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Remembrance Day 2021 marks return of in-person ceremonies across most of Canada

Click to play video: 'Crowds return to honour the fallen at Remembrance Day in Ottawa'
Crowds return to honour the fallen at Remembrance Day in Ottawa
WATCH: Crowds return to honour the fallen at Remembrance Day in Ottawa – Nov 11, 2021

Remembrance Day was closer to normal this year with COVID restrictions easing and in-person ceremonies commencing once again across the country to honour Canadian war veterans.

The ceremonies, taking place at different monuments and cenotaphs across the country, allowed Canadians to pay respect to veterans who fought and died for their country.

In Ottawa, the National Remembrance Day ceremony was held at the National War Memorial where the public stood alongside veterans, current military and government officials.

Last year’s service was held virtually due to COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, the Royal Canadian Legion urged anyone going to an event, inside or outside, to wear a mask and maintain physical distance from others.

The national ceremony was expected to begin at 10:45 a.m. ET. Unlike previous in-person ceremonies, there were no veterans parade this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two minutes of silence was observed to remember the sacrifices of Canadian military members at 11 a.m. ET.

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Read more: 100 Years of Poppies: From Flanders Fields to our lapels

The ceremony was out of order in the traditional sense where the national anthem and last post, which traditionally signals the two minutes of silence, did not happen until after the two minutes. The Prime Minister and Governor General both arrived later than originally planned.

Dean Oliver, chief curator at the Canadian Museum of History told Global News he had not ever seen the national ceremony start later than initially expected.

Oliver said the delay was “most unusual” and with uncertainty out there, people should cut the dignitaries some slack until we find out the reasoning.

Click to play video: 'Remembrance Day 2021: Ottawa ceremony commemorates Canadian war dead, veterans'
Remembrance Day 2021: Ottawa ceremony commemorates Canadian war dead, veterans

According to a statement provided to Global News from Veterans’ Affairs Canada, the delay in the arrival of the Prime Minister and Governor General was caused by a potential security risk.

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“Ahead of the Remembrance Day ceremony today in Ottawa, a security issue was identified and quickly resolved. The ceremony continued after a brief delay,” wrote a spokesperson.

Veterans Affairs’ Canada did not elaborate on what the risk was or entailed.

The Canadian Press reported later in the afternoon that the delay was due to a suspicious package found near the cenotaph. The ceremony was already underway when the RCMP cleared the package safely allowing the dignitaries to arrive.

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. According to the Ottawa Police, an estimated crowd of 15,000 attended the ceremony.

Click to play video: 'The Royal Canadian Legion'
The Royal Canadian Legion

When asked about what Remembrance Day signifies to Canadians, Oliver said people will likely have different interpretations, especially as times change, but the essence is to honour those who came before us.

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“It changes over time just as the history it reflects. On one level it’s about you and me and individual engagement with people or battles or places that we remember or hold dear,” said Oliver. “On another level it’s about somebody else, those whom we remember or wish to reflect upon or respect and our connection to them, a mark of respect for their service, their activities, their time.”

Every year a Silver Cross Mother is chosen by the Legion to place a wreath at the National War Memorial during the ceremony. According to the Legion, the silver cross is a “memento of personal loss and sacrifice on the part of widows and mothers of Canadian sailors, aviators and soldiers who died for their country during the war.”

This year’s recipient is Josée Simard who’s daughter Cpl. Karine Blais served as a trooper in the Canadian Army. Cpl. Blais was killed on April 23, 2009 when an armoured vehicle she was travelling in struck a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Read more: B.C. woman crochets 100 poppies for flower’s 100th anniversary as a symbol of remembrance

Newly-minted Minister of Defence Anita Anand spoke to Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson about what she’s doing to help fix the systemic issues of misogyny and sexual harassment within the military.

“One of the most important things to me and to our government is that we have an institution where everyone who serves feels protected and respected and safe,” said Anand.

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Anand, who took over from Harjit Sajjan, has already committed to moving military sexual misconduct cases into the civilian justice system.

“I’m working very hard with my teams that we have this rebuilding of confidence within the Canadian Armed Forces for the benefit of the members and our country at large,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Remembrance Day ceremonies held across GTA'
Remembrance Day ceremonies held across GTA

On reflecting on what Remembrance Day means for herself, Anand noted that “we owe our soldiers a debt of gratitude” and through her new job, she consistently sees how much military service members put their country first.

“I have been meeting with members of the Canadian Armed Forces and I see everyday with the way in which they put service above all else,” said Anand

One of the most popular themes of Remembrance Day is the red poppy, which is seen as a symbol of honouring Canadians who made great sacrifices for their country and also serves as a way to raise money for veterans’ needs. The well-known symbol marks 100th anniversary this year.

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“In July of 1921 the Great War Veterans Association (which in 1925 would unify with other Veteran groups to form the Canadian Legion) adopted the Poppy as the flower of Remembrance,” according to the Royal Canadian Legion.

Read more: ‘It was within our DNA’: Indigenous veterans honoured for sacrifice at ceremonies in Vancouver

Taking in the service at the national war monument was Tim O’Loan, an Indigenous veteran who served with the Canadian Armed Forces from 1983-1993. The 10-year veteran said that talking about residential schools and shining a light on it is important for him this Remembrance Day.

He said a lot of people in Canada and around the world don’t know about Indigenous participation in wars, or about residential schools.

O’Loan said that part of history is incredibly dark and while it was happening, Indigenous people continued to serve in the military and talking about their service and residential schools collectively is important.

“I refer to that as Canada’s quiet empty chapter in our history book, well now is the time to fill it up,” he said, “to unpack that history is part of reconciliation.”

Putting it in a historical context, Oliver noted that Canada would not be where it is if Indigenous people didn’t help them in the War of 1812 against the Americans.

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“The history of Indigenous service in the armed forces of Canada far predates the creation of Canada. And one might say — like the events of 1812 — Canada owes in large part its existence to Indigenous military service.”

Click to play video: '‘Operation Raise A Flag’ pays tribute to Canadian and Indigenous Veterans'
‘Operation Raise A Flag’ pays tribute to Canadian and Indigenous Veterans

According to Oliver, at least 500 Indigenous people have died in service of their country. At this moment, Oliver said at least four per cent of the Armed Forces is Indigenous.

He added to O’Loan’s sentiment of the internal challenges faced by Indigenous veterans who were treated like second-class citizens, but welcomed in the army. Oftentimes, many of them carried “dual burden” according to Oliver with some suffering from the scars of wartime and residential schools, too.

“The stories that they carried into service included many things including the disrespect of their existence, their culture, their language in the Canada that they were proudly serving.”

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— With files from The Canadian Press 

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