Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's a great honour to appear before the committee today.
I am very pleased that my Bill C-311 was passed unanimously at second reading in the House of Commons, so that it is before you today.
I want to thank you and acknowledge the efforts over the years of many members from all parties who in previous parliaments brought forward bills similar to this one as private members' bills. I would note that in particular , a member of the New Democratic Party, worked on this in the last Parliament. The bill made it to third reading in the House before dying on the Order Paper before the last election call.
I want to preface this with some remarks about the importance of Remembrance Day. Our beautiful and peaceful country did not happen by luck. It was built, brick by brick, by those who have gone before us, those who have protected and defended our liberties, values, and rights. The people who have served our country in our armed forces deserve our utmost respect.
November 11 is Remembrance Day. That marks the day in 1918 when the Great War, World War I, ended. It has come to symbolize and to solemnly remind us of those who have paid the supreme sacrifice in service to our country. From Ypres, Flanders Fields, and Vimy Ridge in World War I; to Dieppe, Italy, Africa, Normandy, and the Pacific in World War II; and to Korea, peacekeeping missions, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and other conflicts around the world, there is a continuum of bravery and dedication by our Canadian Forces. Past, present, and future, we must honour them and their sacrifice. It is right that a grateful country appropriately pays tribute and thanks, and remembers our fallen and those who serve.
I therefore believe that Remembrance Day is very important for our country and for all Canadians. I think we should be raising its profile where and when possible, and we should ensure that it is being marked appropriately.
I note in special reflection that in April of this year, 2017, we mark the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. It's a day that marks a special place in many Canadians' minds. It will be celebrated properly but remembered solemnly by our whole country. I think it's appropriate that we have this discussion the same year that we mark the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
You've all been provided with materials relating to my private member's bill, Bill . I want to talk a little bit about the mechanics of the bill.
First, if you look at the provisions that it seeks to amend in the Holidays Act, you'll note that it seeks to add the word “legal” before the word “holiday” with reference to Remembrance Day in the Holidays Act. Other holidays that are specifically mentioned in the act are Canada Day and Victoria Day, which are, in that act, noted as legal holidays. For Remembrance Day, it is noted as just “holiday”. Proposed subsection 3(1) in my bill seeks to add the word “legal”.
With regard to proposed subsections 3(2) and (3), as I mentioned in my speech in the House of Commons, I propose that they be deleted, that they be struck from the bill entirely. My intent in bringing this bill forward was to elevate the status of Remembrance Day to ensure that we are giving it its due and putting it on a level equal to the other days in the Holidays Act. Proposed subsections 3(2) and (3) do not achieve these goals. I have realized since submitting my bill for consideration that they are problematic.
For example, proposed subsection 3(2) basically says that when November 11 is on a Saturday or Sunday, it would then put the holiday to the Monday. I don't believe that is the right thing to do. November 11 is Remembrance Day, and that is the day it should always be marked. It is not about having a holiday, so proposed subsection 3(2), I would suggest, should be struck.
Proposed subsection 3(3) refers to the flag at half-mast. It seemed like a good idea. I was advised that bringing this forward and then deleting it would be easier than trying to add it afterwards. However, having reflected on this, I realize it's problematic.
The proposed subsection reads as follows:
||(3) On Remembrance Day, the Canadian flag on the Peace Tower shall be lowered to half-mast.
It's problematic in that if, for example, the Queen were in Ottawa that day to mark Remembrance Day, then her standard, by protocol, would fly over the Peace Tower. It would conflict with this provision. I therefore have no difficulty asking for this provision to be struck as well.
To remove proposed subsections 3(2) and (3), either your committee can vote them down at clause-by-clause or I can draft an amendment, which I'd be happy to do, to remove these provisions.
I'll now turn to what this bill does and what it does not do. This is a really important part of my presentation, because there's been some misinformation, or misunderstanding, about this.
First, what does the bill do? It's a modest measure to add consistency to the language in the federal Holidays Act to add the word “legal” and ensure that the same language that is used for Canada Day and Victoria Day is used for Remembrance Day. I believe this elevates the status, but at the very least it adds consistency to the language in our federal Holidays Act.
I believe it also affirms Parliament's commitment that November 11 is a very important day in Canada, an important day of solemn remembrance and reflection for those who have sacrificed for our country. I also believe it gives pause for us to reflect on the ways in which we honour the service of our service members, and ensures that we are appropriately remembering their service and appropriately honouring Remembrance Day.
What doesn't the bill do? This is really important. It doesn't make a national holiday. It can't. It's not within purview of Parliament to do that. It is up to the provinces to determine whether there is a statutory holiday, a day off, for their jurisdiction.
It doesn't give anyone the day off who doesn't already have it. Anybody in the federal civil service already would have November 11 as a day off because of collective agreements that have been reached. It may clarify, I suppose, at the federal level that this is to be the case, but it wouldn't give anyone the day off who doesn't already have it.
Third, it doesn't give any students a day off school who don't already have that day off school by virtue of provincial statute in their jurisdiction. Many provinces in Canada already have the day as a statutory holiday. Ontario and Quebec do not have it as a statutory holiday. Manitoba has a different law in place. Nova Scotia has the Remembrance Day Act, which in effect gives people the day off, but it's not technically a statutory holiday.
This bill will not make it a national holiday, will not give anyone the day off who doesn't already have it, and will not give any students the day off school who do not already have it. That is within the jurisdiction of the provinces.
The two main arguments that I've heard in opposition...and I know that Mr. White from the Dominion command will be testifying today. It's right to think about this, and I totally respect the Legion Dominion command's point of view, but I disagree. Their argument is that the children should be in school on Remembrance Day to ensure that they are marking the solemn occasion.
What I would say to this is that, first of all, this bill doesn't have anything to do with that, because it doesn't make it a day off. It can't. That's up to the provinces. But in response to the children being in school on Remembrance Day, November 11 is sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday. I don't think anyone would suggest that it would be a problem for schoolchildren to have veterans coming in the week leading up to Remembrance Day to mark the occasion, learn about it, and then perhaps have an opportunity to attend the cenotaph with their parents.
Second, in Nova Scotia, where I come from, Veterans' Week, in the days leading up to Remembrance Day, is well marked. Veterans come into the schools, mark the occasion, teach children about Remembrance Day, and then the children have November 11 to attend with their family.
The other argument is that it could be just another day off. Again, this bill has nothing to do with giving people the day off, but to that I would say that we've seen increasing attendance at Remembrance Day ceremonies in jurisdictions where this is a holiday. That's particularly true in Nova Scotia, which I can attest to, and we'll hear evidence relating to that on Thursday, I believe.
I would also say, though, that we must ensure that it does not become just another day off, that it does not become like Victoria Day, for example, which is always on a Monday for a long weekend. We must ensure that education goes along with any change in provincial ways of marking the occasion.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that I believe this bill is well reasoned and is a modest bill in what it does. The fact that it adds consistency in language and elevates Remembrance Day to the same level as Canada Day and Victoria Day in federal statutes is appropriate, and it affirms Parliament's commitment to ensure that this very important day of reflection and thanks to our fallen is given its due respect.
With that, Mr. Chair, I'm happy to answer any questions. Thank you.
Honourable vice-chair and members of the committee, good afternoon and thank you very much for inviting the Royal Canadian Legion to appear before the committee to speak on Bill , an act to amend the Holidays Act, regarding Remembrance Day.
On behalf of our president David Flannigan and our 275,000 members, I'm expressing my pleasure at being here. As explained, I'm Brad White, the Dominion secretary of the Royal Canadian Legion. For the past 20 years, I have been involved in every major commemorative activity that the Legion has participated in, as well as being the former director of Canada's national Remembrance Day ceremony.
The Legion's position is that November 11 not be a legal or a statutory holiday, and therefore I will be speaking against Bill .
I'd like to give you a little background information. Such positions and other matters of Legion policy result from resolutions passed at a Dominion convention following consultation and debate at all three levels of our organization.
This procedure for enacting change in the Legion starts at the branch level, where any member can propose a change in policy or administrative procedure that could affect the entire organization. Following a review and discussion by all members within the branch, the resolution passes to the provincial command level. At the provincial command level and at their convention the delegates from within that jurisdiction further consider and discuss the proposed resolution. If the delegates concur, the resolution is submitted to the Dominion command at the national level for our national convention, and this is the third and final level of consultation and debate. If passed by the Dominion convention, which is attended by delegates from all branches, all provincial commands in the organization, the resolution becomes an adopted policy or approved procedure within the Royal Canadian Legion.
As you can see, such matters receive thorough consideration and undergo debate throughout all levels of the organization.
The holiday status of Remembrance Day has been debated at numerous Dominion conventions throughout the Legion's history, in fact, 15 times since 1970 and most recently at our 2016 Dominion convention. At this Dominion convention the Legion's position against Remembrance Day being a statutory holiday was reaffirmed. We remain concerned that Canadians, given time off as a legal holiday, may not take the time to remember and that it may simply become a mid-week break or just another part of a long weekend.
The latter situation relates specifically to the discussion of the 1978 Dominion convention, which focused on how government departments of the day treated November 11 as a floating holiday to give their employees a long weekend. This must never be allowed to happen again.
We have heard an interpretation of what a legal holiday is and that making Remembrance Day a legal holiday would not designate it as a statutory holiday. The semantics of such interpretations are subjective. One needs only to look at the news media reporting on the progress of previous bills on this matter to see how it is a commonplace position that statutory holiday status is exactly what this bill would achieve.
The perception is further validated by association as the bill would serve to designate Remembrance Day the same as Canada Day and Victoria Day, both of which are legal holidays in the Holidays Act with each also being a statutory holiday. If it is not the intent of this bill to make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday, if designating it as a legal holiday only would not change its current status according to the interpretation provided by the Library of Parliament and reported to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, then why would we propose such a current bill?
Perhaps what is needed is to raise the awareness and understanding of Remembrance Day, which could be achieved through an educational strategy. It is paramount that the significance of Remembrance Day be instilled in our youth and the general population to show their respect for the sacrifices of our fallen. To honour this day, many schools hold assemblies, which they organize within their own commemoration programs. Some teachers take students to collectively participate with their peers in ceremonies at local cenotaphs, thereby strengthening the impact and the significance of the 11th of November.
The Legion works very closely with schools throughout the country to provide an educational component about Remembrance Day in addition to welcoming classes at ceremonies. The Legion's teaching guide is an excellent educational tool which has been viewed or downloaded from our website more than one million times.
The Ontario Federation of Home and School Associations expressed strong support for the Legion's position on Remembrance Day. The association noted in the 1960s that Ontarians did observe Remembrance Day as a school holiday. Children remained at home to play, watch television, and enjoy a day of rest. Few were involved in events recognizing the significance of the day. At that time, veterans' groups, school boards, and other organizations, such as the OFHSA, petitioned to have schools remain open on Remembrance Day so that suitable remembrance services could be held in schools to provide students with a better understanding of the purpose and the tribute paid.
As well, last June, when we made a presentation to this very committee, we had Madam Sonia Gallo, from the York Catholic School Board, appear alongside us at the committee meeting on Bill ; and she again supported the Legion's position.
So, too, are we encouraged to hear of organized commemorations taking place in workplaces on November 11. We need to make honouring and remembering an important part of our regular routine on November 11, and not simply provide a day off from school or work.
As an example, take Victoria Day, a legal holiday, and question what observances are being held across the country to honour Queen Victoria who, until last year, was Canada's longest-serving monarch. For most, it simply provides a long weekend in May. We should not let Remembrance Day follow the same fate.
We thank you again for this opportunity for the Legion to express our views, and again our organization opposes Bill .
Thank you, Chair.
So you understand French very well. Perfect.
I'm fully aware of the importance of this. Observing a minute of silence or periods of 11 seconds of silence throughout isn't too much to ask, and is feasible.
My question isn't for you, but for our analysts. Is the translation of the paragraph from English into French optimal? I don't want to put you on the spot, but that's what I'm doing anyway. I'm sorry.
It constantly fascinates me. We voted on the motion earlier. We changed the wording in French because it wasn't correct. The wording the Conservatives used wasn't at all the same in French as in English.
It's very different for the bill we're studying. I'm not bilingual enough to see exactly what the difference is between “kept and observed” and “célébré”. When I see the word “célébration”, I think of Loto-Québec and balloons. It adds a festive aspect to the thing.
Here's what I think your main motivation is. You want this to be a time when people become aware of the sacrifices that have been made in the course of history. You don't want people to go out and drink beer in a park and sit around. I understand that. I don't know how we can word all of this.
Maybe I'm dreaming in technicolour, or maybe I'm coming at it with a sledgehammer, but I would take away the aspect of the holiday that is mentioned when it says “November 11 falls on a Saturday or a Sunday” because it looks like an extended weekend. If I were you, I wouldn't include that sentence. Ideally, you want schools to be involved. I think that's what the veterans want. You want the younger generations and the whole population to be aware of this.
It would be desirable for November 11 to fall on a weekday, so that children are at school, but if it falls on the weekend, it would be okay too. This may not be the case next year. Perhaps we can live with this more easily.
Your concern is to keep things as simple as possible. I suggest that the proposed subclause 3(2) be removed from the bill. Subclause 3(3) provides for the Canadian flag at half-mast on the Peace Tower. That seems manageable. Probably for stylistic reasons, the wording of proposed subclause 3(1) is reversed from the English version.
Mr. White, I'm coming back to you because surely you are more bilingual than I am. Is there a difference in intention between the words “célébré” and “kept and observed”?
We've expanded it to commemorate the sacrifices of Newfoundland and Labrador since 1916, including that of my great-great uncle who fought in Gallipoli and in Beaumont-Hamel. He died in Beaumont-Hamel.
We have the two, and Remembrance Day has always been a statutory holiday for us. Memorial Day was brought in, and it's been a dual holiday with Canada Day since Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949.
I understand the Legion's wish that kids be in school on Remembrance Day. When Remembrance Day fell on a school week when I was a kid—and for my family now—we didn't go to school. We spend an inordinate amount of time, as you mentioned, preparing for it, and not just the week beforehand, but it seemed to be the weeks beforehand. We knew it was coming up as children, and certainly the impression upon us was that this day was so highly regarded that we had the day off school. Most of us considered it quite solemn, even though you might run out periodically. Yes, you're a kid, and you enjoy the day. The solemn nature of that day is understood, and the fact that it was a statutory holiday—and as far as I know will continue to be in Newfoundland regardless of this—was very important to us.
I guess that's subjective reasoning as well, whether it should be or it shouldn't be.
I want to be clear, because this is very important for me. I understand that you talk of national, but this is provincial. Again, we've had this for a long time and I know it means a great deal to people in my province. It's all I've ever known.
Is it the wish then ultimately, beyond this legislation, but looking at the stated goal of the Legion, that those provinces that have a statutory holiday presently should not have a statutory holiday? It should not be a holiday, but a day of commemoration, as you said?