Stephen Harper on the legality of bombing Syria: LOL

Is it legal to launch airstrikes against targets in Syria? Funny you should ask


Canada's PM Harper outlines his government's plans to expand its military mission against Islamic State, in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

It fell to Rob Nicholson, the minister of foreign affairs, to officially deliver the punchline into the official record.

“We have indicated the government of Iraq has the collective right to self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations,” he said. “It has officially requested international help and so we will comply with that. We will work on the same basis as our American allies are doing and report that to the United Nations.”

Perhaps that’s a bit high-brow, but I assure you it’s really quite hilarious once you understand the setup.

In his way, Thomas Mulcair has sought to pester the government on the details of this country’s war on ISIS. And the NDP leader’s specific concern yesterday was the legality of the government’s chosen intervention. What with Syria being a sovereign country that has not attacked this country, there is some reason to debate the basis on which we might bomb it. Mulcair thus sought to parse the government’s stated reasoning and with his third query he turned to Article 51 of the charter of the United Nations.

“The United States wrote to the Secretary-General, as required under article 51 of the UN charter, and laid out its legal case for its planned intervention in Syria,” the NDP leader explained. “Has the Prime Minister written to the United Nations, laying out Canada’s justification for its planned intervention in Syria?”

The Prime Minister first repeated his standard assurance about the legality of this country’s intervention. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “the government is pursuing this action on exactly the same legal basis as its allies.”

But here he moved to dismiss the NDP’s question as laughable.

“I am not sure what point the leader of the NDP is ultimately making,” the Prime Minister lamented. “If he is suggesting that there is any significant legal risk of lawyers from ISIL taking the Government of Canada to court and winning, the Government of Canada’s view is that the chances of that are negligible.”

Oh-ho-ho. International law? More like international blah blah blah, amiright?

The Conservatives laughed and cheered their man’s apparent wit. But Mulcair stood and decried the depths to which this place had just then sunk—”extraordinary: living in a Canada where that sort of idiocy passes for argument in the House of Parliament”—and the rest was all righteous shouting and strident indignation.

Sometime thereafter Bernard Trottier, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, would be sent out to look into a CBC camera—go to the 3:10 mark of this video—and defend the government’s general position. And in doing so he would state straightforwardly that the government would not be sending a letter to the United Nations and nor was any such letter required.

Here then is the joke.

At noon yesterday, you see, Defence Minister Jason Kenney had stood in the foyer outside the House and invoked Article 51 as justifying Canadian intervention. And it is Article 51 that specifies that “Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council.” (And it is also true that the American administration did write to to the United Nations last fall to detail its intent.)

Indeed, by 5:32pm yesterday Trottier had apparently been advised of the punchline.

“To clarify,” he tweeted at the CBC show on which he had been speaking, “we will proceed on same basis as Obama administration, incl. notifying UN, as req’d by Art. 51, which we will do.”

With the remaining seven characters, he might’ve added LOL. Or perhaps he could have made room for a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

As the nation moves deeper and deeper into war, the jokes just keep on coming.

Several months ago now, it was Justin Trudeau who attempted to make a phallic joke involving this country’s fleet of fighter jets. The Prime Minister’s Office thus lamented that the Liberal leader had made light of a serious situation, while cabinet ministers were moved to express their own individual disappointment. “Is this how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would conduct himself in discussing use of air power at a NATO Summit?” Jason Kenney wondered. If perhaps not his worst moment—his earlier hockey joke about Vladimir Putin was more of a clunker—it was surely not Trudeau’s finest.

Some months after that, Rob Nicholson, himself having accused Trudeau of “poor judgment” in attempting to make funny, stood in the House and tried his own hand at comedy—mocking an opposition complaint with a quip that unfortunately trampled all over a distinction the Prime Minister had insisted on earlier. For the offence of believing too much in his own wit, Nicholson was made to squirm and ramble around the contradiction at a committee hearing. Perhaps now that Jason Kenney is defence minister, Mr. Nicholson is kept away from NATO meetings.

To jest about the very notion of international law in the current context is perhaps to, as the PMO might put it, make light of a serious situation. To do so with apparent disregard for an international requirement that you will later have to acknowledge as something you will honour is to perform a pratfall facefirst into a banana cream pie. As comic relief, one is tempted to thank the government for its efforts at lifting the mood. As a serious matter, one is fascinated to know what happened here. Was the government not aware of the need to notify the United Nations? Or did someone forget to brief the Prime Minister about that fact? Perhaps the Prime Minister merely lost patience with the NDP leader, but then why did the parliamentary secretary also dismiss Mulcair’s question?

Had Trudeau just spectacularly tripped over a joke about the legality of war, we’d of course be in the midst of another round of national debate about the Liberal leader’s seriousness. And that debate is not entirely unwarranted. As a politician who periodically says things he shouldn’t and doesn’t always offer satisfactory explanations he has perhaps only so far proved himself qualified to be a mere cabinet minister.

Whatever the tone or content of the Conservative side’s attacks on Trudeau, there is some merit in the basic frame: Is this man serious enough to lead a government? Indeed, that is a useful frame for taking in the entirety of this scene. And it would surely be unfair to hold Trudeau to a standard of seriousness that we do not apply to every other of these actors. In fact, seriousness, not to be confused with humourlessness, is perhaps what our approach to politics most lacks.

In the current situation, there are serious questions to be asked about the seriousness of the NDP and Liberal approaches to this conflict—can ISIS be sufficiently subdued without bombs?—and serious issues for the government to answer about its serious commitment to war. On this and basically every other issue put before them, all 308 members might regularly be asked to demonstrate that they are not woefully in over their heads; that Parliament is not merely a put-on.

That a prime minister would stand in the House of Commons and joke about the legality of war while wholly dismissing a question that his government would only later have to answer in the affirmative would seem, even if not wholly unusual for this place, like the sort of thing we might take seriously. Even if only to lament for the unseriousness of such a display.


Stephen Harper on the legality of bombing Syria: LOL

  1. If it were just a joke I might be able to dismiss it, but there is a bigger issue here.

    By stating that he was not worried about ISIS sending lawyers after him Harper clearly stated a basic principle that underlies his whole party’s approach to the law, and one that we have seen in the actions of so many in his party. It’s not about whether or not it’s legal – do anything you want as long as you don’t get caught or sued.

    Even then, even if you are caught, tried and found guilty, it’s just the judge’s opinion.

    The contempt this government shows for the law, citizens, democracy and Parliament is astounding.

    • Lots of Canadians have morals and ethics and believe them to be “Canadian Values”.

      Many others don’t. Seems large swaths of “progressives” in Canada are more than happy to let Iraqis and Syrians suffer the worst fates imaginable. That whole “Liberal” idea of Responsibility to Protect seems to only be defended by “Conservatives” now.

      What Stephen Harper is saying – and doing – is that he doesn’t give a damn about “international law” when there is a clear and obvious humanitarian issue that needs to be addressed. Or he could wait around for the UN to solve that Darfur issue. It’ll only take decades.

      • Sorry Bill. but there is a very long list of past behaviour on the part of Harper and his minions to substantiate Ronda’s statement. That Harper thinks he ought to be above the law is a given.

        He also knows there enough yahoos out there who actually like it when he flaunts the law that he feels joking about it will actually encourage them to continue their support come voting time.

        Clearly you are among those voters.

      • No, Harper hasn’t said that. He’s said that Canada is attacking ISIS because they’re a threat to Canada.
        And his actions say the same thing. Canadian planes will share the same airspace as Assad’s aircraft which are dropping barrel bombs on civilians and killing far more of them than ISIS. Yet Canadian planes will fly on by and do nothing to stop them from incinerating men, women and children.

      • No one is above the law. How many children and innocents have died in this illegal action? It’s disgraceful.

  2. You know, I’m not a big fan of Tom Mulcair, only because I don’t trust him and I think he could turn into a Harper in a New York minute if he became PM. I have to agree with a lot of pundits on this one, and that Harper not only disrespected Mr. Mulcair, but he also disrespected every Canadian Armed Forces member in the country and it’s citizens. Just imagine, a soldier died and was buried a couple of weeks ago and the PM, for last nine years, making flippant comments at the leader of the opposition about serious questions pertaining to sending soldiers in harms way. The author was right, if Trudeau had said this, most of the right and left wing news outlets would be looking for his head on a pike. Trudeau was pilloried by the media for less than this. Good article.

    • Just to add, the trained seals behind Harper were just as bad with their glibness as well, they all laugh at it and thought is was real zinger of a joke. Like I’ve said many time, this crowd running a country is bad enough, but to know this kind of attitude on the world stage is a disgrace. The world is watching us.

    • You don’t trust Mulcair because he could turn into Harper, yet Trudeau’s the one who supports 97% of the CPC’s bills? Get a clue.

      • Where do you get 97% of con bills supported by the grits, your just upset because what I said was true, maybe your a policy wonk, I look at a persons character, and that tells how authentic they are, and I don’t see authenticity in Mulcair, he has a side most Canadians don’t see, he has an anger problem, and that don’t leave with a flick of the switch, just look at harper to see that. Harpers collar has been on fire the last couple of weeks. I don’t see anger in Trudeau, I see calm, and I see a country with values and vision with a center party. If a politician has to change their demeanor a halve a dozen times because they always get hot around the collar, to make themselves look electable, that’s not authenticity, it’s pandering, and pandering is also, not authenticity. Mulcair hasn’t faced tough enough questions himself yet from the media, they have been very soft on him. That’s all Mulcair has been doing is going after Harper to answer questions.

        • What “values” do you see in Trudeau, and how do those values apply to allowing Iraqi’s and Syrians to be slaughtered by the thousands by ISIS barbarians?

          • Trudeau’s values are the charter of rights, Health care, the right to die with dignity(my favorite), the right to abortion, the right to be adult and make adult choices. Allowing the right for people to smoke a substance that the world are finally catching on, by legalizing pot, and not just decriminalizing like the dippers and allow gangs to become richer and powerful, plus anyone caught over the amount will receive a criminal record, never get in the US. Legalizing keeps Canadians from getting a criminal record, and therefore allowing Canadian citizens from cross the US border. Liberals have a very good record federally as good stewards of the economy, just compare their record to the cons and the dippers, oh I forgot, the dippers never ran a federal government. And finally for now, Trudeau is young, fresh and authentic, while the other two are old and over baked.

          • How do your “values” apply to allowing Assad to slaughter far larger numbers of civilians?

          • Canada did not create ISIS. Bush/Chaney and company created them. Liberals were smart enough not to participate in an illegal war against Iraq that was not approved by the UN Security Council.
            You should ask them and the “coalition of willing” to clean up the mess that they left behind. Canada should stay out of it except for meaningful humanitarian help.

  3. I guess many of the subtleties are lost on Wherry.

    From a comedic stand-point, it’s actually “funny” to imagine ISIS, or Syria accusing Canada of “war crimes”. And when I put “funny” in quotes, I actually shouldn’t, because it is literally a hilarious concept to contemplate. Imagine ISIS, who has proudly burned alive, beheaded and sold into slavery… not a few people – but tens of thousands – actually attempting to accuse Canada of “war crimes”.

    LOL! Let’s hear Justin Trudeau offer more bromides and cliches. It’s working well for the Maple Leafs!

    • So typical of CPC attitudes. “Well they did it first – and worse” does not make one’s own bad behaviour any less bad.

      Harper thinks laws are for others. And he thinks it’s funny to joke about it. Given his attitude, it’s no wonder Conservatives keep finding themselves in court (and often convicted). It would not at all surprise me if, one day, a flunky refuses to take the fall and it’s Harper’s turn on trial…

      • So what is the legal question here?
        This directly parallels what H.K. did to Cambodia.
        25% of a population were genocided, (when only 7% was required for mass insanity), in a country adjoining an illegal war that was based on a conspiracy theory. The resulting Pol Pot died peacefully in his bed with mild regret as will Henry. Its not like anyone ever goes to jail for this stuff, (oops sorry to Canadian violent offenders), & in the off chance it does go sideways, Stevie can always recite the Nuremberg Defense. Everybody together now, one, two three: “I was only following orders!”

  4. Embarrassing, cavalier, a little scary. And I like the point made in the article that Conservatives jumped all over Trudeau’s joking comment but now Harper’s makes a worse one AND in the House of Commons, so what will Conservatives say about that? Nothing.

    • Over coffee rabbit asked why i was not smiling. I said “it is like Hiroshima & someone’s eight year old nephew is allowed to push the button. they are all giggly and excited about it, ..they are about to do something horrible & the world will hate us.”
      rabbit said, “sorry i asked, no one cares about this shit, ..we are going to a barbecue, …try to be happy and don’t mention this stuff, it is not appropriate, …can you do that?”
      I said, “okay. …i know, shut-up and smile, ..i think i can do that.”

  5. Killing innocent children for profits is NOT what Canada is about … and be careful Mr Harper God is watching closely … Everyone will be judged , or do you have a free pass to avoid Gods judgement

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