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By Stephanie Wells

Former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell says the work being done by Canadian troops in Afghanistan is “a great accomplishment” and that Canadians should be prepared for an “extended” military commitment there.

About 2,600 people turned out to hear Powell speak on U.S.-Canada relations at an event at Roy Thompson Hall on Wednesday.

In his first ever-speech in Canada, Powell said that Canada has “moral authority” on the world stage. “Canada has an obligation to lead,” he said. Much of the speech focused on the “war on terror” and the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Powell addressed the now-infamous presentation he made at the United Nations in 2003. The information Powell presented about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that day was a key component in the United States’ case for war. The intelligence was later proven to be wrong, and weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found in Iraq. “It’s a blot on my record,” Powell said, adding that he fully believed the intelligence was accurate at the time.

About a dozen antiwar protesters congregated outside Roy Thompson Hall before the event. They held signs with messages like “Colin Powell lied, 100,000 died” and called for Powell to be tried as a war criminal for his role in the war in Iraq.

Powell thanked Canada for our contributions to the “war on terror,” and for our actions in assisting with redirected flights and stranded passengers on Sept. 11.

“We are connected by common values,” Powell said. “Terrorists…can’t change us as a culture or as a people. Only we can do that to ourselves.”

Despite the evening’s theme of cross-border relations, Powell’s speech touched on many topics — everything from life as the world’s most influential diplomat, to working for Ronald Reagan, to his days serving in the military with Elvis Presley.

Another speaker at the event was former Canadian ambassador to the United States Frank McKenna. McKenna stepped down from his post in early March, and was replaced last week by former Conservative finance minister Michael Wilson.

McKenna spoke about the specific ties that bind the United States and Canada, noting that the relationship is “a national obsession” in Canada, a topic even discussed heatedly over Tim Hortons coffee.

“We are two great democracies living side by side,” McKenna said. “The United States of America is very happy with Canada just the way it is.”

Powell’s speech included a few lighthearted moments as well, with the former secretary of state mourning the loss of his private jet, which he had to turn over to current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

He also shared an anecdote about being searched by airport security when he took a commercial flight for the first time in several years. Powell has been a major player in American government and military life for many years.

He spent 35 years as a professional soldier. He eventually rose to the rank of General, and became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defence.

He has served in various capacities under six presidents, most recently as Secretary of State. He resigned that position in 2005.

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