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Why France’s ambassador can live with Trudeau’s plans

Nicolas Chapuis in conversation with Paul Wells on Canada’s refugee strategy, its withdrawal of CF-18 fighters, and Operation Barkhane


 
France's Ambassador to Canada Nicolas Chapuis speaks to reporters following a vigil at Nepean Point, in Ottawa, on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, where people gathered to honour the victims of Friday's attacks in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

France’s Ambassador to Canada Nicolas Chapuis speaks to reporters following a vigil at Nepean Point, in Ottawa, on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, where people gathered to honour the victims of Friday’s attacks in Paris. (Justin Tang/CP)

Nicolas Chapuis became France’s ambassador to Canada two days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January. A student of Chinese and Mongolian history, he became a career diplomat who was in charge, most recently, of the French government’s response to WikiLeaks. He is a leading French translator of classical Chinese poetry with, apparently, a fondness for long shots: The Quai d’Orsay sent him to Stephen Harper’s Ottawa to encourage Canada to play nicely at the Paris climate-change summit.

Suddenly, in October, it was no longer Harper’s Ottawa. Preparations for the Paris summit were going very well indeed when evil struck again: Teams of Islamist murderers carried out a string of massacres across Paris. Hours after French President François Hollande addressed French parliamentarians at the Palace of Versailles on Monday, Chapuis sat down with Maclean’s for an interview.

I asked him about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to withdraw CF-18 fighters from the Iraq and Syria theatre of operations. Is France concerned? “We would be concerned if Canada had the intent, or had announced, that it will get out of the coalition, withdraw from the coalition,” Chapuis said. “It’s not the case. At all. And this has been re-confirmed at a very high level, when my minister [Laurent Fabius, the former French prime minister who now serves as its foreign minister] talked with Stéphane Dion, or when [he] met with Justin Trudeau” at the G-20 in Turkey this week.

“We respect and understand any country’s sovereignty in making such decisions,” Chapuis added. “The fight against Daesh is a global fight; it’s not only the strikes.” (Daesh is another name for the so-called Islamic State; it has long been in common use in France and is becoming more popular among political leaders elsewhere, partly because it avoids flattering the terrorist movement by calling it a “state.” As a bonus, it is said to be highly unpopular among members of the terrorist group themselves.)

Fighting the group, under any name, “necessitates a diversity of instruments. And Canada, I’m sure, will play its role, playing on the keyboards it wants to play on.”

I asked whether one of the notes Canada might play is related to Operation Barkhane, a French anti-terrorist operation already underway across Northern Africa. Chapuis said Op Barkhane might not only be a component of Canada’s response; it already was before Trudeau was elected.

“Indeed,” he replied, “and, in fact, over the last few months, Canada has granted us technical support. It was not publicized. But Canada has been granting us support that we appreciated in the Sahel [the African theatre of operations for Op Barkhane].”

Refuelling? Logistics? “I cannot go into details. You have to ask [the Canadian department of] Defence.”

One last time on CF-18s: Was he not just putting on a brave face, given Trudeau’s intention to withdraw jet fighters?

“What I’m saying is, Canada has not yet made a decision,” he said. “Second, during the strikes [on Sunday], . . . Canadians also did an operation [against Iraqi targets using the CF-18s]. Third, that Canada is within a coalition and, as I understand, will consult with all coalition members before taking a decision. And fourth, that we are confident in the way Canada will play its part within the coalition. And finally—this is important—the fight against Daesh is not reduced to strikes.”

Stéphane Schorderet, the embassy’s communications director, reminded Chapuis of another fact. Chapuis was grateful for the reminder. “The total number of strikes—it’s like GHGs,” Chapuis said, referring to Canada’s share of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. “Canadian GHGs are two per cent of [all global] emissions. Canadian strikes [against ISIS in Iraq and Syria] are two per cent of strikes.” The implication, on a day when François Hollande had announced the tripling of French air strength in the region, is that Canadians should not flatter themselves about how keenly our country’s air power would be missed.

Related: Canada’s place in the crowded skies against ISIS

Hollande’s other headline-grabbing announcement was that he will seek to strip French citizenship from any dual citizen who is convicted of terrorism-related offences against France. The policy is rigorously identical to the policy the Harper government was pursuing until its electoral defeat and, again, it’s one Trudeau has promised to repeal. Is France worried that Trudeau is cancelling a provision Hollande plans to introduce?

Chapuis took care first to defend Hollande’s policy: “If a person fights, destroys, intends to destroy, attacks the very values on which our national identity is founded, that person has no place within the French nation,” he said. But that is, for the moment, only Hollande’s position, not yet France’s. “We understand it is a very sensitive issue and it will be debated democratically in [France’s] Parliament.”

And Canada? “We share many things with Canada, but our domestic situations are different; the level of threat is different; and it’s part of every country’s democratic equation to decide what type of democratic governance should be made,” he said.

“There are very few issues that we think need universal implementation. One of them is the death penalty. We have been lobbying the world, either for a moratorium or for abolition of the death penalty. The question of citizenship removal when you are a dual national is not at that level of universality.”

French President Francois Hollande  delivers a speech at the Versailles castle, west of Paris, Monday, Nov.16, 2015. French President Francois Hollande is addressing parliament about France's response to the Paris attacks, in a rare speech to lawmakers gathered in the majestic congress room of the Palace of Versailles. (Philippe Wojazer, Pool via AP)

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech at the Versailles castle, west of Paris, Monday, Nov.16, 2015. French President Francois Hollande is addressing parliament about France’s response to the Paris attacks, in a rare speech to lawmakers gathered in the majestic congress room of the Palace of Versailles. (Philippe Wojazer, Pool via AP)

Onward. Does France plan to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which would formally call on all NATO members including Canada, to respond to the Paris attacks? “There has not been a request issued by France, to my knowledge, for the time being. And the fact that we are already engaged in military operations within a coalition and a mandate, what we have asked today is to reaffirm in even clearer terms the mandate of the Security Council of the UN, which will give the legal ground and collective basis for the strikes that are taking place in Syria and Iraq.”

Would invoking Article 5 strengthen the broad coalition France and the United States have already assembled? “Really, I don’t have an opinion on that at this stage,” Chapuis said. “Really, if we have a solid, robust mandate through a UN resolution—and you may have noticed the president specifically mentioned the U.S. support in his speech in front of the Congress—then we have what we need to be in operation.”

From Paul Wells: On Trudeau, NATO treaties, and backseat ministering

Finally, I asked Chapuis about Trudeau’s plan to bring in 25,000 refugees, mostly from Syria, by the end of the year.

“Well, I think Canada is an ally, not only within NATO, but as a partner in the G7, as a friend of Europe, and of France, in particular. The first manifestation of support is political, and one should not diminish that. And the Prime Minister has been, over the last few days, very clear in his solidarity, his support, his promise of assistance to France, and he said it every single day since Friday. So, first, we appreciate that.

“Moreover, it has been magnified by the splendid expression of solidarity that we have seen coast to coast in Canada. I have been dealing with hundreds of messages today from all ways of life, all sectors of Canadian society, business, political. The Governor General came personally this afternoon to present a letter. So that political support is already enormous.

“Second, refugees, you may have heard me a little more than a month ago, when the refugee crisis began in Europe, saying we Europeans felt a little bit alone in the face of the crisis.” The new Canadian plan to rapidly accelerate refugee processing here makes Europe feel less alone, he said.

Related: Should the Liberals rethink their refugee plan?

“Remember the refugees in Europe during the war. At the time, there was already criticism . . . Today, our prime minister, Manuel Valls, comes from such a family [of refugees from the Spanish Civil War]. The refugees are those who flee the barbarians. They are not the barbarians. We should not mistake that. It would be a huge mistake before history, if we close our doors.”

Photo gallery: Paris picks up the pieces


 

Why France’s ambassador can live with Trudeau’s plans

  1. The observation made about Canada’s contribution to the air strikes being the same proportion as our contribution to GHG emissions is something that has come to mind for me recently, and should surely rankle the CPC and their media supporters for maintaining the air strikes …these are invariably the ones who never fail to cite Canada’s low overall contribution to GHG emissions as an excuse to avoid any action or cooperation with those states that are working together to try reduce those emissions.

    Deux poids, deux mesures?

    • You have just created a logical fallacy in the form of a false equivalency, so it should not “rankle” anyone, CPC or otherwise. However, in the spirit of our newly elected PM’s proclamations to move past divisiveness, let’s not delve into partisanship. As an everyday Canadian, I just want to be able to understand the logic behind Trudeau’s proposed shift in Canada’s support. I have heard claims that bombing is not effective in this fight, however Michael Petrou wrote a rather illuminating article on Maclean’s last week arguing just the opposite (I urge you to read it if you have not already done so: http://www.macleans.ca/authors/michael-petrou/how-about-an-evidence-based-syria-policy/).

      In the article, he explains how Western airstrikes/support aided in the liberation of the Iraqi city, Sinjar, contradicting the notion that these attacks are ineffective. He also notes that military training is often conducted on or near the front lines, which can result in these trainers having to engage in combat.

      After reading this, I am at a loss when it comes to what exactly it is that Trudeau is trying to accomplish with his proposed changes to Canada’s involvement. If the goal is to engage Canada in a more effective method of support that will reduce the likelihood of Canadian casualties, it would seem that what Trudeau’s efforts will lead to the exact opposite of this. I’m willing to look beyond partisanship and keep an open mind, but the Liberal government needs to do a better job of explaining the reasoning behind what they are doing.

      • Training the Kurds ensures that in the long term, stability can be maintained as they will be able to defend themselves. Bombing the heck out of a country with no concerted effort to assist the residents leaves a vacuum and a consequent ‘free for all’ when the bombing has ended. Although training of the Kurds is already occurring, reinforcing this effort will assist in an efficacious long term exit plan (hopefully)

        • Training the Kurds ensures long term stability can be maintained? I’m sorry, but what exactly are you basing this notion on? The US spent $25 billion on training and rebuilding the Iraqi army during its eight year occupation, and that most certainly did not result in anything that even remotely resembles long term stability.

          To win this war, there needs to be a joint effort of boots on the ground and air support. No method works in isolation and neither approach will yield the perfect results that detractors seem to look for when arguing against them. We can debate what Canada’s role should be in either effort, but I just hope this is a debate that is based on logic and evidence rather Trudeau’s platitudes, which is all we have been offered so far.

          • Training the Kurds could mean another war in the future with Canada supporting our NATO ally Turkey and fighting against all these people that we trained.

            NATO has never come out with a policy on whether a independent Kurdistan as a country is a desired outcome. This to me is one of the reasons why the fight against IS is ineffective. Ambiguous goals.

      • Agree with your points about needing to better explain the strategy. Regarding Petrou’s article, I haven’t yet read it yet so I’ll take your word for it that he can make a compelling case that the bombing has helped. However, I don’t see a well explained larger strategy for the region. No-one thinks Daesh can be beaten from the air. My understanding from a recent article in the Economist is that a British parliamentary committee has opposed air strikes in Syria until the government can come up with a larger strategy that includes regime change in Syria and the ultimate defeat of Daesh. Cameron can’t do that and so he is delaying putting the question of Britain joining the bombing campaign to the vote because he cannot get sufficient support in the House. In other words, it isn’t just our PM that needs to explain strategy. As far as I can see, the bombing has helped protect the Kurds, but that is about it. The Sunni regions are out of luck, the Shias have the backing of Iran and Hezbollah and now the Russians are backing Asad. This is a damnable mess and I don’t see the West’s role is solving it. A final point, bombing Daesh positions in the Middle East is not making us in the West any safer. The threat at home is from disaffected home grown radicals – at least, that is how I see it at the moment.

  2. Read the following words of the Ambassador carefully:
    “What I’m saying is, Canada has not yet made a decision,” he said. “Second, during the strikes [on Sunday], . . . Canadians also did an operation [against Iraqi targets using the CF-18s]. Third, that Canada is within a coalition and, as I understand, will consult with all coalition members before taking a decision. And fourth, that we are confident in the way Canada will play its part within the coalition. And finally—this is important—the fight against Daesh is not reduced to strikes.”

    Surely we know that the fight against ISIS doesn’t have just one component. It is comprised of much more than a air strike. But what the French Ambassador says is that Canada still has time to make up its mind. Its Prime Minister is too “green”. Give him some time to think over things.

    All in all, I would consider the title “Why France’s ambassador canNOT live with Trudeau’s plans” more appropriate.

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