Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans were outraged when this man allegedly passed himself off as a Forces member at the scene of a flood in Calgary, Alberta. As you can see, he seemed to have a couple of civilians fooled. However, his weird haircut gave him away to keen observers familiar with military regulations. Below: Other Canadians not entitled to wear Canadian Forces uniforms dressed in military drag. (All photos dragged from the Internet.)

Didn’t the unfortunate Franck Gervais understand you have to be an elected Conservative politician or a TV star before you’re allowed to dress up in a uniform and pretend to be a soldier?

I speak, of course, of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and right-wing hockey commentator Don Cherry, all of whom are known to dress in military drag and prance around as if their power and status derived from something other than the inattention of voters and television viewers. There are many others, I have no doubt.

We’ll get back to those worthies in a moment.

Mr. Gervais, of course, is the sad specimen who put on a Canadian Forces uniform and went to a Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa last week.

His mistake appears to have been giving an interview to a TV reporter – something many of us have come to regret, regardless of the topic – plus wearing his beret in such a peculiar fashion that even an old civilian like myself didn’t think it looked right. (Actually, he was wearing it in the style of the armies of some of Mr. Harper’s best friends abroad, so perhaps it was an easy mistake for a poor poseur to make.)

If Mr. Gervais had been really using his head, he would have worn civvies. After all, as I recall someone observing in a mostly forgotten work of fiction, “a brigadier is only a brigadier. A man in mufti could be anyone!”

Regardless, Mr. Gervais, we are now reliably informed by the mainstream media, faces charges of personating a public officer, or, in the language most normal people without law degrees would use to describe the same thing, impersonating a non-commissioned officer.

Now, it seems to me that a certain amount of shaming and mockery are entirely appropriate when dealing with creatures like Mr. Gervais who feel the need to pretend to be something they’re not.

But to suggest his costume is worthy of criminal charges because it showed disrespect for the armed forces, which is how his actions are being portrayed by the many people who have worked themselves into a full-blown swivet over this Canadian Walter Mitty, is genuinely troubling.

This is not, if I may be so bold, what a generation Canadian soldiers fought in Europe through the early 1940s to achieve. On the contrary, in fact. They fought for the right of people to be highly critical, even disrespectful, of institutions and people that most of us hold in high regard. Freedom of expression protects unpopular opinions, not the ones we all agree on.

Not that Mr. Gervais appears to have been criticizing the armed forces. On the contrary, he seems to have been rather wistfully paying homage to them.

No evidence has been presented by the media that Mr. Gervais intended his impersonation of a soldier or use of the uniform or badges he wore to gain advantage for himself, obtain property, cause a disadvantage to anyone, obstruct justice or avoid arrest – which, one would have thought, are the reasons for criminal laws against impersonation.

If Mr. Gervais had dressed as a police officer, it would have been a different matter. Police have real and necessary powers in civilian society. The military does not – and woe betide us all if they begin to think they do.

That criminal charges are seen as an appropriate response by the authorities to such pathetic foolishness is troubling evidence of the march toward militarization of society that is being encouraged for nefarious reasons by the Harper Government.

Speaking of which, it’s also pretty clear that the high standards of respect for the military that are apparently being demanded of Mr. Gervais are not required of the likes of Mr. Harper, who showed up here in Alberta not so long ago wearing a Canadian Forces flight jacket complete with military insignia.

Mr. Harper is not, nor has he ever been, a member of the Armed Forces of Canada.

Indeed, as has been previously noted in this space, none of Messrs. Harper, Fantino or Cherry appears ever to have served in the military, yet all of them are frequently portrayed without comment or criticism in the media dressed up in all sorts of military costumery.

Of course, this may simply be more evidence of the widely held view among conservatives, especially conservative leaders, that the rules are for everyone else, never for them or their friends. In which case, Mr. Gervais’s greatest sin may turn out to have not been a member of his local Conservative riding association.

Not only has the prime minister never served in the armed forces, he has never held a real job of any kind. He merely graduated from young Liberalism to tiny Toryism to various ancillary and auxiliary political jobs before rising to elected office, higher and higher, where he has remained ever since.

Let it be noted, though, that this is not a knock at our prime minister for his appearance in a Kevlar helmet, camo fatigues and a flak vest on his infrequent visits to the Graveyard of Empires, as Afghanistan is deservedly known. This is simply a matter of sound occupational health and safety procedures.

The wings were the reason, I suppose, that the military jacket he wore to the floods in Southern Alberta in June 2013 provoked such a sharp reaction from some readers of this blog.

One wrote: “What combat unit did Don Cherry, Stephen Harper, Julian Fantino and the other chicken hawks ever serve in?”

Said another: “I am an ‘air force brat’, so I find it insulting that Mr. Harper wears a flight jacket sporting wings. In my younger days, my brother, sister and I (like other brats) would wear our father’s old military issue. ... However, we had to remove all insignia before we were allowed to use them. In fact, in the air force community it was considered a serious offence to wear any patches that had not been earned, even (and especially) on ‘hand-me-downs’. If Harper, Fantino and Cherry want to play ‘Mr. Dressup’ might I suggest clown costumes.”

Mr. Fantino did work as a mall security officer for a spell before joining the police force. So at least he has seen paramilitary service. But I am at a loss to explain the chest full of military-style medals he is shown wearing in his role as minister of veterans affairs on his official website.

Nobody from his office has ever written me to explain what the gongs he wears actually signify. Perhaps one of them is the Maple Leaf Gardens Post-Game Scuffles Service Medal. Regardless, I am not sure if, in law, pretending to be a hero is quite the same thing as pretending to be a soldier.

But I will tell you this: no one can accuse Mr. Fantino of treating the Canadian military with respect, as his conduct toward of our veterans, especially PTSD victims, clearly shows.

As for Mr. Cherry, the former professional hockey player and coach, and taxpayer-subsidized megaphone for uninformed political and social commentary, dropped out of high school and went directly into the sporting life.

That said, he can hardly be accused of impersonating an officer, or even an enlisted man, by wearing the tailored camouflage suit in which he turned up on a morale-building visit to Afghanistan.

I’m sure Mr. Cherry intended no disrespect for the troops by wearing this ludicrous garment, and none seems to have been taken. Nevertheless, if respect for the forces is the issue at the base of this brouhaha, Mr. Cherry may want to take more care in his future instructions to his tailor.

Getting back to Mr. Harper, just remember this the next time you see a Canadian prime minister in uniform: The last Canadian PM to see military action in wartime was Lester Bowles Pearson. The last one to be a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces was Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

This post also appears on

Join the Conversation


  1. With regard to Mr. Fantino’s medals and decorations, check out the following possibilities that some of my associates with military backgrounds have suggested.

    The medals from left to right: Serving Member of the Order of St John (SMStJ); next looks like Canada 125th medal; Q’s Golden Jubilee; Q’s Diamond Jubilee; Police Exemplary Service Medal (PESM) with clasp, indicating 30 years-plus of police service; and the last I don’t recognize. It’s not Canadian & likely an authorized foreign medal (many foreign medals are authorized) – possibly Commander of the Order of Merit to the Republic of Italy which, according to Wikipedia, he was awarded in 2002.

    The neck decoration is Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (COM).

  2. I am a peacenik but I come from a military family and it frosts me when these fools wear military clothing and insignia and medals. They are important (though unethical) people but poor old Gervais is just a hapless goof.

  3. Here are Fantino’s medals, in order:

    1. Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (neck)
    2. Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem
    3. 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal
    4. QEII Golden Jubilee Medal
    5. QEII Diamond Jubilee Medal
    6. Police Exemplary Service Medal

    They are mostly medals for showing up or come with the job.

    1. Mitch: Thanks for this comment. It illustrates a natural misunderstanding based on years of dishonest Conservative propaganda. Mr. Trudeau did not serve overseas, which was controversial in Canada at the time. When he was conscripted, he joined the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps and served in Canada. Nevertheless, this is not the same thing as never having served in the armed forces, as frequently and mendaciously implied by his political foes. It’s impossible to know if Mr. Trudeau would have served if the Canadian armed forces of the 1940s had been an all-volunteer organization as they are today. We can be confident, though, based on their actions that the likes of Stephen Harper would never have done so. Like the heartless Dick Cheney, they had other priorities. DJC

  4. Stephen Harper received a paper cut during his time in the Imperial Oil mail room in Calgary. Mr. Harper has applied to the American and Israeli armed forces for a purple heart award. The Israelis have approved the award, but the American military is still debating.

    PS – sorry about duplicate posts. My kids bought me a chrome notepad, and I’m still getting used to it.

  5. Interesting article…I’m not really sure what Stephen Harper never having had a “real” job has to do with what you’re writing. Also, while I agree that Harper shouldn’t have worn the military jacket with the badges on it and I can see how people would find that disrespectful, I do think most rational people can appreciate how The PM wearing a jacket or Don Cherry an ugly suit is slightly different than what Gervais did.

  6. As far as I’m concerned Canada has been involved in nothing but fake military “missions” of late. Libya, the scene of our last little intervention, has gone from the richest country in Africa to a failed state. A jihadist playground I belive the term is.

    Afghanistan. That place has turned into a certified narco state which produces 80 percent of the world’s heroin, up 40 fold increase since the days of the Taliban where poppy production was virtually zero. But thanks to NATO intervention which installed a gang of drug warlords who are supplying the heroin needs of Europe and North America.

    You won’t hear this in any Remembrance Day ceremony

    A job well done Canada on both counts

  7. I’ve always said that if it’s true that liberals are good at spending other people’s money, I think recent history shows pretty clearly that conservatives are good at fighting wars with other people’s blood.

  8. Great article. Good point of view. I agree that Gervais’ offense is being sensationalized for all the wrong reasons by a gov’t that has done nothing to promote the health and well-being of Canadian soldiers. It’s a distraction and a shame on the part of the PCs. You made some great points. I haven’t served in the armed forces, and I agree that for some this would be a sign of disrespect, but I think Gervais’ intentions were at worst foolish, but certainly not criminal. That he’s to be potentially charged with criminal offenses does indeed speak to the militarization of canadian politics and society. Well pointed out.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.