By Nicholas Boland-Cairney, Blog Writer
In the wake of recent terrorist attacks in France and the United States, the new Canadian Government’s decision to withdraw Canadian CF-18 fighter jets from the campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria (ISIL/ISIS) is raising eyebrows. A considerable number of articles have been written which both defend and denounce the highly polarizing decision. Given the changes in the diplomatic landscape witnessed in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it is important to re-evaluate this decision to know if it is truly right for Canada. Ultimately, this post will shine some light on an issue that’s been highly clouded in partisanship.
The “lone-wolf” attacks that took place in Canada in 2014 around Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Parliament Hill were regularly highlighted in the recent federal election, especially considering the Conservative platform focused heavily on the issue of national security. This was part of a strategy to play on the Conservative assumption of what the opposition would be unlikely to do – take a hardline approach to Canadian national security. Under former Prime Minister Harper, Canada became a part of the US-led coalition to conduct air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, participating in 200 air strikes since the start of the campaign. Canada has also deployed 600 military personnel, 69 of which are special operators specifically tasked with training local forces.
As part of the opposition, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party took a condescending tone towards the Conservative’s aggressive tactics. Uncertainty over the outcome of eliminating ISIS, risks of civilian casualties, destruction of essential infrastructure, and further exacerbating divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims in Western countries were among the well-discussed reasons for avoiding military action. However, instead of entirely backing out of the coalition, Trudeau promised to shift Canada’s involvement in the conflict to “softer” roles such as providing humanitarian aid and increasing the number of training personnel on the ground. Upon taking office, Trudeau immediately brought in a mandate to end Canada’s combat role in Iraq and Syria, a decision which has remained unchanged despite the terrorist attacks in Paris and the United States. Yet, clarity regarding Canadian involvement in training missions for local forces has yet to materialize.
Criticism from within the House of Commons is (as usual) mostly benign partisan rhetoric. Rona Ambrose, interim leader of the Conservative Party, asked why Canada is now “stepping back” from the conflict with ISIS while our allies are “stepping up” their efforts. Conservative MP Kellie Leitch said the Liberal policy is making the Canadian military look like “cowards” on the international stage. Canadian public opinion, on the other hand, is a little less predictable. A poll conducted on November 18, interviewing 1,508 Canadians, found that Canadians are currently split almost entirely evenly on the matter. 29% of those surveyed wanted to see Trudeau move ahead with his plans to re-allocate resources to training, whereas another 29% wanted to see the mission continue as scheduled under the Conservative mandate. Interestingly enough, the largest group – 33% – wanted to see all efforts against ISIS (training and bombing) increased.
Despite this data, it is important to see the Conservative retorts as nothing more than partisan squabbling. The government’s decision is not a matter of ideology as Conservative MP Tony Clement would have us believe. For Justin Trudeau, rather, it is first and foremost a matter of integrity – one that demonstrates accountability to all those who voted to put him in power. Whether this reasoning constitutes a viable excuse to make decisions such as this on the international stage, however, is certainly up for discussion.
Get involved in the discussion. Participate in one of STAND Canada’s local chapters. Learn more here.