Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to acknowledge the efforts of my colleague from Algoma—Manitoulin for bringing this matter before the House and in particular the efforts of his constituent, Robert Manuel, who initiated this entire process.
Over the years, hon. members have debated a wide variety of motions and bills tabled by both government and opposition members, all aimed at raising the commemorative profile of Canada's veterans. Most recently our discussions have been concerned with the funding of maintenance and repairs of local cenotaphs. In that regard, I would draw the attention of the House to Motions Nos. 383 and 384 and the promotion of the observance of two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day, Bill C-297.
If I recall correctly, the debate on these two issues expanded into a broader discussion. How we can best honour the memory of those who served and sacrificed their lives for their nation? How do we preserve and promote their legacy for future generations of Canadians? In many ways, the discussion on this bill is a continuation of that broader debate.
Bill C-409 deals with a very particular day in Canadian military history, April 9, 1917, when the Canadians, fighting as a cohesive unit for the first time in the Great War, fought the enemy at Vimy Ridge and did what no allied force had been able to do. They won, and in so doing affected the outcome of the war and our place on the world stage. In fact, few events in our military history have played such an important role in the development of the Canadian nation as the battle of Vimy Ridge. It was indeed the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian corps fought together, but it would not be the last. Before the war ended, Canadian courage and prowess had won recognition in the Imperial War Cabinet and a seat for Canada at the peace conference at the war's end
Eighty-five years later, it is perhaps time to give this battle a particular significance through the means suggested by Bill C-409, proclaiming April 9 every year as Vimy Ridge Day and lowering to half-mast the Canadian flag on the Peace Tower.
We are pleased to offer our support to the bill.
We would not want to give the impression with the passage of this bill that the sacrifices made on a particular day in history are somehow more worthy than those made in any other campaign in any of the wars we have participated in.
There is also the possibility of setting an unintended precedent. If Vimy Ridge, which is a specific battle in the first world war, is honoured with its own day, can we expect to receive an increased demand for recognition of days to honour battles from other campaigns and other wars? If we do, how will we deal with them?
Despite these cautionary notes, we all acknowledge that there is something quite extraordinary about the action at Vimy, which led to equally extraordinary results for Canada as a nation. The participating battalions reflected the length and breadth of our country from west to east. Brigadier-General Ross would later talk of witnessing the birth of a nation. General Byng described a nation tempered by the fires of that sacrifice.
In dedicating the Vimy Memorial in France in July 1936, King Edward VIII declared “We raise this memorial to Canadian warriors...It marks the scene of feats of arms which history will long remember and Canada can never forget...All the world over there are battlefields, the names of which are written indelibly on the pages of our troubled human story. It is one of the consolations which time brings that the deeds of valour done on those battlefields long survive the quarrels which drove the opposing hosts to conflict. Vimy will be one such name.”
As it was then. As it is now. It is with such sentiments, which still ring true, that we can say the anniversary date of the battle of Vimy Ridge is worthy of its own special recognition, as suggested by the bill.
A second caveat is more technical in nature but important nonetheless. It revolves around the flag lowering part of the bill. It is critical that the protocol we follow in lowering the flag of the Peace Tower of the parliament buildings is no different from the one we use on Remembrance Day. The flag should be flown at half mast from 11 a.m. in the case of Remembrance Day to coincide with the start of the ceremony at the National War Memorial. It should remain so lowered until sunset.
The same provision should apply for a national day of remembrance for Vimy. I am not sure if this should be spelled out in the bill, dealt with by regulation or merely implemented by practice. Whatever the case, I am sure hon. members will agree that the standards for flag lowering for Vimy must not exceed those we use on Remembrance Day.
While these cautionary and common sense thoughts must be borne in mind we in our party are pleased to support Bill C-409. I will close with the words of the Minister of Veterans Affairs at the National War Memorial last April 9 in recognition of the 85th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. He said:
--we will not much longer have eye-witnesses to tell the tales of what happened at Vimy. The torch of remembrance is now passed to us so that our children, and our children's children are taught the story of how on a cold wet Easter Monday morning, in the second decade of the 20th century, thousands of Canadian soldiers, at great personal sacrifice and loss, won a great victory. Their deeds that day ring down through history. Their photos, now faded and yellow with age, still rest on mantels of family members across the nation. But never faded from our history will be their gallant actions. We must never forget the story of Vimy Ridge or the men who fought there. We shall continue to cherish their values of peace, freedom, tolerance and diversity.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge shall continue to inspire a nation. We will remember them always. Those sentiments say it all. Bill C-409 should be passed by the House.