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Retribution, Taliban, Al Qaeda

Defence Minister acknowledges 9/11 deaths of Canadians

By Arthur Weinreb

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Speaking at a symposium on the weekend, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor did something that has been almost unheard by a government in Canada. He acknowledged the deaths of the 25 Canadians who died during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. O'Connor told the mostly military audience, "When the Taliban or al Qaeda came out of Afghanistan, they attacked the twin towers and in those twin towers, 25 Canadians were killed. The previous government and this government will not allow Canadians to be killed without retribution".

Well, he may be wrong about the previous government, especially while it was headed by Jean Chrétien, who was prime minister in September 2001 when the worst terrorist attack on American soil took place. But it was refreshing to hear the word "retribution" used and the deaths of Canadian citizens used as a justification for Canada's entry into and remaining presence in the war in Afghanistan.

While the media gave a lot of attention to the 25 Canadians and their surviving families, they were pretty well ignored by the government of the day. The fact that Canadians, many of whom were in the U.S. conducting business with our largest trading partner, lost their lives in an act of war was rarely mentioned by the government let alone used as a least a partial reason for committing Canadian troops to the region.

Chrétien's major comment about the Canadian victims was that they were made up of different races and ethnicity and therefore reflected the country's multicultural makeup. The fact that they died, not from an accident or the proverbial unfortunate circumstance of being in the wrong place at the right time but from an attack that was carried out in the United States but against the West, seemed to go over the little guy's head.

And then there was Chrétien's famous 9/11 anniversary statement where he blamed the greed and arrogance of the West for the attacks on that bright September morning. Although he obviously meant the greed and arrogance of Americans, it is impossible to interpret his words in any way other than it included at least those Canadians who were in the United States at the time and who lost their lives in the twin towers or onboard aircraft.

With all due respect to the Defence Minister, it is difficult to believe that the Liberal government went to war because Canadian citizens were killed. Unlike Tony Blair who made it clear that the loss of British lives was a major reason for his country's entry in the campaign, Canada's foreign policy at the time was run out of the United Nations in New York. The Liberals went to war because Kofi told them that they should.

Even the "new government" as Harper still likes to call it, plays down the notion of fighting an enemy that wants to destroy us. Most of the emphasis is put on rebuilding and reconstruction and making Afghanistan a better place to live for Afghanis. The notion that a stable Afghanistan will make Canada and the West safer is hardly ever mentioned let alone the notion of retribution. Looking at it this way, it's no wonder that so many people want our troops to be brought back home. If over 40 young people died building schools or roads in Canada there would calls for moratoriums and demands for public inquiries. The troops are in Afghanistan to fight a dangerous enemy and it's about time someone in the government acknowledged that fact.

So while Steve competes with Steffi and Jack about whose government can build the most windmills, it is really refreshing to hear a cabinet minister speak about Afghanistan in terms of retribution and more importantly, acknowledge those Canadians who lost their lives on September 11.