Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tragedy forged new reality

Relations with U.S. profoundly altered

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WASHINGTON -- Like most people alive at the time, Gary Doer remembers clearly where he was and what he was doing when terrorists flew jetliners into iconic U.S. landmarks a decade ago.

Canada's current ambassador to the U.S. was serving as Manitoba premier, and received word that something terrible was happening in New York. Dozens of rerouted planes might be forced to land in Winnipeg, he was told.

Ten years later, Doer spent part of Tuesday walking through an exhibit at Canada's embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue called Remembering 9/11: Friends, Partners, Allies.

The memories are still fresh, Doer says. "The event is so current because of its horror," he said. "We all remember where we were that day."

And an event in the U.S. capital this week paying tribute to the Newfoundland community of Gander shows Americans haven't forgotten Canada's generosity regardless of any lingering post-9/11 tensions, Doer added.

Gander is getting the first international award at a day-long summit. Defence Minister Peter MacKay will join Doer and other Canadian officials, including the mayor of Gander, at a dinner at the Newseum, honouring the community at the event that pays tribute to 9/11 victims and those who responded to the terror attack.

"It's going to emphasize the hospitality and friendship in time of need," Doer said of the event.

"The people of Gander exemplify our friendship."

Gander International Airport offered safe haven to 38 commercial airliners and four military aircraft stranded over the North Atlantic when all air traffic was grounded on the chaotic morning of Sept. 11.

Almost 7,000 people and flight crew from 93 countries were housed and fed for days throughout Gander, which had 10,000 people. The show of solidarity to Americans, in particular, touched the United States, resulting in books, feature films and documentaries.

The Gander tribute, indeed, suggests a post-911 affection and appreciation for Canada in the United States that hasn't garnered as much media attention over the past 10 years as the tensions between the two nations. There have been frequent accusations from lawmakers that Canada has a porous border, and an insistence that the U.S.-Canadian boundary shouldn't be treated differently than America's border with Mexico, the site of deadly drug wars.

Some congressional representatives still believe the perpetrators of the attacks entered the U.S. via Canada. Doer himself was called upon to debunk the myth during last fall's mid-term elections.

"I find it pops up the odd time; we saw it a bit in the elections, but if you look at when people are asked questions about Canada relative to other countries, we come out pretty good."

Those misperceptions changed the relationship between the two countries. The attacks resulted in beefed-up border security that hurt exporters from both countries. Canadians travelling to the U.S. now require government-issued photo ID; prior to 9/11 a birth certificate was enough.

Doer, recalling his stint as Manitoba premier at the time, said the relationship was bleak under former president George W. Bush's second homeland security czar, Michael Chertoff.

Prior to Chertoff's appointment in 2005, the relationship between his predecessor, Tom Ridge, and John Manley, Canada's deputy prime minister, was positive. "There was a good dialogue going on with Ridge and Manley, and then Chertoff... it was very unilateral for a period of time," he said.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2011 A11

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