Afghan war memorial desecration draws high-profile reward offer

·National Affairs Contributor

Why? That's the first thing that comes to mind whenever I see the results of an act of vandalism.

I know some people find a political rationale, breaking store windows to send a message to "The Corporations". And I know there are mush-brained drunks and social nihilists who do it just because ....

But I find desecration of war memorials especially difficult to understand.

I suppose anti-war protesters might justify it when the country's involved in a conflict. But if you feel that strongly, have the guts to stick around and make your point in public.

However I doubt the creeps who damaged the inukshuk erected by the parents of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan were making any kind of statement.

The four-foot stone monument set up in memory of Sgt. Marc Léger, who died in 2002, and his comrades is located outside the Royal Canadian Legion's headquarters in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata. Sometime Wednesday night, it was knocked over, which damaged both the stonework and the memorial plaque.

Reports of the incident spurred businessman Brett Wilson, former star of CBC TV's Dragon's Den reality show, to offer a $1,000 reward for information that will uncover the culprit or culprits, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

"I was really disappointed that someone would have done that," Wilson said. "I'm not a fan of war but I'm a huge fan of our military and the people who serve our country."

Which is the point, really. War memorials aren't memorials to war. They're meant to remind us of the people who made sacrifices on our behalf, which is useful in a society with historical amnesia.

Wilson posted his offer on Twitter and it was quickly picked up by Rewarder, resulting in more offers to top up the fund.

[Related: MP advocates restoring soldiers' names to First World War memorial after omission]

Léger was among four members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry killed while on a training exercise when a U.S. Air Force jet pilot mistook them for Taliban and dropped a bomb.

A total of 158 Canadian soldiers and four Canadian civilians have died during Canada's Afghan mission. Canadian forces have withdrawn from active combat to a role training the Afghan military.

The memorial plaque reads: "Dedicated to the men and women of the Canadian Forces who served with distinction in Afghanistan."

Legion outreach director Bob Butt called the vandalism a travesty.

"This is a monument dedicated to the troops who have passed away in Afghanistan," he told the Citizen. "It's terrible that someone would do such a thing to it."

Butt said Léger's parents were devastated by the vandal attack, though he added the year-old memorial should be repairable.

Most Canadians don't like it when war memorials are treated disrespectfully.

Heads exploded when a group of drunken teens were photographed urinating on the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa on Canada Day 2006.

Two who came forward and apologized were not charged but a third young man, 23-year-old Stephen Fernandes of Montreal, was slapped with a mischief charge. It was later dropped after he, too, apologized, donated $200 to a veterans' hospital and performed 50 hours of community service, according to Canada Free Press.

Last October, metal thieves stole the plaque from a war memorial in Maple Ridge, B.C., a suburb of Vancouver, the Vancouver Sun reported.

A private member's bill that would make it a specific criminal offence to desecrate war memorials is working its way through the House of Commons. Bill C-217 would set a minimum $1,000 fine for a first offence and jail time for subsequent incidents.

Ontario MP David Tilson introduced his bill after a spate of vandal attacks, including the urination incident and the theft of maple leaves from the headstones of fallen soldiers in a St. Catharines, Ont., cemetery, the Toronto Sun reported.

The NDP opposes the law because of its mandatory minimum sentence, no matter how slight the offence, and the Liberals criticized it as an example of the government's "myopic focus" on punishment and incarceration.

For me, the bill is a welcome gesture that Canadians' wartime sacrifices need to be respected.

But do I think a fine or a few days in jail will make the idiots who commit these desecrations think twice? I doubt it.

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