Registration required for Vimy Ridge 100th anniversary ceremony in France

Veterans Affairs Canada says security concerns in France have led to a mandatory registration requirement for people who want to attend the Battle of Vimy Ridge centenary ceremony.

Deadline is Feb. 28 to register for April commemoration of First World War battle

The Battle of Vimy ridge began in the early morning hours on April 9, 1917. People hoping to attend the upcoming 100th anniversary celebrations in northern France will need to register on a government site because of security concerns. (Michel Spingler/Associated Press)

Veterans Affairs Canada says security concerns in France have led to a mandatory registration requirement for people who want to attend the Vimy centenary ceremony.

People who want to attend the ceremonies at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in northern France will have to register with their full name, date of birth, place of birth, nationality and email address on the Veterans Affairs Canada website.

The deadline for registration is Feb. 28.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge began on April 9, 1917, and lasted four days. Canadian soldiers took the ridge but the effort came with significant losses — 3,600 Canadian soldiers died and 7,000 were wounded. 

Peter Mills, special adviser for the 2017 Events Commemorative Task Force, says security concerns in France prompted the measure.

"There's a security threat level in France that has been assessed that requires significant planning around any major public event," Mills said in an interview with CBC News.

France has been under a state of emergency since the November 2015 attacks Paris. It was extended to cover the Euro Cup soccer tournament last year, again after an attack in Nice, and again into 2017 to cover the upcoming national elections.

Registration was also required for the commemoration of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel in France and a joint British-French event marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, which happened last year. 

Mills said the ceremony will honour the significance of Canada's role in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the First World War more broadly — as well as the role the battle played in shaping Canada's identity.

"There will also be a focus on thinking about the loss and cost for those who stayed behind on the homefront and the effect of a war who drew people from coast to coast to coast overseas."

Planning and precaution

Veterans Affairs is expecting 25,000 people to attend the event, which will include performances, delegations from the Canadian and French governments and other VIPs.

There is no cap on attendance for the ceremony, but registration is being used to co-ordinate logistics, including transportation to the site on April 9.

"If someone doesn't register, unfortunately, they aren't going to be able to attend," Mill said.

The Vimy monument lists the names of Canadian soldiers who died in France and whose remains were never found. (Racheal McCaig Photography)

"They'll receive an e-ticket and they'll need to bring their ticket with them when they come to the point of arrivals and take their transport onto the site."

Mills said the French government will be controlling access to the site and attendees will be screened in advance.

"Canadians are vetted under a Canadian process and French nationals are vetted under a French process," he said.

Mills said registration opened this week and response has been quick, with thousands of people visiting the site.

"Unfortunately, we don't have any sort of means to identify all of those would have had ancestors [who fought at Vimy], but we are getting out proactively to reach out to people," Mills said.

Restrictions around site

Access to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial will be restricted from April 1 to April 10, 2017, for set up and takedown related to the centennial events.

The site will be closed to the general public from April 6 to 9. 

Mills said Canadian who can't make the trip to France can attend several local Vimy commemoration ceremonies across the country and a national event in Ottawa.

He said similar registration will likely be required for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe and is under consideration for the centenary ceremony for the Battle of Paeschendaele, in Belgium, also taking place this year.