The Iraq mission: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on why his party opposes the motion

On Tuesday morning, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau stood in the House of Commons to deliver his reasons for why Canada’s military mission in Iraq should not be extended by a year and expand into Syria. The mission is meant to fight the Islamic State, which Mr. Trudeau refers to in his speech by the acronym ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

The following is a transcript of his speech (in both English and French) provided by Parliament.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.  (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Monsieur le Président, je suis heureux d’avoir l’occasion de répondre à la déclaration du premier ministre. Nous avons beaucoup appris au cours des derniers six mois qui se sont écoulés depuis que le gouvernement a décidé de participer à la guerre en Irak.

Last fall, the Prime Minister stood in this House and told Parliament that Canadian troops were not accompanying the Iraqi forces into combat. In the weeks and months that followed, a very different story emerged. We now know that our 30-day non-combat advise and assist effort became a six-month-long engagement, and then evolved into one where Canadian troops were active on the front lines, regularly engaging in direct combat.

Et, nous avons appris la mort tragique du sergent Andrew Joseph Doiron, qui a perdu la vie en service, le premier décès d’un membre des forces canadiennes durant cette guerre.

Je sais que je parle au nom de tous les députés à la Chambre en disant que nous continuons à rendre hommage au sergent Doiron, ainsi qu’à son courage. Ses proches demeurent toujours dans nos pensées.

That tragic loss of life should also serve as an important reminder. At the end of every decision to enter combat stands a brave Canadian in harm’s way, because they have the courage to serve and because we made the decision to send them to war.

The men and women who serve in our military are well-trained professionals, deeply committed to their country and very good at what they do. We, in the Liberal Party, have never been opposed to employing the lethal force of which they are capable when it clearly serves Canada’s national interest to do so. We will never be. However, in every case, that national interest must be clearly and rationally articulated. The mission designed to uphold that interest must have transparent objectives and a responsible plan to achieve them.

The government has been steadily drawing Canada deeper into a combat role in Iraq. It now wants to expand that war into Syria. Further, it has done all this without clearly articulating the mission’s objectives. As a result, neither members of this House nor Canadians have any way to know when or whether we have achieved those objectives.

The Conservatives have no exit strategy beyond an illusory end date set for next March. Involvement in direct combat in this war does not serve Canada’s interests, nor will it provide a constructive solution to the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in this region. Now the Prime Minister seeks to deepen our involvement, to expand it into the Syrian civil war.

Last fall, we said that because the Prime Minister failed to offer a clear and responsible plan, one that limited our participation to a true non-combat role and better reflected the broad scope of Canada’s capabilities, that we would not support his motion to go to war in Iraq.

The four core principles we articulated in October still stand today: 1) Canada has a role to play in confronting humanitarian crises in the world; 2) when a government considers deploying our men and women in uniform, there must be a clear mission and a clear role for Canada; 3) that the case for deploying our forces must be made openly and transparently, based on clear and reliable, dispassionately presented facts; 4) Canada’s role must reflect the broad scope of Canadian capabilities and how best we can help.

In the fall, we expressed grave concern that the Prime Minister intended to involve Canada in a longer, deeper combat engagement than he was leading the House to believe at the time. Today, with their motion, we know those concerns were well founded.

We will not support the government’s decision to deepen this combat mission and expand it into Syria.

Nous n’appuyons pas la décision d’étendre cette mission de combat et d’y inclure la Syrie.

Les Canadiens ont besoin de savoir dans quoi les entraîne le premier ministre. Les Nations Unies nous disent qu’après quatre ans de guerre sans merci, plus de 11 millions de Syriens, soit plus de la moitié de la population, ont été chassés de leurs demeures. Les Syriens fuient leur pays par millions et ce flot de réfugiés provoque une crise absolument effroyable. En cinq années de combat, plus de 210 000 Syriens ont été tués, dont plus de 10 000 enfants.

Canadians need to know that this is happening in Syria, but they also need to know who is largely responsible. The Syrian people have, for years, been oppressed and terrorized by their own government under the rule of Bashar al-Assad. This is a man who has used chemical weapons on his own citizens and whose regime is responsible for torturing and killing many more innocent people than even ISIL. We cannot support a mission that could very well result in Assad consolidating his grip on power in Syria.

Nous ne pouvons pas apporter notre soutien à une mission qui pourrait très bien consolider le pouvoir d’Assad en Syrie.

Beyond our concerns about dubious alliances, the government’s desire to expand Canada’s presence into Syria represents a worrying trend. We can call it evolution or escalation or mission creep. Whatever term is preferred, the pattern is the same.

First, we discovered that our role included ground combat operations despite the Prime Minister’s assurances to the contrary. Now, we are being asked to expand our involvement into Syria. It is hard to believe the proposed timeline given the public musings of the ministers of defence and foreign affairs. Indeed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs explicitly compared this war to Afghanistan, stating that we are in this for the longer term. In Afghanistan, the longer term meant a decade.

Je dis cela avec plus de regret que de colère: comment pouvons-nous faire confiance à un gouvernement qui a su si ouvertement induire la population canadienne en erreur? Ce gouvernement propose aux Forces canadiennes de s’engager dans une mission de combat vague et sans fin que nous ne pouvons pas appuyer.

The Conservatives are proposing an unfocused, unending mission for the Canadian Forces that we cannot support.

One thing is clear. Canada has a role to play in the campaign against ISIL. That role must serve our national interests. The one being proposed today by the Prime Minister does not meet that test.

Le Parti libéral que je représente sait que les Canadiens veulent répondre aux horreurs que l’État islamique fait subir aux gens dans la région. La population canadienne est, avec raison, consternée par le caractère impitoyable et la terreur que sème l’État islamique. Nous comprenons ce sentiment et nous le partageons. Toutefois, nous savons aussi que dans une situation aussi complexe et changeante que celle à laquelle est confrontée la communauté internationale en Syrie et en Irak, nous ne pouvons pas laisser notre indignation nuire à notre jugement.

Le Canada a un intérêt évident à former les forces irakiennes dans le but de combattre et d’anéantir le groupe État islamique, mais il n’est pas dans notre intérêt de nous enliser sans cesse davantage dans une telle mission de combat. Nous pouvons et nous devrions dispenser cette formation loin des lignes de front.

Along with our allies and through the auspices of the United Nations, Canada should provide more help through a well funded and well planned humanitarian aid effort. The refugee crisis alone threatens the region’s security, overwhelming countries from Lebanon to Turkey, from Syria itself to Jordan. Here at home, we should significantly expand our refugee targets and give more victims of war the opportunity to start a new life in Canada.

These calamities are in urgent need of a constructed, coordinated international effort, both through the United Nations and beyond it. It is the kind of effort that ought to be Canada’s calling card in the global community. We will have much more to say about this in the days and months ahead.

While all three parties have different views on what our role should be, let there be no doubt that we all offer our resolute and wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. Today, the government is asking for the House to support deepening Canada’s involvement in the war in Iraq and to expand that involvement into a combat mission in Syria. The Liberal Party will not support the government’s motion.