This year marks the end of Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan. After a decade of service, our armed forces return home, having shown Canada’s resilience and strength on the world stage.
Canadians are remarkably fortunate to have lived in peaceful times here at home. While each of our lives will have our tragic and difficult moments, our day-to-day concerns are centred around relatively minor worries. A big exam may be stressful, an argument with a loved one may be difficult, but it’s nothing compared to living in fear day after day.
For most of us in Canada, we have known peace our entire lives. We grew up in a country devoid of violent conflict and violent divisions, and we have never known the feeling of fearing for our own lives that results from war. Because of this, it may be hard for many of us to know how blessed we are to live in a peaceful nation, or how uncommon this can be.
There are students at the University of Manitoba from around the world, and many of them have known what it is like to live in a country that is not at peace. In some cases, the right to protest peacefully, or to disagree with their government, is a right they did not possess until they came to Canada.
For this reason, I often become quite upset when I hear someone call our government “fascist” or say we live in a dictatorship. It is simply absurd that people openly protesting the government, with no fear for their own safety, can, in the same breath, compare our government to fascist regimes. While they have the right to share their opinion, I feel that those who attack our government in this way do a profound disservice to those who live in countries that are legitimately unfree.
I have a friend from Ethiopia who fled that nation because his life was in danger.
When he was in university in his home country he and some of his friends were protesting against their government when soldiers fired upon the crowd. His friend, right next to him, was shot and killed. He was forced to flee for his life, leaving behind a wife and child, whom he has been unable to reunite with. When I asked him what it was like to be in Canada, he mentioned that it was difficult for him to get his mind around the fact that he can safely disagree with the government and share his opinions without fearing for his safety. Even though the absence of his wife and child leaves a deep hole in his heart, he is grateful to live here in Canada.
This clear divide between democratic nations, Canada on the one hand and non-democratic countries on the other hand, is seen in how we look at our armed forces. In some nations, the military subjugates their people and denies them their freedom. In Canada, our military protects our freedom. That is why, on Nov. 11, we take time out of our day to honour those who gave their lives so we could live without fear. They gave everything for people they didn’t even know; the very least we can do is observe two minutes of silence to remember their sacrifices.
But we can and must do more. Many Canadians still serve overseas, far from their homes and their families. This Remembrance Day, I urge you to take the time to go to www.forces.gc.ca and write a letter to a Canadian Soldier. Show our men and women in uniform that we honour their efforts and that we are always praying for their safe return home.
Spencer Fernando is the Comment Editor of the Manitoban.
illustration by devon kerslake