Speeches | National Day of Service Bill

03 November 2010

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill S-209, an Act respecting a national day of service to honour the courage and sacrifice of Canadians in the face of terrorism, particularly the events of September 11, 2001.

I appreciate the significance of Bill S-209 and the intentions, emotions and respect from which it comes. I know that it comes from a place upon which Senator Wallin has firmly placed her feet, a place with which she has defined herself. It is a place that respects patriotism and service to countries, service to something bigger than ourselves. It is a place that respects sacrifice for the greater good. It is a place that respects heroism and sacrifice, once again, for the greater good and for our country in physical and other forms of sacrifice.

All those things add up to a definition of a place that is clearly defined by a deep love of this country, and I respect Senator Wallin for being so strong in finding her definition in this house, in this Senate and on that place.

They are all good things. They are particularly good things if they are applied with sincerity and humility, and I have no doubt that the inception of this bill captured those two important elements.

I have a problem with the process in that the idea of selecting days is becoming exceptionally ad hoc. It is becoming popular, and it is happening more and more frequently. Days are selected so often without any kind of context or appreciation that we should assess the conditions or parameters under which different groups and individuals be recognized in this way or any number of other ways.

We all know that the Order of Canada is not presented to someone based on legislation. None of us can stand up with a private member's bill and say that a certain person should receive the Order of Canada. Medals of bravery in the military are not allocated to someone simply because of a commander's arbitrary decision that that person should have it. We do not choose judges based on a piece of legislation or in an arbitrary fashion; we have parameters. We do not choose memorial parks to reflect honour upon an outstanding citizen or hero without a basic process that is not ad hoc. We do not name buildings after important and significant contributors to our society through legislation.

In each of those cases, we set up a managed, regularized process where we have parameters, criteria and objective groups that can make the decision. Why do we not have that kind of process when it comes to determining who should be honoured by a special day?

It is not that I am opposed to this particular honour. I feel as much as everyone in this Senate the sense of loss and frustration that we all felt so profoundly on that day. We could see in Canadian families who lost people that there is an element of need for recognition of that particular day in a special way, perhaps as a day or in some other way.

However, I know that we are reaching a point where selecting days is much too arbitrary, and it is rolling over on itself. We should step back and find a way to select days in a structured, professional and objective way.

If we simply begin to allocate a day to a group without properly knowing the context and the structure within which that decision has been made, or without an objective process — I am not saying we are doing that in this case, by any means — we might diminish other groups that have been recognized already in that way, or if the honour is not bestowed on a group that is equally worthy, although I am sure this group is. We could miss groups equally deserving of this honour who simply were not lucky enough to have a defender among the 105 of us to decide that their particular recognition is driven through this institution, and they be bestowed with some great honour.

We need to step back and consider how we can allocate these days in a way that is fair to all such groups. Heroism, sacrifice, respect for country and service to something bigger than ourselves happen every day in Canada. Perhaps they do not happen every day in Canada in the way that is captured by this bill, but they happen in many important ways. I want to know, when we bestow the honour of a day on a group, that we are not making a mistake with other groups, and that we are treating the broad spectrum of possibilities for such honours in a way that is balanced and objective.

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