Left in lurch af­ter Irma

National Post (Latest Edition) - - EDITORIALS -

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.

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