Alleged phoney veteran charged after Afghan vet raises questions
Kenneth James French told CBC he is a veteran, but military checks allegedly say otherwise
RCMP Const. Jordan Irvine was on his honeymoon last June when he noticed something amiss with an online news article about a so-called veteran.
A former soldier himself, Irvine knows his way around a military medal — the Surrey Mountie had several pinned to his chest when Canada's Governor General gave him an award for meritorious service in 2016.
But the medals Irvine saw James French wearing in a picture of him collecting for the poppy fund last year didn't quite match the dates given in the article for his military service.
Irvine, an Afghanistan veteran, made a mental note of it and went back to the vacation with his new spouse. But he began an investigation on his return to work.
On Wednesday, nearly five months later, that investigation resulted in a so-called "stolen valour" charge against French for allegedly faking military service to apply for a housing subsidy meant for veterans.
The 49-year-old is facing one count of unlawful use of military mark and another count of false pretence in relation to an application he allegedly submitted to the Amos Gordon Ferguson Memorial Society.
Surrey RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Elenore Sturko said the detachment is proud of Irvine.
"Even though he was on his honeymoon, he still followed up with the file, because it was very important to him to make sure that he was doing the right thing to follow through and ensure that he was doing an investigation into these medals, because obviously he has a personal connection," said Sturko.
"He cares about Surrey and he cares about making sure that he's looking after the community, and he felt that by noticing the irregularity that he saw, he wanted to follow through and make sure that he was doing an investigation."
French insisted he was a veteran
The CBC first reported on the investigation into French last week, before charges had been submitted to the Crown.
At that time, French insisted he was a veteran and referred a reporter to his lawyer, saying the truth would "come out in the wash."
Irvine, who was a sergeant in the army, was recognized by the Governor General as co-founder of Send Up the Count, a mental health initiative that uses social media to reach out to serving and retired military members who may be in danger of harming themselves.
He wasn't the only one to take notice of French's appearance in the article.
Stolen Valour Canada, an organization dedicated to outing civilians posing as veterans, also notified the RCMP after a number of the group's members complained.
French was seen wearing both a General Campaign Star and a Sacrifice medal. But neither has ever been awarded to anyone with service in 1999.
A military database search also allegedly failed to find records of anyone with French's name or birth date ever having served in the Canadian Forces.
'Representing himself' as a veteran
According to the warrant, French allegedly obtained $250 of veteran assistance money from the Cloverdale Legion and about $80 from the now-defunct Langley Legion "on the basis that he was a veteran in need."
"During my interviews of several people, I learned that French had been attending veterans functions, wearing military medals and representing himself as a Canadian Forces veteran," Irvine wrote.
"He applied for housing at Amos Gordon Ferguson Memorial Society and requested subsidization as a veteran. The Legion provides financial assistance to the society for the purpose of taking care of veterans that stay there. The subsidized rent is paid for by the government."
French currently lives in a converted basement garage that is one of many suites crammed into a two-storey house on a busy street in the Fleetwood area of Surrey.
Last month, Irvine seized five medals from French's home, along with a grey Calvin Klein jacket adorned with the crest of the Royal Canadian Legion.
'These vile acts should be punished'
The charge under Section 419 of the Criminal Code of Canada carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail or a fine of $5,000 or both.
The offence is referred to as "stolen valour" in military circles because of attempts to cash in on the prestige and sacrifice of military service.
The issue is of particular importance to the Royal Canadian Legion, which does not have the ability to access individual records of people who claim to be veterans.
"The period around Remembrance Day can be an emotional time for veterans while they reflect upon their service and sacrifices made by our wounded and fallen," Stolen Valour Canada said in a statement to the CBC.
"Hopefully, this will serve as a warning to those who would use hard-earned medals and insignia as props in their fraudulent activities."
None of the allegations have been proven in court. No date has been set for a first appearance.