A moment of silence was followed by the sound of bagpipes ringing out in lament as officials from Canada, the U.S. and other countries gathered in Ottawa this morning for a sombre ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed after 19 hijackers from al-Qaeda, a terrorist group then led by Osama Bin Laden, commandeered four passenger jets that day in 2001 and crashed them into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C.

The fourth plane was brought down in an open field near Shanksville, Pa., before it could reach its intended target following a struggle onboard involving some of the passengers.

It was the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history, the aftermath of which ushered in a new era in global politics characterized by the U.S.-led “war on terror,” and which saw Canada plunged into war in Afghanistan. 

“Twenty years ago this morning, our world was changed,” U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Arnold Chacon, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomatic official in Canada, told the dignitaries.

“The 9/11 attacks might have happened in the United States, but they were attacks on all of us. They were attacks on the fundamental values our countries share and on the kind of world we hope to pass to our children.”

Canadian support for U.S. remembered

The ceremony began with the “presentation of the colours” by a group of U.S. marines, accompanied by the members of the Canadian joint colour guard. 

A father-son duo of retired police officers sang the Canadian and U.S. national anthems in harmony.

In his remarks, Chacon highlighted the outpouring of support from Canadians, including many in places like Gander, N.L., Halifax, and Vancouver, who opened their homes when the grounding of flights across North America stranded tens of thousands of passengers.

He recalled that cards and flowers were placed outside the U.S. Embassy on Sussex Drive in the days following the attacks and that more than 100,000 people gathered on Parliament Hill on Sept. 14, 2001, for a vigil to commemorate the victims, including then prime minister Jean Chrétien and former governor general Adrienne Clarkson.

At today’s ceremony, the Canadian and U.S. flags that flew behind the podium at the vigil two decades ago were presented to the embassy as a gift symbolizing the continuing relationship between the two countries.

Governor general Adrienne Clarkson, prime minister Jean Chretien and U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci stand for three minutes of silence at a ceremony in Ottawa on Sept. 14, 2001, to honour the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Canadian and U.S. flags that flew behind them were presented to the U.S. embassy as a gift on the 20th anniversary of the attacks. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)

“My predecessor, the late ambassador Paul Cellucci, later recalled that when terrorists struck at the heart of America, there was a valuable lesson to be learned about the relationship between the United States and Canada,” Chacon said.

“Namely, the instinct of Canadians to help their neighbours in whatever way they could.”

Senate Speaker George Furey represented the Canadian government at the ceremony.

“It was horrific to witness those fateful and tragic events,” Furey said. “As Canadians, we watched in horror and we shared in the pain and the sorrow of our American neighbours, our American friends and, indeed, our American family.”

Leaders remember 9/11 while campaigning

Federal leaders addressed the anniversary on the campaign trail.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was teaching at a Vancouver school at the time of the attacks and remembers speaking to his students about what it meant for the future. 

“Twenty years gone, we need to reflect on that day. On the thousands of people lost, including 24 Canadians. On the first responders, including a number of Canadians who showed up in the days and weeks afterwards to help, who rushed into danger while others were fleeing for their lives,” Trudeau said at an event in MIssissauga, Ont.

Trudeau said he is also thinking about Muslim Canadians, for whom he said much changed as attitudes shifted.

“That reminds us that over these past years and continuing today into the future, we all need to stand together — against intolerance, hatred, racism and Islamophobia,” he said.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, campaigning in Whitby, Ont., encouraged Canadians to mark the day by remembering the victims and committing to serve their communities. 

“On this day, we honour the memory of the 3,000 lives we lost, including 24 Canadian lives, in these tragic attacks. And we honour the memory of the first responders, who risked their lives to save others,” O’Toole said.

“Today is also the national day of service, so mark today with a commitment to remember and a commitment to build up your community.”

In a statement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the continued loss of human life adds weight to the anniversary. 

“9/11 was a tragedy that led to many more. And, while reflecting on the two decades of history we’ve lived since, more than anything, we need to not delay in recommitting to doing the hard work of building a more inclusive and compassionate world,” Singh said.

To commemorate the anniversary, U.S. President Joe Biden will visit all three sites where the planes crashed.

He was joined at a morning ceremony by former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton in New York City, where the World Trade Center towers fell two decades ago. Biden will later visit the field near Shanksville, Pa., where a plane crashed after heroic passengers fought terrorists to prevent it from reaching its Washington destination. And finally, he will head to the Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. military.

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