Members of Canadian military told to stay out of uniform in public after Ottawa attack

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo stands at Ottawa's War Memorial.

An attack on a uniformed member of the Canadian military in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday should give us all pause. This soldier was killed while standing guard outside the National War Memorial, dressed in a uniform that is meant to signify Canada’s commitment to freedom.

Military bases across the country were placed on high alert following the attack in downtown Ottawa, the second attack in three days targeting uniformed members of the Canadian military.

And amid those increased tensions and the apparent increase in threat against those proudly serving in military uniforms, some soldiers are being warned to limit wearing those outfits to official duties.

Following the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., on Monday and the shooting death of an soldier standing as a ceremonial guard at Ottawa’s National War Memorial on Wednesday, some military officials are warning soldiers to stay out of uniform whenever they are off duty.

CBC Montrealreports that an email was sent to local military personnel telling them to only wear their military uniforms when on base or while travelling to their homes. In all other cases, they should stay out of their gear. Another email to student soldiers warned them not to wear their uniforms at any time.

New Glasgow News similarly reported on Wednesday that Rear Admiral John Newton, Commander of Maritimes Forces Atlantic released a message to personnel, reading:

In light of the current situation happening in Ottawa, [Newton] has asked all personnel remain in their respective buildings for the time being and restrict movement in uniform in public as much as possible.

Lewis MacKenzie, retired Major General of the Canadian Armed Forces, says it would be very difficult for a military serviceperson to lay down their uniforms in a time like this.

"As far as enhancing the protection of military members, I can understand the direction regarding the wearing of uniforms, when and where," MacKenzie told CBC News.

"I would only suggest that the military doesn’t make requests. It gives directions. Direction has been given, to the best of my knowledge, that uniforms will not be worn in certain situations off base. From a force protection point of view … that makes sense."

The identity of the military serviceman killed on Wednesday has not been confirmed, but he is a member of Hamilton’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a reservist performing the duties of a sentry at the National War Memorial at the time of his death.

Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina released a brief statement:

The death of this young citizen-soldier and the act of terror that took his life in Ottawa today give us all cause to reflect on dangers that young men and women can face at any time when they don the uniforms of the military and protective services to serve their fellow Canadians at home and abroad.

It doesn’t take a stretch of imagination to tangentially connect Wednesday’s attack in Ottawa to the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent on Monday. In one case, a suspect allegedly said and waited to target someone in uniform. In the other, a uniformed guard was shot and killed outside the country’s preeminent military memorial.

Yahoo Canada News reached out of the Department of National Defence for information about the dress code. The order is surely a tough pill to swallow. For soldiers, and former soldiers alike, uniforms are a point of pride. They are worn to represent the fight for freedom and the nation’s security from oppression.

Following Vincent’s death, National Defence Minister Rob Nicholson told the country that the Canadian Armed Forces are responsible for safety at home and abroad.

"Our CAF members represent the best of Canada, and to have one die in a senseless act such as this only strengthens our resolve. We will not forget," he said.

The uniform they wear is meant to represent the best of Canada. That’s why, it would seem, those same uniforms are being targeted.

Like many Canadians, my family has roots in the military, and in moments like these I can’t help but think of my grandfather.

Grandpa fought in Hong Kong during World War II, and lived in a small Manitoba farming community for decades after the war was over, his farmhouse filled with memories of his time in uniform.

He lived well into his 90s and I saw him in uniform regularly. Most notably, the uniform came out for every Remembrance Day, when old age and arthritis made clasping his uniform’s buttons a battle of its own. He still wore the uniform. Year after year.

He’s been dead a few years now. But I can hear what he would say today, what he’d say if he was told he should stay out of that uniform because it made him a target.

Like hell those bastards are going to scare us. Then my grandfather would go fight those buttons on his uniform jacket again. And he’d win, again.