A former Canadian soldier who died fighting ISIS in Syria will be taking an unusual trip down the Highway of Heroes.
That’s because John Gallagher was an unusual soldier – a 32-year-old volunteer who had retired from the Canadian military and fought as a member of a group Canada lists as a terrorist organization.
On Friday, Gallagher’s body will be driven from Toronto to the Ontario community of Blenheim, about 110 km southwest of London.
On Nov. 4, Gallagher, who grew up in southwestern Ontario, was killed by an ISIS suicide attack on a group of soldiers with the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish group that recruits its members from English-speaking countries. The group has been accused of having links with the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is listed by the Canadian government as a terrorist organization.
Because Gallagher wasn’t fighting in the capacity of a member of Canada’s military, he will not receive the formal military repatriation ceremony, where soldiers’ bodies travel by hearse from the Trenton air base to Toronto along the 401.
Maclean’s Magazine profiled John Gallagher and why he decided to go to Syria’s front lines to fight Islamic State. You can watch the full video here.
But regardless of the circumstances, the Canadian Heroes Foundation – a group that has helped organize every repatriation since it was founded in 2009 – is encouraging Canadians to honour Gallagher by lining the bridges along the route between Toronto and Blenheim.
“He used to be in the military,” Casper Koevoets of the Royal Canadian Legion told the London Free Press. “He was fighting the right fight that he believed in. I think he deserves a hero’s welcome home.”
Gallagher will depart Mackinnon & Bowes Funeral home located at 162 Wicksteed Ave. at noon and head up Leslie Street to the 401. There will be stops at Onroute service centres in Cambridge and West Lorne. The Canadian Heroes kite will be flying at the Cambridge location. Members of the OPP will escort the body along the route, with Chatham-Kent police and fire providing an honour guard at the funeral home.
Full details of the route upon entering Blenheim can be found on The Canadian Heroes Foundation website.
Gallagher retired from the military in 2005 and joined Kurdish forces in May of this year. He is the first Canadian fighter killed fighting ISIS.