05 September 2011

Shock waves gone but ripples still felt in Canada 10 years after 9-11 horrors

By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press – Fri, 2 Sep, 2011

TORONTO - As the horror of Sept. 11 sank in, it was a refrain repeated over and over for months: the world would never be the same.

As a close relative, neighbour and trading partner to the anguished, grief-stricken United States, Canada was emphatically a big part of that world.

"We were terrified," recalled Janna Trosman, who was a 12-year-old elementary student in the Toronto area at the time. "Toronto is like a main world hub as well."

Now 22, Trosman said she will never forget the horror and shock on the faces of her classmates as they sat in her elementary school library watching the Twin Towers crumble.

"That is like an everlasting effect. I remember the day very, very clearly," she said.

Ten years after terrorist attacks reduced the Twin Towers in New York City to rubble in one of those I-remember-exactly-where-I-was moments, some things are no longer the same for Canadians.

On the change front, for example, passports — no smiling in the photos, please — are mandatory for travel to the U.S. Flying involves navigating security and privacy obstacles at airports. Driving usually means a clogged border crossing.

"The shock waves of 9-11 are still very visible today," said pollster John Wright with Ipsos-Reid. "Travel is clearly the most visible."

But in addition to obvious changes, like voyeuristic airport security scans, the attacks of Sept. 11 also engendered more subtle effects north of the border.

Canadians developed a newfound pride in the country that made them feel "very comfortable" with their place in the world, Wright said.

"We've gone through an enormous transformation in the last decade," he said. "A lot of it was 9-11."

Canada refused American exhortations to join the war in Iraq, solidifying a sense of political independence, Wright said. We opted instead to go to war in Afghanistan, shedding a traditional role as peacekeepers and gaining new respect at home and abroad.

Many things in Canada changed. Still others stayed the same, despite predictions to the contrary.

Anticipated restrictions on immigration, for instance, haven't come to pass, said Jeffrey Reitz, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.

"It really hasn't happened," Reitz said. "The setting of targets for permanent immigration in Canada has been virtually unaffected."

Nor has there been a lasting backlash against multiculturalism, despite a somewhat disproportionate focus on Muslims in Canada.

"It's generally the case, whenever there's international conflict, that the status of minority groups who are involved in that or are related to that goes down," Reitz said.

Initially, at least, the attacks did seem to strip Canadians of their sense of security and highlight their vulnerability to the kind of terrorism that until then had been confined to somewhere an ocean away.

"The anxiety level at Christmas of 2001 was absolutely off the scale on every front," Wright said.

Some of that anxiety persists, especially around the anniversary. But a new poll suggests much of the nervousness has passed.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll released this week found 37 per cent of Canadian respondents to consider air travel safer than it was before 9-11, while 52 per cent felt it was just as safe as it was prior to the attacks.

Kelly Huang, 35, was at work on the 17th floor of a highrise at Toronto's King and Bay streets on Sept. 11, 2001, when the commandeered jets sliced into the World Trade Center. Some of his colleagues wept openly at the unfolding disaster.

Anxiety about building security or working in a highrise persisted for days, but has long since faded, Huang said.

However, that horrific day a decade ago did serve to drive home an awareness of a wider world.

"It kind of really opened my eyes in terms of how isolated we are here in North America," Huang said. "I had a very limited knowledge of Islam and the Muslim world before that."

For all the awareness it brought, some suggest the effects of 9-11 a decade later have been minor when it comes to social behaviour or psychological outcomes.

"The one thing that this has taught us is that people are incredibly resilient," said Wayne Corneil of the Institute of Population Health at the University of Ottawa, who specializes in trauma in society.

"They bounce back from this kind of stuff and get on with their lives. It doesn't end up with people — or society — falling apart."

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