A poppy is projected on the side of the Peace Tower in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. On the eve of Remembrance Day, the federal Liberal government is moving ahead with plans to provide emergency assistance to veterans organizations that have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A poppy is projected on the side of the Peace Tower in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. On the eve of Remembrance Day, the federal Liberal government is moving ahead with plans to provide emergency assistance to veterans organizations that have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

VIDEO: Legion, other veterans groups to get $20M to weather COVID-19

Legion dominion president Tom Irvine welcomed the new funding as a long time coming

On the eve of Remembrance Day, the Trudeau government has promised millions in emergency funding to the Royal Canadian Legion and other veterans’ groups battered by the COVID-19 pandemic to help them keep their doors open.

Yet the promised funds fall short of what groups had requested, and the government offered no new plans for eliminating the barriers and long waits that thousands of disabled veterans have been facing in trying to access federal benefits and services.

Officials also confirmed that none of the funding will go to the Juno Beach Centre, the museum built on the beach in France where Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day, and which has been facing its own pandemic-related financial crunch.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took it upon himself on Tuesday to announce that the government would be providing $20 million in aid to the legion and other veterans’ groups whose finances have dried up due to the pandemic.

“Our veterans served Canada with honour and valour,” Trudeau said during one of the federal government’s regular updates on the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. “They stepped up for us and now we must step up for them.”

The legion, which says it has been forced to close dozens of branches across the country, some permanently, will get $14 million while the rest will be split among VETS Canada, True Patriot Love and other organizations that work with veterans.

Such groups regularly provide assistance to veterans in need, including food, accommodation and emergency funds. They also help former military members through the often-complicated process of applying for federal assistance.

“Too many of the legions that provide support for them are facing tough times themselves,” Trudeau said while encouraging Canadians to remember those who gave their lives for the country and its values and principles on Remembrance Day.

The $20 million was set aside in the government’s COVID-19 relief bill passed by Parliament last month after veterans organizations had spent the previous few months pleading for assistance.

Legion dominion president Tom Irvine welcomed the new funding as a long time coming, telling The Canadian Press that the organization was extremely grateful as the money will help save dozens of branches on the verge of closing.

“You can’t get a smile off my face, getting that $14 million,” he said.

Yet as welcome as the funding is, Irvine acknowledged it falls short of the $30 million the legion requested.

“My first letter to the prime minister was in April,” Irvine said. “Maybe it might have saved some of those 20 branches.”

READ MORE: Seventy years on, Canadian veterans keep memories of ‘forgotten’ Korean War alive

Neither Trudeau nor Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay offered any new promises to the more than 40,000 veterans who have been waiting months or years for the government to process their claims for disability benefits.

While MacAulay announced in June that Ottawa was hiring 400 more staff to deal with the backlog, some veterans groups have been calling for the government to automatically approve applications, with spot audits to prevent cheating.

Asked Tuesday when the backlog would be eliminated, MacAulay said the department’s aim is to have made a sizable dent by 2022.

Trudeau defended the government’s record when it comes to veterans, even though advocates and past veterans’ ombudsmen have said the long wait times are contributing to the stress and financial uncertainty of thousands of former service members.

“We know there’s always more to do,” Trudeau said. “But we will continue to stand by our veterans this week, and all weeks, as we recognize their service.”

Trudeau and MacAulay also did not address growing concerns that veterans are facing barriers in applying for federal assistance because they can’t get the necessary medical reports and other required information due to the pandemic.

Those barriers have been blamed for the fact only 8,000 applications were made by veterans between April and June, which is about half the three-month average over the past few years.

MacAulay made no mention of those barriers to applying as he noted that Veterans Affairs had for the first time in years made progress in reducing the backlog.

While the legion and other veterans’ organizations will be able to start accessing the emergency funds in the coming days, Veterans Affairs confirmed that talks about assistance for the Juno Beach Centre are ongoing.

Opened in 2003 and operated as a non-profit, the centre was facing financial difficulty last year before what operations manager Alex Fitzgerald-Black described as a reorganization to minimize costs while aiming to attract 90,000 visitors this year.

Those plans were upended by COVID-19, with only 30,000 visitors now expected. The pandemic cancelled commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and forced the centre to shutter for most of the year.

“Assistance received through French and Canadian subsidies have helped limit the pandemic’s financial impact on us in 2020,” Fitzgerald-Black said in an email.

“We have access to a French government loan in case of emergency and are working with Veterans Affairs Canada on a request for support. The uncertainty around 2021 and what visitor numbers we should expect due to the pandemic are growing concerns.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusRoyal Canadian LegionVeteransvideo

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Josie Osborne was sworn into the Legislature virtually on Nov. 24. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne named minister of municipal affairs

The position was previously held by Selina Robinson, who is the province’s new finance minister

The Royal Canadian Legion’s annual Poppy Campaign poppies. This year the fundraising effort was mixed for local legions which have suffered from financial strain due to COVID-19. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Mixed year for local legions during annual poppy campaign

Some find success, some struggle amidst the pandemic

There are more apartments coming for downtown Cumberland, but council wants to look at how to make sure there are rental units available. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Cumberland council calls for rental zoning options

Provincial amendments have only allowed communities to consider rental zoning since 2018

Comox and the school district are looking at formalizing a piece of school property for a dog park. Black Press file photo
School District 71, Comox work on formal dog park agreement

The site on unused school district property is already being used by dog owners

Breanna Brosko, 18, initiated the Adopt-a-Grandparent program five years ago. Scott Stanfield photo
Program continues to brighten Christmas for Comox Valley seniors

The annual Adopt-a-Grandparent program will continue to brighten the Christmas season for… Continue reading

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Breanna Brosko, 18, initiated the Adopt-a-Grandparent program five years ago. Scott Stanfield photo
Program continues to brighten Christmas for Comox Valley seniors

The annual Adopt-a-Grandparent program will continue to brighten the Christmas season for… Continue reading

A sketch of the building under construction at 1700 Balmoral Ave. in Comox.
Comox building letting off too much hot air

Developer asking for permit to move three heat pumps in front of 1700 Balmoral Ave.

Police in Nanaimo are looking for a suspect who wore a black-and-white striped hoodie and rode a yellow mountain bike when he allegedly stole three children’s backpacks from a daycare facility. (Photo submitted)
VIDEO: Thief steals children’s backpacks from daycare in Nanaimo

Suspect rode a yellow mountain bike and made off with backpacks hanging on fence

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The Klahoose First Nation village on Cortes Island is under lockdown until further notice due to a positive COVID-19 test. Photo courtesy Kevin Peacey.
Cortes Island First Nation community locked down due to positive COVID-19 test

Klahoose First Nation has had one positive test, one other potential case

Most Read