The Canadian government, in a fit of stoic solidarity and patriotism - in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa at the National War Memorial earlier this month - is moving to make Remembrance Day, November 11, a national statutory holiday. (Alberta already recognizes November 11 as a stat holiday, but many provinces, Ontario included, do not.)
The bill was submitted by NDP MP Dan Harris in the wake of the shooting. An almost unanimous vote followed (only two MPs voted against).
I am a proud Canadian, and have a great interest in our country's military history. I have been to Vimy and Theipval, Beaumont-Hamel and am a staunch supporter of our troops and veterans. I whole heartedly thank those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we have the freedom we have today, and encourage others to do the same. Because I have such a profound respect for our armed forces, I admit I am at times envious of those who have a relative who fought in service of our country - whether it be in World War One, World War Two, Afghanistan or any other conflict in our history.
When I visited Vimy Ridge in 2007, it was an overwhelming experience to stand where so much Canadian blood was shed, and to feel the cold wind blow over the green grass that seemed so peaceful, but hid so much suffering. I ran my fingers over the names engraved in the Memorial, and I shed tears at the thought of so many young men dying far from home, for a cause they firmly believed in, regardless of age or creed. They believed in fighting for their country, for their families, for the land they called home, and many died scared on the ridge I stood upon, wishing only to stop the pain or see their mothers one last time.
I've visited the Canadian War Museum, and spent a whole day learning about people and places that are long gone or are far away. I have a very active interest in learning about World War One and World War Two, and our country's role in both wars. I think it's important to honour and commemorate those who served. I think it's important to educate young people about the way Canadians fought for their country, and the sacrifices that were made, especially as we are losing our veterans too quickly.
And that is why I feel trepidation with regards to making Remembrance Day a statutory holiday. Right now, in most schools, the days leading up to November 11 are filled with lesson plans styled around Remembrance Day, field trips to the War Museum and cenotaphs and other memorial sites, stories of those who served in the wars, and a general discussion about the purpose of remembrance. And then on November 11, most schools hold their own Remembrance Day service, bringing their school community together, or the teachers take their classes to a municipal service. This is so important.
And I fear that if Remembrance Day became a statutory holiday, these lessons would fall to the side. Yes, adults have the capability to play hooky and take an hour off work and attend a memorial service, but school children would no longer have to participate in their school's service and pay their respects as a community. Instead, they'd sleep in, or play video games, and the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month would pass by unobserved. Now, that's not to say that many parents would take their children to a service, many already do - they pull their kids out of school in order to observe two minutes of silence together as a family, and to bear witness to the ever dwindling number of veterans who stand in the cold, honouring their fallen friends and comrades from so long ago. And still, I think that those parents are the ones who would continue to encourage education and research into Remembrance Day in their children. It's all the rest who I'm concerned about. Would they see this new statutory holiday as an opportunity to show their children why November 11 is important? Would they begin taking them to memorial services? Would they stand in the cold November chill for over an hour and watch the laying of the wreaths? Or would they all cuddle in front of the television and watch various ceremonies, and discuss what was happening and why?
Or, would they take the new free time to catch up on the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory, or Survivor, or finish the laundry or dishes, or sleep in and make a lesiurely breakfast? Would they even remember Remembrance Day? I know that this is possibly "worst-case scenario", but if you read the comments section (and that's not something I generally advocate doing) of many articles about making Remembrance Day a stat holiday, you'll notice that most of those who disagree with this bill are TEACHERS, PRINCIPALS, EDUCATORS. They realize the importance of teaching new generations about the sacrifice that was paid for us.
Yes, Dan Harris, your fervour is appreciated and understood, we share it as a country, but I think it is misplaced. We should be striving to increase care for our veterans and those who return home from active duty. We should be providing more help to those with PTSD and those confined to hospital due to injuries. We should be supporting the families of those who are lost to us, or need help being reintegrated into society. Leave Remembrance Day alone and instead use this new patriotic zeal to further awareness of the support our troops need.
Supporting our troops does not mean supporting war, it means supporting those who are brave enough to put their lives on the line for ours. Supporting our troops means supporting their families and loved ones. Supporting our troops means remembering what they do and have done for our country. Supporting our troops means making an effort, not making a holiday. Lest We Forget.
Kat Chin is a stage manager and war historian in Toronto. Find her on twitter