Humanitarian aid and refugee resettlements alone will do nothing to stem the tide of people fleeing Syria and Iraq as ISIS's mass slaughter continues, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Monday.

"The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria cannot be solved, cannot even come close to being solved, by refugee policy alone," Harper said, referring to "mass slaughter" by militants.

"We must stop ISIS. We can accept thousands or tens of thousands, and maybe all the countries in the world together, hundreds of thousands of refugees, but ISIS left to its own devices will create millions, tens of millions, of refugees and victims on a monthly basis."

More than three million refugees have fled their home countries as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, militants wage a bloody war to establish an Islamist state. Another 6.5 million people are displaced within their countries.

While talking to a crowd in the Greater Toronto Area today, Harper targeted New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau regarding the Canadian military mission against ISIS, which earlier this year was extended until next spring. Harper suggested the other two leaders would prefer a humanitarian mission alone, and referred to what he said were comments by the Syrian and Iraqi communities in Canada.

"If your policy is humanitarian assistance without military support, all you're doing is dropping aid on dead people," Harper said, attributing the line to the diaspora communities.

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The Liberals say they would increase the number of Canadian soldiers training local forces like the Kurdish Peshmerga, while the NDP say they would focus on diplomacy and aid. Both parties have expressed concern with the bombing campaign and that Canadian forces are helping target attacks, putting them on the front lines and at greater risk.

The mission against ISIS deployed six CF-18 fighter jets, one CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft and two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft. Some 600 aircrew and other personnel are currently deployed, as well as up to 69 special forces advisers whose mission was described as to consult and assist Peshmerga forces in their efforts to beat back the advance of ISIS militants.

Travel ban on terrorist-controlled areas

On Sunday, Harper announced he would, if re-elected, introduce a travel ban on areas controlled by ISIS. He said journalists and aid workers would likely be exempted, but has since provided few details on the plan.

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Humanitarian aid and refugee resettlements alone will do nothing to stem the tide of people fleeing Syria and Iraq as ISIS's mass slaughter continues, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Monday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"This is limited to only those areas that are clearly under the control of terrorist organizations," Harper said Monday, after he was questioned by a reporter. 

"Anybody who goes into an area like that is taking their life into their hands," Harper said. "Frankly, these are not areas where families go. These are areas where we know why people are really going. They are going for terrorist training."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Monday called the announcement electoral posturing and said it was an attempt to distract from the sad state of the Canadian economy.

"Canada is a country that respects people's rights," Trudeau said as he kicked off his Quebec component of the federal election campaign.

"And any time a government chooses to limit those rights, it has to be able to answer very direct and complete questions about why it's necessary, about how it will work, about what the clear plan is, and Mr. Harper has done none of that."

Harper shot back, repeating an earlier comment that travel to such places is "not a human right." 

Renewed pledge on refugees

The Conservative leader also said a future Conservative government would accept 10,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria over the next four years. The Conservatives wouldn't say how many of those refugees would be government sponsored, or how many would have to be privately sponsored by community groups or religious organizations.

The Conservatives have faced repeated criticism over their resettlement of Syrian refugees, both for the initial commitment of 1,300 being too small in the face of the three million who have fled to neighbouring countries like Turkey and Lebanon, and because of delays in getting them to Canada

Harper said Canada has settled roughly 20,000 Iraqi refugees and close to 2,500 Syrian refugees.

He said his party would devote $9 million to the fight for religious freedoms in the Middle East if he is re-elected.Some people live in "daily fear of imprisonment, torture and death," particularly in areas where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria operates, Harper said, while speaking to a crowd at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Markham, Ont., today. 

Last week, Harper also pledged:

  • A new tax credit to encourage businesses to hire apprentices.
  • That a re-elected Conservative government would reintroduce the home renovation tax credit and make it permanent.
  • To create a new criminal offence for people who travel to terrorist-held regions.

Today marks the second week of campaigning for the Oct. 19 federal election.

Follow @laura_payton on Twitter.

With files from The Canadian Press