Opinions differ on Canada’s air role against ISIS

A Canadian F-18 Hornet from the 409th Tactical Fighter Squadron
A Canadian F-18 Hornet from the 409th Tactical Fighter Squadron

The Trudeau government is being tested on crucial foreign policy matters early in its mandate, and reactions have been mixed about how it’s dealing with the fight against terrorism.

Last week, the government came under fire from opposition critics who said the decision to end the air bombing mission against the Islamic State (ISIS) led to Canada being snubbed at a Jan. 20 meeting of allies in Paris to discuss further measures to be taken against the terrorist organization.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan brushed off suggestions Canada has been sidelined in the fight against terror.

Harjit Saijan
Harjit Saijan

“Meetings happen all the time,” he said.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) did not take sides on the bombing debate, but the organization’s CEO, Shimon Fogel, said “Canadians are united in their desire to make a meaningful contribution to the international coalition working to degrade ISIS.

“It is difficult to imagine an enemy in our time more vicious and deserving of military action than ISIS, but this fact does not preclude a reasonable debate around the most effective contribution Canada has to offer. It would be perfectly credible for Canada to alter its current role in a manner that provides similar or greater value to the coalition effort. The test of this will be the degree to which Canada’s revised contribution achieves practical results in the campaign to counter ISIS and is welcomed by the international community as constructive, valuable and effective.”

Referring to the cessation of the CF-18 air campaign, Avi Benlolo, CEO of Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said, “We believe that Canada has a moral and possibly legal obligation through NATO to stand shoulder to shoulder with its allies against terrorism. Canada has always stood the test of time in defence of freedom, democracy and human rights, and it shall do so once again.”

Karen Mock, a spokesperson for JSpace Canada, a left-wing pro-Israel organization, said “Canada is clearly part of a multi-faceted approach to countering ISIS. It is my understanding that the ministers and staff have visited the region on numerous occasions, consulted about the most effective role for Canada now and have made an appropriate decision given our resources and the current need to fill gaps in the overall strategy.”

“Training is a role we have played in the past and that we do well. And there is a great need for humanitarian aid in the region,” she said.

As to suggestions Canada was snubbed by not being invited to the Paris meeting, Mock said countries attending on Jan. 20 were “countries that have attended meetings together before, as an ongoing part of the coalition. Canada has not been at those meetings in the past. So I don’t think we should consider it a snub that they are not there now, but just that an additional meeting was called that included the countries they had been included at these meetings in the past.”

One of the more emotional responses to the government’s air policy decision was voiced by Camille Carrier, whose daughter, Maude, was one of six Canadian humanitarian workers – all from Quebec – killed in Burkina Faso earlier this month by Islamic terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda.

“We need our leader to pay attention to legitimate security concerns in addition to our image as a welcoming country”

“I was ashamed before this happened, but obviously the loss of my daughter has only made me more revolted about this situation,” said Carrier, a retired administration professor at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières.

She said Trudeau “offers shallow words about inclusion and tolerance. We need to do more. We need our leader to pay attention to legitimate security concerns in addition to our image as a welcoming country.”

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard offered condolences following the terrorist attack and said, “These acts must reinforce our determination to combat these barbarians with all of our force next to our allies, without compromise.”

Meanwhile, the Conservative party’s defense critic James Bezan assailed the decision to withdraw from air combat missions, saying it led to the absence of an invitation to Canada to attend an important policy discussion of defence ministers in Paris.

The meeting brought together allies in the anti-ISIS coalition, including the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands.

“Canada is deliberately being excluded because of this Liberal government’s decision to withdraw our CF-18s from the mission against ISIS,” Bezan said.

“Once again, this development demonstrates that the Liberal party’s policy on fighting ISIS is incoherent, and the decision to withdraw Canada’s CF-18s is seen by our allies as stepping back, rather than standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them,” Bezan added.

Although Canada didn’t participate in the Paris meeting, Sajjan said he is involved in ongoing anti-terror talks and will be discussing ISIS with Canada’s allies at two other upcoming meetings, one of them with other defence ministers on Feb. 11.

“We are actively participating on a meaningful basis,” Sajjan said. “We’re not just looking at the current situation in Syria and Iraq, we’re actually looking at the overall threats around the world as well.”