Dr. Swann Member Statement on The Battle of Vimy Ridge – 10 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, April 10, 2017.

Member Statement – Battle of Vimy Ridge

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. On this day a hundred years ago a great battle of triumph and tragedy was raging on Vimy Ridge. I’m honoured today to rise in this democratically elected Assembly to be able to speak freely about these brave men and women, about the survivors, their families, and pay tribute to the fallen. Indeed, this is one of the gifts these courageous warriors gave to all of us, not just freedom from oppression and tyranny but the freedom to exercise our rights of self-determination and recognition of our inalienable human rights.

The price they paid was high: an entire generation lost. Vimy Ridge remains the single bloodiest battle Canadians fought, with about 3,600 lives being laid down in the fields in France. It was a defining moment, both in terms of the Great War as well as the birthing of this great nation, Canada. It fills us with pride to remember the victory that was wrought on Vimy Ridge. It also reminds us of the preciousness of life, the duty of public service, and the eternal vigilance required to protect our rights and freedoms and the rule of law.

Finally, I’d be amiss if I did not speak about the unspeakable horror of war and the need for each of us to work always and everywhere to create the conditions for peace. The average age of Canadian soldiers in World War I was 26; the oldest, 80; the youngest reported, 10 years old. What they were to experience in those fields was unimaginable for these young minds. While many lives were lost at Vimy, many more were forever changed. Those who did not die had been surrounded by death and terror on a daily basis: unrelenting physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma.

When they returned home, they were enthusiastically welcomed by a truly grateful nation. But how could anyone who had not been there and experienced the devastation begin to understand the effect it would have on the survivors and their families? This was a time when knowledge of mental health and particularly the lasting impacts of trauma was in its infancy. To be a man often meant then and still means maintaining a bravado of strength, refusing to ask for help, and suffering in silence. Many if not all of those returning from the battlefield agonized under the torment of posttraumatic illness. Too often this led to mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, and family violence. Although the guns had gone quiet, there was still a war raging in their minds, reverberating through intimate family members, and a different peace that remained to be won.

Our understanding of this disorder has come a long way since, but there are many hills we have yet to climb together. More needs to be done to support our brave servicemen, women, and families who faced and are facing today the devastations of war. We need to end the stigma and make it clear that admitting mental illness does not make us weak. In fact, it takes great strength and bravery. Bravery comes in many forms.

Let us earnestly, then, work in this House and in our communities to preserve the peace through respectful discourse, reducing inequality, and justice for all, remembering the peace that was purchased at such a high price.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Standing ovation]