rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Only Tory politicians and TV stars are allowed to play military dressup in Canada

Stephen Harper

Didn't the unfortunate Franck Gervais understand you have to be an elected Conservative politician or a TV star before you're allowed to dress up in a uniform and pretend to be a soldier?

I speak, of course, of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and right-wing hockey commentator Don Cherry, all of whom are known to dress in military drag and prance around as if their power and status derived from something other than the inattention of voters and television viewers. There are many others, I have no doubt.

We'll get back to those worthies in a moment.

Gervais, of course, is the sad specimen who put on a Canadian Forces uniform and went to a Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa last week.

His mistake appears to have been giving an interview to a TV reporter -- something many of us have come to regret, regardless of the topic -- plus wearing his beret in such a peculiar fashion that even an old civilian like myself didn't think it looked right. (Actually, he was wearing it in the style of the armies of some of Harper's best friends abroad, so perhaps it was an easy mistake for a poor poseur to make.)

If Gervais had been really using his head, he would have worn civvies. After all, as I recall someone observing in a mostly forgotten work of fiction, "a brigadier is only a brigadier. A man in mufti could be anyone!"

Regardless, Gervais, we are now reliably informed by the mainstream media, faces charges of personating a public officer, or, in the language most normal people without law degrees would use to describe the same thing, impersonating a non-commissioned officer.

Now, it seems to me that a certain amount of shaming and mockery are entirely appropriate when dealing with creatures like Gervais who feel the need to pretend to be something they’re not.

But to suggest his costume is worthy of criminal charges because it showed disrespect for the armed forces, which is how his actions are being portrayed by the many people who have worked themselves into a full-blown swivet over this Canadian Walter Mitty, is genuinely troubling.

This is not, if I may be so bold, what a generation Canadian soldiers fought in Europe through the early 1940s to achieve. On the contrary, in fact. They fought for the right of people to be highly critical, even disrespectful, of institutions and people that most of us hold in high regard. Freedom of expression protects unpopular opinions, not the ones we all agree on.

Not that Gervais appears to have been criticizing the armed forces. On the contrary, he seems to have been rather wistfully paying homage to them.

No evidence has been presented by the media that Gervais intended his impersonation of a soldier or use of the uniform or badges he wore to gain advantage for himself, obtain property, cause a disadvantage to anyone, obstruct justice or avoid arrest -- which, one would have thought, are the reasons for criminal laws against impersonation.

If Gervais had dressed as a police officer, it would have been a different matter. Police have real and necessary powers in civilian society. The military does not -- and woe betide us all if they begin to think they do.

That criminal charges are seen as an appropriate response by the authorities to such pathetic foolishness is troubling evidence of the march toward militarization of society that is being encouraged for nefarious reasons by the Harper Government.

Speaking of which, it’s also pretty clear that the high standards of respect for the military that are apparently being demanded of Gervais are not required of the likes of Harper, who showed up here in Alberta not so long ago wearing a Canadian Forces flight jacket complete with military insignia.

Harper is not, nor has he ever been, a member of the Armed Forces of Canada.

Indeed, as has been previously noted in this space, none of Harper, Fantino or Cherry appears ever to have served in the military, yet all of them are frequently portrayed without comment or criticism in the media dressed up in all sorts of military costumery.

Of course, this may simply be more evidence of the widely held view among conservatives, especially conservative leaders, that the rules are for everyone else, never for them or their friends. In which case, Mr. Gervais's greatest sin may turn out to have not been a member of his local Conservative riding association.

Not only has the prime minister never served in the armed forces, he has never held a real job of any kind. He merely graduated from young Liberalism to tiny Toryism to various ancillary and auxiliary political jobs before rising to elected office, higher and higher, where he has remained ever since.

Let it be noted, though, that this is not a knock at our prime minister for his appearance in a Kevlar helmet, camo fatigues and a flak vest on his infrequent visits to the Graveyard of Empires, as Afghanistan is deservedly known. This is simply a matter of sound occupational health and safety procedures.

The wings were the reason, I suppose, that the military jacket he wore to the floods in Southern Alberta in June 2013 provoked such a sharp reaction from some readers of this blog.

One wrote: "What combat unit did Don Cherry, Stephen Harper, Julian Fantino and the other chicken hawks ever serve in?"

Said another: "I am an 'air force brat’' so I find it insulting that Mr. Harper wears a flight jacket sporting wings. In my younger days, my brother, sister and I (like other brats) would wear our father's old military issue. ... However, we had to remove all insignia before we were allowed to use them. In fact, in the air force community it was considered a serious offence to wear any patches that had not been earned, even (and especially) on 'hand-me-downs’' If Harper, Fantino and Cherry want to play 'Mr. Dressup' might I suggest clown costumes."

Mr. Fantino did work as a mall security officer for a spell before joining the police force. So at least he has seen paramilitary service. But I am at a loss to explain the chest full of military-style medals he is shown wearing in his role as minister of veterans affairs on his official website.

Nobody from his office has ever written me to explain what the gongs he wears actually signify. Perhaps one of them is the Maple Leaf Gardens Post-Game Scuffles Service Medal. Regardless, I am not sure if, in law, pretending to be a hero is quite the same thing as pretending to be a soldier.

But I will tell you this: no one can accuse Fantino of treating the Canadian military with respect, as his conduct toward of our veterans, especially PTSD victims, clearly shows.

As for Cherry, the former professional hockey player and coach, and taxpayer-subsidized megaphone for uninformed political and social commentary, dropped out of high school and went directly into the sporting life.

That said, he can hardly be accused of impersonating an officer, or even an enlisted man, by wearing the tailored camouflage suit in which he turned up on a morale-building visit to Afghanistan.

I'm sure Cherry intended no disrespect for the troops by wearing this ludicrous garment, and none seems to have been taken. Nevertheless, if respect for the forces is the issue at the base of this brouhaha, Cherry may want to take more care in his future instructions to his tailor.

Getting back to Harper, just remember this the next time you see a Canadian prime minister in uniform: The last Canadian PM to see military action in wartime was Lester Bowles Pearson. The last one to be a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces was Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.