House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

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Criminal Code
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker: The Deputy Speaker

Is it agreed?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There were consultations earlier today between the various parties and I think you would find consent to call it 5.30 p.m. and move on to private members' business.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-227, an act respecting a national day of remembrance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Vimy Ridge Day Act
Private Members' Business

February 20th, 2003 / 5 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Vimy Ridge Day Act
Private Members' Business

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Vimy Ridge Day Act
Private Members' Business

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Vimy Ridge Day Act
Private Members' Business

5 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Mississauga South, for seconding my motion. It is most appreciated. I just learned a few minutes ago that he has had the privilege of visiting the Vimy Ridge Memorial at Vimy in France. I hope in the near future to have that same privilege.

I am indeed honoured to be the sponsor of Bill C-227, a bill which would establish a day in honour of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and in honour of all the Canadians who fought and won this vital and critical victory for the allies in World War I.

If I may quote from an excellent document produced by the Edmonton Public School Board, written by Douglas Davis, it states:

The Canadian success at Vimy Ridge was the first allied victory on the Western Front since the fall of 1914. Without a doubt, by the spring of 1917, the Canadians were the best equipped, best trained and best led allied troops on the Western Front.

I would point out to members that the bill would create a day of remembrance on April 9 of each year and would provide that on that day the Peace Tower flag be flown at half-mast.

I would also like to underline that it would not create a holiday.This is simply another opportunity that we would provide to Canadians, particularly students, with the tremendous support no doubt of Legions across the country that do a great a job on our behalf to ensure the memory of war remains strong, to reflect on our very important military history and to ensure that we never make the tragic mistake of unnecessary war.

I have a few people to thank and I would like to do that right now.

Robert Manuel, a constituent of mine, came to me in 1999 with this idea of a millennium project, that April 9 be declared Vimy Ridge Day. His initiative and great efforts over the last couple of years have provided tremendous support for this initiative.

I also want to thank the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, who knows very well how much she has helped me with this bill.

I also want to thank the ministers of the Crown, who have indicated their strong support for this bill, the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command to Pierre Berton to the veterans associations and so many other people and organizations. They all have come forward and have said that this is the right thing to do.

I will not use my entire 20 minutes. I hope, with everybody's co-operation, that we can dispense with this issue today. In fact I believe, based on the response at committee and second reading, that there is a broad consensus to move forward.

I want to continue by asking this question. Why do we want to remember war in any of its forms, not just Vimy Ridge? It certainly is not to glorify war. Rather it is to remember those who sacrificed their lives, their bodies and their minds for freedom. Also we never want to forget the horror, tragedy and the heroism of war, and that forever we think carefully about entering the precincts of war again.

Why pick Vimy Ridge? After all Canadians have been involved in many great battles and in many terrible wars. In the first world war, names like the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele hold strong memories for many. However Vimy Ridge stands out because it was the first time Canadians from all parts of the country fought together, under a Canadian commander. In fact every region of the country was represented among the 100,000 soldiers who were assembled for the very difficult task of taking Vimy Ridge. I look forward to the comments of my colleague from the riding of Kootenay—Columbia whose grandfather was there.

The fact that we lost 4,000 soldiers, including 10,000 casualties, was a huge number. When we consider that 150,000 French soldiers had been lost in previous efforts to take that ridge, this pales in comparison to the efforts and losses of previous attempts to take Vimy Ridge. It underscores the brilliance with which the Canadians undertook to seize that ridge from the Germans.

I could give my opinion on different things, but I think it is best if I tell the House in the words of people who were at Vimy Ridge, like David Debassige, the father of Gus Debassige, who was an aboriginal soldier from Manitoulin Island. There were people like Duncan McPhee, who came from the small town of Webbwood in my riding. Like all the others, he was a very young man. His town has honoured his memory with a piece in their local history book.

A female friend of his later wrote a beautiful poem in his memory. I will excerpt only a couple of verses at this point. I would point out that Duncan McPhee was actually born in Quebec and moved to northern Ontario with his family in pursuit of a career in the logging industry. She said:

He went on to the battle fields, He fought the deadly foe, Our brave Canadian soldier Was not afraid to go. He left his home and country His friends and all those nigh He gave his life for freedom He was not afraid to die.

This is another verse from this beautiful poem:

A place is vacant in our home Which never can be filled He died out in the trenches 'Twas there Our Saviour willed. He left his home and country To battle for the right, Our brave Canadian soldier Was not afraid to fight.

His female friend had to stay home and learn of the tragedy of his loss through the news or by telegram.

There are other stories. I think it would be appropriate at this time to read a piece from an essay done by a high school student, Joel Ralph from Sudbury, who in 1999 was a grade 11 student at Lockerby Composite School As a young person, he tried to imagine what it was like to be there. I commend the entire essay to the House and hope Joel will forgive me if I can only read a short piece of it right now. In part of his essay, as he helps us to try to imagine what it was like, he says:

The dawn of that cold and snowy April 9th would be greeted by one of the greatest explosions in history. The men in the trenches waiting for the attack to begin heard the sound of a single artillery gunfire and then 982 more heavy artillery pieces and 150 machine guns opened fire in unison. The sound was deafening and can only be described by those who were there.

The unsuspecting Germans, who did not expect an attack for at least a week, were caught completely off guard as the shells fell among them. The Canadians moved quickly forward behind the barrage and were at the summit of Vimy Ridge by noon.

The victory was one of the only decisive victories in the entire war and was to become the model of the final attacks of 1918. The Canadians suffered accordingly: some 4,000 dead of 10,000 casualties. Nevertheless, the attack proved the Canadians to be the best army in the world and they accordingly would form the iron tip of the spearhead that would end the war in 1918.

The day the Canadians attacked Vimy Ridge was the day Canada was born. For those troops who had taken part in the attack, some who had only been in Canada less than a month before signing up to fight, they were all Canadians. The name “Canada” on their shoulders would be the knot that held them together. The troops came from Nova Scotia to Montreal, Ottawa to Winnipeg, Regina to Vancouver, even the Northwest, and everywhere else in between.

These were Canadians who bonded together and found a comradeship that could only be found in the deepest trench or the biggest crater. They would fight together and go home to Canada together, those who survived.

That morning when they set out to seize Vimy Ridge, they were Commonwealth soldiers, but when they reached the summit they were Canadians.

I thank Joel Ralph for that.

I want to allow others to have time to make their comments. I am humbled by this opportunity to have a chance to pursue a citizen's initiative. I really believe that it will be some years before I truly have a chance to appreciate the import of what might seem a token acknowledgement of a great battle. Indeed, as a member of Parliament, Mr. Speaker, I am sure you notice, as I do, that the spirit of remembrance is getting stronger and stronger in this country.

The essay by this young person and the letters which I receive from classes of kids indicate to me that the work done by our veterans and legions deserves this offering that we recognize one important battle, a battle that Canadians first fought together, a battle that we can use as a symbol for all battles.

I very much appreciate the expressions of support from the members in this place. I look forward to hearing what other members have to say throughout this hour.

Vimy Ridge Day Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, many Canadians are beginning to spend time learning about their family history, which is good, but what about our country's history, the sacrifices made by the men and women of the country to ensure we can enjoy a life of freedom and peace?

I have always believed it is significant to understand our history and appreciate those who fought for our country. It became even more meaningful to me during a recent visit last year to Vimy Ridge in France. Standing at this historic site I was overcome with a sense of pride of being Canadian and about the bravery of the soldiers who fought for our freedom. There is a great deal to be learned from Canada's history. When we take the time to sit down with relatives and friends, and ask questions about important events or moments in our past we gain a sense of who we are.

Canadian soldiers fought under British army command during most of the first world war. We had four divisions, but until Vimy the four divisions had never been united. Having achieved a well earned reputation for bravery and intelligence, the four Canadian divisions were brought together to do something that no other army could do, and that was to take Vimy Ridge. Other allied forces had tried for years.

The scarred countryside today is still evidence of the tonnes and tonnes of explosives that were detonated. The opposing trenches were close enough to throw a football back and forth. There are accounts that the soldiers did this on occasion to relieve the boredom, but there are also accounts that a live grenade was sometimes taped to the ball.

The tunnels, 30 feet under the surface, all dug by hand, testified to the gnawing fear that must have been the soldiers' constant companion. The tunnels were narrow so troops could only advance; there was no retreat. The only method of communicating with the front line was by runners who carried written messages. A runner's career averaged just 36 hours from the time he started running to the time he was dead or seriously wounded. Alcohol supplied by the army to dull the pain and twisting fear was an essential part of many soldiers' survival.

None of the world's armies had taken Vimy Ridge. From the ridge the view extends about 10 miles. It became a wall of defence. The war bogged down in the mud, slime, ooze and human pestilence. Canada's generals developed a plan. The soldiers and officers practised for weeks on end with each one having a specific task. Over 30,000 men were scheduled to go over the top, and they did. Canada's army achieved 70% of its objectives in the first 24 hours of the attack. They did in two days what no other army could in two years, something for which we should be justifiably proud.

What about those who did not come back and what about their families? I learned something about my own family on the Vimy visit. I stood where my grandfather had been. He fought in the tunnels and the trenches. He was a hardworking, God-fearing family man, but Grandpa came back from the war a broken man. He fought with the demons of whizzing bullets, alcohol, unspeakable disease, and exploding bombs after the war. He died three years later. This is my family heritage as much as it is our country's heritage.

The memorial at Vimy Ridge stands on top of a hill as Canadian soil. France was so grateful it gave Canada the land as a memorial to the bravery and sacrifice of our Canadian soldiers.

Vimy Ridge is not the only place where we distinguished ourselves. All over the world Canadians are respected for bravery, intelligence and service. As official opposition heritage critic I support memorials and acts of remembrance like this. Canada has a distinguished history in the world.

It struck home last Thursday night as I was watching TVO Studio 2 and it featured four very articulate grade 7 and grade 8 kids. They were discussing whether we should or should not go to Iraq and what should our position be with respect to supporting or not supporting unilateral action of the UN. They had taken the time to inform themselves. They had the privilege of informing themselves because of the sacrifices that have been made by the many brave people who have gone to war for us.

Anybody could have watched TVO that night because we live in a democracy with freedoms. We live in a country where we can say what we will say, do what we will do, and be our own person. We live in a country not only because of the sacrifices of the very brave soldiers, sailors and airmen who have gone to theatres of war, but also because of the sacrifices of their families when they did not come back. Or, as in the unfortunate case of my own family, when a soldier came back a broken person as a result of the war.

Canada is a great nation with a wonderful history. The idea of this day of remembrance of Vimy Ridge is one that I wholeheartedly support because it was turning point in our nation.

In doing a little bit of research on this I discovered that in 1914 Canada went to war without a voice of her own, with a regular army of 3,110 souls and 684 horses, a navy of just 300 men, and an air force consisting of two canvas planes still packed in crates. I am so tempted to make a political comment, but it would be so inappropriate right now. Only 12 regular officers had completed staff college courses.

It is easy to understand the opinion of a German general, writing a military appreciation for supreme command in Berlin, that the colonial Canadians could play no significant part in any European war. The militia, enthusiastic amateurs, given foppish uniforms and quadrilles, were described by Colonel W. Hamilton Merritt, of the Canadian Governor- General's Horse Guards, recently returned from the sharp realities of the South African war, as part of “the most expensive and ineffective military system of any civilized community in the world”.

In 1918, just four years later, incredibly, Canada stood at the spearhead of the thrust into the enemy held territory with her own full corps of 100,000 fighting men under Canadian generals with a combat reputation second to none, and in 1919, walked forward and put her own signature on the Treaty of Versailles.

In that era--it already seems as distant as the Crusades--the majority of Canadians were glad to fight for gallant Belgium and mother England. However, one of the greatest Canadians of all time, Sir Wilfred Laurier, said immediately:

There is in Canada but one mind and one heart... today we realize that Great Britain is at war and that Canada is at war also.

This what Vimy Ridge is about. This is a defining moment of Canada.

Vimy Ridge Day Act
Private Members' Business

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak on this bill.

I would like to point out that I am not the member of our party who should be speaking tonight. In fact, we expected this motion tomorrow, but due to rescheduling of parliamentary work, the motion is being debated tonight, and the person who would normally be speaking on this bill is not here.

However, I would like to speak so that the Bloc Quebecois' silence tonight is not interpreted as rejection of or lack of interest in this important issue by our party.

Like me, over the past few years you have seen motions introduced by our colleagues to establish one day of remembrance or another. If there is one such day that deserves to be debated and provisions for its establishment passed, it is a day to commemorate and pay tribute to the veterans who fought at Vimy Ridge.

First, the creation of a day of remembrance for these soldiers would only be fitting for the Parliament of a country whose appearance on the international stage coincided with this major battle, which was a turning point in the first world war.

I also believe that we can all agree here that through this recognition of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, we pay tribute to all the soldiers from Canada, Quebec and Newfoundland who took part in various conflicts to preserve the freedom and the relative security we enjoy today.

I was saying just a few moments ago that the Battle of Vimy Ridge was not only a turning point in the first world war, but, as was said at the beginning of this debate, that it also turned out to be, for the rest of the world, the day Canada was born. Until then, Canadian troops had fought under the flag of the British Empire. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the first opportunity for Canadian troops to be seen as a separate force on the battlefield.

While Canada achieved official independence some years later, by virtue of the Statute of Westminister in 1931, the fact remains that the very important battle at Vimy Ridge accelerated the process that led to the Statute of Westminister.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who fought on Vimy Ridge and to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And, as I said earlier, through these courageous and valliant fighters, we must pay tribute to all those who served their country to allow us to enjoy the freedom, democracy and relative security that characterizes today's modern society.

Vimy Ridge Day Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise and support my colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin and his Bill C-227, an act to formally recognize Canada's important role in the World War I Battle of Vimy Ridge which raged in France from April 9 to 12, 1917.

I support the bill because I believe we should always do everything possible to remember and honour the efforts of our brave young men and women who fought and died in Canada's wars.

I come from a constituency with a very proud military tradition which predates the first world war. I am told that the cliffs of Dartmouth were used by General Wolfe to train his troops for an eventual assault on Quebec in the 18th century. As well, the Halifax harbour has been North America's staging ground for both commerce and war for the last 400 years. I know my constituents carry a deep respect for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our armed forces.

1917 is a very special year. It is a year that had a major impact on my city. During that year of the great war, while husbands, sons, brothers and sweethearts were away fighting in the muddy trenches of France, much of Dartmouth and north Halifax was destroyed by an explosion in the harbour of an ammunition ship bound for Europe.

Just imagine that, many of our fighting men and women in places such as the newly held Vimy Ridge survived terrible battles only to be told of the death of their loved ones in the largest explosion in history before the development of atomic weapons. Some of the damage from the Halifax explosion is still visible today. I am told that some of the ammunition still stored in the Bedford magazine dates back to that era as well.

The traditions which have been handed down from those times still live on in Dartmouth. Today the harbour is busy with the preparations for the imminent departure of the destroyer and command ship HMCS Iroquois . It is bound for the Persian Gulf as part of our contribution in the UN sanctioned battle against al-Qaeda and terrorism following the attacks of September 11.

That crew, like the soldiers who left Halifax harbour in 1916 to do battle on Vimy Ridge, sail off into unknown danger. I pray for their safe return and I know that everyone in this place offers their prayers as well.

The bill asks Canada to lower our flag to half-mast every April 9 in memory of the 3,598 young men who were killed and the 7,004 who were wounded on Vimy Ridge in that snowy April 86 years ago.

It is reasonable to ask why Vimy is so special, because Canadians have fought and died in many wars. Why is Vimy such a special day and battle to remember?

Many historians will argue that the Battle of Vimy Ridge gave Canada its right to act as an independent country both in war and subsequently in peace. They claim that on April 9, 1917 we became a really independent nation and that we paid the price in blood.

On April 9, 1917 after months of preparation, the Canadian Corps attacked the Germans on Vimy Ridge, an area which was considered to have great strategic importance as guns on that height threatened France's northern coalfields. The Canadians were sent to Vimy to force the Germans out and claim the area back for France. The battle ended four days later when the Canadians captured the ridge.

Claiming back Vimy Ridge was a great victory because it had been one of Germany's great positions and great strongholds in France. The Canadian Corps captured more land, guns and prisoners than the British during any of their earlier attempts. By the end of the fourth day, Canada had advanced 4.8 kilometres into enemy territory, taking 124 machine guns and capturing 4,000 German prisoners.

Unfortunately the attack took a heavy toll on Canadians. In all, 7,004 Canadians were wounded and 3,598 died at Vimy Ridge.

The final reason the victory was significant at Vimy Ridge was that the success of our soldiers encouraged our national pride. The battle of Vimy made Canadians proud of their young, independent nation. They were impressed that the men of the Canadian Corps represented many cultures from across Canada. Most of the men had enlisted as untrained volunteers. However by 1917 they were one of the world's most skilled and respected fighting battalions.

Canadians have reason to be proud of their hard won victory at Vimy Ridge. I am very glad to be standing here today and supporting my colleague across the House on this very important bill.

Vimy Ridge Day Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to support the bill brought forward by my colleague opposite.

We could learn some lessons from some of the key statements written about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. It has been said that unless we learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Maybe there are certain things about history that we should be repeating.

On Easter Monday in 1917, 100,000 Canadians from all parts of Canada took part in one battle. The language they spoke or the colour of their skin did not make any difference. They were there, united in that major battle and took Vimy Ridge, something that no other country could do. It is known as the time when Canada emerged on the national stage. We were a key player. I am not sure whether we are a key player today. Maybe we should look at our involvement and ask ourselves what has happened.

One other thing mentioned about the battle was that each member carried 32 kilograms of equipment. Today, for 100,000 Canadians to carry 32 kilograms of equipment, it would probably amount to more equipment than we actually have.

What have we lost? What can we learn from history?

One of the things we should remember is that 100,000 Canadians went forward with the support of the whole country. That is perhaps something we have lost today. People do not realize how significant it is for Canada to be a major player. Our input in the Battle of Vimy Ridge showed what we could do. I am sure we could do the same today if called upon, provided the proper supports were there.

Vimy Ridge was defended for so long because of its location and its tremendous view. The Canadians used a tunnelling system. It is almost impossible to explain how it could be done under the circumstances at that time in history in the early 1900s but it was done. Just think of the time, effort and strategy that went into creating a network of tunnels that helped the Canadians infiltrate the land held by the Germans.

Canada did something that no other country could do. It was a tremendous time for Canada and for all Canadians. Undoubtedly it was a turning point in the war. This was a war which, by our involvement, we helped win thereby creating the freedoms that we all have today.

A tremendous monument is erected at Vimy Ridge which represents the deeds of those Canadians at that time. The monument has been visited by many Canadians to commemorate the involvement of their loved ones in the past. The monument is preserved for that very purpose. We can learn from this because we are neglecting to preserve our own monuments throughout Canada.

As we contribute to great monuments that mark specific battles or events, we should never fail to contribute to and promote the monuments such as our cenotaphs and legion halls throughout this country. They are our veterans, whether they were involved in the first world war or the second world war, who have moved off the world stage to a better land. We should not forget their involvement. As some members have said before, we must keep our cenotaphs and our legions going in their memory. We should learn from the past.

When we feel the sense of pride that we do in just reading 85 years later the involvement of people across this country, it should be enough to inspire us to support and promote Canada's place on the world stage. First, hopefully, in a peacekeeping effort, but if we must take part in war, as we did in 1917, let us never be hesitant to do so and with the support of the country.

It is a great bill that has been brought forward. It gives us the opportunity to recognize what has been done for us by those who went to war and it creates an awareness of the type of world in which we live, which at this time in our history might also be very pertinent. We are very pleased to support the bill put forward by my colleague opposite.