Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: New Approach to Address the Ongoing Crises in Iraq and Syria and the Impact on the Surrounding Region

Ottawa, Ontario
8 February 2016

Introduction

Hello everyone. I would like to thank the ministers of National Defence, International Development, and Foreign Affairs for joining me here today for this important announcement.

Rationale

Ever since Canada has been engaged in the crises in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region, I have maintained that our efforts should better reflect what Canada is all about: defending our interests and freedoms alongside our allies, and working constructively with local partners to build real solutions for the longer term.

Last Fall, Canadians gave our government a mandate to implement a policy that is more effective and is better able to capitalize on uniquely Canadian areas of expertise including:

  • our military’s training of security forces;
  • the provision of humanitarian assistance and social services;
  • the promotion of diplomacy and good governance; and,
  • the rebuilding of infrastructure.

I am very pleased today to join Ministers Sajjan, Dion and Bibeau in announcing a new policy to address ongoing crises in Iraq and Syria and the impact they are having on the surrounding region. Canada has always been prepared to fight when it’s in Canada’s interest to do so, and we have a well-equipped and talented military when called upon to do so. 

In this case, we have a particular interest in helping local forces to fight ISIL and stabilize the region. This is a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach that has had extensive consultation with our allies and civil society stakeholders. Our approach covers three key areas: security, development and diplomacy.

Security

On the security front, we looked at how the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) could best contribute to achieving lasting results in the fight against ISIL in the region within the Coalition.

I would first like to underscore the remarkable work accomplished by members of the Royal Canadian Air Force. I would like to thank our brave and talented members of the Royal Canadian Air Force. We are very proud of you and your service to our country.

It is important to understand that while air strike operations can be very useful to achieve short term military and territorial gains, they do not on their own achieve long term stability for local communities. Canadians learned this lesson first-hand during a very difficult decade in Afghanistan, where our forces became expert military trainers, renowned around the world.

Recognizing this expertise, the Canadian Armed Forces will now be allocating more military resources to training Iraqi security forces.  We will be supporting and empowering local forces to take their fight directly to ISIL so that kilometre by kilometre they can reclaim their homes, their lands, and their future.

In addition to this, we will continue supporting aerial surveillance and refueling activities within the Coalition. And we will be more heavily involved in counter-terrorism measures and improving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security in the region.

Development

Canada has a proud tradition of helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. There is a catastrophic humanitarian situation happening in Syria, Iraq and the region that we must help address. Canadians have seen the tragic images from the Middle-East, and heard first-hand accounts from the thousands of Syrians that we have welcomed to Canada. Canadians have shown how welcoming and open hearted we are as a nation, and we must continue our work overseas in this spirit.

Canada will focus on helping meet the basic needs of those hardest hit by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, including refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.

We will work with our international partners to deliver $840 million in humanitarian assistance over the next three years.  This means, children, women, men, and whole families being provided with water, food, shelter, healthcare, sanitation and hygiene, protection and education.

We will also provide $270 million over the same time frame to build local capacity in communities and countries hosting large numbers of refugees; generous, compassionate countries that have opened their doors to victims of war and whose resources are now being stretched to their limits. We will help them address basic needs, maintain and repair infrastructure, promote employment and economic growth, and foster good governance.

All of this is in addition to the tens of thousands of refugees Canada is accepting.

Diplomacy

Third, Canada has earned a distinguished international reputation for diplomacy and building bridges. We must use these skills to do more to help achieve a political solution to the crises in Syria and Iraq.

Through an enhanced diplomatic presence on the ground in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, Canada will increase its engagement with local and international partners and participate more actively in multilateral efforts to resolve the crises and restore stability in the region.

Through security and humanitarian assistance to Lebanon and Jordan, we will be helping to prevent the spread of instability to neighbouring countries.

Conclusion

Since taking office we have been in constant contact with our allies, including President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande. They all welcomed Canada’s continuing contribution to the Coalition and the fight against ISIL.

I have also spoken to Prime Minister al-Abadi of Iraq who thanked me for Canada’s new approach.

We are doing this because it will be a more effective policy for Canada to combat ISIL and bring stability for locals.

All told, we will contribute more than $1.6 billion over the next three years towards our new approach to security, stabilization, humanitarian and development assistance in Iraq and Syria and to address impacts on Jordan, Lebanon and the region. This will cost more than the previous policy it replaces.

While we recognize the exclusive role of the executive in military matters, we will bring this mission to a Parliamentary debate when the House returns next week.

In closing, I want to say one more thing. There are those who think we should engage in heated, over-the-top rhetoric when speaking about ISIL and terrorist groups like them.

We see things a different way. ISIL would like us to see them as a credible threat to our way of life, our civilization. We know Canada is stronger, much stronger, than the threat posed by a gang of murderous thugs who are terrorizing some of the most vulnerable people on Earth.

Call us old fashioned, but we think that we ought to avoid doing precisely what our enemies want us to do. They want us to elevate them, to give into fear, to indulge in hatred, to eye one another with suspicion, and to take leave of our faculties.

The lethal enemy of barbarism isn't hatred. It is reason. And the people terrorized by ISIL every day don't need our vengeance. They need our help.

The Government of Canada's new policy on the fight against ISIL is grounded in this belief. We are for what will be effective, not for what will make us feel good to say at any given moment.

Ultimately, ISIL stands against open and diverse societies where women and men of all faiths, all ethnicities and all backgrounds are free to make of their lives what their capabilities, work ethic and dreams will allow.

Societies like ours.

Terrorists do not have the strength to defeat us, so they seek to have us defeat ourselves. We stand firm in the conviction that they will fail, because we are much stronger and more durable than they can imagine.

Canada has been greatly served by having an individual who has served on the front lines and understands the complexities of this mission. I am proud to introduce Minister Sajjan who will now add a few words on the military aspect of our mission.