Left in lurch after Irma
T he r ecent de vas t ati on wrought by Hurricane Irma left hundreds — at least — of Canadians stranded across the Caribbean, in urgent need of evacuation. Many have complained about a lack of help from Canadian government officials.
They have a point, but it’s not the only point. Canadian governments owe their citizens aid abroad, and should be held to account when their responses to crises are lacking. But Canadians travellers must take responsibility for their own safety and welfare. It is only natural to let one’s guard down on vacation, when the entire point is carefree relaxation.
But hurricanes in the Caribbean are not unusual. Anyone travelling there for pleasure — or even more so, wintering, working or studying there — should know that. Even at home, we’ve all been advised to keep our essential documents and a three-day supply of food and water at the ready, for the minuscule chance disaster comes here. Away from home the best plan is always getting out of Dodge before disaster strikes, but barring that, it is possible to be prepared to survive even major disasters.
Indeed, it’s necessary, especially in areas prone to such events. In the immediate aftermath of disaster, a Canadian passport is no substitute for common sense, a case of bottled water and some canned soup. So yes, it’s clear that many Canadians either made a bet that Irma would not come their way — and lost — or naively felt the hurricane wouldn’t be as bad as forecast. That responsibility rests with them. But it’s still true that Canada’s response to the crisis seemed wanting, particularly compared to its allies. Our citizens should try to see to their own needs, of course, but still shouldn’t expect less help than the U.S. or European Union provided their citizens ( in the latter case, from much farther away).
News reports in recent days have reiterated that even as American and European military aircraft landed in devastated areas to disgorge soldiers and supplies and fly citizens home, Canadian officials seemed barely able to put out good information. As allied military planes flew their citizens to safety, Canada left it to our airlines to figure out on their own.
There’s nothing wrong with tapping the resources and expertise of the private sector in such a situation; it’s to be encouraged. But this is one of those areas that actually falls within a government’s duties: in co- ordinating the effort, in working with local authorities to secure landing rights and co- operation at functioning airports, and in communicating with our citizens as best as is possible. That seems not to have happened here. We deserve to know why.