Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to join my colleagues in support of Bill C-287, An Act respecting a National Peacekeepers' Day.
Let me begin by commending the members of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, who worked together in a spirit of cooperation. As a result, this legislation has the unanimous support of all parties.
We were able to make amendments to address several issues and to improve the bill.
As a member of Parliament, I am very proud to have been part of a committee that kept the language very simple. It states in fullness:
Throughout Canada, in each and every year, the ninth day of August shall be known as “National Peacekeepers’ Day”.
For greater certainty, National Peacekeepers’ Day is not a legal holiday or a non-juridical day.
We were able to amend the language to make sure that we were being as inclusive as possible. For instance, we changed “peace support missions” to “peace support operations” and added the words “diplomats and civilians” after “Canadian police services”.
I would like to thank the representatives of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping, the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, and the Royal Canadian Legion, who came to the committee and shared their insights with us. They provided the committee with a very detailed history of the movement of the Canadian Peacekeepers' Day and the significance of August 9.
If I may, I would like to offer special thanks to Colonel Don Ethell, the honorary president of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping, for his tireless work in this initiative. During his 38 year career in the Canadian military, Colonel Ethell served on 14 peacekeeping tours and other secondments to United Nations agencies.
After his retirement, Don has continued to serve his country and his fellow veterans with great energy and passion. He made an outstanding contribution to the development of the new veterans charter and today he sits as chair of the Operational Stress Injuries Social Support Advisory Committee.
I know that Don would prefer to give the credit to others, but today I want to thank him for really making a difference. I can say that Canada is a better place because of people like Don Ethell.
As members will know, the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs is a relatively new committee of the House, but I am proud to say that all the members were united in working on behalf of our veterans. We are all inspired by their service and sacrifice.
I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing for bringing Bill C-287 forward to the House. We all share his desire to recognize the tens of thousands of Canadian men and women who have served our country and have made a significant contribution to international peace and security.
I can assure all members of this House that this government, more than any other in recent history, is committed to giving every possible support to members of the Canadian Forces. We are also committed to ensuring that Canadian veterans are treated with the dignity and respect they have earned and deserve. They have brought honour to Canada and we will honour them.
Since 1919, Canadians from coast to coast to coast have paused each year on November 11 to remember their brave countrymen and countrywomen who have given their all in the service of Canada. Through this national act of remembrance, we honour all veterans.
We honour those who served in war and those who served in peace. We honour those who served in all theatres of war. We honour those who have served in Canada, helping our communities respond to and recover from natural disasters. We honour those who continue to stand for peace and freedom in operations all over the world and most recently in Afghanistan.
This legislation constitutes a specific recognition of Canada's peacekeepers, who have so selflessly contributed to international peace and security. The concept of peacekeeping was a Canadian innovation. Our sterling reputation for peacekeeping is well-earned and is based on a long tradition, indeed, one that spans over five decades.
In 1956, Canada played a leading role in the first United Nations Emergency Force, which was established to secure and supervise the end to hostilities in the Suez crisis. That operation distinguished our country and earned us the Nobel Prize for peace.
Our effectiveness in upholding peace was recognized once again in 1988, when Canada shared in a second Nobel Peace Prize as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Our peacekeepers, and in fact all peacekeepers, continue to be recognized internationally on the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, May 29.
It has been suggested that we should adopt this day as Canada's Peacekeepers' Day, but as we all know, it is August 9 that resonates nationally for us as a day of recognition for peacekeepers, for it was on August 9, 1974, that nine Canadian peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Emergency Force in Egypt and Israel were in a Canadian Forces Buffalo transport aircraft that was shot down as it prepared to land at Damascus on a regular resupply mission.
On that day, there were no survivors. This represents the greatest loss of Canadian lives in a single day on a peacekeeping mission.
As we also know, nine provinces have now designated August 9 as Peacekeepers' Day. Ceremonies are held in communities across the country in honour of our peacekeepers, and now, with legislation, we will have a National Peacekeepers' Day.
Bill C-287 complements the other initiatives that have been taken to recognize and commemorate Canadian peacekeepers. Their contribution is commemorated in a very prominent way not far from this chamber. Reconciliation, the peacekeeping monument that sits on Sussex Drive, is still, I believe, the only monument of its kind in the world.
Our peacekeepers are also recognized by the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal. This award was created in 1997. It honours Canadians, primarily members of the Canadian Forces and members of Canadian police services who have served as peacekeepers. The Peacekeeping Service Medal is in keeping with Canada's traditional expressions of honour to members of the forces for their service.
Tens of thousands of veterans of Canada's peacekeeping and peace support operations wear this medal with pride. It is treasured by the families of those brave Canadians who have made the supreme sacrifice in the cause of peace.
The names of these brave men and women who have died in the service of Canada can be found in The Seventh Book of Remembrance. This sacred book, along with the six other Books of Remembrance, is found in the Memorial Chamber here in the Peace Tower. It is a special place of commemoration and reflection.
The Seventh Book of Remembrance is a testament to the often very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which our peacekeepers have served. On many deployments, there has been very little peace to keep and, unlike in times of war, the rules of engagement have been much less clear, if defined at all.
No matter what the circumstances, Canada's peacekeepers have strived to demonstrate exemplary discipline and professionalism. Often they must leave their families and homes behind, just as our veterans of the first world war, the second world war, the Korean war and the gulf war did.
With each deployment, they know their mission may require that they put their lives at risk. Canada's peacekeepers have courageously and selflessly served the cause of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. They have prevented wars and saved lives and they have contributed to international peace and security.
Through Bill C-287, we will honour their steadfast service, recognize their noble contributions and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
It was Winston Churchill who said, “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others”. That is the legacy of Canada's peacekeepers.
For more than 50 years, our peacekeepers have gone to the far corners of the world to help preserve peace. Their courage has given Canada a well deserved reputation for standing up for the values of freedom, tolerance, respect, dignity and the rule of law. We can only imagine the gratitude of those whose lives have been saved by the intervention of Canada's peacekeepers.
Veterans Affairs Canada has a special mandate to tell the story of those who have served our nation, both in times of war and times of peace, and to keep alive the memory of those who have made the supreme sacrifice.
Let me conclude by thanking my colleagues on the Standing Committee of Veterans Affairs for their support for this legislation. I would encourage all my hon. colleagues to help tell the story of our peacekeepers so that more Canadians, especially our youth, will better understand the significance of August 9, National Peacekeepers' Day.