'We will remember them': Canada marks national day of observance for COVID-19 victims

·2 min read

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in the House of Commons Thursday, one year after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and said March 11, 2020 will always be marked by a before and an after.

Since the pandemic began, 2.5 million people around the world have died due to COVID-19, with more than 22,000 of them in Canada.

"For families and close ones, each death has a before and an after," Trudeau said.

"Since the great wars of the 20th century, there is a sentence we often evoke, and it's a sentence that we can bring back for those that we lost this year during the pandemic: We will remember them."

Trudeau chose to make Thursday a national day of remembrance because it was the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic.

The prime minister evoked the memories of Canadians being asked to stay home and stay safe, of essential workers stocking grocery store shelves and of people cheering health-care workers from their balconies.

"Businesses stepped up and produced (personal protective equipment)," Trudeau said. "Some went from making hockey masks to face shields: It doesn't get any more Canadian than that."

The prime minister briefly touched on the multiple tragedies in long-term care centres, where seniors across the country died in the thousands from the disease, often in circumstances of labour shortages and immense personal hardship.

"For every senior in Canada, we must do better, and I know that we will," he said.

Trudeau ended his speech on a hopeful note, telling Canadian that millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine are on the way, allowing provinces to accelerate their vaccination campaigns. Health Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines so far, and 1.5 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Opposition Leader Erin O'Toole spoke after Trudeau, and while he gently criticized the government for its vaccine rollout, he also said the Conservative party wants the vaccination program to do well.

"Like many Canadians we are frustrated by the slower pace of vaccines than elsewhere, but we want the government to succeed for the health and well-being of Canadians so that we can get our lives back to normal."

Other ceremonies will be held across the country Thursday, including in Quebec, which has had the country's most COVID-19-related deaths. Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante will make a speech later Thursday and Prime Minister Legault will take part in a ceremony at the legislature in Quebec City.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2021

The Canadian Press