Alex Thomas is not anti-veteran, but he doesn’t agree with Sackville’s decision to place an armoured vehicle in its memorial park as a gift from the 8th Canadian Hussars.
“I think it’s really important to recognize the contribution of the 8th Hussars in the Second World War as 55 of their men died in Italy and another eight in western Europe. Those sacrifices are important to everyone and we must commemorate those. We just feel the Cougar is not an appropriate memorial,” Thomas said. “For one, it’s a modern machine that was only discontinued about 15 years ago and never saw combat in the Second World War, and most troubling is the most recent time it saw combat was in the Oka crisis against the Mohawks.”
Thomas said it’s ironic the community is trying to honour those who fought and died with the Hussars, but the last time the Cougar was used by the regiment was against Canadian citizens in Oka, Que., 29 years ago.
“It’s not an appropriate monument,” he said. “I know it’s a memorial park and no one is saying it shouldn't be a place of remembrance. The argument for us is that a massive piece of military equipment in a small park is just not appropriate. It’s going to dwarf the cenotaph and detract from the serenity as a place of solemn reflection that this park is supposed to be.”
The retired armoured vehicle was offered to the town by the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s) regiment to recognize its long-standing relationship with Sackville. Town council accepted the gift in February and work had recently begun in the park to prepare for its placement when a group of residents came forward in opposition.
“Putting it on a pedestal in the centre of town is really saying to our children and our community that the act of war and the machine is what we’re honouring and not the men and women who fought in such a horrible and tragic war,” Thomas said.
Thomas said there’s a petition circulating in the community and a representative for the group will speak at council’s next meeting on July 2. He is commending the town for giving the group an opportunity to speak, while a representative of the Sackville branch of the Royal Canadian Legion will also be present.
“It has been a very divisive and polarizing issue,” he said. “A lot of us have family members who have served or some connection to veterans. This is not an anti-veteran movement, but it’s important to have a more inclusive discussion about what’s going to be done with this Cougar.”
Sackville Mayor John Higham said as it stands now, council’s original motion stands to accept the vehicle from the Hussars. However, one of the principles of what the Hussars and other veterans fought for is free speech and a healthy debate.
“Every public policy has a variety of views and you’re never surprised with the diversity of views and it’s council’s responsibility to balance and make a decision between those views,” he said. “That’s a positive about democracy.
“The very ironic thing about this is the people who are in the middle of this, the veterans who lost their lives, fought in wars for what we’re doing now and that’s fairly expressing your opinion on any public policy or anything in your community or democracy and have a fair hearing about it. I think it’s a wonderful illustration of diversity and the ability to figure out where the community should go when there are multiple views.”
A representative of the Hussars offered the gift back last winter and council later passed a motion to accept.
The Hussars C Squadron and its regimental band were based in Sackville until 1997.
Higham said it wasn’t until preparation work started that nearby residents stated their issues. With more opposition, the mayor said, he and council opted to put the brakes on installation so it can listen to the community.
The mayor said he’s disappointed with some of the negativity on social media as well as with vandalism that took place overnight Friday.
Legion president Doreen Richards said she was very disappointed with that vandalism.
“It’s disgraceful,” she said, adding the scout car already located in the park was painted with graffiti. “I don’t understand some people.”
Richards cannot understand why there’s opposition to locating the Cougar in the park. She said people don’t have a full understanding on what the vehicle’s capabilities were when it was in service.
“The Cougar goes places and helps people when they’re in need. It’s more of a rescue vehicle than anything else. It has helped people in flooding and when there were fires.”
She said the park is a memorial park and not a playground. She said there are other parks to play in.
“This is a memorial park to honour our veterans,” she said. “The Cougar is going into the park, whether they (opponents) like it or not. It’s a memorial park and that’s where the Cougar is going to go in our mind.”