Mr. Speaker, six days ago the most devastating attack ever against the free world rendered our world far less free. No longer are we free to fly without a credible fear of hijacking, no longer are we free to travel anywhere any time without extended delays at the border or security check-ins.
We are no longer free to presume that everyone who enters our country is here to pursue a better life. We are definitely no longer free to take for granted the role of our firefighters and police officers, some of whom from my region have gone to New York to help at the scene.
The United States has paid an enormous price for leading the free world. Thousands of people left for work last Tuesday worrying only about their job, the economy and family bills. Horror and death awaited so many who had no idea that they were at war. Thousands of family members wait and hope. Time is needed to mourn the dead and then the free world must act to protect the living.
The terrible tragedy and loss of life in New York has been called an attack on America, but Canada is far from immune to the virus of terrorism that is infecting the globe.
For the first time terrorism from the Middle East has drawn the blood of civilians in the United States. We have seen suicide attacks against civilian target groups in Israel, Egypt and in western Europe. We have even seen an Egyptian airliner take off from New York and then be driven into the sea by a suicidal pilot, again not that long ago. For some reason we thought we were safe in North America. Terrorism was viewed as a distant threat that was only raised by alarmists.
Today we realize that our security was an illusion. We were protected more by chance than by choice. Now, as Dick Cheney said yesterday, we would be absolute fools to not protect ourselves from the credible threat that we now know has always existed.
Canadians quickly understood that the threat against the United States could quickly find Canadian targets in range. I know that within hours of the attack at least one major Canadian company convened a meeting to discuss whether it might also be a target before continuing its Toronto operations. Simply remaining at work was now considered to pose enough risk that it was at least worthy of discussion at the highest levels.
Today Canadians are faced with a disturbing choice. We can defy the goals of the terrorists who resist constraints to our freedom, changes to our laws and stifling security measures. Alternatively, we can accept that our world has changed and our open and almost casual concept of national security is now a threat to our freedom and no longer its hallmark.
President Bush has repeatedly said that the United States is already at war, but this is a war where people are in fact the principal weapons. The men responsible for last Tuesday's tragedy brought only themselves to North America. Immigration would have found nothing in their bags or backgrounds to stop many from entering the country. Yet these men were the most dangerous of weapons, and efforts to keep them out of North America will be the top priority of U.S. law enforcement for the foreseeable future.
The restrictions on the U.S. border to Canada will likely be proportional to the laxness that Americans perceive in our entry requirements. With our country entirely dependent on the free movement of goods across the U.S. border, tougher border security could become the greatest trade barrier we have ever faced. If American plants cannot rely on Canadian shipments getting across the border on time, they will simply switch suppliers with immense consequences.
To prevent this hardship, Canada must demonstrate to the United States that it would be as hard or harder for a terrorist to get into Canada than to go directly to the United States. This inevitably requires changes to our immigration, refugee and visitor visa policies.
We know that the vast majority of immigrants and visitors to Canada come from countries where no realistic terrorist risk exists or has ever existed. We must make sure the current crisis does not restrict the flow of talent, skills and investment from new immigrants on whom we rely for so much of our growth. As well, we must not simply cut off Canadian citizens from their relatives abroad through the widespread denial of visitors permits.
We already have very restrictive visa rules when it comes to people who it is feared will stay and work in Canada. Among the targets of deportation in recent months was a Polish family who had come here, built a business, employed six people and never taken a dime from our social services. Their deportation, while devastating for the children involved, was also a loss for Canada as good, contributing business people were lost.
Conversely, a terrorist by the name of Ressam was never deported and would still be here were it not for U.S. border guards finding explosives in his trunk. We clearly need to change our focus.
It is more than apparent that air travel to Canada from overseas will need to be subject to meaningful security measures. The fact that people can arrive at Pearson airport without any documentation and claim refugee status is an indication of the level of security we impose overseas.
Clearly no one can now be allowed to board a plane bound for Canada without at least a cursory security check, and everyone will need documentation. We must now consider foreign airports as entry points into Canada and establish immigration security checkpoints, much like the United States has at Pearson airport today.
These measures will not make us safe. We cannot stop a determined person from getting to Canada or the United States, but at least it must be a robust and comprehensive effort.
The aftermath of the World Trade Center has brought into question the respect with which we treat our own emergency personnel. In many policy debates of late, firefighters and police officers have too often been treated as regular workers whose pay and pensions must be restricted because every other group of workers would expect the same.
In New York we saw that the job of police and fire crews is not like any other job. While people with other jobs fled down the stairs of the World Trade Center to safety, firefighters were racing up into harm's way and indeed their own deaths.
It is common to salute the bravery and sacrifice of firefighters and police at times of great crisis when their lives are lost in great numbers. I call on members of the House to demonstrate the same respect to the thousands of Canadians who have the courage to sign up to be the first at the scene of any disaster and whose willingness to risk all keeps the rest of us safe.
The attack on America touched every Canadian. We saw the trauma. We shared the fear. We shared the loss and we learned an important lesson. We learned that security that is taken for granted can be taken away.