December 1, 2004

Bush to Thank Canadians for Post-9/11 Aid

OTTAWA - When the United States closed its airspace after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, more than 200 airliners were diverted to airports across Canada, where stranded travelers were welcomed into homes.

President Bush was traveling Wednesday to Nova Scotia to give the Canadians a belated "thank you" for helping Americans in their hour of need - a gesture aimed at warming frosty ties between the neighboring nations.

"Immediately, Canadians opened their homes and their hearts," Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said in toasting Bush at a dinner in Ottawa Tuesday night. "Three days later, on September the 14th, 100,000 Canadians spontaneously gathered on Parliament Hill in what was and is the largest vigil ever seen in our capital."

Both Martin and Bush are seeking to rebuild U.S.-Canada relations, which cooled under Martin's predecessor, Jean Chretien. The dialogue became especially strained when Chretien decided against sending troops to Iraq - a decision supported by more than 80 percent of Canadians. Thousands of Canadians protested Bush's visit.

"We don't always agree, and we won't always agree," Martin said, acknowledging Bush's unpopularity in Canada. "But there is a spirit of renewal in the relationship between our two countries."

After his daylong official visit to Ottawa on Tuesday, Bush was using Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Canadian equivalent of Ellis Island, as a backdrop Wednesday to talk about U.S.-Canadian relations, border security, efforts to spread democracy and the battle against terrorism.

"On September 11th, it was a Canadian general, holding the chair at NORAD, who gave the order to initiate our defenses," Bush said Tuesday evening about the North American Aerospace Defense Command. "In an era of new threats, American and Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies are working more closely than ever before, and our peoples are more secure because of it."

Bush's has been trying to elicit Canada's participation in the new U.S. continental missile defense program, which the Canadians have not yet agreed to join.

The U.S. president was speaking Wednesday at Pier 21, a modest port where nearly 1 million immigrants arrived between March 8, 1928, and March 28, 1971 - the official opening and closing dates of the entry point for people migrating into Canada. Pier 21, which was refurbished and opened as a museum in 1999, also served as the departure point for nearly 500,000 Canadian troops who joined allied forces in World War II.