Evidence of meeting #43 for Veterans Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was may.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Major-General  Retired) Richard Rohmer (Special Advisor to the Minister, Senior Canadian Veteran for the Battle of the Liberation of the Netherlands, Department of Veterans Affairs
Sue Foster  Assistant Deputy Minister, Communications and Commemoration, Department of Veterans Affairs
John Desrosiers  Acting Director, Commemoration Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Yes. Thank you for filling us in on that.

I want to ask a general question. I see a list of different participants, particularly to the Netherlands. There are members of the Canadian Armed Forces, students, including cadets, tour groups, etc. Who's coordinating all of that? Are they being independently coordinated, for example, with the 150 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, or is it falling under a particular umbrella like Veterans Affairs?

9:30 a.m.

Acting Director, Commemoration Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs

John Desrosiers

From a Canadian Armed Forces perspective, we work very closely together when we go overseas. We're working jointly in weekly discussions in terms of how we connect. The 150 Canadian Armed Forces members that you see identified today will be directly accountable and working directly with Veterans Affairs Canada. There are other Canadian Armed Forces members that may be in the area, but the 150 represent an honour guard and the band.

In terms of the tour operators and the other marching bands, they're more private initiatives that we become aware of. We want to have full engagement of understanding what the Canadian content or the flavour will be over in the Netherlands. As well, we look for opportunities to integrate them in our programs. For example, there's a marching band from Ontario and a children's choir from B.C. We've arranged for a private event on the evening of May 6, which is a rest day for the veterans. We will bring all those groups together and we'll perform for the veterans outside of our hotel after supper. It also gives Veterans Affairs Canada and the Government of Canada an opportunity to understand how many Canadians will be in Holland to ensure that if there are any issues in terms of consular services that we can provide them the best information.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Okay. I see on some of the dates you have Government of Canada delegation only. What makes up the Government of Canada delegation?

9:30 a.m.

Acting Director, Commemoration Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs

John Desrosiers

The Government of Canada delegation is the Veterans Affairs Canada delegation. We're looking to support as many veterans as possible to return to Holland. We expect upwards of 70 veterans will take advantage of being part of the delegation. We're working through army, navy, and air force associations to nominate these veterans. Because of the ages of the veterans, we have a policy in place that allows them a caregiver, somebody who can ensure their day-to-day care. It's an important part of the experience. When you see a veteran it's kind of a plus one. In addition, because of the importance of the care and well-being of our veterans and the full delegation, we have trained medical staff from our Ste. Anne's Hospital that accompany us. We'll have four doctors and four nurses as well. Around the 200 mark is what we're looking for as an official delegation—

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

—from Veterans Affairs.

9:30 a.m.

Acting Director, Commemoration Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs

John Desrosiers

—from Veterans Affairs. It matches, coincidentally, close to what an Airbus can travel with.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

That's what's meant by a Government of Canada delegation only. When there are visits to particular cemeteries, museums, or cenotaphs, you're talking about this group of 200 to 250 people.

9:30 a.m.

Acting Director, Commemoration Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

All right.

I noticed on the May 9 there's a national street parade, a liberation festival. Where's that taking place?

9:35 a.m.

Acting Director, Commemoration Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs

John Desrosiers

In Apeldoorn.

9:35 a.m.

MGen Richard Rohmer

That is a big parade again and it's quite significant.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Right, thank you.

I'm wondering if you could fill us in on other commemorations that are taking place throughout the year. I noticed on your last page you had some that went up to May 29. Are there other things planned from May through December?

9:35 a.m.

Acting Director, Commemoration Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs

John Desrosiers

There are other initiatives.

For Government of Canada focused delegations there will be no more overseas delegations out to December. Veterans Affairs Canada will work with community groups. There are funding programs assisting them in terms of other significant anniversaries. Every community holds a particular pride or importance on a particular anniversary or particular moment in time. Our job is to facilitate through community engagement. Once we get beyond May the Veterans Affairs Canada focus will be turned into Veterans Week where there's a heightened awareness. We maintain our programs to ensure that Canadians are fully aware of the heightened period of awareness around the First and Second World Wars.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

There are funding programs to assist communities or groups and associations that want to commemorate something in particular.

9:35 a.m.

Acting Director, Commemoration Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs

John Desrosiers

Correct. We have a community engagement partnership fund. It's a program that allows communities a modest level of funding to assist with events and activities that are commemorative in nature.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Great. I take it that's on the website.

9:35 a.m.

Acting Director, Commemoration Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Good. Thank you.

Thank you, Chair.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Peter Stoffer

Thank you very much.

9:35 a.m.

MGen Richard Rohmer

May I just add one thing?

9:35 a.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Peter Stoffer

Yes, sir. General Rohmer, go right ahead.

9:35 a.m.

MGen Richard Rohmer

The opportunity has arisen. You mentioned a band. One of the bands that's going to go over there is the Burlington Teen Tour Band. This is a band from Burlington that's been in operation since the sixties, and it's a marvellous marching band of kids from 12 to 18. They're absolutely superb.

The reason I'm mentioning this is that they're going over on their own account. I happen to be the patron of the band, and Lincoln Alexander in his time, he and I were the joint patrons. I am the only one left now as the patron, but they're going to be there. The air force had agreed to take over their instruments, but there isn't enough room, so we're going to have to raise the money to go anyhow. That's the way it happens. I just had to talk about the Burlington band. The Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band is going to be there as well. They're from Ontario. I've marched behind that band on Saturday night for 50 years.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Royal Galipeau

Mr. Chicoine, go ahead.

March 31st, 2015 / 9:35 a.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I also thank the witnesses for coming here to share their views with us on the upcoming commemorations in the Netherlands.

Major-General Rohmer, I would first like to tell you and my committee colleagues that I had the opportunity to take part in the commemorations for the 69th anniversary of the Normandy landing two years ago. The Canadian veterans delegation was not a big one. There were only 10 or 15 people.

What struck me and moved me the most was to see the warm welcome from the French to the veterans. They treated them like true celebrities. People of all ages, 20, 25 or 50 years old, wanted to speak to the veterans, to have their pictures taken with them and to thank them for freeing their parents or grandparents and for saving their lives. I was deeply touched by that.

As you said, Major-General Rohmer, in your wise counsel to the minister, at the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, we will need to focus entirely on veterans because they are aging and we are unfortunately losing them from year to year. For a number of them, this will probably be the last time that they will be able to travel there.

You told us that you participated in some commemorations in the Netherlands. I imagine that, in those situations, veterans are treated in the same way, with deep gratitude, and that people invite them to share a meal with them. I heard those kinds of invitations. If I were a veteran, I think those types of stories would be the most meaningful gesture of gratitude for me.

Could you briefly tell us about your experience with the Dutch and tell us whether they were as welcoming and grateful as the French two years ago?

9:40 a.m.

MGen Richard Rohmer

The answer is yes. I could tell you of one situation, and it involves Prince Bernhard.

It was the commemorative situation in the year 2000. I was in Holland. I had been taken over there by the people of the city of Venlo, where I had knocked the bridges down. They found out that I had done this and they invited my wife and me over for a celebration for a week in May 2000. I discovered that there was a big parade on at Wageningen, and I arranged to have tickets for that purpose. It was at the end of the week, on a Saturday, and I was in full uniform.

I always get permission from whoever is Chief of the Defence Staff to wear my uniform. That is appropriate, and I do that. I now have an official role again in the military, as the honorary adviser to the Chief of the Defence Staff. We met this morning.

In any event, I got to this parade and I was sitting behind the saluting base. When the parade started, it was Prince Bernhard who was taking the salute. He was not in uniform. When the parade finished, we went to a big reception in a building next door to that location.

My wife and I went into this building, and we were milling around with people. There was a couple of steps and a glass door. I said to Mary-O, “Prince Bernhard is in there, I'll bet you.” We went up to the door and a man was guarding the door. I had all my stuff on and he opened the door. I went in with my wife. In a minute a young person from the air force, with an aglet, appeared to me and said, “General, you and I wear the same wings.” He happened to be the head of the air force, a young general. I said, “We're here, and we think we'd like to see Prince Bernhard. He's over there.” He said, “Ah.” Within about a minute—Prince Bernhard was sitting with two beautiful old ladies, so it was okay—he took us over to meet Prince Bernhard.

As it turns out, he was an old pilot. I'm an old pilot. We bonded immediately. I have pictures of this meeting. In a minute he had his arm around my back and I had my arm around his back. We became good friends instantly. I corresponded with him until he died. Whenever it was May 5, I would send him a little note.

The reality is that the people of Holland really remember. They see the contribution that Canada made to their freedom. With all of the people who are still there in the graves, 7,000 plus, they have not forgotten. The Germans treated them so badly during the war that to have a response of this kind stayed with them—and with us when we go to be with them.

That's just one instance.