Afghan Veterans Monument

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise today in the House to echo the comments of my colleagues on this side of the House, as well as on the other side, about the importance of honouring, recognizing, and remembering the service of many Canadians in Afghanistan.

It is important to thank the hon. member for Palliser for his tireless efforts in this regard, championing the concept of a memorial and of remembering. I also want to compliment the member for Sault Ste. Marie, with whom I had the pleasure of serving on the veterans affairs committee. He is a tireless champion for the men and women of the Canadian Forces and for our veterans.

This motion should get support from all members in the House, and it sounds to me as though this is one of these rare but very important moments in the House when we unite to do the right thing, to pay respect to those who have served on our behalf. Our government, and indeed all members of the House, support paying tribute to and remembering Canadians who have served and are serving in Afghanistan. As we know, there are men and women due to return to Canada at the end of March, so we are in the final two months of this very important mission that Canadian Forces members served on our behalf.

I had the privilege, before I was elected to Parliament, to be in the Senate to watch the ceremony related to the end of the mission in Libya. General Bouchard was the Canadian officer who led the international effort in Libya. That was a short, multilateral mission, and a successful one, in which Canadian expertise, precision, and leadership played an important role, and that was recognized. Afghanistan has been one of our longest missions as a country. Blood has been expended, as 158 of our finest people gave their lives. We have to not only memorialize them but also remember their service and the contributions they made to peace and security and a better life for many in that country.

Where I stand today represents the sacrifices Canadians have made and our tradition of heeding the call to serve the wider global good since the founding of our country. In the Peace Tower, the Book of Remembrance turns a page each day, and on each page are the names of young men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Beneath that tower is the chamber, which we are in, that allows speech and debate, lively at times, that has been secured by their sacrifice. We need to remember that as we debate important motions like this one.

Not far from me, on the west side of Centre Block, lies the Vimy stone, which was built by the masons into the side of a rebuilt Parliament of Canada following the fire the year before. The stonemasons heard of Canada’s tremendous victory at Vimy Ridge and laid a special Vimy stone in the building they were constructing, representing our democracy here in Canada and the security we enjoy because we have sent our sons and daughters to other parts of the world to ensure that security is spread, even though in many cases we are protected by the blanket of distance.

I have referred many times in my short time here to the statue of George Baker in the foyer of the Commons, a sitting member of Parliament who died on the battlefields of World War I. I have also spoken about my intention to work with others in Parliament to honour the memory of Colonel Sam Sharpe, the MP from Uxbridge in my riding, who died during World War I at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal after suffering the stresses of war. I am going to work with colleagues to make sure that his sacrifice is remembered as well.

We are steps from the National War Memorial, where each November Canadians gather amid cold, sleet, and snow to pay respect to our veterans and to honour the memory of those who never returned to Canada, whether from the fields of Europe, from the battlefields of Korea, from peacekeeping duties or active service on NATO missions, or in recent years as a result of service in Kandahar and parts of Afghanistan. We remember them, and we remember the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial.

In Confederation Park, we have the Korean War monument. It is not far from here. Last year our government inaugurated 2013, the Year of the Korean War Veteran, because governments should have honoured that service many years ago. In some ways, veterans have called that the “forgotten war”. Confederation Park is also home to a monument to some of our first nations veterans. It is important for Canadians visiting their capital to see these important memorials.

Memorials of some of our winners of the Victoria Cross, our highest award for gallantry, line Wellington Street, mere yards from here as well. If one turns onto Sussex Drive, there is a striking and important monument to our peacekeepers and the many missions that Canada served, since we, in many ways, helped spearhead the concept of a stability and security force as part of our multilateral efforts through the United Nations.

Within this context, the mission in Afghanistan deserves particular attention because it has been our most significant military engagement since Korea and one of our longest engagements in terms of the period of time that Canadians have been committed, in terms of our sacrifice of our treasure and resources to this mission, and in terms of our diplomatic efforts. We need to have a memorial and we need to make sure we write the histories and remember the sacrifice we made in this critical part of our history.

As I said, 158 Canadians gave their lives in service where their country sent them. As a former military officer I know, as some members of this House know, that there is an unlimited liability contract that soldiers sign with the military when they serve their country. Fortunately, the vast majority do not provide that unlimited liability, but 158 of our best and brightest did, and they deserve a proper memorial.

Over 2,000 members were injured in service and will continue to show the signs of their sacrifice for our country. We must work with them to remember their colleagues and tell their stories. We lost a diplomat, a journalist, and five civilians. We must tell those stories and teach our children so that the memory remains alive.

There are monuments already forming. Canadians, in many ways, gave probably the most touching tribute when they showed up on highways during our repatriations. Now there is a repatriation monument in Trenton. Canada Company, 1st C.A.V. motorcycle club, Legions, and average Canadians donated to make that happen.

Portraits of Honour, a stunning series by artist Dave Sopha, has toured the country. We had those portraits at some of the charitable events I used to organize so that we could see the faces of our fallen.

As the Minister of Justice and the MP for Edmonton Centre have proposed recently and as members of the Canadian Forces have said, the Trans Canada Trail has the potential to honour our fallen, perhaps portions of the trail uniting our country near the communities where our fallen came from.

Most importantly, the cenotaphs around this country mark the combat role Canada played in Afghanistan in our service. My community of Bowmanville honoured Trooper Darryl Caswell on our cenotaph. Cenotaphs across Canada rarely get touched for generations, but this mission touched cenotaphs across our country. I know the family of Captain Matthew Dawe, another fine Canadian we lost in Afghanistan. There was Captain Nichola Goddard. The list goes on. They will also be marked on the cenotaphs in their communities.

These are times when we need to mark their service and what they gave in pursuit of Canadian goals and ideals around the world—mark it in their communities on their cenotaphs with their Legion members and their families, but also mark it here in our nation’s capital.

I want to end with some words from Rupert Brooke’s poem The Dead. Some of these words are found on the Memorial Arch on the grounds of RMC; cadets march in through it and then march out through it.

These are those words:

Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

Blow, bugles, blow! They brought us, for our dearth,
Holiness, lacked so long, and Love, and Pain.
Honour has come back, as a king, to earth,
And paid his subjects with a royal wage;
And Nobleness walks in our ways again;
And we have come into our heritage.

We can show our heritage with this monument.

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