Randall Garrison's Statement on Conservative Opposition Day Motion

Combat Mission Against ISIS


Mr. Randall Garrison (Esquimalt - Saanich - Sooke, NDP):
Madam Speaker, every member in this House certainly recongizes that ISIS is a serious threat to global peace and security and to Canada. New Democrats, like members of all other parties in this House, have condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist acts of ISIS and its violent extremist ideology. We deplore its continued gross, systematic, and widespread abuses of human rights. We not only believe that the international community has an obligation to stop ISIS expansion, to help the refugees in the region, and to fight the spread of violent extemism, but we also believe that Canada should be a leader in these efforts. We welcome the opportunity of having this debate in the House on how best to engage and defeat ISIS. What is disappointing is the very limited range of options being considered by the Official Opposition in its motion and by the government in its response.

New Democrats have been clear that the current mission is not the right role for Canada. We think it should end. Conservatives remain, perhaps understandably, tied to the current bombing mission. As it was virtually their only concrete response to the ISIS threat as government, so it remains at the heart of their opposition motion today. Leaving aside whether Canada's contribution to the bombing campaign at just 2% to 3% of missions flown was ever anything more than a symbolic effort, one has to ask whether the bombing had any significant impact on the task of undermining or defeating ISIS. At best, it may have slowed ISIS's territorial expansion, but it has not stopped ISIS from administering territory and acting like a state, two crucial factors in its survival and a point I will return to in a moment.

However, as a response to ISIS, the bombing campaign at least had the advantage of suggesting specific actionis to achieve a clear goal, a halt to ISIS's expansion, though I would still argue that it fails as a tactic as we have. It also fails as a goal since threat from ISIS will not be eliminated even if expansion is slow.

The new government's alternative of an expanded training mission to enable local forces to be more effective in combatting ISIS seems at best poorly throught out. It suggests that we can accomplish the goal of eliminating the threat from ISIS witha  tactic that at best takes years to accomplish. I know, from my own professional experience working in Afghanistan, the challenges of trying to create viable local security forces to challenge an insurgent movement.

I went to Afghanistan in 2001 as the policing researcher for a major international human rights organization, having previously worked in conflict zones in Nicaragua, East Timor, the Philippines, and the province of Ambon in Indonesia. Working in these conflict zones, I learned some crucial lessons, including the unlikelihood of success when there is a mismatch between the resources available and the size of a challenge; and also, when those being trained neither understand nor share the goals of their trainers. In my case, it seemed particularly futile to talk to police about the importance of evidence collecting and accurate record keeping when the police lacked paper, pens, a copy of their criminal code, and often even literate officers.

I also learned first hand about trainers becoming targets when our organization had bombs placed outside our compound in Kabul, and when our field mission had to leave Mazar-e-Sharif in the north abruptly after death threats to our local driver and translator.

I therefore have a lot of questions about the Liberals' proposed training mission.

What resources is the government prepared to devote to this mission? In Afghanistan, Canada ended up with more than 2,000 trainers in the field along with a large logistical support organization. When the Prime Minister made an off-hand reference to thousands of trainers, did that indicate where we are heading in Iraq?

Even if training does not inevitably involve outside-the-wire operations, like the kind that tragically cost Corporal Doiron his life in Iraq on March 6, 2015, will not 2,000 to 3,000 Canadians in the field present all too tempting and all too many targets for ISIS? Inevitably, in trying to protect those trainers and logistical support organizations, do we not risk being drawn into boots-on-the-ground operations?

I would ask the government also, what are the goals of this training mission? Training locals to fight ISIS, while perhaps in and of itself valuable, is more a tactic than a goal. How will this training in fact accomplish the goal of degrading ISIS in the near term? We all know that progress in training security forces in Afghanistan was painfully slow, despite the high skills and the dedication of the Canadian Forces deployed.

The hon. member of Calgary Forest Lawn earlier made reference to the unfortunate incident in Afghanistan yesterday, where the local security forces, despite years of training and equipment from teh west, were unable to protect the airport against seizure temporarily by the Taliban, which resulted in more than 50 deaths. Therefore, this training mission must consider the long-term nature of getting results out of it.

The Liberals' commitment to an enlarged training mission also raises other questions which take me away a bit form teh themes of today's motion, but I have to say I am concerned that the Liberals, like the Conservatives before them, seem to be implying that the Canadian Forces can take on additional responsibilities without a corresponding funding increase.

Having already had to absorb the costs of the bombing mission under the Conservatives without an increase in incremental funding, I question whether the Canadian Forces can absorb the costs of another large mission without impairing their ability to carry out teh rest of their mandate. Talk of a leaner military by the Liberals during the campaign, continued talk of a leaner military before we have actually had the promised review of our defence strategy completed, and in the face of taking on new responsibilities in Iraq seems reckless at best.

What are New Democrats advocating if it is neither the Conservative option of more bombing nor the Liberal option of more training? We believe that what Canada needs is a strategy that is based on a clear understanding of the nature of ISIS. There is much for us to learn in an article that was published in March of this year in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood. Wood draws our attention to the millennial nature of ISIS, with its ideology that looks forward to an imminent great military confrontation with the west, which will usher in the end of time. We have to understand the mindset of people who are guided by such an ideology and we need to take seriously that confronting this ideology head on with military force may actually feed their myths and fuel their recruiting. For all the many positive suggestions about the benefits of bombing, we know that it has helped recruit foreign fighters to their cause.

As well, Wood notes that teh whole legitimacy of ISIS as a caliphate and, therefore, its ability to command loyalty from its followers and its ability to attract foreign fighters comes from its ability to control territory. If it fails as a state, then it loses the mandate granted to it by the prophecy that it holds dear.

If these two propositions are true, that taking ISIS head on militarily may acutally be what it wants and if its ability to control terrirory is what is key to it attracting support - and it seems to me abundantly clear that they are - then the best strategy for eliminating the threat from ISIS may be to deprive it of the legitimacy defined in its own terms while containing it. This kind of strategy is exactly what the UN Security Council called for in its resolutions 2170 and 2199.

Canada could be a leader not only in addressing the desperate humanitarian needs created by the conflict in the region, as we are doing in welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada, but it could also be a leader in a strategy to deprive ISIS of the oxygen it needs to survive. Canada can and should lead the world in cutting off the lifelines of ISIS, the flow of funds, the flow of arms, and the flow of foreign fighters.

On August 15, 2014, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2170 which lays out a clear action plan calling on the international community to suppress the flow of foreign fighters and to suppress the financing of terrorist acts. On February 12, 2015, resolution 2199 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council. This resolution specifically gives instructions to member states to act, to counter the smuggling of oil and oil products, to ensure that financial institutions prevent ISIS from accessing the international financing system, and to prevent the transfer of arms to ISIS. These two resolutions lay out exactly the kind of leadership role Canada should take up in fighting this threat to global peace and security.

When it comes to financing ISIS, ISIS is still reportedly earning up to $3 million per day from the sale of oil on black markets in the region. That has to be stopped if we have any hope of defeating ISIS. Canada could play a lead role by identifying those routes by which ISIS oil enters the regional markets and cutting off those sales. In addition, ISIS continues to receive significant flows of funds from outside sources. Let us track them down and cut them off, even if this may lead to some potential embarrassment for some of those in the region who Canada counts as allies or trade partners.

Let us put pressure on those international financial institutions who manage the international flows of money to cut off the funding for ISIS. When ISIS no longer has the funds to act as a government in the territories it controls or to pay its fighters, then we will have really begun to degrade ISIS.

On the arms trade, not only has Canada failed to lead, we have in fact been an international laggard under the Conservatives. In 2013, the global Arms Trade Treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly. This is a treaty with practical mechanisms designed to keep weapons out of the hands of those who would use them to commit war crimes, abuse human rights or engage in organize crime: groups like ISIS.

Canada remains the only NATO country that has refused to sign onto the global Arms Trade Treaty. Our new government needs to move quickly to sign and ratify this treaty and then become a leader in making sure its provisions are enforced.

On foreign fighters, Canada again has failed to take sufficient action. Over the last two years we have seen communities across Canada reaching out to the federal government asking to work together with the government to implement strategies to protect our youth from ISIS' sophisticated recruitment techniques. The Conservatives never implemented any effective measures to tackle the problem of domestic radicalization, and the new Liberal government failed to include this as a priority in its throne speech.

None of these actions could be seen as Canada backing away from a confrontation with ISIS. Some of these actions in fact might inevitably require the use of military force, perhaps using Canadian Forces to seal borders against oil exports or to interdict arms shipments. They undoubtedly require a robust Canadian military equipped with the tools it needs to these jobs done.

None of these strategies would involve any lesser commitment in terms of resources than the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on bombing. All of them would be more effective at depriving ISIS of the oxygen it needs to survive than either of the alternatives being put forward by the Conservatives in their motion today, or by the Liberals in their response, proposing a vague training mission.

Our strategy would require the kind of innovative and co-operative leadership on the world stage that Canada always used to be known for. So when we heard the government saying that Canada is back, it has to have that content. We have to be back to leading the world collectively in responding to threats like ISIS. We have to respect the work that was done in the UN Security Council by our allies, the same allies I hear people talking about: the United States, France and Russia. These are the countries that were being asked to co-operate in a military strategy when in the Security Council they proposed exactly the measures we need to be effective in combatting ISIS.

What we seem to lack here, what we have lacked for the last 10 years and what we appear to be lacking now is a government with the vision and determination to rise to this challenge. We know that Canadians, both those serving in the Canadian Forces and ordinary Canadians in this country as a whole are ready to take up this challenge.

Again, what we need is a government that will step forward and take the measures that we all know would be much more effective in degrading and defeating ISIS. Without understanding its nature and developing a strategy that responds to that reality, we have little prospect of removing this threat to global peace and security.