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  • Ron Corbett

The Known Soldier – Nathan Cirillo



I saw a family walking by the national war memorial earlier this month. It was one of those spectacularly gorgeous autumn days we had leading up to Thanksgiving.

There was a young boy and girl, a mother and father, and when the family reached the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier they stopped. The two children then walked up to the tomb and laid a bouquet of flowers.

It was a planned act. The bouquet looked like one you would purchase in the Market. I assumed that is where the family had come from. Out-of-town visitors seeing the sights.

I happened to end up standing next to the family at a traffic light on Elgin Street. I nodded my head. The husband nodded back. As the family walked away I heard the boy say:

“How do you say his name again?”

“Cirillo,” I heard the mother say. “Nathan Cirillo.”

And I stood there in surprise.

This family had taken time to visit the National War Memorial, to purchase and then lay a bouquet of flowers, but not in honour of the Unknown Soldier.

In honour of the well-known soldier who died protecting him.

Nathan Cirillo, the twenty-five year old reservist from Hamilton who died after taking a single bullet in the chest on the morning of October 22, 2014.

Nearly a year after his killing, the tragedy still seems new to many Canadians. A death still discussed. A tragedy still debated.

Was the slaying of Nathan Cirillo an act of terrorism? The prime minister of the country and the leader of the official opposition disagreed on that point, in the days following the killing.

Stephen Harper said it clearly was. Thomas Mulcair said it was not an act of terror, but the act of a mentally unstable man.

I had waited for the death of Nathan CIrillo to become a talking point in the federal election, a clear point of difference between the federal leaders in the Grand Debate of out generation – How do you battle terrorism?

It never happened. There were some references to what occurred in Ottawa nearly a year ago, but little more.

Whether this was done out of respect to Cirillo’s family, or because we honestly don’t have a clue what motivated Michael ZehaF-Bibeau – I am glad it happened.

Glad the Cirillo family was spared the indignity of being used in some sort of poster campaign against ISIS. Used for political ends in a federal election.

For most Canadians, I don’t think the debate matters. Was this a terrorist act? Was Michael Zehaf Bibeau a terrorist?

What matters is a 25-year-old man left his home and family to travel to the capital of his country, so he could stand guard and protect one of his country’s most cherished symbols.

While standing sentry, the young man was slain. This was not happenstance. This is not open to debate.

Nathan Cirillo was killed because of what he was doing and what he represented -- Duty. Country. Respect.

It happened nearly a year ago, on a beautiful autumn day, in front of the National War Memorial, in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and in odd way it has given another dimension, another layer of meaning, to the Tomb.

It is right and proper that we do not know the name of the Unknown Soldier, that the young man who died in the mud of Vimy Ridge be anonymous, be every soldier who died at Vimy, or Hill 52, or Kandahar.

But the name of the person who died protecting that soldier? And that ideal?

We know that name.

Nathan Cirillo.


Original publication:

Ottawa Sun

October 26, 2015


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