Politics

Suspicious package at Remembrance Day ceremony delays arrival of prime minister, governor general

The delays meant VIPs were arriving at the National War Memorial after the ceremony had begun, with artillery fire in the background

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OTTAWA — A suspicious packaged caused delays at Ottawa’s Remembrance Day ceremony on Thursday, delaying the arrivals of VIPs including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General Mary Simon, and the Silver Cross mother of a solider killed in Afghanistan.

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The delays meant that the VIPs were arriving at the National War Memorial after the ceremony had already begun, with artillery fire going off in the background.

The RCMP said in a statement that “a suspicious package was reported in the vicinity a few minutes prior to the ceremony.”

Amid heightened vigilance for the gathering dignitaries at the National War Memorial, which was where a soldier was shot dead in 2014 terrorist attack, the package was quickly dismissed as nothing more than a harmless unattended bag.

“It was deemed to be not dangerous. It wasn’t anything to be worried about,” said Stephanie Dumoulin, a spokeswoman for the RCMP.

The force’s bomb and explosives experts didn’t need to attend before the danger was dismissed, she said.

In 2014, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, of Hamilton, Ont., was shot and killed while he stood as ceremonial guard at the memorial, before the gunman entered Parliament and died in a shootout with security.

The security incident delayed Trudeau’s arrival by about 15 minutes from what was scheduled.

A spokesperson for Rideau Hall said in a statement to National Post that “security concerns caused a delay in the sequence of arrival.”

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Along with delaying Trudeau and Simon, the investigation delayed the arrival of Josee Simard, who was named this year’s Silver Cross Mother by the Royal Canadian Legion. Simard’s daughter Cpl. Karine Blais was killed in Afghanistan on April 13, 2009.

Despite that brief delay, there was a return to some semblance of normalcy in the national capital, as crowds gathered around the National War Memorial, and veterans spread out in front of the monument.

Donning masks alongside poppies in the November chill, Canadians across much of the country returned to cenotaphs and monuments on Thursday morning to remember and pay their respects to those who fought and died in service of the country.

This year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies stand in stark contrast to last year when organizers discouraged people from attending in person because of the second wave of COVID-19.

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Since the country’s founding, more than 2.3 million Canadians have served in uniform, and more than 120,000 have made the ultimate sacrifice. Gov. Gen. Simon noted that many of those who did come home were not the same people they were before.

Simon, who wore the uniform of the Royal Canadian Air Force, attending her first Remembrance Day as the country’s commander-in-chief, acknowledged the long history and sacrifice of Indigenous Peoples in uniform.

She noted that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Kapyong during the Korean War and 15 years since the first Canadian woman died in combat, Capt. Nichola Goddard.

“It is important to learn about the stories of soldiers, past and present,” Simon said in a statement. “Though some stories may be hard to hear, it is our responsibility to bear witness. Our hope is that by recalling past sacrifices, we can look to a peaceful future. It is up to all of us. It is in our hands. It is our duty to keep the memory alive.”

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This year’s Remembrance Day also marked the centenary of the poppy being the symbol of remembrance in this country, inspired by John McCrae’s legendary poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 100 years later the poppy remains an unmistakable symbol of the somber day.

There was again the reading of the Act of Remembrance in English, French and an Indigenous language, which this year was the Metis language of Michif.

Some restrictions nonetheless remained as COVID-19 continues to pose a threat, with masks and physical distancing requirements in place for anyone in attendance.

The Royal Canadian Legion, however, again cancelled the traditional veterans’ parade in Ottawa, which has in the past seen elderly veterans from the Second World War and Korea march alongside counterparts from more recent conflicts and operations.

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Some Legion branches across the country also avoided in-person events for a second year because of the pandemic, leading many more Canadians to watch their local ceremony on TV or online.

“Our veterans and those serving today represent the very best of what it means to be Canadian,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said in a statement. “Their selflessness and courage serve as an inspiration to all of us.”

There had been questions ahead of this year’s event around whether the government would keep flags at half-mast, as they had been since May in memory of Indigenous children who died attending residential schools.

But the government opted on Sunday to raise the flags back up to their full height before lowering them again on Monday in honour of Indigenous Veterans Day. They were lowered again on Thursday.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a statement praised those who have served the country, and called on the government to do more to improve the lives of veterans.

“They are there to support others, whether they’re called on to care for seniors living in long-term care homes during the worst of the pandemic, or making invaluable contributions to help in global crises,” Singh said.

With additional reporting from The Canadian Press

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