SPECIAL REPORT

SAILING OFF TO WAR

Canadian forces left Halifax even as U.S. soldiers began ground operations

JOHN DEMONT October 29 2001
SPECIAL REPORT

SAILING OFF TO WAR

Canadian forces left Halifax even as U.S. soldiers began ground operations

JOHN DEMONT October 29 2001

SAILING OFF TO WAR

SPECIAL REPORT

Canadian forces left Halifax even as U.S. soldiers began ground operations

BY JOHN DEMONT in Halifax

The navy brass kept the city hanging for days. Given the fear of a terrorist attack, would they run the risk of holding a full-scale send-off for the flotilla leaving Halifax to support the U.S.-led war effort? In the end, proud of mustering the third-largest commitment to the anti-terrorism coalition, the military leadership pulled out the stops. They weren’t disappointed—a slate-grey sky added to the solemnity of the occasion as three ships carrying 800 military personnel slipped out of the harbour last week to join the frigate HMCS Halifax, already en route to

the Arabian Sea. (HMCS Vancouver will sail from Esquimalt before the end of the month.) As Canada’s largest naval base, Halifax has seen the ritual many times before: teary family members at dockside, a brass band belting out the rousing naval anthem Heart of Oak, thousands of flagwaving well-wishers lining the waterfront as Canadian personnel headed off to a faraway war. Just as timeless was the pride stirred by last week’s scene.

But, as always, there was also anxiety. Gen. Raymond Henault, Canadas chief of defence staff, offered words of comfort to the families of the departing sailors at last week’s goodbye. “I can’t promise that they

won’t face any danger,” he said, “but we’ve given them the best training and the best tools available to accomplish their task.” What that task was, however, remained unclear to many. Beyond a vague promise to provide support for the front-line U.S and British forces, Canada’s mission remained publicly undefined—even as Canadian personnel headed into an increasingly volatile zone.

Last week, as U.S. and British planes pounded targets and about 100 U.S. commandos spent several hours on the ground in Afghanistan in what U.S. officials called a “significant new phase” of the conflict, the region seemed ready to explode. Strife continued in Pakistan, where militant Muslims oppose President Pervez Musharraf’s support for the U.S. attacks. Some offered to send fighters to help Afghanistan’s Taliban regime battle American ground troops. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was unable to ease renewed tensions between Pakistan and India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. And at the same time, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensified with the assassination of ultranationalist Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

In the United States, uncertainty also ruled. While authorities continued their investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist at| tacks, they confronted another threat: | bioterrorism through the United States Postal Service. By week’s end, eight Americans had been diagnosed with anthrax— with one death on Oct. 5—while more than 40 others had tested positive for exposure to the spores. Media outlets and politicians were the targets—in the case of Senate majority leader Tom Daschle’s office in Washington, more than two dozen people were exposed to the bacteria. Officials also confirmed anthrax had been found in New York Gov. George Pataki’s Manhattan office one day before a visit there by Ontario Premier Mike Harris. (The premier and his entourage were not tested, experts determining that his risk of exposure had been negligible.) Investigators did not rule out a possible link to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, although they were also pursuing the possibility that extremist elements in the United States were responsible for some of the incidents.

The fear spread as anthrax turned up in mail from the U.S. in Kenya and Argentina. Ottawa was taking no chances. In order to stockpile medication, Health

Canada overrode the patent on ciprofloxacin, or Cipro, one of the antibiotics used to treat anthrax, asking Torontobased Apotex Inc. to produce a generic version of the drug. Germany’s Bayer AG, which has a Canadian patent on Cipro until 2004, reacted angrily, saying it was seeking talks with the government and could meet the demand on its own. (U.S. authorities said they also have the right to override Bayer’s patent, although such a move was not under consideration. Instead, Washington took steps to increase the production of other antibiotics effective against anthrax.)

Ottawa also moved to increase security on the home front. Last week, Justice Minister Anne McLellan tabled a sweeping package designed to make it easier to stop terrorists from raising money or planning violence in Canada. Some of the measures raised troubling questions about civil liberties: individuals believed to have information about a terrorist crime could be arrested and forced to testify before a judge at an “investigative hearing”—without

any charges being laid. But McLellan, alluding to the hijacked plane attacks of Sept. 11, said police had to be able to move quickly to stop any terrorist conspiracy as it unfolded. “The investigative hearing can be an important tool,” she told a House of Commons committee, “in terms of breaking up early, and detecting early, possible terrorist activities and threats, so that they don’t get on the plane—because if they are on the plane, it’s too late.”

McLellan stressed that legitimate protest —from civil disobedience to wildcat walkouts by unions—would not be defined as terrorism. “Even an illegal strike does not call into question national security or public safety,” she said. “We always must return to the focus of terror—that is what we’re dealing with.” That was also why Canadian sailors went to war. And why worried families lined the Halifax docks, watching their loved ones leave.

With John Geddes in Ottawa

Do you fear a biological attack where you live?

ANTHRAX FACTS AND FIGURES

■ Anthrax is an animal disease that rarely spreads to humans and is not contagious from person to person.

■ Humans can contract anthrax in three ways: from eating tainted meat (extremely rare); through skin contact with infected animals or animal products (about 95 per cent of cases worldwide, mostly in the developing world); from breathing in thousands of spores of the bacteria.

* The cutaneous (skin) version is the least dangerous. Left untreated, 10 to 20 per cent of patients would die.

■ Most inhaled spores lodge in the nasal mem-

brane, but in rare cases minute spores travel directly to the lungs, where they pose a greater risk. Left untreated, all patients with pulmonary anthrax would die.

■ Exposure to airborne anthrax in almost all cases

does not mean anthrax infection, which would require inhalation of as many as 8,000 spores.

■ Of roughly 50 confirmed cases of anthrax exposure in the U.S. since Oct. 4, eight people are known to have developed the disease, and one case was fatal.

■ Fearful of the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, medical authorities caution against ta king the drugs in the absence of a clear threat as determined by a physician. Cipro (ciprofloxacin) has specific approval as a treatment for the most lethal inhaled form of anthrax. But antibiotics in the penicillin and tetracycline family are also effective against all forms of the disease. All the medications are most effective if taken before symptoms occur.