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Closing Thoughts on September 11 from Robert MacNeil

Robert MacNeil offers insight on the mood in Canada following the September 11 attacks and the country's entry into the war against terrorism.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, some closing thoughts from Robert MacNeil about his recent trip to Canada, his birthplace. He experienced the mood in Canada on the eve of its entry into the war against terrorism. Yesterday, a three-ship convoy of a destroyer, a frigate, and a supply ship left Halifax, Nova Scotia, to join American forces in the Persian Gulf. Some 2,000 members of the Canadian military have been deployed so far, including sailors, aviators, and Special Forces troops.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Robin, good evening.

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    Hi, Jim.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Just in a general way, do Canadians see this as their fight, as well as an American fight?

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    Absolutely.

    The "Toronto Globe and Mail," which is a national newspaper, in approving the military action the other day, said, "This is not a U.S. fight: This is our fight." I mean Canadians feel, as — perhaps not directly as threatened as Americans, but a recent poll showed that two-thirds of Canadians fear another terrorist attack on Canadian soil of some kind.

    There have been hundreds of anthrax scares, more than 40 Canadians were killed in the World Trade Center. There is a general fear, as the former Prime Minister Joe Clark said in parliament the other day, "There is a mood of unaccustomed fear and sadness in the country." And yeah, I think Canadians feel just the same way as Americans do, except they don't have the kind of adrenaline rush of patriotism that has swept this country.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, the military, the military involvement, the 2,000 forces, individual troops, sailors, et cetera, the three ships, does that have the support of the Canadian people?

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    Yeah, it does. About 70 percent, according to the polls, even higher in parliament where only ten opposition members out of a total parliament of 301, have opposed the military action — the New Democratic Party. That is approval with some conditions that Canadians would… are reluctantly — reluctant to approve this.Canada has a tradition of devoting in recent decades, devoting its armed forces to peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts. And there are a lot of voices raised about the potential civilian casualties, about whether the Bush administration intends to widen the war.

    At the moment, Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, has a very substantial majority in parliament and he could probably do as he wished. He chose, for example, he chose not to seek a vote of approval in the parliament, although a lot of opposition parties criticized him for that.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    He just did it? He just went ahead and did it?

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    He just did it.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now what about –

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    He did it, and he waited to do it until President Bush asked for… On the day before the Bush Administration launched the attacks.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So he didn't call and say, "What do you want us to do?"

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    No.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Why, do you know?

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    Well, Prime Minister Chretien is a very canny and successful politician. He has won three national elections in Canada, as I say, enjoys a substantial majority in parliament. He reads the mood of the country very well, and he just waited until he had his fingers on the pulse long enough to know that the country would support him in it.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    What is your reading, Robin, when President Bush addressed Congress? And Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister was in the hall and he said, "That's our best friend of all, Great Britain," did the Canadians kind of say, "Hey, what about us?

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    Yes, they did.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Did they, really?

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    Because not only did the president say pointing at Tony Blair, America has no truer friend than Britain, he also neglected to mention Canada. And there was a lot of debate in Canada, a little debate about whether that was deliberate. Those speeches are gone over minutely of course, many rewrites, and many other countries were mentioned.

    But in this case, it's a bit strange because there is no country closer and no people closer to the United States in every way than Canadians. Canadians are North Americans too. They share a great appetite for American popular culture, and they are quasi Americans, in many ways, although my Canadian friends would probably hate to hear me say that. And they work all the time… there is a kind of… Canadians view America with a little kind of ironic distance. It's part of the Canadian psychological mechanism for asserting its own identity in the face of the overwhelming force of the American economy and popular culture.

    But this distance this time I think is narrower down to maybe half a degree of separation than I've seen in a long time. Partly that's because there's a lot of unexpected admiration for President Bush. There's a columnist the other day, Margaret Wente in the "Globe & Mail" who said, "I may have to put a paper bag over my head because all the people I know socially are going to disagree with this, but I think Bush is all right and he's really risen to the occasion." And that has been echoed by other commentaries.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    What about what's happening in Canada as far as… as combating the terrorism threat to Canada within the borders of Canada?

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    Well, and that's also tied with the U.S. because of the 3,000-mile common border.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure.

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    There is an anti-terrorism bill now being debated in the parliament, which is very stringent. It calls for a lot of things, like preventive detention, the ability of Canadians to hold investigative hearings, rather like American grand juries, which are unknown in Canada; it is asking for greater wiretap and eavesdropping capability, a lot of Canadians have already raised voices saying this is going to compromise civil liberties, but that's one thing. They are strengthening the surveillance on the border, putting more people in the Immigration Department on the — Customs and Immigration Department. And generally they are… Oh, they're also putting Mounties on Air Canada flights to Reagan airport.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But not within Canada, right?

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    Not within Canada. They don't want air marshals. They haven't talked about doing air marshals. But that's a condition for being able to land at Reagan Airport. Because of an air space agreement between the two countries, Air Canada is treated like a domestic airline, and that's the cost of having flights into Reagan Airport.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You of course live in New York. You were in New York on September 11. Did you have a different feeling of safety or whatever when you were in Canada, versus being in New York?

  • ROBERT MACNEIL:

    Well, I was in a very rural part of Nova Scotia, which in itself, is an under populated province, the Far East of Nova Scotia. I don't know. I don't think I felt that. The thing that is going to be very interesting for Canadians, just to come back to the point of what they're doing, there have been American voices, including the ambassador in Ottawa saying there should be a common integrated defense perimeter, in other words, have Canadian immigration and border regulations conform with those of American. And that goes to the heart of Canadian sovereignty on these matters, and will be a very controversial issue.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    There is a term that I learned from you, which is, "we have to leave it there." Thank you, Robin.