We'll back U.S. fight, PM vows
Joining the campaign against terrorism may cost Canadian lives, ministers concede
By SHAWN MCCARTHY, The Globe and Mail
PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU CHIEF
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has declared that Canada is "at war against terrorism," a conflict that his cabinet ministers conceded may cost Canadian lives.
In the House of Commons yesterday, Mr. Chrétien pledged to join the United States and other allies in the fight against the terrorist organization responsible for the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The antiterrorist campaign could include possible military action.
Despite criticism from opposition leaders that the Liberals have been lax on security issues, Mr. Chrétien said the government would not be "stampeded" into measures that would reduce Canadians' freedoms and close the country's borders to refugees.
"We will stand with our allies, we will do what we must to defeat terrorism," he said during a special debate on a motion of condolence and solidarity to the Americans.
"But, let our actions be guided by a spirit of wisdom and perseverance, by our values and our way of life. As we press the struggle, let us never, ever, forget who we are and what we stand for."
The federal Parliament resumed yesterday after its summer recess and MPs immediately gave unanimous approval to a motion that offered "heartfelt condolences" to the families of people killed when hijacked planes crashed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
They added their "determination to bring to justice" the people involved in the assaults and "to defend civilization from any future attacks." U.S. officials have said the prime suspect is a terrorist organization headed by Osama bin Laden.
Defence Minister Art Eggleton and Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley said the campaign against terrorism could come at a high cost for Canadians.
"Nobody wants casualties but that's the nature of conflict and when you get into conflict, whatever form it takes here, we have to be prepared to do that," Mr. Eggleton said. He refused to comment on what kind of military assistance Canada might offer if a U.S.-led alliance attacks Afghanistan, which has been criticized for harbouring Mr. bin Laden. However, he noted the country has CF-18 fighters and armoured personnel carriers that could be deployed.
Mr. Manley echoed Mr. Chrétien's determination to be part of an antiterrorism alliance, but cautioned that care needs to be taken not to target civilian populations and not to create a backlash in the Muslim world.
"Canada has soldiers that are buried all over Europe because we fought in defence of liberty. We're not about to back away from our challenge now because we think that somebody might get hurt."
But he added: "The object of the exercise is to root out the sources of terrorism, not to create a situation in which we inspire a whole new army of determined zealots."
Still, Mr. Chrétien said it would be "naive" to believe that civilians will not be among the casualties when the U.S.-led alliance strikes back. "When we are in a war, we have to make sure that those who are guilty are taken and face the consequences," he said.
"We cannot promise that not one single life will be lost. Some soldiers and some civilians might be affected but sometimes that is the price we pay to have peace and destroy the evil of terrorism."
Opposition leaders offered their full support for the Liberal government's efforts to combat terrorism, but disagreed on how that campaign should proceed.
Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day echoed the sentiments of all political leaders that people should not lash out at Arab-Canadians or at other Muslims.
"At this hour of darkness, let us reach out in a special way to our peaceful Arab and Muslim friends and neighbours here in Canada and reject any backlash against the innocent even as we strive to bring the guilty to justice," he said.
However, Mr. Day suggested the Liberal government had left the country vulnerable to terrorist attack and to the operation of terrorist cells within Canada.
The Alliance Leader urged the government to ban groups such as the Irish Republican Army and the militant Sikh group Babbar Khalsa from raising money in this country.
The Liberal government is passing legislation that would strip charitable status from groups deemed to be supporting terrorist organizations, but Mr. Day said that measure does not go far enough and urged the Liberal government to adopt U.S.-style antiterrorism laws. However, Mr. Chrétien said people should not fall into the trap of believing that tighter laws would prevent terrorism.
"The Leader of the Opposition likes to talk about the antiterrorism legislation that exists in the United States, but that legislation did not prevent the drama of Sept. 11."
While the Liberals heard a get-tough message from Mr. Day and Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark, the NDP and Bloc Québécois warned against giving the Americans a "blank cheque" of Canadian support.
"Supporting foreign invasions, assassinations and the abandonment of our values will raise the level of violence," NDP Leader Alexa McDonough said.
She said the terrorists responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington should be arrested and judged by the World Court for crimes against humanity, rather than handed over to the United States for trial there.