The US has once again flagrantly violated international law. Without UN approval, they launched dozens of airstrikes on Syria. Ottawa immediately supported the US bombing. In a statement Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people."
Over the past week the Trudeau government has helped lay the foundation for the US led attack. 24 hours after the alleged April 7 attack foreign minister Chrystia Freeland put out a statement claiming, "the repeated and morally reprehensible use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in the past has been confirmed by independent international investigators…. Canada condemns the Assad regime – and its backers, Russia and Iran – for its repeated, gross violations of human rights and continued, deliberate targeting of civilians.” Without presenting any evidence of the alleged chemical weapons use in Douma, Freeland said on Friday "when it comes to this use of chemical weapons, it is clear to Canada that chemical weapons were used and that they were used by the Assad regime."
In her initial statement Freeland expressed Canada’s "admiration for … the White Helmets." Also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, the White Helmets produced the video purporting to show chemical weapons use in Douma.
Credited with rescuing people from bombed out buildings, the White Helmets have long fostered opposition to Assad and promoted western intervention. The White Helmets operated almost entirely in areas of Syria occupied by the Saudi Arabia–Washington backed Al Nusra/Al Qaeda rebels and other jihadist groups. They criticized the Syrian government and disseminated images of its violence while largely ignoring those targeted by the opposition. Their members were repeatedly photographed with Al Qaeda linked Jihadists and reportedly enabled their executions.
Canada has provided significant support to the White Helmets. Two weeks ago Global Affairs Canada announced they "provided $12 million for groups in Syria, such as the White Helmets, that are saving lives by providing communities with emergency response services and removing explosives." At that time White Helmet representatives were in Ottawa to meet with Government officials and in late 2016 Global Affairs Canada sponsored a five-city White Helmets tour of Canada.
The White Helmets received at least US $23 million from USAID. The British, Dutch, German and French governments have also provided the group with tens of millions of dollars. The White Helmets are closely associated with the Syria Campaign, which was set up by a British billionaire of Syrian descent, Ayman Asfari, actively opposed to the Bashar al-Assad regime.
The conflict in Syria is multilayered and messy. Thousands of US and Turkish troops are in the country in contravention of the UN charter. Similarly, Israel has bombed Syria more than 100 times since the outbreak of the conflict and continues to illegal occupy part of its territory. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have plowed billions of dollars worth of weaponry and other forms of support to opposition rebels while the CIA spent a billion dollars backing anti-Assad groups.
On a number of occasions Ottawa has denounced Iran, Hezbollah and Russia’s substantial support of Assad, but they’ve ignored the significant role the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Israel have played in the conflict. In fact, Ottawa has ramped up arms sales to Saudi Arabia and deepened its ties to Israel and the US in recent years.
Syrians needs an end to fighting. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions more displaced over the past seven years of conflict. The US, which unleashed sectarian war in Iraq, bears significant responsibility for the horrors in that country. Syria requires political negotiation, the withdrawal of foreign troops and a real arms embargo, not more bombing and violations of international law.
Canadians should oppose the Trudeau government’s support for the recent US air strikes.
A Canucks and Canadiens fan, Yves Engler confesses to having hated the Leafs before they partnered with the navy. He is the author of Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical and other books. He is currently writing a people’s history of the Canadian military.