U.S. lawmakers continue to perpetuate 9/11 myth
Mike Blanchfield, CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen

Published: Monday, October 16, 2006

OTTAWA - Deep in the heart of the deepest part of Texas, the myth that drives the Canadian government crazy is alive and well: that some of the 9/11 hijackers came from Canada.

The elected leaders of Cameron County, Texas, which comprises the southern tip of the state, revived that myth in a resolution at a local meeting just last week.

The county leaders passed a resolution that makes clear they are dead set against a controversial plan by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to build a fence stretching from Laredo to Brownsville to seal off the Texas border from Mexico.

Along the way, they questioned why such a fence wasn't being called for along the 49th parallel, citing - incorrectly - that some of the 9/11 hijackers came from Canada.

''Although proponents of the fence on the U.S.-Mexico border have stated that it is necessary to preserve national security, they have not called for a similar structure along the United States border with Canada,'' states the county's resolution passed at a meeting last Tuesday, ''despite the fact several terrorist groups have made or attempted entry through the Canadian border, including some of the Sept. 11, 2001, attackers.''

In the initial aftermath of 9/11, there was unsubstantiated speculation that some of the 19 suicide bombers had crossed into the U.S. from Canada. Debunking that myth has become a full-time job for Canadian diplomats south of border since then, as members of Congress and cable news pundits have periodically revived it. Canada's former ambassador, Frank McKenna, took to the American airwaves to combat the myth directly.

That was one element of a comprehensive program by the Canadian embassy in Washington to bust the No. 1 myth about Canada-U.S. relations.

This time, this latest perpetuation of the Canada-terror myth came not from right-leaning Fox News pundits, but from the well-intentioned elected commissioners of Cameron County, who think the Bush administration's immigration policy towardMexico is wrong-headed, and bad for their country and region.

David Garza, who represents the town of San Benito, about 30 kilometres north of Brownsville, accused Washington lawmakers of focusing too much negative attention on the Mexican border at the expense of the Canadian. In an interview, Garza spoke knowledgably about the divisive immigration debate in his country, citing the need for a better policy that reflects the fact both sides of the border rely on each other economically.

''They're trying to build this Berlin Wall in south Texas. We already figured out that that didn't work,'' he said.

''They're not going to get rid of 12 million illegal Mexicans in the United States by putting a wall up. They're already here.''

But he was on shaky factual ground when it came to his country's northern border.

''That's what we were told in the good old terrorist days of 9/11. I think they found that some of the individuals that had come in through Canada, and then had immigrated into the U.S., if I remember reading correctly.''

The Canadian Embassy in Washington has dedicated a major amount of time and resources to fighting that perception. It has created a special secretariat charged with lobbying Congress and state governments about the contributions Canada is making to the U.S.-led war on terrorism and the extent of their world-leading trade relationship, among other things.

It created a special website, CanadianAlly.com, which contains a ''Myth Buster'' section, complete with a true or false quiz.

''Some of the 9/11 hijackers entered through Canada: FALSE,'' states the first item on the online quiz. ''This is simply not true. In fact, they had all been legally admitted to the United States, as has been confirmed by senior American officials.''

Bernard Etzinger, the Canadian Embassy spokesman in Washington, said he wasn't aware of the Cameron County incident, but said diplomats would be calling down there to set the record straight, as they have done four or five times in the past year across the U.S.

''It's been declining in frequency but you still get it once in a while,'' said Etzinger, explaining the embassy recently obtained a correction from an Upstate New York newspaper that perpetuated the 9/11 Canadian hijacker connection in a throwaway phrase from a story on the fifth anniversary of the attacks.

The embassy called the editor and asked for a correction, which was forthcoming without a fuss.

''There were members of Congress who said it in the past,'' said Etzinger. ''You go at them every time you see them.''

Ottawa Citizen

© CanWest News Service 2006