Friday, November 11, 2016

Make Remembrance Day a National Holiday

By: Daniel Maillet, CAF Dispatch Author

Open Letter to:
The Government of Canada;
The Royal Canadian Legion;
Veterans Affairs;
and all Canadians.

The act of remembrance is not merely ceremonial. At its core, remembrance requires action. It carries the promise that we will learn from our past. By ensuring that we remember the past, we can help create a better and brighter future. So today, as we remember not only our fallen, we must remember all those who have served in the hope of creating a better world; one free of tyranny.

There is no better way for action to be taken than to make Remembrance Day a holiday according to the Federal Government.

I am a high school teacher who not only helps plan and participates in Remembrance Day activities in my school. I see first hand how students only partially listen to assemblies. The school calendar is already filled with a dozen or so mass gatherings, and more often or not students leave assemblies having missed the messages portrayed, and the same is true for Remembrance Day assemblies, and this is extremely sad.

As Geoffrey Johnson wrote in this week's Kingston Whig-Standard, "[i]n our fast-paced, technologically driven age, we have a world of knowledge available to us in our smartphones, tablets and computers. And yet many of us know little of Canada's proud military history and the sacrifices made by those Canadians in uniform who defended freedom and democracy." He continues saying, "it is impossible to do justice to the accomplishments of the Canadian military in a few paragraphs" and photographs.

This is clear proof that students attending an assembly in school, with a slide show presentation is not enough. Students should have the opportunity to go to their local cenotaph and stand with the few remaining World War Two veterans, and actually have an opportunity to engage with them. Many of these veterans are too old to visit schools, and Veteran's Affairs cannot accommodate every request to have a veteran present at a school. Students in 2016 have experienced an era where the Canadian military is highly engaged on the world stage; and this learning should not be confined to a classroom.

If you ask the Royal Canadian Legion, they disagree completely. Brade White, the dominion secretary of the Legion, believes school assemblies are enough, and that many teachers take their students to local cenotaphs. I disagree completely.

Perhaps White's statement is true in small school districts or rural schools, but in a large school, in an urban neighborhood, the logistics and requirements to take students off the school property are massive, and cause a majority of teachers to not even consider attempting it; especially because they know a school assembly will be held.

Tom Eagles, the Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion, takes it one set further with his comments made to the Globe and Mail this week; insinuating that if Remembrance Day were a holiday students would not learn about remembrance and the sacrifice made by Canadians.

This assessment is rubbish. I, as well as numerous other teachers, commemorate Veteran's Week (usually Nov. 5-11) with numerous announcements, activities, bulletin boards, and information. If Remembrance Day becomes a holiday, students could then take what they have been learning about the importance of remembrance and visit a cenotaph with their families; many that include serving members of our armed forces, and many extended family members who are Veterans themselves.

Eagles believes that the status quo is working as they are constantly "seeing increased numbers out to the cenotaph on November 11." In Ottawa, this is likely because the entire Federal Public Service is granted the day off; this is the same for all military contractors. Those who do not have the day off are likely taking unpaid time away from work to be with veterans and family.

In Canada, three territories and six provinces — Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. — make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday. Nova Scotia and Manitoba have local regulations for business openings on the day. Ontario and Quebec have nothing.

As a teacher I honour Remembrance Day every year in my classroom and school; but where would I be if I had the day off? Definitely not relaxing as the Legion believes Canadians would do.

I would be spending time with those in my family who have served, including: a World War Two veteran, a Bosnian War veteran, an Afghan War veteran, and multiple other RCAF, RCN, and Canadian Army veterans. This time would be spent at either the National War Memorial or the Canadian Armed Forces Cemetery in Beachwood. This time could be spent learning more about their sacrifices, and the sacrifices of others. But, I am limited to a slide show of images students have already seen, and words they have already heard spoken.

Remembrance Day in school is repetitive and largely ceremonial. It lacks the action to ensure that Lest We Forget actually means that we will not forget. The living history of the First World War is gone, and the chapter on the Second World War is only a few years away from closing. By making Remembrance Day a holiday we can provide Canadians with the opportunity to keep this living history alive and engage with it; not just read about it. MP Colin Fraser's C-311 should be passed, and pushed down to the Provinces (especially Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec).

Some of my greatest memories as a student on Remembrance Day are not those from the school assemblies, but those as a Royal Canadian Air Cadet. I missed school every remembrance day from 2004-2008 and participated in ceremonies (and often multiple ceremonies) around the city. Where I was able to stand on parade with Veterans, and thank them personally for the sacrifices they made for my freedom. Until I became a teacher, I had not missed a single ceremony since I was 13 years old, not even for rain, sleet, hail, snow, freezing rain, frigid sub-zero temperatures. Now work keeps me away.

Remembrance Day is sacred, and will always remain sacred. The Legion argues that no-one salutes Queen Victoria on Victoria Day, or that few remember the specifics of the 1872 labour dispute in Toronto that is credited with the creation of Labour Day. However, Canadians recognise that Victoria Day is the Queens birthday (although it's significance is in question as many want the name of the holiday changed); and the majority of Canadians understand that Labour Day is a day off from work; gained through the hard fought labour of our ancestors. Do the specifics of 1872 matter? Of course, but there are not ceremonies to mark the labour demonstration every year, nor are their ceremonies to mark Victoria Day. Remembrance Day stands out as a sombre day because the world comes together to remember the fallen, and those who still serve, and at 11AM the world goes quiet for 2 minutes to reflect. There is nothing else like it, and never will be.

Lest We Forget.


Daniel Maillet