A battlefield cenotaph that became a focus of hurt and outrage for families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan will be re-dedicated in a public ceremony this summer, CBC News has learned.
The rebuilt memorial, which stood outside the Canadian headquarters in Kandahar throughout the war, was unveiled initially in a private service west of downtown Ottawa — one that was attended only by federal officials and senior brass.
Families of the slain soldiers whose faces are immortalized on the monument’s black granite plaques were not invited to the May 13 unveiling. The event was kept a secret for three days until social media posts appeared later in the week.
Several families, interviewed by CBC News at the time, described their treatment as insulting — something for which the country’s top military commander apologized in a public statement.
Defence sources tell CBC News that the re-dedication service will be held in August and email messages inviting families started going out Monday night.
The driving force behind the new event is Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, according to several confidential sources who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
‘I am truly sorry’
In his statement of apology to the families on May 24, Vance said it was wrong to exclude them from such an important event. “I am truly sorry for our insensitivity and the pain, anger and frustration that this decision caused you,” he said.
Vance promised family members that they could visit the special building housing the memorial — constructed behind the security cordon at the new Department of National Defence headquarters in Kanata, in western Ottawa — whenever they want.
The memorial, which started as a few plaques hanging on a large rock, eventually grew to 191 plaques honouring Canadian soldiers and civilians, as well as American troops who served under Canadian command.
In Kandahar, the memorial was a gathering point for soldiers grieving lost comrades, and for family members brought over to the war zone on military-escorted trips.
After it was disassembled and brought back to Canada in 2011, federal officials struggled for years to find a permanent home for the memorial, eventually choosing to place it at the defence headquarters.
Part of the reason veterans and military families were hurt and angry by the military’s handling of the monument’s return was its decision to place it within the security zone surrounding DND headquarters, cutting off public access.
Right now, there is no national war monument in Canada specifically dedicated to the Afghan conflict and open to the public.
The former Conservative government announced plans in 2015 to build a separate, larger, permanent national Afghan war memorial in downtown Ottawa, but it was mired in disagreements over location.
The National Capital Commission’s board of directors quietly announced through a news release, in conjunction with Veterans Affairs Canada, that a site had been chosen at Lebreton Flats, near the Canadian war museum.
“The site location will give all visitors an opportunity to recognize the commitment and sacrifice of Canadians who served in Afghanistan, and the support provided to them by Canadians at home,” said Tobi Nussbaum, the chief executive officer of the NCC, in a statement last week.
Veterans Minister Lawrence MacAulay described the site selection for the permanent national monument as a crucial step forward.
The monument will not be built until the early to mid-2020s, at the earliest.
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