Canada
Manitoba, Calgary students can opt out of Remembrance Day ceremonies

Credits: SCOTT WISHART/QMI AGENCY

DAVE DORMER | QMI AGENCY

CALGARY -- Like their Edmonton counterparts, Calgary students are able to opt out of Remembrance Day ceremonies if their parents choose, officials said Thursday.

Noting it rarely happens, Calgary board of education spokeswoman Karen Drummond said students can withdraw from events and ceremonies.

"This is something we've had provisions for in our policy for quite some time," she said. "We have a policy that states parents have the option of withdrawing their student from activities on the grounds of religious beliefs.

"It's something that has been going on for some time and we're prepared to address whenever these things take place."

All schools in the Calgary public system hold ceremonies to observe Remembrance Day and very few students choose to not take part.

"I don't think we're seeing any increase in numbers," Drummond said. "It's a small number of students who opt out, but it's something that does happen."

All schools in the Calgary Catholic system observe Remembrance Day through ceremonies as well, and while they are able to, spokeswoman Janet Corsten said she isn't aware of any students choosing not to take part.

"If that was to occur and a parent was to request that their child be removed from a Remembrance Day ceremony, obviously we would work with the parents but it has never been a concern for us," she said. ""Oftentimes the Remembrance Day ceremonies are woven into liturgy, because we are a Catholic system."

While some expressed outrage at students being able to skip the ceremonies, retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie said earlier this week freely made choices should be honoured.

"It's unfortunate but there are all kinds of factors, especially when related to religion," said the 71-year-old veteran.

"That's an understandable reaction but if it's in rare cases, it's not fair or just to make a big deal out of it."

In Manitoba, schools are required to hold Remembrance Day exercises, but many in Winnipeg allow students to opt out of the ceremonies.

It's a little-known fact that students in some school divisions can abstain from Remembrance Day services, along with all other assemblies and events.

Ron Weston, superintendent of Winnipeg's St. James-Assiniboia School Division, said it's very seldom that a student chooses to skip Remembrance Day ceremonies, but it has happened on a few occasions. Weston recalled one reason was due to a religious objection, while another student chose not to participate in any patriotic observances.

Veterans and Royal Canadian Legion members say they just don't understand students opting out.

"I'm disappointed and I'm sure other veterans feel the same way," said Dennis Harvie, a navy veteran and command sergeant-at-arms with the Royal Canadian Legion.

"The kids should go there. If they don't, how are they going to remember anything?"

Rick Bennett, president of Manitoba North-Western command of the Royal Canadian Legion, said it's not too much to ask to expect students to honour Canada's veterans and the sacrifices they made.

"It's our history. It's our heritage. It's why they're allowed to opt out, because of what these people did," said Bennett, whose son has served three tours in Afghanistan. "And to spend, you know, 20 minutes or half an hour at a ceremony with a two-minute silence, I don't think that's too much to ask."

The Public Schools Act requires schools to hold a Remembrance Day exercise on the last school day before Nov. 11 each year.

QMI Agency was hard pressed to find a Winnipeg parent who agreed with students opting out of such ceremonies.

"I don't personally think they should be allowed to," said Tom Ziolkoski, whose father was a war veteran. "I don't think they should be allowed to opt out of Remembrance Day services. It's for all Canadians and if you're a Canadian, you should be going to Remembrance Day."

School divisions say principals deal with the issue on a case-by-case basis, and students are given an alternate activity if they do not want to participate in Remembrance Day exercises.

-- with files from QMI Agency

 

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