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Remembrance Day Should Be A Canada-Wide Holiday

11/06/2015 04:15 EST | Updated 11/10/2017 13:22 EST

UPDATE, June 21, 2017: The House of Commons passed legislation giving Remembrance Day the same legal status as Canada Day and Victoria Day.
UPDATE, Nov. 7, 2016: Another Canadian MP, Colin Fraser, has put forward a private member's bill to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday in Canada.

Every year, on Nov. 11, I woke up knowing that I didn't have to go to school. I still had work to do, though: pull my Scouting uniform out of my closet, tuck the shirt into my pants and drive 15 minutes to the cenotaph at the rec centre to huddle in the cold with my friends. We would stand holding our flags, my dad beside us, his breast pocket gleaming with medals he'd earned from his 25 years of military service.

Sure, the ceremony was long, and for many years, I didn't know the words to "God Save The Queen." But the ritual always felt incredibly important, not just because I'd been taught about the sacrifices of the uniformed men and women at the ceremony and the horrors of war. I was also thinking about the man who would make my sister and I grilled cheese sandwiches when we got home. He hadn't been shot down over Germany or stormed Normandy during WWII, but he dealt with the terror and stress of running a field hospital in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. His tour in the Middle East was short, but he was never the same psychologically after he returned.

Remembrance Day ceremonies were a fixture of my childhood, and when I moved to Toronto for school in the fall of 2009, I just assumed that we'd have the day off to attend one. Turns out that was not the case.

The fact that the whole country doesn't treat it as a holiday hasn't escaped lawmakers.

While it is a statutory holiday in B.C., it isn't in Ontario. This is a real shame. In order to attend ceremonies, many post-secondary students would have to skip school and employees would have to ask for the day off -- something I doubt most people do.

Quebec, Nova Scotia and Manitoba also don't recognize it as a stat, but much of Nova Scotia still has the day off -- while Nov. 11 isn't a statutory holiday, the province has its own piece of legislation which specifies that many businesses must close that day. Employees who work are allowed a day off with pay, provided their business isn't exempt from the act.

Manitoba has similar rules.

But the fact that the whole country doesn't treat it as a holiday hasn't escaped lawmakers. Former NDP MP Dan Harris, who was defeated in the last federal election, had introduced a private member's bill to make Nov. 11 a holiday all across Canada. However, the bill died on the order paper when the election was called in August.

But not only did the seemingly straightforward bill -- which would let every province decide for themselves whether or not to observe it -- not make it through the House of Commons, not everyone agrees with the concept either.

The Royal Canadian Legion reportedly disagrees with the idea of a holiday, worrying fewer people will show up at ceremonies.

While Canadians should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to attend a ceremony, our governments need to make it a whole lot easier for that to happen.

It's impossible to speculate about what Ontarians would do with an extra day off -- maybe a bunch of them would just sleep in -- but most workplaces and post-secondary institutions don't do a great job of observing Remembrance Day either. Also, as one anonymous commenter on statutoryholidays.com pointed out, offices aren't the best places to remember fallen service members.

"Perhaps gathered around the office photocopier. What dignity," they wrote.

I'm sure many people also disagree with the concept of the day itself, believing the bugles, wreaths and anthem-singing glorify war. But while there is definitely room for a debate about the tone we strike during ceremonies, that discussion can't happen if no one attends them.

Ontario and Quebec won't see their productivity go down the toilet with one extra day off a year. And while Canadians should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to attend a ceremony, our governments need to make it a whole lot easier for that to happen. They also need to show us that they believe honouring our veterans actually matters.

Correction: A previous version of this blog misstated that the author's father was in the military for 27 years, when he was actually in the service for 25 years.

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