Federal funding, successful lawsuit could help prevent closure of Legion branches

OTTAWA – Royal Canadian Legion officials across the country are hoping new federal funding will save many halls from closing for good.

The federal government’s latest COVID-19 aid package, Bill C-4, allocates $20 million for veterans’ organizations.

Most of the funding, which should be distributed prior to the end of year, is expected to flow to Legions, which have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike other service clubs, Legions have brick and mortar buildings, which means they have to pay property taxes and costs for staff and maintenance, though staff members were laid off in the initial stages of the pandemic.

And while some Legions reopened bar and patio services in the summer, when the facilities closed entirely there was no revenue to cover those costs.

As is the case across the nation, smaller branches in Wellington County were particularly hard hit.

In June, the Royal Canadian Legion warned that 124 of its 1,381 branches were likely to close permanently due to the fallout from COVID-19, while another 357 were facing serious financial problems. Since then, at least 20 branches have closed permanently.

And 625 Legion branches – all branches outside of British Columbia – joined a $20-million lawsuit against Aviva, after the insurance provider denied loss of business insurance claims, saying the pandemic is not equivalent to an “outbreak” as defined in the policy.

Legion officials say the long-term future of many of those Legions hinges on the outcome of the lawsuit.

It’s unclear what the new Bill C-4 funding will look like, but Legion officials are hopeful it will be non-repayable grants.