|SPEECH: National Day of Service Bill S-240|
Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
Hon. Pamela Wallin moved second reading of Bill S-240, An Act respecting a national day of service to honour the courage and sacrifice of Canadians in the face of terrorism, particularly the events of September 11, 2001.
She said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Bill S-240, an act that will designate September 11 each year as a national day of service.
I would first like to call the attention of the chamber to two guests in the gallery today. They are Maureen Basnicki, whose husband, Ken, was one of the 24 Canadians killed on September 11, 2001; and Danny Eisen from the Canadian Coalition Against Terrorism. Welcome. We appreciate you being here today.
I was approached by the Canadian Coalition Against Terror and the Canadian 9/11 families who asked us as senators to find a way not only to remember their loss but also to remind us all of the many kindnesses of strangers and the many hands that reached out to someone in need during and since that horrific day.
I support this bill because I believe we must remember what happened on 9/11 and remember those from 90 countries who lost their lives, including the 24 Canadians who perished. We should also mark this day because it changed all of us forever and we must turn the mourning into memory and the anger into action.
Inspired by the American 9/11 families, the Canadians asked us to consider a national day of service. Bill S-240, which proposes a national day of service, is a unifying, nonpartisan bill that everyone can support.
In March of this year, the United States passed a similar bipartisan bill called the Serve America Act, co-sponsored by 42 senators who worked together to create a constructive and compassionate way for generations to come to remember.
Since the passage of the Serve America Act, thousands of organizations — non-profit, faith-based, employers — have mobilized hundreds of thousands of Americans; people such as Tiffany Bohm in Chicago, Illinois and her classmates who launched a project to collect 2,974 pairs of shoes, representing each person lost in the 9/11 attacks, and donate them to a homeless shelter.
John Henry and Ellie Labriola of Southbury, Connecticut set up a lemonade stand the week before school began and raised more than $100 to donate to a school uniform drive for other school children in need. In Atlanta, Georgia, Lilli Love and her friends delivered goodie baskets to fire and police stations as a way of paying tribute to the first responders of 9/11.
This is the sort of volunteerism we hope Bill S-240 will recognize and inspire in this country.
This is a simple bill. There are not a lot of complicated clauses or legal language. It does not oblige us to participate or fund any ceremony, and there are no mandatory provisions within it. It is simply about the spirit of giving back, or perhaps of paying it forward.
It began almost spontaneously. A friend whose son was supposed to be on a plane from Boston on 9/11 called to ask whether, if his boy made it to Toronto, he could have a place to stay. Of course, family was already huddled together. We called friends and family together because we needed the safety and comfort of connectedness in the face of an act that shattered our comfort zone.
That week, I was awaiting cancer surgery. Tuesday, the morning of the 11th, I rose early making all the preparations that one does in the face of such uncertainty; bills paid, will updated, and thank yous to those who had gathered as my safety net. I turned on my television to witness the unimaginable. As the towers defied the miracle of modern architecture and tumbled down, my father quietly noted that this would prove bigger than Pearl Harbour.
Too young to remember the true devastation of war but old enough to recollect the images of troops in our streets when Canada faced the threat of the FLQ, we all somehow understood together that the world had changed.
I knew that my surgery would be delayed as Sunnybrook Hospital is a designated international trauma centre, and hundreds of survivors, we all thought, would surely be flown to Canada for treatment. None came. There were none to come.
I vowed that if I survived my own surgery I would try to pay it forward. Still I was struggling with the randomness, the profound unfairness of it all. Thousands who simply boarded a plane or who rode the elevator to the office as they had done countless times before, perished for no other reason than they symbolized all that we cherish about our life — our freedom; the freedom to work, to live, to love, to speak our mind, to disagree and criticize and make change.
Several weeks later, I was honoured to host the Canada Loves New York event at the behest of Senator Grafstein and others. Nearly 25,000 Canadians filled the famous Roseland Ballroom in New York City and spilled out on that city's streets to show support.
Prime Minister Chrétien came, as did Mayor Guiliani. Our singers and artists reached out with their voices and words and images of our flags entwined. Canadian firemen and police honoured their American colleagues and brought equipment and spirit and money to help.
At the end of this amazing day, a nurse, who had worked all night before getting into her car to drive the 10 long hours south, had taken up a collection in her hospital coffee room. She sought me out and almost apologetically handed me the envelope with the 60 or so dollars she had collected. She asked only that it go to a family, a widow or a child in need, and entrusted me with the task. The tears streamed down our cheeks.
It was that simple yet extraordinary act that today motivates me to ask all of you to support this bill so that we might always find a reason in our hearts to make kindness a part of our life and to always act to counter the hatred that inspired the heinous acts of 9/11.
Bill S-240 was introduced in this chamber in Senator Tkachuk's name on my behalf. I appreciate his willingness to do so because he too has worked tirelessly for the victims of 9/11 by introducing other bills, including Bill S-233, the state immunity bill currently before this chamber. Bill S-233 amends the State Immunity Act to prevent foreign states from claiming immunity from Canadian courts relating to their support of terrorism.
Bill S-233 also amends the Criminal Code to provide victims who suffer loss or damage as a result of terrorism with civil means to seek justice. Amnesty International as well as human rights activists support Senator Tkachuk's bill.
In the other place we have Bill C-35, the victims of terrorism bill introduced by the government in June. Bill C-35 will also amend the State Immunity Act and allow victims' families to seek compensation for terrorist acts committed outside of Canada.
These pieces of legislation recognize the victims' experiences and their suffering. It also sends a clear message that Canada will hold the sponsors and perpetrators of terrorism accountable for their crimes, and will help stem the flow of money to terrorists and expose the states that allow it.
With Bill S-240, a national day of service bill, the families hope to ensure that the lessons so painfully learned continue to resonate within our nation's heart. Bill S-240 will ensure that the passage of time or the ill-will of others will never somehow combine to diminish this tragedy. It will honour the victims of terrorism. It will pay tribute to all those who would not stand aside, but who stood up in the face of terrorism, particularly the men and women of our military.
To those who have fallen in the fight and to their families, we can never repay your sacrifice, but we are grateful for the willingness of your loved ones to risk their lives to protect ours. To those who still stand and fight so that this will never happen again, we honour them by understanding the true meaning of their mission: To create hope and to ensure that acts of kindness change lives.
The bill honours the selfless service of our civilian and military volunteers, which is far more persuasive and far more powerful than the hate they battle every day. This bill recognizes the spirit of our citizens who, through their acts of generosity to strangers, are a powerful inspiration to our children.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
(On motion of Senator Grafstein, debate adjourned.)