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Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Speech on the Occasion of the Order of Military Merit Investiture

Rideau Hall, Friday, May 31, 2002

As Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces and as Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, I am proud to be investing these 90 members of the Regular and Reserve Force into the Order of Military Merit.

This is an opportunity to thank all of you on behalf of the Canadian people. And this expression of gratitude extends not only to recipients but also to your family members for providing the support you need to perform your calling. I know that it is a happy moment for you and your family, and I trust that you will wear this medal with pride.

I mentioned that you have done your duty, which means that you have fulfilled an unspoken contract with the rest of your fellow citizens. To contribute to what has always been our commitment to the common good, a commitment which, along with a love we feel for Canada, unites every member of the military with every other Canadian, wherever they may be. It is this commitment that makes our country precious to us and makes a ceremony like this special.

You, the members of the military, have woven yourselves into the stuff of others’ lives, because what you do is part of us. Our military history is a large part of our story as a people and as a nation. And each of you, in your regiment, is part of Canada, past and present and, hopefully, future.

We’ve all been watching our Canadian Forces in recent months in a part of the world where they are either under hot sun or freezing at night, where the terrain is treacherous and mine fields abound.

The outpouring of national grief for the four men of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry shows that we understand deeply and viscerally the work that our Canadian Forces do. When I met the wounded coming into Germany directly from their shocking incident, I felt very deeply that I was representing all Canadians in telling the wounded that we cared about them and that we acknowledged their commitment. We honoured our dead at that moving ceremony in Edmonton which struck a deep chord within Canadian people.

As Commander-in-Chief, I received dozens of unsolicited letters which repeatedly told me how Canadians felt – from Duncan, British Columbia to New Bedford, Nova Scotia – how they felt about these deaths. Over and over again, words like “honour”, “obligation”, “pride”, “participation” are used. Ordinary Canadians understand what our Canadian Forces really represent to us. And for that I think we should be grateful – grateful that the country deeply understands sacrifice and the consequences of being in harm’s way.

Two days ago, I was in Winnipeg and I invited the parents of the wounded soldiers – three of the six wounded come from Winnipeg – and one of the wounded to tea. It was fascinating being in that room with the nine people – the parents, the wounded Corporal René Paquette, his wife and their baby.

When I first went to visit René Paquette in hospital in Ramstein, he was unconscious; the next morning, he was semi-conscious. And he told me that he saw me at that time and he thought he was dreaming – or that he had gone to heaven or something. Gripped in his hands was a picture of his 10-day old daughter. I said: “You’re going to be alright.” And he said: “I have to be alright, because I have to see her.”

Interestingly, for all three sets of parents, the husbands had been in the military. So we are talking about second-generation service to our country in uniform. I was very, very proud of that. And they had an understanding of what happened that I think helps us all – today and in the months to come. They also, I think, understand that Canadians now value, even grasp a bit, what their sons have done.

Today, we honour you who have distinguished yourselves by exemplary service in the Canadian Forces. You will remind us to never lose sight of the ideals that give us strength as a nation. Those ideals are embodied in the honours being awarded today.

On behalf of all Canadians, I thank you.

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