Monumental mistake: Error on peacekeeping memorial remains after one year

More than 12 months since he first noticed the error, Wade Morrow is still trying to get a simple fix to the name of a UN mission engraved into the Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa.

Wade Morrow has been trying to correct name of UN mission for past year

Reconciliation: The Peacekeeping Monument, located in downtown Ottawa, commemorates Canada's role in international peacekeeping, but it misidentifies one of Canada's most formative missions. (Michel Rathwell/Wikimedia (CC-SA-2.0))

It's been more than 12 months since Carleton grad Wade Morrow pointed out the error on the Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa — and the misprint is still untouched.

Engraved into the base of the monument, alongside other historic peacekeeping missions, is the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, or UNAMIR.

There's one problem though: UNAMIR was called the mission "for" Rwanda, not "in" Rwanda.

That minor error set Morrow on a year-long quest through half a dozen federal offices and departments. Today, he is arguably no closer to seeing the error corrected.

"It's this mission where we failed to stop a genocide of 800,000 people, and we can't even get the monument right," said Morrow.

This engraving on the Peacekeepers Monument gives the wrong name for Canada's mission in Rwanda, which spanned three years. (Submitted by Wade Morrow)

A common mistake

The United Nations Mission for Rwanda ran from October 1993 to March 1996. Canadian peacekeepers and others from around the world were deployed with the goal of overseeing the end of a civil war that ravaged the country for more than three years.

Instead, peacekeepers like Canada's Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire pleaded for intervention as more than 800,000 Rwandans — most of them Tutsis and moderate Hutus — were slaughtered by the Rwandan military and Hutu militia over 100 days in the spring of 1994.

That 'for' was all important.- Roméo Dallaire, 

When Dallaire was first picked to spearhead the mission, he was asked to name it, and chose to call it the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda intentionally.

"We were doing it 'for Rwanda,'" he wrote in his 2003 book on Rwanda. "That 'for' was all important."

But for the ease of saying the mission's name aloud, Dallaire settled on the acronym UNAMIR, borrowing an i from the word "mission." That has caused significant confusion since, he wrote.

"For years I have heard UN officials, academics, bureaucrats — experts all — get the name wrong when they pontificate about the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda," he wrote.

'Batted back and forth'

Still, Morrow felt the error should be corrected, out of respect for the intent of the original mission.

"It wasn't simply that the world was in Rwanda to do the job, but that [they] were coming together for Rwanda — that small countries like this can be assisted by the world, and not just be forgotten," he said.

So he drafted a letter to more than a dozen government officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay, and Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault.

"I was kind of batted around a lot," Morrow said.

The various responses gave the political science graduate a window into the labyrinthine arrangements governing national monuments.

After more than a year various government departments have not been able to clarify the process for changing the monument. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Spokespersons from the National Capital Commission and his local MP referred Morrow to the Department of Canadian Heritage, while representatives from Parks Canada referred him to Veterans Affairs.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, meanwhile, first pointed him to Veterans Affairs, before saying he was "inadvertently misdirected" and suggesting he follow up with the Department of National Defence (DND).

Eventually, a helpful guide at the Department of Canadian Heritage helped determine that it was DND who was ultimately responsible as the original proponent for the monument.

"I was eventually able to locate someone there who was able to confirm that both the English and French names of the mission are incorrect as you noted," they wrote to Morrow in September 2020.

But a memorandum that described the process for changing the monument was buried in an archive, then closed by COVID-19. The whole process was put on ice until the archive could reopen.

Process still stalled

Today, more than a year later, the issue has barely budged.

Morrow's helpful guide at the Department of Canadian Heritage has since been replaced, and confusion still reigns as to how the mistake was made.

"We do not have access at this time to the records related to this monument and cannot confirm the context in which the decision to use 'in' rather than 'for' was taken," Canadian Heritage's senior manager of monuments and public art wrote in an email to Morrow last week.

Any changes would likely need to be run past Veterans Affairs, they wrote — even though the department told Morrow a year ago it would be DND who made the call.

DND did not respond by deadline to CBC's requests for comment, saying responsibility for the reply "could fall under multiple organizations."

Morrow hoped National Peacekeepers Day, on Aug. 9, would be a wake-up call to the relevant departments to address the error. But he's not holding his breath.

"I can't say I'll be confident that it will be a significant movement," he said.

Still, he's willing to continue his quest a little longer to prove some mistakes need not be set in stone.

"It seems to me a pretty simple thing," he said, "to change a two-letter word to a three-letter word on a monument."

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