Canadians’ image of Remembrance Day trapped in world war era, poll suggests

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

If you're like me and your mental picture of Remembrance Day ceremonies features images of aged, bemedalled world war veterans, a new poll shows we're not alone.

According to a Nanos Research survey done for the Commissionaires, a non-profit organization that helps veterans back into the civilian work force, four out of five Canadians think of Remembrance Day in terms of those who fought in the First and Second world wars.

And 61 per cent believe the importance of the Nov. 11 commemoration hasn't changed since the start of the Afghan conflict more than a decade ago.

Although Canada withdrew from combat operations in Kandahar last year, about 900 Canadian soldiers will be involved in training the Afghan military and police until 2014.

Canada's Afghan mission cost the lives of 158 soldiers, with hundreds more wounded, as well as one diplomat, two aid workers and a journalist killed in the conflict.

The poll shows that Canadians impressions of Remembrance Day, formed by decades of watching older veterans take part in ceremonies, haven't caught up to the reality that there's a new generation of veterans from more recent conflicts, said Commissionaires chairman Bill Sutherland.

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"The people at the cenotaphs were from World War One, World War Two, the Korean War," Sutherland, a veteran himself, told CTV News.

"The idea that wars are primarily a purview of the young really left our collective consciousness as a society. The fact that we now have all of those younger veterans, from places like Afghanistan and the Balkans, is making that fact in-your-face again."

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 700,000 veterans in Canada, CTV News said. There are no surviving First World War veterans left in Canada. About 107,6000 Second World War vets remain, but Sutherland noted they're dying at a rate of about 17,000 a month.

"On other end of the spectrum, we know there are more than 39,000 veterans who served in Afghanistan," Sutherland said, adding that about 5,000 soldiers leave the Canadian Forces each year.

The poll of 1,000 Canadians, conducted between Oct. 4 and Oct. 11 (margin of error plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20), also asked whether enough was being done to help veterans shift back into civilian life.

In its news release, the Commissionaires noted 94 per cent of those surveyed felt Canada has an obligation to ensure today's veterans find meaningful employment.

Some 43 per cent indicated they think veterans today have a more difficult time making the transition than past veterans. And almost 52 per cent indicated they believe veterans aren't receiving enough support for conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder.

As if to underscore the poll results, the Canadian Veterans Advocacy group held a news conference Thursday in Ottawa to complain the federal government has abandoned wounded vets, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

Things will get worse if the government moves ahead with planned budget cuts, said Michael Blais, the group's president.

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"Our government, through failing in their sacred obligation, has abandoned disabled veterans and their families to a substandard life, substandard compensation and pain and toil," he said.

Sutherland would not share his opinions on federal programs, saying the Commissionaires work closely with Ottawa, which gives the organization right of first refusal on certain federal security contracts.

The Commissionaires provides temporary employment for about a thousand veterans annually in security-related positions.

Younger veterans are facing greater hardship than their elderly predecessors, Sutherland said. Most have no pensions and gave little thought to what they would do after leaving the military.

"We have some employees that are 19 and many in their early twenties," Sutherland told CTV News. "With younger veterans, they have difficulty translating their military skills and experience into language that civilian employers may be looking for."