Good morning, Mr. Chairman, committee members, and guests. My name is Ron Griffis, and I'm the national president of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping. On behalf of our association, I wish to thank you for giving us this opportunity to appear before this honourable committee, established in part to study .
The proposed national peacekeepers' day act states that August 9 of each and every year shall be known as national peacekeepers' day. I appreciate that you are aware that the day of August 9 was chosen, as on that day in 1974 nine Canadian Forces peacekeepers were killed when their plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while en route from Beirut to Damascus on a regular resupply mission. There were no survivors.
This does not take away from the fact that Canada's first casualty on a peacekeeping mission occurred in 1951, when Acting Brigadier H.H. Angle of Kamloops, B.C., died in a plane crash in Kashmir on the border between India and Pakistan.
The Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping supports . A national peacekeepers' day would in fact remember those who gave their lives while on peacekeeping missions, as sponsored by the Canadian government and the United Nations Council, but also to commemorate the brave deeds of peacekeepers and to recognize the well over 100,000 Canadians who have participated in United Nations missions, and also to thank their families and the Canadian people for their support.
Participants in United Nations missions include but are not limited to members of the Canadian Forces. They also include members of the municipal, provincial, and federal police forces, diplomats, and countless civilians who have become peacekeepers and assisted peacekeepers on their missions.
Canadians are recognized as the inventors of peacekeeping. It has brought our country one Nobel prize for peace and the share of a second when the United Nations peacekeepers were awarded the Nobel prize in 1988. To date, I have not heard anyone opposed to establishing a national peacekeepers' day.
Although we have Remembrance Day, November 11 of each year, and some cities and most provinces and territories have recognized August 9 as a day to remember and honour peacekeepers, a national peacekeepers' day would not take away from the importance of the two dates mentioned. In fact, it would complement the dates, taking into consideration why they are there and our present position on the world stage.
The Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, established in 1997, is available to persons who have served on international peacekeeping missions. It is a relatively little known fact that the medal is available for those who may have served on any one of 114 peacekeeping missions. National peacekeepers' day is an opportunity to recognize and commemorate peacekeepers past, present, and future.
Canada's peacekeeping veterans have always sacrificed so much and given their best to ensure that our country remains strong, united, independent, and free. It would truly be an honour if the Canadian government announced that it would be taking another step to ensure that Canada is doing its best to recognize peacekeeping veterans.
Since receiving the invitation to appear before this honourable committee, and having shared the news with my colleagues in our association, I have received numerous messages of encouragement and hope that the national peacekeepers' day act would be passed. I have also received messages of excitement from the surviving relatives of those who were killed on August 9, 1974, in the hope that the sacrifices of their family members would be recognized on a national basis.
It is respectfully suggested that the terminology used in the French version of be amended. To wit, the term “peacekeepers”, as written, is Casques bleus. The words Casques bleus translate in English as “blue helmets” or “blue berets”. It is suggested that the correct translation of “peacekeeper” in French is gardien de la paix. I understand, for those who speak French, Casques bleus is considered as a colloquial, unofficial, or a slang term.
It is probably a little-known fact that peacekeepers may wear a United Nations blue beret; a green beret from AMIS--that is, the African Union Mission in Sudan; an MFO orange beret, which would be the Multinational Force and Observers; or a EUFOR dark blue beret, from the European Union Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just to mention a few.
If our association can be of assistance in any way to facilitate the passing of this bill, please do not hesitate to call upon me personally or upon any of our members.
In conclusion, if you have any questions or any areas you wish me to clarify, I'm prepared to be of assistance. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Don Ethell. I'm appearing here for the Gulf War Veterans Association of Canada as their honourary chairman, but I'm also a member of the CAVUNP as well as their past national president and current liaison officer. I've lived with this issue for the better part of 10 years.
Why am I the honourary chair? I didn't serve in the Persian Gulf, but I was in Tel Aviv and other places where the Scuds were landing, and the Gulf War association president said that since Jeff Bentley couldn't make it because of duty in Cold Lake, that was close enough and I was now their honorary president. That's why I'm here.
In the minds of many soldiers, as indicated by my colleague, this bill is extremely important to those of us who have worked diligently throughout the years for this day and look forward to the day this bill is passed in Parliament.
As Ron has said, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1988. A selected multi-tour veteran who was not an officer, Master Corporal Docksey, represented the Canadian Forces at the ceremony in Norway.
Where did this peacekeepers' day initiative get started? To be quite frank, it started concurrently in Victoria, with members from the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, and in Calgary, with our association. We had this idea that there should be a designated day. To cut it short, in the case of Calgary, they convinced the Province of Alberta to recognize it, then the City of Calgary, the City of Victoria, the Province of British Columbia, and it spread across the country. Manitoba and Saskatchewan came on board, and other chapters in CPVA, in the case of New Brunswick.... Eventually all the provinces recognized this as peacekeepers' day, as did the cities of Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, Barrie, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and of course Calgary.
Now is the time for federal recognition.
As mentioned by my colleague, this is not to be confused with Remembrance Day. It's an indication of recognition. We're not looking for a federal holiday per se. It's recognition, and August 9 is stepped off from November 11 sufficiently to prevent any confusion in that regard.
In our opinion, peacekeepers and peacekeeping operations are part of peace support operations, which include peacekeeping, peace maintaining, peace restoring, humanitarian operations, reconstruction, and occasionally elections, so we use that term. The reason I mention it is that as far as we're concerned, on the Wall of Honour in a number of places in Canada the 168 names of the people who have been killed to date since Acting Brigadier Angle was killed in Kashmir in July of 1950 include the 54 people who have been killed in Afghanistan, and that's why we use that all-encompassing term. If you say it's not peacekeeping, it's war--well, in an undeclared war it's still in accordance initially with UN resolution 1707, and since December of last year, it's also in accordance with a United Nations resolution.
So as Ron has indicated, in our opinion, all those organizations--the ECMM, the MFO, the ICCS, for that matter, in Vietnam, the NATO peacekeepers in the Balkans, and our lads and ladies in Afghanistan--are included in that peace support operations definition. In our opinion, they are peacekeepers.
People say it's a war and it's not peacekeeping. I respectfully remind people that we've been involved in wars before, even though we've had blue berets on, in the Congo, in the Medak pocket in the Balkans, and when we fought the Turks for control of Nicosia airport after the Turkish invasion, taking casualties and suffering casualties on both sides. The Airborne Regiment in fact won that battle.
Why was August 9 chosen? As indicated by my colleague here, it was on August 9 that the aircraft was shot down. It had taken off from Ismailia and went up the coast of the Mediterranean; it had stopped at Beirut and was inbound and had clearance to land when three missiles struck it. The pilot was able to dodge the first missile. The second one hit an engine, and the third one took off the tail; obviously, they were all killed.
The Syrians wouldn't admit--and still don't admit--fault, because they thought it was an Israeli attack aircraft. It's a little awkward to buy that, but that was their interpretation.
In my time in the Middle East as the senior liaison officer for the UN between the Syrians and the Israelis, I got to know the senior Syrian Arab delegate officer very well and could never get an admission out of them that they had made a mistake. He said, “Well, the battery commander no longer is in command. He's gone to join his grandfather.” You can picture what that means, at least in the Arabic world.
A number of us have been to the site. It was out of bounds for many years. Prior to the withdrawal of the Canadians from the Golan a year ago, the contingent had permission to go over and have a ceremony. I don't think any of the surviving relatives have had an opportunity to visit the site, just outside a little town called Dimashq.
The remains of those Canadians.... By the way, the two members of our Calgary chapter, retired Lieutenant Colonel—then Lieutenant—Rick Wright, was the signals officer and was on the net when they had dead air and they didn't know what had happened to the aircraft. Obviously, the Canadian movement control people in Damascus were able to finally pass the word back that the aircraft was missing. Another, a member of the Ottawa chapter, a sergeant retired, is Chief Warrant Officer Bruce Reid, who in fact assisted in the loading of the nine ammunition boxes onto the weekly resupply Herc that came down from Germany to pick up those remains. So it's near and dear to our hearts, August 9.
I mentioned the proclamations. I have left with the clerk samples of some of the proclamations: Manitoba, New Brunswick, Calgary, of course, and a couple of others that you may want to look at. I'm sure somebody, if this bill is passed, will come up with a proclamation that's suitably written.
I'd be remiss if I didn't include mention of the Canadian National Peacekeeping Monument here in Ottawa. That was built by retired Colonel John Gardam, a grand old soul. It took a long time to convince the NCC, the National Capital Commission, and others to build it, and we had a massive parade there in the month of October, with contingents to honour all those who have passed. John, the curator, advises that if this bill is passed, or when this bill is passed, they're going to switch their anniversary parade from October to August 9.
As a little personal note on Calgary, I would like to mention that there are two parks in Calgary in one of the redevelopment locations of ex-Canadian Forces Base Calgary. In Garrison Green there's a Peacekeepers Park between Canada Lands Company, assisted annually from Veterans Affairs Canada and ourselves. We raised the $1.6 million to construct this park, with a wall of honour listing 168 names. In fact, the last 22 are being engraved, now that the warm weather is here, in time for the ceremony in August. The second wall is the wall of all the missions, with the missions engraved. To the right is a larger-than-life bronze statue of an “armed”—and I emphasize that word—peacekeeper handing a little doll to a waif. That park was dedicated in 2004.
The second park was built about 400 metres away from this park, and it's called Buffalo Park. We scrounged a propeller from the air force. It was a non-serviceable propeller I think, and it was mounted on a pedestal. There's a pedestal there describing the incidents of August 9, 1974, and listing all of the relatives. We in fact raised the funds to fly in 38 surviving relatives, to pay for their accommodation and transportation. That park was dedicated by the then Minister of Veterans Affairs, Albina Guarnieri, who unfortunately had to stay here because Smokey Smith had to be received here. So we carried on without her. We're very proud of that park.
Secondly, the City of Calgary has renamed all 13 streets within the area after renowned peacekeepers, living and dead: Dallaire, MacKenzie, Tom Hope, and Corporal MacLean, who lost his two legs in an accident in the Sinai on his last day; he had his legs blown off. People like that. Bruce Henwood had his legs blown off in Kuwait. So that's quite an honour in regard to the peacekeepers.
I mentioned the ceremony in 2005. Last year, the current Minister of Veterans Affairs officiated, the . Once again, we had the Buffalo aircraft from 442 Squadron in Comox fly over. In fact, we wanted nine parachutists from the Canadian parachute team; unfortunately, there was wind shear, so only four of them made it down...sorry, the other five didn't jump. Don't get me wrong here; there were four who came out in the first drop and then they had to stop. It was very spectacular, a very emotional day, as it is every year, particularly for the surviving relatives, not only of the Buffalo nine, as we call them, but the others who have lost families, not the least of which is Professor Goddard, who lives in Calgary, and others.
I have left sample copies of the programs we have there. I know this is sounding personal, when I'm talking about Calgary, but it's very near and dear to our heart.
To finish off, we, of the Gulf War Veterans Association of Canada, fully support this bill. To use a term we heard yesterday in another meeting, this certainly adds value in recognition of the veterans. I thank you.
Thank you all for your presentations and expressions of support. I am honoured to have the role of sponsor of this bill, and I'm very proud to be the sponsor of the bill. It's only by coincidence that I'm a member of this committee and that a bill of a member is in front of the same committee. It's a happy circumstance for me. I appreciate all the expressions of support.
I like to give credit where credit is due. Mention has already been made of the efforts made in years past, in Calgary and other areas that you mentioned, Mr. Ethell, which through their efforts have promoted the idea of a peacekeepers' day. We have, as you say, several provinces and municipalities that have done so.
It was a member of the Elliot Lake Legion branch in my riding who came to me and said, “Isn't it finally the time?” It's nice to see individual initiatives spawned by the efforts of large organizations. His name is Robert Manuel, from Elliot Lake, and he's a member of the Elliot Lake branch and a Korean veteran. He said, “Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could have a national day?” So I want to give credit to Robert Manuel for inspiring me to bring this bill forward.
It is essentially modelled after the Ontario version of the bill. If there were some minor tweaking that needed to be done, I'm sure if this bill goes forward, which I hope it does, the committee might entertain things. We can discuss the French translation, if necessary, of “peacekeeping”, and the number, whether it's 164 or 160 or whether we should take it out. Minor tweaking wouldn't be a problem.
I'm very glad to hear, and there wouldn't be one of us as members of Parliament who wouldn't say it, that our involvement at veterans' events in our ridings are the highlights of our annual schedule. It takes nothing away from Remembrance Day and Remembrance Week to have other days through the year to help remind the public of the importance of remembrance.
To me, this is an example of how strong the remembrance movement has become. For that, we can thank the Legion, all of the other veterans associations across the country, and the local cadet organizations and volunteers who make sure that the public never forgets and that we remember how we got to where we are.
I may have time to deal with one question, the idea that there are others outside the military—the police, diplomats, and civilians were mentioned—and in the mind of the public and of those who organize local events. I would want to be careful, personally, about over-defining things, because in the mind of one person, such and such an activity might be peacekeeping and in the mind of another maybe not. I really wanted to avoid definitions in the bill, leaving it open to interpretation, so that the broader community would all feel comfortable.
Do any of you feel that it's necessary to mention civilians and diplomats, or, as simple as the bill is, are you able to interpret it as large enough to include the broader group of those who participate in peacekeeping? Is the simple version now sufficient?
We should have these gentlemen in question period; we'd get a lot more questions if we kept it brief.
First of all, gentlemen, thank you very much for appearing before us today on this important issue. Also, happy May Day to you, International Workers' Day.
This week, of course, as you know, there are week-long celebrations in the country of my birth, Holland, for the liberation on May 5. On May 4, in Halifax, we'll be having a commemoration of the over 5,700 Canadians buried on Dutch soil. So I thank you for that.
Last Wednesday I had the honour of being in Gagetown for the commemoration of the eight soldiers who were recently killed. I remember speaking to one reporter who was there, and he said, “You know, it's the greatest loss of life in one day since Korea”, and I reminded him, “No, there were others”, in this incident here, the nine. He had no idea about it.
So I want to thank you again for reiterating for the record, for people who read our comments, I guess, to know what happened on that fateful day on August 9, because we tend to forget that. This is why I think having this type of recognition on a national peacekeepers' day, or however you wish to word it, is important to pass on what happened, especially for the family members of these brave soldiers.
I have just a couple of questions for you. Were the remains of these individuals brought home?
I'm going to split my time with my colleague, Mr. Shipley.
First of all, I'd like to begin by thanking you, Mr. Griffis, for a piece of information today, regarding Kamloops having the first peacekeeper. That's new to me. I didn't realize that we had that honour, but I wanted to assure you that we carry on that tradition today, that we are still very, very heavily involved in peacekeeping.
You mentioned a lot of other things in your conversation today. I'm going to be having dinner with the Cold Lake boys next week, so I'll give your regards to all of them.
One of the things that I keep hearing over and over when you're having this conversation today is that you keep saying “peacekeeping” instead of “peacekeepers”. It's actually a title I prefer, personally, because I think it's much more all-encompassing. I'm not sure if that has been accidental or if that's how you feel as well, but I think changing it from “peacekeepers' day” to “peacekeeping day” includes a lot more people, and some of those people are the kind of people we were mentioning earlier, men and women from Kamloops and all across this country who are in places of war, who are doing their absolute best for peacekeeping.
The other issue that came up, which I found rather interesting, is this date issue. May 29 is recognized as the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. There are a number of points that were raised that I thought were very valid. I think it would be wonderful to be able to be here and actually participate in something, rather than have it in August, but of course that's just my personal view. I never even thought of it until it was raised by the Bloc members here.
The other concern I had is that I would like to make certain that we include diplomats and civilians. In the case of Glyn Berry, for example, who was killed in Afghanistan, I wouldn't want people who had lost their lives for the cause to be excluded from this either.
Those are just comments I wanted to make, and I'll pass the rest of my time on to my colleague, Bev Shipley.
Again, I don't know that there are a lot of questions.
I want to thank Mr. St. Denis for bringing such a bill forward. It does recognize the need that has been out there for some time.
I also want to say to you that I experienced likely one of the most extraordinary times of my life at Vimy, as we recognized, in one particular incident, what the Canadian people, the veterans, had given, and partook in how Canada is recognized and acknowledged around the world for the work it does, not always in our homeland but for democracy and freedom. I just want to say thank you for those who were there, for those who were allowed to be at it. Mr. St. Denis was there, Mr. Perron, the chair, Mr. Anders, and myself had to the opportunity to be there.
I just wanted to mention that.
I have listened to you. I think what we're trying to do is make the bill as meaningful and as correct as we can. These, in some cases, are wordsmithing, but I also believe the word “peacekeeping” is inclusive of those who would be acknowledged in this bill, and I'm hearing the support from you for that.
Mrs. Hinton mentioned including diplomats and civilians. I wouldn't mind that we'd have included this in that first paragraph, after, “many members of the Canadian police services”, “and diplomats and civilians”. Would you have some comments about that? I'd like to hear your thoughts on it, please.
If I may, I'll start with the question you put, and Mrs. Hinton, in regard to the term “peacekeepers”.
I agree with the term “peacekeepers”. To be quite frank, there's been a lot of internal discussion, if not arguments, about whether it should be peacekeepers' memorial day, peacekeepers' day, peacekeeping day, and so forth. It was generally accepted, and is generally accepted, by the provinces and the various cities that they use the term “peacekeepers”, which includes peacekeepers, peacekeeping, peace maintaining, etc., as we articulated. It's up to you to wordsmith it, but our organization would prefer “peacekeepers”.
Secondly, on the dates, May 29 doesn't mean too much to the peacekeepers. Sure, it's a big thing in the UN, it's an important date, but it doesn't really mean much. There's no real link to what we've been doing. It's the same as when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded; there was no follow-up by the then Canadian government, there or on peacekeepers' day, as to what the peacekeepers should be noting and what they should glean out of those two days. It doesn't mean too much, from a grassroots level.
As for diplomats, Mr. Berry's name is in fact engraved on the Wall of Honour. Whether that's kosher or not, we don't care. He died. Dead is dead, and he was serving his country. So I think we should keep it a general term of those who have served, as we indicated from Mr. St. Denis' question and so forth, so you're not going to miss anybody who's dropping through the cracks.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'll echo what other people have said about Mr. St. Denis' efforts with this bill, you coming here today, and the service you've given to Canada and to veterans.
My concern on the bill is this. The building we're sitting in burned down during the First World War and was subsequently rebuilt. The tower out front was called the Victoria Tower. Of course, everything around here is called “Victoria” because it was Queen Victoria who named this as the capital of Canada. The tower was rebuilt subsequent to the actual Centre Block.
At that time, we had sent 10% of our male population into battle. We always talk about punching above our weight, and we certainly did in the First World War. We sent 10% of our population into battle, and of course 10% of those, 1% of our entire male population, were killed in the First World War.
The Peace Tower was subsequently built as a memorial for peace, particularly for those who fell. Of course, there's Vimy, where we commemorated the 10,000 casualties and some 3,600 fatalities that happened.
From that, a tradition began where the flag would be lowered once a year to equally recognize every person who fell in the service of Canada. Traditions are the embodiment of life. They resonate down to the very core of the identity of a nation in this sense.
To me, changing a tradition is something that should be done very carefully, with great caution and with great forethought and reflection. Although I echo everything that was said here about the basic principles of this bill, my concern is it would change a tradition that's been going on for 80 years, where the flag comes down once a year to equally recognize every veteran.
I don't know if you agree with how I feel, but it's my concern. I want to get your input on that aspect of the bill too, please.
I thank Mr. Sweet for bringing up what could be considered a fairly sensitive issue, but the vast majority of people in my riding of Shearwater would like to see the flag down, especially when those six people were killed in Afghanistan recently. You could be bringing it down just about every day, and then what meaning would it have? It's a good discussion to have, especially with those who have served and those family members who are left behind when their loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice.
One of the concerns I've always raised is that the flag comes down for a member of Parliament when he or she passes on. I certainly wouldn't want the flag down if I passed away. Put it down for people who served the country in a more noble concern than I have.
The discussion will be ongoing, but I think Mr. Sweet's comments are fairly valid in that regard.
I want to thank you for bringing up the Battle of the Atlantic. This Sunday is the big day. I want to bring up the issue of the merchant mariners, as many of them will be there, and how they were forgotten for an awfully long time. But to leave the port of Halifax and a couple of hours later, boom, down you go.... They served just as much as anybody in the regular naval force. It does take a while sometimes to move something forward and to remember the cause, but I'm glad that error has been corrected. I hope this particular bill on this day of August 9 will reignite the passions of Canadians and they'll understand what happened.
It's not just in Afghanistan. We have people around the world right now serving in all kinds of countries, but we don't hear about it much. We had a fellow who was killed falling from a tower the other day. We didn't hear much about him, but he was the ninth person killed, fairly quickly after the other eight, and yet we didn't hear much about him. Anybody who serves I think should be remembered to the best of our ability. DVA's job is not only to be concerned with the health and welfare of those who are left behind, but also with the act of remembrance.
That's why I want to thank Madam Guarnieri very much for the previous government's efforts on the Book of Remembrance, the seventh book that's up in that room. Unfortunately, that's a book that will never close. It's not in alphabetical order, but every time a new name is added, it means one more great sacrifice by those who have paid the ultimate price.
Again, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
It's not a problem, Mr. Chair.
If I could sum up, I really appreciate the intervention of my colleague, David Sweet, and the responses our witnesses gave. I can assure you, on behalf of all members here, we do get along very well in spite of the need at times to be partisan. This committee has a great history of working together.
I certainly will not resist, in fact, I will support, removing that element of the bill with respect to the half-masting. I am convinced by what I've heard today, and if nothing else, this demonstrates how democracy can work.
On other points we listen carefully. It's my personal preference to keep the word “peacekeeper” as opposed to “peacekeeping”, as it recognizes the people versus the operation or mission, as Mr. Wharton has said. I don't think there's any element of this that's going to prevent us from moving forward. That's the assurance I want to give you.
My colleague, Mr. Perron, said as much. He's made his point, as has Roger. We will sort this out and move forward. It will be amended to the extent that we can to reflect the excellent suggestions we heard today. I want to thank you very much for helping us significantly today.
I am the messenger and the sponsor. All of us and all of you really must work together to keep remembrance alive. If this adds a little piece to that mosaic of remembrance, that'll make me happy. Less important is what its final form will be.
I'll conclude with that. Unless there are any comments from the witnesses, or if my colleague Roger wants to jump in, I'm finished.