Union Tribune

April 28, 2002

Canadians criticize U.S. for snubs
Bush's 'dismissive' reaction riles some


EDMONTON, Alberta President Bush, who is widely admired in
Mexico for his efforts to strengthen U.S. ties to that country, isn't doing so well with his neighbors to the north.

Bush's reaction to the April 17 "friendly-fire" killing of four
Canadian soldiers by a U.S. jet fighter has drawn widespread
criticism in Canada for what one news report called his "quick

The episode reminded Canadians that when Bush addressed
Congress in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York
and Washington last September, he failed to include them in his
list of allies whose quick support had earned American
gratitude. That story played out briefly but loudly as "The

"We're more or less family with the Americans, and we don't
really like to be taken for granted," said Rob Carstens, 32, of

The Canadian psyche has long been marked by a sense that there is nothing so all-American as being clueless about Canadians and the land of the maple leaf flag.

Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote that, for most
Americans, "Canada is just that vague, cold place where their
uncle used to go fishing." She compared the border to a one-way
mirror, through which Canadians have a clear view southward
while Americans are blind to what happens up north.

The problem is partly a matter of numbers and geography.
Canada's population of 30 million is roughly the size of
California's. And about 90 percent of Canadians live within 100
miles of the border, where they feel the constant pull of
American popular culture and economic opportunity.

"Canadians would like their relationship with the United States to be more reciprocal," said David Biette, director of the Canada
Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "But the
problem is that while Canada is important to the United States,
it's just not as important as the U.S. is to Canada."

Indeed, Canadians often fret that their national identity is in
danger of obliteration, especially in an era of free trade and

Defining that identity is almost a national obsession. A radio
station once sponsored a contest in which listeners were asked
to come up with a home-country version of "as American as
apple pie." The winning entry "as Canadian as possible under
the circumstances" encapsulated the difficulty.

Canadian nationalists contrast their understated culture, safe
streets and national health insurance to what they see as
America's big-mouth, survival-of-the-fittest cowboy culture.

Of course, self-satisfaction at the expense of the United States is hardly universal. It has provided a mother lode of material for
satirists like Will and Ian Ferguson, who lampoon those who
define themselves as Canadians by counting the ways they aren't American.

In their book, "How to Be a Canadian," the Fergusons warn of
"Canadian nationalists curled up in a fetal position, rocking back
and forth, back and forth, repeating to themselves over and over
again: "Better than the Americans, better than the Americans."

Nonetheless, public opinion polls in Canada show overwhelming
support for strong ties to the United States.

The diplomatic dustup over the friendly-fire tragedy in
Afghanistan began to build April 18, after the White House
released a written statement that quoted the president saying,
"Canada's fallen heroes and their families are in our hearts and

But Canadians wanted to hear directly from the president. Their
media became restless when Bush did not mention the accident
during several public appearances that day. A Canadian reporter
finally managed a quick encounter with Bush, who responded
brusquely, "I talked to the Canadian prime minister and offered
my condolences."

That only aggravated sensibilities in Canada, where the next day, Deputy Prime Minister John Manley told reporters,
"Undoubtedly, it would have been of comfort to the families to
hear the president's own words through the media."

Manley's comment appears to have set off an alarm in
Washington. A few hours later, Bush sought out reporters,
expressing his sorrow at the tragedy in Afghanistan and added
that "the parents and loved ones of the soldiers have my most
heartfelt sympathy."

That eased the tempest in Canada, but left a lingering sense of
disappointment. As the Toronto Globe put it, Bush had finally "said everything he should have said 24 hours earlier."