Despite the devastating terrorist attack in France, the Trudeau government says it will not waver from its resolve to withdraw from the air war against Islamic State militants, as well as to fast-track the arrival of 25,000 Middle Eastern refugees in Canada before the end of the year.
The assault on Paris and its potential consequences are testing the mettle of an administration thrown into a geopolitical maelstrom at this week’s G20 and APEC summits, just days after Justin Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister.
Speaking by phone Sunday evening from Manila, where the APEC forum will begin on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion confirmed that Canada was still preparing to bring home its CF-18 fighters, even though other coalition partners were reconsidering how best to confront Islamic State forces.
This decision comes even as French President François Hollande declared the multiple attacks on Paris “an act of war,” and foreign policy analysts have speculated that France may invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, requiring all NATO members to come to the aid of any member that is attacked.
“We have always said that we want to be more optimally effective in the coalition,” Mr. Dion said, which for his government means redirecting resources away from air strikes and toward humanitarian assistance, training local forces and police and building governing capacity.
“There are a lot of things Canada may do to be more effective, and it’s why the awful events of Paris have not changed our resolution to be a good partner in the coalition.”
Article 5 has been used only once, by the United States, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Dion said he had heard of no such discussions among political leaders or officials.
In a major air strike on Sunday, French warplanes hit Islamic State targets in the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa, Syria. Canadian Forces were also active. “Two CF-18 Hornets successfully struck an ISIS fighting position southeast of Haditha using precision guided munitions,” said a National Defence news release issued Sunday.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Trudeau, in Turkey for the G20 summit, also offered assurances that the Liberal Party’s pledge to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by the end of the year – now less than seven weeks away – remained government policy, despite unconfirmed reports that at least one of the attackers may have entered Europe posing as a Syrian refugee.
“On the Syrian refugee crisis and the refugee crisis writ large, I’m pleased to say that Canada has tremendous examples of having integrated people fleeing for their lives from very difficult situations to become not only citizens but active contributors to Canada’s success,” Mr. Trudeau declared Sunday morning in response to an audience question following a speech to business leaders on the sidelines of the summit.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Sunday the government was working across departments and with security services and other agencies to ensure the refugee screening process was “as thorough and competent and effective as possible.
“Can it be 100-per-cent foolproof? Well, nothing in life is 100 per cent,” the minister said on CTV’s Question Period. “But we’re satisfied that the process is strong and robust.”
A source speaking on background at Citizenship and Immigration Canada said Immigration Minister John McCallum had been working through the weekend finalizing plans to begin the resettlement, and that details of the operation would be released to the public in the coming days.
But former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney emphatically denied it’s possible to properly screen 25,000 refugees from the Middle East in so little time.
“Can you physically move 25,000 people in a few weeks? Yes,” Mr. Kenney said in an interview. “Can you process 25,000 ostensible refugees out of war zone in which multiple terrorist organizations are operating, with appropriate, thorough security screening? Absolutely not.”
United Nations prescreens were cursory at best, Mr. Kenney said, and any screening on Canadian soil that uncovered terrorist connections would be subject to many years of hearings and appeals.
Speaking as the former minister of defence, Mr. Kenney also urged the government to reconsider its decision to pull the fighters out of the military mission. “It would be to Prime Minister Trudeau’s great credit if [he] were take a step back, acknowledge that the circumstances have changed, and at least agree to consult with allies on this matter,” he said.
While world leaders at the G20 are also talking about the global economy and climate change, the issues raised by the Paris attacks hung over the summit, which is taking place at a collection of resorts on the Mediterranean coast.
Cameras captured U.S. President Barack Obama huddled for an intense 35-minute discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A White House official, speaking on background, called the discussions “constructive,” and said “President Obama welcomed efforts by all nations to confront the terrorist group ISIL and noted the importance of Russia’s military efforts in Syria focusing on the group.”
Friday’s violent attacks in Paris have triggered an immediate political shift on the refugee issue, with those who already resist helping refugees hardening their views. Poland announced over the weekend that it would not accept refugee quotas in direct response to the events in Paris.
Mr. Trudeau’s support for refugee settlement was forcefully echoed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who warned that “we should not mix” the different categories of people coming to Europe.
“The one who is responsible for the attacks in Paris cannot be put on an equal footing with real refugees, with asylum seekers and with displaced people,” said Mr. Juncker in a news conference Sunday.
“These are criminals and not refugees or asylum-seekers,” he said. “I would like to invite those in Europe who are trying to change the migration agenda we have adopted – I would like to invite them to be serious about this and not to give in to these basic reactions. I don’t like it.”
BILL CURRY AND JOHN IBBITSON
ANTALYA, TURKEY and OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015 10:31AM EST
Last updated Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 5:40AM EST