moved that Bill C-297, an act to promote the observance of two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this is the second time I have had the privilege of bringing the bill forward to the House for consideration. I regret that it does not have votable status because it has received more petition signatures in its support than any other legislation by the government or private members in this parliament.
In December I had the honour of tabling some 65,000 petition signatures in support of Bill C-297, a bill that has been endorsed by virtually every major veterans organization in the country, including the Royal Canadian Legion.
The bill formally calls upon Canadians to properly recognize the customary two minutes of silence at 11 o'clock on November 11 as our moment of remembrance.
Many Canadians might say that if this is already a custom why do we need legislation to formalize it. I would argue that the reason I brought forward the legislation was at the behest of organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion.
Over the past decades Canadians have seen a significant diminishment in our remembrance of the sacrifices of our war dead and a troubling growth in ignorance about our military history which is definitive to what we are as a nation.
What initially provoked me to draft the bill was reviewing public opinion survey results that were conducted by an excellent new organization dedicated to promoting remembrance of Canadian history called The Dominion Institute. In 1998 the institute conducted a survey in which it found, shockingly, that 65% of Canadians could not identify the significance of D-Day and that only 11% could name two countries that Canada fought against in the first world war. This was among younger Canadians aged 18 to 24, Canadians who had presumably graduated from high school and many from college. Sixty-nine per cent of Canada's youth did not know that Vimy Ridge was an important Canadian victory and 67% did not know that November 11 was the end of the great war.
In more recent survey data conducted by the same organization, among the general population only 38% of Canadians could identify the War of 1812 as the military incursion by the United States into Canada, and only 47% could properly identify the event of D-Day in 1944. That is to say that 53% of Canadians in the general population could not identify arguably the most significant day of the most significant war of modern history and Canada's role in it.
This growing ignorance about our history and our sacrifices we see in a diminished recognition of that moment of remembrance.
The two minute moment of silence on Armistice Day began as a custom in South Africa following the first world war when citizens looked for a way to honour the many thousands of South African war dead who sacrificed themselves for the British empire. It was suggested that they stop all commerce, business and activity for a couple of minutes at 11 o'clock, the moment of armistice on Remembrance Day.
That custom quickly spread throughout the empire, the Commonwealth and to Canada where in the 1920s and 1930s the entire nation stopped for two minutes. If we speak to people who remember that custom or read the history, the factories would blow their whistles and the workers would stand at rest for two minutes. The radio broadcasters would broadcast dead air for two minutes. Public spaces would be still and quiet for that moment. This was a custom that was very widely observed until the last two or three decades.
While it is true that many Canadians do gather at cenotaphs in their communities on November 11 to observe the moment of silence, it is equally true that many millions more go about their daily activity without recognizing the sacred moment.
What the bill seeks to do is remind Canadians on behalf of parliament that this is a sacred moment that we must all observe. It is not an idea that I have come to on my own. The bill is modelled on similar legislation that passed the mother parliament at Westminster several years ago and the Ontario legislature in 1996.
There is nothing more important we could do as Canadians than to recognize the sacrifice of our war dead. This is more relevant now than ever. For the first time since Korea Canadian troops are in forward, frontline positions in offensive actions in a real ground war. This calls to mind for our own generation the risks which hundreds of thousands of Canadians took for their country in the last century.
Over 300,000 Canadians served in the first world war and 65,000 of them did not come home. Every small community in this country has at its heart a cenotaph in remembrance of the young men who left those communities in 1914 through 1918 to serve and ultimately die for their country. In the second world war a million Canadians served in a variety of capacities and some 50,000 gave their lives in that war against tyranny.
When we use those numbers, they are so large: 65,000, 50,000, 117,000 Canadian war dead in the last century. They almost inure us to the significance of them. However each single one of those war dead represented a son, a father, a brother, a husband who was lost forever and for whom hundreds of thousands of Canadian families still feel the grief. Of those Canadians some died in the frigid cold of the north Atlantic after having been attacked by U-boats, or in the unimaginable horror of the trenches of the first world war, or in the Canadian air force flying over Europe in the battle of Britain. Thousands of Canadians gave that ultimate sacrifice in so many horrible ways.
This building itself is in some respects a testament to their sacrifice. In the heart of the Peace Tower is the chapel of remembrance where just a moment ago the ceremony of the changing of the book of remembrance was conducted. These are all things that are very much at the heart of our symbols as a nation because we came of age in that first world war. The Peace Tower was constructed as a commemoration of the war dead.
It is encouraging to see some small renewal of the symbols of our national sacrifice such as the entombment of the unknown soldier at the war memorial two years ago. Nevertheless we as a nation are losing our hold on our collective memory about these, the most significant events in our history.
I invite all members to join with me, the Royal Canadian Legion, and with all the remaining veterans of past wars in doing everything we can symbolically to rekindle a serious, deep, profound, and lasting national remembrance.
There is no single symbol that can accomplish that. However I suggest that across the country at 11 o'clock on Remembrance Day people should pull to the side of the road and broadcasters should broadcast silence for two minutes on every television and radio station. Places of work should broadcast a moment of remembrance and ask people to stop, be quiet and reflect.
I remember last year I was at my local legion cenotaph at 11 o'clock and a city transit train went careening by just at that moment when veterans and their families were engaged in that moment of silence. If Bill C-297 were to pass we would invite public transit authorities not to insult us but rather to respect that moment of silence by terminating service for a couple of minutes at 11 o'clock.
Can members imagine how significant a symbol that would be, if the whole nation came to a silent moment of reprieve for a couple of minutes? It would be a symbol that would cause each of us to reflect upon the sacrifices made by the 117,000 Canadian war dead and the 1.4 million Canadians who served in wars in the last century. The sacrifices were not just for themselves and their families in their own time but for generations that followed including ourselves.
I was born in 1968. I am of a generation for whom these things are not even memories. That is precisely why the new generation of Canadians must take leadership in promoting a renewal of remembrance. That is what the bill seeks to do.
I remind the House once again that the bill received more support in terms of petition signatures than any other bill. I am distressed with the process for the designation of votable status for private members' bills when 65,000 Canadians indicated their support for a bill through petitions tabled in parliament. The committee delegated with the task of granting votable status to bills determined in its wisdom that those 65,000 Canadians were wrong along with every major veterans organization in the country. I submit there is something wrong with the system.
I hope there is some way we can make the bill votable. It should not be controversial. I commend the veterans affairs department for having co-operated with the Royal Canadian Legion in promoting the two minutes of silence. I see no reason why we could not simply as a matter of consent pass through the House this official recognition which has been adopted by both the British and the Ontario parliaments.
A friend of mine and a western author, Ted Fife, wrote an article in 1995 that stated:
We are not a militant people. We do not seek to extend our borders, or impose our views upon those who live beyond them. But when our ways and freedom are threatened by foes who would enslave us, we rise and fight with fierce and deadly skill, and we have left scars upon our enemies and our names indelible upon the battlefields and battle skies of the world.
We talked about Canada's presence in the international community. There is no presence more poignant, no more lasting than the fact that there are tens of thousands of Canadians buried in 79 countries in cemeteries abroad.
Just before coming to debate the bill I visited the chapel of remembrance. I encourage all members to do so. It is symbolically one of the most significant places in this country. Inscribed in granite are these words from Psalm 139 which I would like to offer in remembrance:
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.