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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Was Canada Snubbed From ISIS Meeting?


OTTAWA — Canada has not been invited to a meeting of defence ministers in Paris this week to discuss the fight against ISIL militants, media reports say.

Jan 20th Globe and Mail Cartoon

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office has confirmed to CBC News and the Globe and Mail that he won’t attend Wednesday’s meeting.

The reports say defence ministers from the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands will take part in the talks.

Sajjan spokesman Renee Filiatrault told the Globe that Canada’s plan to pull its CF-18s from the fight against ISIL had nothing to do with Canada’s exclusion from the meeting.

Omar Alghabra, the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, told the CBC it wasn’t a surprise as those seven countries meet regularly without Canada and the only thing different this time it that defence ministers will be there.

But Conservative defence critic James Bezan said the apparent snub shows Canada is no longer seen as a valuable ally.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is brushing off suggestions Canada was snubbed from an anti-ISIS coalition meeting that several other countries, including Australia and the Netherlands, were invited to attend on Wednesday in Paris.

“Meetings happen all the time,” Sajjan told reporters Tuesday in Saint Andrews, N.B.

However, sources inside the Department of National Defence told CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson they were surprised by the lack of an invitation, initially thinking it was a mistake.

Retired Maj.-Gen. David Fraser told CTV’s Power Play he believes the lack of an invitation is a result of the Trudeau government’s plan to pull Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets from the mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

“The United States are the ones who determine who comes to the meeting and (we’re) considered now, apparently … not a significant contributor and they don’t want to hear what we have to say,” he said.

Fraser said the Americans view Canada’s current contribution of CF-18s “as very significant,” adding that they are currently making a difference on the ground.

“If you don’t come to the game standing shoulder to shoulder, sharing the burden and the risk of the hard fighting, you will not be included in the conversation,” he added.

Former defence minister Peter MacKay told Power Play he sees the lack of an invitation as “downgrading of Canada’s perception and our role in the world.”

“Any way you want to try and spin it, it signals a diminished role for Canada in this mission and in the world,” he said.

MacKay urged the Liberals to “put aside the partisan campaign promise” to pull the six jets.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said earlier Tuesday that the omission was “predictable,” because of the Liberals’ promise to pull CF-18 fighter jets from the bombing mission against ISIS.

“It is important that Canada be part of these discussions,”Bezan told CTV News Channel Tuesday. “We have a role to play and we have things to say, but unfortunately, under this government, nobody is taking us seriously.”

Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose echoed Bezan’s comments in a speech to the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce.

“Six months ago we hosted the (anti-ISIS coalition) meeting,” she said. “Enter Trudeau, we’re not even invited to the meeting.”

“These kinds of signals matter.”

Ambrose told reporters after her speech that it’s “obvious” why Canada wasn’t invited.

“When you’re not a full partner, you don’t get invited to the table,” she said. “We were asked to join by the United States and other partners and now we’ve said we’re pulling out of that bombing mission,” she added.

“I’ve called on the prime minister to keep our CF-18s in the fight against ISIS and stand resolutely with our allies,” Ambrose said.

But Sajjan brushed off suggestions that Canada has been sidelined in the fight against terror.

“Meetings happen all the time,” Sajjan told reporters Tuesday in Saint Andrews, N.B.

Although Canada won’t participate in Wednesday’s meeting, Sajjan said he is actively engaged in anti-terror talks and will be discussing ISIS with Canada’s allies at two other upcoming meetings.

That includes another coalition meeting of defence ministers on Feb. 11.

Sajjan also said that Canada is contributing to anti-terror efforts around the globe, including the aftermath of the November attacks in Paris and the more recent attack in Burkina Faso.

“We are actively participating on a meaningful basis,” he said. “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 Bezan said that the Liberals have been sending “confusing messages” about Canada’s role in the fight against ISIS. Despite the promise to withdraw fighter jets from the bombing missions in Iraq and Syria, a timeline has not yet been given.

Bezan said the Tories “firmly believe” that Canada’s CF-18s should stay in the battle. The party also supports a more robust training mission for local troops on the ground, he said.

“Prime Minister Trudeau wants to talk about his sunny ways and that Canada is back on the international scene, and quite the opposite is true,” he said.

“We should be sitting at the table. We have made significant contributions until now.”

The Globe and Mail reported that Wednesday’s meeting is for “significant contributors” to the anti-ISIS coalition, including the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands.