Evidence of meeting #20 for Veterans Affairs in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was medal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Mark O'Neill  Director General, Canadian War Museum
Ronald Griffis  National President, Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping
Jim Whitham  Acting Manager, Collections, Canadian War Museum

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

I will share my time with Mr. Vincent.

Mr. Schellenberger, thank you for coming and presenting your bill to us. We support it. I think our military past is an integral part of our history and should be preserved. That is what you are trying to do with your bill.

I pointed out, as you no doubt noticed, a loophole in the bill, in clause 2. It talks about cultural property that can be transferred to near relatives. It defines “near relatives” as follows:

“near relative”, in respect of the owner of an insignia, means the father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, child, grandchild, brother or sister of the owner.

The definition does not include spouses, and that concerns me. That is a shortcoming. When we do the clause-by-clause study of the bill, I am going to introduce an amendment to include spouses in the definition. I believe they should indeed be included.

I would like to hear your comments on that.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I have no problem with that. I have talked to the ministry people about that. I welcome some minor changes to the bill. If a spouse has to be defined, I don't see it changing the bill at all, so I would welcome that change.

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

From what I understand, it was not intentional, just an oversight.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I think there is an assumption that the spouse is next of kin. If we were in a divorce court, I'm quite sure it wouldn't have to be defined much more than that. If you feel it should be in there, I think there's some room for that.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Go ahead, Mr. Vincent.

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Thank you.

Good morning, Mr. Schellenberger. I have two questions for you.

In your remarks, you said that individuals who had received medals were not necessarily given recognition and that their medals ended up in the back room of a museum. But if those individuals gave those medals to a museum, if they were put on display, if the public could see them and understand what these individuals had done to deserve them and see photos of the people in question, do you not think that would be a good incentive? If the medals are kept in some storage area, no one will know who the individuals are who had earned them. Perhaps the fact that they could be a part of the museum, where the medals they had earned in combat, as well as their name and photo, were on display, would encourage them to sell or give their medals to a museum.

Furthermore, I want to know how you plan to make people aware of this bill and the fact that these medals should be kept in museums. Of course, you can go through the Royal Canadian Legion to get the word out to people that, beginning today, there is a bill and they must sell or transfer their medals to the War Museum or other appropriate organization, but you already know that many veterans are not part of the legion, nor do they want to be. Will anything be done? Placing an ad in the newspaper will not be enough. You really have to get the word out there to make people aware of the bill. Has anyone thought about how to reach the people in question, in order to obtain their medals?

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

You have a couple of different questions there.

As for getting the word out, again, as I said, I am an associate Legion member. There is the Legion Magazine. The army and navy people have a magazine. These types of magazines do go to the people who hold those medals; they usually subscribe to them. There could be an advertisement in them. How we get the word out, I think, is to let all of our museums know and to do a publication when this bill is passed.

You said that you didn't want it tucked in the back room of a museum. Well, museums have a tendency not to have everything on display all the time. They sometimes move displays. Wouldn't it be great if, around November 1 every year, the museums might have a real Remembrance Day for a couple of weeks in their museums? They could bring out these medals for that week or two weeks in the year. I don't know, as I'm not a museum coordinator, but I think some of those things can happen.

As for some of the very important medals.... I would say that all medals are important, but some of the special medals that have come out would probably end up in the War Museum or somewhere like that and would be on permanent display.

But here's the big thing. I'll use a little “for instance” that happened just recently, and it's not about medals, but about a hockey jersey that Paul Henderson wore in 1972. I watched that game and saw him score that goal. Inevitably, the jersey ended up in the United States. Right now, the person who purchased that jersey from a Canadian is going to make a lot of money, because we do want that jersey back here in Canada. It's not up to the museums, necessarily, to do that, but probably someone will buy it for the hockey museum or that type of thing.

So on this, all I'm trying to do here is to give the same respect, the same honour, to our modern medals that we do for the medals that are already there through the act that is already there.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Thank you, Mr. Schellenberger and Monsieur Vincent.

Now we'll go to Mr. Stoffer.

Mr. Schellenberger, this is a committee that works very well together, so I think it will be recognized that when you're talking about more important medals, they were on a degree of the dimension of sacrifice.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

That's correct.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Mr. Stoffer.

June 17th, 2010 / 11:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Gary, thank you very much for bringing this issue forward. I thank you and the people around you for the work you've done on this project.

As you're aware, I've had a bill in the House of Commons for several years now, Bill C-208, which goes further than your particular legislation. I just want to start off by saying that you're right: all medals are important. And the reason the government gives people medals, especially our heroes of the country, is because of duty, valour, honour, sacrifice, and service.

But most importantly, the men and women of the service, and those of the police forces, wear their medals. We have 118,000 people who no longer have the chance to wear their medals--or they never got a chance to wear them, as in the case of our Afghan heroes.

When the government gives these medals to these men and women, these heroes, they're not giving them currency. That's not a hundred dollars they have hanging from their chests. So the problem I have with your bill--and I say this with great respect--is that you have put fair market value in your legislation. You've even put sellers in there. This is the problem I have.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've always opposed the selling of medals of any kind, under any circumstances. As you're aware, the Order of Canada, which is one of Canada's highest honours, is not allowed to be sold; it is not allowed to be put on the mercantile system.

I know that I'm probably in a minority here in thinking this way, but I don't believe that any medals, under any circumstance, should be sold. As you know, current personnel who are serving now and who receive medals cannot sell them while they are serving. They can only sell them after they leave the service. You're probably aware of that.

So you're right. In many cases, they're handed off to the children who don't know about them, and they sell them at flea markets, garage sales, or on eBay. You and I have travelled enough and we've seen these. I have worked very closely with Mr. Thompson on this. I don't know what the budget of the War Museum is, but I know the War Museum's budgets aren't unlimited, and I know the government has to make choices. The minute we put a value on medals, I think we diminish the actual meaning of what that medal is. That's my personal opinion.

My first question for you is this: do you think medals should have a fair market value?

I have a second question for you. In Bill C-208, which is, in many ways, reflective of what you're trying to do, would you be at all conducive to a discussion later on between your office and my office of possibly working the two bills together to achieve what you're trying to achieve, which is the cultural significance of the medals and also the point of trying to avoid these falling into the mercantile system?

I have no problem with people giving medals to collectors, museums, churches, or schools. We have two schools in Nova Scotia that have hallways full of medals and shadow boxes and they're beautiful. It's not just museums that can do this.

So my second question leads to this: would you be willing to look at Bill C-208 to see where there are some similarities that we can work together on? Again, I know that I'm probably speaking as a minority, but I just don't believe that medals should have a cash value to them. I just have a problem with that.

Thank you. Maybe you can help me with my problem.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I know you're probably more well versed on this than I am, but my whole thing is that there are medals out there in the field that have value, and those collectors are collecting them. When there's a medal of significance out there that we feel is part of our Canadian heritage and should be here in Canada, and we have to pay exorbitant fees to someone else, it probably was of very little value to the family person who might have moved that medal onto the market. But down the way, we've had to pay, on a couple of Silver Crosses, exorbitant amounts to get them back.

I know from talking to Mr. Thompson on this that he has worked feverishly to bring some of these medals back, to get them back into Canada and off eBay and those types of things. I would hope that through the legislation we have already, the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, there is an incentive there, a tax incentive and various other things, such that these medals would be donated.

Regarding the gentleman who just passed away in the last year or so in Stratford, again, I never realized his position during the Second World War. After he passed away, his family made a personal donation of all his medals to the Stratford Perth Museum.

You're right on when you say that the Museum of Civilization and the War Museum do not have unlimited funds to go out and pay exorbitant prices for these medals. On this whole thing, if we can stop it from happening, my whole intent would be that people would realize the significance and the importance of what those medals really mean and they would donate them to the museums.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Thank you, sir.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Thank you, Mr. Schellenberger.

Now we'll go to Mr. McColeman for seven minutes.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Thank you, Gary, for being here, and for this tremendous effort you're bringing forward. I think it's pretty clear there's consensus that this is something we all want to see happen.

Before I get into the questioning, I want to get down to the value of these medals and the fact that they're on the open market now. I don't know how you'd ever change that.

In my view, you might even create a more difficult situation in a black market where these things could be worth three, four, or five times what their—I hate to say it—market value is bringing. I catch what Mr. Stoffer is saying in terms of the sentiment, but the reality is that we have to do what we can do to make sure we protect these.

In that regard, I'm very familiar with a person you've mentioned in your comments, Mr. Dave Thomson from St. George, Ontario, which is in my riding. He searches eBay and other areas to do what he calls “repatriating” the medals to the families of the soldiers they belong to. He does a lot of research in trying to find the families once he has secured the medals. I know you're familiar with him. He actually solicits private donations in order to be able to bid on these, because he doesn't have the financial resources to do it himself.

This is how it's happening today. I'm not so certain that it always has to be governments that fund the repatriation of these medals. I'm sure there are other organizations and individuals. I actually help him find the extra $50 or $100 or whatever he needs to make the next bid to ensure he gets that medal, because I know what he's going to do with it when he gets it. He's going to do the right thing, which is to seek out the family. If he can't, he donates it.

In my community, we have what's called the Canadian Military Heritage Museum in Brantford, Ontario, which is a private collection, believe it or not, of war memorabilia. The museum is thought to be ranked number two in the country now in terms of honouring our military and the objects around it; it's second to our military museum here in Ottawa. I extend an invitation for all of you to come and visit this wonderful place of honour for our military.

So these are the kinds of things that are happening and I'm wondering... That was kind of a preamble to my question, which is about two things. Can you foresee the fact that government doesn't have to fork over the complete cost of this, that this could be a partnership of community organizations, private individuals, and government, perhaps when necessary, to recover these?

Secondly, there are site-specific...both geographically in the case of Stratford and Perth and their museum—they want to keep it in the area of where the individual resided—and there are other places where other museums... In your concept around this, is there a specific location you think they'd like to go...? There are two questions there.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I don't have any really specific place that they should go to, other than the very significant medals, those very special medals, which should be in the War Museum here in Ottawa. It's a tremendous museum, and they do a tremendous job in presenting those types of things along with the archival information that goes with it.

Again, you're right that there are these special museums. Every Legion, every army and navy, is a museum of its own. Some people collect badges. They have various other medal collections. What worries me down the road is what's going to happen to some of these collections. Most of those collections are artifacts that are over 50 years old, but every day we have more veterans out in Afghanistan and doing various other things. We have modern-day military people who will be receiving medals.

All I want is to have their medals covered so that they don't migrate to eBay. If the odd one sneaks through, what can we do about that? The goal is to get the bulk of them into some museum or someplace where they can be archived and preserved for the heritage of this country.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Do I have some time left, Chair?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

You have one more minute.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Thank you.

As a point of interest, recently Mr. Thomson recovered a medal from eBay that was determined to be from a British home child. The individual had been a British home child and, as you know, our government passed a motion that 2010 be the Year of the British Home Child. He brought the medal to my office and showed it to me. It has not been possible to find any remaining family members to give this back to. So collaboratively we decided that I'm going to have it put into a shadow box with the story--he has the story of the soldier--and I'll take it across Canada this year in honour of the British home children, many of whom served in our military.

Many of these medals may still be out there, just as this one telling this solider's story. You're absolutely on the right track here in terms of honouring them. Many of them, in the case of home children, had come through much struggle in their lives and then served this country so well.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

When I look around the room here, I can see that I'm probably one of the oldest people here. I remember that we had a chap who worked for us, and he was a home child. I never knew it until he had worked for us for four years. Then I got the history the odd time, day by day. He was never in the military. There were so many. We called them home boys, because most of them who came were boys. They were a very integral part of our heritage here in Canada.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Thank you, Mr. Schellenberger and Mr. McColeman.

We now need to go to a pretty tight three-minute round.

We'll go to Madam Sgro.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Schellenberger. It's a great initiative.

Peter Stoffer seems to think that he's alone at this table, but I would suggest that he's probably not alone at this table. I share the same thoughts. The idea is quite repellent that someone would sell a medal.

Once your bill is passed and it is advertised fairly extensively that there are alternative locations where you can take medals, whether you take them to your local Legion hall or to a school, then family members would not sell them. They would know that there are organizations that would accept them and keep them in the kind of context in which they should be.

I really am very supportive of the bill.

I think it would be very difficult to run around and charge people. I hope that shame would be enough to make them realize that this is a valuable item they have and that it needs to be put in a special place. As to where that special place is, that's another issue, but a medal shouldn't be something that's traded for monetary value.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Speaking to that, when I look back on the one gentleman I mentioned here, George Buckingham, that particular gentleman was an only child. When I knew him, he was an elderly man of probably 70 or 75. I don't know how his medals got to wherever they were, but they were just repatriated.

We were in the decorating business. Lots of times we'd be in homes and would have to move stuff to cover it up to paint the walls. I was in a place--the family had come from Britain or Scotland years and years before--and there was a box of pocket watches, and beside that was a box of medals. Where those medals were from, I don't really know.

It's those types of things. All of a sudden, someone comes in, there's no one left, and what do you do? Do you go to a trader? People look at the monetary value.

We will try, hopefully, with some advertisement, to do that. Yes, the Legions and the army and the navy people are great at giving people that knowledge not to do the wrong thing with those medals.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Thank you very much, and congratulations.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Thank you, Madam Sgro.

Go ahead, Mr. Kerr, for three minutes.