By DAVID PUGLIESE, OTTAWA CITIZEN June 19, 2013 6:06 PM
Canada's navy brass is lowering the hammer on veterans who are wearing their uniforms to ceremonial and other public functions, demanding that they receive permission in writing before doing so.
But the June 13 directive from the head of the Royal Canadian Navy has the potential to create a public relations nightmare in which elderly veterans who wear their old naval uniforms at Remembrance Day and other anniversary functions are told they are violating military rules.
A number of serving military personnel forwarded the directive to the Citizen, adding that they worry such a decree is unworkable or will backfire on the navy if it tries to prevent Second World War or Korean War veterans from wearing their uniforms during memorial events.
"Requests by former RCN service members to wear uniforms, including mess dress, will be considered on a case-by-case basis," wrote navy commander Vice Admiral Paul Maddison in the message now being circulated to units and veterans groups. "Such approval shall be limited to exceptional circumstances where the wearing of the uniform is necessary and will favorably contribute to the RCN."
The commander of the RCN is the only one with the authority to permit non-active navy members to wear uniforms, he added.
The message also noted that local units do not have the ability to give veterans permission to wear uniforms.
A navy spokesman said that the service plans to issue a response to the Citizen's questions submitted Tuesday but that it still has to receive approval before releasing that to the newspaper. Under a system put in place by the Conservative government and Defence Department leadership, that approval process can take anywhere from several days to a month.
The navy already has in place a policy that requires veterans who want to wear their uniforms to seek permission. It, however, has not been strictly enforced.
But military sources say the impetus for Maddison's message was an event honouring the navy and commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic, held at the Canadian War Museum in early May. A number of retired admirals attended in their mess uniforms even though they did not have permission to do so.
Serving officers objected to that and a number of heated emails were exchanged between the navy and retired officers after the event. Emotions are still running high, say sources, with one former senior officer threatening to return his medals because of the dispute.
Mess uniforms are specially designed tuxedos for formal occasions. They meet military specifications and officers pay for the uniforms themselves.
Maddison's message notes that the authority to permit the wearing of such mess dress for former service members lies solely with the head of the navy.
Mess dinners, in general, do not warrant the wearing of uniforms by former navy members, he added.
Requests to wear uniforms must now be sent to navy headquarters far enough in advance so approval can be issued. Blanket requests for events will not be considered except in the most exceptional circumstances, the message added.
Andrew Warden, a spokesman for the Navy League of Canada said in an email that in regard to the uniform policy for recently retired members, "the Navy League supports current DND policies relating to the wearing of uniforms by retired members."
He suggested the Royal Canadian Legion would be better able to speak about how the issue might affect veterans.
Legion spokesman Bruce Poulin, however, said since the organization has not yet seen Maddison's message it cannot comment.
Another source said that "technically speaking" the elderly veterans who wear their navy uniforms on Remembrance Day and at other ceremonial events are supposed to obtain permission but rarely do. If Maddison's directive is followed to the letter, those veterans could be challenged, the source added.
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