Last year Doppler contacted Foreign Affairs critic for the Official Opposition and Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement to talk about some of the issues facing Canadians. At the time, the newly minted Liberal government of Justin Trudeau was preparing to welcome refugees from war-torn Syria. Groups in our own community have also been furiously fundraising and asking Muskokans to open their hearts and wallets to help these displaced people make a home here. We asked Clement to share his thoughts on the Syrian crisis in a Q&A.
Doppler: What do you see as Canada’s role in Syria and the fact that we’re taking in all these refugees?
Clement: Canada is a compassionate country. We should be taking in refugees and you know the previous Conservative government had a target for sponsorships of refugees. A lot of the sponsorship campaigns that are going on right now in Huntsville or Bracebridge, I know one in Gravenhurst… those were all set up under the previous Conservative government’s plans. What’s changed is there’s now government sponsorship as well as private sponsorship. In order to meet the accelerated target of the Liberal government, they brought government to bear… so it’s government picking people and placing them. I don’t have a problem with that so long as we don’t try to cut corners when it comes to security and safety issues. So we have to make sure that the people chosen under the government sponsorship program go through the same rigorous vetting to make sure we’re not creating security situations for ourselves.
Doppler: What should Canada’s role be in Syria?
Clement: As Foreign Affairs critic I’ve been quite outspoken… urging the Federal Liberal government to continue with our allies in the fight against Islamic State, ISIS. And the reason is because that’s the primary reason now that more refugees are being generated. The great majority of these refugees want to go back to their homes but the problem is of course that that’s not feasible or possible because they can be subjected to genocide, they can be raped, and they can be beheaded. There’s been over 3,000 beheadings by Islamic State since they took over the territory. Many other thousands have been eradicated because of their religious beliefs whether they’re Christians or Yazidis or Shiites … so this is a huge generator of new refugees. I believe Canada should step up. I believe that we should continue as part of a multi-lateral strategy, that the air campaign should continue and that it is the wrong message to step back from the air campaign at this juncture.
Doppler: What about claims that the Assad regime is also causing some of these issues?
Clement: Absolutely, it’s a bad neighbourhood. There’s no question about it and of course the Assad regime is supported by Russia both militarily and diplomatically and that complicates factors as well. But I think we can all agree and even the Russians agree, having had one of their passenger planes bombed out of the sky, that Islamic State is a clear present danger not only to the local stability in Syria, Iraq and now Libya but also their plan is to project their violence in our country, in France, America and Canada. So this is something that we all have to work together to eradicate.
Doppler: How do you do that?
Clement: I think it’s a combination of things. It’s a combination of diplomacy. It’s a combination of humanitarian aid where we can, but it also has a military dimension. The French have declared war on Islamic State; the French are one of our oldest allies. After the horrific Paris attacks I don’t blame them. But it’s not just a problem in France, it’s a problem in Belgium, it’s a problem in the UK, it’s a problem in Germany and it’s a problem in the USA and Canada too.
Doppler: What responsibility do you think other Islamic countries should take, with respect to these radical elements?
Clement: I think that that’s a responsibility that they should take seriously. You know the military coalition against Islamic State as it currently exists includes many Arab countries, many Muslim countries and it has to. I mean, if we’re going to have boots on the ground that are going to be effective against Islamic State to roll back their territorial gains, that would predominantly be from Arab countries. It can’t be, and it shouldn’t be, the Western countries.
And then there’s the struggle for the hearts and minds of Muslims. Many moderate Muslims are afraid to speak up right now because of fear of violence if they speak out against the extremists. We’ve got to make it easier for them, it’s their role not our role, but they have to feel that they can speak out against this extremist, jihadist ideology otherwise things will continue to grow.
Doppler: Are we seeing enough Muslim countries taking in refugees as well?
Clement: I guess the issue is a lot of the refugees seek passage to European countries, maybe they have friends or relatives there or what have you. Germany is getting 10,000 a day… so that’s the scope of the humanitarian crisis and the displacement that’s going on. I could say, ‘yes it would be lovely if they would take refugees,’ but I’m not sure the refugees necessarily want to go there.
Doppler: Should we be putting pressure on a resolution in Syria so that we don’t have all these displaced people?
Clement: The best solution to the refugee crisis is getting people back to their homes in a peaceful and safe environment and that’s what is not possible now. So, this refugee crisis will continue to grow until that opportunity presents itself. There’s 9 million displaced people in the region right now so it’s a monumental disaster and there’s so many camps and there’s so many people living on the side of a road… it really is terrible. If you ask most of them what they want, they want to go back to their homes. They want to live a peaceful life without fear of genocide so that’s ultimately what we want to work with them to create.
Doppler: The Western world is certainly denouncing Islamic radicals, like ISIL, but what about Assad? It does not seem like he’s being denounced in the same forceful way.
Clement: Yeah, I mean Assad is a killer. He is a person who probably deployed weapons of mass destruction against his own people… we were at least morally supporting civil groups within his country that wanted a more democratic, pluralistic approach to whatever government would replace him. Unfortunately, all those groups have been marginalized by Islamic State and they’re the ones who are armed, they’re the ones who are busy creating territory and of course creating these massive killings that are a big threat not only locally but of course they want to project their power outside of their self-described caliphate. That’s the thing that is the most threatening to Canadians; to Americans, to Parisians… you name it.
There’s no question that he’s (Assad) not helpful to his own population but it (Western interference) can’t be in a vacuum. It can’t be allowing the cancer that is Islamic State to grow in the absence of any other political organization, that would be as bad as Assad. So that’s the tricky nature of the Middle East and that’s why you need multi-lateral leadership to work out a plan.