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The Globe and Mail

Ottawa not looking at evacuating Canadians from Japan

Japan Ambassador in Canada Kaoru Ishikawa, left, responds to media questions over the earthquake that hit his country as Quebec Premier Jean Charest looks on during an official visit with Quebec government representatives Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

China sent buses and the Czechs have sent planes but Canada and most other Western countries are making no immediate plans to evacuate their citizens from quake-ravaged Japan, where the threat of nuclear disaster looms.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday there is no evidence of any scenario that presents a risk to Canadians. "If people want to leave, they have that option," he told reporters in Surrey,. B.C., after making a crime announcement.

But the government is not looking at an evacuation of Canadians from Japan, Mr. Harper said, because there continues to be air service from the country.

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China's embassy in Japan posted a notice on its website Tuesday saying buses were preparing to pick up Chinese citizens who were stuck in the north where the effects of last week's earthquake and subsequent tsunami were most devastating. The Czech Republic said it was sending two military planes to retrieve the country's philharmonic orchestra and other Czech nationals.

And some foreign companies were making their own plans to remove their workers from the area near the damaged reactors.

But "government assisted evacuation is an option of last resort, when all means of personal and commercial transportation are exhausted. Canadians wishing to leave Japan can do so by commercial means," said Claude Rochon, a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman.

That there are other options for those who want to leave undoubtedly comes as a relief to her department. Recent attempts to lift Canadians out of the violent civil unrest in Libya were marred by embarrassingly futile flights. And it was less than two months ago that Canadians were being hustled onto planes sent to rescue them from chaos in Egypt.

There are an estimated 11,000 Canadians in Japan and more than 200 of them are registered as being in the broader area affected by the current emergency. More than 85 per cent of those people have been contacted by the department.

Ms. Rochon said federal officials are working closely with the Canadian embassy in Tokyo to contact the others, but communications in the northern region remain difficult.

The Foreign Affairs website warned Canadians on Tuesday against travelling to Japan to offer assistance. It also advised against all non-essential travel to Tokyo, where aftershocks of last Friday's quake were still being felt, and especially against venturing to within 20 kilometres of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, where the threat of catastrophe remained high.

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Canadians have joined the rest of world in shock and grief as images of the crisis that followed the massive earthquake fill television screens and Internet websites.

Canada is committed to doing whatever it can to help, Mr. Harper said, though he noted Japan has its own resources for the matter.

The federal government is not matching the dollars that Canadians have donated to assist Japan in the same way it has done when natural disasters have struck more impoverished areas of the world, such as Haiti. And Japan has not accepted many offers of assistance.

But on Wednesday morning, an airplane will leave Toronto with 25,000 thermal wool blankets that had been requested by Japanese authorities. They have been taken from Canadian emergency stockpiles to help people left homeless.

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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