In the Autumn of 2022, British Columbia Veterans Commemorative Association held a literary contest inviting middle and secondary school students to submit their thoughts, in essay form, on achieving a peaceful co-existence in the world.
Students across the Province, with support from families and Educators, poignantly shared their views about the significance of a democratic, fair and just society. Their moving insights and analytic perspectives illustrated that the “Triumph of Democracy” is a future they wish to sustain through their youth leadership.
We are pleased to award the following students.
- 1st Award: $1000 – Emiko Smith, Grade 9, Meadowridge School
- 2nd Award: $250 – Aanya Dau, Grade 9, Meadowridge School
- Honourable Mention: $100 – Mariam Slewa, Grade 8, Holy Cross Regional High School
- 1st Award: $1000 – Isabella Zhang, Grade 12, Meadowridge School
- 2nd Award: $250 – Jason Lee, Grade 12, Meadowridge School
- Honourable Mention: $100 – Amy Xu, Grade 10, Meadowridge School
- Honourable Mention: $100 – Aasha Askew, Grade 10, Meadowridge School
- Luc Gloanec, Teacher – Grade 8, Holy Cross Regional High School
- Michelle Fintermann, Department Head – Grade 8, Meadowridge School
- Chelsey Simpkins – Grade 8, Meadowridge School
- Dr. Martin Reinik – Grade 8, Meadowridge School
- Sarah Kharikian – Grade 11, Garibaldi Secondary School
- Janet Kim – Grade 10, Gleneagle Secondary School
- Stella Sun – Grade 10, Meadowridge School
- Jamie Marriott, Meadowridge School
- Kristal Bereza, Meadowridge School
Overview of winners, Grades 7-9
EMIKO SMITH, Grade 9, Meadowridge School, (1st Place)
Emiko’s narrative draws the reader in immediately with her references to the Russia war against the Ukraine. She expresses an excellent knowledge about historic Canadian Military engagements in past wars. Her understanding of the significance of the United Nations, NATO and NORAD is well stated in supporting democratic values. Emiko is a mature thinker as she defines the “triumph of democracy” relating to Canada’s foreign policy. Emiko’s thoughtful narrative about Remembrance through education and awareness is inspiring.
AANYA DAU,Grade 9, Meadowridge School, (2nd Place)
Aanya intrigues the reader with her introduction by defining democracy in its fledging stage and expansion worldwide. She clearly shows a good understanding of both autocratic and democratic systems. Aanya has a good understanding of Canada’s historic Military operations and current role with world Alliances. She presents good arguments as to why democracy “triumphs” autocracy. Her beliefs that democracy should evolve and not be forced are quite insightful. Aanya’s ability to interestingly engage the reader is commendable.
MARIAM SLEWA, Grade 8, Holy Cross Regional High School, (Honourble Mention)
Mariam takes the reader on a sensitive family experience living in Iraq under an autocracy during Military conflict. She bravely articulates the impacts of war on those entrapped while defending democracy. Mariam contrasts these negative war related experiences and the plight of refugees with freedoms and rights living in Canada. Heroism, courage and fortitude are reflected in Mariam’s understanding of Canada’s Military role in the world. She challenges the reader by asking, “are we doing enough” to Remember and learn from the past.
Overview of winners, Grades 10-12
ISABELLA ZHANG, Grade 12, Meadowridge School (1st Place)
Isabella’s introduction engages the reader immediately as she states that war isn’t something that remains in the past and how her generation never has had to pick up a weapon to defend democracy. She unrolls thoughtful perspectives taking the reader into a world without war emphasizing the significance of democracy, freedoms and Remembrance. She expands upon Canada’s Military volunteer free will in coming to the aide of others in defence of democracy. Intelligently and clearly Isabella presents thought provoking beliefs that it is a crucial time in history for the preservation of democracy and a Call to Action for Remembrance.
JASON LEE, Grade 12, Meadowridge School (2nd Place)
Jason’s descriptive opening immediately brings the reader into the trenches of war and enormous losses to humanity. He speaks admirably about how Canada’s stellar voluntary Military, past and present, sets us apart on the world stage. Jason describes the importance of citizen soldiers in defending democracy. He demonstrates a level of maturity and analytical thinking that makes the reader reflect upon their own beliefs. His thoughts about present day dangers and domestic violence lead the reader to think about Canada’s continued role in Peace Operations. Very thought provoking.
AMY XU, Grade 10, Meadowridge School (Honourble Mention)
Amy’s opening is written for impact about how the utopia in which Canadians live was not achieved without enormous sacrifices: “lives were lost to find freedom, wars were fought to keep peace.” Amy describes democracy as the power and rule of the people with free speech and freedoms. She fully understands Canada’s Military history, past and present and the significance of Alliances. Amy adamantly expresses why she chooses democracy with deep respect for Veterans, “who not only fought for Canada but with selfless incentives, fought for liberty itself.”
AASHA ASKEW, Grade 10, Meadowridge School (Honourable Mention)
Aasha immediately engages the reader with a quote from Volodymyr Zelensky, focusing attention on the present while learning from the past. She formulates her thoughts on a democratic society by referencing, “I am a person not a subject.” She further expands upon democratic values wherein equality and respect for diversity are paramount and how these do not come easily in a world of conflict. Aasha’s reflection on Ukrainian teens and refugees compared to peers living in Canada is moving and demonstrates empathetic maturity. Aasha understands why democracy triumphs autocracy.
Overview of All Other Entrants, Grades 7-9
EMMA HOOGENDOORN, Grade 7, West Vancouver
Emma sensitively conveys the Second World War experiences of her Great Uncle taken by Germans and other family members living in the Netherlands. She draws the reader into the realities of war, the blackouts, starvation, the fear, hiding among death and destruction and the difficult humanitarian choices one must make to survive. Emma’s family chose Canada to immigrate to, given the Canadian valour and sacrifice in liberating the Netherlands. Emma concludes, “…we continue to honour and commemorate courageous soldiers who now and forever did not return and put their lives on the line to protect Canada…”
NAYSA CHUMBER, Grade 9, Meadowridge School
Naysa is a methodical thinker and emphasizes how differing ideologies lead to political conflict and war. She has a sound and sensitive understanding of the varying types of sacrifices, from leaving home and risking lives to lives lost, family disruptions, collapse of infrastructure, decline of economies, negative environmental impacts and refugee crisis. Naysa keeps the reader engaged as she describes freedoms and the right of choice to have an important voice in influencing government legislation. Naysa shares her views of Remembrance, “…sacrifices of those who risk their lives…is why I can live my life in peace, have rights and freedoms…”
Overview of All Other Entrants, Grade 10
TARA CLENDINNING, Grade 10, Meadowridge School
Tara encourages the reader to contemplate sacrifices made during war and how these pave the way for democratic societies. She thoughtfully shares her views about how rights and freedoms, especially for women, marginalized and Indigenous peoples, were expanded as democracy evolved. Tara respectfully comments about Canada’s role with allies and Peacekeeping. She believes “…democracy is an ever evolving learning process…that continues to flourish and grow …and is worth defending.” She reflects that democracy allows people to share their views without fear of being silenced and should not be taken for granted but safeguarded and cherished in Remembrance of past sacrifices.
TUSCANY DIAZ FLORED KIDD, Grade 10, Meadowridge School
Tuscany thoughtfully analyses the meaning of democracy as it relates to the voice of the people and the important right of the individual vote. She contemplates the imperfection of democracy and some of its flaws. Her views expand upon the possible impact of too much wealth negatively influencing elections. Tuscany believes the right to vote and voice ones’ opinion to influence government is everyone’s responsibility and gives interesting examples. She states that democracy is “…for everyone and supposed to be a balance between the government and individual…”
MAGGIE JOURDREY, Grade 10, Meadowridge School
Maggie commences by stating why freedom and democracy are important and her belief that gratitude lies with the sacrifices of Veterans. She narrates about Canada’s military engagements in past wars and the toll taken on humanity. Maggie expresses interesting views about the losses and gains from military conflict. Maggie expresses how she believes democracy is worth defending. She encourages the reader to Remember Canada’s Fallen “… as we owe everything to them for our democracy and freedom and making our lives easier than people under dictatorships…”
OLIVER LOW, Grade 10, Meadowridge School
Oliver draws the reader into the present day Russian invasion of Ukraine. He reminds us of the sacrifices affording us a free and democratic society in which we can continue to enjoy peaceful, prosperous lives. Oliver reflects on past wars wherein countries with democratic societies emerged with almost always a more developed and happier population than those under autocracies. Oliver shares his views on how Canada’s standing in the world is defined by our Military support for democracy and continued Peacekeeping operations. “…Remembering Fallen Canadians both honours them and our efforts to defend democracy…and is a responsibility we must take seriously…”
XINYI AMY LUI, Grade 10, Meadowridge School
“…Freedom is a simple word for a thing too big to describe…” is Amy’s belief, bringing emphasis to its significance. She describes her views on the Second World War and the devastating losses. Amy further expands on her understanding of some of the impacts from the invasion by Russia on the Ukraine. She encourages the reader not to take democracy for granted. She sensitively honours Veterans “…who shaped the world we inherited… thank you for everything you have done for the world and when you are ready, hand the controls over to the next generation. We promise we will take good care of it…”
SAFIYA PATEL, Grade 10, Meadowridge School
Using Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine as a backdrop in explaining democracy Safiya then expands upon the devastation of the Second World War and why it was important for Allied Nations to prevail. She shares her interesting views on the pros and cons of war. Safiya believes democracy leads to better outcomes for religion, equality, people empowerment and peace. She reinforces the need for proper Military training and equipment to make good decisions in unexpected situations and unfamiliar places. Remembrance is always important “…to honour those who have served, are serving or have Fallen for our nation…”
CARYL SZETO, Grade 10, Gleneagle Secondary School
Caryl engages the reader in stating, “…in order to achieve our outstanding quality of life, Canada has had to fight for the democracy and liberty of other countries, proving its commitment to fundamental beliefs of freedoms and rights…” Her sound understanding of the benefits of world alliances is mature. She interestingly describes democracy as a paradox. Even though war results in substantial loss war can also “…ignite innovation and development, free countries, fight for equality and trail blaze pathways for treaties.. like the United Nations…” Caryl’s beliefs make one think.
Overview of All Other Entrants, Grades 11 and 12
SI YU LUCYCHEN, Grade 11, Garibaldi Secondary School
Lucy expresses interesting philosophical beliefs. She takes the reader back to Indigenous warriors and those who have sacrificed themselves for others.She views Canada as a “… seedling, battle after battle, sacrifice after sacrifice, the seed sprouts and begins to flower, it is still young, however it is strong…and one day to become a powerful tree withstanding any storm…” Achieving this is alliances and working together. Her interesting examples keep the reader engaged. “…forgetting the past is easy…without the past humanity would not be where it is today and even further tragedy could be averted through reflection and Remembrance…”
ANGELA WANG, Grade 12, Meadowridge School
Angela puts Canada into perspective relative to other world democracies, drawing in the present day Russian invasion of the Ukraine. She embellishes this with her views on the United Nations, NATO and NORAD and Canada’s prominent role, past and present. Admirably, Angela shares her experience growing up in China where elections were never hosted and censorship and propaganda were common. “…The fight for democracy has come a long way from the past to the present and foreseeably into the future…”
YANKORI STEVEN WEI, Grade 12, Meadowridge School
Steven presents interesting views about democracy and some of the “fatal flaws” possibly perpetuated by: “…media’s domination by parties; lack of political education; and corruption in the voting system…” Steven believes citizens need to be properly informed to ensure the rightful independent power of the vote. He urges his peers to pay attention to politics and urges the education system to be earlier in teaching about civics and democracy. “…as a new generation of society, students must start to realize political challenges…the battle for more freedom is not yet over…”
Awards Presentation Ceremony
An Awards Presentation Ceremony was held on Saturday, 25 February 2023, at British Columbia Regiment (DCO) Officers Mess in Vancouver.
Image: Chelsey Simpkins and Michelle Flintermann, faculty at Meadowridge School; Isabella Zhang, Emiko Smith, Aanya Dau, Aasha Askew, students at Meadowridge School; Mariam Slewa of Holy Cross Regional High School; Lt Col (Ret’d) Archie Steacy; not present: Jason Lee and Amy Xu of Meadowridge School
Image: Sample of the Award Certificate received by the students
Emiko Smith with Lt Col (Ret’d) Archie Steacy
Aanya Dau with Lt Col (Ret’d) Archie Steacy
Mariam Slewa with Lt Col (Ret’d) Archie Steacy
Isabella Zhang with Lt Col (Ret’d) Archie Steacy
Lt Col (Ret’d) Archie Steacy with Michelle Flintermann and Chelsey Simpkins accepting on behalf of Jason Lee and Amy Xu, respectively
Aasha Askew with Lt Col (Ret’d) Archie Steacy
Winning Submissions – Grades 7 to 9
Emiko Smith, Meadowridge School
1st award: $1000
Freedom, Democracy, Canada – A Reflection on Canada’s Role in Past Wars in Light of the Current Conflict in the Ukraine
Wars and conflicts play a critical role in the advancement of freedom and democracy. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been growing since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. However, at the dawn of February 24th, 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, starting what is now known as the Russo-Ukrainian war. Since then, over 7.6 million refugees have fled and there have been over 6,000 casualties of innocent children, families, and other civilians. This hostile military operation has had devastating impacts all over the world and is one of the largest refugee crises since World War II. Despite the horrendous and unnecessary loss of life and other devastating impacts, conflicts and wars can secure freedoms, strengthen military alliances, defend democracy, and carry forward a legacy of remembrance. Given the catastrophic real-world experience of Russia’s war with Ukraine, it is essential to consider democracy, freedom, and remembrance.
Past conflicts and wars have played a crucial role in protecting democracy in Canada and around the world. The sacrifices made in the Korean War, World War II, and Afghanistan have all aided in the security of this freedom. Occurring between June 25th, 1950, to July 27th, 1953 the Korean War is commonly regarded as “One of the bloodiest wars in history” (Armstrong). In 1895 Korea became a colony of Japan. However, in 1948, South Korea was declared a republic. During the war, over 5 million lives were lost and thousands more people were either severely wounded or impacted. Of the nearly 26,000 Canadians who fought on land, 516 brave soldiers lost their lives. The war finally ended in 1953 when an armistice agreement was signed between North and South Korea. About 40 years after the end of the Korean War, South Koreans had “Built a fully democratic western-style government” (PBS). Additionally, World War II played a crucial role in securing freedom and democracy all over the world. On June 26th, 1945, the United Nations was formally established in San Fransisco, California. 51 different countries signed a charter to agree to maintain international security and peace. This impacted the world by promoting human rights, maintaining positive relations among nations, and promoting social progress (“History of the UN”). Lastly, Canada has provided humanitarian assistance to the citizens of Afghanistan since the early 1960s. Two examples of this are support and education. Canada has accepted refugees, set up an all-girls high school, and helped to educate citizens over the past 20 years (Global Affairs Canada). Also, more than 40,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces fought in the Afghanistan war and there were 158 casualties. In order to aid in the social progression of Afghanistan, Canadians have both fought the Taliban and educated citizens. To summarize, due to the sacrifices made in past wars such as The Korean War, World War II, and the Afghanistan War, freedom and democracy have been protected in Canada and around the world.
Canada’s military alliances are critical for defending democracy and ensuring the security of freedoms around the world. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are allied with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and the United Nations (UN). NATO is a partner of the CAF in “Defence, security, and peace” (Government of Canada). As one of the founding members of NATO, Canada helps to guard and protect the freedoms of countries all over North America and Europe (Government of Canada). This is because if one country in NATO is attacked, the other members are required to come to its aid and provide military support. The CAF restores peace and security all over the globe and protects the interests of Canada (freedom and democracy) in relation to that of other countries. Next, NORAD is an alliance between Canada and other North American countries, working mainly with the United States of America. The three missions for NORAD are aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning. These missions help to ensure the safety and security of North American countries by both protecting and defending the continent. Finally, the UN is another Canadian ally. The UN is a “Mission partner in peace and security” (Government of Canada). This means, as a member of the UN, the CAF works to help prevent conflicts between nations and increase security around the world. Examples of this include using military assets for peacekeeping, conducting Peace Support Operations, and ensuring national stability and security in a country. When nations engage in war there are devastating economic impacts, a large toll on life, and a plethora of sacrifices made. Inflation, an increase in national debt, and a loss of GDP for the countries at war are all examples of economic impacts and millions of casualties, selfless sacrifices, and more are all examples of the devastating impacts on nations when they engage in war. In conclusion, Canada has military alliances to protect freedoms and democracy and there are countless devastating impacts on nations upon engaging in war.
The triumph of democracy is critical in ensuring national security and freedoms. “Democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are central elements of Canada’s foreign policy” (Government of Canada). The future of this nation is democracy for it is essential for allowing the voices of citizens to be heard, ensuring fundamental human rights, and allowing for the security of Canada. “By protecting, promoting, and expanding our democratic values and institutions, we will create a more secure, stable, and prosperous world for future generations” (Government of Canada). Electing a leader to represent a community allows for freedom of opinion and expression and allows for the concerns of people to matter. Overall, the future of Canada is a democracy, and the leaders of this nation will continue to represent the voices of the citizens.
Honouring the fallen veterans of this nation and their selfless sacrifices is crucial to carrying forward their legacy and ensuring the same mistakes do not repeat themselves in the future. War means destruction, death, and the loss of loved ones. “By remembering all who have served, we recognize their willingly-endured hardships and fears, taken upon themselves so that we could live in peace” (Carleton University). The courage and sacrifices made by veterans have been critical in establishing Canada into what it is today, and it is because of their selfless acts that we are able to live in a free nation. To carry forward this legacy, education and awareness are crucial to avoid repeating the same mistakes. A simple act such as wearing a red, Flanders poppy on Remembrance Day connects us to our past and shows a token of respect and remembrance for the fallen military personnel of Canada. Finally, it is essential to protect the freedom and democracy that these veterans fought for to ensure the security of our nation and protect others because freedom is not given, it is earned. In conclusion, the remembrance of catastrophic real-world experiences is essential for earning and protecting the right to a triumphant, democratic society.
- Armstrong, Charles. “Korean War.” World Book Advanced, 2022
- BBC News. “Russian Invasion of Ukraine Could Cause Global Food Crisis, UN Warns – BBC News.” YouTube, 21 May 2022
- Carleton University. “Why We Remember – Remembrance Day.” Carleton.ca, 2016
- Center for Preventive Action. “Conflict in Ukraine.” Global Conflict Tracker, 2015
- Global Affairs Canada. “Canada-Afghanistan Relations.” GAC, 2021
- Government of Canada. “Allies and Government Partners.” Canada.ca, 2018
- Government of Canada. “Prime Minister Focuses on Protecting Democracy at Summit for Democracy.” Canada, 2021
- “History of the UN.” Un.org, 2015
- International Rescue Committee. “Ukraine War: What Are the Impacts on the World Today?” The IRC, 2022
- John Douglas Belshaw. “9.4 the Cold War.” Opentextbc.ca, BCcampus, 17 May 2016
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “Relations with Ukraine.” NATO, 2022
- PBS. “Hidden Korea.” Pbs.org, 2022
- Pettinger, Tejvan. “Economic Impact of War.” Economics Help, 24 Feb. 2022
- Stacey, C. P. “Second World War (WWII).” Thecanadianencyclopedia.ca, 2021
- “United Nations Charter (1945).” National Archives, 23 Sept. 2021
- Veterans Affairs Canada. “Korean War – Veterans Affairs Canada.” Veterans.gc.ca, 2022
Mariam Slewa, Holy Cross Regional High School
Honourable Mention: $100
The Triumph of Canada’s Democracy
Democracy is the benchmark of western civilization. It has been 104 years since the end of Canada’s first international war, a war that was fought bravely to secure peace and freedom. Since then, the nation has been marking the end of the war in a ceremony much respected. Every November 11th at 11 am, we take a moment of silence to remember and pray for the brave men who sacrificed their lives serving others and the women who bravely served to heal the injured. As a student, I have the duty to commemorate this day at my school’s Remembrance Day ceremony because, without the service and sacrifice of these courageous men and women, I would be living a very different life now; a life with limited rights and basic freedoms. Such a life is all too common in today’s world with conflict and the dissolution of fundamental human rights.
My grandparents are very familiar with living life in a country of conflict and war. My family comes from Iraq, a country that was ruled by a dictator for many years. As a result, they lived through the Gulf War and the Kurdish Uprising. Such a time was filled with fear and uncertainty as to what the future holds for them and their children (my mother, aunt, and uncle). After surviving these conflicts, my grandparents decided that life under a dictator was far too dangerous to raise their three children, so they embarked on leaving the country to start a life elsewhere; a place that was safe. After four years of living a refugee life, they settled in Surrey, Canada, in 1995. This marked the first time that my family began to understand and live a life with rights, freedoms, and opportunities. Where would my family be without such a country? A country that has welcomed so many from war and other hostilities. Therefore, I am very appreciative that I live here in a country where I can get a quality education, interact with friends without the threat of bombs, and pursue opportunities for a bright future. A life such as this is only provided in a democracy. Life cannot flourish under an autocracy. For this reason, Remembrance Day means much more to the many who are thankful for a peaceful life.
In addition to protecting the rights and freedoms of Canadians on our lands, I am thankful that our Canadian military forces also seek to protect the rights and freedoms of others. Since 2001, Canada has fought in the Afghanistan War where our Canadian soldiers have pushed away the autocratic rulership of the Taliban. These Canadian men and women, along with our allies, have helped to establish a country that changed the lives of many for the better. For example, under the Taliban, girls have not been able to have a quality education. Females who have been forced into marriage have not been able to make contact with other women who are lawyers and judges to help them end their arranged marriages. When the Taliban were defeated, the US and its allies were able to help the country set up a democratic system of government. Even though there were problems and setbacks, people began to live a life of choice: freedom to choose their careers, especially for women, freedom to move about without the necessary male escort, and freedom from fear. Although Afghanistan has reverted to an autocracy after the allies withdrew, the Canadian military still made a significant contribution, which is something we should all be proud of as a country.
Moreover, such efforts and contributions on the part of many men and women in our armed forces should be celebrated and remembered because these are acts of heroism, courage, and fortitude. Therefore, remembrance is one way to uphold our democracy because if we, as a nation, do not acknowledge these acts, then we have failed to appreciate what was fought on our behalf for so long. It is our civic responsibility to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our democracy and the establishment of democracies elsewhere. Every year during our Remembrance Day assembly, our school takes two minutes of silence for those who have fallen to protect our democracy and to pray for their souls. We all wear our poppies and listen to the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. However, is this enough though? Should these brave men and women be remembered and thanked only one day, or for two minutes, in a year? Are we doing enough as a society to look after them, to learn from their experiences? Perhaps this is something we need to work on as a nation that has had many soldiers, including peacemakers and peacekeepers, fighting in major wars and conflicts around the world. Nonetheless, Remembrance Day is significant because it helps us to pause from our busy lives and reflect on what we have due to the sacrifices of these fallen men and women and the ones who still continue to protect our rights and freedoms.
Thus, democracy is the guide to our civilization and without it, we would all be living unbearable lives. Even though our world today is struggling to uphold people’s fundamental rights and freedoms, all nations still have an obligation to try to establish better relations through diplomacy. Our armed forces play an important part in this because they help maintain peace and bring security to areas of conflict, such as Afghanistan. I am very pleased that Canada takes on this obligation because my family knows too well that life in an autocratic country can be brutal and dangerous. Although I cannot imagine the sacrifice they had to make, and still do, I am grateful that they did because I live in a country that is strong and free, and, like them, I will “stand on guard for thee.”
Winning Submissions – Grades 10 to 12
Isabella Zhang, Meadowridge School
1st Award: $1000
Where the Fraser River runs, the Malcolm Knapp Forest grows, and the Elk Mountain stands, British Columbia is the land of splendour without diminishment, Splendor sine occasu. Like the other 9 provinces and 3 territories, BC is home to a diverse population. From Indigenous peoples to immigrants, the one commonality all Canadians have is the freedom of democracy. No matter race, gender, sexuality, or religion, most Canadians never have to pay the price for living on 944,735 square kilometers of free and glorious land. Unlike generations past, we don’t bear the grunt of protecting the rights and freedoms of millions; we never have to step foot onto a battlefield for the sake of democracy. We never need to pick up a gun for the sake of democracy. We never need to experience the grief of seeing a comrade die for the sake of democracy.
Having lived in Canada all my life, I have the privilege of saying I have never experienced communism, autocracy, or dictatorship. Except I come from a land where the suppression of thought is commonplace, and the silencing of assertions is routine. Believing in the wrong religion, expressing the wrong opinion, or speaking against the norm may result in death or incarceration. As a minority that has family and friends in a country that is not democratic and is engaged in war constantly, it’s especially important for me to support democracy and ensure that I do not forget the terrible things that come out of running a country not based on the rights and freedoms of all.
Being so privileged as to live in a country that has been democratic for 156 years, we often forget the true implications of war. We think of it as a long-forgotten phenomenon, something barbarically unfathomable. When we say war, oftentimes the first thing that comes to mind is the South African War, where for the first time in history, Canada dispatched troops to an overseas war, or the Korean War, where over 26,000 Canadians served in the land, sea and air forces, or perhaps the Gulf War, where 4,000 Canadians served as part of a Coalition to remove invading forces of Iraq. The commonality between these wars is that all of them happened decades ago. Nothing but a distant memory. In Canadian history, one of the most memorable wars we participated in alongside our Allied nations was World War Two, a global conflict that started in 1939 and lasted until 1945. 1.1 million Canadians served in the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war, resulting in 44,090 deaths. World War 2 was not only extremely important in the formation of a sovereign identity for Canadians, but it also played a major role in demonstrating Canada’s willingness to fight for the triumph of democracy. Of its free will, Canada joined the war on September 10th, 1939, because she saw the threat that Nazi Germany posed to democracy. Hitler and the Nazi party threatened the very fabric of basic human rights; the ability to speak freely, think freely, and believe freely was being ripped away from citizens under a relentless dictatorship. From the very beginning, Canadians stepped up to the plate, enveloped themselves in the fighting, and stood their ground for the sake of protecting those who could not protect themselves. Our soldiers witnessed their comrades dying in the trenches from hepatitis and experienced watching their comrades being singed alive by flamethrowers. No matter what, though, our soldiers stood brave and true. Despite the horrors and atrocities they witnessed, our heroes didn’t stop fighting until the bitter end, when democracy triumphed over tyranny, when dictatorship was overthrown, and peace was restored to the global stage. If the Allied Powers lost, if Canada were to have not demonstrated her dedication to democracy, the world today would be ruled by an unforgiving tyrant, suppressing diversity of thought and representation. Minorities would be exterminated, women would have no voice, and the premise of equality would be nonexistent; this is what dictatorship and autocracy look like. This was the world our heroes sacrificed themselves to prevent.
But war isn’t just something that remains in the past. War doesn’t only take the form of World War One or Two. In the status quo, the horrors of war remain and continue for many people. Take the war between Ukraine and Russia, for instance. On February 14, 2022, the Russian military entered major cities in Ukraine, causing 6300 civilian deaths in the span of a few months. Russia’s invasion was sparked by a combination of many ongoing issues in the area, but the main factor was their fear of Ukraine joining NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Founded in 1949, NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 member states, including Canada. In times of conflict, members of NATO come to each other’s aid in the form of weapons, armies, or money. Operation Display Deterrence, Operation Ocean Shield, and Operation Unified Protector are all conflicts NATO has come up with a resolution for, preventing conflicts that could have escalated into a global disaster. Although Ukraine is not an official member of NATO, they are a close ally of Canada. The countries have a bilateral relationship rooted in the Ukrainian-Canadian community of 1.3 million people. Yet Canada, along with the rest of Ukraine’s democratic allies, is allowing Russia to continuously destroy Ukrainian land and independence out of fear of causing a larger conflict. This teaches Russia that it’s okay to impede Ukraine’s democracy and shows the rest of the world that a country’s allies are not willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of protecting those without a weapon. Would our fallen heroes be proud of Canada’s tolerance of undemocratic values being imposed on our allies? Would our fallen heroes be proud of Canada’s pardoning of undemocratic actions out of fear of retaliation? Would our past heroes have sacrificed themselves if they knew present-day Canada bowed out of conflicts because of the fear of further conflict despite the well-trained and well-equipped Military, Regular, and Reserve Forces ready to be deployed? Although all nations involved in conflict lose resources, what is gained is astronomically more valuable; we gain the ability to protect more lives, defend our values, and show the world that imposing sanctions on freedoms is not something that will be tolerated.
Canada has a stellar military that all citizens should be proud of. Service, sacrifice, and valour have established Canada as a respectable country, one that is among the best to live in. In Canada’s Books of Remembrance, an astounding 66,755 Canadians are listed. 66,755 dead for the sake of democracy. 66,755 families grieving for the sake of democracy. 66,755 Canadians, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children gone for the sake of democracy. It is only because of these sacrifices that make Canada what it is today. In honor of our heroes past and present, we have Remembrance Day every year on November 11th to stop and sit. Sit in the knowledge that we are failing our heroes. War for many may seem like a distant thought, something far across the horizon, but this is not the case. Ukraine, Afghanistan, North Korea; these are a fraction of the places that need liberation, yet because we only remember that there were sacrifices made but have forgotten what the sacrifices were for, there are countries out there, Canada’s allies, in need of freedom from oppression. In World War One, our soldiers fought for the creation of new nation-states, giving independence to those who wanted to become democracies. In World War Two, our soldiers fought to liberate Nazi Germany from the rule of Hitler, reinstalling a democratic, federal parliamentary republic in Germany. None of these conflicts directly involved Canada, yet thousands upon thousands of lives were given to uphold democracies. The self-serving democracy of the status quo was not what our heroes would have died for. We must let our soldiers rest easy knowing that what they fought for, freedom and liberation for all, is being achieved. To truly honor the sacrifices made in the name of Canada, in the name of democracy, we must start by remembering. Not just remembering the lives lost, but why their lives were lost. Right now is a critical time in history for the future of democracy; if we allow governments as seen in Russia to push the boundaries of freedom and peace, we open the floodgates for other countries to do the same. The sacrifices of our past heroes go to waste if we allow atrocities on democracy to keep occurring, if we allow our allies to become autocracies, and if we allow our allies to be dominated by a dictator. We have lost millions of lives in the past, but we will lose millions more if we do not take advantage of the democracy we gained because of them. As a democratic state, in order to keep being proud of our military, we must fully bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy of others who cannot defend themselves. On this Remembrance Day, pause and think past the lives that were lost, for what is lost will never return. Instead, think of what can be done to properly uphold and honor those who sacrificed themselves, and how we can support democracy past the borders of Canada like what was done before. This is the price we pay for living on democratic soil. A small price to pay in order to be free, glorious, and proud.
Jason Lee, Meadowridge School
2nd Award: $250
War and The Triumph of Democracy
Soldiers huddled in the muddy trenches, shellfire reigning in the distance. Bombers rained death from the sky, destroying homes, factories, schools, and hospitals, leaving cities a deserted look of suffering, pain, and death. Civilians, the young and old, are buried alive by debris. Seemingly, the Angel of Death has visited and breathed on their faces his deadly breath. In the history of humanity, over one billion people have died in warfare. The two World Wars caused one of the enormous losses the world has ever experienced. We fought wars for economic gain, territory, nationalism, revenge, and revolution. We fight for defence. Above all, we fight to protect our way of life – our free world, our democracy. We must remember the terror of war and why democracy has come ahead. War and its remembrance are a prerequisite to preserve diplomacy and attribute democracy as a system of a peaceful society.
The war to end all wars. World War One, which lasted from July 28, 1914, to November 11, 1918, was one of the deadliest wars in history, claiming millions of lives. The tens of thousands of Canadians who lost their lives in battle were not spared. However, Canada came out of the First World War as a proud, victorious country with elevated stature around the world. With a strong sense of patriotism, the 1st Canadian Division’s initial contingent of 33,000 soldiers hurriedly set sail for England in October 1914. Five Canadian divisions had been deployed by the spring of 1917, creating the Canadian Corps. In April 1917, the entire corps engaged in coordinated combat for the first time in northern France, where it distinguished itself by seizing Vimy Ridge. This corps established an admirable track record in combat and served as the world’s first genuine representation of Canada, displaying unmatched bravery and prowess. Because of its power and reputation, Canada could not be treated as a simple colony. On September 10, 1939, the first contingents of Canadian troops arrived in the United Kingdom to support the British Expeditionary Forces as the second world war broke out. Similar to the first global war, the Canadian military fought fiercely. Our soldiers gained a reputation as an elite force in Hong Kong, Dieppe, Normandy, and hundreds of other conflicts, which were essential to the outcomes of the two world wars. Canadian soldiers have led the charge in battles to defend our democracy and freedom in the ensuing conflicts.
The skeleton of democracy, or those political institutions that hold democratic leaders accountable to the people’s consent, and the spirit of democracy, which emphasizes the development of individual rights, responsibility, and initiative, are the two crucial facets of the democratic character that best explain democratic victory. Democracies do not prevail because the political elites assemble strong alliances or groups of liberal states. They do not win because the ruling classes in their nations can use more of the state’s industrial capacity for war. Governments only initiate wars they are confident they will win when they must answer to the populace’s will (and wrath). Democratic elites are much less likely than elites of other types of states to launch rash military campaigns because democratic political institutions build the necessary pause to obtain consent into the policy-making process.
Furthermore, out-producing or out-mobilizing their adversaries do not help democracies win wars. Both democratic institutions and autocratic regimes do not extract proportionately more from their populations when it comes to generating the wealth required to create and maintain robust militaries. Combat is more than just the grim reaper’s arithmetic of soldiers and weapons, awarding victory to the side that tips the scales. Fundamentally, it is about the abilities, motivations, and skills of specific soldiers, whose conduct reflects the societies from which they originate. We have expanded on this conventional belief to emphasize the political context from which soldiers are recruited. More effective armed forces are produced in free societies. Additionally, citizen soldiers excel over their rivals on the battlefield and rise to the occasion. Finally, by luring an enemy army’s soldiers into surrender with the promise of humane treatment as prisoners of war, free societies can also subvert and irreparably weaken an enemy force.
At least three ways distinguish democracy from other workable systems of government. It first promotes freedom in a way that no other workable option can. Second, the democratic process supports human development, including the ability to exercise moral autonomy, personal responsibility, and self-determination. Finally, it is the most reliable way for people to safeguard and advance the interests and assets they jointly own. Democracies are capable of self-defence and are less likely to start foolish wars. These two facts directly result from the people’s control over the government and the exercise of their rights therein, not from aristocratic leaders using the exclusive international privileges of power.
There has long been conflict between those who believe that war is an evil that can and must be permanently eliminated and those who believe it is inevitable and, in some cases, preferable and righteous to an unjust peace. There is a conflict between those who see humankind as naturally “fallen” and prone to giving in to the temptations of avarice, power, fear, and xenophobia and those who look forward to human nature and institutions becoming perfect. Many believe using force as a last resort to defend human rights and lives or stop genocide is justified. Yet war is destructive, results in the deaths of innocent people, and continuously jeopardizes both domestic and international human rights.
Many supposedly peaceful societies are anything but peaceful. Some of them go through endemic violence that is more deadly than war. Conventional peace agreements or peacekeepers cannot improve these, only through better governance. Nearly nine out of ten violent deaths occur in nations and states that are not traditionally at war. Especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, criminal violence committed by drug cartels and gangs is surging, leading to an unprecedented rise in homicides worldwide. State security forces continue to use excessive force and commit acts of mass violence against their citizens. The new adversaries of the twentieth century are state repression and organized crime. These difficulties are not exclusive to poor, fragile, or failed states. Although historically, with the fall of the Weimar Republic and currently with Latin America, economically failing states almost always see the violent and contentious rise of autocrats, fifteen of the fifty most violent cities in the world in 2017 are in Mexico, fourteen are in Brazil, and four are in the United States. Additionally, as Western hegemony wanes and geopolitical rivalries re-emerge, the risk of war rises.
On the eleventh month, the eleventh day and the eleventh hour – we remember. We commemorate major historical conflicts, revolutions, and world wars. But above all, we must remember the troops who served in defence of our nation and improved our quality of life. Soldiers battled throughout these well-known historical events to protect our right to democracy. The battles we fought in the past and now to be Canadian are woven into the fabric of our nation’s history. We must keep in mind that wars have lasting effects that affect people of all faiths, cultures, and backgrounds both physically and psychologically, both individually and collectively, long after the armistice. The basic human rights, the rule of law, and democracy are among the foundational ideals for which wars have been waged. We must never forget these ideals and fight to uphold them.
We must remember our conflicts as the bridge to disentangling war and peace. We fought to protect our way of life, to make free decisions and live harmoniously with others. Wherever the path leads, we shall remember the sacrifices that protected our freedom and fight to defend our democracy as we always have.
- Warmuseum.ca, Canada and the First World War
- United Nations, United Nations, “Democracy”
- Veterans Affairs Canada, 18 May 2022, “First World War (1914 – 1918)”
- The Canadian Encyclopedia, “First World War (WWI)”
- Granatstein, Macleans.ca, “How the First World War Changed Canada”
- Kutz, Christopher. On War and Democracy. Princeton University Press, 2016
- Government of Canada / Gouvernement Du Canada, 16 June 2022, “Major Second World War Battles and Campaigns”
- Mortom, William Lewis. Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., “World War I”
- Roser, Max, and Hannah Ritchie. Our World in Data, 6 July 2013, “Homicides”
- The Canadian Encyclopedia, “Second World War (WWII)”
- Veterans Affairs Canada, 19 May 2022, “Second World War”