Earlier this month, a Liberal motion, supported by all federal opposition parties, was passed requiring the government to lower the Canadian flag on Parliament Hill to half-staff each time a Canadian soldier is killed in the line of duty while on an overseas mission.
The lowering of the flag is a symbol of mourning and respect that communicated a great loss to the nation.
Many parents of fallen soldiers are presented with the lowered flag and maintain it as a cherished reminder of the sacrifice their son or daughter made for their country.
A recent Ipsos-Reid poll showed a full two-thirds of Canadians supported the opposition proposal.
So what has been the government response? In a fashion that has become typical of a government that’s indifferent to Parliament and public sentiment, it has declared it will ignore the motion—and ignore the will of the majority of Canadians.
Even worse, the Conservatives are pressing on with the review of recommendations from an advisory committee to dramatically scale back the number of days when the flag is lowered to recognize the sacrifice of Canadians.
The committee is recommending the flag no longer be lowered for commemorations like Vimy Ridge Day on April 9, Workers’ Mourning Day on April 28, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on Dec. 6, and the last Sunday in September that marks Police and Peace Officers’ National Memorial Day.
To some, the issue of a single flag may seem no more important than a passing sign. But for the large number of Canadians who share the loss it communicates, it remains a most poignant tribute that has the weight of an entire nation.
The practice of lowering the flag for our slain soldiers began with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in April, 2002 when four soldiers were killed while serving in Afghanistan.
All party leaders, including then-Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper, paid tribute to the fallen soldiers in the House of Commons.
That tribute included flying the Peace Tower flag at half-staff—a practice which continued through to the Paul Martin government, but was cancelled when the Conservatives came to power.
Those who have suffered the loss of loved ones in Afghanistan since the Conservatives ceased the practice have felt the chill of change.
Not only does the loss of these families no longer rate the maximum national recognition, the Harper government actually cracked down on media coverage of returning soldiers in a vain effort to dampen attention on the scale of the losses.
Canadians continue to line the “Highway of Heroes” near Trenton, Ont. with a different perspective—a perspective that can see a great loss and can feel a greater debt to remember.
Families deep in grief feel a measure of comfort in the simple signs that declare that Canada has seen their sacrifice, grieves their loss, and honours the memory of their son or daughter.
If the flag can be lowered when a noted politician dies in comfort, it must be lowered when a soldier dies in combat.
Our motion aimed to restore an honour that has been wrongfully taken away. It’s time for the Harper government to do the right thing—listen to Canadians and renew an honourable practice.