The royal Canadian Legion halls across the country have been closed for months because of COVID-19, and now a number of them are faced with the prospect of never being able to reopen. With more unacceptable for the host of federal aid programs offered to help keep other businesses and charities afloat, hundreds of these facilities could be forced to close their doors forever, without federal intervention.
Legions are often seen as the heart of many communities, where the Remembrance Day celebrations are held, and meals are made and delivered to people in need -, but because the pandemic has put a pause on the events, it is cut off the critical flow of income such as the rental of facilities that allow the legions to keep their doors open to veterans and others.
It is estimated that approximately 124 1 381 of the Royal Canadian Legion branches across Canada are likely to close permanently, and another 357 are facing financial difficulties.
“We’re one of the 95 years of the organization. And in 95 years, we have been proud to be self-sufficient, we have not achieved for the funding. But these are unprecedented times,” National Executive Director Steven Clark said.
The Royal Canadian Legion has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office twice, informing him of the deficiencies in federal aid offerings, and says that they have not yet received a response. The Prime Minister’s Office disputes that claim, confirming at least a response has been sent.
A government source told CTV News a reason, the legions can’t get funding is because their programs are not directly related to the fight against COVID-19, although thousands of enterprises have been able to access billions of federal aid dollars to make ends meet in the midst of the pandemic.
In an e-mail to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Office of the Minister of Family, Children and Social Development Jessica Eritou emphasized the Urgency of the Community Support Fund as something of legions that support veterans “may” qualify to adjust their programs, and is committed to working with organizations to ensure they have the support they need to support Canadians.”
However, this program is offered to help you adapt the programming to the era of COVD-19, and the Royal Canadian Legion has said that it is their understanding, based on conversations with federal officials that it can not be used to cover operating costs, which is their greatest need.
They are calling on the federal government to expand the parameters of the program or to allow them access to some other funding option to help pay for the costs, such as rent and utilities.
While some branches may have employees on their payroll and may be eligible for assistance, most are managed by volunteers.
“We had, of our to 1 381 branches 167 have asked the federal government assistance programs, but, unfortunately, only 55 have received funds for that, it’s still a very small percentage,” Clark said.
The local branches have benefited from an emergency reserve of financing of the central administration, and have turned to crowdfunding initiatives, but the money is running out. While millions of dollars are paid each year by the Poppy Campaign, the money can be used to cover the operating costs associated with keeping these facilities open.
While the Legions have struggled for years to attract new members, having to close because of the pandemic could prove to be the final straw for many.
The directorate-general of Kenora says he can only last a few more months before its closure, it becomes permanent.
“It is extremely serious. We’ve been good for short distances, but that this continues, and we don’t really know where the light in the tunnel is going to be, we will not be able to survive,” said the President of the Kenora Legion Jerry Lava.
“We are depleting our savings in order to ensure that we can maintain our spending. We’ve shelved pretty much everything in the branch, we could,” Lava said.
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for veterans affairs Canada, John Embury, said that the department’s response to the pandemic “is underway, and we will continue to explore ways to ensure that we provide to Canadians and to our community partners with the support they need.
The Branches of this kind are the first point of contact for veterans and provide them with essential services and support, and that is why so many people are worried about what the future holds.
“I come from the legion, and to meet old friends, and the spirit of camaraderie. It is a place where you come and tell your story,” said Joel VanSnick, which is the Royal Canadian Legion district commander of the Ottawa region that includes 62 branches.
“Once our legions are closed, they are gone… Where are the veterans going to go to the meeting?” he said.