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Canadian veterans’ assistance group struggles to stay afloat as its members age

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In the heart of downtown Regina, Royal Canadian Legion’s Regina Branch 001 has provided communal space for Canadian military veterans since it was first chartered in 1926.

Today, it hosts a museum for Saskatchewan’s military stories and its doors are open to any veteran struggling to file paperwork, find proper medical help or even temporary housing when times are tough.


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The legion provides free, essential walk-in services for veterans in Regina — and yet, the branch had to start a GoFundMe campaign last month to scrape together enough money to stay open.

Branch 001’s story is not unique. Most members served in the Second World War and the Korean War. Many have now passed away, and it’s an ongoing challenge to keep the space open.

Across the country, Royal Canadian Legion branches are facing the realities that come with aging member demographics.

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About half of the legion’s 270,000 members are aged 65 or over — a statistic that’s taking a toll on everything from filling poppy campaign shifts to paying the monthly rent.

Ronn Anderson, president of the Manitoba and Northwest Ontario command, said it’s an issue affecting city and rural branches alike, with closures in small towns and big cities like Winnipeg.

“We are having a problem within the Royal Canadian Legion with our aging population,” Anderson said.

“We’re getting some younger people in but not enough to keep our numbers up, and there are some branches that find themselves in financial difficulty because they’re not getting the patronage they need to remain open.”

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Thomas D. Irvine, the legion’s dominion president, said Dominion Command in Ottawa is trying to tackle the issue by modernizing older spaces and reaching out to younger veterans who may not think the legion is for them.

“The bottom line here is the modern-day veteran doesn’t like the older facilities, they want modern things, they want something to be able to walk into, for their families to do, to get involved in,” Irvine said.

“Playing shuffleboard (is) not really the modern day family activity they want to get into.”


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The nature of the legion as a gathering place has also changed over the years, said Irvine.

In earlier conflicts, soldiers from the same town would go to war and come back home together, making the legion a logical gathering space.

Now, Irvine says, it’s often one person from a town who joins the military alone and returns home with his or her colleagues spread out across the country.

That’s why Irvine is trying promote installing internet at local branches to make it easier for veterans to keep in touch with their friends. Other modernization initiatives include promoting online sign-ups and game rooms for kids.

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While membership is still 75-per-cent veterans and their families, any Canadian is now able to become a member — but Irvine stressed that a veteran does not need to be a member to walk into a legion for help at any time.

And he’s optimistic that the efforts to modernize the legion are working, even if change is slow. Irvine said so far in 2018, the number of membership losses is significantly lower than in previous years.

“The word’s getting out there that we are changing. The numbers are turning,” Irvine said.

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But in the meantime, it’s hard to keep track of which branches are being hit the hardest by dwindling membership. Irvine said Dominion Command often hears the stories on the news, as they don’t report to Dominion Command.

One such story came out of branch 56 in St. John’s, N.L. this fall. A call for volunteers went out when 250 shifts to fill for the branch’s annual poppy campaign needed to be filled.

The campaign was a success, filling all but seven shifts. But branch president Doug McCarthy said it’s a recurring pattern, and he’s heard similar stories from nearby branches cutting back on poppy campaign shifts.


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At one point, McCarthy says he was one of the youngest members of his branch — while he was in his 60s.

“Every year we struggle to find sufficient volunteers to man all our locations,” McCarthy said.

“It’s an age thing. As the legion members get older, it’s more difficult for them to get out and get around.”

For places like the Regina Branch 001, keeping the building open is tied to making essential services available.


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Losing the ability to pay rent would mean closing the place where veterans can go when they’re struggling with addiction, physical and mental health challenges or even affording a bus ticket home.

“You’re going to lose a lot, besides the fact that there wouldn’t be the places then for the veterans to turn to,” said operations manager Jody Hoffman.

“They need help and we want to help them. So it’s very important that we stay open and keep our doors open and stay sustainable so we can continue to help them any way we can.”

Hoffman’s branch is working hard to stay open, like so many others across the country.

For some smaller branches, the financial hit from aging membership has led to some tough decisions.

In Ste. Anne, Man., this year’s poppy drive will be the last put on by legion Branch 220, after 70 active years.

The branch had to sell its venue about a decade ago, so making money from renting the space was no longer an option.

Membership has dwindled to 14 people, with meetings taking place at different residences.

The members voted close the branch this year, leaving the future of poppy drives and Remembrance services in the town unknown.

“It’s a little bit heartbreaking, but there’s other legions, too, that are having problems,” said branch president Martin Gabbs, a 35-year member.

“It’s going to be missed.”



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FOREIGN NEWS

Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

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Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.

In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.

“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.

“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”

“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.

Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”

Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”

“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.

He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”

As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our

country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.

The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”

On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA

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FOREIGN NEWS

Harris accepts VP nomination

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Harris accepts VP nomination

Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”

Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”

“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”

Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.

In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.

“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m

The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.

But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.

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