By Michelle Ferguson
Remembrance Day should never be forgotten, overlooked or ignored.
Canadians, regardless of age, race, culture or ethnicity, owe their basic rights and freedoms to those who fought so valiantly to preserve them nearly a century ago.
When Great Britain declared war in 1914, the Canadian regular army consisted of 3,110 men and a fledgling navy.
Yet Canadians answered the call to arms. And within a few weeks 32,000 men gathered at Valcartier Camp near Quebec City before travelling across the sea to war.
Out of the 620,000 men and women who served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the First World War, 66,655 died.
Another 45,000 paid the ultimate sacrifice almost 20 years later.
Remembrance day is about giving thanks to those who have fought for us then, and for those who continue to fight for us now.
It is also about giving back.
The poppy is a symbol of remembrance, but also serves to aid those in financial need.
Every year Legionnaires, cadets and veterans from across the country hand out about 18 million poppies to Canadians in exchange for a small donation.
While most of us simply reach into our pockets for available change, every cent adds up. In fact, the Poppy Campaign raises over $14 million annually.
Your loonie or toonie goes a long way towards helping former and serving Canadian Armed Forces members and their families, who are in financial distress.
Grants from the Poppy Trust Fund ensure veterans and soldiers, as well as their loved ones, have a roof above their heads and that they are properly clothed and fed. It also allows them to access prescription medication and medical appliances, such as wheelchairs, and can go toward essential home repairs, such as making homes wheelchair accessible.
Recently, the Conservative government has recently come under fire for its treatment of veterans.
It wants to close nine Veterans Affairs offices in smaller areas such as Charlottetown, Sydney, Thunder Bay, Kelowna and Brandon.
They state lack of work and cutting costs as the reasons for the closures. But more than 22,300 veterans rely on the front-line services provided by these local offices.
Now these former military men and women will have to travel to receive the counselling and assistance they were promised upon enlisting.
Further, the Veteran’s Ombudsman has found that the New Veterans Charter is failing disabled and injured personnel.
A report was released in June 2013, stating that the benefits, which are supposed to help veterans transition from a military to a civilian career, are inadequate.
In his report Guy Parent also found that 28 per cent of the 1,428 of the most severely disabled CAF veterans are not eligible to receive allowances or Canadian Forces Pension, which puts them at risk of poverty.
With the Conservative government slowly turning its back on Canadian veterans, now more than ever, they need our support.
While most veterans from the Great Wars may no longer be with us, we should honour their sacrifices and those of their modern-day counterparts.
From October 2001 to October 2012, approximately 39,267 military personnel served in Afghanistan. This includes 5,323 reservists, who volunteered to travel far away from their loved ones in the midst of a conflict zone in order to ensure that Canadians remained safe at home on Canadian soil.
The number of tours, which are a minimum of 30 days, ranged from two to nine. While 8,000 personnel were deployed twice, one brave CAF member returned to Afghanistan nine times over the span of a decade.
Canadian military studies from 2011 found that 13 per cent of those serving in the Afghanistan suffered from mental and emotional problems within five years of returning. And eight per cent of Canadians serving between 2001 and 2008 suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
CAF members leave their families, friends, spouse and children for extended periods of time. They put their lives on the line, so that we as Canadians can enjoy our freedom. Peace and democracy, things we take for granted every day, have a price. And it is our men and women in uniform who pay it.
They deserve our gratitude. They deserve our thoughts and our prayers. And they deserve our silence.
At the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.
Lest we forget.