Ryerson student Erica Basnicki has become the unofficial spokesperson for Canadian victims of September 11.

Healing in the limelight

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By Sheila Nykwist

Erica is in high demand these days. Her phone rings constantly and her mailbox fills with messages. When there’s time, she methodically goes through them, records names and phone numbers, and returns everyone’s call.

A year after the tragic event that took the life of her father, Erica Basnicki remains in the limelight. Many call her the unofficial spokesperson for Canadian victims of last September’s terrorist attacks in the United States.

“I’ve created this role for myself,” says Basnicki, a 22-year-old journalism student at Ryerson.

Inhaling from her cigarette, Erica recounts the moment she arrived home after hearing of the attacks, and found a news truck in her front yard.

“I have an idea of what they were after,” says Basnicki of the reporters who came to interview her family. “They need to put a face to a tragedy.”

Erica Basnicki’s face and voice have since been used countless times by various media outlets eager to tell her story.

Although initially hoping her fortrightness with the media may have helped her find her dad — who last contacted his family from the 106th floor of the World Trade Centre at 8:55 a.m. on the morning of the attacks — Basnicki’s continued loyalty has bee for different reasons.

Her father, 48-year-old Ken Basnicki, was on his first trip to New York in his new job as a marketing director with a Toronto-based software firm BEA Systems.

By accepting all media requests for interviews, Basnicki feels she’s directing attention away from others who, in her mind, don’t want it.

Basnicki’s hope to help other victim’s families in this way has filled her schedule over the past year. She’s has interviews with CBC, CTV and Global TV, to name just a few.

“Any time there’s a new angle I get phoned,” says Basnicki, adding that her only escape was a week vacation to Manitoba for the Winnipeg Folk Festival this summer.

“It’s becoming a job, really.”

Unexpectedly, Basnicki is now experiencing the other side of a career she chose for herself four years ago when she first came to Ryerson.

“It’s funny to read about myself in the paper,” she says.

She has no complaints about the media coverage she’s been given, and feels the majority of reporters have been very sympathetic.

“A lot of them cry when I talk to them,” she says.

It is these non-intrusive, apologetic qualities that Basnicki admires and aspires to incorporate into her own journalistic style in the future.

Despite events of the past year, she still hopes to advance into a career in journalism.

“The glamour of journalism has worn off,” she says, admitting she wouldn’t have the stomach to cover crimes and tragedies after seeing the difficult job reporters have in these situations.

She jokingly adds that writing features on bunnies and candy may be her focus in the future.

For now Basnicki feels comfortable voicing her mind to a wide audience on something more serious.

“It is a job,” she says, “and it has its benefits.”

Her present employer at FW Magazine, where she writes music reviews, has been very understanding and patient, she admits. Her busy schedule has her interviewing musicians and then running to be interviewed herself.

“It’s like switching hats,” Basnicki says. She adds that she has attempted to become more media savvy and aware of the issues, ensuring intelligible answers to reporter’s questions.

“It might make me a batter journalist,” she says with a laugh.

An opportunity to test this theory will come as soon as things settle down and she begins an internship at CTV.

Basnicki feels all the attention surrounding her can be frustrating, yet she is more concerned with having her message heard; A message directed on behalf of relatives of local victims, towards the Canadian government.

“We are no less victims than the Americans,” she says, “and we’re being treated with less compassion and understanding.”

Basnicki feels that Canadian victims should be entitled to the same compensation as American ones are, including income tax breaks. This is causing some controversy.

After the attacks, the U.S. government waited all 2000 and 2001 income taxes for families with immediate relatives who had died as a result.

“I’m sure there are people who think we don’t deserve this tax break,” says Basnicki, who recently received a notice, addressed to her father, informing him of the $420,000 he has yet to pay.

“That’s what’s so insulting,” she says, “they don’t even know he’s dead.”

The Basnicki’s have decided to ignore the letter and continue lobbying for a tax break.

“That’s a lot of money,” exclaims Basnicki. Yet with all the family expenses, she predicts it wouldn’t even last a year.

“It would probably get swallowed in property taxes for our house in Collingwood,” says Basnicki, who admits there is definitely a concern their lifestyle may change in the future.

Her 51-year-old mother, Maureen Basnicki, is already dipping into savings to maintain their two houses, two cars, and her son’s private school education.

“We’re not living the high life,” says Basnicki, who recently moved back home, “these are just family expenses.”

Basnicki questions how the Canadian government can spend thousands of dollars to transport people to the I love New York weekend, and not be able to give tax breaks to eight victims’ families, living in Canada.

It’s the “we don’t care” attitude that upsets Basnicki the most.

She and others affected by the tragedy may have the chance to address these and other issues, such as the lack of a Canadian memorial, to Prime Minister Jean Chretien himself, at a luncheon during this week’s memorial services.

“I have no urge to talk to him,” says Basnicki, who feels Chretien’s gesture will be too little, too late, for the victim’s families who have attempted to gain his attention all year without success.

“I’ve been pretty freakin’ busy too,” says Basnicki who complains Chretien hasn’t taken the time or interest to know the victims, and says she plans to show her disapproval.

“We’ve been practicing our straight faces for the camera,” she says.

The Canadian consul-general’s office in New York chose Basnicki to read the names of the Canadian victims during the ceremonies at Ground Zero on the 11th.

The pace doesn’t seem to be slowing down for Basnicki. Next year she will attempt to use the scholarship she recently received to attend New York University, where tuition reaches $40,000 US a year. The scholarship was offered to Basnicki by NYU in part because her father died in the attacks.

There are two main reasons she wants to attend university in New York, she says. One is to honour her dad.

“I’m not afraid to fly to New York, live in New York. They haven’t won,” says Basnicki of the terrorists.

Then, there is the chance to study in, and explore a city she has always longed to live in.

“What an opportunity,” says Basnicki, “Of course I’m going to go.”

She’ll have to keep her grades up this year, if the scholarship is to go through, a tough task with the new surge of media attention surrounding the first anniversary of September 11.

“It’s hard to envision a future that won’t be as busy,” says Basnicki who can picture herself giving interviews when she’s old and gray.

Basnicki hopes though, that media attention will eventually die down.

“You don’t have a grieving period until the public lets you,” she says.

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