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Harper to represent Canada at ground zero 9/11 ceremony

Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves before the start of the Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill on Sept. 8 2011.

FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper is heading to New York to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, representing Canada at ground zero 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 that in total killed nearly 3,000 people. He'll meet privately in New York Saturday with families of the Canadian dead.

On Sunday, Sept. 11, Mr. Harper will attend a public event at the British Memorial 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.

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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.

Tiny Gander, with a population of less than 10,000, gave food and shelter to more than 6,500 airline passengers and crew members stranded by no-fly orders to clear airspace. Many grounded travellers were Americans, and memories of generosity shown by Canadians are frequently invoked by politicians celebrating relations between the two countries.

Back in Ottawa on Sunday, associate defence minister Julian 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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Defence Minister Peter MacKay took part in early 9/11 observances on Thursday, representing the country at a commemoration event in Washington where he delivered a keynote address casting the tragedy as an attack on freedom.

"On that September morning, we bore witness to a loss of innocence," Mr. MacKay said, recalling "the calamity of that day as well as the images of the towers falling and ashen-faced citizens running for help."

"These unprecedented and co-ordinated terrorist attacks, by extremists that hold no regard for human life, targeted symbols of liberty and strength, freedom and prosperity."

Mr. MacKay reminded his American audience how when planes were grounded, "Canadians opened their hearts and homes," welcoming 33,000 stranded air travellers from 239 diverted flights.

He didn't mention the Afghanistan war by name, but Mr. MacKay honoured those Canadians who'd since fought, and died, as allies of the Americans and in the name of fighting terrorism.

"In the decade that has followed, thousands more Canadians have offered their service and made sacrifices – whether at home or abroad, whether in uniform or as civilians – in support of their American friends and in defence of our mutual interests."

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