Following yesterday's attacks on Nice, France, the Canadian Government issued a travel advisory for Canadians "to exercise a high degree of caution while travelling through France." Does this mean we should stay home?
In a word, No. ...Absolutely not.
I'd like to talk to about my last trip to France - I just got home a couple of days ago. I'd like to talk about the overwhelmingly large ceremonies that took place for the British, French, and Canadians on July 1st, 2016 at Thiepval, Lochnagar, and Beaumont Hamel, respectively.
I had never experienced anything like it, and I think it is important for those travelling with us to Vimy to be aware of the new - very stringent - security protocols that have been in effect for high profile ceremonies like the one we played a part in earlier this month. France, Britain, and Canadian security and government all played a remarkable hand in the safety of Northern France along the Pas-des-Calais region (where Vimy is also located).
First of all, we were not allowed to register any of our travellers, everyone had to register themselves from their own personal computer by participating in a security check. Once each traveller was approved (took about five weeks) they would receive an e-ticket as approval - and their security check was cleared. Travellers then had to print out and have on hand their passports to give to patrol at the security check-point before the event.
We had special stickers sent for our coaches, and we were given strict instructions as to what we could and could not bring to the event. Upon arrival at our security check-point, which was still a few miles away from the event, we were searched thoroughly, as if we were going through airport security. Swat teams & bomb squads were there with their dogs and searched every coach and car, which was all then locked and secured. We all received special bracelets and everyone travelling to the event received a police escort the rest of the way there. Every road leading to the event was closed to the public. It was all incredibly impressive, and at the time, to me, seemed a little over the top. ...Now I understand why.
Even travelling through CDG Airport - I've never seen security like it. Dogs and professional high-security teams scoured the airport. Even in Paris' city centre, there were 24/7 patrols and checkpoints required for tourists. In the hotel, if you took your backpack off, a member of staff would run up to you and ask that you kindly keep your bag close at hand - you will find it difficult to leave your luggage unattended to in a public space nowadays.
Isolated terrorist events — 2004 in Madrid, 2005 in London, 2012 in Boston, 2015 in Paris, Brussels in March, and now, Nice in July— are as tragic as they are impossible to predict. With this alert, the Canadian Government is simply confirming something we already knew: Going forward, it's possible that there will be more terrorist events in Europe (just as it's possible when travelling to the United States), but for now, it is nowhere near enough for them to advise us to avoid travel.
Also, at frightening moments like this one, keep in mind that there’s an important difference between fear and risk. As the travel advisory recommends, while you're travelling, be vigilant. Be aware. Exercise caution. But at the same time, don't be terrorized. That’s exactly the response terrorists hope for.
France — and the rest of Europe — are, if anything, safer today than before yesterday's attacks. Security everywhere will be on higher alert than I could have imagined. Nevertheless, in the event of a large-scale emergency, every effort will be made by the Canadian Government, and our team specifically, to provide assistance. Our company, The Battlefield Tours, along with Connection Tours is a licensed entity with TICO - in the event of an emergency, we have all the support and training we need to get you home safely - no matter the cost - as TICO's main focus is to provide consumer protection to all travellers across Canada in events such as this.
Unfortunately, regardless of these steps in security measures, many Canadians will cancel their trips to Europe, especially school groups. In an ironic twist, I've had several schools who have changed their travel plans - asking to travel to the US next year instead - choosing to travel to a country that loses dozens of people each day to gun violence. It hurts me especially, to have my fellow Canadians allow their fears and sensationalized media so much that it changes their plans for such an important event.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Nice, the victims, and their loved ones, of course. As for me, I'm flying back to France in the next few months. Am I allowing myself to be terrorised by terrorists? No. Absolutely not. It all comes back to my firmly held belief that the best way for Canadians to fight terrorism is to keep on travelling.
As I've always said, and will continue to say - I travel as a political act, I stand with France, just as my forefathers did, and will keep on travelling.
I hope you choose to stand with me.