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Citizenship ceremonies with fake war veteran leads to federal review

12/02/2014 03:04 EST | Updated 02/01/2015 05:59 EST
The federal government is reviewing which veterans it invites to attend its citizenship ceremonies after a fake war veteran participated in Hamilton-area ceremonies.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is “reviewing the process of inviting CAF [Canadian Armed Forces] to citizenship ceremonies,” a spokesperson said in an email Tuesday.

The government wouldn’t say what sparked the review. But it comes on the heels of the case of Donald Lemmond, who according to a Hamilton Spectator article is not a war veteran, but a reservist for three years, from 1968 to 1971.

Lemmond attended local citizenship ceremonies, including one at Mohawk College this year, under the guise of being a decorated Canadian and U.S. combat veteran. The school then invited him to speak during its Remembrance Day ceremony, which included video commemorating Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was killed in an attack at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Oct. 22.

Lemmond, 71, wore a uniform decorated with war medals and spoke of saving lives. But a member of the audience noticed that his medals were worn improperly and that his story didn’t add up, said spokesman Jay Robb.

“My name is Donald Lemmond,” he said in a video at Mohawk College on Nov. 11. “I served with the forces of Canada and the United States for 35 years as a captain.”

Lemmond, who said he was born in 1943 on the Six Nations reserve, claimed he was an army medic who “did my duty to help save lives.”

Lemmond wore multiple medals he referred to as his “many awards and honours” and encouraged attendees to thank people they saw in uniform, and to buy them a coffee. He also encouraged questions about his military service.

"I promise not to get too graphic in describing where and how I served,” he said. 

Mohawk College learned of the flaws in Lemmond’s story when police and local media contacted the school, Robb said.

Emotional ceremony after Cirillo

Staff and students had packed the McIntyre Theatre after the recent funeral for Cirillo, Robb said. 

“It was a very emotional event, and to have this happen was really, really disappointing,” he said.

Lemmond’s speech wasn’t the focal point of the ceremony, Robb said.

“It’s just so unfortunate it happened with this one. It’s bad enough that it happens any time, but it happened after what Hamilton has been through.”

The Hamilton Police Service has contacted the college for an investigation, Robb said.

Const. Debbie McGreal, a Hamilton police spokeswoman, wouldn’t confirm the investigation, saying police typically don't unless it leads to charges.

CBC News in Hamilton contacted Lemmond at his downtown home on Tuesday. He maintained that he served 30 years in the reserves, which makes him a veteran, and that he has classified documents to prove it.

"They're saying I'm not a veteran because I served in the reserve forces," he said.

His uniform, he said, is the uniform of Her Majesty's Army and Navy Veterans Society, which he represented at the citizenship ceremonies. An American friend sent him the medals.

"He said, 'You deserve these.' That's all I'm going by," said Lemmond, who added he's since given the medals to a friend.

"If they want to charge me with wearing medals I’m not allowed to wear, then they can charge me with wearing medals I’m not allowed to wear."

In his speech at Mohawk College, he said he'd "been around the world many times and always did my duty to help save lives.”​

Lemmond told CBC that he has been around the world "on a computer," but he has never been in active combat.

The Canadian Armed Forces, veterans affairs officials or community organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion offer veterans to participate in citizenship ceremonies, Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman Nancy Caron said in an email.

Lemmond was never paid to attend a ceremony, she said.

Mohawk to ask speakers for service records

From now on, Mohawk College will ask to see service records for its Remembrance Day speakers, Robb said.

Typically, speakers are students, faculty, staff or alumni who have served. 

Lemmond said he's received a lot of angry messages since the story broke. 

"Some of them on Facebook were that I should never show my face outside again, that I should never leave my home," he said. "All sorts of things."

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