'No plans' for Canadian military mission in Syria, Harper says
Published Thursday, August 29, 2013 12:50PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 29, 2013 7:26PM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his government supports allies “who are contemplating forceful action” to deal with the crisis in Syria, but Canada has no plans “of our own” for a military mission there.
Harper made the statement Thursday afternoon during a question-and-answer session with reporters in Toronto after an announcement about new legislation to deal with sex offenders.
The prime minister said he has spoken to world leaders about the crisis in Syria, and said Canada “has been a very reluctant convert to the idea that there needs to be some western military action regarding the Syrian situation.”
The two-year conflict in Syria has killed an estimated 100,000 people and sent more than one million refugees fleeing into neighbouring countries.
While he does not see “any ideal or obvious” solution to stem the violence, Harper said, given the escalating conflict, the international community must still act.
“In talking to our allies, we are convinced that notwithstanding our reluctance, that the risks of the international community not acting in the face of what appears to be an escalation and likely further escalation without action in the use of chemical weapons as a weapon of warfare, is an extremely dangerous precedent,” Harper said.
“This is a very big risk and we do believe and we do support our allies who are contemplating forceful action to deal with this. That said, at the present time the government of Canada has no plans of our own to have a Canadian military mission.”
Harper’s spokesperson, Andrew MacDougall, intimated later Thursday that Canada has not yet been asked to contribute to an international military force.
“It’s not at all clear that we’ll be asked for anything,” MacDougall told CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson. “The plans are not set.”
Harper’s statement came hours before lawmakers in Britain defeated a resolution in Parliament that would have authorized the use of military force in Syria. British Prime Minister David Cameron had argued that legal requirements have been met for a military strike in Syria based on intelligence that suggests the Syrian government ordered a suspected chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21.
Opposition leaders in Syria, as well as international humanitarian organizations, have estimated that hundreds of civilians, including women and children, died in the attack. Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied that his government attacked civilians with chemical weapons, and vowed to defend his country against any military intervention.
It wasn’t immediately how the vote by British lawmakers late Thursday would affect other countries’ plans. U.S. President Barack Obama is also contemplating military action in Syria, and French President Francois Hollande has said his country stands ready to “punish” those responsible for the attack.
Two of Syria’s allies on the UN Security Council, Russia and China, oppose a military intervention.
UN inspectors have been collecting evidence from the site of the Aug. 21 attack and said they intend to complete their work and leave Syria on Saturday. Amateur video from Syria showed the inspectors in protective gear gathering samples and speaking to local residents.
Some of the samples will be sent to laboratories in Europe for analysis, while inspectors will report their preliminary findings to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has repeatedly condemned the attack against civilians, and said that he too has been in regular contact with his counterparts around the world.
Last week, he said a “political solution” was the best hope for ending the violence in Syria. But earlier this week, Baird said that is “becoming more and more difficult as the crisis enters a very dangerous new phase.”
On Wednesday Baird said Canadian Forces would be unable to participate in a military strike involving cruise missiles or armed drones, “neither of which Canada has.”
He added that: “We’ll let a decision be made before we know if we even have the capacity to contribute militarily.”
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said again Thursday that Parliament must be recalled if Harper does consider sending Canadian troops to an international military effort.
However, he said, “From our point of view, we have to work first and foremost through the institutions of international law, that’s the starting point. We have to give the United Nations a chance to work.”
George Sabra, president of the Syrian National Council, the main Western-backed opposition group in Syria, has used a visit to Canada this week to call for a military intervention in addition to humanitarian aid.