I'm happy to be back in front of this committee. I was here two years ago when I spoke on behalf of Dan Harris. We thought we had the day, but it didn't go that way. They called an election, so we lost it.
I'm back again to speak to you and I appreciate being able to be here.
I have been working on making Remembrance Day a legal holiday for 27 years, and I'm not going away. My late husband, who passed away on September 17, 2013, was in the air force for 23 years. We lived all across Canada, in Comox, Winnipeg, Centralia, and then back to our own hometown in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. We had two sons: Lonnie, who served in the navy for 34 years, and Tim, who served in the army for 15 years and spent six months in Rwanda under Major General Roméo Dallaire. That was quite an experience for him.
My brother was also in the air force for a very short time. My husband's family—six brothers and a sister—served during the war. They all came home safe and sound. We were some of the lucky people in terms of losing people in the war. Their picture hangs in the Royal Canadian Legion in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, along with my husband's sister-in-law, who did 10 trips on the Letitia, bringing war brides to Canada. She will be celebrating her 102nd birthday on June 29. She's still in her own home and she still talks about her service, although she doesn't want to say too much. She just enjoys it.
Why I want to have this day is very simple. This year we're celebrating the 150th birthday of Canada. What better time to do things right in honouring our veterans the way they should be honoured? This year also, Vimy Ridge is celebrating 100 years of service, and I'm attending a dinner on April 2 in Sarnia, Ontario, where we live, to celebrate that occasion. We lost 5,000 young men there, just about, and we want them to be honoured properly.
What we're here today to do, I hope and pray, is lift the level of Remembrance Day to a legal holiday. It's high time, and in this year it's the right thing to do. We have so many freedoms here in Canada that some of us may take for granted, and it's time, for sure, that the veterans have their due. We might say, what does this bill do? It's going to raise the status of Remembrance Day. That, to me, is very important. I have written to all prime ministers and all premiers as they changed office over these 27 years.
This bill also provides consistency in the language for the Holidays Act and raises Remembrance Day to the same status.
I could go on and on about my experiences, but I'm just so happy to be here to ask you to give the Remembrance Day bill, and pass it and pass it quickly. It's hard to believe that we have such a problem for this very simple thing that we want to do. They just have to have the honour, and I'm going to ask you to please support it.
Sometimes when we talk about Remembrance Day, we hear a lot from the Legion, but we must remember that we have other military groups—the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Merchant Marine, the Vimy Ridge veterans. Maybe they're not speaking out loudly enough, but I've had an awful lot of support from all of those people.
Another thing that we say is that we want it for the children in the schools. You can talk Remembrance Day any day of the year, from January to November, but we'll particularly stress it in the week of November 11. My husband, when he taught, had the service all the time in the school where he taught. He raised the situation for the school system.
I know that sometimes the Legions want to have the children in the schools. Well, if they really and truly believe that, then they should be talking to the education department to open the schools on Saturday and Sunday so that the children can be in school if that's what they want. They should be getting an education. I've written and said, “Yes, do this education in the schools”, for sure, but the idea that they have to be in the school is not really a legal request. They should just join together and let us have the day.
Our job here today, all of you, is to support Bill and advocate for veterans by showing respect for Remembrance Day. We need this bill. I want the veterans to have the day they deserve. Parliament needs to lead by example. This bill allows Parliament to lead the way for veterans.
You parliamentarians need to show veterans and all Canadians that you think this an important step for Remembrance Day. I hope that this committee will help Mr. take this critical yet simple step by adding one word to the Holidays Act.
Do you think we can do that? I hope we can.
First off, I would like to thank you people for the opportunity for me to say a few words on Bill .
I spent 42 years working for the Department of National Defence, 30 years in a military uniform and 12 years working as a civilian with the naval people. I also would like to tell you that today I'm talking as an individual supporting this bill. I'm not speaking on behalf of the Legion.
I joined the Royal Canadian Legion in 1964 in North Bay, Ontario. I have served the Legion in many positions in the last number of years. I'm presently on my ninth year as president in Kingston Legion branch 98 in Nova Scotia.
Why is this day so important to me? I think, as a speaker before me mentioned, we owe it to the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for this great country of ours, and that sacrifice certainly gives us the opportunity to be speaking here today in freedom. Without it, it may have been be different.
We do have a remembrance service every day in the Legion, but the week before Remembrance Day, we all go to schools with the children and discuss with them what remembrance means to them. They have a small remembrance service in the schools before the 11th, and all or most of them attend our service. Our service is at the Legion every year, and I must say that in the last few years, the numbers have gone up. I attribute that to more than one issue. With the conflict in Afghanistan, when we brought all our people home who made the supreme sacrifice, you could see the difference it made in the people in Canada by the way they paid their tribute on the Highway of Heroes as they moved from Trenton to Toronto.
There's no doubt that the schools are a very important part of the program, because we must pass the torch on to the youth so it will not be forgotten, and it's not just because it has been many years since the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, and the latest conflicts that our men and women have been involved with and in which they laid down their lives for this country. There is no doubt that this, the 150th birthday of this great country of ours, could not be a better time to give this to the veterans, showing them that the government really does care, making this holiday legal for the federal government, and allowing the provinces to make their decision as to how they would want to respond to that as well.
There is no doubt that this bill is a modest measure that adds consistency to the language used in the federal Holidays Act in that the word “legal” will be added before the holiday of Remembrance Day. It would make the language the same as for Canada Day and Victoria Day. While it does not give anyone a day off from work or school, the schools are very good at portraying to the young students that they must take up the cause and hold the torch high as we go forth year after year.
It also raises the importance of Remembrance Day and affirms Parliament's commitment to Remembrance Day as being an important day for Canadians who solemnly remember and honour those who have served our country.
The answer, of course, is that, yes, I think you people can do this, and we all understand that, no, we won't have 100% behind it, but I think it is the proper thing to do for our veterans and I think the time could not be better, and as we all know, anyone can choose to be at a Remembrance Day service if, in fact, they are allowed time off from work.
I agree with your saying that we should leave it to the provinces to decide that. I think it's a great gesture on the part of the federal government to show leadership for those who may want to go down that road.
It does not give anyone a new day off. Other people say, “It's just another holiday and it's a day off.” I don't think that's true. I would think that if in fact it became a federal holiday, you would likely see the numbers at the Remembrance Day services in all provinces grow dramatically. Right now, people would like to take time off from work, but they can't afford to. That is what I think. There's no sense in my repeating anything that's been said before me, because you people know all about that.
That would be my suggestion to you. Thank you very much again.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Indeed, I am wearing a forget-me-not. Perhaps I can speak about that after my comments, if one of your members of Parliament would wish to ask me a question.
Thank you for your kind invitation to speak.
First I would like to make a brief comment about the bill in general; then I would like to speak about the language of the bill for a moment, and third, I would like to speak about some of the general understandings that I and my fellow Canadians here in Newfoundland and Labrador share as a society about the importance of honouring and remembering the sacrifices that are made for our country
First I would say that of course I agree very strongly with and support the idea of standardizing and in fact mandating across Canada the observance of Remembrance Day. It makes, I believe, a great deal of sense. It recognizes and honours the sacrifice, the commitment, and the history of those who have sacrificed for us, and it would indeed be a wonderful legacy to have done this in the year of Canada's 150th birthday.
Second, as a historian who has generally read in the field of war history—though my particular specialties are Newfoundland and Labrador history, constitutional history, the history of the 19th and 20th centuries of Canada—particularly as a Canadian and a private citizen who has visited Vimy Ridge and Beaumont-Hamel, I wish to make one brief observation about the text of the bill here. It's in clause 1, which replaces section 3 of the Holidays Act. It's the phrase, and I quote, “triumphantly concluded by an armistice”. This strikes me in a slightly odd way, and perhaps even in almost a discomforting or maybe even a jingoistic way. Kindly let me explain.
As you will know, Canada's sacrifices, and the sacrifices in my own province of Newfoundland and Labrador, which at the time was a British colony, were very heavy in World War I. Among other engagements, Canada obviously endured the terrible, horrible, cataclysmic, and, as the historians have argued, the nation-forging experience—the crucifixion—if you will, known as Vimy Ridge in April 1917, with 10,600 casualties, among them 3,500 fatalities.
As a fellow dominion of the British Empire at the time, Newfoundland's—Newfoundland and Labrador today—equivalent to Vimy was Beaumont-Hamel, in the Battle of the Somme. Our day occurred on July 1, 1916, when 801 went over the top of those trenches, and the next morning 68 answered the roll call.
That war—the sacrifice, the loss of life, and, in fact, the cost of that war—changed the very nature of life in Newfoundland and Labrador. As much as we might want to think of it today as being triumphant, blood sacrifices of this nature endured by Canada, and Newfoundland and Labrador, are hardly or very rarely ever triumphant.
The Great War, in fact, as we know, was a vicious, brutal, mechanized slaughter of a war, the likes of which had never been seen before in human history.
From my reading of that, I'm cautious about using the word “triumphant”. Yes, Canada was on the winning side, thank God, but at what price? We had to engage in a slaughter, and it was a brutal war. That whole concept of war and loss is very difficult to describe as a triumph.
My mind went back to when, in fact, I walked across the Douai Plain at Vimy. When we, as Canadians, visit there and we look at that profound monument—at least, the several times I did that—my reaction wasn't one of triumphantly concluding an armistice. Rather, personally, very privately, and frankly, I would have to say I had to do all that I could to avoid bursting into tears because of the emotion of that site and the profound, profound sacrifice by our fellow Canadians. At Beaumont-Hamel I was in tears because I found my great-grandmother's brother's name listed on the plaque in front of the caribou memorial as among those who were lost in battle with no known grave.
I believe that Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel are sacred places, if you will, almost holy places for Canadians, just like—and you'll be very familiar with this—the Memorial Chamber in our wonderful Peace Tower where the Books of Remembrance are kept. As Canadians raised in Newfoundland and Labrador, where our experience in World War I and World War II had such a profound influence on our identity and where so many of our citizens know those sacrifices so well from their family experiences, we even find it hard to say we celebrate. “Celebrate” is the wrong word for Remembrance Day; rather, we observe it, and perhaps I will say more on that shortly.
I would just speak for a moment, and perhaps this might be a little bit useful to you, on the mechanics of Bill . I noted from reading the Hansard debates on this bill in the House of Commons that it was recognized by MPs in the debate that the provinces of Canada indeed do have the competence to declare Remembrance Day a public holiday, a legal holiday. Some have already done this, as you've noted.
In this province, Newfoundland and Labrador, that was formally accomplished in the Labour Standards Act of the Revised Statutes of Newfoundland. It was amended in 2001 to formally add Remembrance Day to that list. The mechanism for doing that is the act, of course, but it also enables the Lieutenant Governor in Council to proclaim days as holidays.
It's worth noting that in this province we actually have two separate statutory days or holidays, if you will, on which our war sacrifices are commemorated. They are, of course, the armistice anniversary day on November 11, as Remembrance Day, and the anniversary of Beaumont-Hamel on July 1—at least in the forenoon—which we celebrate as Memorial Day. Most people in my province are very happy to be celebrating Canada Day, but of course, we also have that dual thread of being quite aware of our history in the first war.
This brings me to my final formal observation, that of how, and I guess why, I'm predisposed to believe the intent of Bill is laudable.
As I say, I've grown up in a province, in a country, and in a community where the warp and weft of the fabric of our society was, in fact, our wartime experiences.
I was a student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, a memorial built in memory of our great war dead in World War I. While I was there as a graduate student, I read primary source documents, letters of people talking about the impact that Beaumont-Hamel had on their families. As a student, I walked through the downtown of St. John's with my late father, who was born in St. John's in 1923. He pointed out to me, when I was a young child, our national war memorial on Water Street, commemorating the people who had died in the Great War—the First World War—and in fact the Second World War and other conflicts. Even Afghanistan is there now.
That memorial—just to digress for a moment—was completed by Thomas Nangle. He was a padre to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and it was unveiled in 1924. That memorial, Mr. Chairman, was the first war memorial we can find that was completed in what is now Canada, and in fact in the British Empire. It was inspired directly by the poem In Flanders Fields, by Nangle's friend Colonel McCrae.
You'll see, if you visit St. John's, that there's a statue of a lady holding high the torch. Of course, this is a direct reference to the line in the poem:
|| The torch; be yours to hold it high.
|| If ye break faith with us who die—
First of all, I want to thank you all for being here today. As the official opposition critic for Veterans Affairs, I've certainly seen, over the course of the last four months since I assumed this position, just how important recognition and remembrance is to our veterans. Nobody around here underestimates the value of the way we honour those men and women who sacrificed for us in the past to give us the freedoms, the democracy, and the rule of law that we currently enjoy. Certainly, as I tell often people, when I sit in the House of Commons, I think of those sacrifices that have been made, the blood that's been spilt, the people who have died, families who've lost loved ones, as I'm sure my colleagues do. To allow us to sit in the symbol of democracy is pretty overwhelming, to be quite frank.
However, on the bill itself, Mr. Geddes and Ms. McNeill, the other day we had Brad White from the Dominion Command of the Canadian Legion here. Since 1970 they've dealt with this issue 15 times at their convention, most recently in 2016. Mr. White explained to us how the process of any resolutions come to the floor, and every one of those times, as recently as 2016, the resolution on a similar type of issue that we're dealing with here today has been defeated. I know Mr. White was here on behalf of the 275,000 members of the Legion.
Mr. Geddes, were you at that convention? Perhaps you can share with the committee some of the discussion that went on with respect to the resolution and let us know how you voted on it.
If I may, I would interpret the word “legal”, as you've drafted it here in proposed subsection 3(1), proposing a legal holiday—and I stand to be corrected, please—as meaning a holiday established by statute, because you asked about “statutory”. Statutes of Canada say that in and for Canada, throughout Canada this will be observed, and then it becomes the law of the land.
In the Labour Standards Act of Newfoundland and Labrador, we call it a public holiday, but obviously it's a piece of provincial legislation. There may also be orders in council, minutes of council, or minutes of the Lieutenant Governor in Council that establish that, as well as Victoria Day and other days throughout the year.
I would just make one general comment to the committee, and it would be this. We can establish everything by law, but you cannot legislate this into the hearts of Canadians.
I'm quite aware that we talk about doing this in the schools. That's not a federal competence under the division of powers in our Constitution. The school system, the education system is the jurisdiction of the provinces.
However, the Government of Canada can set the tone. For parts of the country where there may be different ways of doing this, I think it's an important statement of where the hearts of our parliamentarians, the Parliament of Canada, and the Government of Canada are.
Certainly you can ask your clerks and your legal experts. I have a good education, but it's not in law. I've read a fair bit of Canadian history and the history of Parliament, and in fact political and constitutional history, but I'm not a lawyer. The definition of “legal” is of, related to, or established by law.
To get what this will exactly mean by using the word “legal” in this sense is perhaps something that your committee could ask the legislative drafters, or, in fact, you could ask the proponent of the piece of legislation as to what was intended there.
I can't speak of what your intent was, but I can say that I believe this will go a great distance towards putting this front and centre and helping Canadians to think about this and to take it into consideration in a way that may not have been done before.
It may indeed, of course, have ramifications for holidays, time off, and allowing people to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies, all of which in my view are very good things.
I want to thank all three of you here today, especially Dave for your service, and certainly Wilma also for your service as a military spouse.
Oddly enough, this past weekend in Saskatoon, my hometown, I talked to Jean Fells. She has been a war bride since 1946. She's coming to Ottawa for the 71st national convention in May. We had a good chat on just where things were falling.
Oddly enough, today at 11 o'clock I was at the Peace Tower. I saw the changing of the pages, the Books of Remembrance. Mark and Vanesa Vanstone from Saskatoon were there with me, and it was a touching moment for us today. For Mark in particular, because he had many relatives who did participate, unfortunately, in the wars, it was a time of reflection. We spent a long time up there today.
I was a school board trustee for 10 years before I became a member of Parliament. I want all of you to realize that in Saskatoon we have the largest indoor Remembrance Day service in the country. It has been getting bigger each and every year. The numbers are moving in the direction of 9,000 to10,000.
In every school in my city and surrounding area, and I would say in the province of Saskatchewan, the whole week is dedicated to veterans. I just want to put on the record that it is very important in our province, and MP , from Swift Current, would back me up on this,
From some of the things I've heard today, how does the change in wording in this bill really affect Remembrance Day, or people's observance, if it is remembrance? I think that's the first one—you know, “legal” or “holiday”. To be honest with you, I don't see the change at all, but I do see in my city and in my province more and more Canadians accepting Remembrance Day and all the other days associated with the military.
I'm going to leave it at that. I'm just going to ask you this, Wilma. Who do you represent? You're here today, and I know you've had these motions with the Dominion Legion, and we've heard that they've had these votes maybe 15 times since 1970. I'm trying to find out from the RCAF and the Canadian Forces, and I don't see anywhere that they've had a vote on this.
I'm really trying to absorb this, because we did have the Legion here on Tuesday. I've spent the last 15 to 20 minutes trying to find these other organizations that you have eloquently talked about, and their service to this country, but I haven't seen any documentation that says they would like this change.