Canada Changed on September 11
Morning coffee in hand, I fired up the computer and settled in to check e-mail before heading out to the barnyard to feed animals. One of the first messages to catch my eye had this subject line: “World Trade Center Tragedy.” Laura Simms, a storytelling friend in New York, could see the crumbling towers from her apartment. In dismay, she reached out to the global community of storytellers. Her anguish was palpable.
I turned on the television and witnessed a scene I would never have dreamed possible while I was growing up in the U.S. From the ranch in British Columbia where I watched the day’s horrors unfold, I felt helpless and confused. So I turned to the one place I knew would offer comfort. As I wrote to Laura:
“I went out to the barnyard and called to my friends. They came, as they always do.
“Black Boy, the old ram with the magnificent horns, tucked his great head into my shoulder and groaned with pleasure as I scratched the underside of his legs. Suli, the shy livestock guardian dog, lifted her nose to catch the scent of my mood, then rubbed against me in a kind of knowing that offered comfort. Sheep, cattle, horses, dogs – they gathered around and reminded me of the lessons they teach daily: forgiveness, love, simplicity.”
Canada Welcomes Diverted Flights
Some of that same gathering around was happening in human form across Canada on September 11th. As the U.S. closed its airports to traffic, flights had to land somewhere. Without knowing whether other U.S.-bound planes were on terrorist missions, Canadian airports welcomed them in.
One of those was in Gander, Newfoundland. The airport’s Web site reports: “39 heavy aircraft were diverted to Gander International Airport….Runway 13/31 was converted to a temporary aircraft parking ramp. The airport terminal was turned into an aid centre as food and clothing was distributed to stranded passengers.”
With a population of just over 10,000, Gander and the surrounding small communities swelled by 6,500 passengers and crew. Their world turned upside down, people stranded far from home were devastated. Not only food and shelter were needed. So was comfort.
A total of 17 Canadian airports welcomed thousands of passengers from over 200 flights unable to reach destinations. CBC has gathered the stories of people whose flights were diverted, as well as of the Canadians who gave them help.
Historic Friendship Damaged by Suspicion
The country rallied behind its closest ally and friend. People opened homes, hearts and pocketbooks. The experience might have brought our two nations closer together. Instead, a wedge was driven between us.
Some of that can be traced to stories from major U.S. media, including the Boston Globe, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor. They planted the suspicion that the terrorists had crossed into the U.S. from Canada. Though not true, the story lingers in many minds to this day. Drone flights and passport requirements remind us daily that the U.S. regards its northern neighbor as a potential source of threats.
Another 9/11 loss for Canada is the country’s view of itself as a peacekeeper rather than a warrior. A certain innocence has given way to a new regime of terrorism-related military and security spending which has topped $92 billion since the attacks. In addition to the huge cost to taxpayers, the expenditures have led to a significant divide among those who consider the money wasted and those who point to intelligence that claims terrorists have found safe haven in Canada.
Benjamin Franklin’s Warning and John Lennon’s Vision
Wherever truth lies or prudent paths lead, billions of taxpayer dollars have not bought us a more secure world in the decade since 9/11. Instead of working for peace and understanding, we have opted for racial profiling, punitive border crossings, military funerals and tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Rather than addressing the root causes of terrorism’s seduction for youth, we have dramatically increased the gap between rich and poor. While I am not claiming those responses cause terrorism, I have no doubt there is a correlation. Hopelessness breeds social unrest.
The threat of terror is real, but our response is too often like that of a fear-biting dog. We mistrust immigrants, look askance at people of color and demand thousands of law-abiding citizens to submit to degrading treatment at borders in the vain hope that we can avoid being hurt again.
A young waiter in a hotel near Inle Lake in Myanmar (Burma) spoke with me just after the attacks. “I am afraid,” he said, “the U.S. will respond with military power instead of compassion. And if they do, the terrorists will have won.”
As the cost of security measures mounts and as we allow increasing intrusions into private life, we might want to ponder Benjamin Franklin’s reply to the Governor of the Pennsylvania Assembly: ”Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
On the other hand, we might do better to turn our creativity and compassion to envisioning the world John Lennon described in his 1971 song, “Imagine”:
“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
Take my hand and join us
And the world will live as one”