‘My honour has been shredded’: 94-year-old Vancouver vet fights legion expulsion


At 16, Ralph Jackson signed up to fight during the Second World War. Now, at 94, he’s fighting for his dignity.

Jackson says he’s been expelled from the the Vancouver branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, where he was once president, for alleged “theft or misappropriation of legion funds.” He says he never got his day in court and still doesn’t know the details of his alleged crimes.

“I did nothing wrong. I never stole a penny. I would have liked to have known what money I did steal,” says Jackson. “It’s like condemning someone out of hand. You just come up with something and say, ‘You’re a thief.'”

While Jackson was ousted under legion bylaws, criminal charges were never laid.

After a two-and-a-half-year battle to have provincial and national legion headquarters review his case, Jackson is going public in a bid to finally clear his name.

“Before I die, I want that done. I would die gladly with a clean name … that’s what I want for my children to know, that I’ve been cleared of this,” says Jackson. “My honour has been shredded.”

Jackson’s troubles began shortly after he stepped down as Shalom branch president in December 2017. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

All complaints ‘duly corroborated’

Jackson’s troubles began shortly after he stepped down as president of the legion’s Shalom Branch 178 in December 2017.

His successor was Danny Redden, a relatively new member of the Vancouver branch.

One month after taking charge, Redden filed a complaint with the Royal Canadian Legion accusing Jackson of “theft or misappropriation of legion funds.”

Redden wrote, “Mr. Jackson paid out money and moved funds from one account to the other without the approval of the general membership. This happened more than once.”

Jackson insists the handling of all funds was overseen by the branch’s executive committee.

He says he was not able to defend himself, because he never received a letter detailing a time and place for a hearing. 

On March 25, 2018, a complaint committee convened by the B.C./Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion found all complaints “duly corroborated [proven],” despite Jackson’s absence.

He appealed in writing, the only option allowed under legion bylaws, but lost. Under those bylaws, there is no provision for further appeals.

Jackson was expelled from the legion, without ever knowing the exact nature of the charges against him.

Jackson’s accuser says he can’t clear up the mystery.

“The people who made the decision had all the evidence,” Redden told CBC News.

Asked if Jackson’s advanced age and years of service should have allowed more flexibility in the legion’s handling of the complaint, Redden was blunt.

“You don’t take age into account when reviewing the evidence,” says Redden.

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

Dishonour for one of last WWII vets

Jackson is one of few surviving Second World War vets in the country.

As a young Jewish teenager from Glasgow, he joined the Scots Guard in 1943, but wasn’t assigned to fight overseas. Instead, he became an instructor, giving sub-machine gun training to British commandos until the war’s end.

In 1948, Jackson was injured in a live-fire accident when a mortar exploded metres away. Rendered partially deaf, he left the British army. 

Jackson came to Vancouver in 1966, eventually joining the legion’s Shalom branch — formed, he says, by Jewish vets who felt unwelcome at other branches.

He became one of the top poppy sellers in B.C., bringing in tens of thousands of dollars from his post at Vancouver’s upscale Oakridge mall.

Jackson says the Shalom branch was formed when Jewish veterans felt unwelcome at other branches after the Second World War. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

Administered $100K fund

In 2016, at age 90, Jackson took on the presidency of the Shalom branch and started to administer a legacy fund.

A Jewish benefactor had left $100,000 to the branch, to be handed out to Jewish charities, students and schools, $5,000 at a time.

Jackson admits the fund’s existence was kept from the B.C./Yukon command of the legion, for fear the cash would be moved into general legion coffers.

“It wasn’t their money. They never gave us anything. Then why should they get that money?” says Jackson. 

But Redden says any suggestion the $100,000 fund was the source of this complaint is “‘way off base.”

Like Redden, the B.C./Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion remains tight-lipped.

“Specific details of complaints are confidential … but we always ensure a fair process is followed,” stated executive director Veronica Brown in an email to CBC News. “There is no possibility that [Jackson’s case] will be reopened.” 

Jackson ‘got caught in the undertow’

The fight has taken its toll on the Shalom branch. It’s temporarily closed and under trusteeship, its membership split over Jackson’s expulsion.

Ralph Jackson’s supporters include the Shalom branch’s vice-president, Larry Shapiro, who was accused of the same “theft or misappropriation of legion funds,” but was eventually exonerated.

Larry Shapiro, Shalom branch vice-president, faced the same charges as Jackson, but was cleared. He wants to know why Jackson wasn’t vindicated, too. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC)

Shapiro says he, too, wasn’t told the full details of the allegations.

“From the beginning, I never had a total explanation as to what the charges were,” Shapiro says.

Unlike Jackson, Shapiro attended his first hearing. While he, too, was convicted, he was eventually able to successfully appeal.

Ed Fitch, a retired major-general, has taken on Jackson’s cause — but so far, to no avail. (Ed Fitch/Submitted)

“If I could prove that the allegations were nonsense and non-existent, then how could [Jackson] continue to be punished?” asks Shapiro. “He got caught in the undertow and somehow is trapped in such a way that he cannot clear his name.”

Even Ed Fitch, a retired major-general in the Canadian Armed Forces who has taken on Jackson’s cause, says he’s been stonewalled.

“He never had that fundamental right of confronting his accusers,” says Fitch. “I think what’s called for is an act of compassion, that Ralph be reinstated and let him live out his remaining years … in the Royal Canadian Legion.”

Jackson vows he’ll keep fighting to prove his innocence and restore his dignity. 

“I’m a fighter. Although I may be an old guy at 94, I’ve got all my faculties,” says Jackson.

“And if the results are against me again, I’ll fight again. Because I know I did nothing wrong.”

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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