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A New York City police officer stands watch outside the World Trade Center construction site on Sept. 9, 2011. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
A New York City police officer stands watch outside the World Trade Center construction site on Sept. 9, 2011. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)

Harper calls for 'selfless acts of community service' to mark 9/11 Add to ...

Stephen Harper is designating Sept. 11 a “National Day of Service” to encourage Canadians to help others in memory of the victims of 9/11 and the humanitarian response to the tragedy.

Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino announced the measure Friday in Ottawa, two days before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed close to 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, including 24 Canadians.

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The Harper government says each future Sept. 11 will be a national community service day where Canadians are encouraged to help others “to honour generous acts of humanity and courage in the face of terror” in 2001.

“We all remember where we were when the planes hit; when this unimaginable use of violence was used to commit mass murder and create an atmosphere of fear,” Mr. Fantino said.

“Yet in the immediate shock that followed these horrible events, Canadians as individuals and communities, responded with incredible acts of kindness and of courage.

And in the days and weeks that followed, our police officers, firefighters and first responders joined hands with all Canadians to show our true character – and the best in one other – to help our American friends.”

In the days that followed Canadians opened their homes to more than 30,000 stranded travellers whose plane flights were grounded by the closing of U.S. and Canadian airspace. The tiny town of Gander, Nfld., for instance, sheltered and fed more than 6,500 passengers, most of them American.

“People prepared food. They set up shelters in schools and churches. Local businesses donated all the basic necessities. And many residents welcomed strangers into their homes and made them like family,” Mr. Fantino said.

The government said Sept. 11 will be about “people helping people and neighbours getting together as a community” across Canada.

“By participating in selfless acts of community service every year on September 11, Canadians ... will be able to pay tribute to the Canadians and others who were lost on 9/11 and honour those who stood fast in the crisis,” a statement from Ottawa says.

Mr. Harper is heading to New York to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, representing Canada as Americans gather to remember their dead.

The Prime Minister will devote special attention to the 24 Canadians who lost their lives in the al-Qaeda attacks. He’ll meet privately in New York Saturday with families of the Canadian victims.

On Sunday, Sept. 11, Mr. Harper will attend a public event at the British Garden at Hanover Square, a short walk from ground zero in Manhattan’s financial district. This garden honours the British victims of the 9/11 attacks.

The Harper government has planned a full slate of observances at home in Canada.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews will be in Gander, Nfld., on Sept. 11 to honour Canada’s role in comforting foreign passengers whose planes were grounded in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Back in Ottawa, Mr. Fantino and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will represent the government at capital ceremonies.

Mr. Fantino, a former career police officer, will participate in an event on Parliament Hill, the scene a decade ago of a massive vigil for victims of the atrocity. On Sept. 14, 2001, an estimated 100,000 assembled on the Hill, where then-prime-minister Jean Chrétien pledged Canada would “be with the United States every step of the way as friends, as neighbours, as family.”

Mr. Baird will also attend a performance at the National Arts Centre by the NAC Orchestra and the Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys.

The hour-long concert, called the 9/11 Concert of Hope and Remembrance, will take place on the outdoor terrace of the arts centre at 8:46 a.m. ET to coincide with the time the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

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