Alberta stands alone in commemorating official end of Canadian mission in Afghanistan

Canadian soldiers get ready to leave Camp Julien in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will come to a formal and ceremonial end on Wednesday when the Canadian flag is lowered at an Afghan military base for the last time, ending this country's 12-year presence in the region.

The conclusion of Canada's longest-running military mission will stir much emotion, both from those proud of what our men and women have accomplished and those who have questioned our decision to get involved.

But in one province, the date will be marked loudly, proudly and with the help of its public schools.

Alberta has asked schools and municipalities in the province to lower their Canadian flags to half-staff and then raise them to full height at noon, to mark the end of the Afghanistan mission. Alberta's government announced the plans last month, underlining the importance the mission will hold in Canadian history.

"Today’s graduating class was in kindergarten when Albertans first left on this mission, and March 12th gives us a rare opportunity for students to watch history unfold in their classrooms while exploring ideas about leadership, community, sacrifice, citizenship and ethics," Education Minister Jeff Johnson said at the time.

It seems Alberta is among the few provinces set to commemorate the end of the military mission in Afghanistan, and the only one planning on using school flag poles to do it.

But the question is: Is that one too many provinces marking the milestone, or nine too few?

[ Related: Stephen Harper takes on Ford over South Korea trade deal ]

More than 45,000 Canadians have taken part in the 12-year mission, and 162 Canadians died while overseas. Alberta was hit notably hard by losses. Forty-six people from Alberta, or stationed at bases in the province before deployment, were killed in Afghanistan.

Alberta is, of course, not entirely alone in commemorating Canada's military servicemen and women and their efforts in Afghanistan. But many provinces say their ceremonies will come at a later date.

British Columbia will likely commemorate the end of the Afghanistan mission through a Department of Canadian Heritage event being planned for next month. And considering the province's students are currently on spring break, there would be little gained from lowering the flags outside schools on Wednesday.

An Ontario Ministry of Education spokesperson told Yahoo Canada News that its government "recognizes and deeply appreciates the sacrifices and contributions that our Canadian men and women have made in Afghanistan." School boards are free to lower their Canadian flags on Wednesday, though the Ministry of Education will not make a formal request for them to do so.

Today’s graduating class was in kindergarten when Albertans first left on this mission, and March 12th gives us a rare opportunity for students to watch history unfold in their classrooms."
— Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson

Manitoba's government says it will recognize the end of the Afghanistan mission with a special ceremony later this year, and again at Remembrance Day. The province has lowered its flags each time a Manitoba soldier died in Afghanistan, but there is no plan to commemorate the end of the mission with a ceremonial flag-raising.

Meantime, a Newfoundland and Labrador spokesperson said the province would not hold any ceremonies on Wednesday, but could hold an event at some point in the future. Nova Scotia also confirmed it had no plans to lower school flags.

[ Related: London, Ontario, was once the serial killer capital of the world? ]

Canada's involvement in Afghanistan began when military personnel first entered the country in the wake of 9/11, in an effort to "defend Canada's interests" and bring stability to the Afghan people. In 2012, the mission shifted away from combat and toward training and mentoring the Afghan National Army.

The end of Canada's presence will prompt much thought and consideration over the role it played, and the progress the country has seen over the past decade plus.

But set aside those questions and debates for another day and consider what the Alberta School Councils' Association considers a key reason for including schools in Wednesday's ceremony. Education, it said, was at the heart of Canada's involvement.

"Education will be key to Afghanistan’s success, and as a direct result of the international effort, the number of children in school has increased from one million to more than seven million,"  the association noted. "Of great significance, the portion of girls in school increased from 5 per cent to 37 per cent."

Those figures don't suggest Canada's Afghanistan mission was perfect or went flawlessly, but it does signify some progress. And that progress is worth commemorating. In some way.

(Photo courtesy The Canadian Press)

Want to know what news is brewing in Canada?
Follow @MRCoutts on Twitter.