Forget what government said on ISIS mission—ask why anything was said: former CF member

Watch: Scott Taylor, editor of Esprit de Corps magazine, tells Tom Clark he thinks the arguments over whether our forces are in combat in Iraq are missing the real point.

OTTAWA —Forget the semantics for a moment, a former Canadian Forces member is urging, and look at the information the government has chosen to release on its fight against ISIS.

“Special Operations Forces don’t really reveal what they’re doing,” Scott Taylor said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark. So why now, he asked, has the government released operation details while Canada’s allies have taken no such step.

Maybe, Taylor suggested, the government is worried information about an evolving mission would leak and decided to test the public’s appetite for another combat mission.

READ MORE: Defence chief says Canadian soldiers still within non-combat mandate in Iraq

“If the Canadian public’s first idea or understanding that the [Canadian Forces] were in combat range was a soldier coming home in a flag-draped coffin, you’ve got a lot more explaining to do,” he said.
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In its first week back from the winter break, the House of Commons was consumed with the country’s efforts against terrorism —the government unveiled its new anti-terror bill and also revealed details about its anti-ISIS mission overseas.

READ MORE: Are you already violating the feds’ new anti-terror bill?

Both resulted in political friction on Parliament Hill. Opposition parties are accusing the government of being untruthful, suggesting the troops overseas, in guiding airstrikes in Iraq, are overstepping the mission mandate Parliament approved late last year; the Conservatives, meanwhile, are accusing their opponents of being unsupportive toward the troops.

Getting ‘bogged down’ in definitions

“I think the fact is that they’re getting bogged down in all the minutiae of the wording. What does the word ‘accompany’ mean?  What does the word ‘combat’ mean?  And is it a ‘combat’ mission or is it a ‘combat within a non-combat’ mission?  I don’t think anybody cares,” said Taylor, a former Private in the Canadian Forces and current journalist who reports on military and war.

What’s more important, Taylor said, is to look at exactly what information the government has released and determining why officials took the unconventional step of releasing any information at all.

READ MORE: Canadian special forces returned fire with ISIS in Iraq last week

Throughout the lengthy Afghanistan mission, the Forces were always hushed about their actions, Taylor recalled.

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“We knew our Joint Task Force 2 was doing missions that were fantastic, but we couldn’t know about them,” he said. “They wished they could tell us.”

What’s different this time, Taylor wondered.

“The only thing I can think of is that people found out internally that this was happening, that there had been a change in the mission form what they were specifically asked about,” he said.

WATCH: Ottawa Citizen parliamentary bureau chief Mark Kennedy offers his insight on Canada’s role in the fight against terrorism at home and abroad. 

At the start of the mission, the government said the Forces would not mentor Iraqi forces, that they would only engage in training; the government said the Forces wouldn’t be on the front lines.

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“Then it turns out they are,” Taylor said. “So now we’ve heard about it. They’ve tested the waters and Canadians for the most part reacted positively.

Part of the approval, he said, could be on account of the fact that Canada’s allies are taking the more conventional route of not broadcasting their troops’ actions, thus allowing the Canadian public to jump to the conclusion Canada is the only country leading the charge against ISIS.

“We’re not, but we’re the only ones talking about it,” Taylor said. “That comes back to the politics of this, because it’s making the Conservative government look really good.”

Fighting terrorism at home

While a large part of the fight against terrorism goes on overseas, the Conservatives have also had a steady eye on fighting homegrown terrorism.

The government last week in Ottawa revealed its new anti-terror bill which included, among other measures, the ability to detain a suspected terrorist longer without laying charges.

WATCH: Terrorism is an authority issue not a money issue, Blaney says

Since the October attacks that left soldiers dead in Quebec and Ottawa, analysts and insiders have wondered whether law enforcement has the resources to track and monitor domestic threats.

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While the law, if passed, would bolster enforcement capabilities, it remains uncertain whether the government would further help the cause by increasing resources to CSIS and the RCMP, for example.

READ MORE: How does Canada’s intelligence oversight compare to other countries?

“We are of course … making sure that the resources that have been provided in the past are provided, and … are sufficient,” Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark.

“At this point in time, as I tell you, it’s clearly important that we have the authority … Before considering additional resources we have to make sure those authorities are in place.”

Blaney’s statement echoes what he said in the wake of October’s attacks, when he said the Conservatives were looking to amend the law governing CSIS in an effort to give the spy agency more authority to track terrorists overseas.

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