Mr. Marc Garneau (Westmount—Ville-Marie, Lib.)
|| That this House do now adjourn.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to lead off on this emergency debate, which deals with Canada's military involvement in Iraq. I think it is the essence of democracy that we, as a House, should have the opportunity to debate this rather important subject, given the fact that we are talking about sending some of our Canadian soldiers into harm's way.
What the government has told us so far is this. Today the Prime Minister mentioned 69 people. It is not clear to me whether those are special forces or whether that includes some of the military that are already flying our Globemaster and Hercules aircraft over there. Be that as it may, a number of special forces will go into the northern Iraq portion of the country, in the Kurdish part, and provide strategic and tactical advice to the Peshmerga forces there. They will clearly be behind the wire during this time, and after a 30-day period, Canada will review whether it will continue with that particular role, and I am not exactly sure when that clock started ticking. Essentially, that is what the government has told us.
In committee last week, I made the point of asking for assurances that there would be no combat role; in other words, those Canadians would not go to the front lines, would not accompany the Peshmerga on any offensive forays across the front lines or be involved in any defensive operations in case ISIL decided to mount a counteroffensive. I was assured that Canada would not be in any combat role.
I further asked the question whether the government would be sure to inform Parliament if it was at any point contemplating a change in the role that it has described to us thus far. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Defence assured us that would be the case.
Having said that, there are still many questions. I mentioned the details. We found out about the 69 today. We do not know exactly when they will arrive over there and when the 30-day clock will start.
Let me say for Canadians that it is particularly important that we get a sense of the time scale we are dealing with here. This is not a 30-day operation. If one listens to what President Obama has said, this will be a multi-year effort. Therefore, we are going way beyond the initial 30 days, and I think it is important for Canadians to realize that in order to weaken and eventually defeat ISIS or ISIL, it will take a rather long period of time; so there is a very real possibility that Canada's role could conceivably change. That is why it is important for us to get as much information as we can from the government on what possibly can happen and how this mission can evolve.
We all know that ISIS needs to be defeated on the ground. It is fine for the coalition to provide modern weapons to Iraqis and Kurdish forces. It is also very well for us to provide tactical advice, as Canada will be doing, or as other coalition members may be providing in terms of air strike support, but eventually ISIS will have to be dislodged and defeated on the ground. That is something we cannot get around.
At the moment, ISIS is firmly entrenched in a significant part of Iraq as well as in Syria, and if it is going to embed itself into some of the villages, towns and cities—Mosul, for example has two million people—it is very important for us to realize that this will take a long time and will involve some very serious operations where we want to make sure there is no collateral damage.
I was in Iraq for a few days two weeks ago and it is very clear, and all of the parties agree, that we must provide a greater contribution in terms of humanitarian effort, that we must continue our diplomatic efforts and that we must continue to deal with Iraqis refugees. However, the question is this. Militarily, other than our current role of providing airlift and the fact that we are going to provide tactical advice, what is the potential that this role could modify itself in the coming months, because it is going to take a long time? That is why it is extremely important for Canada to think this through and for Parliament to be informed in case there are any changes.
I apologize for not mentioning earlier that I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver Quadra.
I want to thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs for including me and the NDP critic in this trip. We had the opportunity to see something that we do not see when we just read clippings and watch the television. We saw some of the refugees who are in the camps up in northern Iraq. United Nations officials told us that they were planning to build about 8 to 10 camps, and they had the money to do so, but they needed 25 of them. These officials have been overwhelmed by literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled the terror of ISIL and are now crowding into northern Iraq. We met Chaldean Christians who were huddling around the Chaldean church in Erbil and literally could not even go to a refugee camp. That is how drastic the situation was, because there was no refugee camp to accommodate them. It is very clear that we need to do a great deal more on the humanitarian side.
But what about the military side? Why should Canada care? Why, as some Canadians have asked, are we getting involved over there? The reason is that this affects all of us. This is not just an Iraqi or a Syrian problem. This is a problem that concerns the collective security of the world.
According to foreign affairs, about 130 Canadians have gone over to that region and some of them have come back. They have been radicalized. They are in this country right now, possibly trying to recruit more soldiers to go over and fight for ISIL. This is something that concerns us. We cannot turn our backs on this.
The question is this. What will our military role be? Mark my words; this is going to last a long time, not just 30 days.
We need to think about this seriously. We need to follow it very clearly. We need the government to provide us with answers to the questions, when they are worked out. Some of these things will take a while to work out because military operations are complex. We cannot arrive at all of the answers right from the beginning. Some work has to be done with the Kurdish Peshmerga to define the roles. Work has to be done with the other coalition members. This will be a complex operation that will involve not only ground operations but also air operations. We expect the government to keep us informed, and most of all, we expect the government to tell us if it is contemplating any role change.
We need to do more with respect to the humanitarian issue. We all agree with that. The Minister of Foreign Affairs even agrees that we need to deliver on results there. We need to continue our diplomatic efforts, as we did when we met with the president of Iraq and the foreign affairs minister. We have to encourage that country to be inclusive of its Shiite, its Sunni and its Kurd citizens but also its minorities who are Christian and other ethnic minorities, so that they are all working with one common purpose, which is to get ride of ISIS.
Many questions will need to be answered in the coming weeks and months with respect to what roles the different members of the coalition will perform. We do not have the answers to that. We have to understand that it will take a while to get the answers.
My parting message is that Canadians must get used to the idea that this will not be over in 30 days, and Canada will not walk away from it then.
Ms. Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in this emergency debate. I appreciate the comments of my colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie who is knowledgeable on the issue and who, on behalf of Canadians, went to see and experience the troubles in that region first-hand.
This is about Canada's military role in helping the people of Iraq defend themselves against terrorism by the Islamic State or ISIS, terrorism that is currently ravaging their country. ISIS does represent a very serious threat to security, not only in Iraq and in the Middle East but well beyond. Sad to say, there are reports of Canadian citizens who may have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS and who have returned to Canada, potentially to recruit for ISIS.
Today, we are debating what we heard today, which is the government's decision to send 69 military personnel into Iraq in an advisory role. This is in addition to the airlift mission that has been charged with ferrying humanitarian as well as military supplies throughout the country.
Liberals support sending this limited number of special forces personnel to Iraq in a non-combat advisory capacity for the set period of time of 30 days, as advised by the Prime Minister, to advise the military leaders in Iraq on their conduct of operations against ISIS.
Iraq, as we well know, is very unstable, which is sad. This area was the cradle of human civilization. The government has lost control over large areas of the country, and the terrorist group, ISIS, has the goal of setting up a separate Islamic state in the region. They have no qualms about attacking and killing civilians, and persecuting religious minority groups in horrific and inhumane ways.
The newly formed government in Iraq, which includes Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish members, must coalesce to fight this vicious common enemy, but at present they need international help. As much as Canadians are angered by the events of the past few weeks, we must also take stock of these events and in a calm and rational way decide on a way forward. That is the reason the Liberals, under the leadership of the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, requested this emergency debate.
Canada has a long history of stepping up when needed. Our armed forces did so with distinction in World War I, World War II, Korea, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and countless peacekeeping and humanitarian missions around the world. Canada also made decisions not to send troops into some conflicts. Thirteen years ago, in 2003, Canada's then-Prime Minister refused to have Canadian troops take part in the invasion of Iraq. Although he faced severe criticism at the time, including from our current Prime Minister, then the opposition leader, it turned out to be the right decision. In 2008, the current Prime Minister announced that he had changed his mind, and now considered the war on Iraq to have been a mistake.
What this tells us is that Parliament does need careful and thoughtful consideration before committing our men and women in the armed forces to go out into harm's way. The long lens of history is a good guide for us. Military action must be based on the best interests of our country. Our government's primary responsibility is to protect Canada and Canadians at home and abroad.
At times Canada has undertaken to share in the responsibility to protect people in other parts of the world who are at risk. We are known for the work we have done in the past in controlling outbreaks of violence. It is important to remember that those missions were dangerous, and members of our military were injured or killed in them. When we think of this current mission, we need to know all the facts, what the dangers are and how they will be handled.
It is in this light that we need to consider the situation into which we are sending our Canadian Forces members in this mission.
What is the mission? The Prime Minister says they are to be advisers.
What exactly does that mean? What are the risks? Where might this initial 30-day posting lead next? These are some of the unanswered questions that this debate is about.
It is essential that Canadians understand the specific nature of the mission the government is proposing. We expect to hear details from the government side. This includes outlining the specific activities our forces will be engaged in, and the expected duration of the deployment. When does it actually start? What are we committed to at this point? Canadians need to be assured that this deployment does not include what is called “close combat advising” in which our troops are in the field during combat.
Canadians need to know the outline of the spectrum of operations that the armed forces will be engaged in, the steps taken to ensure their safety, and how this mission will help contribute to Canada's national security interests. Most importantly, as my colleague has already outlined, Parliament must be fully consulted should the government consider extending the current mission, changing its scope, adding in new elements or new risks and responsibilities.
I encourage the Minister of National Defence to hold regular briefings with the opposition parties so that we are well informed about the mission and have the chance to contribute our ideas to ensure its success and to protect our troops. We also strongly encourage the federal government to increase the humanitarian assistance being provided to the million-plus refugees created by ISIS and to continue facilitating the resettlement of Iraqi refugees here in Canada. I look forward to hearing the defence minister's response to some of the questions and requests that I have just outlined.
On the higher level, the expectations for the role of our military are driven by Canada's foreign policy. Currently, I'm sad to say, our foreign policy is not very coherent. It is lacking in leadership. It is reactive, when planning is actually needed. I would say that the core of the current government's foreign policy is essentially domestic political strategy expressed through megaphone diplomacy combined with the pursuit of trade objectives. That is the Conservative foreign policy. This leads to a series of reactive actions and statements, reacting to global events or crises without a principled framework to guide decisions and actions. This is not acceptable. This absence of consistency in the government's vision of Canada's identity and role in the world is undermining our credibility among our international partners and doing a great deal of damage to Canada's hard-earned positive image on the world stage.
Not only is a coherent foreign policy missing, so too is a coherent defence strategy. In 2008, the current Conservative government trumpeted its commitment to stable and increasing funding for the Canadian Armed Forces for 20 years into the future, but within just two years, the Conservatives began a series of hidden freezes, cuts and clawbacks. Today, the army, navy and air force are scrambling to train, equip and support their members in the face of significant budget reductions, with cuts to operations and maintenance functions resulting in critical challenges to the forces' readiness.
Today, the National Defence budget has not only sunk to below the level it was seven years ago, despite the promises of a stable increase in funding, it is the lowest spending as a percentage of GDP for Canada since the World Bank began tracking that measure in the 1980s. It is now at 1% of GDP and still falling, compared with a budget of 1.3% of GDP under a prior Liberal government.
It is our duty as parliamentarians to ask the hard questions when we are contemplating putting our military members in harm's way. As Liberals, we stand behind the current deployment of 69 military advisers to help the Iraqi people stop ISIS. We are proud of Canada's legacy of global citizenship, contributed by our armed forces many times over the years. We are immensely proud of the quality of persons and unflinching dedication of the men and women in uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces. It is our duty as parliamentarians in every way we can to contribute to supporting their safety and success.
Hon. Chris Alexander (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here this evening for this debate and to speak on behalf of a government that is committed in full across these benches and the country to doing what is necessary to support the people of Iraq. It is a government that is committed to doing what is necessary to stop, contain and, if possible, eliminate this scourge of terrorism from a proud region and a world that is many decades into its history of considering terrorism in various forms of Islamic extremism a top threat to peace and stability not just in Iraq but in many countries, a world that deserves better. It is a world that deserves to say that for once we are working together, not just Canada with its allies but with partners across the Middle East and around the world, to ensure that terrorism will never again usurp state authority, take over, replace the authority of a state. It did that in Afghanistan in the 1990s and it has been threatening to do it in Iraq in recent days and weeks.
It was with pleasure that I listened to the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie who endorsed the government's actions and difficult decision to support the military strategy being pursued under the leadership of the United States, but with the participation of dozens of countries. It was with some consternation that we were subjected to the partisan tirade from the member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra. She did not say much about Iraq, but made a variety of unsubstantiated allegations and comparisons that I will not dwell on because these issues are too important.
For the member for St. John's East, the legal authority they are under is very clear. We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. We are there at the invitation of the Kurdish regional government. We are there with the strong support of the Iraqi people, who fear this menace as much as we do. This time in Iraq, it is a situation that very much mirrors the invitation and welcome that Canadian Forces received in Afghanistan in 2001, 2002 and then again on a larger scale in 2003 when faced with similar circumstances.
Let us look briefly at the roots of this terrorism that is causing us disquiet when we watch our television screens, which is causing deep concern to the Iraqi people and which is costing lives. In Syria, it has cost almost 200,000 lives over the past three years. In Iraq, the numbers are growing to those kinds of proportions because of the presence of this absolutely perfidious terrorist entity.
In the 1980s, al Qaeda, founded in Pakistan and operating in Afghanistan, brought part of this ideology to the fore. Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam, neither of them are with us today, were inspired by the teachings of Sayyid Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960s, someone who championed the idea that states were not necessary for Islam, in his perverted understanding of it, to be practised and, when necessary, enforced in Pakistan, Afghanistan and countries of the Arab world.
Before it is too late, Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the outstanding member of Parliament for Calgary East, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who will have much more substantive comments to add.
We know that al Qaeda almost consumed the destiny of an entire nation, thanks to the Taliban, its affiliate, ally and franchise, that ran Afghanistan for five years. This ideology of al Qaeda also flourished in the Chechen war and in other smaller conflicts in the Middle East over the past 20 years.
Then in Iraq in 2003, following a U.S. invasion, following the liquidation of the Baathist state, following the dismissal of Iraq's army and police, we in Afghanistan saw a huge phenomenon of hardened terrorist fighters, some Afghani, some Pakistani, many from dozens of other countries around the world, literally going to Iraq to fight the United States, Shiites and moderates of all kinds. They have been there ever since, building on that legacy, to the point where in Syria, after 2011, after the U.S. had succeeded in restoring state authority through most of Iraq found a new state teetering on the brink of collapse, established new spaces in which to train, build and base themselves to continue the fight against President Assad and to then resume it across the border in Iraq.
We find ourselves today with major two countries, Syria and Iraq, countries facing a common threat from a terrorist organization that is now fighting on a scale that we have not seen before. I do not think there was ever a time in Afghanistan when 20,000 to 25,000 foreign fighters with this kind of training and this kind of fire power were arrayed against the Afghan state. They certainly were not ever a threat to two states at once.
We are in a very worrying predicament. We are in a situation that poses a major threat to international peace and security. Let us remember the complicity of certain other states in allowing things to go this far. There was a chance last year, as the parliamentary secretary and the Minister of Foreign Affairs well know, to do more in Syria to counter these menaces.
Vladimir Putin decided that this was not a good idea and that it was better to ensure that the suffering of the Syrian people, and later the Iraqi people, would mount to new heights, and to prevent the international community from coming together to take decisive action to prevent this terrorist menace from growing to the scale that we now see.
This is not just an organization that represents a danger to us all. It is an ideology. They do not want to just replace the Syrian and Iraqi states; they want to replace states all the way from South Asia to Al-Andalus on the Iberian Peninsula. This is their dream, this is their ideology and this is our nightmare. It is combined with terrorist capacity, not just small arms and fast trucks, but a willingness to indoctrinate young people to literally give up their own lives to take lives from innocent civilians, suicide bombers.
There is the use of weapons of mass destruction, if they can get their hands on them. We have seen that. We have seen efforts by al Qaeda, by groups inspired by it, to try to get hold of chemical weapons and dirty bombs. Thank goodness they have not done so to date.
We also see this ideology of takfirism, something that is absolutely foreign and antithetical to the true values of Islam, which is the doctrine embraced by the so-called Islamic state in Iraq, that it is the right of Muslims, in their dark vision, to take the lives of either Muslims who do not share that vision or of non-Muslims. It is an arbitrary decision.
We have seen it practised time and again, recently, not just in executions but in the murders of Yazidis and religious minorities, and the massacres of populations across Iraq.
That is why we are proud to be taking action. We are proud to have deployed the Canadian Forces to advise and assist. We are proud to be delivering relief supplies from a stockpile Canada had the foresight to create in the UAE. We are proud to be a leading contributor already to humanitarian assistance, to have been there on the ground, present in Kurdistan, with our Minister of Foreign Affairs and members of the opposition to see the gravity of the situation first hand, and to provide security programs, as well as to assist in the delivery of military equipment from Albania and other countries.
Our goal is to prevent and deter terrorism worldwide. Our goal is to prevent Canadians from being involved more than they already are. The Combating Terrorism Act has done that. The new citizenship act has done that.
Our action in the region will do more than any of our previous efforts to finally start to build the coalition, the capacity and the international will to ensure that this terrorist threat does not continue to grow and is ultimately brought to yield.
Hon. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and join my colleague, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, to talk about the situation in the Middle East.
Let me remind the opposition and the people who are watching today that my esteemed colleague was our ambassador in Afghanistan. He served in Afghanistan exactly at the time when Afghanistan was facing a serious crisis of terrorism. He served with distinction there, so he is speaking with extreme authority on what is happening in the region.
Let me say this. The crisis that gathers us today hit us all in the summer, with shocking images of ISIL executions and Iraqi civilians displaced by the conflict. In order to understand how we got to that point, there are elements of Iraq's history and social fabric that must be laid out.
Iraq is a diverse country and home to several religious and ethnic minorities, some of which are now sadly famous for being targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. However, Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and ethnic Kurds are the three main groups that compose its population. In the last three decades, each of these groups has suffered traumatic experiences at the hands of brutal terrorist groups, militias, and governments.
Until 2003, Iraq was governed by the Sunni-backed government of Saddam Hussein, whose gross human rights violations against his own people are well known and well documented. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, in particular Shias and Kurds, perished under his reign. Following the transitional period that followed Saddam's fall, a Shia-led government was elected in Iraq with promises of an inclusive government.
However, these promises were not fulfilled. Between 2003 and 2013, the Sunni population grew increasingly marginalized. De-Baathification laws, which were aimed at removing the influence of Saddam Hussein's party in the new Iraqi political system, barred Sunnis from employment in the public sector and made them second-class citizens. Sunnis became easy targets for arbitrary arrests under Iraq's anti-terror law, and in the spring of 2013 Iraqi forces violently cracked down on Sunni protesters, killing approximately 50 people.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish people in the north were developing their institutions and turning the region into a safe investment hub. Thanks to the safe haven and no-fly zone imposed by the U.S. and allies over northern Iraq in 1991, the Kurdistan Regional Government was relatively isolated from the violence that affected the rest of the country. The 2005 Iraqi constitution also granted the Kurds considerable autonomy and close to one-fifth of the federal budget. However, these provisions were not fully implemented in Baghdad, which fuelled discontent and aspirations for greater autonomy.
This is the situation that was in place when the recent crisis started: a centralized and authoritarian government led by the Shia majority, a disgruntled Sunni minority, and Kurdish people in the north with growing aspirations for economic and political autonomy.
ISIL's resurgence in Iraq started gradually, preying on the vulnerabilities that I described and in particular the marginalization of Sunnis. Since 2010, the terrorist group had focused most of its activities in Syria, after being defeated by Iraqi and U.S. forces backed by Sunni militias. Throughout 2013, ISIL increased the tempo of attacks and bombings in Iraq. That year alone, approximately 10,000 Iraqis died as a result of the violence. In January, ISIL took control over parts of Iraq's western province of Anbar, including the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah, less than 100 kilometres from Baghdad. At this stage, the Minister of Foreign Affairs publicly expressed Canada's concern and called upon the Iraqi government to work across religious and ethnic lines to resolve the crisis.
The population of Anbar is mostly Sunni. Some of them were so disenchanted with the Maliki government that they viewed ISIL as a viable alternative, or at least were willing to tolerate ISIL's presence. Many have changed their minds since then. Although the Maliki government was unpopular among Sunnis, the vast majority of people in Anbar did not welcome ISIL's occupation. As anyone would do in the face of brutal oppression, they tried to flee ISIL's violence, which resulted in the first wave of internal displacement. In total, almost half a million people from Anbar were forced to leave their homes between January and May of this year.
Despite these challenging circumstances, Iraq was able to organize parliamentary elections in late April. Former prime minister al-Maliki's Dawa party won, but fell short of a majority. Maliki's popularity was low, and Sunnis and Kurds were reluctant to join his coalition.
In June, ISIL made a rapid advance toward the north, reportedly with support from Sunni tribes. It captured Mosul, Tikrit, several other cities and villages, and key infrastructure. Mosul is Iraq's second city, and its control was a significant victor for ISIL, not only in terms of territory, but also because of the oil and cash seized by ISIL.
Canadians were also shocked to see reports about some of their own fighting with ISIL in Iraq.
Throughout the summer, ISIL continued to move towards the north, moving toward Kurdish-controlled territory. ISIL's advance was accompanied by reports of horrible human rights abuses. ISIL itself texted and tweeted about these disgusting acts, posting pictures and videos online. Near Tikrit, several hundred members of the Iraqi army were executed and buried. Near Mosul, ISIL executed approximately 500 prisoners, and as we know, two U.S. journalists, who have since been joined by a British aid worker, were savagely beheaded in retaliation for U.S. air strikes
In July, the Prime Minister strongly condemned religious persecution by ISIL in Iraq.
Indeed, Yazidis and Christians were being kidnapped, raped, and killed. Some were able to flee to safety, but in August several thousand Yazidis got trapped on Mount Sinjar. They were families with nothing left but the clothes on their backs. At that stage the U.S. decided to intervene with humanitarian airdrops and air strikes.
Throughout June and July, the humanitarian crisis deepened. During those two months, nearly half a million Iraqis were displaced, most of whom sought refuge in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Their testimonials, some of which were shared with the Minister of Foreign Affairs while in Iraq two weeks ago, are chilling. It will take time for Iraq and the international community to get a full picture of the numerous abuses committed by ISIL during the summer months.
During this dark period, the newly elected Iraqi parliament elected a speaker, Salim al-Jabouri, and a president, Fouad Massoum, who in turn nominated a prime minister designate, Haider al-Abadi. At every step Canada encouraged the Iraqi leadership to continue its progress toward the formation of a new, inclusive government. We did so because we strongly believe there can be no enduring peace in Iraq without an inclusive government.
Like most terrorist groups, ISIL preys on divisions. The marginalization of the Sunni population under Iraq's last government allowed for ISIL's recent comeback in Iraq, so it is important for the new government not to repeat the same mistakes.
Luckily, a new, legitimate, and inclusive government led by Haider al-Abadi was sworn in on September 8. Along with our allies, we are determined to give that government the tools it needs to get the job done.
Canada is already one of the main contributors of humanitarian assistance. We will continue to support Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish Peshmerga, which are fighting ISIL. Our assistance includes air support and military advice. A broad international coalition is forming against ISIL, and a growing number of countries are doing their share alongside Canada.
Last year, we passed the Combatting Terrorism Act, which creates an offence of leaving or attempting to leave Canada to commit certain terrorism offences. These offences can carry a prison term of up to 14 years. While in Iraq, the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced $5 million in programming to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq. We are working with like-minded partners to address this problem, and these efforts will continue.
Canada is also committed to countering terrorist financing. ISIL, also known as al Qaeda in Iraq, is a listed terrorist entity in Canada. Under Canadian laws, our financial institutions have an obligation to freeze ISIL's assets and to disclose details of assets to law enforcement.
Finally, we will continue to push for an effective, inclusive, and representative federal government in Baghdad through our programming and diplomatic actions. By inclusive, I am referring not only to the composition of the government but also to the government's program and actions.
Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, in 2004, the then-opposition leader, today the Prime Minister, joined with Jack Layton in calling for a change to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
They agreed that all MPs should be allowed to vote on any Canadian participation in armed conflicts.
In 2006, the Conservative Party platform pledged to:
|| Make Parliament responsible for exercising oversight over the conduct of Canadian foreign policy and the commitment of Canadian Forces to foreign operations.
Members might notice that it does not say “to some foreign operations”. There are no conditions. There are no exceptions. It does not say “to combat missions”, ill-defined or not defined.
In 2007, the Conservative Speech from the Throne, the most formal form of address in our Parliament reiterated that the government has made clear to Canadians and our allies that:
||...any future military deployments must also be supported by a majority of parliamentarians.
We know how parliamentarians express their voice. It is through a vote in this House.
In 2009, the Prime Minister declared unequivocally that his government would henceforth:
||...require that military deployments...be supported by the Parliament of Canada.
I listened with great interest as the member of Parliament for Westmount—Ville-Marie and after him the Liberal member for Vancouver Quadra expressed their unconditional support for what the government was doing. The only problem is that we do not know what those troops are being asked to do on the ground.
Referencing back to last week's hearings in committee of course provides no information whatsoever. I was gobsmacked to hear the minister evoke weapons of mass destruction. I had a feeling that I had got into a time machine as the Conservatives were groping for a way to explain this thing.
We have just heard the parliamentary secretary say, with incredible arrogance, that they will let us know when the 30 days are up. In other words, their timing is up to them, the contents of the mission will never be discussed in this House, and those who have been elected to represent Canadians will not be allowed to vote. The NDP does not accept this.
I am extremely disappointed that neither the Prime Minister nor the leader of the Liberal Party is here with us this evening. This is a state matter. It is a question of defining what type of society we want to live in. To us, their absence speaks volumes. This is an emergency debate, a rare event in our parliamentary lives. They should have been here. They should have been speaking.
It is important to understand the threat, and let us look at that objectively. Members of the House fully understand the serious humanitarian and security risk posed by the organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL.
The violence perpetrated by ISIL is reprehensible. It includes mass killings, sexual violence against women, threatening religious and ethnic minorities with genocide, forcibly displacing civilians, and destroying holy sites. More than 1.5 million people have already been affected by the humanitarian situation in Iraq, which goes back far beyond the current one. Some 1.2 million people have been displaced, and conditions, of course, are worsening every day.
The United Nations declared what they call the highest level of emergency. The humanitarian crisis and the security threats could spill over the borders of Iraq and Syria. Responding to ISIL's threats requires a thorough and serious assessment of the facts on the ground and a clear understanding of the role Canada intends to play. From the government we get nothing, just empty meaningless words.
That is where the government has failed to answer fundamental questions from Canadians and representatives of the House. We cannot defeat ISIL by being vague and failing to show transparency.
We are not even told how many troops are being deployed, after being told today that yesterday it was several dozen and today it was 69. I was listening to the Minister of Foreign Affairs figure skating on one of the panel shows this afternoon, talking about how it was about logistics and planes and how long it takes them to get out.
We do not know. The government is not being transparent with Canadians.
More importantly, no one has told us yet in clear terms what the troops are going to do in this conflict. The only answer we get is that our troops will advise the Kurdish forces. Maybe so, but the Minister of National Defence told Parliament and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development that our troops will not be in a combat role and that this was not a combat mission. He even reiterated that our combat troops will not put boots on Iraqi soil. It had to be done.
Boots will not be on the ground. They are either wearing sandals or they are levitating. Which one is it?
He cannot or does not want to answer questions regarding the type of advice that a dozen special operations forces units will be giving to Kurdish forces. Given the Peshmerga's history, knowledge of the region and expertise, what advice would they need from Canada?
If these special forces are helping to line up targets but letting someone else fire the shots, does that constitute advice? Is it not merely a matter of semantics? The member for Toronto—Danforth mentioned this earlier when he quoted the Australian prime minister. The Australian prime minister added a qualifier because he would not get directly involved in a cause all on his own. Is that the type of game we are playing?
I could not believe what the member for Vancouver Quadra said earlier. She rose and said:
We should be “briefed fully”.
That is good enough for the Liberals when it comes to international affairs.
We should be briefed fully.
As parliamentarians, we do not just have the right to be informed. We should also be consulted and we have the right to vote.
The government says it will reassess our contribution in 30 days. We are not told what criteria they have used for the reassessment, and after all, this initial contribution was made at the request of Americans based on their assessment. It is safe to assume that this conflict will not end in 30 days, obviously. The U.S. administration has talked about a multi-year strategy, as do the Conservatives. It is no surprise that so many Canadians are deeply concerned about mission creep. This is a slippery slope.
These are serious strategic questions that need to be answered. The lack of focus is not benign, especially when we enter the theatre of war in a region marred by decades of conflict. If the government is incapable of answering basic strategic questions about its military commitment to Iraq, then how are Canadians to know what it is doing, and how are they to believe the information they are being given? It is quite clear from what we have heard tonight that it does not know what it is doing.
Still, it is committing us to a conflict that will expand. That is why it is essential for the government to present a clear motion in the House that outlines the details of Canada's commitment to Iraq. I said that the way it was meant. It is the government's responsibility, because I also heard the Minister of Foreign Affairs tonight say that it was the opposition's responsibility to bring it to a vote. We can, with an opposition day, but tonight we were supposed to get clear information and answers to our questions, and we have gotten nothing. Canadians do not know any more about this mission happening.
After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Canadians expect their leaders to approach potential military commitments with prudence and transparency. That is why Canadians will be deeply disappointed that the Prime Minister and the Liberal leader did not participate in tonight's emergency debate.
We can all remember back in 2003 that the current Prime Minister, who at the time served as opposition leader, was so keen to join the U.S. military involvement in Iraq. He even penned an op-ed in an American paper bemoaning Canadian opposition to the war. We all remember that. Maybe the minister was hoping he would get special bonus points for mentioning weapons of mass destruction tonight. Frankly, I think he has only embarrassed himself and his government. It is of particular concern that the government appears incapable of conveying a coherent understanding of the mission's objectives, strategy, costs, and timelines.
The same vagueness under the Liberals led to almost a decade of mission creep in Afghanistan. This House must remember that Canada's involvement in Afghanistan was also only supposed to be a short-term deployment of a small group of special operations forces. That should tell us something.
That mission also began under a veil of secrecy and without a debate in the House of Commons. That is why the current Prime Minister, who was an opposition member at the time, said that he was outraged that Parliament had not been consulted. I imagine that this is a case of “that was then, this is now”.
A decade later, a different government risks repeating those same mistakes by getting Canada involved in a military mission in Iraq, this time without having clearly defined the mandate of the members of the Canadian Forces or obtaining Parliament's approval.
The same vagueness under the Liberals led almost to a decade of mission creep in Afghanistan. This House has to recall that Canada's involvement in Afghanistan also began with what was supposed to be a short-term deployment of a small group of special operations forces. That mission also began under a veil of secrecy and without a debate and vote in the House of Commons.
A decade later, a different government risks repeating those same mistakes. There is no excuse for it, because the Conservatives were the ones who stood up and said we have to change the rules, Parliament has to be consulted, Parliament has to be informed and Parliament has a right to vote on these issues.
Now there are clear humanitarian needs. When it comes to the humanitarian needs on the ground and Canada's expertise in addressing these needs, there is no vagueness.
Our foreign affairs critic was in Iraq just two weeks ago. Officials in Baghdad and in Erbil asked Canadian parliamentarians for a contribution to their humanitarian needs. Interestingly enough, there was no request for Canadian military involvement in the conflict.
We have called on the government to contribute to the United Nations appeal for aid to meet the needs of the internally displaced in Iraq. Winter is coming and we have models from other countries, like Norway, which has sent in massive supplies to help.
We have called on the government to assist in addressing sexual violence. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on sexual violence has reported numerous acts of violence, including acts of sexual violence against women, girls and boys, who are members of Iraqi minorities. Canada could allocate funds to meet the special needs of the victims of this sexual violence.
We have urged the government to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected and to ensure that those responsible for these war crimes are put on trial. Despite the government's promises, we are still waiting for it to do something. We must keep paying close attention to the Syrian refugee crisis, which has already had a major impact on Jordan and Turkey, countries that are currently doing their part. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Canada under this Conservative government that is doing nothing.
There are too many unanswered questions about the Conservative government's approach to Iraq. We need immediate action on the humanitarian front. We need prudence and transparency on the military front. Tonight's debate cannot meet these objectives, since the government still refuses to present a motion that clearly outlines the objectives, parameters and timelines of this mission.
The Prime Minister must keep his promise to Canadians and put this military deployment to a democratic vote of Canada's Parliament.
There are too many unanswered questions about the Conservative government's approach to the deployment of the Canadian troops in Iraq. The Prime Minister must keep his promises to Canadians and put this issue to a vote in the House. Without a real debate, without any real information, no responsible person can support this mission in Iraq.