November 10, 2009
The Honourable Rona Ambrose Addresses Students at Archbishop Oscar Romero High School in Advance of Remembrance Day
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.
It is always a pleasure to speak to high school students.
And on the eve of Remembrance Day, I’m especially pleased to have an opportunity to talk to you about our Canadian Forces
and our mission in Afghanistan.
The subject is particularly important to us here in Edmonton
Because our city is home to one of the biggest army bases in Canada,
And to many soldiers who have served in Afghanistan.
Probably some of you know someone serving in the Forces, perhaps even someone who has served in Afghanistan.
Either way, I’m sure you understand how difficult and dangerous the mission is,
And can appreciate the courage and dedication of the troops who are serving in that war-torn country.
Today I’d like to talk to you about why we’re there,
And what we hope to accomplish.
As I’m sure you know, Canada’s mission in Afghanistan began after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
We joined with the United Nations and our NATO allies to rescue the Afghan people from the tyranny of the Taliban,
A barbaric regime that ruled through violence and fear,
Killed their political opponents,
Treated women as slaves
Refused to let girls go to school,
And provided safe haven for terrorists.
So Canada joined the international mission partly because we knew that if we didn’t stop terrorism over there,
It would eventually come here.
But also because we felt an obligation to help the Afghan people build a stable and secure country,
and to help them achieve the things we take for granted,
the basic principles of all civilized societies,
freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
These are the same things our parents, grandparents and great grandparents fought for in the First and Second World Wars,
In the Korean War,
In the Cold War against Soviet Communism,
And in the dozens of UN peacekeeping missions we’ve been part of during the last 50 years.
Afghanistan is one of the toughest missions we have ever taken on.
Our troops and aid workers have been there almost as long as they were in the two world wars, combined.
And we have paid a very heavy price.
But we have made real progress, and made life safer and better for millions of Afghan people.
Basic health care is now available in most parts of the country, and people are getting vaccinated against life-threatening diseases.
Many schools have been reopened, and education is now available to boys and girls.
Roads are being rebuilt, clean water systems expanded, and a functioning economy is being restored.
In fact, one of Canada’s biggest development projects is the restoration of a huge irrigation dam,
That will help thousands of Afghan farmers grow food and provide for their families.
We’re also putting a lot of money and effort into building basic local government and the justice system,
And most important in the long term, perhaps, Canadian troops are training Afghan soldiers and police,
So that they and their government will be able to take over responsibility for national security.
There are no easy fixes in Afghanistan.
And the situation is complicated by severe political instability and violence in neighbouring Pakistan.
But we have made important progress, and Canada is already shifting our mission from security to development.
As you may know, we voted in Parliament last year to end Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011.
By then we will have been there for 10 years, much of that time on the dangerous front lines in Kandahar province.
We should be very proud of the performance of our troops, and of their accomplishments.
History will record that Canada has done more than its part in Afghanistan,
Just as we did in the major wars of the 20th century and in the peacekeeping era.
In every case, we have been inspired by the ideals of social justice and the equal dignity of all people that are also fundamental to Roman Catholic theology.
The same ideals that are expressed in your school prayer here at Archbishop Romero.
I’m sure you know it:
“Lord, God, Creator of all, Give me eyes to see injustice, Ears to hear the poor, Wisdom to know compassion, and the Courage to bring about change.”
Canadians saw the injustice in Afghanistan,
We heard the pleas for help from innocent civilians,
We responded with compassion,
And with the incredible courage of the men and women of the Canadian Forces.
Let me finish with a suggestion.
Tomorrow, if you can, put on a poppy, go to a Remembrance Day ceremony, and spare a thought for our troops on patrol half a world away in Afghanistan.
If you meet a soldier or a veteran, tell them how much you appreciate what they do.
It means a lot to them to know they have our support.
And we owe them our thanks for keeping our True North, our Canada, strong and free.