ISIL mission may expand militarily, but not when it comes to aid

The government says it hasn't ruled out spending more to help the millions displaced by the ongoing conflicts in both countries

OTTAWA – Despite Stephen Harper’s claims that humanitarian help goes hand in hand with military action in Iraq and Syria, Canada’s plan to expand its Middle East mission has yet to be linked with additional financial aid.

So as they vote against a broader, longer Canadian military mission in Iraq and Syria, opposition parties will also be pushing the government to help halt the extremist threat through developmental and diplomatic means.

“We need to ask ourselves what the right thing to do is,” said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

“The question should not be a combat role or nothing. It is a false choice offered by the prime minister. The question should be: ‘What is the most effective thing Canada can do?”’

To date, Canada has contributed about $100 million as part of its broader response to the situation in Iraq, with $67.4 million of that for humanitarian aid such as food relief and emergency shelter.

The government says it hasn’t ruled out spending more to help the millions displaced by the ongoing conflicts in both countries.

But the motion before Parliament is intentionally focused on the military dimension.

Unlike the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, countries participating in the campaign against ISIL have not gone so far as to link development with overall military strategy, in part because the security situation on the ground is far from ready.

“Reconstruction, though vital, must remain a downstream goal as we prioritize immediate rescue and relief efforts,” John Allen, the U.S. special envoy for the coalition fighting against ISIL, told a meeting in Berlin earlier this month.

The dire security situation has raised a long-standing conundrum, which also haunted the Afghanistan mission: how do you deliver relief when humanitarian workers are easy targets for the enemy?

Aid agencies are extremely uncomfortable dealing with the military, said Jane Pearce, the head of the UN World Food Program operation in Iraq.

The military has approached the WFP for food to airdrop in besieged areas like Mount Sinjar, where Yazidis were pinned down by ISIL fighters last year, but the organization turned them down – partly because none of their supplies can be dropped out of a plane.

The WFP has also asked Foreign Affairs to spare a handful of experts – such as economists and people schooled in the delivery of nutrition programs – who can help map the region’s needs and help co-ordinate the delivery of assistance.

Aside from that, the country could also continue to act as a conscientious voice at the table with the U.S.-led military coalition, she said.

“What they can do is keep the humanitarian situation high on the agenda at the political talks,” she said.

“So when they are talking politics, they are also saying there humanitarian consequences for decisions that are taken at the political level. That’s really one of the big things Canada can do.”

Canada continues to look at where it can best provide support, officials say, and more aid could be announced in the near future.

When it comes to Syria, the United Nations is seeking $8.4 billion in global donations this year to help alleviate the effects of five years of civil war which have left over 200,000 people dead and sent millions fleeing the country.

A formal pitch will be made in Kuwait at the end of this month.

A spokesman for International Development Minister Christian Paradis did not immediately return a request for comment on whether Canada will attend or promise new funds.