|The Ottawa Sun
HERE'S A DART FOR PAUL MARTIN
by GARTH PRITCHARD
It was a circus when Prime Minister Paul Martin visited the disaster
area of Kalmunia in Sri Lanka this week for a photo opportunity.
His people from Ottawa, including the RCMP, were pushing people out of
the way, grabbing at cameras, and trampling over graves on the beach
in order to photograph the PM.
An RCMP guy tried to interfere with my camera, but one of our soldiers
A couple of women from the PM's office were running around yelling at
It got out of hand. It was crazy.
The whole visit was a photo opportunity -- with cameras set-up for the
PM in designated spots: Martin on the beach looking out to sea, Martin amid the
wreckage, Martin with a homeless kid, Martin taking a token drink of water
produced by the DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) water purifier.
He met with the Canadian commander, Lt. Col. Mike Voith and a small
medical team, but didn't visit the camp of the 200 Canadian military people here
for tsunami victims.
Martin's handlers wanted no one but their people taking photos. The
padre was even shoved out of the way.
And then he was gone -- helicoptered out. Maybe
90 minutes in the area. Embarrassing. I'm in Sri Lanka with the DART
men and women and, as Canadian soldiers always do, they're working miracles -- but
the PM didn't have time to visit them.
I found it a slap in the face.
Why couldn't the PM's handlers have taken him to the soldiers who are
doing a fantastic job?
There were eyebrows raised at the camp when it was learned he wouldn't
The PM would've been prouder to be a Canadian if he'd seen how
Canadians soldiers are responding. Yesterday we delivered 35,000
litres of fresh water to people.
We're working with an Irish aid group who are fantastic at delivering
the water in 200 gallon containers that people draw from.
People are always thanking the Canadians. The DART guys are making
friends for Canada, and whatever DART costs, it's being repaid a
The human damage is appalling. Mostly it's injuries and disease that
our medics are treating.
Lung infections from sea water are a real concern, and our doctors
work overtime treating them. They deal with about 100 people a day.
The human stories go on and on. One girl who lost her parents is
catatonic -- hasn't spoken since the disaster, won't eat, just stares.
Yesterday a baby was brought in whose mother and grandmother were
drowned in a house, but the baby was found hoisted on a coat hanger on
Stories like this are everywhere.
The Canadians are based near the centre of Sri Lanka and every day
teams fan out to different areas.
As is normal with our soldiers, they do everything -- and are now
starting to remove rubble. They've even started a ferry service across
a bay that saves people six hours of walking.
Emotionally, it is difficult, but our soldiers are making lasting
friends for Canada.
This is a Third World environment, and people who've lost everything
have heard of all the money raised for them in Europe and North
America. They keep asking where it is, and want it now, in cash, and
don't understand why we don't give it to them.
We've been told CIDA is here. Somewhere. They're nowhere near us, and
we're in the centre of the disaster area. We suspect they're having meetings in
I find myself wondering how much more awful things would be if DART
weren't here. These guys are wonderful. I know there are those who criticize the
DART program, but it works, and is essential right now for Sri Lanka.
Like I said, they perform miracles every day. And the people know it.
When all this is over, what Sri Lankans will remember is DART, not the
PM's visit for a photo-op.
GARTH PRITCHARD IS A CANADIAN DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER COVERING THE
TSUNAMI DISASTER IN SRI LANKA