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Remembering 9/11: Canada supported America in its time of need

"I woke up this morning.

I could barely breathe.

Just an empty impression.

In the bed where you used to be.

I want a kiss from your lips.

I want an eye for an eye.

I woke up this morning to an empty sky."

--Empty Sky by Bruce Springsteen

September 11, 2001 will always be known as a dark day in history, the day that terrorists carried out devastating mass casualty attacks on an unprecedented scale, plunging the United States and its most faithful allies into a protracted war against terrorism.

The death, destruction, and suffering inflicted upon the United States by the al Qaida terrorist network on that infamous day cast a long shadow over the world’s greatest, most prosperous democracy. Aircraft were grounded and the skies were empty, except for American and Canadian fighter jets patrolling North American airspace under NORAD command.

The days and weeks after the attacks were dark, full of fear, anger, and foreboding. However, the longstanding friendship and alliance between Canada and the United States helped, in modest yet significant ways, America move out from under the long shadow cast by 9/11.

Attack on freedom

“Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom, came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts,” U.S. President George W. Bush told his fellow Americans in a televised address from the Oval Office on the dark night of September 11, 2001.

“I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice,” Bush said of the unfolding investigation into the worst coordinated terrorist attacks in world history.

It was a clear and bright morning when jihadists hijacked four commercial jetliners and crashed two of the planes full of innocent passengers into the World Trade Center in New York City. Another hijacked commercial jet slammed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. And a fourth hijacked jetliner crashed into an empty field in Pennsylvania after the passengers valiantly fought back and overpowered the terrorists.

Nearly 3,000 innocent people, including 24 Canadians were murdered that awful day by members of the al Qaida terrorist network.

In his Oval Office telecast, President Bush declared that the United States would “make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.”

The President closed his address to the American people with a piece of scripture from the Bible. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me,” Bush said, quoting Psalm 23.

A different world

“When I woke up on September 12, America was a different place,” Bush writes in his 2010 book Decision Points.

Not only were commercial aircraft grounded, the streets of the American capital were being patrolled by armed vehicles. “A wing of the Pentagon had been reduced to rubble,” the former leader of the free world writes. “The New York Stock Exchange was closed. New York’s Twin Towers were gone.”

On the morning of Sept. 12, Bush arrived at the Oval Office at 7:00 a.m. “The first order of the day was to return phone calls from the many world leaders who had offered their sympathy,” he writes.

The first call was with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “The conversation helped cement the closest friendship I would form with any leader,” Bush says.

The President also spoke with the Canadian Prime Minister. “Jean Chretien of Canada said simply, ‘We are there,’ a promise that had been upheld by Canadian citizens who welcomed thousands of stranded Americans after their flights were diverted.”

Canadian response to 9/11

In response to the devastating jihadist strikes on Canada’s best friend and closest ally, Prime Minister Chretien introduced a motion in the House of Commons on Sept. 17, 2001 that expressed “sorrow and horror at the senseless and vicious attack on the United States on September 11, 2001.” The motion also extended “heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the American people.”

The motion also reaffirmed Parliament’s “commitment to the humane values of free and democratic society and its determination to bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack on these values and to defend civilization from any future terrorist attack.” After the motion was adopted, the House of Commons observed a moment of silence.

The Prime Minister then rose to address the House of Commons.

“In the sad and trying days since the awful news came from New York and Washington, it has been clear that the civilized nations of the world have a solemn duty to speak as one against the scourge of terrorism,” Chretien declared.

“There are those rare occasions when time seems to stand still, when a singular event transfixes the world,” the Prime Minister continued. “There are also those terrible occasions when the dark side of human nature escapes civilized restraint and shows its ugly face to a stunned world. Tuesday, September 11, 2001 will forever be etched in memory as a day when time stood still.”

Chretien recalled how 100,000 Canadians gathered on Parliament Hill just three days after the jihadist strikes for a ceremony to honour the victims of the 9/11 attacks. And many more turned out for ceremonies across the country that same day, the National Day of Mourning.

“Above all, it was a sea of solidarity with our closes friend and partner in the world, the United States of America,” the Prime Minister said of the outpouring of support for a wounded America.

Canadian-American friendship

“When terrorists struck at the heart of America on September 11, 2001, there was a valuable lesson—perhaps many valuable lessons—to be learned about the relationship between the United States and Canada,” wrote the late Paul Cellucci in his 2005 book Unquiet Diplomacy. Cellucci was appointed the U.S. ambassador to Canada in 2001 by President Bush.

“The immediate lesson was that the instinct of Canadians was to help their neighbours in whatever way they could,” Cellucci stated.

“Most of the world felt horror and revulsion at the death of almost 3,000 innocent people who died because they went to work that day, but Canadians may have felt it more acutely simply because they are neighbours and the bonds between the two countries are too numerous to count.”

Cellucci recounted how Prime Minister Chretien called him that day to offer whatever help was needed. And Cellucci praised Canadians on the East Coast for taking in stranded American airline passengers.

For the American ambassador, “the spontaneous outpouring of sympathy, generosity and goodwill from friends and even total strangers was overwhelming.” And he wrote that “seeing the Maple Leaf flying at half-mast all over Ottawa in solidarity with the Stars and Stripes touched us in ways difficult to express.” And he stated “that reminder of friendship” was “one of my most treasured memories of our time in Ottawa.”

Of Canada’s National Day of Mourning on Sept. 14, Cellucci said that it was “unforgettable.” And he stated that “the mournful silence of the thousands on Parliament Hill was powerful beyond words. Only the sound of the carillon bells from the Peace Tower broke the stillness.”

In addition, Cellucci offered praise for Chretien, who delivered a speech on the lawn of Parliament Hill that day. The Prime Minister told the mourners that “we will be with the United States every step of the way.” Describing Chretien’s speech as “unequivocal” support for the U.S., Cellucci said that the American people were very grateful to Canada.

“In the months that followed, the Prime Minister was as good as his word,” Cellucci said. “Canada was an important member of the NATO coalition that routed the Taliban from Afghanistan and restored freedom to a country whose people had been under the heel of repression and which had become a haven and training ground for al Qaida terrorists.”