senators’ statements — Indigenous Veterans Day and Remembrance Day

November 30, 2021


Honourable senators, we now find ourselves, unbelievably, on the last day of November. I did not want to let the month pass without acknowledging, in this place, National Indigenous Veterans Day, which was November 8, and Remembrance Day on November 11. It is important that we continue to honour and remember those Canadians as well as those First Nations and Métis people who bravely served in the Canadian military. I am particularly proud of contributions made to the Armed Forces by my father, Private Lauchie MacKinnon, and my brother, Commander Charlie MacKinnon, during their time in service.

Throughout my time in the Senate and working with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I have had the opportunity to travel to many countries where I met with many of our incredible service men and women. Despite the many horrors of war and the toll it takes, not only on their physical bodies but on their mental health as well, these Canadians choose to serve. Their families also sacrifice in not having their loved ones near. Of course, with texting, Zoom, MS Teams and even email, things are much different than they were back in my father’s time when a letter home across the Atlantic could take weeks or months to arrive.

Honourable senators, last year I became an ambassador for VETS Canada. I am honoured to support this wonderful organization that aims to help veterans in need. VETS Canada was started in 2010 in Halifax by Jim Lowther, himself a veteran, to keep veterans who were living on the streets in high-risk situations from slipping through the cracks. Since then, he and his wife, Debbie, and a small team have grown the organization to provide aid of all sorts to veterans in need, including anything from groceries or helping to pay a power bill to emotional and mental-health support. They operate from coast to coast to coast with three drop-in support centres across the country and over 1,400 active volunteers.

One of the most successful initiatives run by VETS Canada has been the Guitars for Vets program. This program matches veterans or still-serving members who suffer from PTSD or other service-related disabilities with a gently used guitar, and it provides them with 10 free lessons with a guitar teacher online in order to put “the healing power of music in the hands of heroes.”

Earlier this month, I had the good fortune to attend a Guitars for Vets program in Halifax and to witness first-hand its profound impact. In this Circle of Service event, veterans were able to express themselves musically through songs they had written or learned to play through the Guitars for Vets program. The guest teacher and artist that day was Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea. Alan Doyle and Speaker Furey’s son Premier Andrew Furey were instrumental in starting the Dollar a Day Foundation, which provides funding to front line mental health and addictions programs across Canada. I thank them for their community spirit. This foundation provides funding to Guitars for Vets.

Honourable senators, I encourage you to check out VETS Canada and Guitars for Vets to see the valuable work they are doing. It is important that we not just acknowledge our veterans and their service on two designated days in the month of November, but that we do so all year round.