(This column was published in the North Shore News on Sept. 19, 2001)

 

Horse has already bolted

By Leo Knight

EIGHTY police officers and over 300 firefighters lost their lives as we watched passively, helplessly and in abject horror.

 

TV images, now ingrained on our minds, showed thousands of people running in terror as the gargantuan World Trade Centre towers collapsed. The police officers and firefighters ran in the opposite direction, towards the disaster.

 

Because that is their job. They signed up for it. They deliberately placed themselves in harm's way. And they died for it.

 

Like many, if not all of you, I stood transfixed last Tuesday morning, staring in disbelief at a television screen broadcasting unspeakable atrocities being committed live against this country's closest ally and de facto protector.

 

We are now perched on the precipice of war. Not just the United States, or NATO member nations, but the entire world. Not since the events of the late 1930s has the world teetered so close to an international armed conflict.

 

And I despair, for we are woefully unprepared to fight this war.

 

On Sunday, Foreign Minister John Manley said Canada will join "unambiguously" in standing "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States. "Canada is at war against terrorism," he said. "The world changed in some very real way as a result of those events and that is going to force us to look at all aspects of what we do."

 

That last part is a very telling statement and one made with a degree of common sense that has been sadly lacking in the past 30 or so years of our national complacency.

 

While being interviewed by Global Sunday, the foreign minister said that our laws relating to immigration and national security will have to be reviewed. Unfortunately, this is a little like closing the proverbial barn door after the horse has bolted. Still, given what we are being faced with, better late than never.

 

The prime minister, who has held a variety of positions at the cabinet table when the decisions were made to transform our country into the world's patsy, even began talking tough. There can also be no doubt that Canada must respond in this way or risk losing our ability to do business with the U.S. in the manner we have become accustomed to. Considering trade with our neighbour amounts to something in the realm of a billion dollars a day, there is a lot to protect.

 

Even Manley acknowledged that a failure to take concrete action to "reassess Canadian policies" could cause irreparable harm to our economy and "the free flow of commerce."

 

Virtually every TV and radio station has examined the situation from all angles and there has been no shortage of talking heads shoring up the various points, yours truly included. A lot of the discussion has been centred around the topic of, "Could it happen here?"

 

Well, the answer is, most assuredly, yes. Not only are we so inextricably tied to the U.S. in any number of ways, we are also part of the G7 nations. We are "The West," so inexorably hated by the fundamentalist Islamic terrorists who perpetrated the horrific acts of last week.

 

But, Canada has also provided access to the U.S. via the soft underbelly of our unpatrolled common border. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on America, Jean Chretien denied U.S. media reports that at least some of the terrorists had entered the U.S. via Canada. He denied any Canadian connection.

 

The RCMP set up a 1-800 tip line for anyone who might have information relating to the hijackings or the individuals involved. Interesting they would do that after the PM said there was no Canadian connection.

 

For years now, CSIS, the RCMP and American intelligence agencies have been warning the government of Canada that weak refugee laws and other legislative loopholes have enabled every known terrorist group in the world to operate tactical cells and organizational fundraising in this country. And done with either the co-operation or complacency of the Chretien government.

 

The chickens have now come home to roost and the Bush government has signaled, in no uncertain terms, that those conditions must cease forthwith or Canada will be isolated.

 

The bottom line here is that this country has been used by all manner of terrorist groups for everything from fundraising to operational staging and our government has either condoned or ignored the fact for too many years. It's too late for the 5,000 people killed in New York last Tuesday. It may already be too late should there be an escalation and suppose, for example, some "sleeper" living in North Vancouver goes after the Capilano watershed reservoir with a biological weapon contained in something no larger than a coffee thermos. There are more than 16,000 failed refugee claimants as of this writing that the government has lost track of. Any guesses as to how many of those are associated to terrorist networks? I don't know and certainly neither does the government.

 

Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan thinks anyone who says a thing like this is "anti-immigrant." She probably thinks this whole thing can be fixed with a hug.

 

Make no mistake about it, there are terrorists living in this country; some active and some "sleepers" waiting to be activated. Our armed forces have been neutered through budget cuts. General Lewis MacKenzie (Ret.) said we could possibly muster about 1,600 troops to assist in this operation, but we'd have to take a taxi to get there. God knows our national police force has suffered greatly from budget cuts as well while the PM erects fountains in Shawinigan.

 

There is a day of reckoning to come for the terrorists and for those who sponsor and assist them. One wonders how that reckoning will affect the long-term political landscape of this country.

 

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