By Michael Blais
I have been travelling to Ottawa on a regular basis since 2011, when the Canadian Veterans Advocacy was first invited to participate with Veterans Affairs Canada stakeholder group. I was soon appalled to note that reprehensible crimes of stolen valour were being perpetrated even as we assembled on the National War Memorial at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.
At the poser level, -a poser being an individual who has never served yet poses as a soldier-, one incident was particularly remarkable. Readers will remember the case of an individual being interviewed prior to the National Remembrance Service wearing a CAF dress uniform and posing as a sergeant of The Royal Canadian Regiment. The individual brazenly added the Medal of Bravery to his other illegitimate medals, jump wings and pathfinders badge to complete his bogus ensemble. His false but impressive symbols of martial merit drew the attention of the national media. The consequences were immediate, starkly profound and by mid-afternoon, sharp eyed Royal Canadians had “outed” the individual as a fraud. As a result, I was invited to the CBC studio in Ottawa to do an interview on the subject of Stolen Valour for The National. Criminal charges were levied, and justice in this case was served.
There have also been instances of deplorable embellishment, wherein yes, the individual did serve yet felt compelled to dishonestly embellish their service by adding medals, parachute wings and other unearned honorifics to their uniforms. A prominent charity and several veterans organizations were adversely impacted by such acts of fraud, with reputations being besmirched (guilt by association) and relationships being irrevocably destroyed.
Stolen Valour Canada (SVC) emerged in 2014 as an independent, self funded, group of veterans willing to volunteer their time and military experience to provide an internet-based platform which investigates reports of alleged Stolen Valour across Canada. During the past 7 years, these veteran volunteers have exposed over three score of posers and embellishers who were exploiting national service & sacrifice in order to deceive Canadians across the nation. The accused have invariably been provided with options. An apology letter and the return of the medals is all that is required and many who have been exposed have availed themselves of this option, measly surrendering their fraudulent “trinkets” along with a public apology in order to escape those punitive provisions set out under the Criminal Code of Canada (section 419). For years now, SVC has provided expert advice to affected law enforcement agencies with one precedent setting conviction in 2019 resulting in a steep monetary fine and probation. A number of other cases currently remain in the cue, with criminal proceedings proceeding.
So why do these individuals do it? Why do they pose as a soldier or, in my opinion even worse worse, a soldier who embellishes their military service by adding undeserved medals, parachute wings, commendations and other trinkets?
The SVC response line to this question is blunt: Most individuals reported to SVC were declared to be “grifters and con artists who lie, cheat and steal for their personal gain.” Some posers have used “their Special Status to attend military ceremonies, Remembrance Day services, parades or charity sponsored galas and high profile sporting events as VIP guests.” Others have participated in fully funded commemorative pilgrimages and expeditions abroad. Some have used “fake military narratives and tales of battlefield injuries to advance their employment opportunities and political aspirations.”
The list of motives to impersonate a soldier includes; Intimidation, theft, fraud ( which includes examples of nefariously applying for veteran/military discounts), questionable charity schemes, embezzlement and dating schemes. In one bizarre incident, the miscreant poser went so far as to claim that he had committed war crimes as a Special Forces Chief Warrant Officer, while at a presentation to six* schoolchildren!
*actually 600 schoolchildren (SVC)
Every time this occurs, of course, truly deserving veterans are increasingly doubted and our reputation as a unique community is blighted.
So, how does SVC oversight work?
First, most of the ‘poser’ reports of Stolen Valour SCV receives are levied by veterans. When instances of embellishment arise, the suspect is often identified by veterans who served in the individual’s same regiments or units. Specific details are required, and if the allegations have merit, SVC conducts an investigation based “on open sources, public information, unit war diaries and timelines”. Please note that SVC has a rigorous set of Standard Operating Procedures. Research information is peer reviewed, and should the “smoking gun” or an admission of guilt be absent, the names of the suspected posers/embellishers are not published. It is also noteworthy that SVC does not have access to MPRR and depends on protocols inherent with the Access to Information Act to confirm or deny service and medal-commendation-parachute wing aberrations.
Should you feel that there is a poser or embellisher preying on your community, reach out to SVC through this link.