I will never forget that day in September and, I'm sure, neither will you.It began routinely enough, just like it did for most of us.
I was at the Montreal Convention Centre, speaking to the opening of a huge international conference of airport CEOs and managers from around the world.
Just after 9 o'clock someone came up to the podium with a handwritten note about an air accident or tragedy. I wrapped up, got off the stage and only then learned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.
I felt immediately that this was likely an act of terrorism. I've been around in Transport long enough to know that large passenger planes just don't crash into tall buildings. Even in hopeless emergencies, every pilot's instinct is to save lives.
Once the terrorist attacks were confirmed, I knew I had to get back to Ottawa to be at the hub of our country's response to this unprecedented act of terrorism.
Even before I arrived back from Montreal to Transport Canada's headquarters at Place de Ville Tower C, our Situation Centre was making critical, unprecedented decisions. With my approval, we did something no Canadian government had ever done — we essentially shut down our country's entire airspace by ordering aircraft out of the skies, and not allowing any to take off. The department instructed nav canada to order 270 flights over the Atlantic to turn around and go back to Europe. We had nav canada direct another 224 flights with more than 33,000 passengers to land at Canadian airports.
Over the four-day period when airspace was either completely or partially closed, Transport Canada employees literally worked around the clock to rewrite and implement new safety and security regulations so that we could allow aircraft safely into the skies again.
Meanwhile, the diverted flights that landed in communities across Canada created an unprecedented influx of passengers, particularly in smaller communities like Gander which had never seen so many peoplearriving at once. The people in these communities, including Transport Canada employees, worked tirelessly to welcome the unexpected guests. They opened their homes and their hearts in a show of hospitality that was recognized and lauded around the world.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, we took a significant number of other major actions to enhance security, not only in the air transportation system, but in every mode of transportation. We dealt with the financial viability of the airlines and other related issues. Of course, this was in addition to the ongoing work of the department, which by itself takes no small effort.
I can't remember any government department being called on to make so many enormous decisions in such a short period of time.
The job done by the men and women at Transport Canada was nothing short of incredible. Their remarkable dedication and commitment to public service came through time and again.
Transport Canada may have taken the lead, but we needed and got plenty of support. NAV CANADA, airports and air carriers played a key role, as did many federal government departments and agencies who supplied people and expertise to the Situation Centre - the rcmp, Canada Customs and Revenue, csis, National Defence, and Citizenship and Immigration, to name a few.
In a matter of hours, the aviation community rallied to successfully manage the most extensive grounding of aircraft in Canada's history. Civic and community organizations, businesses and individual Canadians also mobilized as never before to house, feed and provide moral support to our guests.
Looking back, I wished we could have written down something that would accurately record for our children and their children what this department did during that momentous period. I believe this booklet captures part of that important period in our lives.
I should point out that not all stories and voices are included. Nor is this booklet a minute-by-minute account of the hours, days and weeks following September 11. Rather, it is a snapshot of the experiences of some of the individuals involved.
At the end of the day, my hope is that this publication will help confirm that one of the most important Canadian aspects to the tragedy was the way we responded. We did our jobs. We opened our homes and our hearts to tens of thousands of perfect strangers. And we stood by our American friends.
I want to thank each and every one of you.
The Honourable David Collenette P.C., M.P.
Minister of Transport