I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this motion today. The motion as it appears is to declare June 15 as Canadian forces day. I understand that my colleague, the hon. member for Hillsborough, may be moving an amendment that would reflect my earlier comments in this regard.
I will give members a bit of the history of this motion. It was introduced on March 18, 1998. It is perhaps a testament to the speed with which the wheels of parliament turn that it has taken over two years to have it considered by the House.
Some members would no doubt say that I should count myself lucky that I got an item on for debate at all. I can assure them that I feel fortunate to be able to have this item considered. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think that there absolutely has to be a better way to deal with private members' business. I very much hope that the next parliament will address this issue in a comprehensive and effective manner. That discussion very clearly is for another day.
On the item before us, I must say that I have been gratified by the amount of support expressed for the particular measure. The motion received a great deal of support from the members of the House. I should remind members that this was one of the items for which there were 100 signatures of members, from both sides of the House.
In circulating the petition on this motion, I received some very supportive comments. Indeed there were some expressions of surprise that the country had not already done something of this nature to honour the men and women who serve in the Canadian forces.
I should say as well that in consultations I had with members of the House and with the Minister and the Department of National Defence, I have revised the motion, as I indicated earlier. Those revisions reflect the changes in terms of the consultations I had with regard to the motion.
The reason for the change is quite simple. If we fix a date on a weekend, it is more likely that Canadians across this great country of ours would be able to more readily participate in community events and ceremonies.
What is the motion all about? Quite simply, the purpose of the motion is to thank all the men and women who serve us while in the uniform of the Canadian forces.
Some might ask why such a measure is necessary today. After all, we have so many people in the country who perform important and dangerous roles to protect people and property.
I would argue, however, that the nature of military service is quite different. As we have heard so often at the defence committee, we have the concept of unlimited liability in military service. What does that mean? It means that the person who signs up with the Canadian forces agrees to obey orders that could put his or her life, as well as those of colleagues, in danger.
In two world wars and the Korean war, the concept of unlimited liability was not an issue that attracted a lot of esoteric debate. It was an issue that was all too real to the people who served and died for this country. It was all too real to the families, to the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who read telegrams saying that a loved one was wounded, missing or killed in action.
These issues seem so far from us today, 55 years after the end of the second world war, but are they really? For the family of a peacekeeper who was killed in Bosnia or Croatia or, indeed, if we go back a few years, in places like Cyprus or the Golan Heights, the concept of unlimited liability is very real. It is very real for the families of the soldiers who are currently serving in Bosnia and who will be very shortly serving in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
I must admit that I feel a little close to this issue as someone who has served from the beginning of this parliament on the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs. It has been as a result of my service on that committee that I have come to know and appreciate the varied and complex work that is done by our men and women in uniform.
I think back to the committee hearings on quality of life that we held in bases across the country, where the members of our committee got a real taste of what the Canadian forces accomplish. Our committee started its work on a trip to Canadian forces base Yellowknife on a C-130 Hercules in January 1998. I have had a lot of trips on airplanes but I cannot remember one as uncomfortable as that trip. My colleague, the hon. member for Hillsborough, could probably attest to that on some of the rides he has had in the C-130 Hercules.
That was the beginning of an eye opening experience that later took us to Canadian forces base Esquimalt, then off to our search and rescue operations at Pat Bay. From there we went to Canadian forces bases Edmonton, Cold Lake and Moose Jaw. Our travels also took us to Canadian forces bases Borden, Petawawa, Valcartier, Halifax, Gagetown and Goose Bay. We saw soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen who told us about the joys and challenges of their work, along with the frustrations and disappointments.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of serving on the defence committee was being able to visit our troops in peacekeeping and other operations. Our committee travelled to Geilenkirchen, Germany, where we saw Canada's contribution to the NATO AWACS system.
We also travelled to Canada's areas of operations in Bosnia, where we visited places with unusual names like Velika Kladusa, Coralici, Bihac, Zgon and Drvar. In many places we saw the physical damage of war: destroyed homes, burned out farms, burned out businesses and factories, and beautiful green fields that no one would dare to walk on for fear of land mines. Perhaps most disturbing of all were the faces of the men, women and children who have been deeply affected by war.
The conditions of service that our men and women in the Canadian forces face are certainly less than ideal. There is, as we all know, the danger of unexploded land mines and unexploded ordnance. As well, there are weapons everywhere in some of these places. There are dangerous roads and hazardous conditions.
One of the things that also struck me when our committee visited Bosnia was that when I asked some of our peacekeepers what would happen to the society being protected if the peacekeepers were to leave that place, we were told very clearly that it would not take very long, maybe only hours, perhaps days, before people would again be killing one another and damaging and destroying property. They said that it would be a very serious and unfortunate situation.
Members of our committee also had the opportunity to travel to Kosovo earlier this year to the KFOR operation, Camp Maple Leaf in Skopje, Macedonia, to tour the operations there. What we saw was equally disturbing and probably made just as much impact on us as the trip that we took to Bosnia a couple of years earlier. We saw the results of the precision bombing, the mass graves and the property destruction, which was everywhere.
However, members of the Canadian forces do not just serve in the Balkans and in the former Yugoslavia. They are in many other parts of the world, more recently in places like East Timor and in an area that I am certainly more familiar with, Sierra Leone. We have had, for instance, military observers there to monitor the Lomé peace agreement as part of the UNAMSIL force there. We also had a cargo handling unit in Sierra Leone.
I mentioned some of the dangers of our operations for people in places like Bosnia and Kosovo, but in Africa the dangers are in many respects multiplied. Here I am thinking of military observers and the dangers that exist in terms of kidnapping. We saw earlier this year the kidnapping by the rebel forces in Sierra Leone of about 500 members of the Indian peacekeeping force that was part of the UNAMSIL operation. That sort of violence is something that peacekeepers or military observers can be exposed to on a fairly regular basis.
Also, in places like Africa there is the threat of disease. I am thinking again of Sierra Leone, where the danger is constant with regard to diseases like malaria, dysentery, yellow fever, cholera, sleeping sickness and river blindness. These are all diseases that members of our forces can be exposed to in areas like Sierra Leone, Congo and Ethiopia-Eritrea.
Inasmuch as we can be inoculated against certain diseases, the one thing we cannot be inoculated against is post-traumatic stress disorder. That is something we have certainly seen over the last number of years. Many of the members of our forces are facing it. Perhaps the most high profile victim of PTSD, as it is called, has been Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, who served with great distinction in Rwanda.
I had the opportunity to meet General Dallaire on a number of occasions. He certainly has my greatest respect and admiration. I think he embodies the values of the Canadian forces. When I say the values of the Canadian forces, I mean the desire to help people in need, the desire to protect the innocent, to preserve the rule of law, to safeguard human rights and to protect people and property.
General Dallaire is one of many who have experienced probably the worst the world has to offer. Rwanda was certainly a place where the world as a whole failed very miserably. However I think we can be very proud of the fact that a member of the Canadian forces, General Dallaire, tried his very best to prevent this slaughter.
It is to the people like General Dallaire and many of the unsung heroes of the Canadian forces to whom this Canadian forces day would be dedicated.
One of the comments I have heard from members of the forces, which is a source of great frustration to them, is that many people do not really understand what they do. People know we have an army. They know we have an air force. They know we have a navy, but they are not really clear on the sorts of things and the individual tasks that our forces perform.
In this regard, it is important to emphasize that the Canadian forces as whole is a very vital tool of our foreign policy. When all else fails, when the diplomats stop talking and when the guns come out, it is members of the Canadian forces and other allied forces who are sent in to try and straighten out the situation.
I have talked about the challenges and the work of the Canadian forces abroad, but I think it is just as important to stress what they have done domestically.
I cannot help but be drawn to the memories I have of the ice storm that occurred in 1998. It is probably a distant memory for a lot of members in the House and for a lot of Canadians, but half the people in my riding were without power and in some cases for several weeks. This was an experience they do not want to repeat soon.
There were roughly 30,000 to 35,000 people without power during a very difficult winter. Whole towns in my riding, places like Osgoode, Manotick and North Gower, were without power. It was in aid of these small communities that our forces came to the rescue. My constituents were very pleased to see the members of the Canadian forces present and providing a kind of security blanket for the members of the community.
I will conclude my comments here and allow other members to speak on this motion. I would appreciate the opportunity at the conclusion of the debate to make a few more comments.