Cornwall Royal Canadian Legion responds to stolen valour claim

Members of the executive of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 297 hold a news conference on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 to respond to Stolen Valour Canada's claim about a local member. Pictured are Second Vice President Dona McNish, Deputy District Commander Ken Heagle, First Vice President Marvin Plumadore and President Hugh Primeau. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – While taking claims of stolen valour seriously, the brass at the Cornwall Royal Canadian Legion say they don’t have access to service records to validate any claims.

The Stolen Valour Canada website, which aims to weed out fake or lying servicemen and servicewomen, claims Terrance “Terry” Birch has no legal entitlement to four medals and the Sovereign’s Volunteer Medal, based on his service record.

The allegations have not been proven in court and no charges have been laid.

The Facebook posting, which has gone viral, has created negative blow back for the local Legion. The president, vice presidents and deputy district commander held a news conference this morning (Wednesday) to explain their position because they say they are being blamed by the public for not doing background checks.

“We can’t do anything right now because we’ve got no way of proving it,” President Hugh Primeau told Cornwall Newswatch Tuesday.

Reading from a prepared statement, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 297 president said claims of stolen valour “very seriously.”

“When individuals commit stolen valour, wearing government sanctioned medals, uniforms or decorations they are not entitled to, or processing documentation that falsely indicates them as a Canadian Armed Forces, they degrade the honour and sacrifices that many made for us to have our freedom and they are breaking the law,” Primeau stated.

Primeau said he hasn’t spoken to Terry Birch nor have they called the Cornwall Police Service. “Officially, we have not got anything other than what they are putting out on this Stolen Valour (posting). Until it’s proven that he’s actually guilty there is not much we can do because of human rights,” he said.

The president said he hasn’t seen Birch in the Royal Canadian Legion with his medals on since the Stolen Valour Canada posting this week.

Primeau says Birch was an active member and served on the executive for a “short term.” “He left the executive on his own,” Second Vice President Dona McNish added.

“The Legion cannot enforce the Criminal Code. We don’t have the access to individual service records to verify the stolen valour,” Primeau said.

“As soon as I heard about it, I checked our membership file and he only transferred here in 2015 (from Quebec) and that’s all we’ve got on the situation. The paperwork, when he transferred, didn’t follow him, so we don’t know anything more.”

The president said the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command “fully supports us” in their actions. “Individuals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the laws for their acts of stolen valour.”

“It’s unreal the (negative) publicity that we end up getting from it.”

Cornwall Police Service spokesman Stephanie MacRae confirmed they have “not been contacted to investigate the alleged complaint by ‘Stolen Valour’.” However, if there is an open investigation, the police force does not say whether there’s an investigation ongoing until charges are laid, according to its policy.

Birch signed the City of Cornwall’s Book of Recognition in June for his sovereign medal. In a Stolen Valour Canada posting, Cornwall Coun. Justin Towndale said he would be taking steps to remove his name from the book. “I’m going to try to have his signature removed from the book,” he wrote.