By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
DUNNVILLE—Some parents of the 611 Harvard Royal Canadian Air Cadets Squadron are up in arms following a planned flight familiarization trip on May 7, 2022 that didn’t allow unvaccinated cadets to participate.
“The cadets travelled there together by bus, and then the plan was to go up in a Hercules airplane and do a couple laps around the airport, come back down, have lunch, and come back to the Legion,” explained Bob Henley, whose son Sonny was one of the cadets left out.
On arrival, the cadets’ bus was boarded by a uniformed officer, and Henley says they had kids raise their hand to show vaccination status.
The unvaccinated children were marked with a blue circle with a line through it on their hand, and were separated from their peers. The event drew roughly 1,100 cadets and 95 staff members, and approximately 30 cadets were not allowed to join the flight.
Correspondence from Cadets Canada, shared via social media, explained, “Federal regulations require that every person 12 years of age or older must provide proof of vaccination to board a flight or enter a restricted area at an aerodrome, including those operated by the Canadian Armed Forces. Unfortunately, this information was not effectively communicated to parents and cadets in some squadrons.”
The statement indicated that vaccinated cadets were given a different marking on their hands, in black instead of blue, indicating they could participate.
Henley said that another parent he had spoken with had contacted the squadron prior to the event and was told that their vaccination status would not be a problem: “The issue didn’t come until the day of the event.”
“There was segregation,” continued Henley. “The kids were marked and segregated according to their medical status, which they had to publicly express in front of all their peers.”
Sonny offered his perspective on the incident, saying, “There was a lot of disappointment there…. I was excited, because it was my first time ever going on a plane, and it was a Hercules.”
According to the Cadets Canada statement, “The cadets who were not able to participate in the flight were supervised at all times and had access to shelter and water.”
Both Bob and Sonny dispute this claim.
“After we were taken off the bus and split, first we were brought to a loading dock area where we couldn’t see anything,” said Sonny. “They didn’t offer us any water or anything. We were just sitting there in the sun in our uniforms. Then, we got moved to the fence line so we could at least see the plane and see everyone else get onto the plane.”
From there, the separated cadets watched as their peers lifted off and touched down, after which they were reunited, ate lunch together, and went home.
“He went on a federally funded bus two hours away, got to stand and watch while all his fellow squadron went up in the plane, came back down just raving about the experience they had,” said Henley. “How was it okay to get on a bus, or be there every Tuesday night with them, but not go on this plane? … If it is the Federal mandates that caused it, how did they not know about it?”
The Cadets Canada statement mentioned that cadets who weren’t participating had the opportunity to attend an aviation expo taking place concurrently, but Henley said neither his son nor the other cadets from Dunnville were offered the chance.
The incident has had an unfortunate impact on Sonny, who has since quit the program.
Henley said that he was disappointed with the squadron’s captain, noting that she went up in the plane rather than stay behind with the cadets who could not go. Further, he felt the group should have turned back as soon as they discovered some of their members couldn’t proceed: “That would have been teaching the kids that we are a squadron, a unit together. If one of us can’t do it, none of us will.”
Henley is not the only parent inflamed by the incident, with a pair of posts on social media by the group ‘Veterans4Freedom’ gaining traction with stories from other affected parents.
The Cadets Canada statement noted, “We also apologize for how vaccination status was identified in a group setting, as staff determined who was permitted to fly. We are taking immediate action to ensure this oversight doesn’t happen again.”
For Henley and his son, it is too little, too late: “I can’t believe they would do that to kids,” said Henley.
The Haldimand Press reached out to 611 Squadron for comment but did not receive a reply prior to publication.