Just when you think your relationship with your neighbour has improved and you are working together to build a better neighbourhood, the guy goes and does something stupid and you find yourself back to square one. Neighbour relations can be tricky things, with high points and valleys, but usually if neighbours speak to each other and work together things can go pretty smoothly - it's when they decide to start talking about you behind your back that things can begin to go sour, like when Edmonton Police Services Chief Rod Knecht decided to do a media interview about potential terrorists coming to the oil sands to raise money for their subsequent acts of terror.
I don't know what possessed Knecht to give this kind of interview and to start pointing fingers north. I don't know that he has a good grasp or understanding of Fort McMurray, the oil sands industry or terrorists, but for some reason he made the choice to go on record as saying that young men who are radicalized come to the oil sands to live an anonymous life in camps and get hockey sacks of money to fund their terrorist activities. He also said that our new international airport allows these radicalized individuals to bypass American airspace and head straight overseas.
Unfortunately for Knecht, he didn't really check his facts.
The new international airport in Fort McMurray, which is lovely and which has made air travel much more comfortable for everyone who uses it in this region, does not have direct flights to destinations in Europe or Asia. In fact the few international flights there are and have been head to American destinations, with the exception that heads to Mexico. Knecht's comments on the airport are so absurdly wrong that one has to wonder about his level of expertise to speak to this issue at all, because clearly he didn't do his research on one basic fact - so what about his other claims?
Hockey sacks of money? Talk about perpetuating the myth that people wander around this town with loot bags stuffed full of dolla dolla bills, like kids stuff their Halloween sacks with candy bars. Yes, there are good wages to be made in the oil sands, but this is not the land of hockey sacks of money (or candy bars, for that matter).
The comment about the anonymity of the camps should be offensive to every single person who lives in one of those camps when they come to this region to work, because those people have names and homes and identities and they form friendships in camp, too. The camps, no matter what Knecht seems to believe, are the temporary home for thousands of hard working Canadians who contribute to the economy (including the Edmonton economy) and not some hotbed of anonymous radicalized individuals seeking to make cash to then take non-existent flights to Europe or Asia from our airport - and I deeply resent that he has suggested they are.
This has happened before, you know. We have had Edmonton city councillors blame us for their crime rate and an Edmonton city spokesperon who suggested oil workers were fuelling Edmonton's homicide rate. It is far easier to blame one's issues on external forces rather than look inside and see the core problems, and I cut the councillor and the spokesperson some degree of slack as they were facing some troubling issues and searching for some answers, even if it meant they implicated us in their problems.
But Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht? There was no good reason for these comments, nothing to gain in terms of his community's profile and no reason to turn the blame on oil sands for an issue that affects us all in this country (as the RCMP said subsequent to Knecht's comments). In fact all his comments did was damage the neighbour relationship we have been building with Edmonton and make many of us in Fort McMurray wonder if some of our neighbours to the south really have the faintest clue about us at all, including the leaders of some of their most significant organizations.
What Knecht said was irresponsible, inaccurate, unnecessary and downright insulting to this community and everyone who works in the oil sands industry and contributes to the strength of the economy in Canada.
And frankly, I would suggest he owes us a contrite apology and an acknowledgement that in this case he really doesn't know what he is talking about, and then perhaps he should go back to looking after the issues actually under his mandate, like Edmonton's crime issues. Perhaps he could leave Fort McMurray's issues to the experts and to those invested in our community. And maybe, just maybe, he should think twice before talking smack about his neighbours.