It?s appropriate and poignant that this was the week our Conservative Government announced we have fulfilled our election commitment to institute a Veterans? Bill of Rights and put in place a Veterans? Ombudsman.
Appropriate because this weekend, thousands of Canadians of all ages will make an honoured pilgrimage to Vimy, France, to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the First World War?s Battle of Vimy Ridge.
The Veteran?s Bill of Rights, which takes effect immediately, will strengthen the government?s ability to respond quickly and fairly to the concerns of Canadian veterans. It is a clear and concise statement that will allow Veterans Affairs Canada to continue to ensure every Canadian veteran is treated with respect, with dignity and with fairness.
As someone who avidly seeks to raise awareness about the contributions and sacrifices of our veterans and of currently serving members of the Canadian Forces, as well as their families, I say it?s about time. I am very proud of this achievement by our government.
The document was developed in consultation with Canada?s major veterans? organizations, such as the Royal Canadian Legion, among others. More importantly, this Bill of Rights is a signal that the Canadian Government and the Canadian people will stand by those who have acted courageously and selflessly when called upon by our nation.
Our Conservative Government has also put in place a Veterans? Ombudsman who will operate at arms-length from the federal government and will play an important role in raising awareness of the needs and concerns of veterans.
Now, if veterans have concerns about how they?re being treated by Veterans Affairs, they?ll have their own ombudsman, independent of the department, who can address their concerns. During this week?s announcement at an Ontario branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it clear that the real honoured guests were the veterans who had graced the event with their presence.
And so it will be on Easter Monday when veterans are joined by tens of thousands of Canadians at ceremonies in France and throughout Canada. Vimy Ridge was an important milestone for Canada. To this day, it was a battle which caused the world to take notice of our young country comprised of such brave young men.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge marked the first time all four Divisions of the Canadian Corps had gone into battle together. Victory had eluded our British and French allies for more than two years until Canadians won this strategic victory on April 9, 1917. It came however at a cost of more than 10,000 casualties, including 3,598 dead.
Several thousand Canadians will be in France to commemorate the 90th Anniversary and to dedicate the newly-restored Canadian National Vimy Memorial, including more than 5,000 Canadian students who are barely younger than many of those who fought, and fell, at Vimy Ridge.
It is my great honour to be part of the Canadian Government delegation, along with Prime Minister Harper and his family, Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson and the federal opposition leaders.
In next week?s column, I will share with you my observations and thoughts on what is certain to be a moving experience.