Opinion: On Remembrance Day, has Canada forgotten?

As a veteran who served for 15 years, I feel we must unite as a nation and rebuild the pride and support that seem to have been lost.

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Canadians were proud after the Second World War, not only for what we had accomplished with our allies but with the notable distinctions earned by Canadian units, especially in Normandy. Canadians at home contributed financial support toward the war and cheered for our military. Industries manufactured weapons and prepared food for troops abroad, and Canadians truly became united across our vast territory.

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With the creation of the United Nations, Canada played an integral role. We eventually adapted our military from fighting an enemy to protecting others under the stewardship of prime minister Lester B. Pearson. Canadians from 1955 to 2001 knew our military to be peacekeepers. Although largely unknown to most Canadians, Canada deployed more than 125,000 soldiers to more than 37 conflicts across the world in this capacity.

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With horror and shock, Sept. 11, 2001 unfolded and Canada was caught in between decades of training its military for peacekeeping missions to now having to call upon them to be a fighting force in Afghanistan. Sadly, we were ill equipped. We did not possess the heavy armour, aircraft, vehicles and personal protective equipment that our allies possessed. While other countries had upgraded their military, we had spent little. The world criticized us and wondered whether we were capable of being a modern fighting force.

However, true to our reputation — “The True North strong and free” — we served with distinction and did what needed to be done alongside our allies with the equipment we were provided. Canada eventually supplied its troops with better equipment because the public supported our military under the leadership of General Rick Hillier and rallied behind our brave soldiers as they encountered the unthinkable abroad.

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The war on terror seemed to unite us all under the Maple Leaf. Recruitment increased, Canadians wanted to be involved again, and Canada was once again recognized on the world stage. Back home, I distinctly remember the public wearing red on Fridays and seeing a plethora of poppies leading up to Remembrance Day.

It has now been 12 years since our country was at war, but where have all the proud Canadians gone? It feels like they’ve disappeared.

Is it because a large portion of the public doesn’t know what our military is doing? Is it because senior members past and present have been highlighting our military’s deficiencies? Is it because the costs associated with adequately protecting our borders is now daunting? Is it because the media have been quick to highlight scandals associated with some members of the military? Is it because the emphasis seems less on being an effective fighting force and more on fostering an accommodating workplace environment? Is it because there seems to be no real direction for our military?

Sadly, in my view, this lack of a long-term vision has stripped the military of its identity and diminished its value in the eyes of Canadians who want to feel proud and confident about the men and women who wear the uniform. 

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Although this year’s poppy campaign began Oct. 20, I have not seen many people in the Montreal area wearing them. Today’s youth and members of my generation seem to be unaware of what the poppy represents — our national symbol of remembrance to honour the fallen and support our veterans and the armed forces community.

This Remembrance Day, I would like to see a change. I would like to see us come together as a country and rebuild the pride and support that seem to have been lost. We should not diminish the sacrifices made by our courageous men and women to make this country what it is today — free for all who stand united under the Maple Leaf.

Ivan Beaudry is a veteran who served in the Canadian military for 15 years. He deployed on six overseas missions and received the Sacrifice Medal as a result for injuries sustained in Afghanistan. He lives in Pierrefonds-Roxboro.

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