Monday, July 4, 2011

A Note to America on Independence Day

MONDAY, JULY 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July to my American friends and readers! On Independence Day, this Canadian would like to write a brief note of congratulations and best wishes to you. I hope that you will never forget two very important instances when Canadians gladly came to your aid in your hour of need.

During the Iran Hostage Crisis, 53 Americans were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 until January 20, 1981. On the day the hostages were seized in 1979, six American diplomats were rescued due to the efforts of Canada’s ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor. The six diplomats were hidden in the Canadian and Swiss embassies. The Canadian Parliament held a secret session to permit Canadian passports to be issued to these six Americans so that they could escape. The diplomats were flown safely to Zurich, Switzerland on January 28, 1980.

Almost ten years ago, on September 11, 2.001, many American travellers were stranded as a result of the terrible terrorist attacks on that day. After U.S. airspace was shut down, thousands of unexpected visitors found themselves in Gander, Newfoundland when 39 transatlantic flights, bound for the United States, were ordered to land at Gander International Airport. Passengers and airline crews were required to remain in the Gander area for up to three days, until airspace was reopened. During that uncertain time, residents of the town of Gander and surrounding communities welcomed those stranded Americans into their homes and provided them with food and hospitality.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once compared Canada’s location next to the United States to that of a mouse sleeping beside an elephant. Sometimes America seems so huge and overwhelming to us. It has almost ten times Canada’s population and enormous economic and military might. It’s difficult for Canadians not to feel dominated both culturally and economically. It is not easy to take a divergent path in some matters.

If Canada is to remain more than just a northern satellite of the United States, there are times when we must differ – not just for the sake of differing but in matters of principle. Nevertheless, I can’t think of any other country I would prefer to have as a neighbour. Whenever I have travelled south of the border, I have been greatly impressed by the generosity and friendliness of the American people.

Many Canadians have personal links to the United States, including myself. My grandparents were Italian immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island before eventually moving to Canada. My mother’s parents were married in New York City and my paternal grandfather worked in Pittsburgh and New York before finally settling in Toronto.

So Happy Fourth, America! In the words of John F. Kennedy, “Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends, and necessity has made us allies.” Let neither of us take each other for granted.

- Joanne