Trudeau states support for U.S.-led strikes in Syria

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada supports the decision by the U.S., the United Kingdom and France to bomb targets in Syria over the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons.

'It is clear to Canada that chemical weapons were used and that they were used by the Assad regime': Freeland

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement from Lima, Peru, that Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to bomb targets in Syria. (Art Babych/Shutterstock)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada supports the decision by the U.S., the United Kingdom and France to bomb targets in Syria over the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons.

"Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons in last week's attack in eastern Ghouta, Syria," Trudeau said in a statement issued from Lima, Peru, where he is attending the Summit of the Americas.

"Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime's ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people," the statement read.

"We will continue to work with our international partners to further investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Those responsible must be brought to justice."

Trudeau has previously ruled out any Canadian participation in military action.

The prime minister and U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence were attending a pre-reception for leaders at the Peru summit on Friday, when Pence left the room. 

Trudeau was briefed on the strike at his hotel that evening following two more events, CBC News reporters in Peru learned. He and Pence later returned to the dinner portion of the summit's opening ceremony.   

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, right, shakes hands with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after a bilateral meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, Saturday. (Karel Navarro/Associated Press)

Pence applauds Canada's support for Syria mission

Trudeau and Pence held a bilateral meeting Saturday to discuss the Syria mission, the ongoing NAFTA renegotiation and the upcoming G7. During the photo op beforehand, Trudeau reaffirmed his support for the attack. 

"This is something we cannot accept, the use of chemical weapons on civilians, and the international community needs to continue to stand extremely strong as we continue to hold Syria accountable for this," Trudeau said. 

Pence said he had spoken with U.S. President Donald Trump Saturday morning who asked the vice president to express his appreciation for the strong friendship between the two countries. 

"And let me also say your remarks today, your statement last night, in support of U.S. and allied action against chemical weapons facilities in Syria is much appreciated and welcome," Pence said. 

"We remain hopeful that with the U.K. and France and the United States acting in concert, and with the strong support of Canada and other nations that I've heard from at this very conference, who we are hearing from around the world, that we will see Syria, and their patrons in Russia and Iran, once and for all abandon the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians," Pence added. 

Canada lays blame on Syrian president

Earlier Friday, Canada became the latest country to lay the blame for a deadly chemical-weapons attack in Syria last week at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's doorstep, despite Russian suggestions to the contrary.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland made the claim hours before U.S. President Donald Trump went on live television to say the U.S., France and the U.K. were launching a co-ordinated attack to destroy Assad's chemical weapons capability.

"When it comes to this use of chemical weapons, it is clear to Canada that chemical weapons were used and that they were used by the Assad regime," Freeland said.

More than 40 people were killed and 500 injured — including women and children — after poison gas was apparently used in an attack on Douma, a rebel-held enclave near the Syrian capital of Damascus, on April 7.

The Syrian government has denied responsibility and Russia has suggested Israel or Britain was to blame, supposedly to justify increased Western intervention into the war-ravaged country.

Freeland did not specify how she knew that the Syrian government was responsible, though she said Canada is working with non-governmental organizations and others to collect evidence of war crimes and other atrocities in Syria.

"We have seen as a pattern in the world today is actors who behave in a reprehensible manner, then can be quite clever in trying to muddy the waters and in trying to dodge responsibility," she added.

"Of course, it is important for Canada to be a country that acts based on facts. But it is equally important for us to be aware of the distraction tactics that some of the actors in the world are using today and to not allow those tactics to work."

Freeland made the comments on the sidelines of the summit, which Trump skipped to oversee the Syria situation.

"I think it is completely understandable that the president would feel that, given this crisis situation, he would need to be at home," Freeland said, adding that the Canadian delegation is looking forward to its meeting with Pence.

Crafting Canada's response

According to a former government national security issues analyst, the best way for Canada to respond to airstrikes in Syria is to continue pushing for a resolution behind the scenes.

"Canada needs to basically continue what it has been doing, to a large extent working behind the scenes, trying to push the different parties together, basically working to reassert the chemical weapons norms and of course stand with our allies," Stephanie Carvin told CBC Radio's The House.  

Canada has always played an important role in resolving international conflicts like the current situation in Syria, but the government should also be prepared for retaliation from Russia, she told host Chris Hall.

Trump says U.S., allies will launch "precision strikes" until the Syrian government stops the use of chemical weapons. 7:42

"We've been very clear where we stand on Russian activities in this particular part of the world," she said

"There could be a lot of nasty responses on this one."

While an identical response to Friday's actions is highly unlikely, she said it would be wise to be on high alert for cyber attacks.

with files from The Canadian Press