OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper will present a motion to the House of Commons on Tuesday seeking a one-year extension of the current mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as well as the authorization to expand airstrikes into Syria, The Huffington Post has learned.
The NDP will oppose the motion, but the Liberals refused to say Monday which way they planned to vote. An answer may come Tuesday morning after Harper addresses the Commons, shortly after 10 a.m. ET, and opposition leaders have a chance to respond.
Harper is expected to lay out the case for an expanded mission, arguing that the Islamic State – often referred to as ISIS or ISIL — poses a clear and active threat to Canadians, at home and abroad, and to the people of the Middle East, who are subjected to sexual violence, intimidation and even horrific death.
A copy of the motion, obtained by HuffPost, indicates Harper will say that unless confronted with strong and direct force, the threat that ISIS poses to Canada will grow. Harper is expected to say the continued degradation of ISIS requires striking its operations and infrastructure wherever they are located, including in Syria.
The prime minister will seek authorization to continue to contribute Canadian military assets to the fight against ISIS and terrorists aligned with ISIS. That could include air strikes in Iraq and Syria.
The government’s motion will note that troops will not be deployed in a “ground combat role” and will call for a mission extension to a date not beyond March 30, 2016.
The current six-month mission, with nearly 70 special forces advising Iraqi forces in Northern Iraq, as well as six CF-18s, two CP-140 Aurora patrol aircrafts, one C-150 Polaris refuelling jet, and approximately 600 Canadian Forces members in various support roles, ends on April 7.
While the United States is dropping bombs in Syria, Canada has so far limited its participation to Iraq, saying it wanted permission from the Assad regime before entering Syrian airspace. A report in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday said Britain would announce this week that it plans to train Syria opposition troops but will not join the U.S.-led airstrikes.
For weeks, Conservatives MPs and cabinet ministers have tried to make the case for an expanded mission.
On Monday, Defence Minister Jason Kenney told the House of Commons that ISIS is a “genocidal terrorist organization” that has declared war on Canada and is at least partly responsible for inspiring terrorist attacks on our own soil last year.
“[ISIS] is attempting to engage in ethnic cleansing against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria,” Kenney said. “Canadians believe that we should not sit on the sidelines when it comes to defending our security and international security and opposing genocide.”
The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report last week saying ISIS may have committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in its attacks against religious groups in Iraq.
Liberal national defence critic Joyce Murray told reporters Monday afternoon that the Grits were not prepared to speculate or divulge what position the party would take without first seeing the content of Harper’s motion and discussing it.
“We are not going to speculate on what would have to be said, or what wouldn’t,” she said.
HuffPost has since learned that opposition critics received a copy of the motion Monday evening.
With NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair saying this weekend that his party plans oppose the mission again and would bring the troops home in October if the New Democrats won the federal election this fall, attention has focused on the Liberal leader to announce his position.
Trudeau told Canadians last fall he supported the international coalition fighting ISIS but didn’t think the government had made the case that a military presence was the best way Canada could participate. He also accused Harper of letting his “ego” get in the way when making the decision and not thinking about Canada’s long term interests.
With polls showing the majority of Canadians supporting the military mission in Iraq, however, there has been speculation that the Liberal leader might change his mind and support the expanded mission.
An IPSOS/Global News poll released Monday suggested that two in three Canadians, 66 per cent, support extending the mission against ISIS in Iraq and that two-thirds, 65 per cent, also support the use of Canadian ground forces. The weighted online survey of 1,004 Canadians sampled between March 16 and 19 – after the death of Sgt. Andrew Doiron – is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
In Vancouver earlier this month, however, Trudeau suggested strongly that he wouldn’t support an expanded mission with airstrikes.
Members of ISIS “are bad, bad people,” he told several hundred students gathered for a Q&A at the University of British Columbia, and Canada has an important role to play in the fight against them, he said.
“I was supportive of a military mission that was sending over people to train and advise the local peshmerga troops in their effort against ISIS, and I think that is something that Canada should be continuing to do,” Trudeau said, of the Liberals’ decision last October not to support the military mission. “I have a difference of opinion with the prime minister when it comes to bombing missions. But the fact is, there was no question that Canada has an important role to play and should continue to be engaged in this global fight against terrorism.”
P.E.I. Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay suggested Monday he wasn’t sure what the Liberal leader meant when he said he opposed bombing missions.
“I think the one that can tell you that would be Justin,” he told The Huffington Post Canada.
Another MP who did not want to be identified said he was not opposed to bombings.
“No … I don’t know what Justin was thinking,” the MP said.
Cape Breton MP Rodger Cuzner told HuffPost he had “no idea” if his party would change its position.
“I’ve spoken to a few of my colleagues, and everybody’s position is: ‘Let’s see what the prime minister has here.’ We’ll just see what’s in the motion, but I really don’t know.”
“[Trudeau’s] concern, the last time,” Cuzner said, “was that there was no component for on-ground support for refugees, that there was a vacuum on that piece, and I understood that and I accepted that.
“That, and I think there was a fair amount of concern over the fact that we had just done the heavy lifting in Afghanistan and maybe it was time for someone else to come do their part, so that was sort of what drove our position on the first time around.”
Several of Cuzner’s colleagues suggested the Grits might oppose the mission extension based on the fact that the prime minister and the government have been less than truthful and open about the Canadian special forces’ presence near the front lines.
Montreal MP and foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau would not say whether he thought the mission should be extended in Syria, but he said he wants to see “clarity” in whatever the prime minister proposes.
“We would like to have complete clarity, because what we actually debated last time and voted on turned out to be not exactly what we thought,” he told reporters. “So we’re going to make sure in the debate this time that we insist on clarity, so that Canadians fully understand what the prime ,inister is proposing.”
Last October, Harper told the Commons that up to 69 members of the Canadian Army would be deployed in a non-combat role “advising and assisting security forces in Iraq.
“There will be no ground combat mission, which is explicitly ruled out in the resolution,” Harper told the Commons on Oct. 3.
On Jan. 19, however, the Department of National Defence revealed that Canadian soldiers had been involved in a firefight with ISIS. There have been a handful of similar gunfire exchanges since, with the opposition arguing the forces are not supposed to be so close to the front lines and the government arguing that they are acting in self-defence.
On March 6, Doiron, a 31-year-old with the Canadian Special Operations Regiment based in Petawawa, Ont., died in a friendly fire incident when Iraqi Kurdish forces mistook him and three colleagues for the enemy. There are conflicting reports about whether the Canadians should have been where they were.
Montreal MP Emmanuel Dubourg told HuffPost that Canada needs to do something to fight the threat of ISIS but that the Conservative government hasn’t been transparent enough.
“We ask them for information, and they don’t give it to us,” he said. “We had a soldier die. Are our soldiers on the front line? ... We can’t trust them. We can’t trust them, so that’s why we say we are going to see what is going to be in the motion and we will discuss it.”
Murray said that the Liberals consider ISIS to be a real and serious threat and that Canada should play its part in the international effort against it. But she said she is also concerned that the prime minister hasn’t been honest with Canadians about the mission so far.
“Frankly, that is a big concern for us,” she said. “We [also] have concerns about the fact that there has been significant budget cuts and clawbacks from the defence budgets that has had a huge impact on operations, maintenance, training, equipment for the troops. So we have questions about the ability to expand our engagement overseas and internationally, given the massive budget cutbacks that the government has put forward.”
NDP defence critic Jack Harris told reporters the NDP does not support the current mission and will not support its extension.
While the NDP didn’t have any concrete proposals on how they would amend the motion, Harris suggested that at least the public knows where the party stands.
“The Liberals, you know, you read the papers every day, and you find out that a lot of what they do is about positioning and not about principles, and that may be the case here.”
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