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Terror and the City: Why Victoria is better than Washington, DC
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepp's Commentaries
August 27, 2004

OK, granted, British Columbia is probably Canada at its best.

It's got incredible scenery, and it's the one part of Canada that doesn't freeze solid between November and March. At least, along the coast. Vancouver is an incredible city, Seattle without the grunge and the nerds, and marijuana is $125 Canadian per ounce for what the town major describes as "coma-inducing weed." Victoria takes all the good stuff about London and leaves behind the yobs and the multidimensional street maps. I've lived in both London and Victoria, and I would say they are my second and third favorite places to live in the world, behind only Siskiyou County.

So when a buddy of mine showed up today, fresh from a week long sojourn up Vancouver Island and then on the inward passage ferry to Prince Rupert, the first thing I asked him was if he got a red maple leaf tattooed on his butt. He was effusive. Note to BC Tourism Board: you got another one.

What was interesting - or at least novel - to me was his description of their visit to the Parliament building in Victoria. Here they are, a pair of Yanks with backpacks and accents, and they show up at the provincial capital.

Did the army of cops guarding the building against terrorism give them steely stares and demand to see their passports? No, the one cop in sight just gave them a genial wave. Were their backpacks searched? Nope. They weren't even asked to leave them at the desk. The place, my friend noted incredulously, didn't even have a metal detector.

It can't be claimed that British Columbians are apathetic about their politics. This is a province that is quite capable of swinging from socialism to fascism and back every few years. It's sort of incredible they haven't had a Guy Fawkes since the days of WAC Bennett.

Honestly, it's amazing there's a building left standing in BC. Doesn't al Qaida know that western Canada is ripe for the plucking?

Ottawa's pretty much the same way. I'm told the PM still walks to work without guards - through the crowded Sparks Street Mall - on days when the weather's nice.

Maybe al Qaida thinks it's more fun to tease the paranoid regime in Washington. Or maybe they don't want to mess with a system that has good dope for $125 an ounce. I mean, that's about ¤20 Euros for 10 grams. The fact that al Qaida isn't messing with a free society that has good dope must have Tom Ridge writhing in outrage and confusion. Doesn't al Qaida hate those sorts of things?

Last week another guy got back from Washington DC. He, too was effusive, talking about the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall, the Smithsonian, and all those glorious things that make Washington such a wonderful place to visit.

But armed guards - troopers, not to put too fine a point on it - were everywhere. He had to show ID dozens of times, and his backpack was x-rayed and opened, metal detecting wands played over him, metal detectors everywhere. It's still possible to see Congressmen walking around town without armed escorts - Michael Moore frightened some in "Fahrenheit 911" - but you are never, ever going to see George W. walking up the mall, briefcase in hand, and no secret service in sight. Even if he was a popular president.

Quite a contrast, these two capitols. One, open, unafraid, and comfortable. The other, fearful, paranoid, and according to my friend, a very scary place to be these days.

The Republicans are meeting in New York next week for their quadrennial convention, and I'm told that there are going to be thirty-seven THOUSAND armed guards‹cops and troopers‹there to defend the thousand or so delegates.

A court ruled that protesters couldn't stage a rally in Central Park on the grounds that they might hurt the lawn. First Amendment takes back seat to blades of grass. You have to wonder what Walt Whitman would make of that.

The media is playing up the threat of a terror attack, of course. Terrorists are pantingly anxious to pass up the opportunity to blow up the Parliament in BC in order to take on 37,000 armed guards and the most sophisticated military equipment on earth.

The odd thing is that two commercial jetliners took off from a Moscow airport, one about an hour and a half after the other. Both crashed within three minutes of each other, over 500 miles apart. Witnesses saw mid-air explosions, and there are reports that at least one plane had its emergency "hijacked!" transponder going.

It's possible it wasn't a Russian 9/11. Not likely, but possible.

The media buried that story on page 19. A ludicrously improbable attack on New York during the convention is considered bigger news than an almost certainly actual terror attack in Russia.

The Russian attack doesn't pump up American fear and paranoia, of course, so it's deemed unnewsworthy.

Similarly, Americans don't hear about how Canada - a country which lost as many people proportionately on 9/11 as America did - doesn't have those stupid goddam color code terror threats, and they haven't subjected themselves to endless searches by bored security guards, suspicion over cash purchases, and the gimlet stares of cameras on every street corner and in every store.

Americans, with hardly a thought, have traded away much of their freedom and privacy for some utterly non-existent security, and the result is only that they are more frightened and apprehensive than ever.

In BC, they don't have metal detectors, armed guards with automatic weapons, or the pervasive stink of fear.

The war on terror may be the first (and last) war in the history of the United States in which the people deliberately made sacrifices in order to lose.

Posted: September 1, 2004


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