WINNIPEG - The family of a Manitoba soldier killed in Afghanistan feels their son has been snubbed by a provincial government more enamoured of hometown hockey star Jonathan Toews than of military personnel who have been killed in action.
"We've got nothing against Jonathan. Jonathan Toews is a superstar. He's a role model, but I do not see him as a hero," Shirley Seggie said Thursday.
"They've put him in the same category as a hero, and a hero to me is someone who goes out and risks their life to save others or to make our country a better country."
Seggie's son, Cpl. Mike Seggie, died when his armoured vehicle was attacked Sept. 3, 2008, in the Zhari district. Like all other Manitobans who die in war, Seggie is automatically entitled to have a geographic feature such as a lake or hill named after him. Roughly 4,200 former service personnel have already received such recognition.
The Seggies are still waiting for that honour.
The government moved much more quickly to name a remote lake near Flin Flon after Toews for his achievements in recent months—winning a gold medal as part of the Canadian Olympic men's hockey team and leading the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup championship. Toews was treated to several honours last weekend, including having a community centre named after him.
"Jonathan Toews gets a community centre, the key to the city and a lake within a matter of four weeks," Seggie said.
The government insists it is not playing favourites. It has been planning to name lakes after Seggie's son and four other soldiers who have died in recent years in a ceremony that will be held close to Remembrance Day in November, says Dwight MacAuley, Manitoba's chief protocol officer. A similar ceremony was held in 2007 to honour two soldiers who had died in Afghanistan.
The province has simply been trying to abide by rules set down by the Geographical Names Board of Canada, a body made up of 27 representatives from federal and provincial departments involved in mapping, MacAuley said.
"In regard to posthumous awarding of geographic features ... there is a national policy in place that asks each province to wait at least three years," MacAuley said."We look upon this policy as a mere guideline and we think that's too long."
Because the honour for Toews is not posthumous, the government felt it could move much more quickly in choosing a lake to name after him. The decision was made earlier this year by politicians and bureaucrats.
"I honestly can't recall whose specific idea it was," MacAuley said.
Such recognition for people who are still living has been rare in recent years. The last time Manitoba did it was in 2002, when six lakes were named after the Queen's grandchildren to coincide with a royal visit to Winnipeg. Still, the naming of lakes has never been reserved exclusively for military personnel. There are hundreds of lakes in the province named for trappers, pilots or others.
And, MacAuley said, there is plenty of room for everyone.
"Manitoba has 60,000 or 70,000 lakes that are still unnamed."