Speech on Korean War Veterans Day Act (S-213)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill S-213, An Act respecting a national day of remembrance to honour Canadian veterans of the Korean War. If this bill passes, July 27 will be designated Korean War veterans day.

Bill S-213 originated as a Senate private member's bill introduced by British Columbian senator Yonah Martin. The bill passed third reading in Senate in March and is now in the final stages of debate before the House of Commons. Canada's New Democrats support this bill and its intent to support veterans and their families.

For too long, the contributions of Canada's Korean War veterans have been overlooked. More than 26,000 Canadian servicemen and servicewomen served in the Korean War; 516 of them made the ultimate sacrifice in what has come to be known as “Canada's forgotten war”. The role of Canadian troops in key battles, like Kapyong and Hill 355, demonstrated the courage and distinction with which our soldiers served. After the war ended in 1953, about 7,000 Canadians remained in Korea to serve as military observers until the end of 1955.

Canadian soldiers were the recipients of numerous awards for valour, including nine distinguished service orders, thirty-three military crosses, five distinguished flying crosses, eight distinguished conduct medals and fifty-three military medals. In addition, the Second Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was awarded the United States Presidential Unit Citation.

The Korean people have also expressed gratitude to our veterans for their service and sacrifice. In fact, when our veterans return to visit Korea, they are treated as honoured guests. Many veterans made the trip this year, including local constituent and decorated Korean War veteran Frank Smyth from Coquitlam who travelled to Korea to visit the war memorials and see how the country has developed over the past 60 years.

However, sadly, when soldiers returned home from Korea, their contributions were not recognized by their fellow Canadians in the same way as other veterans' contributions. It took 40 years before the Canadian government officially acknowledged the sacrifices made by our Korean War veterans who fought in a three-year-long war and watched too many of their fellow comrades die in battle. Veterans' groups like the Korea Veterans Association of Canada and the Royal Canadian Legion have been key drivers in the efforts to ensure that we do a proper job as a country of honouring the fallen soldiers of the Korean War as well as its thousands of veterans.

Thanks to their efforts, today Canadians can visit the Korea Veterans National Wall of Remembrance in Brampton, Ontario, where a plaque bears the names of Canadians who died in service. Canadians can also visit the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower here on Parliament Hill, where the Korean War Book of Remembrance contains the names of all 516 fallen soldiers.

I would like to recognize the efforts of Port Moody resident Guy Black who led a multi-year campaign for Canada Post to issue a commemorative stamp of the Korean War. He assembled hundreds of letters of support for the application. He enlisted my help in the campaign, and I lobbied the Minister of Veterans Affairs as well as the minister responsible for Canada Post, both of whom were supportive. Unfortunately, Canada Post rejected Mr. Black's applications. I commend Mr. Black for his many years of hard work and dedication to this cause.

As we now look to designate July 27 as Korean War veterans day, it is important to note that the duty to remember is not only for one day, but for every day of the year. The same, of course, can be said for Remembrance Day. In fact, there is far more we can do as a society to pay tribute to veterans. Respect for soldiers can be seen in the Canadian government's treatment of our veterans through benefits and services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Much work remains to be done to ensure all veterans are given the honour and fair treatment they deserve. Assistance for veterans of more recent missions is particularly lacking.

Earlier this year, we heard the story of Colonel Neil Russell who, as a post-Korean War vet, was denied access to a veteran's bed in a long-term care facility. This policy is unacceptable and must change.

My mother-in-law Signe Radelet, who is 93 years young, is a veteran of the Second World War. She served three years in Kitsilano, Vancouver. She never received government support her entire life; now she does require support, such as a wheelchair and housing assistance. However, because she did not serve overseas, she is ineligible for government assistance from veterans affairs. Like so many other veterans, Signe served her country, asked little in return, raised her family, and now, near the end of her life, requires a little help. The government should be there to provide this help. It is the least it can do, given her contribution to Canada.

The treatment of Canada's Korean War vets should be a lesson in avoiding the practice of splitting up vets into different categories that receive different levels of recognition or benefits. The government should treat all veterans fairly, regardless of where or when they served. Some of these wrongs are slowly being corrected, like expanding the eligibility criteria for the Last Post Fund and returning unfairly deducted benefits to veterans, yet many are concerned that a quarter of a billion dollars in cuts to veterans affairs will hamper progress.

I hope the House will indulge me to take a moment to also recognize the important work of former MP and MLA Dawn Black, who drew much-needed attention to the problems of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological injuries among soldiers returning home from Afghanistan. Dawn was an excellent representative for her constituents, and her legacy is great. I want to thank Dawn for her many years of public service, and I wish her and Peter all the best as they begin to enjoy their retirement years together.

Bill S-213 proposes to create a Korean War veterans day. I would like to reiterate the official opposition's support for this timely initiative. The year 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. It also marks 50 years of Canadian-Korean diplomatic relations, and Canada has designated 2013 as the Year of Korea.

Our countries' long-standing bilateral relationship is an important one based on co-operation in key areas like arts and culture, trade, democracy, human rights and tourism. Evidence of this can be seen in the constituency I represent of New Westminster--Coquitlam and Port Moody, which is home to a large, vibrant Korean-Canadian community.

I have also had the pleasure of being a member of the Canada Korea Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group. This has afforded me an opportunity to play a small role in strengthening the friendship between our two countries.

I am pleased to support Bill S-213 at third reading and I look forward to its becoming law.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, the official opposition's veterans affairs critic, for his contributions to the early stages of this legislation and for his continued efforts on behalf of Canada's veterans.