Getting Canada on the radar screen

Relatively few Canadians, and no doubt even fewer Americans, know that on that terrible day of Sept. 11, 2001, it was a Canadian who ordered the skies over North America shut down in hopes of thwarting any other potential hijackings.
The decision was made deep inside Cheyenne Mountain by NORAD, which is responsible for the air defence of North America. The United States and Canada share joint command of NORAD, and it just so happened it was Canada’s turn to be in charge on that fateful day.
NORAD, which pre-dates the Space Age, is just one example of Canada-U.S. co-operation on defence. At any one time, for instance, about 600 Canadian personnel are based in the United States, including with Central Command in Tampa, Fla., which is overseeing the war on terror.
And, of course, Canadian troops and sailors have been deployed to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf to serve alongside their American counterparts.
Yet this cozy relationship on defence matters, which has been going on for decades, certainly does not always translate into agreement on other fronts, most notably trade disputes. Nor, ironically, has it swayed U.S. perceptions, including among many sitting in the White House itself, that Canada isn’t carrying the load when it comes to fighting terrorism.
That’s where Lt.-Col. Jamie Robertson comes in. Filling a post Ottawa created at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., he has been on the job for about three months now trying to fight these perceptions and pre-conceptions. In other words, to get the real message about Canada’s military presence across to Americans.
It involves visits to Capitol Hill, as well as interviews with editorial boards for various media. Meeting with academics, and especially the myriad of “think-tanks” based in Washington, to let them know what Canada has done—and is doing—in the war on terror.
It’s sad this one-man crusade, so to speak, is even needed, but Lt.-Col. Robertson is eager to tackle the job—and confident of being successful. When one starts at zero, after all, you can only go up.
And given the current chilly relations between Washington and Ottawa, his efforts to raise Canada’s profile in the U.S. capital hopefully will spill over into other areas, too, perhaps leading to a softening American attitude on trade disputes and other cross-border irritants.
It all starts with just getting Canada on the radar screen down there.