Sunday, July 15, 2007

O, Canada.

For almost as long as we've been a country, being Canadian has meant being free from the daily ravages of war. For generation after generation we have been able to provide our children a safe environment to grow up in - a privilege shared by precious few other nations in the world.

As only Canadians can do, we have never taken this safety and security for granted. Always ready to help our neighbor, whether it's down the street or across the globe, we've been there. Canadian soldiers played prominent roles and suffered great casualties in both the First and Second World Wars, and later in the Korean War. For the last half a century or more we have earned the right to be called the world's peacekeepers.

Which is perhaps why we are so shocked and angry about the growing list of young Canadians who have lost their lives in Afghanistan. There are always risks associated with being in the military - it comes with job of defending the rights and freedoms of those who are in jeopardy. It is a proud and noble profession and one that our soldiers take on willingly.

Like so many other Canadian families, were so proud when our son joined the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. A brilliant student who didn't particularly like school, Matthew decided that three years in the army would give him the discipline that he lacked and the opportunity to serve his country and see the world. He worked hard to learn the soldiering skills he needed and became an excellent marksman and qualified parachutist. He loved his job.

But half way through his second year something happened. The soldiers in his company were told to make sure that their dress uniforms were kept clean and ready. Unbeknownst to the Canadian public, our role in Afghanistan was about to take a subtle but deadly shift. No longer peacekeepers, our new role as peacemakers would mean that dress uniforms would be required for the funerals of fallen comrades.

It was hard to believe, and even harder still to understand. At no time was the Canadian public ever given the opportunity voice its concern; ever asked if it wanted to start sacrificing its brightest and its best for a senseless conflict on the other side of the world. No war was declared, no war measures act was invoked, and yet suddenly we were engaging an enemy whose tactics are barbaric at their best, and positively evil at their worst.

Our soldiers are some of the finest trained in the world. Disciplined and accurate, they are capable of taking on any foe on the battlefield. But the war in Afghanistan is not a war of combat. It's a war of cowardice, deception and dismal failure. Very few of our soldiers have died in battle where they would at least have a fighting chance to do the job they were trained and committed to do. Most of them have been blown up by IEDs or accidentally killed by friendly fire. And for what?

This isn't a war to bring democracy to a people that want it. By best estimates it will be at least another five years before the Afghani people are even remotely ready for any kind of civilized democracy. This is a country where women are so ill treated by their husbands that they would rather set themselves on fire than live. And despite our best efforts, the UN latest estimates show that opium production in Afghanistan, which accounts for about 90 per cent of European heroin use, is projected to surpass last year's record output.

This is about oil. It’s about securing a pipeline that was constructed across Afghanistan as an alternative to using the volatile Persian Gulf. It's about feeding our need for fossil fuels and cleaning up a job that the Americans left half finished.

I am torn between great anger and tremendous sorrow. By the grace of God our son completed his three years in the military and got out. But many of his friends haven't been so lucky. Two weeks ago, we said goodbye to his close friend Steve Bouzane. Sunday night we stood on an overpass of the 401 and waved goodbye to two more - his platoon officer, Captain Dawe, and his good friend, Captain Jeff Francis.

It was nearly dusk when the somber cavalcade came into view. The six black hearses were flanked by an honor guard of O.P.P. officers and followed by the limousines that carried the soldiers' families. The hundred or so people who had gathered on the overpass held Canadian flags in tribute and waved solemnly to the families below - families whose lives have been forever shattered beyond our possible imagining.


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