OTTAWA - Platitudes and bandages aren’t enough to stop the terror campaign waged by Islamic State extremists, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday as he made the case for Canada to launch combat operations in Iraq.
Baird launched the parliamentary debate into the government’s decision to send six CF-18s to join airstrikes launched by the U.S. and other nations against Islamic State, also known as ISIL.
Baird painted it as a moral obligation to deal with the threat faced by a terror group that beheads aid workers, auctions off women and children and has displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes.
“If we don’t deal with ISIL and their ilk, they will deal with us,” Baird told the Commons.
As he detailed the “depravity and brutality” conducted by the Islamic State, Baird pledged $10 million to help the victims of sexual violence in Syria and Iraq.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper laid out the six-month combat mission in a speech in the Commons on Friday.
In addition to the fighter jets, the military operation will also involve an CC-150 Polaris aircraft to serve as an air-to-air refueler, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft. An estimated 600 military personnel will deploy to support to the air campaign.
Canada had already deployed 69 special forces soldiers to act as military advisers to local forces in northern Iraq, a mission that was extended by the government.
A vote on the expanded military mission is expected Tuesday night. However, the vote is certain to pass because of the Conservatives’ majority.
The government expects to have the fighter jets based in the region within three weeks.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair launched a lengthy critique of the mission, saying that “military force is not our only option.”
He applauded the announcement of aid for the victims of sexual violence and suggested that Canada should do more on this front, with additional humanitarian aid.
And he had sharp words for Harper’s pledge to strike at Islamic State targets in Syria, if the government of President Bashar Assad makes the request.
Mulcair said such a possibility shows a “lack of ethics” and a “lack of rigorous thought” by the Conservatives.
Answering a request by a leader who has committed atrocities is “shameful,” Mulcair said.
As Canada weighs escalating military involvement in Iraq, Mulcair said it should pay heed to the example of Afghanistan, which began as a special forces missions and became Canada’s longest ever military engagement.
Mulcair complained he has heard nothing from the prime minister, abandoning the tradition of the past when the opposition leader was briefed on combat engagements.
And he criticized the government for staying mum on key details of the mission, such as where the aircraft will be based in the region, or how it would define victory in its military engagement.
On Friday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons that his party would withhold their support for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Trudeau said the Liberals would prefer to commit Canada in other, non-combat roles, including humanitarian aid and logistical support.
But before the debate on Monday, Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg suggested the party’s position is not set in stone — and that they would push for more information on the Conservatives’ war plans.
“We’d like to have more information to be able to take our decision,” Dubourg said.
“(The Liberal position) is still clear, it’s still clear because we’ve always said that we’ve not said ‘no, do not go there.’ But we would like to be able to have enough information to say ‘OK, (we’ll) vote yes.’ There’s been some secrecy from the prime minister, so that’s why we can’t say let’s go like this, you know.”
Dubourg said the Liberals will not ask Harper to reveal military strategy to the general public, just to furnish parliamentarians with the “essential” information to make an informed decision.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau said he supports Trudeau’s position, but he would save his comments for the debate in the Commons.