Top soldier apologizes after outcry over restricted Afghanistan memorial, pledges to make it public

Canada’s top soldier is apologizing after the decision to put a memorial to fallen Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in a restricted zone prompted outcry from veterans and families of fallen soldiers.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said he takes “full responsibility” for the hurt done to veterans and their families after the memorial brought back from the Kandahar Airfield was dedicated in secret in a new Afghanistan Memorial Hall at military offices in Ottawa and placed behind a restricted security perimeter. Vance added that it will now be made public.

“The best of intentions have led to unintended harm. When it comes to the opening last week of the Afghanistan Memorial Hall at the new National Defence Headquarters, we unintentionally went down that path,” said Vance in a statement shared with media.

“We owe the family and friends of our Fallen, all who served in Afghanistan, and Canadians an apology for not properly including you and not properly communicating with you. I am truly sorry for our insensitivity and the pain, anger and frustration that this decision caused you. I accept full responsibility for it all.”

He then added, “the Afghanistan Memorial Hall will become accessible to all who come and wish to see it.”

The dedication of the memorial took place on May 13 but no public statement or notice was given until May 16.

Vance said in his statement that the decision to place the memorial within the National Defence headquarter facilities was made because of several factors: a concern about keeping it safe from the elements and vandalism among them.

Another factor also played a part, he said: specifically, the fact that another public monument to the Afghan War was already in the works.

That monument falls under the purview of Veterans Affairs Canada, which has been working with the Department of Canadian Heritage and the National Capital Commission to decide on a location in Ottawa for the site.

“Sadly, in trying to do the right thing by getting the Hall opened quickly so people, especially families of the Fallen, could arrange to visit, we alienated and angered these same people,” Vance said.

Veterans had decried the decision, saying it felt like a snub to their service and that is disrespected those who died in the conflict.

“It’s like, ‘let’s brush away this period,’” said Ed Storey, the retired soldier who helped bring back the monument from Kandahar.

Sean Bruyea, also a retired soldier and now-advocate for veterans, also said in the same interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson that there is no reason any challenges facing the memorial cannot be solved to allow public access.

“No barrier that’s technical should usurp the need to honour that sacrifice,” he said.

A total of 159 Canadian soldiers and civilians died in the Afghan War.

Another 6,700 who fought in the conflict are receiving federal support for PTSD.

The details of how the public will be able to access the Afghanistan Memorial Hall are still in the works.

Current members of the Canadian Forces and their families can access the site using their identification badges, while families of fallen soldiers will be escorted by staff to access the site.

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