In the spring of 2018, the Canadian government unveiled a $300-million initiative to help veterans who were injured or suffered an amputation during their service.
The goal: to create a national registry of all veterans who had tattoos on their arms and legs.
The new system would allow the government to track the tattoos of all Canadian soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.
The system would also allow for a registry of the tattoos on all of Canada’s Armed Forces members.
(NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s Liberal government had promised to set up a registry before it was elected in 2015.)
The initiative also included a $30-million “tattoo recognition initiative” to identify veterans who have had their tattoos removed.
“A lot of people thought it was a really good idea,” says Michael Tarrant, the minister responsible for the initiative.
“It was an initiative to identify a large number of soldiers who had lost their limbs, who had been injured in combat, who were in a combat zone.
We had a lot of volunteers from the Canadian Forces who had done that.
We thought it would be a good idea to help them with that.”
But Tarrants hopes that the government will soon be able to identify tattoos on veterans who don’t have the tattoos.
“There’s a very small percentage of veterans who, after their deployment, may have lost their eyesight or their hearing,” he says.
“And if you look at some of the more severe cases, it’s really hard to tell how much of that is due to the loss of eyesight and hearing, and how much is due the loss and subsequent complications that follow.”
In the end, Tarrance’s plan will only be able, he says, to identify “a very small proportion” of the tattooed veterans.
It will also not identify “all the thousands and thousands of veterans, who are just not on the national registry.”
In an interview, a spokesperson for the minister of veterans affairs, Paul Moreau, said that he had been told that the Canadian military “is a very sensitive and complex organization.”
“I would hope that, given that our service men and women serve with great dignity, we would be able [to] provide a registry with sufficient information to make the right decisions,” Moreau said.
“We have been in touch with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help identify veterans.”
It’s not clear whether this is what the minister is saying.
Tarrantes says that while he is proud of the government’s plan to create an online registry of veterans with tattoos, he’s concerned that it will only identify a small portion of veterans.
“I think we’ve done a great job of identifying all the thousands of vets, but it is only a small proportion of the number of veterans,” he said.
Tardant says that his team is already working with the veterans service organizations to create the registry.
“That is one of the things that is really interesting about this project is that we are trying to create this registry that includes a very large number and a very select group of people,” he added.
So I think we have a lot to work on in terms of creating a registry that’s really inclusive.”