Sacrifices made for our country demand we remember who we are as a people

The following remarks were delivered by the Hon. Michelle Rempel Garner on November 11, 2023, at the Remembrance Day ceremony held at Royal Canadian Legion Branch #284 Calgary


“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” ~ Deut. 4:9

“It’s said that that particular quote from the Bible was the source that the poet Rudyard Kipling drew from for his 1897 “Recessional” poem, which in turn, is the source of the phrase “lest we forget”. Today, we say “lest we forget” to honour the sacrifices of those who have served and those who have died in service to Canada.

That’s because “Lest we forget” presents a concept that anyone who has lived through war knows all too well: forgetting the cost of conflict means that conflict will inevitably return.

I accidentally asked someone whom I love very much about this once.

Towards the end of our first date, my husband Jeff, who served over two decades in the United States Army, commented that he was surprised I hadn’t yet asked him the question that he and other combat veterans often first get asked by prospective partners.

Naively to what he was referring to, and not being particularly good at first dates, I nervously blurted a response, gesturing at the teenagers tossing around football nearby to where we were sitting. “Do you mean something like, do you think those kids – or anyone – can understand the concept of duty to country or the value of peace without knowing the brutality of war? Or, do you think your service is worth the cost because it will have prevented future conflict?”

He gave me a brisk look; I had unsettled him.

After an uncomfortably protracted moment of silence, Jeff broke the tension by placing my hand in his. “No, honey,” he said, meeting my gaze while shaking his head with a dark chuckle. “I meant, you haven’t asked me how many people I’ve killed. But what you’ve asked, I think, is worse.”

Years later, I understand why he said that. As a Canadian Member of Parliament, I worry that in the decadence of the peace we in Canada enjoy, we may be allowing ourselves to become complacent to the need to guard the foundations of Canada’s peaceful pluralism. Said a different way, lest we forget, but I worry that we, as a nation, may be forgetting.

Many Canadians now hold naive exceptionalism to war: that mass rape, indiscriminate killing fields, bombings, tortures, famine, disease and the other countless atrocities that result from humans engaging in widespread armed conflict could never happen here. Or that if it did, we don’t have a duty to ensure we can protect ourselves, or assume that some other nation would come to our aid with no strings attached. Or that we don’t have a responsibility to ensure that those who share our values around the world don’t stand alone when challenged by those who seek to dismantle democracy and violate human rights.

I realize these are uncomfortable things to say on Remembrance Day. It rightly is a day where we should remember the sacrifices of those in Canada’s military who fight and have fought to defend us.

Today, however, is no ordinary moment in the history of Canada. Large-scale kinetic warfare ravages multiple nations, and the world seems to be dangling on the precipice of a global conflagration. To prevent history from repeating itself, the ultimate dishonour to the memory of fallen Canadian soldiers, on this Remembrance Day, we must each hold ourselves individually accountable for taking action to ensure that it doesn’t.

What does that mean?

To begin with, we must first and foremost give thanks for and gratitude for the miracle that is our nation. The peace that exists here exists in precious few places around the world. It is precious beyond measure. We must recognize that peace was hard won and is easily lost and, daily, recommit to ensuring our actions protect it.

We also must acknowledge that this isn’t some esoteric principle. Many Canadians have fled persecution and know all too well the ravages of war and how easily justified it can be. And, frankly, Canada is already under attack by foreign states and other interests who stand to profit if Canadians become militantly divided. Over the last decade, new technology easily allows these interests to, from within their borders, calcify our disagreements, promote hate of others, and divide us along regional, ethnic, religious, and political lines.

These things only lead to one place: the normalization of hatred and the dehumanization of our neighbours, the destruction of Canada’s pluralism and democracy, and, ultimately, widespread armed conflict and death.

If we are genuinely committed to honouring the sacrifice made by those who wear and who have worn the uniform of our military, we will not allow these things to come to pass.

Instead, we must encourage understanding our neighbour’s struggles and troubles instead of decrying them wrong. We must bear witness to those struggles and never be tempted to pretend they don’t exist. We should seek to bring the temperature of arguments down instead of bringing the heat up. And where injustices and inequalities exist, we must strive to eliminate them.

It’s not easy to do these things, particularly in a communications landscape that rewards us doing the opposite. But the potential cost of us not doing so is too high. And honouring the sacrifices of Canada’s veterans, war dead, and present military demands nothing less.

In our act of Remembrance, let us remember that the future of our country has never been, nor ever will be, dependent on what the world’s nations do. Instead, our future is solely determined by our own actions.

Let us remember and honour the sacrifices made for our country by personally, through our own actions, standing for what Canada is: a peaceful pluralism that protects human rights and stands on the foundation of freedom of speech and democracy. Let us hold hope in that we are a people united by these things.

May our descendants never have to judge us for allowing this miracle to be destroyed.

Lest we forget.”