We Canadians are a fortunate people. We live in a country with immense wealth, a rich cultural life, wide-open spaces, and abundant opportunities for most citizens. Yet we take for granted perhaps the most valuable aspect of Canadian life.
We are a free people, living in a peaceful, stable democracy. We are free to choose
- who will govern us;
- how and where we will live;
- how we will worship;
- what we will say; and
- what we will read.
Our individual rights and freedoms are balanced by a limited number of collective rights (rights that we share as a society). For instance, we are protected as individuals, from persecution due to race, religion, ethnic background, or gender.
Unlike the citizens of many countries, then,
- we do not fear our government, our police, or our military;
- we face no armed invaders; and
- our land is not torn by civil war.
Unfortunately, we Canadians do not know the cost of our freedom. We do not know the very heavy sacrifice that has been made to protect our individual and collective rights and freedoms.
To defend us, the men and women in the Canadian military have disrupted their lives, left their homes and families, taken up arms, risked their own well-being, been wounded, and, in some cases, given their lives.
Sadly, the historical record shows that we are not always grateful. Admittedly, during and immediately after these wars, Canadians have shown appreciation for the military's sacrifices. Communities have hosted welcome home parades and built memorials. But, within a generation, the memory of sacrifice, and the sense of appreciation for the men and women who have made these sacrifices, has faded. Families remember, but as a nation and a people, we forget.
Canadians are not a warlike people. We tend only to think of our military in periods of crisis, and, unlike in many other countries, our military has a strictly limited role within Canada. The members of the armed forces are our servants and not our masters. They are not a visible presence in most of Canada. They rarely have seen action in Canada, and then only at the order of politicians responding to extraordinary circumstances that they believed threatened the public safety. For example, in 1970, the federal government ordered the use of troops against the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), a minority faction that employed terror in its fight for Quebec independence. The outrage and continuing controversies surrounding that incident suggest the uneasiness with which we see the military used in a law enforcement role in Canada. In contrast, we appreciate military assistance in domestic crises like the 1997 Red River flood. However, most of us probably do not know that the military also plays a behind-the-scenes role in such activities as search and rescue and fisheries patrols. And as a people and within our school systems, we pay little attention to our military's proud record of wartime service.
We wrongly think of ourselves as living far away from most of the potential dangers of the world. Thus, we are proud of our Canadian peacekeepers, but, in general, we see them as more important to the countries in which they serve than to Canada itself. Perhaps by recalling and celebrating the history of the Canadian military, we will learn the true cost of our freedom and value it accordingly.