The case of an alleged impostor passing himself off as a Canadian soldier at this week’s Remembrance Day ceremonies is rare but not unheard of.
In Winnipeg, one man masqueraded as a Canadian Forces soldier for three years, even going as far as telling his family he had gone to Afghanistan to fight, according to a military intelligence report obtained by the Citizen.
The impostor was arrested by military police in November 2011 but not before attending a number of Canadian Forces functions and being profiled in a local newspaper in full military uniform as a soldier headed to the Afghan war.
“The Canadian citizen indicated he had attempted to join the CF; however the trade he wanted to join was full,” military intelligence officers wrote in their November 2011 report. “He then went on to portray himself over the course of three years as a member to impress his family that he was successful.”
Josh Tuckett, 21, pleaded guilty in 2012 to a charge of impersonating a member of the Canadian Forces. He had passed himself off as a corporal, even claiming to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from seeing three of his friends die in battle in Afghanistan.
A tearful Tuckett apologized to the court, saying he masqueraded as a soldier to get attention.
Although he was facing a maximum sentence of six months in jail, lawyers recommended Tuckett be spared a criminal record. The judge agreed and the young man was given a discharge because his motives were not deemed malicious.
Tuckett had no problem buying a Canadian Forces uniform: military clothing, equipment and medals are readily available on Internet sites such as Kijiji and eBay, as well as in military surplus stores and second-hand clothing outlets.
On eBay there are currently 142 listings offering Canadian Forces’ camouflage uniforms and equipment, from helmets to holsters to rank insignias. Some are real, others are commercially produced copies.
There are also various Canadian medals for sale on the site. Some are from the Second World War and once belonged to veterans whose families are now selling them.
Others are more modern. One seller offers a Canadian General Service medal awarded to personnel who served during the 1999 mission in the former Yugoslavia. The starting price is $42. Canadian Forces lapel pin badges denoting 12 years of honourable service in the military sell for $9.
Gordon Cumming, owner of one of Canada’s oldest military surplus stores, said he isn’t surprised an impostor was able to outfit himself with a uniform, complete with medals.
“Anybody can put together a uniform quite easily,” said Cumming, who runs Crown Surplus in Calgary, Alta. “Everything is available.”
The store has purchased uniforms from the federal government as part of surplus packages. Material is purchased in bulk and those companies buying may not be entirely sure of what they are getting. Other times, the government sells specific items, such as 500 shirts no longer needed by the Canadian Forces, said Cumming.
In addition, families and individuals also bring in uniforms and medals to sell. “We get stuff where the guys have served three or five years in the military and they might have shirts and pants and jackets,” Cumming explained.
As well, Chinese companies are now producing medals, uniforms and various equipment that is difficult to discern from the real items. “Even the military ammunition boxes we buy are made in China,” he explained.
Customers range from movie companies to military aficionados to teenagers, he said.
The Department of National Defence also recently reported that 268 pieces of “combat clothing,” valued at more than $23,000, were stolen in the last fiscal year. Although some pieces have since been recovered, about $18,000 worth is considered gone.
The stolen clothing, however, is not seen as an issue when it comes to impostors outfitting themselves with uniforms – since everything they need is readily available for purchase at various outlets, military personnel have privately noted.