Honouring courage, sacrifice

Canada’s current involvement in the war in Afghanistan means that Canadians of any age will feel some emotional connection to this Remembrance Day. The courage, sense of duty and the sacrifice made by ordinary men and women who become soldiers is what we recognize each year on the 11th day of the 11th month, at the 11th hour – Remembrance Day here, Veterans Day in the U.S. and Armistice Day in Europe.

November 11 was first set aside for the recognition of soldiers who died – 60,000-70,000 of them Canadians – during the First World War. But there have been many wars since. And, with each of these wars, new generations of soldiers give their lives at the bidding of their country.

While we don’t agree with our soldiers being in Afghanistan, they are doing what they have been ordered to do and so we honour their efforts. This country called and they answered.

Share has long maintained that Canada should pull its troops out of Afghanistan. With 152 Canadian soldiers having lost their lives, some 1,500 wounded – many of them seriously – and at a cost so far of some $20 billion and counting, we believe this country has done its part.

Showing support for our troops and celebrating their heroic efforts shouldn’t be at odds with the idea of removing them from harm’s way in a war that is questionable at best.

In our community, we reflect as well on the battle Black soldiers fought in Canada to have the freedom to serve on the fields of battle during WWI. They had to fight for the right to die for this country.

We reflect on the disregard with which the bravery and service of those Black Canadian soldiers who survived that war was met when they returned home. Whatever freedoms they were fighting to preserve in Europe were not accorded them upon their return to Canada.

Yet, because of their valour, others followed, so that we honour today the memory of such men as Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, 24 who, by his father’s account, was determined to be a soldier. Cpl. Dyer, born of Jamaican parents, was killed by friendly fire in Kandahar in 2002. And we remember Pvt. Mark Anthony Graham, 33, of Hamilton, a father and former athlete who represented Canada at the 1992 Olympics. Jamaican-born Pvt. Graham was killed in southern Afghanistan in 2006.

On this day we also view with dismay the recent revelations of how poorly our wounded Afghanistan veterans are treated once they return home. Wounded soldiers come home to no fanfare and even less respect from our government and the armed forces. The antiquated bureaucracy that they must navigate to get the help they need for rehabilitation is shameful and stands in stark contrast to our celebration of our fallen for whom we line the bridges and wave flags. Our older vets from earlier wars have not fared any better either.

Departing Veterans Affairs Ombudsman, retired Col. Pat Stogran (who leaves the post today), has worked to get the message to the public and to government leaders that if we want to really honour our soldiers, we must look after and honour all those who return home – alive, wounded or dead. This respect must also be paid to their families.

Correcting this negligence on the part of the government is even more important at a time when Prime Minister Harper seems to be moving toward extending the stay of the Canadian military in Afghanistan beyond 2011.

If the Canadian government is not prepared to take care of our soldiers in their time of need, how can we expect them to continue to put their lives on the line on the battlefront?


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