By: EMMA BIDER
Ottawa held a ceremony on Sunday to mark National Peacekeepers’ Day, which this year coincided with the 65th anniversary of Canada’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Personnel from each Canadian military division – from the RCMP to peacekeepers, as well as family members and veterans – gathered at the National Peacekeeping Monument on Sussex Drive for the ceremony.
Mari Poutot stood among the spectators with her two young children. Her husband is a member of the RCMP and will be deployed to Haiti on Aug. 19 for a year.
Canadian peacekeepers will be joining a UN mission aimed at helping Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake that rattled the country in 2010.
“It’s his first time going on a mission,” said Poutot. “I’m really proud of him, because they need a lot of help in Haiti.”
National Peacekeepers’ Day is relatively new. Established in 2009, it is officially celebrated on Aug. 9 to mark the greatest single loss of Canadian peacekeepers.
On Aug. 9, 1974, nine Canadian peacekeepers travelling in a UN-marked Canadian transport aircraft were killed when Syrian missiles shot down their plane.
National Peacekeepers’ Day is usually held on the closest Sunday to Aug. 9. It commemorates the 279 peacekeepers who have died in service and those currently on mission, said David Quick, a 20-year veteran of the peacekeepers who now works for Veterans Affairs.
Although the military didn’t always have a good image in the eyes of Canadians, Quick said, he was pleased to see the turnout at Sunday’s ceremony and maintained that peacekeeping is a key part of Canada’s military identity.
The UN held its first peacekeeping mission in 1948. Since then, more than 125,000 Canadian Forces members have served in Cyprus, Egypt, former Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan, to name a few countries.
“At the root of us, what makes us really Canadian, is the peacekeepers,” Quick said.
Charles Belzile, a retired lieutenant-general and the reviewing officer of the ceremony, spoke along similar lines, saying that military service is almost always dedicated to peace.
“Whether we are involved in a direct war, a peacekeeping mission, planning and training for all eventualities…we are peacekeeping,” Belzile said. “All of our missions were and are really peacekeeping.”
Sgt. Tracey Coghlin participated in the ceremony, having recently returned from a yearlong mission in South Sudan. She said that her work in South Sudan is a perfect example of the many ways in which peacekeepers must do their jobs.
“We were going to jails, inspecting jails, protecting the women’s human rights…and advocating for children…and women who are unlawfully in jail,” Coghlin said.
“We serve in so many different countries and it’s a big commitment and a big sacrifice for our families as well. But it’s very rewarding and it’s something that’s great because we represent our country.”