Every year since 2009, with the exception of this year due to construction, Remembrance Day ceremonies have been held on McGill campus to commemorate the lives of soldiers lost in war and to honour veterans. In addition to inviting a heavy police presence on campus, these ceremonies include artillery salutes that make use of guns, fighter aircrafts, and cannons. This display of militarism is not only potentially upsetting to students who have experienced war or police violence, it also obscures Canada’s imperialist history, including its invasions of other countries and continued occupation of Indigenous land. We need to be critical of Remembrance Day and its ties to Canadian nationalism and pro-military propaganda, and acknowledge that peace in Canada comes at the expense of imperialism and war in other countries.
The dominant narrative holds that the soldiers who died in World War I did so for the sake of freedom and peace. What is often overlooked is that the war was motivated largely by imperial elites’ greed for foreign capital. While some voluntarily joined the military, many were forced into battle by social pressure, poverty, and conscription. If the point of Remembrance Day is to honour their sacrifice and condemn war, doing so through a display of militarism is hypocritical. Canada recently became the second largest arms dealer to the Middle East, and the sixth largest in the world, thanks to a 15-billion-dollar deal selling armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Canada also continues to support illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq have been invaded by the Canadian army, facilitated by weapons that were developed at institutions including McGill. Within Canada’s borders, police forces continue to target Black, Indigenous, and migrant communities, with increasingly deadly weapons. By making a spectacle out of militarism, Remembrance Day glorifies Canada’s ongoing violence against marginalized people at home and abroad.
Some people may observe Remembrance Day to commemorate a family member or a friend who fought in a war. If we are committed to supporting veterans, we should do so through concrete and effective methods that draw attention to the ways in which veterans have been, and still are, neglected and abused by the state. While this day could be personally meaningful, it is necessary to critique the systems of the power that lead to not only the loss of soldiers but also the deaths and displacement of civilians. Remembrance Day is a good opportunity to engage those who believe in the dominant narrative surrounding Canada’s involvement in war, specifically that it is “benign” or “out of defense.” We need to recognize that it is irresponsible to condemn war and commemorate the deceased while ignoring the present-day violence being enacted by the Canadian state. Meanwhile, Remembrance Day ceremonies need to encompass all victims of war, including civilians, and be treated as a chance to protest Canadian nationalism and state violence.