U.S. secretary of state brings message of thanks on 9/11 to Halifax
Mon Sep 11, 6:47 PM
By Keith Doucette
HALIFAX (CP) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on the fifth anniversary of the 9-11 terror attacks, travelled to Halifax on Monday to thank Canadians for providing stranded American travellers with "a place for them to be safe in a time of great danger."
Rice, whose visit reflects the close relationship between the U.S. administration and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's fledgling government, took part in two ceremonies, including one at Halifax International Airport.
"It's a day to know and remember that there is indeed evil in the world, and that we saw its awful face on that horrible day," Rice said as she stood in front of a massive photo showing dozens of diverted aircraft cramming the airport's runways.
"But it's also a day to recognize when the worst in human behaviour and in human nature exhibits itself, so does the best in human nature and human behaviour. And that is what we saw here."
The U.S. secretary of state met with about 100 of the thousands of volunteers, firefighters and police officers who helped an estimated 33,000 travellers who were stranded in Canada when the U.S. closed its airspace after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Helen McGaw of Dartmouth, N.S., was among those who helped the disoriented passengers on their arrival in unfamiliar surroundings.
"They were more confused than they were angry or upset because a lot of them didn't know where they were," she said.
"They didn't know where Nova Scotia was to start with."
Rice was joined by Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, who said at a later ceremony in downtown Halifax that Canada's help is still needed.
He said the events on 9-11 were directly linked to Canada's decision to send troops to Afghanistan, adding the country's mission there will continue.
"There can be no neutral position in this struggle with violent fundamentalism," MacKay said as anti-war protesters chanted outside the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
"As a nation devoted to freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule rule of law, Canada is not now neutral, nor have we ever been when these fundamental values have been challenged in the past."
Rice's visit seemed almost unthinkable a year ago under the former federal Liberal government, which had a frosty, strained relationship with the administration of President George W. Bush.
Jean Chretien's government refused to take part in the U.S.-led attack on Iraq and Paul Martin rejected Bush's plan for a North American missile defence scheme.
Since Harper assumed power in January, U.S. politicians have warmed to his free-market approach and his decision to reconsider the missile program.
Prof. Reginald Stuart of Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax said Rice's visit signifies the closer ties between the two countries.
"I see it as keeping the fences mended, keeping things moving along," he said.
"This . . . would not have happened for the previous (Liberal) government. . . . I think our government is making a clear statement that they have good relations with Washington."
Rice was to travel Tuesday to Stellarton, a town in MacKay's Nova Scotia riding, where she was to hold talks with the foreign affairs minister and again thank Canada for its help on 9-11.
More than 21,000 passengers landed in Atlantic Canada after the catastrophic attacks in Washington, New York and a community near Pittsburgh.
While big airports in cities such as Toronto and Montreal handled relatively few of the grounded flights, more than 100 airplanes landed in Halifax, Moncton, N.B., and in the Newfoundland and Labrador communities of Gander, St. John's, Stephenville, Goose Bay and Deer Lake.
The Atlantic Canadian cities responded with warmth and generosity. Businesses donated clothing, toothpaste, underwear and prescription drugs, while residents opened their homes and churches, and striking school bus drivers in Gander put down their picket signs to ferry the passengers to and from the airport.
"The people of America will never forget your skill and your professionalism," Rice told the crowd.
"They will never forget that you made a place for them to be safe in a time of great danger. But more than anything, they will never forget the compassion and the kindness and the kind words and the love that was exhibited for them that day."
MacKay, who Rice initially referred to as "Foreign Minister Peter," said he was proud of the way Atlantic Canadians helped their American neighbours.
"The events of Sept. 11, 2001, are only the most recent chapter in a history of mutual assistance in grave times of desperate need between the citizens of Nova Scotia and our American brothers and sisters," said MacKay, citing the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the Halifax Explosion in 1917 and the Swissair crash in 1998.
MacKay took the opportunity to dismiss a recent suggestion by the NDP that Canada should attempt to negotiate with the Taliban and withdraw from Afghanistan.
"Canada cannot shirk its responsibility and leave the tough jobs to our allies alone," he said. "We must all pay the freight."
Security was tight outside the museum as the protesters - many with red paint on their hands - waved placards that read: "No to war," "War is terrorism," and "Canadian conscience is not for sale."
Helicopters circled the harbour and downtown streets were closed during the ceremony, snarling traffic.
Inside, Rice continued to heap praise on Canada, again recalling how Canadians opened their homes to stranded Americans.
"All across this country, you and your fellow Canadians greeted your guests with warm hands and comforting words and clean clothes," said Rice, who earlier attended a church service Washington, D.C., and a commemorative ceremony at the White House.
"You opened your churches, your community centres, your own homes to offer a bed or a blanket, a warm place to stay, no matter how long. You took to your kitchens to prepare meals for thousands of hungry people. And you gave everyone a chance to call and tell their loved ones: 'Not to worry . . . I'm safe, I'm well, I'm in Canada."