.”
Appler is hoping the city of Victoria rescinds their motion asking veterans to pay for Remembrance Day. They also hope for an apology to vets, their families and serving members of the Canadian military.