The Royal Canadian Legion in Kenora, Ont., accepted the resignation of its chaplain on Monday, after some members and the local Conservative MP complained her remarks about Veterans Affairs and Afghanistan War veterans at a Remembrance Day service were too political.
During the Nov. 11 legion service, Rev. Sandra Tankard spoke out about concerns that veterans who fought in Afghanistan are not getting proper care, and then talked about cuts to Veterans Affairs.
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"Canadians have become lulled into thinking that our Afghan vets have received similar support to that received by vets in earlier conflicts, and that is not the case," Tankard said in an email to CBC News. "Further, it is the 'job' of the chaplain to stand with the suffering. PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is a sort of life-long sacrifice."
Her comments were "deemed to be 'inappropriately political'," Tankard added.
'Wrong place, wrong time'
But the president of the legion said it was Tankard's words about how she would vote that members felt were poorly chosen, and poorly timed.
"She felt that it was important to say that we have to continue supporting our veterans, which the legion totally concurs with, but the members' concerns were: wrong place, wrong time," said Jerry Lava.
After the Remembrance Day service, Tankard said local Conservative MP Greg Rickford approached her directly and expressed his "displeasure" about her remarks.
Rickford declined CBC's request for a comment.
Tankard said she wrote a letter of apology to Rickford and offered her resignation as chaplain after she was told some legion members felt she had "embarrassed the legion."
Lava said once Tankard offered her resignation, protocols needed to be followed and legion members voted largely in favour of accepting it at a meeting Monday night.
"First, I wish it didn't happen," Lava said. "Second, it seems to have been blown out of proportion. If she would have said it the next day, or would have said it at our meeting last night, I don't believe there would have been any offence taken to it because it's something that is debatable."
But the president of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy group supports Tankard speaking out, especially on November 11.
'Rally behind the wounded'
"Usually there is a mandated level of decorum that is provided during Remembrance Day," Michael Blais said. "But I certainly sympathize with [Tankard] and understand her frustration and frankly feel that it is appropriate that she did speak out.
"People should rally behind the wounded not against those who are the messengers of the wounded's plight."
Tankard said she was "disappointed" her resignation had been accepted by the legion. But she added that local clergy members are offering support and happy that she'll have more time for her other work in the community, including hospital and prison visits.
When asked whether there is a lesson for others in her Remembrance Day experience, Tankard said "perhaps it is that the freedoms we have to speak are not necessarily as vibrant as they once were."
Rev. Sandra Tankard provided CBC News with these notes from her Remembrance Day service:
REMEMBRANCE DAY: Nov. 11, 2014
Each one of us, and many others across the country and around the world, are wearing the Poppy of Remembrance today.
Because of the recent deaths of two Canadian soldiers, Cirillo and Vincent, And because this is the centenary of the beginning of the Great War (which also became known as the First World War), most of us are more attentive to remembrance this year than perhaps we have been in years past.
So what, you might ask, have we forgotten?
Certainly not the SACRIFICE made by those who laid down their lives for King and Country;
Certainly not the COURAGE of our men and women at-arms.
Certainly not the TRAINING and DISCIPLINE that our Canadian Troops have brought to Policing or Peacekeeping in Korea, Cyprus, and other hotspots where they have been called as part of United Nations and NATO efforts.
And most recently we have not forgotten to honour those who died in the Afghanistan conflict, who were remembered as their bodies travelled along Hwy 401 from CFB Trenton to Toronto – the “Highway of Heroes”.
NO, we have not forgotten to honour the individuals who paid the ultimate price!
But we HAVE largely forgotten to honour that which they have won for us:
Our “rights” to freedom of religion: to choose not only HOW we worship Our Higher Power (and what we choose to name that Power), or, even if we choose NOT!
Our “rights” to freedom of assembly: that we might gather together to pursue personal, professional, business, or community actions for the good of society.
Our “rights” to vote: to choose freely our representatives in local councils, in Provincial and Federal parliaments.
Our “rights” to freedom of speech: To be heard by our peers and by our leaders, even if we do not agree with them, perhaps especially if we don’t!
Canada’s continued participation in the quest for Peace-and-Justice during the past 70 years has largely fallen upon the shoulders of the members of our Armed Forces.
Significantly VOLUNTEER, not conscripted!
The nature of these conflicts has changed, and those men and women, too, have paid a price, not only in the deaths of their comrades, in the field, but also in wounds to body, mind and spirit.
Physical wounds are visible, and so can be treated. Canada’s health system has provided excellent physiotherapy, and prosthetics to injured veterans.
Wounds to mind and spirit are much harder to see and much more difficult to remedy.
I for one, could not finish reading Romeo Dallaire’s memoir Shake hands with the Devil, and even today as a respected member of our Senate, he continues to struggle with PTSD.
For too many others, the battle with PTSD has ended only with suicide.
James Dugan noted on Sunday in his Sermon that suicides of Afghanistan vets now exceed the number of battle fatalities.
Our Government has continued to cut funding to the Ministry of Veteran’s Affairs, including removing Service Offices.
Like many other members of the Royal Canadian Legion, I claim my right to dissent against this action, both with my voice and a letter to my MP and with the promise of my vote to the party that would restore that funding to the people and programs it has supported!
I do so, immeasurably thankful to those who have served to keep Canada free, and Canadians safe: the men and women of our Army, Navy and Airforce, as well as our Coast Guard, and Police and Fire Departments, indeed, all those whose work for us requires duty and discipline.
I invite you to add thanksgiving to your solemn REMEMBRANCE this day.
Let us leave this time and place today, knowing again WHY we honour these men and women.