Proximity to U.S. unnerves Canadians
By JOHN SAUNDERS AND RHEAL SEGUIN
With reports from John Barber, Graeme Smith, Jonathan Bjerg Moller, Gay Abbate, Jill Mahoney, Andre Picard, Rod Mickleburgh, Patti Flather and James Rusk
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Although yesterday's terrorist attacks did not touch Canadian soil, they emptied offices and factories, closed financial markets, grounded commercial air traffic and dominated thoughts and emotions across the country.
As the news hit Toronto, workers abandoned the 30- to 50-storey downtown buildings in droves, some on their own initiative, some on the advice of superiors.
By noon, the financial core was occupied mainly by grim spectators watching reruns of the destruction of New York's World Trade Center on outdoor television screens normally tuned to business channels.
"There's no business being done today," said Lina Lagemant, a receptionist with the Bank of Montreal at First Canadian Place, the country's tallest office building. "Everyone has gone home. The trading floor is closed."
"People were scared," said Bill Platt, a worker at the federal Department of Justice. "We got an e-mail from our employer saying 'we recommend you leave, but you don't have to.' Everyone left, obviously. It's very sombre."
In Vancouver, a company that manages several central downtown highrises suggested that tenants send their employees home and imposed new security measures such as refusing access to couriers without advance permission.
"While our building is not currently under any known or perceived threat, as a precautionary measure, we are currently under heightened security," said Jon Wellman, a vice-president of Bentall Real Estate Services.
Many businesses in the same building as the U.S. consulate sent their workers home. "I don't want to be collateral damage in terms of something that might happen involving the United States," said Lee Barter, of Fama Holdings Ltd.
Chris Hamilton of Crystal Solutions said "a lot of people were kind of freaking out. We're not quite comfortable working in the same building as the consulate."
In Quebec, officials were shaken by a close call for about 40 people who were preparing for a promotional event, Québec-New York 2001, which was to have opened tomorrow at the World Financial Center, a few dozen meters from the World Trade Center.
The show's chief organizer, Michel Letourneau, saw the second of two hijacked jetliners hit the World Trade Center as he entered the city. "It was like an apocalypse," he said in telephone interview. "People were throwing themselves out of the windows of the tower. People in the streets were crying and in total shock."
Premier Bernard Landry said security was stepped up at Hydro-Québec dams in Northern Quebec as soon as news was received that a terrorist attack was unfolding. He gave no details.
The official jitters were not confined to Quebec. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein expressed concern that the province's oil-and-gas industry, a supplier to the U.S. market, could come under attack.
"When you see these acts of destruction that are very targeted, the first thing that comes to mind is, at what risk are those vital commodities?" he said, adding that provincial officials would discuss the threat with their federal counterparts.
In Whitehorse, thousands of children were sent home from schools and many government workers fled their offices amid fear that a Korean Airlines Boeing 747 bound for New York had been hijacked. It landed at the Yukon capital under escort by U.S. and Canadian fighter jets. Later the RCMP explained that low fuel and miscommunication, not terrorism, led to the flap. The flight, carrying 207 passengers and crew, was redirected from a planned fuel stop in Anchorage, Alaska.
Elsewhere, Canadians tried to comprehend and react as best they could.
At ground level in Toronto, a Canada Post worker passing a gridlocked intersection solemnly asked a cab driver, "Have you heard?"
"Yes," was the driver's only response.