TORONTO – Fighting what he believes is a perception that Canadians have become anti-American, Canada's deputy prime minister said Friday that his country stands behind the U.S.-led forces in Iraq, even though it decided against joining them.
In a telephone interview, John Manley said his government has failed to clearly express its support for the U.S.-led mission to oust Saddam Hussein after refusing to join the fight.
"I think it should have been part of the message from the beginning," said Manley, who is also finance minister. "There ought to have been no ambiguity in how we thought the conflict should conclude, once it's engaged."
With a recent rebuke by the U.S. ambassador and anecdotal evidence of business orders canceled and visits by Americans called off, conservative political parties and the Canadian business community have decided to launch a pro-American campaign to show support for the United States.
What worries business leaders and politicians is that Americans -- fueled by reports of anti-war protests, insulting comments by political leaders and booing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a hockey game -- may believe that Canadians people are strongly anti-American.
While no one expects a permanent rift between the North American neighbors that share a strategic alliance and the world's largest trade partnership, concern about an anti-Canadian response exists.
Pro-American rallies have taken place across Canada, including more than 500 people who turned out in freezing rain Friday in Toronto, carrying posters that said "Canada Loves America," and "Freedom Isn't Free."
"We're not fair-weather friends of the Americans -- we're their friends in all weather, in war and in peace, even though some of us may disagree with the war," said Ray Heard of Friends of America, which organized the rally.
Canadian officials say Prime Minister Jean Chretien's anti-war stance has had no impact on the traditional Canada-U.S. friendship. They note Canada's continued role in the war on terror, with ships patrolling the Persian Gulf and more than 1,500 soldiers headed to Afghanistan later this year.
On Monday, Manley will meet with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in Washington to discuss border security and other terrorism related issues.
A delegation of Canadian business leaders will also travel to Washington next week for meetings on reshaping security and economic ties in the post-Sept. 11 era.
In an emotional speech Thursday in Parliament, Manley defended the right of Canadians to express their views -- whether pro- or anti-war -- but insisted it should be done with respect.
"I don't want to hear another story about people booing each other's anthems at sporting events," he said. "I don't want to hear about Canadians and Americans canceling business transactions. I don't want to hear voices of disrespect at any level."