Canada downplays its own military role in Syria but will support allies

MONTREAL – The Government of Canada has hinted that its military role in Syria could be limited and that any contribution to an international effort there will be mainly political and humanitarian.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Canada does not have the weapons to contribute to the types of attacks being discussed.

“Some have speculated in the media and elsewhere that it could involve cruise missiles and armed drones — neither of which Canada has,” Baird told reporters after meeting with a Syrian opposition figure Wednesday.

“We’ll let decisions be made before we know that we have even the capacity to contribute militarily.”

But he traced the outlines of other, non-combat ways Canada intends to be involved.

Baird used a brief address to the media to outline Canada’s $90 million aid program for the country, saying just over half of that sum would go to food assistance for four million people and shelter and sanitation for 87,000 displaced people.

The Canadian government also appears poised to offer its political blessing to a military intervention.

Baird said Canada and its allies are “of one mind” — that chemical weapons have been used and a firm international response is needed.

“We will continue to work with them in lock-step, and review a full-range of options going forward,” he said.

He said Canadians are horrified by the scenes of atrocities committed against civilians. And he laid the blame squarely on the Syrian authorities.

“The Syrian regime has charted a dangerous path — and the appropriate consequences will follow,” Baird said.

“The entire world was shocked and horrified by the images they saw on television following the attack. Images of children gasping for a simple breath. Images of motionless bodies of entire families lying there, as if they hadn’t awoken from their sleep.

“Although these people may be strangers to us, they share one common humanity. They are someone’s brother, or sister, mother, and father, neighbour or friend. All Canadians find this to be absolutely abhorrent, and repugnant.”

Baird was in Montreal meeting with George Sabra, the head of Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group.

He expressed skepticism that any action against Syria would emerge from the UN Security Council, whose membership includes pro-Assad Russia.

Earlier Wednesday, Justin Trudeau said Parliament should be recalled to discuss what role Canada should play as the international community prepares to respond to atrocities in Syria.

The Liberal leader called the use of chemical weapons “unacceptable” and said it requires a “significant response.”

Trudeau, who was briefed Tuesday by Baird on his conversations with allies in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, said he fully expects Canada will have a role to play in helping civilians.

He said Canadians — and MPs — are united in wanting to provide humanitarian aid and help settle refugees.

But he said anything more than that should be discussed, in a non-partisan fashion, by parliamentarians. Trudeau has previously expressed reservations about military intervention.