Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today in support of Bill S-213, An Act respecting a national day of remembrance to honour Canadian veterans of the Korean War.
This is an important bill intended to designate July 27 as Korean War veterans day nationwide.
I would further like to acknowledge the participation of my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, the official opposition critic for veterans affairs, in the drafting of this bill. I also want to recognize the tremendous work he does every day with our brave Canadian veterans, as well as his sincere devotion to their cause.
I would also like to acknowledge the considerable work done by the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant as the deputy critic for veteran affairs. He is also very dedicated to this cause and works very hard on this. He was an excellent critic for this bill, and I want to express my appreciation for his efforts.
This is considered by many as the forgotten war, and to this day the great achievements and contributions of our brave Korean War veterans are still too often overlooked.
Yet, during this conflict, which lasted over three years, more than 26,000 Canadian soldiers joined the UN mission to help the South Korean people and stop this act of aggression by North Korea.
In this valiant struggle to defend democracy and freedom, 516 of these soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives, and of those who came home, many still bear physical and psychological scars that will never fully heal.
We must never forget their courage and dedication in the service of their country, as well as all the sacrifices that these men and women made to preserve peace in the world.
By marking July 27 as Korean War veterans day, we will help commemorate their bravery and honour them as they deserve.
I come from a military family, so Bill S-213 has a special meaning for me. My father is currently an active member of the Canadian army and my mother is a member of the Royal Canadian Navy reserve.
When I was a child, they started teaching me about the huge sacrifices made by members of Canada's military over the course of history, and they taught me that we have a duty to remember those sacrifices every single day, not just on November 11. That is an important date, but every day should be a day of commemoration.
My grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Norbert LaViolette, also had a career in the armed forces and was among the Canadian veterans who participated in the UN mission in Korea.
Now, a few days before his 90th birthday, I have the privilege of hosting him on Parliament Hill and paying tribute to him to sincerely thank him for his military service during the Korean War and throughout his career.
Lieutenant Colonel LaViolette enrolled in the Canadian Officers' Training Corps at Université du Sacré-Coeur in Bathurst in 1941. He enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 and then transferred to the supplementary reserve a few years later. When he realized that he was not particularly fond of airplanes, he enrolled in the Canadian army in 1950 and started studying mechanical engineering at the Nova Scotia Technical College.
He was deployed to South Korea in 1953 and stayed there for one year, making him one of the 7,000 Canadian soldiers who helped keep the peace after the armistice was signed.
When he participated in the UN mission in Korea, my grandfather was 27 years old and was a lieutenant with the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. His unit's role was to provide front-line maintenance support for Canadian vehicles and weaponry.
We all know that our soldiers are dedicated and that they honour human rights and Canadian values. Whenever possible, my grandfather and his colleagues tried to help the poorest people in the villages surrounding their base. It was hard for my grandfather to see these people suffering and to see all the destruction left behind by the North Korean soldiers, who even killed all of the male animals in the livestock herds so that the villagers could not renew their food source.
I am very proud of my grandfather's military service and everything he accomplished in Korea. Lucky for us, the only visible scars he came back with were a fear of snakes and such a bad memory of the taste of the water that he still avoids it to this day.
Lucky for us, he came home and raised his family. He is still with us today and will celebrate his 90th birthday on Thursday. However, not all of our soldiers were so lucky. We need to remember them and all of the sacrifices they made. We need to remember all those whose names are in the Korean Book of Remembrance in the Memorial Chamber within Parliament's Peace Tower. They sacrificed themselves for their country, and we need to pay tribute to them. Dedicating July 27 in their honour would be a wonderful way of doing just that.
However, we must also ensure that our veterans receive all the services they deserve after having given so much for their country in the service of democracy. I hope that they will get the support they need, as will Canadian legions, which need help. They have a difficult time providing services for their members and even keeping their doors open, yet they play a key role in ensuring that members' service is not forgotten. Legions also serve as a meeting place, a place of community. They offer support and organize funerals for veterans.
Those are the kinds of things we need in this country in order to pay just tribute to veterans and take care of them once they return. Many of them left everything behind to take up arms when Canada put out the call. When the UN asked, Canadian soldiers were there. They did not hesitate to join the Korean War. In fact, Canada sent one of the highest numbers of soldiers, per capita, to Korea. Those men and women sacrificed themselves. They went to the front lines and were ready to give their lives for the values we cherish here in Canada. They were ready to defend the ideals of freedom and democracy that we enjoy here and want to see established in every country on earth.
I am happy that all the parties of the House made such a concerted effort to move this bill forward quickly. If everything goes smoothly and this passes through the legislative process quickly, we could be celebrating the first official day of remembrance to honour Canadian veterans of the Korean War this year, in 2013, the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice.
We have achieved this outcome today because all parties of the House were able to work together, thereby allowing us to honour people like my grandfather, people who truly gave their all in the service of Canada. It is a great privilege for me to have the chance to pay tribute to him today. I know that that time in his life had a tremendous impact on him.
Earlier I was talking about some of the bad memories he brought back with him. I am sure he had others that he never shared with his family, because soldiers sometimes experience horrible atrocities when taking part in armed conflict. We know this from our veterans returning from Afghanistan, for example. I had the opportunity to welcome some of them home to CFB Valcartier. Some of them were my age, and some even younger. Their experiences overseas will mark them for life. Some of them can no longer be members of the Canadian Forces because of what they went through while they were overseas. Nevertheless, we remember their sacrifice.
I welcome the initiative the House is taking through Bill S-213. Once again, I thank all of my colleagues in the House and those in the other place for their support. I hope this bill will pass quickly so that we can celebrate the first day of remembrance to honour Canadian veterans of the Korean War in 2013.