May 9 has been designated a day of honour to celebrate the lives of Canada’s military personnel who died in the line of duty during the 12-year Afghanistan mission.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement on Tuesday morning as the last batch of soldiers returned home.
“The day of honour will recognize those who fought, remember those who fell and salute all who contributed to Canada’s mission,” said Harper.
It will be commemorated with events in Ottawa and across the country, including a parade that will start at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and travel to Parliament Hill. On that day, there will be a moment of silence to reflect upon Canada’s sacrifices.
As part of the commemoration, soldiers injured during the mission will pass the last Canadian flag flown in Afghanistan from Canadian Forces Base Trenton to the parade in Ottawa. The flag will journey through six cities in six days.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson joined Governor-General David Johnston in welcoming the 93 soldiers to Ottawa.
“Today, we can’t help but pause to think of those who lost their lives in Afghanistan,” Nicholson said. “As we reflect on your mission, we do so with pride in the bravery, dedication, professionalism and honourable conduct of more than 40,000 men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who served there.”
General Thomas Lawson was in Afghanistan last week for a ceremony to mark the end of Canada’s military involvement.
“Afghanistan was a tough teacher and it taught us a lot,” said Canada’s top soldier. “It has taught us to work seamlessly together and improved our inter-operability – Army, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations – with our allies and our partners. With the lessons we learned, we are well positioned for the future challenges which we will certainly face in Canada and abroad.”
Canada lost 158 soldiers, two contractors, a diplomat and a journalist during the mission.
Among the soldiers who lost their lives were Corporal Ainsworth Dyer and Private Mark Graham.
Dyer and three other soldiers were killed by “friendly fire” in April 2002 when an American F-16 fighter jet dropped a bomb during a live-wire training exercise near Kandahar.
Born in Montreal and raised in Regent Park, Dyer joined the military in 1997 and served with peackeeping forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2000 before being deployed to Afghanistan.
He’s buried in Necropolis Cemetery in Cabbagetown which is the final resting place for several prominent Canadians, including Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbot who was Canada’s first Black surgeon, former slave Thornton Blackburn who owned the first cab company in the city and William Hubbard, Toronto’s first Black councillor who successfully ran for public office at age 51 in the late 1890s and served as deputy and then acting mayor.
In November 2004, Dyer’s mother – Agatha – was recognized with a National Silver Cross. The National Silver Cross Mother is chosen annually by the Royal Canadian Legion to represent mothers at the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa who have lost children in the military service of our country.
A pedestrian bridge in the Edmonton River Valley Park system bears Dyer’s name. Dyer proposed on the bridge to Jocelyn Van Sloten who he had planned to marry in the fall of 2003.
Jamaican-born Graham was also killed by ‘friendly fire’ on September 6, 2006 when his platoon was mistakenly attacked by an American warplane during an operation to capture a Taliban stronghold west of Kandahar. He is buried at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa.
Graham, who attended the University of Nebraska and Kent University, represented Canada in the 4 x 400-metre relay at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Four years ago, Olympic Park in Hamilton where Graham resided was renamed after him.
The Canadian police mission in Afghanistan has also ended.
Last Friday, the last set of Toronto Police officers returned home after serving nine months as part of the International Policing Operations Mission.
Constable Phillip Sinclair, who served in Afghanistan three years ago, was on hand at Pearson International Airport to welcome his colleagues.
“This is the end of an era and it was important for me to be here,” said Sinclair who migrated from Jamaica at age 14 and joined the Service in 2000. “I was part of that chain that has now ended and I wanted to be here to see that.”
Sinclair, who joined the military as a reservist when he was enrolled at West Toronto Collegiate, was assigned to Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar.
“I learned a lot about myself during that assignment,” he said. “Tolerance and patience are at the top of the list. You are in a part of the world where they do things differently and you have no control. You just react and go with the flow.”