Saturday, June 30, 2007

Removal of "Support our Troops" decals a Joke

Despite complaints the move is an insult to Canadian soldiers, Toronto's Mayor is backing plans to remove "Support our Troops" decals from fire trucks and ambulances, saying they could be construed as a city endorsement of the war in Afghanistan.

Mayor David Miller said yesterday the decals will be removed beginning in September, a year after they were first added to the backs of about 170 fire trucks and 175 ambulances.

"When you have families already living in anticipatory grief, it's a bit of a slap in the face," said Katherine Hodgson-McMahon, executive director of the Toronto Military Family Resource Centre.

Mr. Miller added, though, that the ribbons were controversial.

"The yellow ribbon, as you know, to many of us, means support for our troops. To some people it's a symbol of support for the war in Afghanistan and [EMS] Chief [Bruce] Farr and others in the city have received a number of calls from people who are concerned about the city expressing an opinion on the war. The program was always scheduled to last for a year. It will be wrapped up this fall."

Ms. Hodgson-McMahon said the ribbons are an important symbol to people with family members serving in Afghanistan.

"You can support the troops without supporting the mission," she said. "It is all about bringing your soldiers home safely. Family members tell me that when they are driving on the road and see a yellow ribbon, they say, 'Yay, someone believes in my kid.' "

More than 220 people in the Greater Toronto Area are next-of-kin to people deployed on the Afghanistan mission, she said.

"Leave the ribbons on. I think it's the worst thing our city has ever done," Ms. Nunziata said.

Mr. Miller said he would vote against it.

"I don't think, frankly, it's the job of city council to debate the war in Afghanistan," he said.

Mr. Miller, Emergency Medical Services Chief Bruce Farr and Bill Stewart, Toronto's fire chief, all told news conferences yesterday the decals would be peeled off over several weeks, beginning in September, as vehicles go into the shop for annual maintenance.

The EMS decals, which cost about $3,000, were paid for out of the taxpayer-funded EMS budget, Chief Farr said.

Toronto's firefighters union spearheaded and paid for the decals for the backs of fire trucks, with approval from Chief Stewart.

"We would prefer to keep them on our vehicles," said Scott Marks, president of the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Association.

"It is not political. We did it to show support for the men and women in the military."

Brad Watters, president of the Toronto Paramedics Association, also said he is in favour of the ribbons staying put.

"Whether you support the war or not is not the issue," Mr. Watters said. He described the decals as "the least we can do" to express support for the military personnel in Afghanistan.

Ottawa, however, has yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbons on the backs of its fire trucks.

The decision last year followed a public suggestion by then-mayor Bob Chiarelli for city employees to show support for the troops by wearing red clothing to work on Fridays, explained Barre Campbell, a spokesman for the city.

The decals have remained on Ottawa fire vehicles without complaint, Mr. Campbell said.

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