When Canada saved American lives

To say that Canada-US relations are going through a rough spot now would be a slight understatement.  Trade tariffs.  A disastrous Canada-led G7, due mostly to the ?performance? of the US President.  Accusations that Canada burned down the White House during the War of 1812: an amazing feat for a country that was not born until 1867!  A ‘special place in Hell’ for Prime Minister Trudeau according to a US trade adviser.  Not exactly signs of neighbourly good ties, now is it?

We in Canada have often been told that our relationship with our southern, and much bigger (economically, politically, militarily, but NOT geographically), neighbour is the most important one we have.  Given the shared border, largely shared culture and history and – usually but not these days – similar positions on world issues it would be hard to argue with that statement.  Sure, we have our disagreements but we resolve them eventually.  It therefore could be assumed that the current low point is nothing more than a ‘summer squall’ (according to former PM Brian Mulroney).  Only time will tell if this crisis is more serious than previous ones.  There is certainly no shortage of advice on how to mend fences.

What if we focused on the positive?  Such as when we were very close friends and celebrated that friendship?  I can think of no better way to do that than to remember when Canadians in a foreign land took very real risks to their own safety and went above and beyond to save American lives.  I am speaking of course of the ‘Canadian Caper’ back in 1980 when Canadian diplomats helped get US citizens out of Tehran.

I thought of this as I read in the Ottawa Citizen that Mary O’Flaherty, who worked as the communications officer at the Canadian embassy in the Iranian capital, died on May 13.  Her job was to handle encrypted messages back and forth from Ottawa and was in on the plan.  As a result of her work, and that of other Canadians, six Americans evaded capture by the revolutionaries in Iran and were able to fly home on fake Canadian passports.  This scheme was captured in the 2012 Hollywood film Argo which many felt underplayed the Canadian role in the affair.  Ms. O’Flaherty was awarded the Order of Canada for her bravery.

This incident predated by a few years my entry into the world of intelligence but I remember it well.  Americans went nuts over our assistance and showered Canada with praise.  Greyhound even offered any Canadian an unlimited pass across the US for $99 (a close friend of mine took them up on the offer).  It would be hard to come up with a time where we got along better.

Maybe that is what we need to keep reminding people, what brings us together rather than what separates us.  For all our differences, we in Canada and those in the US have been allies during war and during peace.  We intermarry, vacation in each other’s land and engage in hundreds of billions of dollars in trade.  We are friends and friends stick up for each other.  Like when Gander took in thousands of stranded Americans on 9/11.  That’s what friends do.

It is hard to take the long view when things look bad but we must.  We – both Canada and the US – will survive the Trump presidency (hopefully the damage won’t be that bad).  We will go back to our former ties – two nations that share the world’s longest undefended border.  How many countries can say that?  Hope springs eternal!

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

Leave a Reply