Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan downplayed the news that Canada has been has been left out of meeting of U.S.-coalition defence ministers in Paris this week to review the battle against the so-called Islamic State.
Speaking to reporters in New Brunswick, Sajjan said he wasn’t disappointed at not being invited adding that he has been in regular contact with his coalition counterparts
“I was very fortunate on actually two occasions, most recently, I’ve been back into the region to get a first-hand look at what is going and talk to the commanders,” said Sajjan. The meeting, set for Wednesday, will include defence ministers from the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands.
“Meetings happen all the time,” Sajjan said. “We are actively participating on a meaningful basis… We’re not just looking at the current situation in Syria and Iraq, we’re actually looking at the overall threats around the world as well.”
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A spokesperson for Minister Sajjan confirmed to Global News that Canada had not been invited to the high-level meeting, and the minister is instead focused on a Feb. 11 NATO meeting requested by U.S. Secretary of Defence Ash Carter.
“He’s also been regularly in contact with coalition partners,” said Renée Filiatrault, Sajjan’s director of communications, noting discussions with Brett McGurk, the U.S. Special Presidential envoy for the coalition to counter ISIS and a recent trip to the UK where he met British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
While Sajjan is downplaying the issue, the Liberal government’s decision to withdraw fighter jets from the anti-ISIS coalition may have been a reason for the snub.
Canadian CF-18 fighter jets are still participating in bombing missions in Iraq and Syria, as the new Liberal government examines how to keep Trudeau’s election pledge to end the combat mission.
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Dave Perry, a senior analyst with the Global Affairs Institute, said while it’s unclear why Canada was left off the guest-list he pointed to a speech by U.S. Defence Secretary Carter last week during which he said it was a meeting of the most significant contributors to the mission.
“Each of these nations has a significant stake in completing the destruction of this evil organization, and we must include all of the capabilities they can bring to the field. And I will not hesitate to engage and challenge current and prospective members of the coalition to do more as we go forward,” Carter said at the 101st Airborne Division’s headquarters in Fort Campbell, Ky.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan criticized the Liberal government for their “incoherent” message on Canada’s future with the coalition.
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“This development demonstrates that the Liberal Party’s policy on fighting ISIS is incoherent, and the decision to withdraw Canada’s CF-18s is seen by our allies as stepping back, rather than standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them,” Bezan said in a statement.
Perry added that Canada’s absence will limit its ability to be a major player in helping to shape the fight to against Islamic State militants.
“Whatever decisions are taken there we are not going to be a part of it, which is a real shame,” said Perry. “If we’re not present than we can’t be a contributing [nation] to shaping any of those discussions and we are only going to be on the receiving end of whatever those discussions are.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has opposed Canada’s involvement with coalition airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria. As part of an election promise he said Canada will withdraw fighter jets and instead increase training operations, adding to the 69 trainers now already in Iraq. As of Jan. 19, however, the airstrikes by Canadian fighter jets continue.