Canada is being asked by allies to keep its military refuelling aircraft and surveillance planes in the fight against the Islamic State, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion.
“It has been requested from allies to consider to continue to do that,” said Dion in an interview with CTV’s Question Period.
Dion did not go so far as to say whether the government has officially decided to keep its CC-150 Polaris refuelling tanker and its CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance aircraft running missions in Iraq and Syria. He did, however, stand by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitment to withdraw Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing mission against the terrorist group.
Trudeau has also said Canada will send more trainers to Iraq to join the 69 Special Forces members already stationed there, but hasn’t indicated exactly how many more will go. Dion said that in addition to training the Kurdish military, Canada is also being asked to train local police officers in Iraq.
“We are at the time now where we free a village or a town or a city, the first thing you need to do is professional police that will be perceived by the population as a protection for them, not as a threat,” said Dion. “The Italians are involved in it. They are asking us to be part of it. It’s something we will consider.”
Dion said the Liberals would also like Canada to be involved in the rebuilding of institutions in Iraq, including the justice system and public service.
While Dion credited Canadian Forces members for having done a “great job” in the ongoing mission against ISIS, he said Canada can contribute in a way that will better complement the work of its allies.
A final decision regarding Canada’s involvement in the ISIS mission will come in a “matter of weeks,” according to Dion. He said the government is busy consulting with its allies to “identify the best way for Canada to be helpful.”
Dion also spoke about another commitment high on the Liberal government’s radar next year – the resettlement of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in Canada. He said the government is taking many security precautions, including sharing information about the incoming Syrian refugees with the U.S. via databases.
Dion, who has been in his ministerial job for just over a month, also previewed the government’s plans for two of its more challenging relationships – with Iran and Russia - and its most important relationship, with our neighbours to the south.
• The Liberals plan to re-engage with Iran, more than four years after the previous Conservative government severed relations with the Islamic republic. However, Dion did not say when exactly this will happen.
• According to Dion, the re-engagement will be done “step by step,” with an emphasis on the protection of human rights in Iran.
• Dion emphasized the need for diplomatic relations with Iran, especially for the sake of Canada’s allies, including Israel. Those diplomatic efforts will require the re-opening of the embassy in Tehran, a proposal the Conservative opposition is concerned about.
• “I would urge the government to be cautious about this, to not jump back into Tehran with a diplomatic mission at this particular juncture, to await Iran’s actions and see if they match their words,” Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement told Question Period.
• Dion said the government will pressure Russia to carefully consider its actions in Syria, adding that the Russians will “be part of a solution in Syria.” He called on the Russians to focus their fight on ISIS, rather than the Syrian opposition.
• Dion said U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to hold a state dinner for Trudeau -- the first for a Canadian PM since 1997 -- shows the global interest in the new prime minister. But in formal talks with the U.S., the Dion said Canadians can expect Trudeau to push Obama on a North American climate change accord, and continue joint efforts on climate change and clean energy.