Canada ready to join NATO coalition if chemical weapons used in Syria
Published Monday, December 10, 2012 10:00PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 11, 2012 7:15AM EST
Amid growing fears that the Syrian regime will use chemical weapons against its own people, Canada has developed a contingency plan to join a NATO coalition ready to deal with the worst-case scenario, CTV News has learned.
If NATO asks for assistance, the federal government is ready to deploy the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit, which handles chemical, biological and radioactive attacks.
Canada will also send a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to provide clean water in Syria, as well as engineers and staff who can help set up a field hospital.
A navy frigate already based in the area will also be on standby.
Insiders say that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet are taking the threat of chemical weapons in Syria very seriously.
But it’s unlikely that Canada will send CF-18 fighter jets over Syria, as it did in Libya to enforce a no-fly zone, or put combat troops on the ground.
“The contribution that Canada could make would be simply to be there to be part of the coalition,” said Retired Major-General Terry Liston.
NATO has already moved forward with its plan to place Patriot missiles and troops along Syria's border with Turkey to intercept any weapons that enter Turkish territory or airspace.
Syria has denounced NATO’s move, while insisting that it would not unleash chemical weapons against its citizens.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government is under mounting pressure to recognize rebel forces in Syria as legitimate representatives of the opposition.
Britain and France have already recognized a coalition of Syrian groups fighting against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is expected to formally recognize the opposition at a Friends of Syria summit in Morocco on Wednesday.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will also attend the summit, but sources say he is not ready to make the same move.
With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife