That, in the opinion of this House, the government should honour the contribution made by those who served Canada's armed forces during World War II at the Dieppe raid by striking a distinctive medal for Canadian veterans of this battle.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin this morning by thanking all the hon. members who formally seconded my motion. As you may be aware, Mr. Speaker, there is a procedure by which members can formally second a motion and up to 20 members may second any motion. I had more than I needed. I had 20 and others who wanted to get on the list. I would also like to particularly thank my colleagues this morning, the member for Kamloops and the member for Saskatoon-Clark's Crossing who are here to second my motion as it got on the floor.
The motion today is to right a wrong which has been felt by veterans of the Dieppe raid for a long, long time. It is the absence of any distinctive recognition of their participation in that particular raid.
I begin by reminding the House that in the summer of 1942, when the Axis powers were at their peak and threatening world domination, 5,000 Canadian soldiers willingly participated in a raid on the occupied French coastal town of Dieppe, France. Operation Jubilee, as it was known, proved to be an allied plan that had catastrophic and at the same time critical results for future allied plans.
The catastrophe was 959 Canadian soldiers killed, 1,200 wounded and 1,900 more taken as prisoners. No other battle in the history of the second world war had similar consequences all in a single day: August 19, 1942.
Despite the horrific losses there were significant lessons learned from the raid. This painfully gained knowledge proved crucial to the success of the D-Day planning in 1944. Without the sacrifices of August 1942 many believe that the success of the Normandy landings would have been in serious jeopardy.
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. In 1992 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Dieppe raid. At that time I had the privilege of participating in the pilgrimage to Dieppe, which took place alongside the pilgrimage to Vimy when we were celebrating the 75th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
I also had the honour, thanks to the then Minister of Veterans Affairs, of playing the lament at the Dieppe cemetery. The privilege was afforded to me by the minister as a result of my own service in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada stationed in Winnipeg at Minto Armouries.
I say this by way of a little personal history. I first became aware and conscious of the Dieppe raid when I was very young as a member of The Cameron Cadets in Winnipeg and later as a member of the militia unit, the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada where I served in a pipe band for many years.
One of the people who instructed me at that time, Pipe Major Alec Graham, was a piper at Dieppe and one of the people who played the pipes on the landing craft as they came into the beach at Pourville where The Camerons along with the South Saskatchewan Regiment landed.
I have had the opportunity of being at Pourville and of seeing the beach and the conditions under which The Camerons and the South Saskatchewan landed. I also saw the main beach where the Essex Scottish and the Fusiliers de Mont-Royal landed and the beach at Puys where the Royal Regiment of Canada landed and took the heaviest casualties of any regiment ever in one day in Canadian history.
Dieppe was a particularly tragic event, as many more Canadians are aware of today than they might have been just a while ago thanks to the television series on Dieppe. Regardless of what one might think of the events and the interpretation of events, certainly there is no question that many young Canadians were tragically killed, wounded or captured in that battle.
It is only fitting at this time that the government should move to do what many have been asking it to do for years, to strike a distinctive medal for those who have participated in the Dieppe raid.
I might say in anticipation of what the arguments might be that Canada now has the power to award its own medals even though at the time during the second world war and subsequently we were part of the Commonwealth system of honours and medals. Since 1968 we have had the ability to award our own medals as we did only recently with respect to the gulf war. I hope I am not going to hear from people on the other side that this is something beyond the capability of a sovereign country like Canada to do if it so chooses.
I want to indicate at some point that I will try to seek unanimous consent for this motion to be voted on and agreed upon even though it has not been chosen as a votable motion. We know that the House can do this with private members' motions if the members so choose. I have not had anybody say to me that this is a bad idea. I have had nothing but letters from various members of Parliament from all sides of the House saying that the motion should pass. I have had people eager to second it.
I hope we will not see a government member get up with notes prepared by the Department of Veterans Affairs or whatever to give the contrary argument and say no at the end when we ask for unanimous consent to have the motion passed.
I remind members, particularly those on the government side who may have been asked to do this, this is not a binding motion. It is not a bill. It is a motion and if it passes it would simply give the government ammunition, if you like, in trying to go ahead. It would help to create momentum. It would give a government that wanted to do this the ability to say: "We do this with the expressed and unanimous backing of the House of Commons". I do not see any good reason, other than a sort of small mindedness with respect to the fact that I am not a government member, or whatever the case may be, for not allowing the motion to go ahead.
Another argument might be advanced. I hope the argument will not be offered, but I have heard it in private conversation, that Canadian medals have tended to be awarded on the basis of campaigns rather than battles.
One will find if the records and the situations are examined that this still leaves room and can be used to argue for a distinctive Dieppe medal because participants in the Dieppe raid did not receive, as I understand it, the campaign medal that many other veterans received, the France-Germany medal. This medal was not awarded to them because they did not participate in the events in France and Germany following the D-Day invasion.
At one point they did receive a campaign medal which would have satisfied their desire to be recognized. They were awarded a 1939-43 star but that later was revoked for reasons that no one seems to be able to come up with. It was extended and made the 1939-45 star which offers no particular recognition to those who participated in events like Dieppe before the Normandy invasion.
All the Dieppe veterans are asking for is something which recognizes they were part of that campaign and in this case a particular event that was central to the pre-Normandy campaign. They do not have that. They have been asking for it and I simply ask how long do they have to wait? Time marches on, as the old hymn that is used at Remembrance Day services, "Abide with Me" says: Time like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away. Time is bearing all the veterans of Dieppe away as it will bear all of us away some day.
Therefore, in this year of remembering when there are so many brochures and pamphlets from Veterans Affairs and elsewhere, all of which are appropriate, why today can we not do something concrete, not expensive and something which will bring Canadians together.
One thing that struck me when I was at Dieppe and had struck me before at Canadian war cemeteries is that row on row, no distinction is made between veterans of the Fusiliers de Mont-Royal or the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Winnipeg. Canadians of French, British and other origins lie side by side in Canadian war cemeteries. It ought to be mandatory for every member of Parliament to visit these cemeteries and to get a tragic sense but nevertheless some pride of the unity with which Canadians have fought in World War II and before that in World War I.
I know there are others eager to speak on this. I hope we can do this. Certainly there is precedent for motions like this passing which have had no expressed opposition. I have a letter from the minister saying the government is intent on some form of recognition for Dieppe veterans. I say that the form of recognition the Dieppe veterans want and that the Dieppe veterans deserve is this medal. They do not want a picnic. They do not want some kind of special event. They want what they are asking for.
I hope the government will use this opportunity, which is Private Members' Business after all. We do not have on the other side an emissary for the government to talk this bill out or to deny unanimous consent. It would be a tragedy and a travesty as far as Private Members' Business is concerned. I have not yet heard a private member say he or she is opposed to this motion. I have had private members indicating to me that they are in favour of it. I would encourage the House to give unanimous consent when the time comes to have the motion voted on and passed.