Peace Keepers, Peace Makers, Peace Seekers: All One Veteran
Ottawa – August 27, 2013
The Government of Canada established August 9th as National Peacekeepers' Day in 2008. It honours the more than 125,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and provincial and municipal police forces, as well as Canadian diplomats and civilians, who have participated in dozens of international efforts over the past six decades in countries all over the world in support of international peace and security operations.
August 9th was chosen because that was the day in 1974 when nine Canadian Peacekeepers lost their lives when their Canadian Buffalo aircraft from 424 Squadron was shot down by Syrian forces, representing the first time that a Canadian military aircraft was shot down since World War II. It was also the single greatest loss of life of Canadian Peacekeepers in a single event. In addition, 1974 is remembered in the annals of Canadian Peacekeeping history because from mid-July to mid-August of that year, Canada lost 25 soldiers in a 30-day period – the greatest loss of life in a month since the end of the Korean War.
On Friday, August 9th, I attended the third annual candlelight Honouring Our Peacekeepers Ceremony at the Monument de la Bravoure, located in Place George-V, Quebec City. As Cadets marched on the ceremonial grounds each carrying a combat boot displaying a Canadian flag and the photo of a Canadian Peacekeeper who paid the ultimate sacrifice, I reflected on the fact that upwards of 250 lives have been lost and families affected forever by Canada’s participation in various peacekeeping interventions since October 1947.
Then, on the 11th of August, I attended the official ceremony of National Peacekeepers Day in Ottawa at Canada’s Peacekeeping Monument. It was another beautiful ceremony with an honor guard made up of Veterans and serving members of the Canadian forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other police forces rallying together as they do when deployed on international missions. As the Last Post was played, followed by two minutes of silence and then the Reveille, the immensity of the sacrifice and loss registered on all in attendance.
Since the Korean War, Canadian Forces members have been putting their lives on the line every day of the year at home and abroad. When I last looked in the Seventh Book of Remembrance, it recorded the names of approximately 1,800 service members who lost their lives in the service of Canada. To put the casualty rate into perspective, during the 1950’s early Cold War period, on average, one member of the Canadian Forces was being buried every five days. So, one can quickly see that the Cold War was not a bloodless operation. The high readiness posture required to deter aggression had significant consequences for the Air Force and the Fleet Naval Air Arm.
Along with the 1974 shooting down of the Buffalo aircraft, I often remember other events with significant loss of life, such as the crash of an Argus maritime patrol aircraft in 1965, the explosion on HMCS Kootenay in 1969, the crash of a Hercules aircraft on a Search and Rescue mission in 1980, when I lost one of my best friends and, of course, Canada’s mission to Afghanistan.
However, whether death has been at home or abroad, or because of a significant event or the consequences of the effects of years of service, the result is the same: a life lost by someone who understood the potential consequences of service to Canada and still chose to serve. Regardless of the nature of the mission or where and when they serve, Canada’s Armed Forces and RCMP members answered the call. That makes them all one Veteran – and their commitment does not come without a cost.
Having the honour of attending these ceremonies and reflecting on the sacrifices made each and every day by Canada’s Armed Forces and RCMP energizes the work we do at the Office. We do our best to ensure that those who put so much on the line for us as Canadians are treated with dignity and respect, and that they receive the benefits that they so rightly need and deserve. Above all, we must never forget that we, the Citizens and Government of Canada, have a recognized obligation to care for those who have been left behind injured or grieving.
Through this fall’s parliamentary committee review, the Government of Canada has the opportunity to broaden the parliamentary examination of the New Veterans Charter and address shortcomings in its programs, benefits and services. By such action, it can demonstrate to Veterans and their families, as well as to all Canadians, that the New Veterans Charter is indeed a “living” charter and that its improvement will remain an enduring priority.
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