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Military attacks create emotional lead up to Remembrance Day ceremonies

Poppies lie on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War memorial.
Poppies lie on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War memorial. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

In the lead up to this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies, there is an unmistakable air of importance.

This past weekend at a local pub, I noticed an older gentleman with a red and black poppy pinned to his jacket.

“That reminds me,” I said out loud, more to myself than anyone, “I have to get a poppy.”

“Yes,” he said. “Especially this year.” We paused and sat in silence, both with tears in our eyes. For the next 30 minutes, we talked about the recent military deaths in Quebec and Ottawa, about veterans struggling to access services, about mental health. After the pints were gone, two strangers – generations apart – hugged, shook hands and went on their way.

This year feels different – as if we are all collectively holding our breath, waiting for Nov. 11 for some sort of release.

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And it’s no wonder. It’s been a long year.

The country was rattled by the recent deaths of warrant officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, forcing Canadians to rethink our own security.

MPs stood and applauded Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers – the man credited with bringing down the gunman who killed Cirillo. Parliamentarians accustomed to nasty sparring in the House of Commons broke from their partisan positions to embrace each other.

READ MORE: Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers honoured in House of Commons

Meanwhile, as the country tried to make sense of Vincent and Cirillo’s deaths, Canadian warplanes took up positions in Kuwait as part of the U.S.-led coalition’s offensive against ISIS.

The Canadian mission is only to last six months, but could be extended. The House of Commons was divided (Conservatives on one side, NDP and Liberals on the other) on whether to join the combat mission against ISIS, but the motion passed 157-134, and suddenly the Canadian military found itself involved in another war.

Monuments recognizing the service of Canadian Forces members in Afghanistan are expected to be unveiled Wednesday in Ottawa — the first update to the Canadian military monuments in more than 50 years. It’s a tribute many say is long overdue.

READ MORE: Hundreds of military vehicles to be erected as Afghan war monuments

Since last year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies honouring the fallen, the conversation surrounding the men and women who made it home from war reached fever pitch.

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A spate of solider suicides rocked the country, sending shockwaves up the ranks in National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

READ MORE: Invisible Wounds – A crisis in the military

Suddenly, mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder within the military became a national topic of conversation. Soldiers and veterans began sharing the stories that for years had remained in the dark.

The closure of eight regional Veterans Affairs offices sparked protests. Placards at rallies read “shame” and “Harper, Fantino — fight the next war yourselves.”

READ MORE: Ex-soldiers protest Veterans Affairs office closures

The office closures were part of a move by Veterans Affairs to transition more services online and to Service Canada outlets.

But veterans slammed the move, calling it a betrayal to the men and women who served their country.

Remembrance Day ceremonies

This Remembrance Day, events will take place across Canada, including a ceremony at the National War Memorial, where Cpl. Cirillo was gunned down just two weeks ago.

Veterans along with thousands of spectators will surround the war memorial. Prime Minister Stephen Harper cut short his trip to China to attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies on Tuesday.

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Infographic: Canadian military casualties and conflicts.