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Reactions mixed over Cougar controversy

Sackville resident Alex Thomas, right, speaks out on his reasons why he feels the Cougar is not an appropriate monument for Memorial Park during a packed town hall meeting Tuesday evening.
Sackville resident Alex Thomas, right, speaks out on his reasons why he feels the Cougar is not an appropriate monument for Memorial Park during a packed town hall meeting Tuesday evening. - Katie Tower

Sackville residents pack town hall to argue for, against Hussars’ recent decision to rescind gift of armoured vehicle

SACKVILLE, N.B. —

Scott Timpa is no stranger to military vehicles. Having served over a decade in the Canadian Army, Timpa said he spent five years in the back of a Light Armoured Vehicle Three (LAV 3) during his years as an infantry soldier.

And while these types of armoured vehicles incite mixed feelings for Timpa, a medically-retired, disabled veteran, most of those emotions are not good ones.

“As much as I loved the LAV 3, every time I see a military vehicle like it such as a Cougar, it triggers me and I can’t stop that,” said Timpa.

Timpa, who suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said although armoured vehicles provide safety and security to the armed forces, he also recalls how “for many of my brothers and sisters, these vehicles also became death traps on the streets of Kandahar, easy prey for the Taliban and a well-placed bomb.”

“I hear the sounds of the cannons, I smell the exhaust fumes, the dust, the grease and I think about the people I knew who were killed in them,” he said. “I’ve seen what a bomb blast does to a human body if you happen to be sitting inside one of these things. I can smell and taste the blood and I probably always will. It’s awful.”

Timpa was on hand during Sackville town council’s meeting Tuesday evening, one of the presenters who spoke out against installing an armoured military vehicle known as a Cougar in Memorial Park. The Cougar was gifted to the town earlier this year by the 8th Canadian Hussars, although the gift was recently rescinded by the Hussars following concerns over its proposed installation.

Timpa said he has made Sackville his home because there is no military base here and he wanted to live in a small peaceful town for his mental health.

“When I lived in Halifax, it was a constant trigger seeing the navy ships in the harbour, all the military personnel walking around in uniforms or military aircraft constantly flying overhead.”

He said placing a vehicle such as the Cougar in Memorial Park will only serve as a recruiting tool for young people to want to join the military, at a time when the federal government is not living up to its obligations of caring for injured soldiers and disabled veterans.

“We shouldn’t be propping up a military vehicle that sends a message to the public that all is well, go ahead and join the military, when there is no duty of care.”

Alex Thomas, a local resident who has been leading the charge to oppose the Cougar’s placement in Memorial park, said this issue has become a divisive topic in the community and it’s understandable why it has elicited such strong feelings by those both for and against.

He said a military vehicle such as this one draws conflicting emotions from everyone.

“In the cougar, some see the commemoration of service and others see the glorification of war,” he said. “Different symbols evoke different things for all of us . . .and I think that reflects the diversity of our community.”

Thomas said the fact the Cougar triggers PTSD in some veterans as well as its use during the Oka crisis are both troubling factors for him.

He believes there are other options that could be considered for a memorial that would honour the diversity of our community while also commemorating the longstanding relationship between the town and the Hussars.

“Rather than fostering division, it is our hope that any memorial installed in the park will serve to bring our community together.”

The size of the Cougar was also a factor for those opposing its placement in Memorial Park, with many saying that the “massive machine” would dwarf the other monuments and minimize the Cenotaph’s central role in the park.

While there are many conflicting viewpoints over this issue, Thomas said he thinks there is a lot of common ground that can be found to bring both sides together.

“The debate surrounding the Cougar is a debate about the Cougar. It’s not a debate about the importance of commemorating our veterans or their service and it’s not a debate about the importance of Memorial Park,” he said.

Thomas recommended a citizens’ committee be established to help make decisions about any future memorials in the park. He said this could help prevent this kind of divisiveness in the future by helping better define how the park could be used and developed.

The 8th Canadian Hussars regiment donated a retired Cougar AVGP to the town in February as a way to recognize the close ties it had with the community as well as the Hussars role in the liberation of Europe during the Second World War. The town accepted the gift and planned to install it in Memorial Park, which already features another military vehicle (Scout Ferret).

When preparation work began in the park this spring, nearby residents began voicing their concerns. In light of that, mayor and council asked town staff to pause the installation until it had time to hear from those opposed to the installation.

This decision sparked a lot of negativity and divisiveness in the community and on social media. Further adding to the controversy, in a letter addressed to the town of Sackville last week, the Hussars decided to withdraw its donation. In its letter, the regiment proposed setting up a committee with representation from the Hussars, the town and perhaps a military historian to examine how best to memorialize a relationship that lasted more than a century.

The Sackville branch #26 of the Royal Canadian Legion, however, would like the Hussars to reconsider its decision

Allan Dobson, a member of the local Legion and a veteran who served in military peacekeeping missions for 15 years, said the branch still supports the town’s acceptance of the Cougar for Memorial Park. He said president Doreen Richards has indicated she is willing to discuss the idea of incorporating the Cougar into a peacekeeping memorial that would honour both indigenous people as well as those who served in Aghanistan.

“This is something we can work out between all of us,” he said, “but we still stand upon having the Cougar.”

Dobson, who served tours in both Yugoslavia and Somalia, said while he recognizes the Cougar may trigger negative emotions in some veterans, he has a different perspective of the vehicles, which protected the convoys of open trucks they would travel in.

“I saw the machine as a protector,” he said. “I was never in a Cougar but I had the protection, they had my back.”

Dobson also pointed out he had recently spoken with Fort Folly Chief Rebecca Knockwood, who stated that there had been no opinion expressed from their community about the installation of the Cougar or its use during the Oka crisis. Dobson himself is a member of the Fort Folly First Nations and said he didn’t know where the idea came from that the indigenous community was upset by the gift of the Cougar, particulary as this is Mi’kmaq territory, not Mohawk.

He acknowledged that Cougars were used in Oka in 1990 when the government called in the military to help restore order following a firefight. The civil unrest, he said, was the only reason the military was there and believes without that assistance, things could have gottten a lot worse.

Coun. Joyce O’Neil drew a large round of applause for her support of the Cougar, even encouraging the 8th Canadian Hussars to reoffer the gift to the town.

O’Neil said Sackville has been blessed with its connection with the Hussars over the years and she has been upset with the opposition to the regiment’s donation.

“Our Memorial Park is just that, a place to honour and remember those brave folk that gave their all and continue to serve so that we can live lives such as we enjoy today,” she said. “To me, the Cougar is a symbol of the 8th Canadian Hussars service as peacekeepers and it deserves a place in that Memorial Park.”

A petition has surfaced online with the signatures of more than 1,000 people hoping that the armoured vehicle will be reconsidered.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said council would take all of the recommendations made Tuesday evening into consideration. He also encouraged residents to email the town or come out to next Monday’s town council meeting if they wished to provide further input.

Aiken said council looks forward to the positive discussions on the future development of the park that will be undertaken in the months ahead.

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