By Sho Shibata, Blog Writer

A majority of public dialogue around the ongoing crises in the Middle East condemns the aggressive geo-political expansion of ISIS’ (or ISIL – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant) strategies and goals. This expansion has spurred a humanitarian crisis in the region and in particular in Northern Iraq.

ISIS has undertaken a campaign of imposing their extremist interpretations of the Islamic faith, including Sharia law, upon the populations of the region. The Canadian government’s response to the crisis has included various types of humanitarian aid beyond the narrative of condemnation, but does this current rhetoric suffice? A reported five hundred Yazidi were murdered in the Sanjar region, however, unofficial numbers of dead and missing remain unknown as intrastate violence creates disturbances in the internal information infrastructure, and the accuracy of information becomes difficult to discern.

The Canadian government recognizes the severity of this crisis; particularly, the direct, physical violence perpetrated against the Yazidi minority and other religious minorities such as the Sakans, Turkomen, and Christians. MP Garry Breitkreuz of Yorkton-Melville, Saskatchewan has stated that, “[Canada] will not drop [its] guard. We will continue to explore ways to oppose ISIL, with the goal of saving any lives it threatens, now and in the future, abroad or elsewhere.”

As the number of victims escalates, what “legally defined” threshold constitutes a transition of the language to “genocide” rather than “crimes against humanity,” thereby invoking a phase of international response? Adherence to the tenants of the Genocide Convention has become largely symbolic, without the stronger legalistic imperative to back it up. Indeed, the only legal requirements that using the term ”Genocide” can incur revolve around punishing perpetrators after the fact, and not working to stop it as it is taking place. While the Government of Canada has indeed invoked the term “genocide” to describe the situation, the subsequent intervention has been slow to start and has focused primarily on military solutions. We have seen this issue arise in the past to deadly consequence. This precise challenge insulated violent actors in Darfur from external intervention and enabled them to perpetuate the ongoing ethnically motivated killings.

What constitutes the extent of Canada’s obligation to intervene or assist?  How can we reconcile our local reality with the far away tragedies that we nevertheless see played out in our living rooms on our computers or TVs?  The Government of Canada’s Counter Terrorism Capacity Building Program (CTCBP) and Global Peace Security Fund has contributed millions of dollars into the Iraqi security apparatus. Whether the impact is beneficial or not will only become apparent after some time has passed, and questions remain as to how ethical this type of intervention is.  Much remains to be defined and articulated through dialogue, and in the meantime, unfortunately, the number of victims that ISIS creates will continue to grow.