Print Edition: November 5, 2014
On October 22, Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau while guarding the Canadian War Memorial’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa. Currently the ceremonial guards are given standard-issue weapons without live ammunition while guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This makes no sense.
The ceremonial guard used to parade during the day and was then dismissed overnight. But on Canada Day 2006, after several people decided to desecrate the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by urinating on the memorial, there was a change in sentry duty, from parading during work hours to parading 24 hours. However, the ceremonial guard remained unarmed.
The guard is comprised of soldiers who have been on active duty. Many were involved in active regiments that have seen engagements at the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Ypres, Falais, and the Scheldt. These soldiers are not playing dress-up, they are not acting, nor are they retired; they are active military personnel. They’ve enlisted voluntarily, they were trained to the standards of the Department of National Defence, they are given weapons training and combat training, and many within the regiment have served on tours in Afghanistan. They know what they’ve signed up for. While on duty as the ceremonial guard, they remain soldiers and are given standard-issue bayonet blades, standard-issue rifles, and dress uniforms. But what they are not given is ammunition.
How are they to guard the War Memorial if they cannot physically perform their duty? What happens when they are attacked while guarding? As we have seen, they are killed. But even after the parliamentary shootings, the federal government stated it will not arm these guards. Instead they’ve said, according to the Ottawa Citizen, the sentries will be “more closely monitored by RCMP.”
This is a waste of time, resources, and personnel for the RCMP. The RCMP’s duty is to serve and protect the civilians of this country — not protect the soldiers. These soldiers are trained to protect themselves, but they need the means to do that. Our men and women should not be sent to defend us without ammunition. What is the use of having a guard who cannot actually guard?
While the positions around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier may be ceremonial, the sentries are not. They are soldiers. As such they should be treated like soldiers and not decorations. These soldiers are men and women enlisted to defend our country and our rights and freedoms, even through the position of sentries for domestic holdings. We should at least give the people who volunteered to defend us the ability to defend themselves.