Soldier's death raises questions over future of Canada's mission in Iraq
In the wake of a Canadian soldier's death in Iraq, the Conservative government is likely to face fresh scrutiny over extending the country's mission against the Islamic State.
Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron, 31, was killed in friendly fire on Friday, when Iraqi Kurdish fighters mistakenly shot at members of the Canadian Special Forces.
With Canada's six-month mandate for the mission in the Middle East set to expire on April 7, Defence Minister Jason Kenney stressed to reporters on Saturday that Doiron's death will "not affect" the government's decision on whether to extend the mission.
The Conservative government has strongly hinted that it wants to extend the mission in Iraq. Canadian soldiers are currently working as part of U.S-led coalition dedicated to fighting the extremist Islamic State militant group. The Canadian government hopes to continue supplying CF-18 fighter jets and special operations training soldiers.
On Saturday, Kenney was vocal about Canada's continued presence in the region, and stressed the mission's importance in cracking down on terrorism at home and abroad.
"We believe that Canada has an important role to play in international security, including the very serious threat of (ISIS), which has explicitly declared war on Canada, (and) encouraged terrorist attacks against Canada civilians," Kenney said.
"There continues to be a very real national security imperative to join with our allies in confronting this organization, and not sitting on the sidelines," he added.
But in light of Doiron's death, past fears about the Harper government's pledges to keep Canadian troops out of ground combat operations may bubble to the surface.
"This death is extremely concerning and serious, and it will raise questions that need to be asked and will be asked in the days to come, but today of course we have to focus on the loss of a Canadian solider," NDP MP Jack Harris told CTV News.
In the past, the Liberals and the NDP have been outspoken in their criticism of the mission, which involves some 600 military Canadian personnel, and have instead pushed for an emphasis on humanitarian efforts.
Canadian troops have exchanged fire with ISIS militants at least four times since January, leading the opposition to accuse the Conservatives of misleading the public. The government had promised there would be no ground combat for troops.
In January, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair accused the Conservatives of "playing with words" with respect to the overseas mission.
"Now that we know Canadian soldiers are involved in combat in Iraq, (the government is) trying to say they might be involved in combat, but it’s still not a combat mission, he said. "That's playing with words, and the brave women and men in uniform who are serving our country deserve better than word games from their prime minister."
But the government insisted Canadian soldiers are only defending themselves in such firefights.
The details of Friday's incident have yet to be released by the government or the Canadian Armed Forces, but Kenney said an inquiry will be called.
‘No line in the sand’
Retired Colonel Michael Drapeau told CTV’s News Channel on Saturday that there's "no question" that Canada is involved in a "combat" mission.
"The front line is wherever (ISIS) is," said Drapeau, who is also a University of Ottawa military law professor. "What the front line was a minute ago is different than what it is now … you may be sitting with your cigarette at this moment and they can be upon you in a matter of minutes.
"There's no line in the sand and there's no agreement that Islamic State will not cross this line until you are ready or you declare it to be a frontline," Drapeau added.
And on Saturday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stressed that following Doiron's death, the mission in Iraq should, in fact, be approached with renewed vigour.
"More than ever, it is imperative that we, along with the more than 60 countries in the coalition, continue the campaign to halt (ISIS's) spread and reduce its capacity to carry out terrorist attacks abroad and here in Canada," Harper said.
With files from CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and Katie Simpson