Iraq / Syria wars: Canada’s PM won’t ask Syria’s consent for airstrikes


Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks about the government's motion on a combat mission in Iraq, on Oct. 3.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks about the government’s motion on a combat mission in Iraq, on Oct. 3.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has laid out his case for Canada to renew its participation in the coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The prime minister is proposing to expand and extend Canada’s initial six-month military mission in Iraq and asking for support for an additional one-year air mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

That length of extension of the mission is significant. A six-month extension would have put any further renewal in the middle of next fall’s election campaign. Canadians must go to the polls by Oct. 19, 2015.

“In expanding our air strikes into Syria, the government has now decided that we will not seek the express consent of the Syrian government,” Harper said.

“Instead, we will work closely with our American and other allies, who have already been carrying out such operations against ISIL over Syria in recent months.”

The expanded and extended mission will include:

The air combat mission — specifically air strikes, air-to-air refuelling, surveillance by the Aurora aircraft, and deployment of aircrew and support personnel.
Canadian Special Forces continuing their advise-and-assist mission with Iraqi forces combating ISIS.​

‘Hasn’t earned trust’

Official Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair immediately responded that Canada has “no place in this war,” to a round of grumbling by the Conservatives. House Speaker Andrew Scheer was forced to interrupt twice to silence them.

“Nothing I heard today has convinced me that the Conservatives are taking this duty with the seriousness that it deserves,” Mulcair said.

“The prime minister hasn’t earned that trust, because he misled Canadians from the start.”

The NDP voted against the initial motion. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals voted against the motion, arguing Harper didn’t provide enough information about the combat operation.

The motion will likely not go to debate until later this week, however, as the House rules require notice to be given before a motion can be put forward.

Authorization not necessary

Opposition parties received the text of the new motion on Monday night, and will be briefed further on Wednesday. The debate will likely begin on Thursday.

A Canadian prime minister does not need authorization from Parliament to launch a combat mission, but Harper has made it a practice to ask the House for support in those instances.

In an essay published last fall, University of Ottawa professor and defence expert Philippe Lagassé noted that such votes can be a way to assure the military that its mission has the support of the elected house of Parliament.

But it can also provide political cover for the governing party, he adds.

“By laundering these decisions through the House, the government gives the impression that the Commons shares responsibility for the deployment.”

Last week, Harper confirmed he would seek to extend the current mission beyond the April 7 deadline. He has refused to rule out expanding the mandate to include activities in Syria.

Polls suggest the Conservative government is playing a winning hand. Surveys indicate strong public support for the fight against ISIS.

The NDP and Liberals have raised concerns about the role special forces operators are playing in painting targets, or guiding airstrikes, for the Kurdish Peshmerga, whom they are training.