Canada ready to assist in Syria, MacKay says
While any intervention in Syria would have to follow a series of United Nations sanctions, Canada's armed forces are ready to offer assistance if necessary, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday.
In an appearance on CTV's Question Period, MacKay said there are a "cascading number of sanctions that would have to happen before there would be any type of intervention."
But, speaking from the Halifax International Security Forum, he added that "Canada has certainly a great deal of ability to lend support in a situation, as we saw in Libya."
MacKay said there is constant planning taking place at armed forces headquarters and, as a result, "certainly we've prepared for all inevitabilities."
The defence minister said he finds it encouraging that some of Syria's military have been defecting rather than follow orders to attack civilians. The UN estimates more than 3,500 people have been killed in the government crackdown on dissent.
"That is exactly what we wanted to prevent and did prevent in Libya," he said.
While discussing a range of Middle East issues, MacKay said he couldn't take sides on whether Moammar Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam should stand trial for war crimes in The Hague or face prosecution in his homeland.
"I believe the Libyan people will derive some sense of justice and fairness watching this process," he said. "There will be accountability and that's what justice is all about."
As for Seif al-Islam getting a fair trial in Libya, MacKay said, "A country that was under a dictator for some 40 years may be challenged in that regard and that's where individuals from The Hague could provide oversight."
McKay also said on Sunday that the Royal Canadian Navy will stay in the Mediterranean until the end of 2012 with the primary purpose of locating, tracking, reporting and boarding vessels suspected of involvement in terrorism.
However, he said that the vessels will also help Canadians in need abroad if necessary.
"There is no question that having a ship in the region in the event Canadians need direct assistance or evacuations gives us that utility, that capability to respond," he said.
The HMCS Vancouver is already in the Mediterranean and will remain until early in the new year. It will be relieved by HMCS Charlottetown.
On the issue of Iran's nuclear capability, MacKay said the recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency has sent a chill around the world because intelligence shows that Iran is very close to developing a nuclear weapon.
"There appears to be mounting concern about what options are available," MacKay said. "The military option is the least preferable and is one that would have devastating consequences throughout the region and not just for Iran and Israel.
At the Halifax security forum on Saturday, Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak warned the 300 security and defence experts in attendance that Iran presents a major challenge to the whole world.
And he said no options for dealing with the crisis should be off the table.
Barak, however, wouldn't say whether Israel was prepared to go it alone in launching military action against Iran.
With files from The Canadian Press