British Columbia

'Stolen valour': Man suspected of faking military service under investigation by RCMP

Surrey RCMP are investigating an allegation of "stolen valour" involving a man who has appeared in newspaper articles with a chest full of medals claiming to be a homeless veteran.

Kenneth James French says he is a veteran although search warrant claims military has no evidence of service

Kenneth James French is pictured in his room in Surrey. He told CBC News that he is a veteran and referred questions about an RCMP investigation into allegations of stolen valour to his lawyer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

RCMP in Surrey, B.C., are investigating an allegation of "stolen valour" involving a man who has appeared in newspaper articles with a chest full of medals claiming to be a homeless veteran. 

According to a search warrant obtained by CBC News, Kenneth James French has appeared at Royal Canadian Legion functions, accepted food vouchers from the Poppy Fund and applied for subsidized housing intended for veterans.

But searches of Canadian Forces pay systems and service records allegedly found no trace of anyone with the 49-year-old's name or birth date.

And two of his medals are allegedly at odds with the dates in which French has claimed in media interviews to have served.

RCMP investigator Const. Jordan Irvine applied for the search warrant to seize the medals and a suit jacket "adorned with the crest of the Royal Canadian Legion" earlier this month.

"I have reasonable grounds to believe that he has used these medals to advance a fraudulent story that he is a Canadian Forces Veteran for the purpose of obtaining financial assistance from organizations that provide financial support or support that has a financial cost to it," Irvine wrote in his application.

"I believe this resulted in French obtaining money from the Royal Canadian Legion on two separate occasions, fraudulently, and that he has continued to misrepresent himself as a veteran in order to obtain subsidized housing."

'I am a veteran'

A spokesperson for Surrey RCMP confirmed that the search warrant, filed in Surrey provincial court on Oct. 3, is part of an ongoing investigation.

French is not facing any charges.

According to a search warrant, a Surrey RCMP officer began investigating allegations of stolen valour by Kenneth James French after reading an article that included this picture of James French with service medals. (bclocalnews.com)

CBC News spoke to French about the allegations in the converted garage that serves as his basement suite apartment in the Fleetwood area of Surrey.

He claimed he was a veteran.

"I am, and that's all going to come out in the wash, but right now I have no comment," French said.

He referred the matter to his lawyer.

"I am a veteran, thank you very much," French said after taking a reporter's card.

"You did serve in the Canadian military?" he was asked. 

"Yes, I did."

'Conflicting information'

According to the search warrant, French is being investigated for "unlawful use of military uniforms or certificates," a violation of Section 419 of the Criminal Code of Canada — better known in military circles as "stolen valour."

The investigation began after Irvine read a news article in which French claimed to have served from 1988 to 1999.

"In a picture included in the article, it showed French wearing two distinct medals: a General Campaign Star and a Sacrifice Medal," Irvine wrote in the warrant application.

"Neither medal had ever been given out to anyone with service in 1999 or prior. As a result of this conflicting information in the article, I started an investigation."

The General Campaign Star, left, is for service inside a specific theatre of operations in the presence of an armed enemy for 30 consecutive days commencing on January 1, 2003. The Sacrifice Medal is for death or injury as a direct result of hostile action on or after October 7, 2001. (Veterans Affairs Canada)

According to the warrant, the Royal Canadian Legion received complaints from legion members about the same article. Irvine said he spoke with the author of the piece and another article that quoted French saying he had 14 years service.

Irvine also said he received an email from Canadian Forces Military Police Sgt. Michael Dorey, who said he checked all Canadian Forces records for French with his date of birth and any variations of his name.

"Sgt. Dorey was of the opinion that no veteran would have service and not be located by both a service records check and pay records check," Irvine wrote.

A service officer with the Cloverdale branch of the legion told police French allegedly received $250 in food vouchers as a donation from the legion's Poppy Fund.

Another service officer with the now-defunct Langley legion claimed she provided French with $30 for a hot plate and $50 in grocery vouchers, and that he bought "a legion hat and tie with the legion logo and white gloves so he could sit with all the other veterans at Remembrance Day ceremonies."

According to the court document, French was allegedly applying to live in a home that provides rooms for veterans at a reduced rate subsidized by the government. 

'Sacred ground for veterans'

The issue of stolen valour is crucial for the Royal Canadian Legion because the organization can't access individual service records. As a result, they rely on police to investigate allegations.

The legion would not comment on the B.C. case directly, but referred CBC News instead to a video statement on the legion website in which dominion president Thomas Irvine vowed to "shine a light" on the problem. 

"It's unacceptable," Irvine says in the video. "Not only does this degrade the honour and sacrifice of those rightly wearing a military uniform, it's a criminal offence."

In a statement, the Department of National Defence said falsely impersonating a Canadian Armed Forces member is a "serious issue that does a disservice to the proud women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces."

Stolen Valour Canada, a group dedicated to exposing "posers and embellishers," advocates for the prosecution of offences under Section 419 of the Criminal Code.

"The people that steal valour denigrate the service of these people, the sacrifice of these people," said Gord Swaitkewich, a former soldier and a spokesperson for the group.

"It's sacred ground for veterans."

Swaitkewich said an increasing number of cases have been exposed in recent years through the internet and the close-knit community of veterans.

"We have tons of veterans out there that are struggling, fighting, having to fight tooth and nail to get their due from the government," he said. 

"And yet these people come along, they waltz along, they're getting the free drinks, they're getting the free meals, they're getting the recognition."

None of the allegations against French have been tested in court.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.