moved that Bill C-287, An Act respecting a National Peacekeepers' Day, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is not often that a member is honoured by his colleagues by getting a bill to third reading. We are here because the bill received unanimous consent of the House at report stage. I want to thank all of my colleagues for their support.
Bill C-287 honours our Canadian peacekeepers as well as all peacekeepers around the world. It is very appropriate that the House return its attention to the proposal in the bill to create August 9 of each year as National Peacekeepers' Day in Canada, especially as all of us have just finished helping our legions and our communities celebrate Remembrance Week and Remembrance Day.
I would like to underline that August 9 would not be a holiday, but a day of commemoration, a day of celebration of what our peacekeepers have done in the past and what they are doing today and what they will be doing in the future. On that day our citizens will have a chance to be reminded about what Canada has done in the world and what it can do.
The bill proposes that on that day the Peace Tower flag be lowered to half-mast. It is quite appropriate that the Peace Tower flag would be lowered at half-mast to recognize peacekeepers who have been lost in action throughout our 50 years plus of peacekeeping participation around the world.
I would also like to point out to my colleagues that my riding, now called Algoma--Manitoulin--Kapuskasing, contains the old riding of Algoma and Algoma East which was held by the late Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson. It is a special honour for me to bring forward a bill to honour our peacekeepers. This year, 2007, marks the 50th anniversary of Mr. Pearson's Nobel Peace Prize for his initiative at the UN.
Why in the first place should we remember and honour our peacekeepers and why on that day?
On August 9, 1974, nine Canadian peacekeepers deployed to the Middle East were killed on a routine supply flight from Beirut to Damascus. The airplane was shot down by ground-fired missiles and nine Canadian UN peacekeepers were lost, along with the crew of the airplane. We could have picked many dates. Some suggested, with great respect, May 29, which each year is celebrated as International Peacekeepers' Day, but August 9 is very much a Canadian day and reflects the most significant single loss of Canadian peacekeepers in one day.
If the House continues its willingness to support the bill, I am inviting Canadians, especially students, who would not be in school on August 9 but would be preparing for school, to take some time to reflect on what peacekeeping is all about.
We in this place and Canadians in general who think about these things recognize that peacekeeping today is not like it was 30, 40 or 50 years ago. Peacekeeping evolves with the nature of conflict. It evolves with the changing regions wherein conflicts are taking place. The reasons for local conflict change. Demographics change. The types of warfare and conflict change. Therefore, peacekeeping has to change and we have to change with the times.
I am convinced, and I am sure my colleagues are convinced, that ultimately peacekeeping and its related peacemaking are the ultimate, albeit altruistic sometimes, goal of our military and in fact of our Parliament and of our own individual work in life. If it is not about finding, making and keeping peace, then really, what is it all about?
I will take a moment to mention a constituent of mine, Robert Manuel of Elliot Lake, who inspired me with this idea. He helped to promote the idea in Ontario, which has celebrated August 9 as peacekeepers day for a number of years now. With his encouragement and support, we gathered the support of legions across the land. We now have the support of the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command for the proclamation of August 9 as peacekeeper day.
I will reference speeches made just over a year ago in this place by colleagues, speeches which I reread recently, and I was very impressed. I refer to the speech of the parliamentary secretary who made an excellent speech in support of the bill. She raised some very good points, but she reminded us that a day of recognition for peacekeepers, as is noted in the resolution by the Royal Canadian Legion in last June, was warranted because the government respected the views of Canadians on either side of the issue.
She is right to have said there is a concern. I recognize it and I think we deal with it head-on. When we have a day separate from November 11 to recognize some aspect of our military history, some aspect of our legacy, does that take anything away from November 11? I think the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command and local legions everywhere have recognized, no.
The parliament secretary was quite right in raising the question. The response is, and I think she agrees with this, any day we can establish as a day of recognition of our current soldiers, men and women serving in any capacity around the world enhances the spirit of remembrance. We are focusing on peacekeeping, but in a way all soldiers are peacekeepers regardless of the nature of a conflict.
I am not sure if my colleagues would agree, but in my riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing the spirit of remembrance is getting stronger. The number of people coming out to events is larger and larger every year. That is because the remembrance brand, a brand promoted effectively and with great strength by the legions and the Dominion Command, is spread out throughout the year. Hence, the movement to Remembrance Week. I am not suggesting a remembrance year, but it is very important that we dot throughout the year other occasions throughout the year where people could be reminded and that helps focus attention even more so on November 11.
I appreciated the parliamentary secretary's comments in that regard. I was most impressed with my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, referring to our peacekeepers, who said:
First, they are a key component of multilateralism, a conflict resolution principle very dear to the hearts of Quebeckers. UN peacekeeping missions represent an impartial and very widely accepted way to share the burden and act effectively.
In fact, I recommend all these speeches to my colleagues in their complete version. I am only able to quote a little bit.
My colleague from Victoria, who spent time in the military, said:
We cannot stress enough the importance of the work of those who serve in the armed forces, who put themselves in harm's way for Canada. There is no word to describe the magnitude of their sacrifice, nor my feeling of gratitude—which all Canadians also share...
I think we all share that with her.
I go on to my colleague from West Nova who is fortunate to have in his riding the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. He spoke eloquently in support of this bill. I will quote from his remarks. He said:
Peacekeeping is a dynamic concept that responds to changes in the international environment in order to create security for those affected by conflict. Traditionally, peacekeeping took place between two states in order to monitor a peace treaty upon which all parties had agreed. These early missions were traditionally military in nature.
He makes a very important point that I wish to expand on. He stated:
The role of peacekeeping has expanded to include the delivery of humanitarian aid, supervision of elections, repatriation of refugees, disarming of warring factions, and the clearing of landmine.
I point out to my colleagues that in the “Whereas“ section, along with members of Canadian Forces, the bill specifically includes police services, diplomats and civilians. Yes, we are recognizing on August 9 the loss of nine soldiers in 1974 in the Middle East, because the beginning of this was focused on the military.
I mentioned we are evolving and now we engage Canadians in a broad range of professions and skill sets to assist, whether they are members of the NGO community, or municipal policemen who volunteered to help, or ambulance or first aid workers. Any Canadian, military or not, who supports Canada's efforts to bring peace, keep peace or make peace is a peacekeeper.
In the bill I deliberately did not define “peacekeeper”. Each person who thinks about these things can define peacekeeper in his or her own unique way. It is a comprehensive. That is actually the view of the Legion Dominion Command. It has an expanded view of peacekeeper, and I laud it for that. Somebody else may have a restricted view of peacekeeper. It does not matter, as long as what we are recognizing is the spirit of what peacekeeping is all about.
I invite this place from time to time, whenever we have debates on military and peace matters, and I invite Canadians every August 9 in particular to take a few moments to reflect on our legacy and where we are going as a nation of peacekeepers. Imagine being called peacekeepers. It is not the same as avoiding conflict.
I would include in peacekeeping the need to be strong and to root out the enemy where necessary. It is not simply sitting back all the time and letting local combatants fight things out. Each situation requires its own solution. It is important that we do not limit ourselves by a specific definition.
I want to underline too that this is not about what we are doing in Afghanistan whatsoever. That is a whole separate debate. I went to a support the troops rally on November 2 in my riding and I was glad to be there. I am sure many of my colleagues were at rallies in their ridings.
It was a non-political event. It did not matter if people believed that we should be in Afghanistan for years or, like so many of us, that the military should pull out of a combat role in February 2009 or tomorrow. That is not the debate. When people support their troops, they support their troops. They are doing a job for us. They are there with a mandate and while they are there in our name, we support them.
I want to pay tribute to Sandy Finamore and Bob Tardif of Elliot Lake who sponsored that rally. I commend them for the excellent work they did.
I want to point out that the bill at report stage had a few very minor amendments. It was made very clear that in Quebec les casques bleus is the standard terminology for a peacekeeper. Therefore, we made sure there was no misunderstanding between gardiens de la paix and casques bleus.
We make it very clear that this is not a holiday. It is not even a day of heritage. It is a day of recognition, of commemoration, a day to take time to understand what our peacekeepers throughout history, in the present and in the future will do.
I hope the chamber will continue its support of the bill when it comes to a final vote in the not too distant future.