National Day of Honour: Whose celebration?

Less than two months after the final Canadian troops pulled out of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper hosted our country’s first National Day of Honour “to recognize those who fought and to remember the fallen” throughout the 12-year mission (Meghan Hurley, “Canada’s first national day of honour is set for friday – here’s what you need to know,” Ottawa Citizen, 8 May 2014).

The ceremony was a promise made by the government in Harper’s last throne speech and announced in March at a welcoming ceremony for returning soldiers, where he affirmed that the commemorative ceremonies will become an annual event.

As journalist Murray Brewster of the Canadian Press noted, there was almost no information available on the event until just a few days ago: “The silence has left some wondering how the public is expected to participate and whether the day will be an Ottawa-focused political spectacle rather than a grassroots outpouring of appreciation for the approximately 40,000 troops who rotated through the war-ravaged nation” (David Pugliese, “Should May 9th be declared a national day of confusion for honouring the Afghan mission?Ottawa Citizen, 26 April 2014).

School boards and Legion members across the country expressed their bewilderment as they attempted to organize related activities. In Toronto, Halifax, and Winnipeg, school boards made their frustration known over the lack of information available to principals and boards and the failure to provide any notice or direction regarding the day’s activities.

Given only a week to prepare, “Many educators are trying to piece together an event, as is the Royal Canadian Legion which is scrambling to organize activities out of its 1,450 branches,” wrote David Pugliese (“Schools in the dark on next week’s Afghan war national commemoration,” Ottawa Citizen, 1 May 2014).

Only in the final few days did Canadians learn the details of the day’s events.

A second controversy surrounds the National Day of Honour, and this one has the potential to leave a bigger mark on the Conservative brand.

There have been allegations over the last little while the Conservative government has politicized what was supposed to be a National Day of Honour to recognize the Afghan mission and those who participated.

Some veterans were angry that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office shunted aside the Governor General in many of the activities. The Prime Minister’s Office had announced soldiers would present to Harper the last flag that flew over Kandahar Air Field. Some [have] noted that it should go to Governor-General David Johnston, who is the Canadian Forces’ commander-in-chief. Harper “will accept the flag on behalf of Canadians,” the Prime Minister’s Office has said.

(David Pugliese, “Has this become a national day of honour for Steven Harper instead of the troops?Ottawa Citizen, 9 May 2014).

Other Canadians who played prominent roles in the mission were left out of the plans for the event.

The officers who led the mission have not been invited: neither General Rick Hillier, who commanded the NATO forces in Afghanistan before taking change of Canada’s military; nor Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, who also commanded the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan; nor General Walt Natynczyk, Chief of Defence Staff for 4 years of the War; nor Colonel Pat Stogran, who led the first battle group and later became Canada’s First Veterans Ombudsman.

(Jeff Rose-Martland, “Harper, please don’t make the national day of honour all about you,” Huffington Post, 3 May 2014).

Even the families of soldiers who died in Afghanistan were shown scant respect in the initial plan, having originally been invited to attend the ceremonies at their own expense.

It is important to recognize the sacrifices made by the Canadians who served in Afghanistan.

But it is also important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. An even greater sign of respect for the sacrifices made by Canadian military personnel and others—including the Afghan people—would be for Ottawa to learn some lessons about when it is and isn’t appropriate to send the Canadian Forces to war.

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9 Responses to “National Day of Honour: Whose celebration?”

  1. TirdadMay 14, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

    When Stephen Harper was first running for office the biggest donors to his electoral campaign were the Defense Industry. They helped in getting Harper elected.

    Once in office, Harper returned the favour; he appointed a Defense-Industry lobbyist as the Minister of Defense. That is why we no longer are a Peace Keeping nation. To quote Harper himself, we are now “a warrior nation”.

    Today, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the fall of Communism, and after the end of the Cold War, the ideologically-driven government of Stephen Harper is spending more on military than we were at the height of the Cold War. The more Harper spends on military, the more the Defense Industry makes money, and the more they contribute to Harper’s campaign to get re-elected. This is a racket. In this game Harper does not mind wasting our tax dollars and the lives of our soldiers.

    If today Stephen Harper wraps himself in the Canadian flag, beats his chest with a patriotic fervor, and declares the National Day of Honour, it is not because he cares about Canada or the Canadians. His military policies only serve the interest of the Defense Industry and that of the Conservative Party.

    If Harper had been in power at the start of the Iraq war, we would have been implicated in that war. We would be burying our young today. He was also the one who sent our soldiers from the safety of Kabul to the dangers of front lines in Kandahar which took the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers. The rest of the soldiers came back injured or traumatized.

    158 lives lost. So many families devastated. So many injured soldiers have to live with phantom pain for the rest of their lives. So many plagued with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Twelve years of war whose every minute costed us thousands of dollars; and, we have nothing to show for it. We achieved nothing. We replaced the Talibans with the warlords and druglords.

    Today Harper sends six CF-18 fighter jets to Eastern Europe with no clear purpose or policy at a huge cost to the taxpayers for the same reason.

    Tomorrow, should a war breaks out with Iran, Harper will be there “standing shoulder to shoulder with our NATO allies”, “fulfilling our NATO obligations”, because it serves the interest of the Defense Industry and the Conservative Party.

    Meanwhile, every Tuesday night when the church across from the University of Victoria has free dinner, 400 starving students show up. Afterwards they line up for free, stale bread donated by local bakeries. Thanks to our student-un-friendly right-wing governments, we now have breadlines in this land of plenty.

    Meanwhile, the poor and the working class who can not afford to buy a house in Victoria and live in the Western communities of Colwood and Langford are condemned to spend all their lives in traffic. “The-Colwood-Crawl” traffic causes pollution, stress, and accidents; lowers productivity and the GDP; shorten our lives, and causes death. Yet the Harper Conservatives have no money for a much-needed overpass at McKenzie and Trans-Canada Highway.

    Yet, Harper has money for war and military. Our tax dollars could be better spent.

    • Scott BrownMay 15, 2014 at 8:42 am #


      Do you realize that it was the Liberal Government under Paul Martin that sent the army back into Kandahar Province from Kabul and not Stephen Harper. The Army had started the move back into Kandahar Province in the early stages of 2005, almost a full year before Stephen Harper took power.

  2. John Duddy.May 11, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    We went to war based on a big lie. I await a reply from the Prime Minister and my MP.

    Dear Prime Minister.

    Dear Member of Parliament, please research this link.

    Thanks. John Duddy. Calgary Centre. Calgary Buffalo.

  3. MargsviewMay 11, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    It is seriously expected that with the ever-growing number of anti-democratic and unethical maneuvers being done by the cons through Harper, that the critical voices remember to be as active as possible during the soon-to-be election to get rid of this wannabe and its corrupt party. If Canadians aren’t careful they could quite easily find themselves living in an environment similar to an growing number of countries that used to have governments that worked for their people, not against them. Still, why are we putting up with a timid public news service in CBC? For years not one journalist has openly discussed how our well run banks became (it seems), ‘too big to fail’ over night. Canadians deserve an explanation for the reasons behind 114 billion dollars of our tax dollars being freely handed over to 6 banks (with no payment of interest in exchange). As well, we need to know why Harper and the cons can sneakily put in another ‘bail-in’ clause in the 2013 Budget, (page 145)? And finally no trade agreement can remain legally binding when it is done in secret, without any discussion or explanation as to the full implications ‘of the investor-state dispute settlement’ clause (viewed as such as disaster that the Australian government had to have it omitted). Taxpayers are not an ATM account to supplement corporate profits. Either multinationals are capable and productive or they suffer losses just as small businesses do—that is the way normal business works. So, lets see some demands and actions to regain our democracy.

  4. toby dentMay 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    Again it’s the same old photo op for a PM who breaks all the rules behind closed doors. Who is this secretive dictator who has no respect for anyone? I am disgusted at how he treats Canadians. He reminds me of the North Korean dictator shouting far and wide: Look what I can do!!! And we all have to sir here and take it. Don’t think so. This man is not even respected by his own party. Enough.

  5. Bill LongstaffMay 11, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Soldiers are not the only workers who risk death and injury in the service of their country. Every year, about 1,000 Canadians die from job-related injuries or disease. Rather than set aside a separate day, soldiers should have been included in the April 28th National Day of Mourning for workers who have been killed, or suffer disease or injury as a result of work. This day is now recognized in over a 100 countries around the world, but not, unfortunately by our national government.

    • Canada JoeMay 11, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

      The differnce is that soldiers, sailors and airman have people actively trying to kill them. Nearly all other workers do not have that problem.