Cpl. Matthew Dinning (April 18, 2006)

A small town pays tribute
2,000 ribbons as Wingham awaits soldier's return
Flag ruling `like a slap in the face,' says bereaved dad
Apr. 26, 2006. 01:00 AM

The small town of Wingham, Ont., was awash in purple ribbons yesterday to honour the anticipated return of Cpl. Matthew Dinning, killed by a roadside car bomb in Afghanistan.

A citizens' committee formed spontaneously to cut more than 2,000 ribbons, which now adorn lamp posts, porches, trees, storefronts and car radio aerials.

"We wanted the main street to be full of support when he comes home and it is," said one committee member who asked to be identified simply as a friend of the family. "We chose purple for bravery."

On a day that the federal government's decision not to lower the flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa to half mast was causing controversy, there was no debate in Wingham, population 3,000, northwest of London.

"The flags at the Cenotaph, the flags at the town hall, the flags at the four corners — every flag in town is at half mast," said Paul Rintoul, local manager of the Canadian Legion. "We've always lowered our flags regardless of what the government says. It's a sign of respect."

That includes flags at the federal post office.

"It was fairly obvious so we went ahead and did it," post office clerk Doug Wallace said of the staff's move to lower its flag.

In fact, the town's move to honour Dinning, one of four Canadian soldiers killed Saturday on combat patrol, meets with no official disapproval in Ottawa.

Canada Post has no objection, a spokesperson said. And the federal government's protocol announcement this week said only that the flag would not be lowered on the Peace Tower, and the Prime Minister would not attend a ceremony, every time a Canadian soldier is killed.

"People can do whatever they want (to honour the soldiers)," military historian Jack Granatstein said in a phone interview.

The move to declare a state of national mourning at a soldier's death began with the accidental killings of four Canadians by a U.S. warplane in Afghanistan in 2002, Granatstein said.

A return to previous protocol is appropriate, he said, condemning opposition parties for playing politics with the issue.

"I think this is the most shameless crap that I've seen in a long time, playing on the dead bodies of soldiers," Granatstein said of criticism of the government's move by the Liberals and NDP.

"If these people had paid half as much attention to the soldiers' equipment over the last 40 years we would probably have fewer dead."

Retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, the first commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia in the 1990s, also said he agreed with Ottawa's decision.

"The last thing we want is a trickle of casualties that keeps the flag, our national symbol, at its most important point on the Peace Tower, down for a month and a half."

The other extreme is what happened during the UN campaign in Bosnia, he said, when bodies — 26 Canadians altogether — "were brought back at night and unloaded without any fanfare whatsoever."

"Don't get me wrong," MacKenzie said. "They were buried with great dignity in home towns ... but there was very little (media) coverage."

The families of three of the 2002 friendly-fire casualties contacted yesterday expressed strong feelings on the issue.

"It's a disgrace not to lower the flag (on the Peace Tower)," said Agatha (Dyer) Dawkins, mother of Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, of Toronto. "They did it for my son, lowered the flag. I think they should do it for the others."

Dyer died near Kandahar on April 18, 2002, along with Sgt. Marc Léger, Pte. Richard Green and Pte. Nathan Smith, all from the Edmonton-based third battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

A U.S. pilot mistook their night training exercises for the enemy and dropped a bomb that killed four and injured eight others.

Richard Léger, father of Léger, said the families of fallen Canadian troops should have been contacted before a public announcement was made not to lower the flag.

"It's almost like a slap in the face," he said from his Stittsville home. "If they had consulted us or even spoken to us, it would have been a little easier to accept." The move in 2002 set a precedent that should not be changed, said Joyce Clooney, grandmother of Green, from Bridgewater, N.S.

"I think our prime minister is taking the path that (U.S. President George W.) Bush is taking that maybe they (Canadians) won't notice how many young Canadians are dying over there if they don't lower the flag," she said.

The public, MacKenzie said, remains confused about the mission in Afghanistan — a counter-insurgency mission, not a peacekeeping one.

"You might have a front page article of soldiers sitting down, putting their weapons down, meeting with local elders or setting up travelling medical or dental clinics, and the Canadian population is comfortable with that," he said.

"Then they turn the page and see a picture of soldiers loaded down with machine guns and grenades trying to track down and eliminate bad guys."

The explanation, he said, is that part of the Canadian force is providing security to another part providing nation-building and humanitarian assistance.