Jean Chrétien, trade tower attacks, September 2001

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse.

On September 11, 2001 terrorists crashed two hijacked jetliners into the twin World Trade Center Towers in New York City. Another was crashed into the Pentagon complex in Washington. Americans were shocked to have sustained such a massive attack on their soil, and they were grief-stricken and angry.  On September 17, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was the first of many MPs to speak in the House of Commons to a motion of condolence to the families of victims and to the American people.  

“The world has been attacked. The world must respond”

Sad and trying days

Mr. Speaker, I thank the leaders of all parties in the House of Commons, indeed all members, for their co-operation in organizing this historic debate. 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.

Under these urgent circumstances, Canadians will be pleased to see that their elected representatives have come together in the spirit of unity and resolve to make this debate our first order of business. I look forward to hearing the views of members on the role that Canada should play in shaping a firm and just global response to an unprecedented global threat.

Time stands still

There are those rare occasions when time seems to stand still, when a singular event transfixes the world. 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.

When I saw the scenes of devastation, my first thoughts and words were for all the victims and the American people but there are no words in any language whose force or eloquence could equal the quiet testimony last Friday of 100,000 Canadians gathered just a few yards from here for our National Day of Mourning. I was proud to be one of them and I was equally proud of the Canadians who gathered in ceremonies right across the country. It was a sea of sorrow and sympathy for those who have lost friends and loved ones: Americans, Canadians, citizens of many countries. Above all, it was a sea of solidarity with our closest friend and partner in the world, the United States of America.

As always, this time of crisis brought out the very best in our people: from prayer meetings and vigils to the countless numbers who lined up to give blood, from a flood of donations by individuals and businesses to patience in the face of delays and inconvenience. We were all moved by the sight of Canadians opening up their hearts and homes to thousands of confused and anxious air travellers who had no place to go.

President thanks Canadians

When I spoke to President Bush last week, he asked me to thank the Canadian people. I ask all members to carry his message back to their constituencies.

The president also told me that he had been told many times by his officials about the tremendous co-operation and assistance they were receiving from the agencies and departments of the Government of Canada in responding to the immediate emergency of the attack and in the investigation that would bring to justice those who committed this crime against humanity.

Indeed, I am proud of the speed and co-ordination that has characterized our response: assessing and pre-positioning disaster assistance supplies, so that we could respond in a timely and effective manner when called upon; seeing to the safety of stranded air travellers; working to protect the safety of Canadians; sharing information with investigators; and responding to calls for information about loved ones.

The relevant ministers will inform the House in detail on what their departments have done, and are doing, on behalf of Canadians. But I want to express my appreciation to our public servants for their round the clock effort.

Symbolic meaning

The House must also address the threat that terrorism poses to all civilized peoples and the role that Canada must play in defeating it. To understand what is at stake, we need only reflect on the symbolic meaning of the World Trade Center towers. In the words of their architect, the towers were: “a representation of our belief in humanity, our need for individual dignity, our belief in co-operation and, through co-operation, our ability to find greatness.”

Global threat

So, let us be clear: this was not just an attack on the United States. These cold-blooded killers struck a blow at the values and beliefs of free and civilized people everywhere. The world has been attacked. The world must respond. Because we are at war against terrorism and Canada, a nation founded on a belief in freedom, justice and tolerance, will be part of that response.

Terrorists are not attached to any one country. Terrorism is a global threat. The perpetrators have demonstrated their ability to move with ease from country to country, from place to place, to make use of the freedom and openness of the victims on whom they prey, the very freedom and openness that we cherish and will protect. They are willing, indeed anxious, to die in the commission of their crimes and to use innocent civilians as shields and as tools.

A long struggle

We must prepare ourselves, and Canadians, for the fact that this will be a long struggle with no easy solutions, one in which patience and wisdom are essential.

Let us not deceive ourselves as to the nature of the threat that faces us and that this can be defeated easily or simply with one swift strike. We must be guided by a commitment to do what works in the long run, not by what makes us feel better in the short run.

Our actions will be ruled by resolve but not by fear. If laws need to be changed they will be. If security has to be increased to protect Canadians it will be. We will remain vigilant but will not give in to the temptation in a rush to increase security to undermine the values that we cherish and which have made Canada a beacon of hope, freedom and tolerance in the world.

We will not be stampeded in the hope, vain and ultimately self-defeating, that we can make Canada a fortress against the world.

Nation of immigrants

Finally, I want to make another very important point. Canada is a nation of immigrants from all corners of the globe, people of all nationalities, colours and religions. This is who we are. Let there be no doubt. We will allow no one to force us to sacrifice our values or traditions under the pressure of urgent circumstances.

We will continue to welcome people from the whole world. We will continue to offer refuge to the persecuted. I say again, no one will stop this.

I have been saddened by the fact that the terror of last Tuesday has provoked demonstrations against Muslim Canadians and other minority groups in Canada. This is completely unacceptable. The terrorists win when they export their hatred.

The evil perpetrators of this horror represent no community or religion. They stand for evil, nothing else. As I said, this is a struggle against terrorism not against any one community or faith. Today more than ever we must reaffirm the fundamental values of our charter of rights and freedoms: the equality of every race, every colour, every religion and every ethnic origin.

Defeating terrorism

We are all Canadians. We are a compassionate and righteous people. When we see the searing images of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, many of them Canadian, wandering the streets of New York looking for their missing loved ones, we know where our duty lies.

We have never been a bystander in the struggle for justice in the world. We will stand with the Americans as neighbours, as friends, as family. We will stand with our allies. We will do what we must to defeat terrorism.

However, let our actions be guided by a spirit of wisdom and perseverance, by our values and our way of life. As we go on with the struggle, let us never, ever, forget who we are and what we stand for.

Vive le Canada.


Source: Debates of Sept. 17th, 2001 House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site).
More information: The Canadian Encyclopedia, 9/11 and Canada.


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