Canada needs to heed findings of 9/11 report, victims' families say


UPDATED AT 6:39 PM EDT Friday, Jul 23, 2004


Relatives of Canadians who died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center said yesterday that they hope Ottawa will apply the Sept. 11 commission's findings to its own intelligence-gathering and security agencies.

"If intelligence and security agencies in Canada sit back and criticize the Americans without taking any actions themselves, that would be so embarrassing," said Erica Basnicki, whose father, Ken, was killed in the collapse of the twin towers in September, 2001. ". . . If we just take those recommendations and put them on a shelf, I will be so upset."

The families of American victims reacted largely positively to yesterday's report, seeing it as a vindication of efforts to have their questions answered, and as a step toward better protecting their country.

Ms. Basnicki, a 24-year-old student at Ryerson University in Toronto, applied that sentiment to Canada's situation, and said she would like to see the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service work more closely together to prevent terrorist attacks on Canadian soil.

Yesterday's report also contains several references that are specific to Canada, including a demand for tighter border controls and a recommendation that Canadians travelling to the United States not be exempt from carrying biometric information with their passports.

A total of 24 Canadians died in the attacks in New York.

The report, the culmination of a 20-month investigation, found that the U.S. government was ill-prepared to detect al-Qaeda plotters and cited a "failure of imagination" in not preventing the worst terror attacks in U.S. history.

Ms. Basnicki wasn't surprised by that assessment. "That there was an intelligence failure is not a big shock," she said. "That there were communications failures between intelligence agencies is not surprising."

Her mother, Maureen, echoed those sentiments and said she would like to see Ottawa take action, "without political interference and vested interests.

"The way I see it, it's time for our great country to sit back and learn from the United States -- to learn what our neighbours to the south have heard," she said.

Maureen Basnicki said the close friendships she has developed with Tanja Tomasevic and Cindy Barkway, two other Canadians who lost their husbands in the Sept. 11 attacks, have been a "blessing."

"We're like sisters," she said. "We support each other."

Ms. Tomasevic, 37, lost her husband Vladimir on what was his first trip to New York.

She criticized the report for placing "collective blame" on several U.S. security and intelligence agencies.

"It just opens more questions. . . . They're spreading out the responsibility," she said.

"That's the hardest part, because what we want to see is who's responsible here. The terrorists are all dead. The victims are gone. So where does that leave the victims' families?"

Although she said the report did not give her a sense of closure, she echoed the Basnickis' hopes about action in Ottawa.

"The United States of America cannot implement these policies unless they have the support from Canada and the rest of the world. It's not going to work if we just bury our heads in the sand," she said.

Both families, who have been critical of the government's failure to erect a permanent memorial for the Canadian victims of Sept. 11, said the report should serve as a wakeup call. "Our former prime minister made comments that this is an American tragedy. I disagree with that. It is a Canadian thing just by the nature that I don't have a husband any more," Ms. Tomasevic said.

"This could happen to any country. It happened in the States, it happened in Spain. We're No. 5 on the list."

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