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Canada's navy, air force are "royal" again

(Xinhua)

08:38, August 17, 2011

OTTAWA, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Peter MacKay, the Canadian Defense Minister, has turned back the clock and restored the "royal" designation to Canada's air force and navy.

Speaking at a naval base in Halifax, on Canada's Atlantic coast, MacKay announced the Maritime Command and Air Command will again be known as the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force.

The army, formally known as the Land Force Command, will be renamed the Canadian Army.

Those names have not been used since 1968, when the Canadian nationalist government of Pierre Trudeau unified the Canadian forces under one command structure and dropped the word "royal" from the names of the air force and navy.

That move was always unpopular with members of the country's military, who believed their traditions had been discarded for political reason.

Members of the royal family -- Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is Canada's monarch and legal head of state -- still act as honorary colonels-in-chief of several regiments, and the Queen often attends commemorations of Canadian campaigns in Europe during the two world wars.

The name change was announced on the 101st anniversary of the creation of the Royal Canadian Navy.

Veterans' groups applauded the government's decision.

The Royal Canadian Legion, the largest veterans' organization in the country, said the government is recognizing long-standing traditions that served the country well during its military history.

"It is quite an emotional issue for our members," said Patricia Varga, the Dominion President of The Royal Canadian Legion.

"We recognize the importance of tradition and our enduring links to the Royal Crown. From a personal perspective, I have served in the Royal Canadian Navy as did my father, so this issue is very close to my heart."

The legion's statement echoed the government's belief that the name change was a mistake.

"Our Conservative government believes that an important element of the Canadian military heritage was lost when these three former services were required to relinquish their historic titles," MacKay said. "Today, I am honored to announce that the three elements of the Canadian Forces will have their historic names restored."

He said restoring the former names of the army, navy and air force is a way of connecting today's Canadian Forces members with a proud history, and reminded guests at the announcement that many British Commonwealth countries' militaries still use the royal designation.

"This change is long overdue," MacKay said, adding that it's " important to correct historic mistakes" when possible.

"I believe that this is consistent, I believe that this is about continuity, it's about respect for our past," he said, "And I believe that this is something that the majority of Canadians will embrace."

He told reporters the name change does not diminish Canada's independence and noted last month's visit by Prince William and his wife Kate helped reinvigorate Canadians' sense of history and connectivity to Britain.

However, not everyone agrees. A Toronto-based group dubbed Citizens for a Canadian Republic came out against the name change, calling it a "backward move, designed to appeal to conservative traditionalists."

The group's spokesperson Tom Freda warned in a statement that the decision could backfire, saying that "Canada has been accustomed to moving away from colonialist symbols, not toward them."

The group also predicted that the financial cost of the changeover will be "considerable."

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