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Canada supports 'limited' attack on Syrian airbase, Trudeau says

by Alex Boutilier and Alex Ballingall (feat. Thomas Juneau)

The Star
April 7, 2017

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad are “partly responsible” for the chemical attack against Syrian civilians this week.

Trudeau told the House of Commons on Friday that the U.S. strikes against a Syrian regime air base were “necessary” to degrade Assad’s ability to launch chemical attacks against civilians.

Speaking to U.S. President Donald Trump Friday morning, Trudeau limited his “full support” to the “limited, focused” attack on the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities.

“(I) emphasized that Canada agrees that Assad’s repeated use of chemical weapons must not continue. In the face of such heinous war crimes, all civilized people must speak with one voice,” Trudeau told MPs.

“That is why Canada fully supports the United States’ limited, focused action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch such attacks. We continue to support diplomatic efforts with our international partners to resolve the crisis in Syria.”

The U.S. launched about 60 cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase in central Syria Thursday night, in retaliation to a deadly chemical attack on civilians this week believed to have been carried out by Assad’s forces.

According to human rights observers, at least 58 people were killed in the chemical attack, including 11 children.

Not for the first time in the seemingly interminable Syrian crisis, it was the photos of dead children that galvanized world opinion.

Trump told reporters Thursday evening that the chemical attack was a “truly egregious” crime and “shouldn’t be allowed to happen again.”

Trudeau also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. A readout of their conversation said the two leaders agreed that chemical attacks cannot go unchallenged, but pledged to continue diplomatic efforts to try and find a political solution.

U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis notified Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan of Washington’s plans “about an hour” before the missiles flew, Trudeau told the Commons.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said in a statement her party “strongly supports” the unilateral U.S. actions. But the Conservatives were also sharply critical of the prime minister, who told reporters in New York on Thursday that there should be an investigation into the chemical attack before blame is placed at Assad’s feet.

Speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons, Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre accused Trudeau of being “completely out of the loop” on the U.S. plans — despite Mattis’ briefing of Sajjan.

The Conservatives criticized the UN Security Council, where Syrian ally Russia holds a veto, as “woefully ineffective” in attempts to bring the seven-year civil war to an end.

The New Democrats stopped short of supporting the U.S. strikes. Quebec MP Matthew Dubé said it’s still unclear whether the attack is a precursor to a larger military intervention against the Assad regime. The NDP called on the government to work with the international community for a “lasting political solution” to the bloody conflict.

The U.S. airstrikes put Trudeau’s Liberals in an awkward position, said Thomas Juneau, a University of Ottawa professor and former military analyst for the Department of National Defence.

“This government has been very, very strong on supporting the United Nations, supporting multilateralism, supporting co-operative solutions to international problems and so on, where as (Thursday) night was a unilateral strike,” Juneau said Friday.

“So this puts the Trudeau government in a bit of an awkward position. Do you support unilateral strikes, which goes against your own worldview, but to deter the use of chemical weapons, which, obviously, we don’t want to be used again?

“The government firmly supports the strikes, but if you read the language, it’s very clear that we support targeted strikes, strictly as a way to retaliate against the use of chemical weapons.”

The only Canadian political leader to speak out against the U.S. missile strikes was Bloc Québécois Leader Martine Ouellet, who said the attack was “premature” and called for a UN investigation into the chemical attack. She also warned of “alternative facts” and drew a line to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“We must not repeat the mistakes of the past,” she said.


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