by Mike Blanchfield-THE OTTAWA CITIZEN-March 3, 2006 (A.3)
After more than a decade of delay, Canadian veterans of the first Persian Gulf War will now be getting commemorative thank-you medals from the Kuwaiti government for liberating the tiny state from Saddam Hussein’s occupying forces in 1991.
The decision to distribute the medals came yesterday in a special meeting between Foreign Affairs, the Defence Department, the Kuwaiti Embassy in Ottawa and retired Gulf War veterans, and effectively ends a decade-old controversy that came to light this week.
As the Citizen reported Tuesday, Kuwait had shipped 4,097 specially minted medals to Foreign Affairs last November to thank Canada for its contribution to the multi-nation Operation Desert Storm that drove Iraq’s occupying forces out of Kuwait, a war that ended 15 years ago this week.
The medals sat largely ignored because the government said it could not distribute them because of a policy of not duplicating its own medal that was given to Desert Storm participants many years ago.
But then, it was reported that Canada had, in fact, accepted a foreign medal for the mission, from the government of Saudi Arabia in 1992, and had even instructed its troops that it was OK to receive the foreign medal as a commemorative memento.
The apparent double-standard caused an outcry among veterans, who questioned why they were allowed to receive the Saudi medal but not the Kuwaiti one.
As a result of the publicity, a compromise was reached yesterday.
The Governor General’s office has agreed to turn over its master list of recipients of the Canadian government’s Gulf War medal to the Kuwaiti Embassy, which will now take the lead in distributing its own medal.
“Absolutely we will do anything on our part to facilitate the process. We will send them the list that we have,” said Rideau Hall spokeswoman Lucie Brosseau.
“Everyone at the meeting was committed to ensuring that the veterans receive their medals, the Kuwait medals.”
For its part, the Defence Department will attempt to find out if any of its Desert Storm personnel are still in the Canadian Forces and if they are, the Forces may try to give them the Kuwaiti medal.
Andre Levesque, the head of the Forces honours and awards branch, said that might prove too difficult to determine because the military’s computers weren’t very sophisticated 15 years ago.
“We’re talking paper lists of people,” said Mr. Levesque.
In the past, Russia and the Netherlands have awarded Canadian troops special medals for their efforts in the Second World War, and they relied primarily on self-identification with veterans coming forward to their embassies.
Most of the cost of this process will be borne by the Kuwaiti Embassy, said retired Gulf War veteran Sean Bruyea, who was one of the veterans at yesterday’s meeting.
“The Kuwaitis have been super generous,” said Mr. Bruyea. “I can’t thank the Kuwaitis enough for what they’re doing.”