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The military's decision to scrap one of the first major naval ships designed and built in Canada has provoked a legal broadside.

HMCS Fraser is the last of seven St. Laurent-class destroyers that showcased Canada's postwar confidence. Four of her sister ships have been scrapped, one sank en route to the scrapyard and one became an artificial reef off Lunenburg, N.S.

A reef society in Nova Scotia, which owned the decommissioned ship for 11 years, sold her back to the Department of National Defence last year for $1. The society believed it still had input into her future and was shocked Friday to hear that the military was going to scrap the derelict vessel.

Rick Welsford, head of the Artificial Reef Society of Nova Scotia, said Monday that he secured a court order to prevent the 1950s-era ship from being towed to a scrapyard. In addition, Mr. Welsford's group filed a lawsuit Friday in Federal Court, claiming it retains an ownership interest.

"As far as I'm concerned the negotiations are not finished," he said in an interview.

The claims have not been tested in court, and DND was unable to provide comment.

Read the statement of claim

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Barring political intervention offering money to preserve her, the ship either will be scrapped or scuttled as an artificial reef.

"I think [former crew]would like her to get a decent burial," said retired seaman Graham McBride, who trained on the Fraser in the early 1960s.

In an ideal world, he would prefer that she be preserved. But based on his experience on the board of the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust, which oversees HMCS Sackville, the last Second World War corvette, he is not holding his breath.

"I hate to say this, but heritage in this country means very, very little," Mr. McBride said. "When it comes time to lay your money on the table, people disappear."

The Fraser's journey has been circuitous. Decommissioned in 1994 after nearly four decades of service, she was given to the reef society four years later. In 2009, the group sold her back to DND. The ship was in rough shape and the department said at the time that it had the right to scrap her.

But Mr. Welsford counters that the terms of sale include a clause specifying that, should DND decide to scrap the ship, his group has the right to submit a counterproposal. It had presented DND with a detailed plan for turning the vessel into an artificial reef, he said, and was turned down without explanation.

On Monday, Mr. Welsford said the group would prefer the ship be scuttled rather than taken apart.

"It's the difference between giving someone a proper burial and dismembering them and scattering them around the streets," he said. "This ship made a significant contribution and means something historically to Canadians. It deserves better than to be torn apart."

A former boatswain aboard HMCS Fraser, Daniel Lacroix, said it would be a fitting end for her to become a reef, as did HMCS Nipigon, another ship on which he served.

"I prefer that the ship has a second life for divers to explore than to scrap it," he said in an e-mail exchange. "The Fraser deserves it."