Canada needs to recognize the citizenship of its fallen soldiers

Juno Beach, Normandy; June 6,1944 - Second World War - German Prisoners taken by Canadian troops at Juno Beach, D-Day, during the invasion of Europe. (National Archives of Canada/Frank L. Dubervill )

General Rick Hillier recently wrote an op-ed saying that Canadians shouldn't forget the veterans of today.  He praised Canadians for "honouring our fallen soldiers with great respect and fervour," then went on to say: "Where we fail...is in honouring the soldiers who came home alive but forever changed." 

He's right, but there's more to this story.   

Today is D-Day, where we not only recognize and pay tribute to the soldiers who landed on Allied beaches on that fateful day in 1944, but it's a moment to reflect on all our soldiers who sacrificed their lives to make Canada and the world a better and safer place.  We are their beneficiaries.  And now, typical on every D-Day, high-ranking politicians will be out there giving wonderful speeches with accolades and reflecting on the meaning of Canada and being Canadian.  

Just over a year ago I gathered signatures for a petition asking the Harper government whether are not these same fallen soldiers were ever Canadian citizens.  Their answer: "No."  They'd just disenfranchised 111,000 men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in both World Wars I and II- while serving in Canadian uniforms. 

How appalling, especially knowing what the soldiers were told before going into battle.  In writing, our government said they were fighting as Canadian citizens.  So now, more than seven decades later, to posthumously deny our soldiers a Canadian identity is not only a rewrite of history, but also blatantly disrespectful to those soldiers and their families.  Honour of the Crown has turned to dishonour.  

 A fair question is why is the government doing this?  None of it makes sense.  It boils down to their ignorance of just when Canadian citizenship began.  Was it 1947 or 1867?  The Harper government said '47 and the Trudeau government is keeping the status quo by remaining silent.  Their answer matters.  Not only are people currently being denied citizenship based on the government's incorrect interpretation of the question, but next year there's a party- and a big one at that.  We'll be celebrating our 150th birthday, or is it our 70th?  It totally depends on how Trudeau answers the question.  Since you can't have a country without citizens, if citizenship --which include our soldiers-- didn't exist before 1947, then Canada wasn't a real country and our fallen soldiers weren't Canadian.

Hard to imagine that a country so espousing values of inclusiveness and compassion could be so callous.  

General George Washington once said: "the willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."  

General Hellier is right about the soldiers of today.  Not only must we treat them with respect and honor, but it's imperative to support them.  With great interest they too have a stake in the government's response as to whether or pre-47 belonged to Canada.  To disenfranchise our heroes from the past sets a precedent for our heroes of today.  Discarding anyone from the Canadian family who sacrificed their lives for others is atrocious.  It also speaks volumes about the values of our country, and especially the values of our political leaders.

It would be fair for our soldiers of today to ask if, maybe 70 years from now, would the government of the day make the same claim saying they too were never really 'Canadian'? 

On this D-Day, we need to hear more than just those words of praise from our Prime Minister, we need him to say, "our fallen soldiers were ours, they were indeed Canadian citizens- then, now, and forever."

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