THE FIRST STATEMENT offered from the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office was issued midday September 11:
"We reel before the blunt and terrible reality of the evil we have just witnessed. We cannot stop the tears of grief. We cannot bring back lost wives and husbands. Sons and daughters. Canadian citizens…citizens from all over the world. We cannot restore futures that have been cut terribly short."
In a speech later in the day, Prime Minister Chretien offered the following statement: “[The attack is] a cowardly act of unspeakable violence…It is impossible to fully comprehend the evil that would have conjured up such a cowardly and depraved assault.”
Chretien was visibly shaken. The political sheen and candour were gone. Cameras rolling, he jutted his uneven chin into the awkward silence and expectation that emanated from his sweaty, information-starved audience of journalists, politicians, law, and military officials. The Prime Minister’s hesitation permitted focus to fall on the trivial minutia underpinning the scene: the confusion mapped onto his body, made manifest in the wrinkles on his mangled suit and the indecision of his remaining plugs of hair; Opposition leader Stockwell Day’s athleticism (he was seated off to the side) secreted between bowed shoulders and beneath a furrowed brow belonging to one twice his age; the scores from the NHL exhibition games scrolling across the banner, interrupted by “Canadian Prime Minister Speaks…”; and the FOX and CNN reporters, relaxed as ever, trading business cards in the third row (I was not very impressed by those miserably cavalier fuckers). The disheveled PM held the podium for support, and began to issue what was rumoured to be a stern warning to the so-called enemies of freedom.
Ahead of his voice, riddled by breaks in pitch and shaken by a staccato grind through the prefatory statement, his hands began to tremble. At the airport bar in Glasgow, where my colleagues and I sipped on browns as we waited irritably for our puddle-jumper to Toronto, The Calgary Herald reporter to my right jotted his disgust heavily into a pocket-notebook. Fear and loathing in Glasgow; perhaps fear and shame at Parliament Hill, and more of the same on either side of Edmonton’s Iron Bridge. In this moment of shared vulnerability, the perceived weight of each subsequent syllable grew exponentially. Where was the courage? The glowing heart? The Shawinigan Handshake of the street-fighter-cum-national-leader?
Chretien’s pitiful trembles turned into intentional gesticulations in tandem with the rhythm of the speech, and his sickly hands became fists. My Calgarian acquaintance choked on his Canadian Club in disbelief when the old Quebecer began slamming the podium. “This damnable act of cowardice will not go unpunished. If the evil is domestic, the perpetrator will pay. If the evil is international, the perpetrator will pay,” he bellowed to a room of Canadians, no longer content with playing placid, cow-eyed multilateral pacifists. Stars supplanted the tears, and the crowd emitted a primal, anticipatory growl. “Vengeance! From the darkness, nous avons vu et entendu—and we’ve seen enough. Measure for measure, and then some.” Remembering his own mother was a Franco-Albertan from the Edmonton region, Chretien continued: “Canadians—Albertans—Edmontonians—should not fear the dark…” He searched the rafters for the god he forsook and then the audience for his wife Aline’s confidence, “for the rejoinder will be a brilliant spectacle!”