POLITICS

Nathan Cirillo, Patrice Vincent Honoured In Ontario, Quebec

11/11/2014 11:50 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST
Remembrance Day ceremonies in the hometown of a young reservist gunned down in Ottawa and in the city where a Quebec soldier was killed did not mention their names, but their memories weighed heavily over the large crowds.

Hundreds of people packed a downtown Hamilton square Tuesday for the solemn service. Despite the large crowd in the city's downtown core, nothing except the fluttering of flags could be heard during two minutes of silence.

From lifelong residents and frequent Remembrance Day service attendees to new Canadians donning poppies for the first time, many spoke of the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

The 24-year-old was shot and killed last month while on sentry duty at the National War Memorial by a gunman who was later killed in a gunfight inside Parliament Hill's Centre Block.

Lt.-Col. Rick Bialachowski said the services in Hamilton have drawn substantial crowds for the past several years, but this year Cirillo's death likely makes the remembrance more personal.

"I know when I was growing up and I attended Remembrance Day ceremonies I was here for my father, but I don't think I truly understood what Remembrance Day was about," said the army signals officer.

"I think now that a lot of people can attach a name to what Remembrance Day is about."

Bialachowski became emotional as he remembered colleagues he lost in Afghanistan.

"It's a significant day for me," he said, before choking up. "I spent basically 2012 in Afghanistan and unfortunately we sent some guys home, so it's a day of remembrance for those guys."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement acknowledging the deaths of Cirillo and a soldier who was run down and killed in an attack south of Montreal.

"Members of the Canadian Armed Forces have the honour to wear a uniform that is recognized across the world as a symbol of courage and democracy," Harper wrote.

"The recent deadly attacks on Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who were targeted simply because they proudly wore this uniform, only strengthens Canada's resolve to keep fighting against those who would deny our liberties and freedoms, and who have a complete disregard for human lives."

The Canadian Armed Forces has named two operations bases overseas after Vincent and Cirillo. One of the locations of the air group flying missions in Iraq has been named Camp Vincent. The operations base of the Canadian Special Operations Forces in Iraq is now called Patrol Base Cirillo.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said at a ceremony in Toronto that people need only look back a few weeks, to the deaths of Cirillo and Vincent, to put a face to soldiers "who died because they were protecting us."

"I do not and I never will glorify nor will I revere the wars that human beings create," she said.

"Over and over again we let hatred and anger take hold...As a mother and a grandmother, as a daughter and a granddaughter, today I am grateful. But I also pray that we find our way to peace."

Well over 1,000 soldiers and local residents of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where Vincent was killed, attended a memorial service in front of the cenotaph at the garrison.

"That happened here, that happened a few blocks away from the base," said Rev. Jean-Francois Noel.

"It could have been anyone that day...unfortunately, it was Warrant Officer Vincent because he was wearing his uniform."

Mayor Michel Fecteau called this year's ceremony a special event, in light of Vincent's death.

"We don't want to live in the past, we want to learn from what happened, but we have to look to the future," Fecteau said. "But it's something we will always remember."

He also said the city is working with the Vincent family to find a way to remember him.

In Hamilton, Dennis Floresco, a retired fellow member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the regiment to which Cirillo belonged, said he was one of the last people to send the reservist off to Ottawa from Hamilton.

"It's the way the world's changing and we have to adapt," he said. "It's an eye opener, unfortunately."

He said Remembrance Day is about standing tall for all branches of the Armed Forces and acknowledging the sacrifices soldiers have made going back hundreds of years.

Doris Muir said she thought that the large crowd in Hamilton was due at least in part to Cirillo's death.

"It's different when you hear about it overseas or away from home but when it happens right here in our hometown it hits home," she said.

Misrak Masih, a recent immigrant from Pakistan, struggled to express his feeling in English, but said he was sad about the soldier who died. It was his first Remembrance Day ceremony and Masih said he came out of respect for Cirillo.

— with files from Peter Rakobowchuk in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.

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