OTTAWA – Veterans of Canada’s war in Afghanistan will be feted May 9 in an elaborate display of thundering guns and helicopters that will be tightly focused on Parliament Hill, but muted elsewhere in the country.
The Harper government, which promised in its throne speech to commemorate the soldiers who fought in the bitter 12-year guerilla war, plans a parade involving all of the relevant regiments, a 21-gun salute, military bands and a fly-past by planes and helicopters that took part in the mission.
Families of the 158 soldiers who died will be recognized in a private receptions and ceremonies, including one in the Senate involving the prime minister and Governor General, although it remains unclear how many will attend.
Wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen will serve as master of ceremonies for the events on Parliament Hill.
Billed as a “national day” of honour, other events are expected to take place at military bases and legion halls across the country, where the public will be invited to participate, said Jason MacDonald, the director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Members of Parliament and provincial premiers are also being encouraged to organize events, and schools across the country will be asked to observe two minutes of silence at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Precisely how community events across the country are expected to unfold remains unclear, allowing for what the government seems to hope will be a grassroots display of appreciation for the approximately 40,000 troops who rotated through Kandahar and Kabul.
Even public participation in the 90-minute pageant on the Hill will be somewhat restrained because schools will still be in session and civil servants in the downtown are not being given time off to attend the parade.
The government was prepared to cut them some slack, though.
“We are not going to hold it against somebody who is going to come and participate in this,” MacDonald said.
In terms of getting the word out, the government only plans to promote the May 9 commemoration in print advertisements and on radio in eastern Ontario markets.
There will be no national ad campaign, MacDonald said.
Plans also include a relay from CFB Trenton, east of Toronto, to Ottawa where the last flag that flew over the Canadian mission will be presented to Harper and Gen. Tom Lawson, Canada’s chief of defence staff.