It’s long past time to give Remembrance Day the respect it deserves and make it a national statutory holiday.
As it stands, Remembrance Day is governed by a patchwork of rules and regulations that differ between provinces and territories, and that’s no longer acceptable for the one day set aside each year to honour the sacrifices of Canada’s military veterans and fallen soldiers.
While federal employees have Nov. 11 off, provinces and territories determine their own statutory holidays. Currently, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia do not designate Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday.
In Manitoba, a separate piece of legislation determines who has the day off. Under our rules, most industries in the province are not allowed to operate Nov. 11, with a host of exceptions, including "any establishment operating under a licence or permit issued under the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act."
The legislation states retail businesses in the province must remain closed between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Nov. 11.
If any group in this country deserves to be recognized with a legal holiday from coast to coast, it is the more than 2.3 million Canadians who have served throughout our nation’s history and the more than 118,000 who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Manitoba can be proud of the vital role its has played in the country’s defence with full-time military units started after the First World War, instituting garrisons in Winnipeg and Shilo.
The history of Manitoba’s war effort is chronicled in many places, including the first-rate RCA Museum on the military base in Shilo, where exhibits record the valour of Manitoba troops, the dire reality that thousands of Manitobans returned from wars permanently disabled, how Riding Mountain National Park housed a camp for prisoners of war and internees brought from Europe during the Second World War, and how Manitoba has remembered some of its deceased veterans by naming lakes after them.
It may surprise some to learn the Royal Canadian Legion opposes declaring Remembrance Day a statutory holiday, fearing it could become a meaningless day off. "Over time, the holiday side of the day may overtake the meaning of the day, and the tradition of pausing in our daily routine to observe a moment of silence for Fallen Veterans may be lost," the Legion argued in a 2017 brief to Parliament.
In contrast, a 2012 poll by Historica Canada found Canadians feel differently, with 85 per cent of respondents agreeing that Remembrance Day should be a statutory holiday across the country.
It's understandable the Legion worries that, if Nov. 11 becomes a national holiday, "people will just find better things to do." But that fear doesn’t give Canadians the credit they deserve, and whether some might choose to go shopping is beside the point.
The point is that a piecemeal approach — one that forces some workers to pause by their office cubicle for two minutes of silence instead of joining their families at a memorial — just isn’t good enough.
Canadians can, and should, do better. This country’s veterans have more than earned a true national day of remembrance, a day when everyone, if they choose, can stand shoulder to shoulder and clap their gloved hands together as a dwindling number of old soldiers parade by in the cold.
It is arguably the least we can do, but it's also the right thing to do.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.