Justin Trudeau on extending the combat mission in Iraq and expanding into Syria

Please read Justin Trudeau's remarks in the House of Commons on the government's motion to extend the combat mission in Iraq and expanding into Syria.

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Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that even in a debate as divisive as this one, there is one thing that all parties and all members have in common. We are all committed to keeping Canadians safe. It is therefore disappointing, even if predictable, to hear the government suggest that members who disagree with it are failing to uphold Canadian values.

The government owes it to Canadians to be more honest about how long this mission will truly last.Justin Trudeau

As I said a few weeks ago in Calgary, we can be very critical of each other’s policies without debating each other’s patriotism.

That is certainly true when it comes to the debate on the motion before us today. We must confront ISIL. We all agree on that. Where we disagree is on the most effective way for Canada to intervene.

The Liberal Party will not support the government’s motion to extend Canada’s combat role in Iraq and expand it into Syria.

I wish to use my time today to put our opposition into a broader context, to describe what Liberals believe would be a more effective course of action in the region and here at home.

Our approach to this mission, indeed to any military engagement, centres around four core principles.

First, Canada does have a role to play in responding to humanitarian crises and security threats in the world. As I have already stated, there is consensus in the House on that point.

Second, when we deploy the Canadian Forces, especially into combat operations, there must be a clear mission and a clear role for Canada. Here is where our disagreement begins. A full week has passed since the Prime Minister first rose on this issue, and the government still has not clearly articulated this mission’s objectives. Indeed, as we saw last week, there is not even consensus as to what the ultimate goal is.

Are we only seeking to degrade ISIL’s capabilities, as the Prime Minister stated, or are we attempting to defeat them outright, as the Minister of National Defence suggested? If it is to defeat them, are we willing to admit that it may take more than air strikes? Are we willing to admit that it may well mean bombing in Yemen and other countries? Will our involvement in this mission end next March, or was the Minister of Foreign Affairs being more truthful when he explicitly compared this war to Afghanistan, saying that we were in this for the “longer term”? Let us remember, in Afghanistan the longer term meant 10 years not 12 months.

We cannot allow rhetorical appeals to moral clarity to disguise the absence of a plan.

Third, the Liberal Party cannot support any military mission when the arguments to support it have not been presented in an open and transparent manner.

They put us here to stand on principle and lead. That is exactly what we intend to do.Justin Trudeau

When we supported the first phase of the mission, it was with the understanding that the length and scope of the mission would be limited, in other words, that it would end after 30 days and it would be limited to non-combat support.

The Prime Minister told Canadians that the purpose of the mission would be to advise and to assist, and that the Canadian troops were not accompanying the Iraqi forces into combat. We now know that Canadian troops have been at the front lines, calling in air strikes and engaging in several direct firefights.

In a matter of months, despite assurances to the contrary, the government steadily and stealthily drew Canada into a deeper ground combat role in Iraq. With this motion, it seeks to deepen our involvement even further.

How can we trust a government that so deliberately misleads Canadians, first on the nature of our role and now on the duration of our commitment?

The government wants to increase Canada’s participation in a vague and possibly endless combat mission. We cannot support this proposal.

Finally, we believe that any time Canada engages in a military mission, our role must reflect the broad scope of Canadian capabilities and how best we can help, something this motion, with its singular focus on a military solution, fails to do. We know that the men and women who serve in our military are well-trained professionals, deeply committed to our country and very good at what they do.

Canada has a duty to act here at home and around the world. We can provide our police and intelligence services with the resources they need to do their jobs, while ensuring that the appropriate oversight mechanisms are in place, because we all agree that anyone who commits a terrorist act in Canada or conspires to commit such an act should be dealt with by our courts in the toughest possible way.

We can stop shortchanging our armed forces. The government’s pattern of demanding more while offering less, of cutting defence spending and allowing billions already budgeted for defence to go unspent must stop. We can work closely with our international partners to starve ISIL of its resources, including by preventing it from using the international financial system.

Canadians cherish our country’s longstanding tradition of helping those in need, and showing leadership in diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.Justin Trudeau

We can urge the Iraqi government to continue its political reforms and its outreach to the country’s Sunni community. We can work with communities in Canada to reduce the risk of radicalization among young people. We can do that without singling out or stigmatizing any one group of Canadians.

The atrocities that Islamic State militants have committed are widely known. They are killing innocent civilians, ethnic and religious minorities, humanitarian workers and journalists. The Assad regime in Syria has committed similar horrific acts. The UN has confirmed numerous incidents where chemical weapons were used against civilians.

The acts committed by ISIL and by Assad are horrendous, and we have every reason to be outraged.

However, in a situation as complex and volatile as the one that the world faces in Syria and Iraq, we must not allow our outrage to cloud our judgment. Canada and its allies have learned some important lessons in recent years, at great cost. We have learned about the dangers of drifting into expanded combat roles without a clear idea of how the fighting will eventually end.

That is what the current government always does when it knows that its policy cannot bear scrutiny.Justin Trudeau

We have learned that deploying western combat forces in this region can lead to what President Obama has called “unintended consequences”. We have learned that unless we approach a mission like this with a clear understanding of its political and military environment, and unless we match our goals to that reality, we risk making the situation worse, not better.

Responsibility to protect, a doctrine to which the Minister of National Defence has seemingly become a recent convert, spells this out clearly. Intervention must not make matters worse.

In Syria, after four years of all-out war, over 11 million Syrians—over half the population—have been driven from their homes. Syrians have fled their country by the millions, causing a refugee crisis throughout the region. In five years of combat, over 210,000 Syrians have been killed, including over 10,000 children. This is the result of the civil war, a war during which the Syrian people have been terrorized and killed by their own government.

We cannot support a mission that could very well further consolidate Assad’s power in Syria.

Rather than continuing to deepen our combat mission in Iraq and Syria, Canada’s interests are better served by an approach that combines military training for Iraqi forces fighting ISIL with humanitarian aid and expanded resettlement efforts here in Canada.

Our military training should take place away from the front lines, as our allies have been doing. We did this in Afghanistan and we can do it in Iraq. We should also be realistic about the timelines involved. Training local forces to fight ISIL will take time, not just six months, as we have seen, or even one year.

The government owes it to Canadians to be more honest about how long this mission will truly last.

In addition to building on the training we are providing to Iraqi forces, Canada should intensify its support through adequately funded and well-planned humanitarian aid, together with our allies and under the auspices of the United Nations.

As I said a few weeks ago in Calgary, we can be very critical of each other’s policies without debating each other’s patriotism.Justin Trudeau

Enhancing our humanitarian aid effort will do more than just provide assistance and bring renewed hope to those who desperately need it. Intensifying our effort will also support political and economic security in the neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and our NATO ally, Turkey, countries whose ability to take care of millions of Syrian refugees has already been severely tested.

Here at home, we also have an opportunity to significantly expand our refugee targets and give more victims of war the opportunity to start a new life in Canada. The government’s plan to sponsor 4,000 Syrian refugees over three years was a good start, but it follows on a poor track record and does not go nearly far enough.

To quote Britain’s former Foreign Secretary:

“Resettlement will not end the war, but it can rescue some of the most vulnerable victims of the fighting — the raped and tortured, at-risk women and children, those with acute medical needs.”

Canada has an opportunity to help these victims of war and a moral obligation to do more than token assistance. To that end, we believe that the federal government should immediately expand to 25,000 the number of refugees that it commits to accept, and that it directly sponsor all of those refugees. That target, and the cost associated with it, should be in addition to our existing global refugee intake targets and the resources dedicated to meeting them.

To put that number in context, under the leadership of former Prime Minister Joe Clark, Canada resettled 60,000 Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees. The target I am suggesting today also reflects the scale of effort that Canada should undertake in a world with the largest number of refugees since the end of the Second World War. Of course, the Canadian refugee system must continue to be secure, and we must take all steps required to verify refugee claims.

Let us always remember that when we open our doors to those who seek refuge, it is not a one-sided deal.

Our own Canadian experience is made better by everything they bring with them: their intelligence, their hard work, their resilience, their language, culture, and religion. We know that when we welcome those who have turned to Canada for help in times of desperation, we are strengthened, not in spite of our differences but because of them.

Training, humanitarian aid, and resettlement help for refugees are the elements of a serious, smart, and sustained approach to the crises in Iraq and Syria. We would also encourage the government to take a broader, less reactive approach to security challenges. We need to work on preventing threats before they materialize rather than just reacting to them after the fact.

I am not saying that just because humanitarian crises often occur in fragile countries, but also because the chronic lack of political and economic security in those countries makes it more likely that they will attract transnational militants who may use them as a base from where they can organize, grow, and recruit. That is what the Islamic State is doing at present.

We cannot allow rhetorical appeals to moral clarity to disguise the absence of a plan.Justin Trudeau

When it makes sense to do so, we should help strengthen the security forces in those regions so they can counter such threats. However, history has shown us that military action alone does not create lasting stability because it only deals with the symptoms of the instability and not the root cause.

We will make little headway in ending conflict and radicalization if we do not address the underlying causes of both—the root causes—including more governance and lack of economic opportunity. That is not just my opinion. NATO’s Supreme Commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, put the same concerns solidly on the record last December.

I would like to end on something that the Minister of Foreign Affairs said in the House last week. When he stood to introduce this motion, he said something that I do not think we can let stand unchallenged. He said that those who oppose this mission are “dismissing Canadian values”.

I suspect that the government has, and not for the first time, mistaken the values of the Conservative Party of Canada for the values of the people of Canada.

The values of openness and honesty, which the government has failed to demonstrate since the start of this mission last October, are important to Canadians. Canadians like to learn from past experience, something the government has chosen not to do. Canadians cherish our country’s longstanding tradition of helping those in need, and showing leadership in diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. This government puts military action first and provides much less than what is required to help people in need.

It is not surprising that the government is attempting to shift this to a debate on Canadian values or moral clarity. That is what the current government always does when it knows that its policy cannot bear scrutiny.

A full week has passed since the Prime Minister first rose on this issue, and the government still has not clearly articulated this mission’s objectives.Justin Trudeau

Canada has an interest in training and helping Iraqi forces to fight and defeat ISIL, but we should not fight this war for them. We should not drift deeper and deeper into a civil war that may well go on for a very long time.

Our position is clear: expanding this mission into Syria, committing our armed forces to the dangers of an ill-defined combat mission, does not serve our national interest. We believe this, come what may.

Canadians did not send us to this House to read polls and to guess at what they want. They did not put us here to stick a finger in the wind and follow whichever way it seems to be blowing.

They put us here to stand on principle and lead. That is exactly what we intend to do.