While Canada’s defence minister is downplaying Canada’s exclusion from an anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Paris this week, some experts say the snub points to a sense Canada lacks clear direction on the terror file.
Defence ministers from France, the U.K., Germany, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands will meet Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to discuss the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Harjit Sajjan said Tuesday there are many meetings about the anti-ISIS coalition and Canada not being part of Wednesday’s discussions won’t leave the country on the sidelines.
“Meetings happen all the time,” Sajjan said. “We are actively participating on a meaningful basis. … We’re not just looking at the current situation in Syria and Iraq, we’re actually looking at the overall threats around the world as well.”
But security experts say the Trudeau government has yet to adopt a clear policy on the war against Islamic State, and our allies have noticed.
“We don’t have a government policy. We have statements that were made in the Liberal party platform and we have various statements from Liberal ministers in the last several months,” said David Bercuson, director for the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at University of Calgary.
“And, quite frankly, I think they’re all over the map.”
Canadian CF-18 fighter jets are still bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria as the Liberal government figures out how to fill its electoral pledge to end the combat mission.
The government has said it will do more to train Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers but it isn’t clear what that entails.
Bercuson said he understands Minister Sajjan “wanting to take his time” on developing a strategy but it’s worrisome if Canada isn’t at the decision-making table.
“Any discussions that going on about this war should involve us,” he said. “We have men and women there whose lives are on the line. Imagine the tragedy if a Canadian pilot got shot down and ended up in the hand of ISIS.”
Simon Palamar, a research associate at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, says Canada’s exclusion from this meeting is not “terribly surprising.”
“This is a very young government,” he said. “They didn’t run on foreign policy issues, and foreign policy is just not top of the agenda right now.”
And Canada’s training priority appears to align with Defence Secretary Carter’s: He told the Associated Press he hopes the coalition and other Arab countries “greatly” increase the number of trainers they .
But at the end of the day, Canada’s absence from this meeting limits its ability to shape the fight to against ISIS, says David Perry, a senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
“Whatever decisions are taken there, we are not going to be a part of it, which is a real shame.”
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