March 8, 2016 11:49 am
Updated: March 8, 2016 12:58 pm

Canadians ‘won’t take the first hit’ in firefights with ISIS: Vance

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, left, and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance both appeared before a House of Commons committee on Tuesday morning.


Editor’s note: A spokesperson for Gen. Vance’s office contacted Global News following the publication of this story to clarify that there may be circumstances when Canadian troops could fire first on ISIS, in the event of an imminent threat to their safety. 

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance says Canadian troops will not initiate firefights with the so-called Islamic State while on the ground in Iraq.

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Vance made the comments during an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence early Tuesday. Asked whether Canada’s new training mission in Northern Iraq was truly a “non combat” one, Canada’s top soldier attempted to clarify the rules of engagement should Canadian troops encounter ISIS fighters near the front lines while training Kurdish Peshmerga troops.

“We won’t take the first shot,” Vance said.

He then quickly clarified his statement, adding that Canadians “won’t take the first hit. We can anticipate to protect ourselves. The right of self defence is paramount.”

The question of just how involved Canadians could be in ground offensives and firefights has been top-of-mind in Ottawa since the Liberals announced last month they would be pulling Canada’s CF-18 bombers out of Iraq and Syria and tripling the number of specialized trainers. Vance has previously acknowledged the new mission will involve increased risk.

WATCH: PM Justin Trudeau outlines new anti-ISIS mission


One Canadian soldier, Sgt. Andrew Doiron, has already died in Northern Iraq after being accidentally shot by Kurdish forces last year when his unit was returning to their post in the darkness. Three other Canadians were wounded in the incident.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who was also appearing before the committee on Tuesday, said he could not give a firm timeline on the end of the military components of the updated anti-ISIS mission. MPs are expected to vote on the new plan in the House of Commons later on Tuesday, although the vote is symbolic. Parliament does not legally need to authorize the campaign.

“It’s difficult to be able to predict how the plan will work,” Sajjan said. “I’m hoping that the military plan will be effective so that the diplomacy and development plan can actually kick in … I’m hoping for next year. The earlier the better.”

F-35 procurement still up in the air

Canada’s CF-18 bombers quickly became the subject of their own line of questioning on Tuesday. Asked by committee member and Conservative MP James Bezan whether the Liberals were changing their tune about which planes would replace the aging fighter jets, Sajjan replied that his department is still assessing its options.

The Liberals promised during the election campaign the F-35 fighter jet would not be the chosen plane, citing a procurement process already beset by setbacks and controversy.

WATCH: Justin Trudeau makes election pledge to scrap F-35


Since then, however, Sajjan has appeared to back away from that promise in interactions with the media.

“It’s too early, I think, to discuss some of the costs of the aircraft … there’s a lot of details that I personally have to go into myself,” he told the committee members.

“Right now a decision has not been made, but that is not an indication that we’re going to be buying the F-35.”

An upcoming defence review will help narrow down what type of plane the Canadian military needs moving forward, Sajjan said, which led to further questions about what would happen to Canadian companies who are already manufacturing F-35 parts as part of the program.

“I don’t think those jobs (building F-35) are going to be cancelled,” Sajjan replied. “This does not mean that these companies are going to be losing these benefits”

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