Should Remembrance Day be a national holiday across Canada?

November 11 stands apart from other days because it marks the end of the First World War. The day is especially meaningful this year as it commemorates 100 years since the end of the infamous global conflict that resulted in millions of deaths around the world.

Every Remembrance Day, poppies are worn, poems are read and moments of silence are held across Canada to honour those who donned the Maple Leaf in war, conflict and peacekeeping missions.

Some of these missions have been incredibly costly for Canada. In the Second World War, more than 43,000 Canadian soldiers were killed in combat at a time when the country only had 11 million people, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. The enormous sacrifices have not been forgotten.

Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday in every province and territory except for Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Manitoba  and some want that to change. These four provinces account for more than two-thirds of Canada’s population, which means most Canadians are not getting the day off to honour our troops.

Wilma McNeill of Sarnia, Ont., has been fighting to make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday in Ontario for nearly 30 years, the Sarnia Observer reported. In Ontario, she’s trying to reverse a move made by former premier Bill Davis’ government in 1982 that stripped Remembrance Day of its general holiday status

“I have great faith that this is going to happen,” McNeill told Sarnia This Week. “They sacrificed their lives for us and if we can’t take a day and remember, then there’s something wrong with us.”

Last year, a private member’s bill to amend the Holidays Act sought to change that. The bill aimed to change the language in the law to officially make Remembrance Day a legal holiday across the country.

My experience is, and the experience of those in my city, that making this day of remembrance a statutory holiday enables and encourages families to participate in memorial service,” NDP MP Linda Duncan said of the bill in June 2017.

Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield added Remembrance Day holds “special significance” for all Canadians.

“This bill would ensure that from coast to coast to coast, Canadians would have the opportunity to reflect and remember the sacrifice of the fallen,” he said at the time. 

The bill, introduced by Liberal MP Colin Fraser, has already passed through Parliament and received royal assent in March. However, it does not make November 11 a statutory holiday, which is different from a legal holiday. Only a statutory holiday would give workers and students the day off, and provinces must make this determination for themselves.

But not everyone has been supportive of the idea. The Royal Canadian Legion has expressed concern that if Remembrance Day was to be a statutory holiday, people would not take the time to honour and remember those who have served.

Brad White, the Legion’s national executive director, explained to a House committee why the organization is against making November 11 a legal or statutory holiday.

“We remain concerned that Canadians, given time off as a legal holiday, may not take the time to remember and that it may simply become a mid-week break or just another part of a long weekend,” White said in February 2017.

White stressed the important roles schools play in “strengthening the impact” of November 11 by bringing students to ceremonies or holding assemblies of their own on Remembrance Day.

“Perhaps what is needed is to raise the awareness and understanding of Remembrance Day, which could be achieved through an educational strategy,” he said.

People of all ages are seen at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa on Nov. 11, 2017, for the National Remembrance Day Ceremony. Would more people attend ceremonies like this one if Remembrance Day was a statutory holiday across Canada? Photo from The Canadian Press.

“There’s no doubt that the schools are a very important part of the program, because we must pass the torch on to the youth so it will not be forgotten,” Dave Geddes, president of the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Kingston, N.S., told the committee last year

Those in favour of the bill said students can be educated on any day of the year, but giving people time off on November 11 will allow them to visit a cenotaph and honour those who fought for Canada.

“You can talk Remembrance Day any day of the year, from January to November,” McNeill told the committee. 

The debate has also spilled over to social media, where many of the same arguments reappear.

One person online stressed the important role schools play on November, and another expressed concern that giving people the day off would tarnish its meaning.

Others said Remembrance Day is far too important to not be a statutory holiday and some are unable to attend ceremonies because it isn’t one.

Since the hearings were held and the bill was passed, new governments came into power in Ontario and Quebec. Despite this, there are currently no plans to make Remembrance Day a statutory holiday in Canada’s two most populous provinces. However, the Ontario government did release a new video on their Facebook page this month to commemorate Remembrance Day.

What do you think about making Remembrance Day a statutory holiday across Canada? Do you think it’s time to give all Canadians the day off to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies? Or do you think this will rob students of an important opportunity to learn more about Canada’s history? Let us know what you think by voting in our poll above and sharing your opinions in the comment section below.