Navy and air force to be royal once again

A royal name change for Canada's navy and air force will be announced Tuesday, and the army is also set to be renamed.
The maritime and air command forces of Canada's military will revert to their old names of Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force while the land command will be renamed the Canadian Army. The changes are set to be announced Tuesday. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A royal name change for Canada's navy and air force will be announced Tuesday, and the army will also be renamed, in a move that taps Canada's military heritage.

The Maritime Command and Air Command will again be known as the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force, while the Land Force Command will be renamed the Canadian Army.

The name changes will be officially announced Tuesday by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, and events marking the transition are scheduled to take place simultaneously across the country.

According to a Canadian Forces document obtained by CBC News on Monday, the move restores the historic names of the three branches of the Forces, and the initiative is being billed as "an important and recognizable part of Canada's military heritage."

"These were the services that fought and emerged victorious from the Second World War and Korea and contributed to the defence of Europe and North America from the early days of the Cold War. These were also the services that paved the way in terms of international peacekeeping missions," says the note, which appears to have been sent to Canadian Forces members.

The branches were renamed in 1968 when they were unified under one central command named the Canadian Armed Forces. That unified command is expected to remain in place when the old names are restored.

The naming of the units has raised some debate in recent years. A group of veterans has been pushing the federal government to go back to the pre-1968 designations for the navy and air force and launched a petition calling on it to "restore the royal honour."

Alan Williams, a former assistant deputy minister for the Department of National Defence, said the term "royal" could conjure up some positive history.

He also noted that the name changes could help with clarity when communicating outside the military.

"When people hear a title, they should know immediately, or virtually immediately, what that means," he said, noting that Canadian Army is easier to understand than Land Force Command.

Philippe Lagassé, an assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said the cost of the change would likely be minimal.

"It's changing the name of the branches," he said, noting that it is largely a symbolic shift that doesn't change any command or organizational structures.

"The current reversion to the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy merely re-establishes a nominal link between the military and the Crown that has always existed in law," he said via email.

The NDP's defence critic Jack Harris, however, said the move is "unnecessary" and "divisive." He told CBC News in an interview Monday that Canadians have pride in their military institutions because they are Canadian, not because of their attachment to the monarchy.

Tom Freda, co-founder and director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, called the name changes "a political move to get them [the government] points with the political base that possibly may be more traditionalist.

"This is a regressive move," he added, calling for a full accounting of the costs associated with the move.