John Stephen McInnis has every right to be proud of his Nobel Peace Prize medal. He is likely the only Canadian to have one.
But he’s not allowed to display it with his other Canadian Forces honours.
Known as Steve to family and friends, McInnis was included in the 1988 prize awarded to members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces.
“It is the considered opinion of the (Norwegian Nobel) committee that the peacekeeping forces through their efforts have made important contributions towards the realization of one of the fundamental tenets of the United Nations,” says the numbered document accompanying McInnis’ medal, which also noted that peacekeeping forces are recruited from among the young people of many nations, who voluntarily take on demanding and hazardous service in the cause of peace. “In the opinion of the committee their efforts contribute in a particularly appropriate way towards the realization of the goals of the United Nations.”
The document, signed in Oslo Dec. 10, 1988, acknowledged McInnis as having served with the peacekeeping forces prior to the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s awarding of the peace prize on Dec. 10, 1988 and noted he is entitled to wear the Nobel Commemorative Cross.
Not according to Canada’s director of Honours and Recognition, who advised McInnis he would not be allowed to wear the medal because of the way in which he received it.
“In order to be recognized by Canada, foreign honours must emanate from a head of state or government,” wrote André M. Levesque, National Defence’s director of honours and recognition, in an Aug. 28, 2012 letter advising McInnis the UN Peacekeeping Forces Nobel Peace Prize 1988 is not considered an official honour and cannot be worn with national honours. “However, please note your efforts were already acknowledged by the Canadian government with the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal.”
This particular medal recognizes service by Canadians deployed outside Canada with an aggregate 30 days of support in at least one UN international peacekeeping mission.
But Royal Canadian Legion Branch #62 past-president Harry Welton does not agree with Ottawa’s position on the UN medal or the general peacekeeping medal struck in 1997.
“What I am going to try to do is go through the legion and push for him, I’m almost positive he’s the only one (Canadian) to receive one,” says Welton of the UN medal. “I think it’s an honour, and for Ottawa to push him aside is not right. Some of the people getting the (new) medal have been in safe places while Steve was in the middle of a mess.”
The issue has surfaced now because McInnis was awarded the UN medal when he visited Finland last summer.
The retired warrant officer served with a Finnish battalion at Abu Rudeis in the Sinai Peninsula for a six-month period in 1977-78.
A week after arriving in Egypt, McInnis was promoted to master corporal and loaned to the Finnish detachment – “way out in the middle of nowhere, with the Gulf of Suez on one side, and desert on the other,” says McInnis.
The job of the Finnish infantry was to keep the Israelis and Egyptians apart during an intense period of hostility.
“My job was to supply communications between the battalion and UN headquarters in Ismailia,” he says, noting he became friends with several Finns, particularly one Reijo Tahti.
The two remained friends after their tour together, but lost touch as McInnis, who joined the Army in 1961, was posted to other places – six months in the Golan Heights, four years in Penhold, Alta., then Central Army HQ in Heidelberg, Germany before ending his service with the Air Force at 22 Wing North Bay, Ont.
“In 1998, they threw me out,” laughs this man who had always wanted a military career and served the country for 37 years, three of them in missions specifically recognized by the UN medal. “They said I was too old so they retired me.”
A few years ago, Tahti reconnected with him through a Canadian Forces captain in the Maritimes, who after Tahti inquired after his name on the Internet, phoned every McInnis across the country until he found the right one.
Last summer, McInnis and his wife visited Finland where he met his friend for the first time in 34 years and where, in a surprise ceremony at a military tattoo, received the medal.
“I am the only non-Finn to wear it,” he says with pride. “1988 was the Nobel Peace Prize to UN Peacekeepers and I had done all three peacekeeping tours, so all three were eligible.”
Of all the peacekeeping countries included in the UN honour, only Finland chose to strike a commemorative medal for their troops, says McInnis.
“Denmark might have for theirs as well, but everyone else just ignored it,” he says.
National Defence, meanwhile, confirms their stance in a Nov. 1 email to the Observer.
“The Sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, is the fount of all Canadian honours. Therefore, foreign honours must emanate from a similar level, a head of state or government, to be recognized,” wrote Marie-Pierre Bélanger, an Honours and Recognition media relations officer.