Yesterday’s battle in Iraq involving Canadian special operations soldiers and CF-18 warplanes was reportedly the largest combat engagement in which Canadians have been involved since their mission against the so-called Islamic State began more than a year ago.
It was not, however, the first. That Canadian soldiers have been exchanging fire with Islamic State fighters first emerged in January. The Liberals, then in opposition, criticized the governing Conservatives for what the Liberals described as deception.
In September 2014, then-prime minister Stephen Harper had characterized the mission of Canadian soldiers on the ground in Iraq as “advise and assist.” When news of the firefights broke this January, Justin Trudeau pounced.
“The prime minister made assurances to Canadians and to the House that, as we found out yesterday, were not exactly the truth,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told reporters at the time. “The prime minister needs to come clean with Canadians on what’s going on and why he was lacking in forthrightness with Canadians.”
Trudeau kept up his attack later in the House: “The government said our ground forces would advise and assist, but not accompany Iraqi troops,” he said. “Now we find out they’re routinely on the front lines. Why did the government mislead Canadians?”
Other leading Liberals were equally critical at the time. “The government is going to argue obviously that this is not a combat mission in the sense of Canadian soldiers going on the offensive,” said Marc Garneau, then Liberal foreign affairs critic and now transport minister. “They are clearly on the lines, in some cases directing airstrikes, and this is something I think many Canadians did not realize. I think for some people yesterday that was a surprise.”
According to then-Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray: “It has the appearance of mission creep. There appears to be a change.”
Now, of course, the Liberals are in government. Anyone want to guess how Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan described the Canadian soldiers’ involvement in the multi-hour ground battle with Islamic State?
“[O]ur forces played a role in advising and assisting …” he said in a statement.