Senator Roméo Dallaire is blasting Ottawa's decision to fly the historic Red Ensign at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, calling it an inappropriate move that also flies in the face of proper protocol.
The retired Canadian general says the Red Ensign belongs in an interpretation centre, not in a prominent spot on equal footing with the Canadian Maple Leaf and national flag of France.
"The Red Ensign is not our Canadian flag - it was our Canadian flag," Mr. Dallaire said in an interview yesterday. "To put the Red Ensign at the same level as the French and current Canadian flag is absolutely against all possible protocol. It's inappropriate."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after lobbying by some veterans groups, decided to fly the Red Ensign during April's 90th anniversary commemoration of the Vimy Ridge battle in France.
His government quietly decided soon afterward to fly the flag year-round. The Red Ensign was the flag Canadian soldiers fought under during two world wars, and was replaced in 1965 by the Maple Leaf.
Mr. Dallaire decided to speak out after he was approached by another senator from Quebec, Marcel Prud'homme, who visited the Vimy memorial in France last month and was incensed to see the Red Ensign flying side by side with the Maple Leaf.
Mr. Dallaire said the Prime Minister was misguided to yield to veterans' lobbying efforts.
"He called it wrong," Mr. Dallaire said.
"Of course you respect our veterans, but you also respect protocol and you don't take spontaneous decisions like that when you're touching things of significance," Mr. Dallaire said.
Canadian protocol calls for no flag but the Canadian Maple Leaf to fly on federal monuments, so the Prime Minister had to override the rules.
Mr. Dallaire said his own father was a career soldier who fought under the Red Ensign for six years during the Second World War. "When the new flag came out, for the first little while he was a bit unhappy. But then he made a decision. He said, 'This is our new flag and this is the flag of our nation, and that's it.' He turned the page."
Mr. Dallaire, a member of the Vimy Memorial Restoration Committee, said he will raise the issue with the Harper government.
A spokesman for Veterans Affairs said the decision to fly the Red Ensign at the Vimy Memorial permanently was made by the Prime Minister's Office.
A spokesman for Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, defended the move. He noted that a public opinion poll showed a strong majority of Canadians - 79 per cent - favoured the flying of the Red Ensign at Vimy for the April commemoration ceremony.
"We can recognize the fact that the Canadian Red Ensign is an enduring source of Canadian patriotism," the spokesman, Alykhan Velshi, said. "It's entirely appropriate that it flies at the monument [in Vimy]to commemorate those soldiers who fought under it."
Mr. Dallaire said Ottawa's decision suggests the country does not know how to properly mark its history.
"You sort of wonder sometimes at the maturity of our nation in things of this nature."
Mr. Dallaire retired as a lieutenant-general in the Canadian Forces in 2000.