By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
An unconfirmed rumor about mistreatment of a Canadian visitor in Havre has prompted an effort by two mayors to keep cross-border relationships friendly.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice and his counterpart, Garth Vallely, in Medicine Hat, Alberta, are working together to make sure the differences between the U.S. and Canadian governments over the war in Iraq don't disrupt local commerce.
"I assured (Vallely) the feelings in Havre are not anti-Canadian," Rice said. "The population here in Havre are pretty much pro-Canadian. We need them down here."
The conversation started after a Medicine Hat resident called the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. The woman told Chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg that a friend of the hers had been refused service at a Havre gas station because of the Canadian government's refusal to join the U.S.-led coalition of troops in Iraq, Vandeberg said.
Vandeberg said she hasn't confirmed that the incident occurred.
"I'm hoping it's just one unconfirmed incident. I'm hoping our community would, with open arms as we have for many years, accept our northern Canadian visitors into the community," Vandeberg said today.
Vallely said he hasn't received any confirmed reports of people from his city being mistreated, but has heard rumors of Canadians being refused service or having vehicles vandalized in Havre and Great Falls.
He said he hopes Montanans realize that opinions on the war differ in Canada just as they do in the United States.
"Not everyone in your country is in favor of going into Iraq," Vallely said. "It's unfortunate that all Canadians are being painted with the same brush."
Rice said he and other Havre representatives will travel to Medicine Hat, and Vallely will come to Havre's Festival Days in September, to show the communities' solidarity.
"I hope it all just goes away," he said of any bad feelings.
Anger at other governments that haven't backed the United States has shown up in Havre in other, benign ways. For instance, Havre's Boxcars restaurant has renamed french fries as freedom fries on the menu.
Craig Anderson, co-owner of Boxcars, said he would never refuse service to a Canadian.
"I wouldn't do that. The Canadians have helped us a lot," he said.
Anderson said he thinks the Canadian government's position on Iraq is mostly because of the attitude of Canadian citizens in eastern Canada, which is heavily French-Canadian.
There have been other reports of tension between people in Montana and Canada.
Some people in Milk River, Alberta, about 20 miles north of Sunburst, said a few weeks ago that they were nervous about coming into Montana because of their government's stance on the war.
Some of the people of Milk River said they oppose the Canadian government's position.
Bonita Waters, mother of a Canadian soldier, has been flying the U.S. flag over her house in Milk River and calls her prime minister, Jean Chretien, ''senile'' for his stance against the war.
''I think his position is 100 percent risking our trade relationship with the U.S.,'' Waters said.
In an effort to prevent problems from occurring, the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce recently released a statement to media representatives in Alberta. The statement assured Canadians that no Great Falls businesses were refusing services to Canadians.
Rick Evans, Chamber president, said in an interview that he had received e-mails and phone calls expressing concerns that Canadians were being turned away in other states. He hadn't heard of examples of that in Great Falls, and wanted to assure Canadians that it wouldn't happen there, Evans said.
Havre is also being proactive, Vandeberg said.
"We're hoping we can get the message out. We're working with Medicine Hat trying to put out this small brush fire," she said. "We've had such a great working relationship with Medicine Hat and Alberta. We don't want to ruin that."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.