As It Happens

Jason Kenney: There should be no conditions on negotiating peace in Syria

Defence Minister Jason Kenney, who is a Conservative candidate, says Canada won't "second guess" Washington when it comes to dealing with the Assad government in Syria.
(Chris Wattie and Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)

Today at the United Nations General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon argued that there is no military solution to the crisis in Syria.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney agrees -- to a certain extent.

"Obviously, there's nothing that the Western world or Middle Eastern countries can do to stop the civil war through military intervention," Kenney tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

But he distinguishes that conflict from the fight against the Islamic State, in which Canada's military is playing a part.

"There is a role for the international coalition to play in degrading the capabilities of ISIS so that, in due course, the Iraqi security forces can take them on through a ground campaign," he says.

A Kurdish man repairs weapons for Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting against Islamic State militants outside of Arbil, north of Iraq. (Azad Lashkari/Reuters)

"The so-called Islamic State is both geographically and politically a complete outlier. It's not seeking simply to depose the Assad government. It's seeking to depose every government in the region and to create its own caliphate, its own terror state."

Kenney, who is candidate for the Conservatives, says his party wants to see a diplomatic solution to the civil war in Syria. And he says that there is a growing consensus among Canada's allies that any negotiations with the government of Bashar al-Assad must be unconditional.

"We're not going to second guess the diplomatic efforts of the United States and others to actually find a solution to this and, if that means they have to deal with the Syrian government without preconditions, so be it," Kenney says.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during an interview in Damascus on August 25, 2015. (SANA handout via Reuters)

"I think everyone is at the same time agreed that one of the outcomes has to be Bashar al-Assad leaving office, that he has no moral legitimacy."

As for the refugees created by the fighting in Syria, Kenney argues that the Conservatives are acting as quickly as they can, despite calls by the Liberals and NDP to speed up the process.

"Prudence needs to be taken to ensure that people are being properly screened for security."

Syrian refugee woman reacts as she and family members jump off a overcrowded dinghy after landing on the Greek island of Lesbos. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

Kenney also defends his decision this weekend to revoke the Canadian citizenship of Zakaria Amara, the imprisoned ringleader of the "Toronto 18" terror plot.

"He hates Canada so much that he was willing to murder hundreds of Canadians in an act of ideological and political violence. It's our view...that, in so doing, he forfeited, he renounced his own Canadian citizenship," he says.

Critics have accused the Conservatives of creating two tiers of citizens: those with dual citizenship and those who are solely Canadian. Under United Nations conventions, Canada cannot revoke the citizenship of people who have no other nationality because they would be left stateless.

Kenney says that legal obligation is the only reason for the distinction. Otherwise, he would strip anyone who plots acts of violence against Canada of his or her citizenship.

He argues that most Canadians agree with his government's approach to security.

"That may not be the truth at every cocktail party in the Annex (a neighbourhood in Toronto)," Kenney says. 

"But in the Canada where I meet people every single day, in the Bramptons and the Surreys and the Richmond Hills and the Lavals of Canada, people overwhelmingly believe that there is real meaning to our citizenship, that the oath should be taken openly and publicly, that people who violently express their disloyalty to Canada should not keep their citizenship."

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