O Canada!

Zach Wiita

I was thinking about Sept. 11 recently and about all of the men and women who proved themselves genuine heroes on that terrible day.

I was thinking about the lives they saved, the efforts they undertook – everyone from the firefighters, police officers, medics and other first responders at Ground Zero, to the less obvious heroes such as the many in the Federal Aviation Administration who helped coordinate the response of America’s national air travel system.

And in thinking about that, I realized there was one set of heroes responsible for saving thousands of American and international lives who have been overlooked in the past seven years: the nation of Canada.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States took the unprecedented step of shutting down American airspace across the entire country. Domestic flights were grounded, and all flights bound for the United States from Europe and Asia were diverted to Canada.

In response, the Canadian government launched “Operation Yellow Ribbon,” organizing the intake of United States-bound flights. According to Transport Canada, 17 Canadian airports worked around the clock to take in 224 aircrafts carrying more than 33,000 passengers.

This was especially challenging because the largest Canadian international airports, in Toronto and Montreal, were shut down due to security measures, and many smaller airports were forced to accept aircraft that stretched their capacities.

Canadian towns such as Stephenville (population 6,588) and Gander (population 9,951), both in Newfoundland, had to accommodate thousands of displaced passengers for upward of a week at a time. Compare those to the population of the city of Kent: 27,906. Now imagine our community accommodating an influx of a third or a half of our population. That so many thousands of people were cared for throughout Canada in communities large and small is testament to the generosity of the Canadian people – and, in my view, evidence of the greatness of the friendship that exists between Canada and the United States.

That friendship extends to national defense. The Canadian Forces and United States Air Force jointly operate NORAD – North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Cheyenne Mountain-based facility that constantly monitors North American airspace in search of potential nuclear and air-based threats.

NORAD, of course, has been made famous in a thousand Cold War and alien invasion movies, but it’s a 50-year partnership with enormous security implications for our countries. Its utility was especially proven on Sept. 11. That day, an Alaska-bound Korean 747 wrongly believed to be hijacked was escorted out of U.S. airspace by NORAD-dispatched U.S. and Canadian military craft and forced to land at the Canadian town of Whitehorse, Yukon. Royal Canadian Mounted Police then acted to secure the plane before it was realized that no hijacking had occurred.

Camp aside, Dudley Do-Right would surely have been proud.

Nor is that the only example of American and Canadian officers putting their lives on the line for one another’s countries. Canadians served alongside Britons, Free French and Americans during World War II. Canadian forces landed at Juno Beach on D-Day, suffering, according to the CBC, over 35 percent fatalities by the end of the Normandy campaign – meaning they lost more than one in three soldiers.

Canada was a loyal U.S. ally throughout the Cold War and was, of course, one of the NATO members that unanimously voted to treat Sept. 11 as an attack upon all NATO countries, volunteering military services to help defeat al-Qaida.

Canadian soldiers today are working alongside other NATO countries to help secure and rebuild Afghanistan, the former home of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Since 2002, 97 Canadian soldiers have given their lives in the service of their country and its allies as the Taliban insurgency has continued.

All this may seem a bit academic, a bit removed from our lives. I mean, it’s Canada, right? The land of Celine Dion (bad), Alanis Morissette (good), moose, beer and the word “aboot,” eh?

But Canada deserves more respect than it gets. It’s a great country with a proud heritage. Its people are good and generous, and its soldiers are brave and selfless. They’re even having an election (Oct. 14) near the same time we are (Nov. 4).

And if there’s one thing that this article, a tribute to all the lives saved by Canadians on Sept. 11, should prove, Canada is one of the greatest friends the United States could ever have.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theatre studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at[email protected].