HALIFAX — Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says Canada will deal with threats posed by the Islamic State group, whether they come from afar or closer to home.
At the Halifax International Security Forum, Sajjan said the military and other security agencies are taking measures to ensure that Canadians who fight with the Islamic State pose no threat if they return to Canada, while abiding by international law.
He told reporters returnees are being monitored to ensure they are not a threat.
"We will make sure that we put every type of resource into place so that Canadians are well protected," Sajjan said as the three-day conference began Friday. "Our main priority is making sure that they don't become a threat to Canada."
He was responding to reports that other countries have considered killing citizens who have fought for the group before they return home.
Sajjan stood by Canada's decision to temporarily suspend all operations with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, saying they need to resolve their internal hostilities while Canada and its allies battle Islamic State, also known as Daesh.
"We want to make sure that the Iraqi security forces and all our partners stay focused on the number-one threat, which is Daesh."
Canadian special forces have for three years provided training, advice and assistance to both the Iraqi military and Kurdish peshmerga in the battle against the Islamic State, but suspended operations last month following an outbreak of hostilities between the two groups.
The one-time allies have been at loggerheads since the Kurds held a controversial independence referendum and Baghdad responded by seizing control of contested territory.
Sajjan said Canada could resume military aid in northern Iraq when the situation allows, but until then, Iraqi security forces and all members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State must be unified in their efforts to retake the remaining pockets of territory controlled by the group.
"This is an issue that the Iraqi government has to resolve internally," said Sajjan, "We can't allow the situation to be created to allow a group like Daesh to reconstitute, or the next version of it to be created."
Sajjan said Canada is taking on an "increased role" on the geopolitical stage, touting the government's new peacekeeping strategy and boost in military funding.
Sajjan kicked off the forum by underscoring the importance of frank discussion amongst global leaders in a complex international security landscape.
He said the forum's intimate setting provides a "unique" opportunity for political leaders, military strategists and security experts from around the world to grapple with the security challenges of the day.
Representatives from more than 70 countries -- including Iraqi and Kurdish regional officials -- are set to attend the forum, which bills itself as an annual gathering of democratic leaders committed to global security and prosperity.
Topics on the agenda include the role of women in peacemaking, Russian relations, nuclear weapons and climate change.
The forum runs through Sunday.