Being Canadian

It is summertime in Toronto and Eglinton Lawrence. Families are spending time at the cottage, traveling across this province or this country. Enjoying time on Centre Island, at Canada’s Wonderland or on the streets of Toronto’s many divergent communities. And for most of us so far this summer – trying to stay cool and keep our gardens and lawns looking healthy and green has been a project.

I am always talking to people about what it means to be a Canadian and why we live in a great country. Recently I was at a corporate event that was mostly an American audience. The keynote speaker was a former Navy Seal and he recounted a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2005. He told us of how he and three other Navy Seals had been dropped into Taliban territory to track and follow a senior Taliban leader. They were ambushed and his three partners were killed. He recounted his story and how he crawled seven miles to safety, only to be captured by the Taliban and tortured and then rescued by villagers who had given their commitment to help him.

The story and what happened to this Navy Seal had a real impact on me. During his story he told us in detail how he killed 10 Taliban fighters. He talked openly about his 3 days after he had been shot and wounded by shrapnel. The two things that were most interesting to me about his story were what he told us about the Taliban and his story telling as an American soldier.

I was at a dinner the riding hosted with Peter McKay a few years ago, I have chatted with several of our Special Forces servicemen and have listened via the media and have seen live keynotes from our servicemen. We are different than our American friends on how we report our efforts in war. It is not that we are not killing the enemy and that our Special Forces do not get into firefights. We do not glorify our efforts and we tend to talk about the reason we are in Afghanistan, or wherever we have fought or done peace keeping, and what it means to the people of the country we are in. Our troops know why they are there to fight. They are there to fight for our freedom and the freedom that was won by our troops in World War II. Our troops are humble about the job they do – yet they do their job with the same focus and determination that our American or British counterparts do. Our troops are proud to be fighting for Canada and what their efforts mean to this country.

The Navy Seal told us that when he finally arrived at a village that he asked for help – there is a two thousand year old tradition in that village that says that if anyone; regardless of who they are, asks for help – they will give you the help you need and so they saved the Navy Seal’s life. You see the people of Afghanistan for the most part are good and noble people. They live their lives based on the values of their communities and families based on thousands of years of history.

As Peter McKay said at our dinner – until we understand that the Taliban are willing to hang women and children from the goal posts of a soccer stadium, most of us in Canada will never fully understand how ruthless and cruel the Taliban are. We in Canada live in a country that has no threat to human life like they do in Afghanistan. More importantly we live in a country that is safe, where we have opportunity to own our own home, get a quality education, have good health care and live wherever we chose to live. We live in a democracy and we have the choice to vote and participate openly in our political process.

So the next time you see one of our Canadian Forces personnel; don’t hesitate to walk up to them and say Thank You! I do and have since we began the Highway of Heroes and the day I had a hearse pass me on the 401 carrying one of our fallen soldiers. That day had a profound influence on me.

- Bill Sayers

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