Silver Cross honour needs updating, says Canada's 1st female infantry officer

Each year, the Silver Cross Mother lays a wreath in Ottawa on Remembrance Day on behalf of parents whose children have died serving Canada. Sandra Perron says it's time for that honour to be made more inclusive.

Fathers, grandparents should be eligible for Remembrance Day honour, says Sandra Perron

Sandra Perron, Canada's first female infantry officer and a retired major, said the Silver Cross Mother appointment should be updated to better reflect 21st-century parenting trends. (Hillary Johnstone/CBC)

A tradition dating back a century, the Silver Cross Mother — a symbol of loss and sacrifice for the country — is in need of modernization, one retired major says.

"Our society is evolving, and soldiers have different parents," Sandra Perron told CBC Radio's All In a Day Friday.

"Now we have soldiers that have single dads. We have some that have two fathers. We have others that have two mothers."

Each year, during a solemn ceremony, the Royal Canadian Legion bestows the honour upon a mother who has lost a child in combat. 

The Silver Cross Mother then lays a wreath during the national Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa on behalf of other families who've have had children die while serving the country.

This year, that honour will go to Reine Samson Dawe from South Frontenac Township, north of Kingston, Ont. Her son, Capt. Matthew Dawe, was one of six Canadian soldiers killed in a single day in Afghanistan in 2007.

The tradition dates to 1919.

Retired Lt.-Colonel Peter Dawe and his wife Reine walks away from the podium after speaking about their son, Capt. Matthew Dawe. Reine has been appointed the Silver Cross Mother this year. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

'Beautiful' but needs updating

Perron, the first female infantry officer in Canada, called the tradition "beautiful" and something to be upheld — but she also believes it could be more inclusive. 

"I hear from fathers. I hear from mothers, both serving and civilian," she told All In A Day. "They're saying, 'Yeah. We want equality.'"

The way the Silver Cross Mother is appointed now perpetuates the notion that only women can be child-rearers, Perron said, and that it's their duty to do so. 

Perron's father served in the military. She said if something had happened to her during her tours, it's unfair to believe he wouldn't have felt that loss every bit as much as her mother. 

"It hurts both men and women, I think," she said. 

Sandra Perron, seen here early in her career, says restricting the Silver Cross Mother honour perpetuates the notion that only women can be child-rearers. (Contributed by Cormorant Books Inc.)

More than just parents

While some might be resistant to change, Perron said it wouldn't be the first time Canada's armed forces modified its practices to be gender neutral. 

"When I was military, we used to have a 'W' beside our names because we were women," she said. "They eliminated that, knowing it was discriminatory."

She said the role could even be bestowed upon grandparents or other guardians with equally strong bonds to those they've raised.

Perron has sent letters to the Royal Canadian Legion, which the Silver Cross appointment is under the purview of, as well as the ministers of national defence and veterans affairs. 

She said she hasn't heard anything back, at least not directly, from anyone. She said she did discuss the matter with the president of the Royal Canadian Legion — and was told that the tradition was as important as the two minutes of silence and wouldn't change.

"I'm not saying get rid of it," Perron said. "I'm just saying, make it more inclusive."

With files from All In a Day


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