Afghanistan Memorial Vigil Commemoration CeremonyPublished on 9 October 2014 by Senator Percy Downe
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.