Baird cool to military solution as MPs debate role in Syria
Foreign affairs minister says 'we better bloody well get the facts' on chemical weapons use
Posted: May 7, 2013 4:49 PM ET
Last Updated: May 8, 2013 7:54 AM ET
MPs held an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Canada's role in Syria amid renewed concerns about chemical weapons and Israel's involvement in the civil war that has created a growing refugee crisis as people flee the conflict.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke during the debate, which started just after 6:30 p.m ET Tuesday.
"The only way to end the suffering of the Syrian people is through a political solution to this crisis," Baird said Tuesday evening.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae, who requested the debate, as well as NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar led the opposition's questions.
“This evening’s emergency debate is an opportunity to ask the Canadian government vital questions about the conversations it is having with our allies, what actions it is taking, and equally, to debate the role Canada ought to be playing in the international effort to support the Syrian people,” Rae said in a statement earlier Tuesday.
During the debate, Rae reiterated the need to have informed discussions about how to suport the Syrian people, and he said more information is needed about the structure of the opposition and who might follow Assad.
No Canadian Forces role just yet
The foreign affairs minister said earlier in the day that he doesn’t see Canadian Forces getting involved in Syria’s civil war right now.
Baird said this is a conflict that will be solved politically, not with the military.
“Our view has always been the only way to end the suffering of the Syrian people is through a political solution," he said on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.
"The more some countries and groups have sent arms in to arm the opposition, what it’s caused is significantly higher levels of violence from the Assad regime which has led to more bloodshed and more death.”
Eyewitness accounts are suggesting the use of chemical weapons in recent days, but it’s unclear if they’re being deployed by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, opposition groups, or both.
Baird said he’s “working hard” to get the facts about who’s using banned chemical weapons in Syria’s conflict, since there’s “overwhelming evidence” they’ve been used.
“We are deeply concerned, [U.S.] President Obama has spoken out about that,” Baird said after Tuesday's question period.
"We better bloody well get the facts and make sure we’re right.”
Baird said the Canadian government has given more than a million dollars to United Nations chemical weapons inspectors, but they aren’t being allowed into the country.
He also said Canada is helping with the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the surrounding countries by providing food, shelter and medical support.
During Tuesday evening's debate, Baird talked about his experience visiting an ever-expanding refugee camp in Jordan and praised the UN's efforts at registering and feeding refugees who have been fleeing Syria in growing numbers.
Helping the right people 'awfully difficult'
Earlier, Rae told Power & Politics host Evan Solomon on Monday that he wants to see Canada find a way to help “democratic” elements of the Syrian Coalition forces without arming them.
“Canada is not going to be a player in the providing of arms, we’re not that kind of country,” he said.
“We’ve been a country that’s has always asked the question ‘What’s the consequences of these actions and how can we ensure greater stability in a situation that right now is enormously unstable?’”
Baird said it's difficult to sort out what those elements are.
“The Syrian opposition that a big chunk of the world has recognized as the legitimate government of Syria doesn’t have command and control on the ground," he said on Power & Politics.
"In fact, there isn’t one opposition, there are many; it gets awfully difficult at times to separate the good guys from the bad guys.”
During Tuesday's debate, NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar made note of the growing number of refugees and urged the government to do more to reunite families affected by the conflict in Syria.
"We have Syrian-Canadian families right now who want to help their family members," said Dewar, who also urged the government to step up humanitarian assistance and reach out to women affected by the violent conflict.
U.S. secretary of state in Russia
Israeli officials have said airstrikes this weekend were meant to stop Iranian weapons from reaching the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, although its government has not formally confirmed its involvement.
A Palestinian militant group’s spokesperson told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Syria's President Assad has given them permission to set up missiles and attack Israel.
“We saw this with Turkey [which earlier launched airstrikes inside Syria] and now with Israel,” Dewar said on CBC’s Power & Politics on Monday. “We all have to be concerned this conflict doesn’t spread beyond the borders of Syria.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Russia on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is the most powerful ally of Assad’s regime.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since protests began against the regime in March 2011.With files from The Associated Press