Here are the remarks I delivered this morning at the Afghanistan Memorial Vigil Commemoration Ceremony at Memorial Hall, Confederation Centre of the Arts:
Your Honour, Lieutenant Governor Lewis, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, the plaques we see before us are a tangible reminder of the sacrifice of those, military and civilian, who gave their lives as part of this country’s campaign in Afghanistan, and recognize all those who served.
The peace and prosperity in Canada today is a direct result of our Canadian veterans. The troops of the First and Second World Wars, the Korean and Afghan Wars and our many peacekeeping missions have provided the rest of us with the safe and secure Canada we enjoy today.
No one ever wants to go to war – all Canadians want peace – but we fully understand that if we are facing the evils of Nazi Germany or terrorism from the Middle East, we count on the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces to protect our country, our values and our way of life.
We fought in Afghanistan because it was our duty as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The NATO treaty holds that an attack on one member is to be considered an attack on all. Our friend and ally, the United States of America proved that the attacks of September 11th, 2001 originated from the then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Canada kept its word and joined the fight, as we would expect our allies to do if our country was attacked.
For the most part, throughout our history we have sent our military off to war, rather than having war come to us. And that is why we owe a special debt to those who leave the safety of Canada to fight for it in other places.
Members of the military speak of “unlimited liability” – that when you join the Canadian Armed Forces you write a blank check to your country, which could mean you die in service to Canada. But the obligation goes both ways. Senator Romeo Dallaire, in one of his speeches in the Senate Chamber, said:
“(T)he people of the country and the veterans have come to an agreement that if you commit yourself to unlimited liability, then the country will commit itself to doing the best it can to meet that same challenge of unlimited liability for you, and . . . your family.”
At memorials like this one from one end of the country to the other, we honour the sacrifice of those who paid the full measure of that liability. But that is only part of our obligation, the other part is the obligation to those who were willing to die, and survived; particularly those who returned with wounds, seen or unseen. Our obligation to them is no less strong, and just as important.
As a nation, we must remember our side of that agreement, and ensure that Canadian Forces members, veterans, and their families receive the respect and support they deserve – and have earned many times over – when they come home, and for the rest of their lives.
In October 2013, I re-tabled my private member’s bill, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (Bill S-201). Genetic testing holds the promise of tremendous health benefits for Canadians, but fear of genetic discrimination – discrimination from insurance companies, employers or others because of one’s genes – is holding many Canadians back from genetic testing that may be medically beneficial. In Canada, unlike in many other countries around the world, once a person has a genetic test there is no specific law, at either the federal or provincial level, to protect against genetic discrimination. This bill would change that. There are many personal reasons why someone may decide not to have genetic testing, but concern about genetic discrimination should not be an issue.
Bill S-201 is now before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. On October 2, 2014, we heard compelling testimony from Dr. Ronald Cohn with the Hospital for Sick Kids and Dr. Yvonne Bombard from St. Michael’s Hospital. Both witnesses described the human costs associated with delaying genetic testing out of fear, and the potential impact on one’s family and future. The complete testimony is available here:
The summer of 2014 was busy for our Inuit leaders and I would like to thank them for their outstanding work. There are three events which I would like to highlight.
First, I would like to bring your attention to the Kitigaaryuit Declaration (articles 28, 29) as agreed to by the Inuit of Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Chukotka at the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) General Assembly July 2014 in Inuvik, NWT.
In this declaration, ICC made the formal commitment to:
28. Mandate ICC leadership to urge Arctic member states submitting positions on the extent of their respective continental shelves to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to involve Inuit in those submissions so as to reflect the Inuit perspective and protect Inuit rights and interests;
29. Instruct ICC leadership to engage in the UNCLOS processes to monitor developments to equip Inuit to promote and protect Inuit sovereignty and Inuit rights to the offshore, and take steps to participate in the decision-making of the bodies formed under the UNCLOS whose work has the potential to affect Inuit rights in the Arctic.
The sessions are online. Although all of the presentations were excellent, Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough in particular, made some comments specific to Canada’s UNCLOS submission, consent, international law, and land claims which may be of interest to you (Look for Day 2, part one (morning) and forward to the 44 minute mark).
Second, in June, Mr. Peter Hutchins and Mrs. Robin Campbell presented their paper, “Canada’s submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the Legal Protections for Inuit Rights to the Arctic Ocean” to the Canadian Bar Association Aboriginal Law Conference which was held in Iqaluit, NU. If you were unable to attend, the paper is available on the Senator’s website in English, French and Inuktitut: http://liberalsenateforum.ca/blog/arctic-sovereignty-part-five/. We also have copies in the office that we would be pleased to send you.
The third event is the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (UNWCIP) which wrapped up last week. Our Aboriginal leaders across the globe have been preparing for these high level meetings for the last four years. Because this is the first conference of its kind, there were undoubtedly some extra hurdles for them to overcome. Our delegates put a tremendous amount of energy and time into the process and it is good to know the people are working together.
Seventy years ago, thousands of Canadian soldiers landed on the French shore amid a sea of flames to help liberate Europe and restore democracy.
On June 6 and 7, 2014, 1,800 veterans and some 20 heads of state and government gathered to honour the memory of those soldiers at ceremonies marking the march toward peace and freedom. As President of the Canada-France Interparliamentary Association, I was invited to Ouistreham by France’s President François Hollande to express Canadians’ respect and admiration for those whose dedication led them to make the supreme sacrifice.
Many Canadian veterans, the keepers of our memory, were also in attendance at the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in Cintheaux to salute the bravery and sacrifice of their fellow soldiers, the anonymous heroes who fell during the battle of Normandy. I was pleased and proud to have been there with our veterans to pay my respects to the great-grandfathers, grandfathers and fathers to whom our country owes a lasting debt of gratitude.
Among the Canadian veterans at the ceremony were Franco-Albertan Paul Maisonneuve, age 95, and Edmonton native Ernest Côté, age 101. Their recollections of those historic days and their journey are lessons in courage and a source of inspiration to all Canadians who want to make the world a better place. Who are these men whose commitment is an example to future generations and must never be forgotten?
From left to right: Liliane Maisonneuve, Senator Tardif, veteran Paul Maisonneuve
Paul Maisonneuve was born in the Falher region and was deployed to Europe with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. In 1943, he was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade (1st Division), where he worked on codes and cyphers until being transferred shortly before D-day to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division as a member of the Royal Canadian Army Signal Corps. In June 2014, the French government awarded Mr. Maisonneuve the prestigious Legion of Honour for his efforts during the Second World War.
Senator Tardif with Ernest Côté
Ernest Côté is a descendent of the early Franco-Albertan settlers. He served in the Royal 22nd Regiment as a platoon commander. In June 1944, he was in charge of logistics for the 3rd Canadian Division, which was composed of close to 20,000 volunteers participating in the Normandy Landing. Stationed in England, he was one of a select group of people directly responsible for planning the invasion.
In closing, my trip to France also highlighted the importance of parliamentary diplomacy, the relationship between Canadian and French parliamentarians, and the value of the personal relationships that I have developed with many French senators and members.
Senator Tardif with US Secretary of State John Kerry and French MP Catherine Coutelle
In December 2013, Canada made its submission to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Canada failed to include any reference to Inuit rights to the Arctic.
As countries race for control of the seas located closest to their borders, they have forgotten that northern seas are populated by northern people. Inuit live in the Arctic – on the ice, on the land and on the water. We have always lived here and we have no plans of leaving.
The growing interest of the international community in our territory is fueled by the wealth of natural resources which lay beneath the Arctic ice and water. In this rush to claim the Arctic, the rights of the people who live there are ignored.
As Canadian Inuit we must stand together and we must support each other across the circumpolar world. Our rights to the northern territory exist in the areas of our traditional land use and occupancy; in some places this is well beyond the 200 mile limit, and beyond the limits claimed by the Canadian government at the United Nations.
As the only Inuk Senator in Canada, I am posting this report online so you can read the arguments and I look forward to hearing from you on this issue.