Speech: Military Contribution Against ISIL

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be allowed to speak today on the motion before us to extend the mission in Iraq, to expand it into Syria and to conduct it over the next 12 months.


I want to start by saying I appreciate your words, Mr. Speaker. The disrespect and the heckling on both sides of this House and the allowing of this discussion to fall into the disrespectful patterns that we see in question period would certainly be unfortunate.

We are talking about sending Canadian Forces, for another 12 months, into an even more dangerous mission. We should be able to discuss it like grownups, on both sides of this House, in a respectful debate, a serious debate, which would allow Canadians to help form their own opinions about what Canada should do.

I do not think anyone in this place believes that Canada should do nothing. I do not think anyone in this place underestimates the threat that is ISIL or ISIS. Both names are used, but the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a more dangerous force in many ways than what we have seen before. They claim to have the ability to set up their own perimeters, their own sovereignty and their own caliphate.

They have shown themselves to be excessively brutal, sadistic and to shock the conscience of the world. They are practising a 9th century extremist interpretation of Islam, and they represent a quite dangerous force. I do not think anyone around this House of Commons would deny that.

The question then becomes what best can Canada do to degrade ISIL, which is the wording of this motion, to deal with the fact that there are numerous criminal thug organizations around the world now. Back in 2001, I do not think anybody in North America would have imagined that there was a worse group than al Qaeda. We have al Qaeda still exerting its influence, and al Qaeda behind the attacks in Paris. We have Boko Haram kidnapping innocent schoolgirls in Nigeria. We have the presence of groups that are as yet unnamed that could emerge.

Our discussion should be one of how we, as a western community of nations, best deal with the general threat of terrorist organizations around the world. One of the ways to do this, of course, is to ensure that the west not appear to be at war against Islam. This particular narrative of west versus Islam is a rallying cry in the propaganda that has people gather.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Elizabeth May: I would appreciate it if members opposite would not heckle. I am trying to speak respectfully. I have never heckled them.

We must not allow ourselves to enforce the propaganda and rhetoric of those people we would like to defeat. With that said, let us move to what is being proposed in this mission.

I did want to stop and say that I commend the administration, the Conservative government for the humanitarian efforts we have taken so far. I would have said that on Tuesday morning had I been allowed to speak. I was pleased to hear from the Prime Minister that we are feeding Iraqi children, that we are taking steps to assist people who are in situations of unbearable suffering, but there is much more that needs to be done on the humanitarian side and I will return to that later.

This mission as described is to extend, for a 12-month period, the continued bombing in Iraq where we have been invited by the Iraqi government, but also to extend bombing into Syria. I would like to spend a lot of my time this morning, and I do not have much time, on the question of what this mission will do in Syria and how absolutely fraught with peril that is.

When I spoke to this idea of bombing in Iraq last October, I worked on the general theme that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Canada tends to be a country of great intentions. Certainly, I do not take away any of the intentions of the Conservative government on this issue.

However, we had good intentions when we went into Libya. We had good intentions when we said that we were there under the doctrine of responsibility to protect, to protect the civilian population of Libya against a brutal dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. We then switched our purpose and said that we were not actually there for the responsibility to protect, that we would not accept a ceasefire proposal and would not move to peace talks as long as Moammar Gadhafi was in charge.

I remember John Baird said, and I can use his name since he has left this place, that while we may not know who will replace Gadhafi, we could be sure of one thing, that it could not be worse than Gadhafi.

In so doing, we missed our chance. That is why I was the only member of Parliament to vote against the continued bombardment of Libya. I voted against it because I knew that the rebel forces that we were embracing as a legitimate government of Libya included al Qaeda forces. It seemed all too inevitable to me that the warehouses full of weapons that were held by Moammar Gadhafi in Libya would fall into the hands of extremists and terrorists. In fact, those weapons have now been traced to the hands of ISIS.

We went into Libya, and I do not think there is any question we made things very much worse. Equally, there is no question that our intentions were good.

Let us look at Syria. We have ignored the suffering in Syria far too long. We have allowed a brutal butcher, Bashar al-Assad, to murder his own people. We have been allowing this for four years. Since the Arab Spring in 2011, we have turned a blind eye to the cries for help from the rebel forces of Syria and those who want to get rid of Bashar al-Assad. There are now four million Syrian refugees, and over 220,000 people have been killed in Syria by Bashar al-Assad. That is the most recent estimate.

Why did we not go into Syria? We had the permission of the UN Security Council to go into Libya under the provision of responsibility to protect, and when we shifted our mission from responsibility to protect to regime change, we forever lost the ability to get the support of Russia and China to use responsibility to protect to go into Syria to protect civilians there.

I would not blame neighbouring countries suffering under the burden of trying to take care of four million refugees. The populations of Lebanon, of Jordan, and of Turkey are straining under the weight of trying to take care of the refugees who have tried to escape Bashar al-Assad. Now we show an interest in going into Syria. Why? We say it is because ISIS is in there.

Of course ISIS is there.

A few years back we saw U.S. Republicans posing with ISIS fighters because as rebel forces against Bashar al-Assad, they were the good guys. Now that we believe ISIS forces represent a threat around the world, we are interested in Syria. Now we are going to go in without any legal sanction, without any international law on our side. We are going to have to hope that Bashar al-Assad regards our efforts as somehow friendly to him, or we could have Syrians shooting down Canadian planes.

We now know from the Minister of National Defence, and I accept his word, that ISIS fighters do not have anti-aircraft missiles. Do Syrian government forces have anti-aircraft missiles? They just shot down a U.S. drone.

We know we do not want to ask Bashar al-Assad for his permission, because that would make it completely transparent that the net effect of our first efforts to engage ourselves in the crisis that is the civil war in Syria will be inevitably to assist Bashar al-Assad. We do not want to admit that if we are successful in Syria, we will have made Bashar al-Assad secure by removing a dreadful force that also happens to be against him.

As I describe this, I hope that anyone can see, whether watching from home or in this chamber, that what faces us in Syria is, at a minimum, messy. It is conflicted. The opportunities for things to go wrong are almost infinite. We will be sending Canadian fighter planes to a remote distance without the support of the government of the region, as we have currently in Iraq, and we will be doing so in a war zone that is fraught with sectarian violence.

We know that Bashar al-Assad is supported by Hezbollah and by Iran. We know that the rebel forces include some who are legitimately seeking a democratic transition, but we have stood on the sidelines of butchery in Syria. Now, clothed in moral rectitude, we think we can go in and bomb Syria and nothing will go wrong.

I will go to the words of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the best way to defeat terrorism in the region. The best way and the biggest threat, as he put it, to terrorism is not from missiles; it is from a strategy of political inclusion. We should be doing much more to get the countries in that region, themselves threatened by ISIS, to take on the ISIS threat.

I congratulate the existing humanitarian efforts, but much more needs to be done for the four million Syrian refugees. Much more needs to be done to stem the flow of weapons to ISIS. Much more needs to be done to stem the flow of money to these terrorist groups, and we should, as a community of nations taking the threat of terrorism seriously, work to end the threat of Boko Haram, al Qaeda, ISIS, and groups of criminal thug organizations as yet unnamed.

This mission does not do that.