“Canada is Back” – Part 2: Trudeau and the Use of Force
If the CF-18s are withdrawn, and if there is no new combat role to replace them, Canada’s contribution will then be entirely non-lethal, in the sense that Canadians will no longer be taking the fight directly to the enemy. That heavy lifting—the defeat of the enemy by actually seeking to kill them, disperse them, and expel them from their territory—will be left to others: either local forces on the ground or Canada’s other military allies in the Global Coalition.
In short, Trudeau’s ISIL policy suggests that Canada may be “back” in a less laudable way: “back” to being a country reluctant to use its armed forces. Trudeau’s reluctance to use force is certainly reminiscent of the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien, which had such an antipathy to the use of force that it would often refuse to even acknowledge when the CAF used force: for example, by purposely hiding a lethal engagement between Canadian and Croat forces in the Medak Pocket in 1993;…and not even acknowledging the record-breaking performance of CAF snipers in Afghanistan in 2001–2002.
If antipathy to the use of force is indeed a prime driver under Trudeau fils, this certainly would be very much in keeping with the dominant self-perception that Canada is a “peaceable kingdom,” a peacekeeper rather than a war fighter. In a revealing 2008 poll commissioned by the Department of National Defence, an overwhelming number of Canadians expressed the view that the proper purpose of the Canadian Armed Forces was not to use force in world politics, but to engage in humanitarian operations such as disaster relief. Indeed, when a focus group in the same poll was asked about its image of the CAF, one participant responded: “I do not picture a Canadian soldier carrying guns.”
The prime minister has given every indication that he too does not picture a Canadian soldier carrying guns. If that is so, then Canada may indeed be “back.”
Kim Richard Nossal is a professor in the Department of Political Studies and the Centre for International and Defence Policy, Queen’s University. His latest book, co-authored with Stéphane Roussel and Stéphane Paquin, is The Politics of Canadian Foreign Policy, 4th edition, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in November 2015…
Draw your own conclusions.