By Richard Lawrence
To see all the pictures, go to: https://www.richardlawrencephotography.ca/rlpgalleries/2019/unday2019/
On the 9th August, 1974, a United Nations Buffalo aircraft flying over Egypt was shot out of the sky by a Syrian missile. On that plane were nine Canadian Armed Forces personnel involved in a peace mission who were killed on what was supposed to be a routine resupply mission to the presence in the Golan Heights. To this day, it is still the largest single loss of Canadian lives since Canada began participating in UN Peacekeeping missions in 1948. That is why the closest Sunday to the 9th August is selected as United Nations Peacekeepers Day every year with this year’s remembrance ceremony being held at the Reconciliation Monument, Ottawa, on Sunday the 11th.
This year’s ceremony saw participation by 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron from Petawawa, just back from a peacekeeping mission in Mali, UN Peacekeeping veterans, and police representatives from the RCMP, OPP, Ottawa, and Toronto police forces. The Official Party consisted of MGen. (ret’d) Clive Addy, MP (Ottawa-West – Nepean) Anita Vandenbeld, Commodore Rebecca Patterson (Director General Professional Military Conduct – Operation Honour), RCMP Superintendent Kevin Lamontagne, and Ms. Deborah Mac Culloch representing veterans and families. Music was supplied by the Governor General’s Foot Guard Band with piping from Mr. Eric Booth.
The event started with the Master of Ceremonies, Ms. Suzanne Serrault, outlining several anniversaries to be commemorated at the day’s ceremony. Specifically that this year is the 25th anniversary of Canada providing humanitarian relief to Rwandan refugees where over 400 Canadians served. It was also the 20th anniversary of the UN Assistance Mission to East Timor and the 20th anniversary of the start of the UN mission in Kosovo in which almost 2,000 Canadians served, along with RCMP investigators, in three different operations to assist in the safe return of over one million refugees/internally displaced persons. Lastly she noted the 30th anniversary of RCMP participation in “Peace and Civilization Operations” in which almost 4,000 police and worked in 33 countries. Now, one can argue the success/failure of any or all UN operations and the politics involved, but this is not the day to do that. It is the day to remember all those who served and continue to serve, under bad to horrific conditions, and especially those that did not return.
Mr. Wayne Mac Culloch, representing the President of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping (CAVUNP), was the first speaker of the morning where he reiterated why this date was chosen for remembrance and to thank not only the peacekeepers but their families who must endure long periods of absence with their spouses in harm’s way but who continue to support the member and the missions. He was followed by the playing of the Last Post, a minutes silence, the Rouse and the Lament. The Act of Remembrance was recited by Paul Greensides, Ray Paquette and Aurel Dubé and was followed by the Commitment to Remember by Cadet Sgt. Jeffery Lariviére and Cadet WO2 Madison Préfontaine.
For this ceremony, there is no laying of wreaths but instead three bouquets of flowers are placed into the barrels of three cannons, effectively turning the weapons into flower pots. Ms. Vandenbeld, along with MGen. Addy, placed the flowers on behalf of the Government of Canada while Commodore Patterson, Superintendent Lamontagne, and CWO Guimond placed the flowers for the military and police organizations. The last bouquet was placed by Mr. and Ms. Mac Culloch, representing the veterans and families.
It was then Ms. Vandenbeld’s turn to address the assembly where she noted that 125,000 Canadians have served in UN peace support and that 123 have died in that service while “… putting yourselves in harm’s way to protect the world’s most vulnerable.”. MGen. Addy followed with anecdotes of his terms as a peacekeeper where he “… saw how vile people can be to each other when on-one is looking at them” and noting some of the idiotic things that have happened to him, both at the command level and in the field. He admitted that he didn’t always know what he was doing or what was going on but “… that he knew he was doing good.”.
This pretty much ended the ceremony and the parade was dismissed but I think Ms. Vandenbeld put it best when she said, “Peacekeeping. It’s what our country does. It’s what we stand for. It’s what other countries think of when they see our red maple leaf.”