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‘I feel like a young man’: 94-year-old vet expelled from legion wins reinstatement

One of Canada’s last surviving Second World War veterans says he’s won his “third world war” — a bitter 32-month fight to restore his dignity and clear his name before he dies.

Ralph Jackson, 94, was expelled from the Royal Canadian Legion by the BC/Yukon Command in March 2018 for alleged “theft or misappropriation of legion funds” at his Vancouver branch.

Now, the national headquarters of the legion has overturned the B.C. ruling, finding Jackson was never given a chance to face his accusers and defend himself. 

It has ordered that Jackson be reinstated and declared “a member … in good standing” — just as the country prepares to honour veterans on Remembrance Day.

“The weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel like a young man,” said Jackson, laughing. “This was my third world war, this thing.”

The Oct. 29 letter from the legion gives the ‘benefit of … doubt’ to Jackson. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

’99 per cent perfect’

The decision means Jackson is entitled to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies on Nov. 11, although there aren’t any this year due to COVID-19.

The ruling is only a partial victory in another way — the legion stopped short of apologizing for his ordeal, something that rankles Jackson.

“It’s 99 per cent perfect,” he said. “I would have loved to be found not guilty. That’s the word I would have liked. But they have done what they want to do.”

As a young Jewish teenager from Glasgow, Scotland, Jackson joined the Scots Guards of the British Army in 1943. He didn’t fight overseas but trained older soldiers to use submachine guns. After the war, Jackson was stationed in various countries, only to be injured in a live-fire explosion in 1948.

Left partially deaf, he was discharged.

Jackson was one of B.C.’s top poppy sellers before he was expelled from the legion. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

Jackson emigrated to Vancouver in 1966 and eventually joined the legion’s Shalom Branch #178 — formed, he says, by Jewish veterans who felt unwelcome at other branches.

Jackson went on to gain fame as one of B.C’s top poppy sellers.

In 2016, at 90, he became president of the Shalom Branch. Among his duties, Jackson administered a $100,000 legacy fund left by a Jewish benefactor.

His troubles began in 2018, shortly after he gave up the presidency.

Convicted in absentia

Jackson’s successor, Danny Redden, accused him of “theft or misappropriation of legion funds” by paying out money and moving funds between accounts without the approval of the general membership.

Jackson insisted the handling of the money had been overseen by the branch’s executive committee — but he never had a chance to fight the alleged breach of legion bylaws.

The key issue: He says he did not receive a letter detailing a time and place for his hearing in front of a legion complaint panel.

Jackson was found guilty in absentia. His written appeal — the only kind allowed under legion bylaws — was rejected. After decades of service, he was expelled from the legion without ever knowing the exact allegations against him.

No criminal charge was ever laid.

The Royal Canadian Legion Shalom Branch 178 in Vancouver is now under trusteeship, due to a split over Jackson’s expulsion. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The controversy over Jackson’s expulsion split the membership of the Shalom Branch. It’s been temporarily closed and placed under trusteeship.

‘Benefit of … doubt’

When CBC News first told Jackson’s story in September, the Royal Canadian Legion insisted there was “no possibility” his case would be reopened.

But two lawyers stepped forward to help Jackson fight the decision.

That prompted the national headquarters of the legion, Dominion Command in Ottawa, to review Jackson’s case.

On Oct. 29, it found “there is doubt as to whether Mr. Jackson received the mandated notice of complaint hearing,” noting such a failure deprived him of a fair hearing, the ability to face his accusers and to defend himself.

“Giving Mr. Jackson the benefit of that doubt … I have quashed the finding,” wrote Thomas Irvine, Dominion president. “As a result, Mr. Jackson [is now] a member of Branch #178 in good standing.”

Asked for more details by CBC News, the national legion office said it regularly reviews its bylaw processes to ensure they are fair and makes adjustments as necessary.

Like Jackson, Larry Shapiro was accused of wrongdoing by a legion member, but the difference is that he received notice of his hearing, attended it and was eventually exonerated. He’s since fought to have Jackson’s name cleared, too. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

The B.C/Yukon Command, which oversaw Jackson’s conviction, said it’s now “working on putting in place more training so our members and volunteers have a better understanding of the complaint process.”

‘Seismic fault’ in legion bylaws

That’s not good enough for Jackson’s supporters, who say they were stonewalled for almost three years by the legion.

Larry Shapiro, vice-president of the Shalom Branch, was accused of the same “theft or misappropriation of funds,” but he did receive his hearing notice, mounted a defence and was eventually exonerated.

Shapiro wants to see Jackson completely cleared, too.

Ed Fitch, a retired major-general who supported Jackson’s fight for reinstatement, says antiquated legion regulations must change. (Ed Fitch/Submitted)

“By … giving him the benefit of the doubt, they’re admitting that there’s still a doubt,” he said, referring to the wording of the legion’s letter to Jackson. “We want to erase and eradicate that doubt.”

Shapiro also said legion bylaws have to be changed so no one else is convicted in absentia.

“There is an error and a seismic fault in the general bylaws, very simple to change, so that it doesn’t happen again,” said Shapiro.

Ed Fitch, a retired major-general in the Canadian Armed Forces, agrees. While he praises the legion for reversing its expulsion of Jackson, he wants old, inflexible regulations to be updated. 

“I would hope by now there are people, at least in Ottawa, if not at provincial command as well, that can see … their disciplinary regulations need serious revision,” said Fitch. 

‘Bad dreams’ have ended

Ralph Jackson said he’s just relieved he’s won his battle to clear his name. 

“I go to sleep at night now and I wake up sometimes and think it’s over and go back to sleep,” he said. “I was really upset, you know, but those days are gone. And I’m sure that I’ll not have these bad dreams anymore.” 

“I’m very happy to be part of the legion again,” said Jackson.
 

CBC Vancouver’s Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

 


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