Mr. Speaker, it was exactly two weeks ago today that we in this chamber shared a terrifying brush with a dangerous new reality spreading around the world.
I know it deeply affected all of us, as have the deaths of two brave and dearly loved members of our Canadian Armed Forced family, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who were targeted simply for wearing our nation's uniform in service to country.
What is more, if it were not for the heroic actions of our security and policemen and women serving on the front line, including our own Sergeant-at-Arms, the terrible loss of life both here and south of Montreal could have been much worse. We will be forever grateful for their dedication to duty.
That is a sample of the troubling world that we now live in, and it makes Veterans' Week even more poignant and meaningful for all of us this year.
While the threats to our safety and freedom have changed over the years, Veterans' Week reminds us that brave men and women have been defending this great land, even before Canada was a country. That is why I consider it one of the finest honours in my life that I have been asked to serve as Canada's Minister of Veterans Affairs.
Nothing unites Canadians like our profound pride and gratitude for those who have worn our nation's uniform and those who still do today. We saw it again through the outpouring of grief and sorrow across our country last month. We saw it along the length of the Highway of Heroes and on the overpasses above, as Canadians waited hours to pay their final respect to a fallen hero.
We understand, as a truly grateful nation, the enormous debt we owe to all those who have stood on guard for us, at home and abroad, on land, at sea and in the air, and who still do so today.
We understand, as citizens of a strong, proud and free nation, that our debt continues today with those still serving in harm's way, including Iraq, and I ask all Canadians to keep them in our thoughts and prayers. More than ever we pray for those who are serving in those places for their safe return home to their loved ones.
We must never take for granted this amazing country that our are men and women in uniform helped to build. We must be vigilant in defending our shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and we must never take their sacrifices for granted.
We must never forget that freedom is not free, that it has never been free. So many of our allies can appreciate this at a personal level of appreciation, obviously, because they have lived with foreign armies occupying their countries, and they have never forgotten that Canada was there to help liberate them. I know that is true, because I have watched the awe, and with awe, as our veterans have been welcomed back as heroes from the north of France to the south of Italy, from Cyprus to South Korea.
I felt this same gratitude as I shook hands with the last Canadian soldiers returning from our Afghanistan mission in March, and when I broke bread with the families of the 158 fallen men and women on our National Day of Honour in May as well.
I was proud to represent Canada when the world gathered in Belgium in August to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, just as I was honoured to stand before two dozen Canadian veterans in Vancouver in September as we launched a new national tribute to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Canada's engagement in the Second World War.
That is why we have launched our world war commemoration period. Between now and 2020, we will encourage Canadians to join us in making the many milestone anniversaries from the country's extraordinary role in the allied victories of the two world wars as a significant passage of our history.
Later this month, more than two dozen veterans of the Italian campaign will return to Italy, where more than 93,000 Canadians served in one of the longest and fiercest struggles of the Second World War.
It is imperative that we remember our proud military history and that we preserve it for future generations to discover, appreciate, and commemorate. That is why we today speak volumes about Veterans' Week, and that is what Veterans' Week is all about. It is about paying tribute to the sacrifices, the contributions, and the achievements of our service men and women, past and present, and I would add, their distinguished families.
It is about remembering their service and honouring their sacrifice. That is what stays with us after all these years. That is what defends us from bad people. It is what we stand for. It is what defines our men and women today. It defines who we are as a nation.
Their sense of duty goes to the heart of what it means to be Canadian. It is who we are. They reflect the very best in all of us, and they have earned their place among our nation's truest heroes. They represent in a truly honourable way the best Canada has to offer, and we will never forget them. We will remember them.