Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Frank Caputo is adding his voice to Canadians trying to stop developers in Normandy, France, from building condominiums on Juno Beach —the site of Canada’s D-Day landing during the Second World War.
The group Save Juno Beach is petitioning the federal government to ask the French government to stop the proposed development, believing such a project is an insult to soldiers who fought to liberate the country from Nazi Germany.
The French property developer, Foncim, plans to build a 70-unit condominium development, dubbed Domaine des Dunes, on the beach, east of the privately operated Juno Beach Centre (JBC), which has been there for nearly 20 years.
For the past two years, the museum has been locked in a legal battle with Foncim and a recent decision granted the developer access to a road JBC built on Juno Beach land it leases, so its construction workers and vehicles can access the site.
The JBC said it generally isn’t opposed to projects like these on former battlegrounds, but said the impacts of the Dunes decision are a concern. The museum contends it is impossible to share the road without the construction trucks passing through and damaging the route, impacting the museum commercially and making day-to-day operations difficult. The museum also has safety concerns for its visitors and feels the traffic will hinder their own development works.
“Traffic chaos, safety issues and congestion impacting the itineraries of guests — among many other problems — will have grave repercussions for the centre, particularly during a time where we have lost a significant number of visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” a release from the museum reads. “In combination with the Dunes development disruptions, these factors will lead to the decline and possibly the eventual closure of the JBC.”
The housing project is expected to break ground in September and take two years to build.
Caputo, who is the Conservative shadow minister for Veterans Affairs, said he is attempting to get the project stopped, arguing it is a sacred site. He said he learned of the issue from multiple emails on the topic, which led to having conversations with representatives of the Save Juno Beach group, the Royal Canadian Legion and the JBC. Caputo noted he has also spoken about the issue in the House of Commons and is looking into how the Canadian government can intervene.
“As an opposition MP, I can only implore the government to do that,” he said.
Caputo said he has spoken informally about the issue with Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay and is hoping to talk formally with him during a trip to France he's on currently to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the First World War battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9).
The JBC said it has informed MacAulay and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly on the issue and hopes it can “make clear to their French counterparts that the investments Canadians and their government have made with the museum and the ground it operates are now seriously at risk.”
“French decision-makers need to see that Canadians will not abide this enormous insult to the memory of our soldiers,” the JBC said.
Those behind the Save Juno Beach campaign want the battlefield preserved for future generations.
“‘Lest we forget’ has to be more than just empty words,” the campaign’s website stated.
On June 6, 1944, Canada’s Third Infantry Division landed at Juno Beach in Nazi-occupied France, one of five landing sites of Allied troops in mainland Europe that sparked a turn in the Second World War. The Canadian division took control of the beach by the end of the day, with more than 14,000 Canadian soldiers landing or parachuting into France on D-Day. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 warships and 10,000 sailors, while the Royal Canadian Air Force contributed 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons to the assault. There were 359 Canadian soldiers who died on D-Day, with another 715 injured.
Caputo says veterans should have free passes to parks, museums
Meanwhile, Caputo is hopeful the federal government will act on a request he made to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland that soldiers and veterans be given free access to national parks and museums.
“To me, it’s just a small token of gratitude to our veterans that really won’t affect Canada’s bottom line,” Caputo said. “I really hope the minister listens to that and I invite any constituents who feel that way to contact the finance minister.”
Caputo sent the request via email, of which Freeland’s office acknowledged receipt, making Caputo hopeful the government will take up the cause.