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Canada at War

Northerners don't see it at home but Ottawa has been on war-footing since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The federal government is spending billions on security and making new laws to assure the Americans Canada backs the war on terrorism.

Bruce Valpy
Northern News Services

Ottawa (Jan 07/02) - A conversation on the plane from Toronto to Edmonton in early December answers any questions as to how much Canada has changed since Sept 11.

NNSL Photo

Finance Minister Paul Martin dedicated $7.7 billion of his 2001 budget to the crusade for security at the border and across Canada.

As flight attendants moved down the aisles handing out hot lunches, one was stopped by a passenger, a middle-aged male Caucasian. He pointed to the cutlery he had been given, quietly asking: "Should I have this?"

Confused, the flight attendant took the cutlery package and studied it, unsure of the problem. "It's got a metal fork," the passenger explained.

After a moment's thought, the flight attendant explained that after Sept. 11, only the knives had to be plastic, metal spoons and forks were okay. The passenger smiled sheepishly and took the cutlery back.

Canada has joined America's war on terrorism.

The first week of December, 21 journalists representing community newspapers around the country, including News/North, flew to Ottawa at government expense to hear that message.

For three days, the journalists sat in a glass- enclosed meeting room overlooking the Ottawa River and the skyline of Hull. They were told how the federal government has been operating since the World Trade Center attack of Sept. 11.

Journalists vs. bureaucrats

Each day, 20 government officials from 11 different departments sat at a table facing the journalists. All were involved in some aspect in the war on terrorism, some chasing suspicious people, some chasing money, some planning for the worst. Selected officials could be named, others could not (we'll call them 'senior officials'), some could be photographed, others not. All the information could be reported.

The journalists could ask any questions that came to mind. Questions put to the Department of National Defence representative about combat specifics, didn't get answered.

Importing terrorism?

A question about changes to the firearms legislation also went unanswered. Restrictions on carrying guns inside Canada are to be lifted for foreigners connected to a foreign government or recognized foreign agency.

The issue was raised before the raucous APEC meeting in Vancouver the fall of 1997. Government security officials were reportedly wary of the controversial Indonesian President's armed bodyguards coming to Vancouver and shooting a few protesters just to warn the others. Their guns had to stay home.

Could the changes now mean bodyguards of visiting heads of states could be armed? "We'll get back to you," the officials said, and never did.

Why are we doing it?

Over the three-day briefing, the diplomatic moderator moved things along and there were few instances of friction. The most notable exception was Peter Karaholias, a reporter with Chomedy News, Laval, Que.

More than once Karaholias wanted to know, voice heavy with indignation, why the Canadian government was spending so much time and money on security. There had been no terrorist attacks in Canada, nor any Canadian connection to the 19 terrorists who seized the jetliners in American skies.

US sets security standards

The answer quite clearly is because of the United States.

A senior DFAIT official in the division responsible for U.S. relations described American foreign policy: "Security, security, security."

That's how they measure their allies, he said, laying out the facts: The U.S. has "unparalleled financial might"', a gross national product of $21 trillion Cdn. compared to Canada's total of $1 trillion.

Of all Canada's exports, 82 per cent go to the United States. Just to shift that figure down two per cent, Canada's European trade levels would have to double.

A Canada Customs and Revenue Agency official added the figures of 300,000 people crossing the US-Canada border daily, 40,000 shipments, 73,000 courier packages.

"We've had problems with the U.S. being bigger and richer for the past 100 years," said another senior official. "A school yard reality."

So there's the answer. Americans want security at their border and they want to know their enemies aren't hiding in the home of their friends.

That's why Finance Minister Paul Martin dedicated $7.7 billion of his 2001 budget to the crusade for security at the border and across Canada.

It's what the Americans, who last December approved $318 billion for their own war on terrorism, want.