Public school board ‘will exercise a high degree of caution’ as it axes trip to commemorate 1917 battle
Waterloo Region Record
By Jeff Outhit
WATERLOO REGION — The public school board says the terrorism risk is too great to send 80 students to France to honour Canadian soldiers who died to make France free.
On Remembrance Day, the Waterloo Region District School Board confirmed it is cancelling an April trip to commemorate the 1917 battle at Vimy Ridge, widely regarded as a nation-building victory.
The school board cites Canada's advice to "exercise a high degree of caution" when visiting France, which has endured several bloody terror attacks over two years.
"We are going to exercise a high degree of caution and cancel those trips to Vimy Ridge," said Nick Manning, board spokesperson.
"We recognize that many people will think that we are being overcautious. We know that it's going to disappoint many people. But we want to make sure we exercise the most caution we can, and that we act as a board to keep our children safe."
Students were paying for the Vimy trip themselves, accompanied by teacher chaperons.
The Catholic school board is sending 100 students to the Vimy battlefield in April "with the full support of the families of the students planning to travel," said John Shewchuk, spokesperson for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.
In France, students will join a large Vimy commemoration led by an official government delegation, 100 years after the battle that killed 3,600 Canadians. Canada is working with France to provide security.
"We're going to be walking around the countryside visiting cemeteries. I don't think we're going to be an obvious target," said Carol Watkins, a retired teacher who's organizing the trip for the Catholic board.
She expects tight security at the official commemoration on April 9.
"We feel very confident," she said. "I have discussed this with various parents and they keep saying, 'Don't you dare cancel.'"
Students at five Catholic high schools are paying $3,500 each for their Vimy pilgrimage and have been fundraising for two years. They have been researching individual soldiers and plan to visit their graves.
Canada has no travel advisory urging people not to visit France.
"Unfounded fears of terrorist attacks and overly cautious risk assessments by board officials are cheating students out of the opportunity to commemorate one of the great moments in Canadian history," said Tom Deligiannis, who lectures in global studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.
"What kind of a message does it send to our students that a few terrorist attacks will force us to cower at home and not pay our respects to the tens of thousands of Canadians who went to Europe to protect Canadian liberty?"
Students will be fully refunded for their cancelled Vimy trip, Manning said. It's unclear if this may involve public expense.
The Catholic board plans to let students from Resurrection Catholic Secondary School visit France in May. The board delayed their trip for one year over terrorism fears.
The France travel caution that the school board cites is one level worse than normal security. Travel advisories are two or three levels worse than normal security.
"This risk level means there are some identifiable safety and security concerns and travellers should be vigilant at all times, monitor local media and follow the instructions of local authorities," said a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.
"However, it does not constitute an official Government of Canada advisory against travel to France."