Richmond Hill councillor on Remembrance Day banner slammed for not being a war veteran

A Richmond Hill councillor is facing backlash after he was featured on one of the city's Remembrance Day banners with "lest we forget" written on the top — even though he is alive, and never served in active combat.

Coun. Greg Beros says he has been a reservist lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force since 2016. According to his bio on the city's website, he also works as the "assistant training officer with 778 Banshee of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets."

Richmond Hill resident Joel Clements told CBC News he feels the councillor may be exploiting the definition of a war veteran by appearing on a banner.

"I was kind of shocked because the banners say across the top Lest we Forget — and here's a picture of a living, non-veteran city councillor," he said.

Clements says he has a passion for Canadian military history. He reached out to the Royal Canadian Legion branch that is responsible for the banners, and found out it had a "unique" definition for the term veteran, he said.

According to the legion's website, a veteran is "any person who is serving or who has honourably served in the Canadian Armed Forces, the Commonwealth or its wartime allies, or as a Regular Member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or as a Peace Officer in a Special Duty Area or on a Special Duty Operation, or who has served in the Merchant Navy or Ferry Command during wartime."

That differs from the federal government's definition, which is stated as "any former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who successfully underwent basic training and is honourably discharged."

Natalie Nanowski/CBC

The Legion says Beros meets its definition of a veteran.

"[Beros'] family chose to honour the fact that he is serving as a military member," said Pamela Sweeny, executive director of the Royal Canadian Legion Ontario provincial command. She said the legion considers anyone currently serving to be offering their lives and therefore, they can be considered a veteran.

"We believe a veteran, is a veteran, is a veteran."

Sue Goodspeed/CBC

Clements sees the definition of a veteran differently. 

"We associate Remembrance Day with people who have died fighting for our country or our veterans of combat or wartime service," Clements said.

"I find it a little bit disturbing to see this banner there alongside a local 23 year old who was killed serving the country in Afghanistan." 

Expanding public awareness

Beros told CBC News that the banners are a legion program and he's aligned with the legion's definition of a veteran. 

Natalie Nanowski/CBC

He confirmed he was never sent overseas, and that he enrolled with the air force three years ago. Despite that, he says the focus should be on what the legion is trying to achieve with the banners.

"The promotion of the legion is to remember those who are currently serving and those that have served. The legion is trying to educate the public on the ever-changing face of a veteran," Beros said.

As an example, Beros said, young people who have served in Afghanistan are often not recognized as veterans — so it's important that people understand that veterans can be more than just "your grandfather." 

He says his family paid for the banner to be put up.

Social media concerns bubble

Clements shared his concerns about the banner in a post on his Facebook page and received dozens of comments.

Many people have replied to his post saying the banner may be considered an abuse of power on Beros' part. Others said Remembrance Day is a time to "remember those who did serve" and the banner could be considered "just plain tasteless."

Clements said he understands the legion's definition of a veteran from a membership perspective, but added that the traditional understanding of the word is pretty clear.

"This is about remembering people who fought and died or fought and survived," he said. 

"Remembrance Day has always been about wartime service and remembering that sacrifice."