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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall (TROY FLEECE/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Troy Fleece)
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall (TROY FLEECE/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Troy Fleece)

Criticism of scholarships for children of fallen soldiers draws sharp rebuke Add to ...

Veterans and political leaders say they're dismayed with criticism being levelled at a scholarship for the children of soldiers killed in the line of duty.

Sixteen professors at the University of Regina have sent a letter to the school's president saying the school should withdraw from the program known as Project Hero. The program, created by retired general Rick Hillier, offers free tuition to the children of dead Canadian soldiers.

But the professors say the program is "a glorification of Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan and elsewhere."

We think that the death of individuals is always a tragic matter, but we think that heroism is something different. Professor Joyce Green, who signed the letter

"In our view, support for Project Hero represents a dangerous cultural turn. It associates heroism with the act of military intervention. It erases the space for critical discussion of military policy and practices," the letter reads.

Canada's largest veterans organization disagrees.

The Royal Canadian Legion says the issue is not about Afghanistan but about properly caring for soldiers and the families of those who don't return from battle.

"It is not about the justification of the military action. People can have their own opinions on the rightness and wrongness of the war. But when the government calls and you're in uniform, then you go," says Robert Butt, the legion's director of communications.

"As far as we're concerned the university's doing the right thing by helping the families."

There have been 141 Canadian casualties in Afghanistan.

Several universities have signed onto the program, including Memorial University in Newfoundland and the universities of Ottawa, Windsor and Calgary. The University of Regina announced earlier this month that it would provide the scholarship starting in September.

"Our decision to do this was not at all meant to suggest endorsement of or lack of endorsement of something such as military action. It is purely to support the education pursuits of those for whom it might have been challenging to access post secondary," said Barb Pollock, spokeswoman for the University of Regina.

Ms. Pollock says she's received dozens of calls and letters of support since details of the letter from the professors became public.

Joyce Green, a political science professor who signed the letter, says she's concerned that there was no discussion before the university decided to offer the scholarship, but says it needs to be debated.

"It conflates heroism with the death of individuals who are in the military service and we think that the death of individuals is always a tragic matter, but we think that heroism is something different," Ms. Green said.

"When you attach heroism to the deaths of the military, it makes it very difficult, maybe impossible for us to talk about what's going on, what the nature of our military engagement is. In other words, it shrinks the space for democratic discussion and criticism of military policy in Canada and in the university."

The professors say most young adults find it tough to pay for their education and often rack up massive debts. The letter says "instead of privileging the children of deceased Canadian soldiers," government should provide funding for universal access to post-secondary education.

"All of my students are worthy of support," Ms. Green said.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he's disappointed in the comments from the 16 professors.

"Here we're talking about women and men - heroes, genuine heroes - who are serving our country, who have literally risked their lives and in some cases paid with their lives for the service of their country," Mr. Wall said. "Their families in the worst-case scenario … should have access to this scholarship."

Federal politicians were quick to condemn the letter as well. Regina-Qu'Appelle MP Andrew Scheer said the professors should withdraw their protest and issue a public letter of apology to all Canadian soldiers and their families.

"No matter what one thinks of the mission in Afghanistan, there can be no doubt about the honour with which our soldiers carry out their duties," Mr. Scheer said.

"Attacking a scholarship for the children of our fallen service men and women is disgusting."

The University of Regina says it will keep the scholarship. No one has yet applied for it.

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