Thank you and good morning.
Honoured Veterans, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am honoured to be here today, as Canada’s Veterans Ombudsman, to participate in your annual ceremony of remembrance and commemoration.
This year is especially meaningful as we mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. Here, on the Champ d’honneur national, we have a visual reminder of the sacrifice and the human cost of all military operations.
The First World War’s global reach brought the reality of conflict to the doorstep of every Canadian in every community across our country, and left no family untouched. For a nation of only eight million people, Canada’s war effort was remarkable. More than 650,000 men and women from Canada and Newfoundland served — over 66,000 gave their lives and more than 172,000 were wounded.
The recent event at a parking lot in St Jean- sur-Richelieu that took the life of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and the one at the National War Memorial in Ottawa that took the young life of Caporal Nathan Cirillo as he stood guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are poignant reminders that Canada is not isolated from the rest of the world and its conflicts. The outpouring of support from Canadians following their tragic deaths, including Veterans and even cadets standing vigil at cenotaphs across the country, said a lot about who we are. It also attested strongly to the high regard in which we hold our men and women in uniform.
As this is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, we should spend a moment and reflect on Canada’s contribution to ending that Conflict.
During the last 100 days of the war, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps spearheaded the final offensive of the British Empire, defeating parts of 47 German Divisions. But the human cost was atrociously high with almost 45,000 Canadian casualties – the highest casualty rate of the entire War, and in the subsequent history of the Canadian military.
Their achievement, which started on Vimy Ridge and contributed to forcing the armistice of November 11th, 1918, helped forge Canada into the independent nation that it is today.
Some argue that the First World War was Canada’s War of independence. For that, as a country, we will forever be grateful to the sacrifices of not only the men and women who lost their lives, but also to those who returned and to their families who had to cope and suffer with the effects of war for the rest of their lives.
Many conflicts have come and gone since those terrible days, but one common factor remains: Canadian Armed Forces personnel continue to stand on guard for Canadians and their values, such as freedom, equality, tolerance of cultural and religious freedoms, and rule of law amongst others.
I salute the sacrifices of every Canadian Veteran in every war, conflict and operation in which Canada has been involved. Our men and women in uniform have given their lives so we can live in peace from the Great War to the second World War and Korea, in peacekeeping missions, in Bosnia, during the Gulf War, and in Afghanistan.
At this site, the past and the present come together. The sacrifice of these men and women made us a nation. The ongoing sacrifices made by our armed forces personnel on behalf of all Canadians strengthen our nation.
We will not forget them.