Mr. Speaker, we are here this evening to talk about the government's motion to extend Canada's combat mission in Iraq in response to the atrocious acts of violence and serious human rights violations perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Before us we have the Prime Minister's request to shift the advise and assist mission that began in September to a front-line combat mission, after the air campaign that began in November 2014, during which Canada conducted 53 air strikes in Iraq.
After just completing our commitment in Afghanistan, where troop deployment was the longest in our history—12 years—resulting in 40,000 veterans, 160 deaths, thousands of injured and thousands more with post-traumatic stress disorder, we are now embarking on another conflict.
In the meantime, many of our veterans and their loved ones still do not have access to adequate health care, benefits and other types of support, because of how this government is managing Veterans Affairs.
Since the fall, the government has deployed 69 members of the special operations forces and roughly 600 additional Canadian Forces troops to Iraq. The government has maintained that this is not a combat mission, but we know that since January, the Canadian special operations forces have exchanged fire with Islamic State militants on Iraqi soil.
The death of Sergeant Andrew Joseph Doiron confirms to us that the situation is much more complex, and reminds us of the risks associated with deploying our troops to the front lines and of our duty as members of Parliament to take our role here seriously.
In light of the government's refusal to call this a combat mission, we wonder what impact that will have on the compensation and danger pay of Canadian Forces members. Let us not forget that in 2013, danger pay was reduced for our troops in Afghanistan who were training the Afghan army because of the supposed lack of danger.
Paul Heinbecker, Canada's last ambassador to the UN Security Council, said in The Globe and Mail on March 23 that our women and men in uniform have no place being in Iraq and they certainly have no place being in Syria.
Canada does not have to participate in this war. We should instead help save lives on the ground by finding solutions to the humanitarian crisis.
I will recall that the U.S. ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, said on CBC's The House on September 27:
We'd like as much more as Canada is willing to contribute, whether it's...humanitarian, whether it's militarily, at every level. By the way military alone isn't going to solve this problem...we're going to need help at multiple levels to ultimately destroy and degrade ISIL.
Norway, South Korea and New Zealand, among others, do not have a combat role. They are making a strictly humanitarian contribution, which is truly needed. There are serious human rights violations, including attacks that directly target the people and civilian infrastructure, executions and other civilian murders, kidnappings, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence.
To date, the violence has caused the displacement of 2.5 million people in Iraq alone, and 5.2 million others require humanitarian assistance. At least 20% of the 2.5 million people displaced by war have a crucial need for protection, especially against trauma and sexual violence. This situation is made worse by the effects of the crisis in Syria on the region, because neighbouring countries are desperately trying to deal with the refugees and violence in Syria.
Syria has been in turmoil for five years, mired in a war that makes no distinction between civilians and combatants. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and half the population has fled. Neighbouring countries, which normally would accept Iraqi refugees, are already overwhelmed by the high number of Syrian refugees.
How can we address this dire situation? As Nelson Mandela said, our greatest weapon in the struggle for peace is education. That is because education is key to security and economic opportunity. We know children are disproportionately affected by armed conflict and by displacement. More than 70% of internally displaced children in Iraq remain out of school. Canada should increase its focus on the welfare of children and access to educational facilities.
We need to ensure that immediate needs such as water, food security, shelter, health, and psychosocial support are met. We must fight against sexual violence, support survivors, and protect minorities. We need to support the development of social infrastructure, supporting the communities themselves, and that means addressing the structural inequalities underpinning the violence in order to eliminate the possibility of more extremism arising.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:
Over the longer-term, the biggest threat to terrorists is not the power of missiles—it is the politics of inclusion.
We know that peace and equality are linked. The empowerment of women is a powerful force behind economic growth, social and political stability and lasting peace. Women who are empowered are the foundation of communities that can fight radicalization and extremism.
For that reason, the NDP is asking the Government of Canada to work on contributing to the creation of responsible, democratic and peaceful governance in Iraq and to fight the threat of the group known as the Islamic State and other militant groups.
I want to cite for the House an article co-authored by the executive director of UN Women and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Radhika Coomaraswamy. This article in Foreign Policy is called “Women Are the Best Weapon in the War Against Terrorism”. It was published on February 10, 2015. It states:
Militarized counterterrorism operations disrupt economic and social activity, and destroy civilian infrastructure—the schools, markets, and medical facilities relied on by women in traditional caring roles. When governments focus resources on expensive military operations, social ministries like health, family services, and education are often the first to face budget cuts. Civilian displacement leaves women and girls vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, including, with grim regularity, crimes committed by the security forces supposed to be protecting them.
The failure to prevent these negative impacts constitutes willful negligence. It results in women’s re-victimization, and ultimately in more poverty, more desperation, and more radicalization. Militarized responses always risk civilian casualties and threaten to drive marginalized young people into the ranks of extremists. Indeed, as increasing media reports show, despite the brutal and well-known crimes committed against women by the Islamic State, teenage girls are reportedly running away from their homes to join it.
In closing, I must say what the leader of the opposition and of the NDP said so well during his speech on Tuesday:
ISIS has thrived in Iraq and Syria precisely because those countries lack stable, well-functioning governments capable of maintaining peace and security within their own borders.
Canada's first contribution should be to use every diplomatic, humanitarian, and financial resource at our disposal to respond to the overwhelming human tragedy unfolding on the ground and to strengthen political institutions in both those countries…
…the tragedy in Iraq and Syria will not end with another western-led invasion in that region. It will end by helping the people…to build the political institutions and security capabilities they need to oppose these threats themselves.
The Islamic State is already reacting to the air campaign by dispersing its troops, sheltering in civilian areas and frequently changing location. Air strikes elicit violent responses in local communities, leading to further instability and insecurity.
Instead of engaging in an unending military combat that is not supported by the United Nations Security Council, the NDP urges Canada's Conservative government to make its contribution on a humanitarian level.