Mr. Speaker, Canada is the best country in the world and each of us in this House understands that. We enjoy rights and freedoms that many other countries simply have never known or will ever know. We owe much of this, if not all of this, to the brave men and women in uniform who are always willing to defend Canada, who have always stood up for Canada.
Other nations also understand how blessed we are. When we visit those countries that have been conquered or occupied by a foreign army, we realize just what remembrance truly means.
It was the former Minister of Veterans Affairs, a member of Parliament still serving in this House, who first told me about the deep appreciation I would gain from going overseas with our veterans. At the time the former minister had only called to congratulate me on my posting, but as we spoke, he told me that I would be changed by the visits I would make to the countries we helped liberate and that having the privilege to go to these nations with the very Canadian soldiers who made history there decades ago would have a lasting effect on me. I was told it would change the way that I view our country and that it would have a profound impact on the way that I look at our men and women in uniform. He was right.
I believe all members of Parliament who have made these sacred journeys have reached the same conclusion. They have watched the same emotional scenes play out before their very eyes with lasting impact.
We can see it happening in places like Monchy-le-Preux, a beautiful little town in rural France, a place where so many Newfoundland and Canadian soldiers gave their lives in defence of peace and freedom in the first world war.
Last April when our Canadian delegation went to France to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, there was an early morning ceremony held in Monchy-le-Preux. It was not a national holiday and it was not a civic holiday, but the entire town was there. Banks were closed. Businesses had shut their doors. Farmers, housewives and school children came from villages far and wide.
It always happens like this. When Canada comes to commemorate its fallen soldiers, the grateful people of Monchy-le-Preux, as with their sister communities, want to be there with us. They simply want another chance to say thank you.
This gratitude is real and it is lasting. It is handed down from generation to generation, like a family treasure, a sacred bond that will not be broken.
We see it every time our veterans return to the countries they helped liberate. We can see it in the eyes of the local children laying wreaths alongside our aging veterans. Quite simply, the expressions on their faces say it all.
It does not matter that many of these soldiers are now in their twilight years or that the passage of time has slowed their walk or caused their salutes to grow unsteady. Despite the physical challenges, despite the challenges of their aging bodies, they make the salute every time.
This determination in turn makes the children's admiration for our veterans even greater, because they know they are looking at the very men and women who freed their countries. They know that they are in the presence of the Canadians they have read about, they have learned about and their parents and grandparents have told them about. They know they are among heroes. That is why these countries welcome our veterans so warmly.
They know our history, our stories, our pain, our suffering. They know about the Fred Engelbrechts, a Dieppe veteran who, with his daughter Lynda, joined our delegation, returning this summer to that French coastal town 65 years after that impossible mission, that impossible landing on that distant rocky shore.
Together, hand in hand, Fred and his daughter were walking through the cemeteries of Dieppe when he found the graves of some of his fallen friends. It was then that the memories came flooding back to Fred. It was there that he broke down and wept for all the years that had passed, for the comrades who had never returned home with him, who had never realized their own dreams, who had never raised a family, and who could not, as he did then, return to that sacred place holding a daughter's hand.
That is why in Europe they line the streets to see our veterans parade through their towns and villages. From the youngest to the oldest, they want to reach out with spontaneous tears of gratitude to say thank you. Because the memories of the foreign invasions and occupations will remain with them forever.
We might ask ourselves how they could possibly remember after all those years. All I can say is that they will never forget.
One afternoon in a village church a French farm woman approached me with a single rose. She presented the rose to me. She wanted me to take it back to Canada. She wanted me to take it home.
She explained that it came from a rose bush on her family's farm, a farm that was completely destroyed during the first world war. The family's home was gone, the farm was gone, the animals were gone, and their way of life was gone. The only sign that the farm had ever existed, the only thing that grew back from that total devastation, was a rose bush. For her, that single rose bush is her daily reminder, a living reminder of her freedom.
In Europe, such remembrance is part of their being. It is who they are, “in sunshine or in shadow”. That is why when we lead Canadian delegations to the historic battlefields overseas, to Vimy, Passchendaele and Dieppe, there is no need to explain our presence to the local communities. They instinctively understand. As the mayor of one of these French towns told me, there are more Canadians buried in the surrounding communities than there are French citizens living in those communities today, 90 years later.
We all know that is Canada's sacrifice. That is our history. Canada is a nation that has always sent its finest men and women to serve where they are needed and in numbers far exceeding what the world might have expected.
But such willingness to act has come with a terrible price. In the two great wars alone, more than 116,000 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice, a loss experienced by countless families across this country.
It was felt in Newfoundland, which was only a colony of barely a quarter of a million people during the first world war, when in just 30 minutes an entire generation of Newfoundlanders, Newfoundland's leaders, was lost in the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. Of the 801 members of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment who went over the top that morning, 733 would not answer roll call the next morning. Only 68 did.
This is the type of sacrifice that Canada has bravely made, not just in the great wars, but in Korea and on peacekeeping and peacemaking operations throughout our history. That is the type of sacrifice Canadians continue to make today to defend our way of life and to protect the values we cherish: freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.
Never was our tradition of great sacrifice, both past and present, made more painfully clear than when we were in France this April. We were there to remember Canada's heroic efforts at Vimy Ridge 90 years earlier. The world had come together to commemorate the battle that defined Canada, that marked our nation's coming of age.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was there. Our was there, as was the French prime minister. So were a number of members of Parliament, including the deputy leader of the opposition, and of course, Mr. Speaker, you yourself were there. All of us were there to share this proud moment on a glorious day that only a poet could properly describe.
Yet when we prepared to honour and celebrate our history, a sombre reality was weighing on our minds. Only one day earlier, six Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan had made the ultimate sacrifice. When Her Majesty referenced this in her speech, the sombre reality of what we had achieved then and what we are doing today connected.
That simple, handwritten sentence in Her Majesty's speech was a powerful reminder that freedom is never free and has never been free, and that when the world calls, Canada answers, because that is the Canadian way. That is our proud tradition. That is what we remember today.
At times like these, words cannot help but fail us. As a scholar once noted, words are all we have and words are not enough. Words cannot begin to describe the men and women behind the incomprehensible numbers and the tragic statistics of war, individuals who loved and were loved.
And now it falls upon us to keep faith with them. All those who have served will tell us that the greatest gift that we can give any veteran is the gift of remembrance. Many of our men and women in uniform have heard this in the final wishes, the dying wishes, of their comrades. They do not want to be forgotten. They do not want to have died in vain.
On November 11, we know where all members of Parliament will be. In the next few days when we leave this House, we will return to the people who sent us here, the people we represent, and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them in our largest cities and our smallest villages.
Together we will be with our veterans to honour their own promises to remember their fallen comrades, to remember those buried at home and those buried in foreign lands, with unfinished lives. We will say thank you. We will say thank you on behalf of a grateful nation.
Lest we forget.
Mr. Speaker, throughout our history this Parliament has asked Canadians to cross the oceans to fight for a better world. For more than 100,000 who answered the call, it was a better world and a better future they would never live to see.
While young Canadians have gone to the front lines, we members of Parliament have stayed here in the sanctuary of this House, striving to build a country worthy of their sacrifices.
During Veterans' Week, we recognize that above all it is our men and women in uniform who have made Canada one of the great nations of the world. Peace, freedom and democracy are their legacy at home and abroad.
Like the hon. member for , I have been on Canadian delegations to the sites of old battlefields and was deeply moved by the traces I found there of their fight for peace, freedom and democracy.
In 2005, I travelled to the Netherlands to take part in the ceremonies marking the sixtieth anniversary of its liberation. I was deeply saddened by my visit to the Canadian military cemetery of Groesbeek. In the rows of gravestones there, I could see what the price of freedom was. I can say too, though, that I felt enormous pride at the sight of a crowd of more than 100,000 men, women and children who had come to see our veterans march past through the streets of Wageningen.
In another city in the Netherlands, new streets had been named after Canadian soldiers who died for the freedom of Holland. The children there learn the history of our soldiers better than our own children do.
The gratitude expressed by the Dutch people was very touching.
This Veterans' Week, Canadians will reflect on the sacrifices of the veterans of the last century while mourning the loss of today's Canadian heroes in Afghanistan. This Remembrance Day, we will remember and revere them, along with their fallen comrades.
I will stand with Agatha Dawkins, mother of Corporal Ainsworth Dyer, in my riding of , as I have for the last five years. We will remember her son. We will remember his sacrifices as well as hers.
Over the last century, wars have left their mark on thousands of Canadian families. Children have lost parents. Parents have had to bury their children. And how many marriages have ended in a single bomb blast?
This past summer, I saw the sacrifices of war first-hand when I met with military families in Dieppe, New Brunswick. Listening to their stories, I was able to better understand the impact Canada's current presence abroad is having here at home.
Providing for these families is the least we can do. Providing comfort to those who have lost loved ones and remembering those who have served and continue to serve is the absolute least our country can do.
From November 5 to 11, we must pay tribute to our veterans by honouring their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families. On Remembrance Day, we must stand together in a moment of silence to demonstrate our commitment to their legacy.
But a moment, a day, or a week will never be enough.
The Canadian soldiers sacrificed the best years of their lives and their dreams for the future to defend the values we all hold dear.
In the tunnels of Vimy, on the beaches of Normandy, and in the deserts of Kandahar, they have given their lives so that we can live free.
We need to pass on their history to the next generation of Canadians so that these soldiers will never be forgotten.
In 2005, during Veterans' Week, former national defence minister Bill Graham said how important it is to hold high the flame of remembrance and gratitude, a flame that burned so brightly during the Year of the Veteran.
That same year, we paid tribute to our veterans by opening the Canadian War Museum.
Visitors here can experience the human side of war through the panels, military artifacts, photographs and personal accounts on display.
In the Canadian War Museum, the lives of the approximately 1,500,000 men and women who have served in the Canadian army, navy and air force are etched into the memory of visitors.
Our young people learn things here, we hope, that will help them avoid similar tragedies in the future.
There are not a lot of countries that have ever sent their armies abroad for reasons other than to help peace and democracy. We must be very proud of the fact that Canada is one of them.
Feeding the flame of remembrance also means ensuring the dedication of our soldiers is matched by our resolve to do all we can to protect their safety and preserve their health. That is the reason we delivered the new veterans charter in 2005.
The government must match the higher level of sacrifice it asks of our military with the resources soldiers and their families need to cope with the impact of the mission on their health and future. I encourage the government and all members of the House to accept this solemn responsibility.
In Flanders Fields, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae recognized the poppies growing amongst the crosses as a symbol of hope, of the triumph of nature over the destructive forces of war.
In this House, let the poppies we wear over our hearts remind us of our responsibility to our troops. Let us keep faith with them and feed the flame of their remembrance.
Mr. Speaker, as happens every year on about this date, we are paying tribute today to our veterans. We remember our veterans. We remember all of the soldiers who have worn the uniform and have always been prepared to serve, in peacetime and in war, with bravery and tenacity.
While no one wishes for armed conflict, it is sometimes a necessity. When that happens, the soldiers are sent, whether on peacekeeping missions or on more dangerous missions, to risk their lives.
These men and women who have served in the armed forces for years do it not for personal glory or fortune, but because of the duty they feel to their fellow citizens. They sacrifice themselves out of their sense of duty to the democratic values we hold dear. When the need arises, they go to the front lines to protect what we at home believe is right and good.
When we see their unwavering commitment, it is only fair that we pay tribute to them, reminding ourselves of the hard road they have had to travel. Their sacrifices have won them the most honourable reward we can give: immortal memory, a memory constantly kept alive in our words and our hearts.
We remember the anguish and terror they had to overcome in the face of the horrors of war. Because we live in a democracy, they were able to talk about what they did, and that is why we can speak of their valour. They knew exactly what hardships awaited them, and still they did not turn away from the danger; they met it head on, with pride.
We remember the hard work done by the soldiers to bring peace, security, freedom and equality to countries ravaged by war, in places like Europe and Korea. Not only did they fight the oppression of dictatorship, but they also restored hope to the people there by helping them to regain their dignity and freedom.
And so as we take time to remember, we have a very special thought for our soldiers who are now in Afghanistan, and especially for the men and women of the 22nd Regiment from Valcartier. No matter what we may think about the policy behind the Afghan mission, we must acknowledge the work and sacrifice of the soldiers from Quebec and Canada. Let us not forget that the soldiers of today will be the veterans of tomorrow.
We must also remember the perpetual sacrifice demanded of the family and friends of soldiers posted abroad. And our remembering must also take concrete form, for the benefit of the veterans who are still among us. We must give them all of the help they need to deal with the physical and psychological effects of their experiences in the theatre of operations.
It is unacceptable that soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress should not be able to receive the care they need, and that they have more than earned, without delay.
It is too easy to honour our veterans in word alone, while leaving them to suffer. We cannot and must not turn a deaf ear to their pain. Their job was to go to the front lines, and our job today is to express our gratitude to them by giving them all the care they need.
We must keep the sacrifices of the people who have fought to bring peace to the troubled places on earth alive in our memory, from each generation to the next.
Lest we forget.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to rise in the House of Commons to pay tribute, not only on behalf of my party and my constituents but of all of Canada, and join my colleagues in praising the work done by our veterans and current service personnel.
The name of Jack Ford may not mean very much to most people in here, but it soon will. He is a Newfoundlander, who was in a Japanese war camp in Japan, and he witnessed the atomic bombing in Nagasaki. He is one of the few people left in the world who can tell us of what happened that tragic day. His book on his memories will be out very soon.
There is the story of Stan Mackenzie of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He was a merchant mariner, who was torpedoed off the coast of Nova Scotia. For two and a half days he rode back to the coast, then signed up with the RCMP for the St. Roch journey around the Northwest Passage from 1942 to 1944.
He is one of the few Canadians who was awarded the Polar Medal, but that was not enough for him. In 1944 he then joined up and served in the battlefields of Europe. He is still with us as well.
Unfortunately, due to the passage of time and being elderly and of sickness, by the time we all go to sleep tonight, we will lose 120 veterans and/or their spouses. To the ones who have been left behind, the ones who are still with us, we owe them a debt of gratitude and say to them personally “Thank you for your sacrifice”.
On a personal note, as a Dutch-born Canadian who was born in Holland and who is now able to stand in the House of Commons, I would like to tell our veterans who are before us what they specifically did for my family.
My father was a prisoner of war for two years in Germany, from 1942 to 1944. When the camp was liberated, he came across a Canadian soldier. He asked the Canadian soldier why Canada did so much for our country of the Netherlands. The young Canadian soldier said, in typical modesty, “Sir, we had a job to do”. That was the first time in my dad's life that anyone ever called him sir. He handed my dad a chocolate and a cigarette and moved on.
In 1956, when the Dutch government made the decision to close the mining towns of Limburg over a few years period, the only answer in those days was out-migration. My father said to my mother, “If they have a military like that, can you imagine what kind of country they come from?”, so we chose to come to Canada. We settled in the Vancouver area.
That Christmas my mom was given a turkey by the church. She did not know what a turkey was, but she knew it was meat and she knew we would be cooking with gas, if we had meat in 1956. She was a Dutch Canadian. She did not know what to do with a turkey, so she did what any good Dutch Canadian would have done in those days. She cut it up in tiny pieces and fried it in a cast iron skillet to feed to the family.
The neighbour next door came by to see how the turkey was coming along. She roared with laughter when she saw what my mom had done, so she went out and got my mom another turkey.
That Christmas, during Christmas dinner, was the first time in my parents' lives, after the depression, the war, the loss of a child at birth, the imprisonment of my father, the post-war deprivation of Europe, the move from their country to another country, when they knew if they kept their faith in God and worked hard, Canada would bestow many blessings upon them and their family.
That is what those veterans did for my family and for many thousands of Dutch people and Europeans in the war in Europe, from 1940 to 1945, and we thank them
For our modern day veterans, Louise Richard and Sean Bruyea, who served in the gulf war and came back with injuries that we could not even begin to comprehend, for the ones who served in Afghanistan who are coming back, for the parents who recently lost their sons and daughters in Afghanistan, for them, Remembrance Day is every day.
Men and women who sign up for our RCMP and our armed forces have unlimited liability. They are willing to lay their lives on the line so we can have a good night's sleep in our communities and our great country called Canada. We in Parliament and in government have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that their needs and those of their families are met.
I ask all Canadians, during this Remembrance Week, when they see the veterans, the armed forces personnel and those serving in our police forces, go up and give them a hug. Buy them a beverage on Remembrance Day. Take them out and say “Thank you, once again”. Look them in the eye and say, “Without you, we would not have the country we have today”.
On behalf of everyone, I want to personally salute the men and women of our military, past and foregone, and say to them that we know why they wear their medals with pride. It is not just for valour and distinction in service to their country. They wear them because of the many men and women who never had a chance to wear theirs because they paid the ultimate sacrifice. It is we who love them. It is we who bless them. May God bless them and their families. We salute all veterans and current service personnel.
Lest we forget.