Speech by Justin Trudeau on the government’s motion to extend the combat mission in Iraq and expand into Syria

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Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the Prime Minister’s statement.

Today, as the Prime Minister proposes to extend and deepen Canada’s involvement in this war, we should have another significant date in mind.

Days ago, the bloody civil war in Syria entered its fifth year, with no end in sight.We have learned a lot in the six months since the government joined the war in Iraq. Last fall, the Prime Minister stood in this House and told Parliament that Canadian troops were “not accompanying the Iraqi forces into combat. ”

In the weeks and months that followed, a very different story emerged.

While all three parties have different views on what our role should be, let there also be no doubt that our men and women have our full support as they undertake their dangerous mission, in this dangerous part of the world.
Justin Trudeau

We now know that our 30 day non-combat “advise and assist” effort became a six month long engagement, and then evolved into one where Canadian troops were active on the front lines, regularly engaging in direct combat. And we have witnessed the tragic death of Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron, who was killed in the line of duty, the first Canadian Forces death of this mission in Iraq.

Mr. Speaker, I know I speak for every member of this House when I say that we honour Sgt. Doiron’s service to Canada and his great courage. Our thoughts, on that day and this one, are with his family. That tragic loss of life should also serve as an important reminder. At the end of every decision to enter combat stands a brave Canadian, in harm’s way, because they have the courage to serve. And because we made the decision to send them to war.

The men and women who serve in our military are well trained professionals, deeply committed to their country, and very good at what they do. We in the Liberal Party have never been opposed to employing the lethal force of which they are capable when it clearly serves Canada’s national interest to do so. We never will be.

But in every case that national interest must be clearly and rationally articulated. The mission designed to uphold that interest must have transparent objectives and a responsible plan to achieve them.

Mr. Speaker, this government has been steadily drawing Canada deeper into a combat role in Iraq. It now wants to expand that war into Syria. They have done so without clearly articulating its objectives.

As a result, neither Members of this House nor Canadians have any way to know when or whether we’ve achieved them. They have no exit strategy, beyond an illusory end date set for next March.Involvement in direct combat in this war does not serve Canada’s interests. Nor will it provide a constructive solution to the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the region. Now the Prime Minister seeks to deepen our involvement. To expand it into the Syrian Civil War.

Mr. Speaker, last fall we said that because the Prime Minister failed to offer a clear and responsible plan, one that limited our participation to a true non-combat role, and better reflected the broad scope of Canada’s capabilities, that we would not support his motion to go to war in Iraq.

The four core principles we articulated in October still stand today.

  • One, Canada has a role to play in confronting humanitarian crises in the world.
  • Two, when a government considers deploying our men and women in uniform, there must be a clear mission and a clear role for Canada.
  • Three, that the case for deploying our forces must be made openly and transparently, based on clear and reliable, dispassionately presented facts.
  • Four, Canada’s role must reflect the broad scope of Canadian capabilities and how best we can help.

In the fall, we expressed grave concern that the Prime Minister intended to involve Canada in a longer, deeper combat engagement than he was leading this House to believe at that time. Today, with their motion, we know those concerns were well founded.

We will not be supporting the government’s efforts to deepen this combat mission and expand it into Syria.

Mr. Speaker, Canadians need to know what this Prime Minister is getting them into.

The United Nations tells us that after four years of brutal conflict, more than 11 million Syrians – more than half the population – have been driven out of their homes. Syrians are fleeing their country by the millions, creating a refugee crisis of unspeakable proportions. More than 210,000 Syrians have been killed in five years of fighting, including more than 10,000 children.

Canadians need to know that this is happening in Syria. And they also need to know who is largely responsible. The Syrian people have for years been oppressed and terrorized by their own government, under the rule of Bashar al-Assad. This is a man who has used chemical weapons on its own citizens, and whose regime is responsible for torturing and killing many more innocent people than even ISIL. We cannot support a mission that could very well result in Assad consolidating his grip on power in Syria.

Beyond our concerns about dubious alliances, the government’s desire to expand Canada’s presence into Syria represents a worrying trend. We can call it “evolution” or “escalation” or “mission creep.” Whatever term you prefer, the pattern is the same.

First, we discovered that our role included ground combat operations, despite the Prime Minister’s assurances to the contrary. Now we’re being asked to expand our involvement into Syria.
It is hard to take the proposed timeline with more than a grain of salt, given the public musings of the Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs. Indeed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs explicitly compared this war to Afghanistan, stating that “[we are] in this for the longer term. ” In Afghanistan, the “longer term” meant a decade.

Mr. Speaker, I say this with regret more than anger, but how can we trust a government that has proven itself so capable of misleading the Canadian public?

They are proposing an unfocused, unending mission for the Canadian Forces that we cannot support. Mr. Speaker, one thing is clear: Canada has a role to play in the campaign against ISIL. That role must serve our national interests, and the one being proposed today by the Prime Minister does not meet that test.

We in the Liberal Party know that Canadians want to respond to the horrors ISIL is inflicting on the region.

Canadians are rightly appalled by ISIL’s ruthlessness and terror. We understand that feeling, and we share it. But we also know that in a situation as complex and evolving as the one the world faces in Syria and Iraq, we cannot allow our outrage to cloud our judgment.

Canada has a clear interest in training and equipping Iraqi forces to fight and destroy ISIL, but it is not in our interest to slide into an ever deeper combat role ourselves. We can – and should – do this training away from the front lines. Along with our allies, and through the auspices of the United Nations, Canada should provide more help through a well funded and well planned humanitarian aid effort. The refugee crisis alone threatens the region’s security, overwhelming countries from Lebanon to Turkey, from Syria itself to Jordan.

And here at home, we should expand our refugee targets and give more victims of war the opportunity to start a new life in Canada.

These calamities are in urgent need of a constructive, coordinated international effort, both under the auspices of the United Nations, and beyond it. The kind of effort that ought to be Canada’s calling card in the global community. We will have more to say about that in the weeks and months ahead.

Today, Mr. Speaker, the government is asking for this House to support deepening Canada’s involvement in the war in Iraq, and to expand that involvement into a combat mission in Syria.

While all three parties have different views on what our role should be, let there also be no doubt that our men and women have our full support as they undertake their dangerous mission, in this dangerous part of the world.

Thank you.