10/28/2011 06:04 EDT | Updated 12/28/2011 05:12 EST

Veteran's Wife Can't Legally Wear Medals

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A Charlottetown woman wants to honour her late husband by wearing his military medals for Remembrance Day, but she doesn't want to break the law.

Madrien Ferris said Friday she would like to wear the 10 medals her husband Albert, nicknamed Smiley, received during his 30 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. But Article 419 of the Criminal Code prohibits anyone other than the veteran from doing so.

"The medals are very important to me. He loved being in the military, that was his great, great love," said Ferris. "He told me when we were getting married in 1954; he said, 'you realize Madrien that I'm married to the army first.'"

"And I think [it's] really a shame because now his medals are no longer on display. They're just put away somewhere."

Her husband was born in Ireland and displayed his Canadian medals proudly every Remembrance Day until he died, Ferris said.

"It showed the man, that he was willing to serve and lay down his life for his new country."

She said she was surprised to learn that wearing his medals would be illegal.

"I knew it was frowned upon, but I didn't realize that you could be arrested."

A decade ago, an effort was made to change the law in Ottawa but it was voted down. Medals can be worn on the right side by family members of veterans in Britain and Australia.

Jeff Rose-Martland, of the Newfoundland non-profit veteran advocacy group Our Duty, expressed worry that medals would soon disappear from public view. "Within a few years, maybe as much as a decade, many of these medals will never be seen under the current legislation. They'll be in people's houses," he said.

"Clearly, this section of the code is intended to target fraud and those who might impersonate a veteran," said the group's president Jeff Rose-Martland in a news release Wednesday.

"However, there are no exemptions or defences outlined in the code."

Bob Butt, of the Royal Canadian Legion, said that it is disrespectful for anyone to wear medals they didn't earn.

"Because we're the Legion, we believe in the law of the land, we follow the law of the land, and it's against the Criminal Code of Canada to wear medals that were awarded to anybody else," he said.

No First World War veterans remain alive in Canada and there are fewer from the Second World War every year.

A spokesman from Canada's Veterans Affairs Department said veterans are divided on the issue, but he doesn't know of any plans to change the law.

For now, Ferris's medals will stay in storage.

"I would be able to picture him just standing there, except [his] medals would be on my chest, but they probably would be on his chest too. It would mean a great deal," she said.

"I hope that the law will be changed one day. That my children or my grandchildren will take pride in wearing them."