Royal Canadian Air Force veteran Major Bruce Stirling displays his rejected passport photograph Wednesday at his home in Tsawwassen. Stirling was forced to cancel a planned cruise after his photos were twice rejected by the passport office.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun
Bruce Stirling is 91. He is a veteran of the Second World War, a retired major of the Royal Canadian Air Force and one of Canada's "atomic veterans."
In 1957, he was given the honour of sitting in a trench in the Nevada desert while a 17-kiloton atomic bomb was detonated three miles away. That is to say, our armed forces used him as a human guinea pig. In the ledger where they measure the debt one has paid to one's country, it would show the country owes a much greater debt to Stirling.
A widower, he lives alone in Tsawwassen. A few months ago, he booked passage on an Alaskan cruise.
"I just wanted to get on a ship and relax for a while," he said.
To do so, he had to renew his passport.
He went to the Richmond office and filled out the application.
Then . . . well, let me quote from the letter that Stirling eventually sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office describing his experience there:
"When I approached the lady in your Richmond office to apply for a new passport, she was considerably less than helpful."
("She was bloody rude, to tell you the truth," Stirling told me. "Maybe she had a fight with her husband, I don't know, but I didn't get anywhere.")
Apparently, she was dissatisfied with the way he had filled out the form. Curtly, Stirling said, she told him to redo it.
"After I redid the application form to her satisfaction," his letter to Harper continued, "she rejected my passport photo because it was just over a year old."
Which is fair enough. One can never be too sure if Stirling had been, say, a 91-year-old terrorist who had doctored his appearance since the photo had been taken. And rules are rules, aren't they, even for nonagenarian veterans who are clearly impeding the course of a smoothly operating bureaucracy.
So Stirling went and got another passport photo taken of himself. It cost him $40. He returned to the passport office.
There was the same lady.
"This time," his letter to Harper continued, "the young lady rejected the photo because my 'lower lip was not firmly closed.' That is an actual quote."
He was, he told me, too flabbergasted to say anything.
"I felt like saying to her, 'Dear, at my age, nothing is firm.'
"I should have asked to talk to the manager. But I was so shocked I just walked away.
"She was very abrupt . . . a really unpleasant woman."
His letter to Harper continued:
"Completely frustrated, I sent everything to your office [including his expired passport], with a covering letter. Another mistake. Everything vanished into the void. Now I have nothing. If you can help me in this matter it would be greatly appreciated. I still may be able to take a cruise. But I don't have much waiting time left."
Eventually, Stirling had to cancel his trip. "Thank gawd I got my money back," he said.
Eventually, though, he did receive a letter from the Prime Minister's office. It was dated March 9. His old passport was enclosed. In it, an M. Bredeson, an "executive correspondence officer," acknowledged Stirling's original letter.
"Your difficulties in resolving this matter are appreciated," Bredeson wrote, and then informed Stirling that a copy of his letter had been forwarded to the office of Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Stirling has heard nothing since, at least, not from Cannon's office.
"I don't know what to do now," Stirling said. "I should find another passport office to go to, but I don't want to go back to that office in Richmond again."
It should be noted that Stirling's advanced age could possibly have had something to do with this story, and by that I mean readers might suspect that Stirling could be a senile old fart who would have tested the patience of Job. And who knows, maybe he was testy or unpleasant at the passport office.
But Stirling seemed to be anything but, and he was bright, pleasant and, as he said, "91 and still having fun."
So I asked to see the second passport photo that he had taken, to see if the clerk had grounds to reject it. He brought it out.
His lip looked pretty firmly closed to me.
So, considering all of the above, I wonder if someone in the passport office or in the government might give Stirling a call and expedite the renewal of his passport.
The government might also want to get the cheque that Stirling, as an atomic veteran, has been promised by the feds. He's still waiting, and it's only been -- what? -- five decades?
In the meantime, my advice to Stirling: Keep a stiff upper lip, old man.
I don't need to tell you what to do with the bottom one
when crisis strikes, there are always opportunities in the hood.