Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canadian military advisers being sent to Iraq to help battle Islamic militants are part of "a great struggle" against a "barbaric terrorist organization," as he brushed aside concerns Canada could face "mission creep."

In an interview Monday with Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Baird reiterated the government's commitment to a 30-day mission to support Kurdish and Iraqi forces fighting the Islamic State in Iran and Syria, or ISIS, but he refused to be pinned down to a strict deadline.

"We're saying we're doing this for 30 days," he said. "After those 30 days are up, we'll evaluate."

"I suppose we could never do anything if there was always the fear of mission creep," Baird added.

"Listen, this is a great struggle," he said. "This is a barbaric terrorist organization who wants to take over a great swath of the world from southern Spain to India. They're beheading journalists. They're targeting Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in Iraq.

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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird recently returned from Iraq, where he toured the Kurdish front lines and visited refugees displaced by the violence. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"We'll be sending several dozen military advisers to northern Iraq, to Erbil, to help the Kurdish minority be able to defend themselves, defend other minorities, and to ensure the humanitarian crisis doesn't get worse."

Baird, Nicholson to address MPs Tuesday

MPs will get the chance to question Baird on the mission on Tuesday, when he's scheduled to speak at a special session of the House foreign affairs committee. 

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson and Religious Freedom Ambassador Andrew Bennett are also scheduled to appear.

Baird spent several days in Iraq last week, during which he visited Kurdish front lines, where he announced an additional $15 million in aid earmarked for security, including helmets, body armour and vehicles to support Kurdish and Iraqi forces battling fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL.   

In a show of cross-partisan unity, Baird took the rare step of inviting both opposition foreign affairs critics, NDP MP Paul Dewar and Liberal MP Marc Garneau, to accompany him on the trip.

On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper revealed that "several dozen" Canadian Armed Forces members would soon be sent to Iraq, where they'll join U.S. officials in advising the Iraqi government on securing the northern part of the country.

They will also "provide strategic and tactical advice to Iraqi forces before they commence tactical operations against ISIL," according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office.

"Canada will be present in an advisory and assistance role."  

The advisers will come largely from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, the government said.

NDP, Liberals want more details

Not surprisingly, one of the MPs asking questions during tomorrow's session will be Dewar, one of Baird's Iraq travel companions, who said he's eager to hear more about the special operations mission announced while he and his colleagues were in Iraq. 

"It was the government who called the meeting, so I'm assuming they'll have something to share with us ... more skin on the bones regarding the commitment of troops, which … came as a surprise to us, particularly when we were on the ground there."

He's also keen to discuss what Canada can contribute outside the military sphere.

"From my read, and questioning people, and seeing what I saw, there's clearly a lot more needed in terms of humanitarian aid," Dewar said.

The Liberals, who have just one seat at the committee table, will be looking for specific details on the parameters of the mission, according to party spokeswoman Kate Purchase.

"The government must outline the spectrum of operations Canadian military personnel will be engaged in, the steps taken to ensure their safety, what factors would be considered in extending the Canadian presence beyond the stated 30-day time frame and how this mission will help contribute to Canada’s national security interests," she told CBC News.

"It is essential that the government disclose to Parliament the full nature of the mission it is proposing."

Last week, Liberal public security critic Wayne Easter served notice that he intends to push for a full parliamentary inquiry into ISIS recruits in Canada when the House returns next week. 

The meeting is scheduled to run for two hours, and will be televised.


  • This story has been updated from an earlier version that misidentified Andrew Bennett, Canada's ambassador for religious freedom, as John Bennett.
    Sep 08, 2014 12:50 PM ET