Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt or question from the opposition side that the crimes perpetrated by ISIS are appalling and abhorrent. There have been mass killings, sexual violence, slavery, forced displacement, and the destruction of holy and historic sites. In Iraq alone, the violence has led to the displacement of 2.5 million civilians and left 5.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance.
ISIL has committed heinous crimes, including mass killings, sexual violence, forced displacement and the destruction of holy sites. The violence ISIL perpetrates is entirely unjustifiable and entirely contrary to Islam. The crisis in Iraq and Syria is undermining peace and stability in the region.
The situation in Iraq and Syria demands an international response. The NDP has called for Canada to contribute to that international response since last June.
When I first asked the government to help Iraqis displaced by the ISIS invasion of Mosul, it was last June, and at the time the issue was obscure to the government. In fact, I raised the threat with the minister directly. His response was blunt. He pointed to previous U.S. failures in Iraq and said, “They broke it; they fix it.”
One month later, we called on the government to support Iraqi governance and security in response to the ISIS threat. We recognized then, as we do now, that only responsible, inclusive governance in Iraq will allow Iraqis to take control of their own country and their own destiny and build their own peace.
Canada must act. We must do so in a way that we can best add value to the international coalition and in a way that respects international law and our values as a country.
We believe that Canada must act immediately to save lives. We remain as clearly and resolutely opposed as ever to the Conservatives' ill-defined combat mission.
Unfortunately, the concerns I raised when I spoke on the original motion six months ago are still very valid. In fact, I want to read out now what I said then, six months ago. This is what I said:
The motion we are debating today is ill-defined and ill-conceived. It offers no plan and no exit strategy. Shockingly, there are no new humanitarian commitments....
Just as shockingly, there are no territorial limits on operations. Nearly every other member of the coalition has explicitly ruled out air strikes in Syria; the Prime Minister explicitly ruled them in.
...the motion we are debating today would open that door to air strikes there—or anywhere, for that matter.
There are also no restrictions on who could be included in the category of “terrorists allied with ISIL”. ...
There are very few details in the motion on our deployment of “military assets”. Could these go beyond the nine planes and 600 troops currently committed? We just do not know.
Also, there is no requirement for Parliament to be consulted...if the mission is expanded or extended.
That was all true then. Unfortunately, it is also true now, except now it is worse. The new motion does not rule out the possibility of deploying ground combat troops in the future. In his speech earlier this week, the Prime Minister opened the door to a further expansion, saying: “...we must avoid if we can taking on ground combat responsibilities in this region. We seek to have the Iraqis do this themselves....”
In other words, the government will do its best, but there are no promises. With the government's record, that is far from reassuring.
There are other disturbing features of this new mission as well. Whereas the previous objective was to “degrade” ISIS, now the Minister of Defence apparently wants to “defeat” ISIS. This implies a much longer commitment. It also highlights the need for an exit strategy that the government does not seem to have.
Of course, the new motion extends Canadian air strikes into Syria without a UN or NATO mandate and without the permission of the Syrian government. This is dangerous in three ways. First, the action may well be illegal. Second, the government has done nothing to show otherwise or to show that it takes international law seriously at all.
After the Prime Minister belittled and joked about international law yesterday afternoon, the government was forced to move quickly to cover up the fact that it had not sent notice of its intention to the UN Security Council, as is required in cases of self-defence. The legal case that bombing in Syria constitutes any form of self-defence has not been made.
The legal case for this war is made even weaker by a change in the text of this motion compared with the one from October. The previous motion targeted ISIS and its allies. The motion in front of us targets ISIS and “aligned groups”, opening the door to a much larger role for Canada in the so-called war on terrorism.
Second, since Canadian pilots will be flying in Syria without ground support, the likelihood of mistakes that kill innocent people is far greater. In fact, the U.S. has excluded Syria from its own standards to prevent civilian casualties and has admitted that it does not have a clear idea of the results of its bombing in Syria. The government is apparently preparing a messaging campaign for if and when civilians are killed, but it has not said how it will prevent civilian deaths in the first place.
Even if pilots are able to identify targets, they will sometimes, inevitably, identify the wrong targets. As Lieutenant General James Terry, the top U.S. commander overseeing the anti-ISIS operation, said last year:
We have some great capability in terms of precision. What's in the balance here if you're not careful is you can be precisely wrong.... And you could create a very bad situation.
Of course, civilian deaths increase the ability of ISIS to use air strikes as a recruitment tool.
Third, bombing ISIS in Syria supports the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Assad regime has used barrel bombs and chemical weapons against children, women, and men in Syria. Assad is directly responsible for a civil war that has cost some 220,000 lives, over 100 times more than ISIS.
We have heard disturbing reports that the Assad regime is collaborating with ISIS, and Syrian opposition groups report that Assad's forces are exploiting the gaps created by bombing to take over more territory. By bombing in Syria, we reduce the prospects for a lasting political solution without Assad, which is needed to resolve the broader conflict.
It goes without saying that Canada must do something about ISIL. Our response must be serious and significant. The question is, what should Canada do? How can we be most helpful, not just in the short run but in defeating ISIL over the long term?
I want to make one thing very clear: we do not need to shoot missiles or drop bombs in order to prove that we take this threat seriously. Over 60 countries are helping to defeat ISIL, and the vast majority are not taking part in air strikes.
From the beginning, the NDP has been proactive and consistent not just in opposing the military mission but in proposing a practical and principled alternative. In the fall, New Democrats called on the government to do four concrete things: support the construction of refugee camps, help victims of sexual violence, assist in protecting ethnic and religious minorities, and encourage the international prosecution of war crimes. To the former minister's credit, he agreed to all of these. He even acted on some of them, but there is so much more that remains to be done.
I have been disappointed to hear the new minister repeat time and time again that Canada is doing its share. There are children freezing in Dohuk refugee camps in Kurdistan. A quarter of Lebanon's population is, in fact, Syrian refugees, pushing that already fragile country to the brink.
A majority of the UN humanitarian appeals for Iraq and Syria remain unfunded. When the need is so great, so obvious, so tragic, and so compelling, I do not find it acceptable for the minister to shrug and say that Canada has done its share. The truth is that most of those in need in Iraq are not in ISIS-controlled territory. They are refugees, internally displaced persons, and people whose livelihoods have been stolen from them by chaos and carnage. They are victims of ISIS, and Canada can help them now.
During last year's debate, I told the story of an encounter I had with a group of young Iraqi children in a refugee camp. I hope those children survived the winter. If they did, they almost certainly still need our help. Now as then, we need to be smart about how we deliver.
At the foreign affairs committee, we have just concluded a study that the NDP requested on Canada's response to ISIS. The committee has heard from a diverse group of witnesses, including academics, civil society representatives, and community organizations. The message from witnesses has been clear: Canada must respond to ISIS; a response must be smart, responsible and comprehensive; and we need a strategy based on international co-operation to both respond to ISIS on the ground and to prevent radicalization and extremism abroad.
We have clear guidance in these areas from existing UN Security Council resolutions on ISIS: 2170, 2178, and 2199. None of these authorizes a military mission. However, the Security Council is requiring action to prevent the flow of foreign fighters, financing, and resources to ISIS and other terrorist organizations. While air strikes are being used as a recruitment tool for ISIS, these UN measures tackle the networks and structures that ISIS and other extremist organizations use to recruit and spread their ideology and their influence.
The Government of Canada should take immediate and specific steps to meet its international obligations in these areas. As part of that effort, the government should immediately sign and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, which it refuses to sign, to demonstrate commitment to ending the flow of weapons to illegal armed groups and human-rights abusers.
The government should also partner with domestic communities to develop a strategy to counter radicalization here in Canada. In fact, the one program that had existed the Conservatives cut. Canada can lead the way as the international coalition develops a strong campaign of counter-extremist messaging, exposing the brutality of ISIS and the lack of a religious basis for its atrocities.
Finally, Canada can do a great deal more to help build the inclusive, responsible governance in Iraq that all the experts agree is needed for a lasting solution after ISIS.
As one of the witnesses at committee, University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani, stated, “If you don't provide sustainable institutions that can fill that vacuum, it will just be another acronym that will fill that space”. I could not agree with her more.
That is where Canada's expertise and Canada's potential lie. We can save lives. We can build peace to help the people in Iraq.
We in the NDP strongly believe that Canada has unparalleled expertise to respond to this crisis, and we must put that expertise to good use.
This country is better than the legally dubious and strategically ignorant motion of the government. That is why I am very proud to present the following amendment on behalf of the official opposition.
I move that Government Business No. 17 be amended by the following:
(a) replacing the words “the threat that ISIL poses to Canada and to international peace and security, will grow” with the words “from capable and enabled local forces, the threat ISIL poses to international peace and security, including to Canadian communities, will continue to grow”;
(b) replacing the word “2178” with the words “2170, 2178, and 2199”;
(c) deleting sections (viii), (ix) and (x); and
(d) deleting all the words after the word “Accordingly,” and substituting the following: “this House calls on the Government to:
a. end the participation of Canadian Forces troops in combat, air strikes and advise-and-assist training in Iraq and Syria as soon as possible;
b. boost humanitarian aid in areas where there would be immediate, life-saving impact, including assisting refugees with basic shelter and food needs; and investing in water, sanitation and hygiene, health and education for people displaced by the fighting;
c. work with our allies in the region to stabilize neighbouring countries, strengthen political institutions and assist these countries in coping with an influx of refugees;
d. contribute to the fight against ISIL, including military support for the transportation of weapons;
e. provide assistance to investigation and prosecution of war crimes;
f. increase assistance for the care and resettlement of refugees impacted by this conflict;
g. work to prevent the flow of foreign fighters, finances, and resources to ISIL, in accordance with our international obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2170, 2178, and 2199;
h. put forward a robust plan of support for communities and institutions working on de-radicalization and counter-radicalization;
i. report back on the costs of the mission and humanitarian assistance provided to date on a monthly basis to the Standing Committee on Foreign affairs and International Development, until Canadian involvement is concluded; and
j. continue to offer its resolute and wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces who stand on guard for all of us”.