Windsor

Stolen Canadian flag leaves mother of soldier 'heartbroken'

A Canadian flag was removed from a woman's home as a kind gesture — but it caused devastation.

What was meant as a kind gesture became another person's nightmare

Canada Day festivities are happening in communities big and small around New Brunswick. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

When Debbie Ross went for a reprieve to her trailer at Willowood RV Resort in Amherstburg, Ont., she noticed her tattered Canadian flag was gone. In its place, a new one, along with a note left on her picnic table.

Ross was devastated when she read it.

The note was signed by a mother of a soldier who said she'd replaced the flag because it wasn't in good condition. But Ross is also a mother of a soldier, and her son, who gave her the flag, is no longer alive.

"It was a flag that he had, and he carried around with him in his bag and he gave it to me," she said. "I'm just in a very dark spot."

Ross is the primary caregiver to a loved one struggling with cancer. The trailer is where she goes to clear her mind and to take care of herself. This was the first time she made it to the campground this year. While she knew the flag was getting ragged, she hadn't had time to replace it.

The trailer is where she goes to clear her mind and to take care of herself. This was the first time she made it to the campground this year. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"I'm just broken-hearted over the whole situation, it was a very hurtful thing that she did," said Ross. "A woman leaves me a note about how my flag was tattered and how I hadn't taken care of it."

The note said the flag was disposed of in an authorized manner. According to Canada's Department of Heritage, that means it was likely burned. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Vince Deschamps is Ross's neighbour and life-long friend. He said people can't assume they know what's going on in other people's lives and determine what is best for them.

"That person felt obligated to take the flag down and replace it, not knowing the circumstances of why the tattered flag was up there in the first place," said Deschamps.

"The person probably meant well, but probably should have left the flag, left the note and said, 'In respect of our serving military and veterans when you have time, here's a flag to replace your flag. Have a great day and be proud to be Canadian.'

"We felt violated and just wished it was done more respectfully."

Ross also wishes she had an opportunity to share her story with the woman who removed the flag, and says she would have appreciated keeping her flag.

Vince Deschamps is a neighbour and life-long friend of Debbie Ross. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"She could have came to me, and I'd say I'll tell you a little story, meanwhile I'll take that down, and I'll frame it, I'll do whatever I have to do with that, if it upsets you, I'll put up a new fresh flag, I wouldn't have had a problem with that. It was just taking it upon herself that upset me."

The note said the flag was disposed of in an authorized manner. According to Canada's Department of Heritage, that means it was likely burned.

A veteran's take

A Canadian flag is just a piece of material, but once emotion is attached it, that gets people riled up, says Mike Akpata who is a Canadian veteran and a former sergeant major with the Windsor Police Service.

"On the surface, there's nothing that gets me more upset than to see a tattered Canadian flag flying," he said. "But the people who lost the flag, I feel for them."

Akpata believes the veteran's mom who replaced the torn flag was trying to do the right thing, but the emotional connection people have to the flag is irreplaceable.

LaSalle's Mike Akpata served in the Afghanistan war. (Arms Bumanlag/CBC)

It's an attachment Akpata knows first-hand. For him, it's his flag that flew during his time in Afghanistan.

"That pink sun-bleached flag means a ton to me. It is properly folded. It is properly put away in a box," said Akpata. "It will never fly again. It will never be disposed of, however. A flag is just a piece of cloth until you add the emotional component to it."

The flag will be passed down to his children once he passes on.

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