The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canada-U.S. relationship has 'matured' 10 years after 9-11, Doer says

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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 fuel-engorged jetliners into iconic U.S. landmarks a decade ago.

Canada's current ambassador to the United States 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 his day Tuesday walking through an exhibit at Canada's embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue called "Remembering 9-11: Friends, Partners, Allies" that commemorates one of the most dreadful days in U.S. history and Canada's helping hand to Americans devastated by the events.

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 so-called international award at a daylong summit, entitled The 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Summit: Remembrance, Renewal, Resilience.

Federal Defence Minister Peter MacKay will join Doer and other Canadian officials, including the mayor of Gander, at a dinner at the Newseum, next door to the embassy, honouring the community at the event that pays tribute to 9-11 victims and those who responded to the events that shocked the world in 2001.

"It's going to emphasize the hospitality and friendship in time of need," Doer said of the event, hosted by the Center for National Policy and the Voices of September 11th.

"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, a town of just 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 any differently than America's border with Mexico, the site of deadly drug wars and where millions of illegal immigrants have flooded into the United States.

Some Americans, including congressional representatives, still believe that the perpetrators of the 9-11 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," he said.

In contrast to Canadian media, American reporters don't tend to cover stories about U.S. misunderstandings about Canada, Doer added, because "they know that compared to other countries, we've got a pretty good co-operative relationship going on."

But there's little doubt those 9-11 misperceptions changed the relationship between the two countries.

The terrorist attacks resulted in beefed-up security at the border that hurt exporters from both countries. And Canadians travelling to the U.S. now require government-issued photo ID to cross the border; prior to 9-11 a birth certificate was enough.

Doer, recalling his stint as Manitoba premier at the time, said the relationship was quite 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 relatively 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.

That's why ongoing discussions between Canada and the U.S. at the highest levels of government on a border security perimeter are so encouraging, he added. Both governments have been working together for months to develop border guidelines, with an announcement expected later this year.

"The discussions going on between the president and the prime minister at that level are very good," Doer said.

"There's lot of good discussion going on. It's not unilateralism ... now we have a plan to move ahead, where we're going to agree, we're going to amend, we're going to disagree, and it's going to be two ways."

Since 9-11, Doer says, the relationship between Canada and the U.S. has in fact strengthened in many ways.

"Our relationship continues to mature," he said.

"We are partners with the U.S. in Afghanistan obviously, where the terrorists were trained. On a daily basis, our trade is high. And we continue to work on co-operative approaches to our risk at the border and beyond the border, and co-operative approaches to efficiency on trade."

The key to ensure ties remain strong between the U.S. and Canada and that the border must work for both countries, Doer added, is to remind Americans about how they benefit from the relationship.

"When anybody says to the United States: 'We've got a great trading relationship,' they just say: 'Oh yeah, we're buying and you're selling,'" he said with a laugh.

"We've got to make sure that they know that we are buying and they are selling as well. We've got to talk to them as customers, not as trading partners."

As for when specific guidelines will be announced for the border, Doer says talks between both governments continue and wouldn't commit to a date.

"You don't put your hands in the air until the puck's in the net," he said.

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