Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-597, an act to amend the Holidays Act (Remembrance Day).
How fortunate it is that the debate takes place this week, ahead of our Remembrance Day constituency week. A week from now, most of us will be back in our ridings, gathered at cenotaphs and Legion halls, honouring the men and women, our friends and neighbours and family, who serve now and have served to protect Canada and Canadians. We live in a country built on the devotion and sacrifice of those men and women, the men and women who came before us in service to our country.
Canada may not have been born out of armed conflict or violent revolution, but the values established by the Fathers of Confederation and the men and women who lived here for centuries before them have been challenged from time to time by those who would try to impose their will and their values upon us. In those instances when the call went out, Canadians answered and were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. With them, we made a sacred covenant.
At Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach, in the Kapyong Valley and across Kandahar province, brave Canadian men and women fought for our freedom and for a world free from tyranny and oppression.
As a country, we have called on successive generations of Canadians to make great sacrifices, including accepting terrible circumstances, separated from their families and loved ones, accepting unlimited liability, and putting their futures and very lives on the line.
Many never returned. Those who did returned with wounds, visible and invisible. To them we owe a sacred obligation, an incredible debt. We owe this debt every day, though there is one day of the year in particular when Canadians stop and are more acutely aware of the depth of the profound sacrifice made by successive generations of Canadians.
The hostilities of the First World War came to an end formally at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, November 11, 1918, 96 years ago next week. The following year, King George V called on everyone in the Commonwealth to stop what they were doing at 11 a.m. on November 11 for two moments, not two minutes, but two moments of silence, to commemorate the Great War's armistice. Since that day, on or around the 11th, Canadians have come together to remember our fallen friends and family and to honour the courage and sacrifice of the living.
The bill brought before us by the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest would have us bring the language surrounding Remembrance Day in line with other important days governed by the Holidays Act and would move us down the road to changing how we observe the day as a country and as a people.
There may be some who are unaware of how we used to mark Remembrance Day. Following the appeal of King George V to mark November 11, a proposal was brought forward in the House of Commons to join the celebration of Armistice Day, on the Monday of the week of November 11, and Thanksgiving. While some were grateful for the long weekend, many veterans and a considerable number of Canadians found that the celebration of Thanksgiving at the same time as the sombre observance of the armistice meant that less than adequate attention was given to the memory of the 60,000 Canadians who perished in the First World War.
The Royal Canadian Legion, after its formation in 1925, petitioned Parliament to have Armistice Day observed exclusively on November 11. It was six more years before a bill was brought before the House of Commons to do just that, and at the same time, the name was changed from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day.
The first Remembrance Day, as we know it, was celebrated in 1931, and ever since, it has been celebrated at the National War Memorial and cenotaphs across the country as a solemn day to commemorate not just the dead and injured from the First World War but those from the Second World War, Korea, and Afghanistan and from peacekeeping missions in the Suez Canal, the Golan Heights, the Balkans, and Haiti.
How we celebrate Remembrance Day across the country is not consistent. Some provinces and territories, as has been mentioned, notably British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Yukon territory, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut mark November 11 as a paid statutory holiday. Federal public servants also are given the day off with pay. Other provinces such as Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, which incidentally make up more than half of the Canadian population, do not mark November 11 as a paid statutory holiday. Everywhere and every one marks the day in one way or another. Most often businesses are closed at least until noon or 1 p.m., so that Canadians have an opportunity to make it to one of the many ceremonies being held.
The intention of the bill before us was clearly to make the treatment of Remembrance Day as a holiday more uniform. By asking for it to be observed much like Canada Day, it was clear the sponsor hoped to make it a statutory holiday so that all Canadians would have an opportunity to attend a ceremony and reflect on the importance of the day. Unfortunately, as it is written, the bill would not accomplish those particular goals.
While the bill would change the language of the Holidays Act to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday, the term “legal holiday” has no special status in law. The administration of holidays in Canada is accomplished through various pieces of legislation at both the federal and provincial levels, as was noted earlier, which include but are not limited to the Canada Labour Code, the federal Interpretation Act, the Excise Act, and the like.
I admire the intent of the bill as I admire any opportunity we have to make the observance of Remembrance Day more special and more accessible to Canadians. Whether we are ready for the day to be celebrated as a statutory holiday, again, is a different matter across the country. Veterans groups with whom I have spoken have some reservations. On the one hand they support any effort to increase awareness and elevate the importance of Remembrance Day to Canadians. However, as was mentioned, there are concerns with the side effects of a statutory holiday. A day off work and school might not lead to more Canadians attending ceremonies, rather they would just take the day off. Kids likely learn more while at Remembrance Day ceremonies at school, and on those rare occasions where the date would fall on a Sunday, giving a Monday off would seem out of the spirit of observance.
What the bill does accomplish is to lay the groundwork for a greater conversation about how we celebrate Remembrance Day. What greater time than this year, after the events of two weeks ago, when Corporal Nathan Cirillo was senselessly slain at Canada's National War Memorial and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed outside of where he worked, to consider how we celebrate?
There are no longer any generations of Canadians untouched by war or conflict. More and more people make their way to ceremonies. Perhaps it is time to discuss how we might make it easier for Canadians to do so. What greater time than the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War to give ample consideration to how we commemorate our Canadian Armed Forces and veterans, and how we observe our sacred obligation to them?
We agree with the member for Scarborough Southwest on possible amendments respecting protocol and the flying of Canada's flag at half mast.
I proudly support the bill because I believe it is the start of a much greater conversation.