Growing Policy Pains: A Hornets’ Nest has been a lot of talk in Canada recently about the government’s stance on the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East. The new Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised during its election campaign to withdraw Canada’s contribution – six CF-18 Hornet fighter jets – to the coalition’s war on Daesh. The ensuing hubbub has had the punditocracy up in arms (in stark contrast to Canada’s contribution to the coalition, some of the more right wing might argue) both in favour of Trudeau’s approach, and in damning it.

Whether I agree with Trudeau’s recent delivery of campaign promises or not (some I do, some I don’t), I have actually quite a bit of respect for his integrity in keeping to his campaign promises; for a politician to do so takes a lot of chutzpah and speaks volumes to how important their word is to them. Trudeau is in a bit of a political pickle with the issue of the CF-18s.

As I understand it, the right is clamoring that Canada needs to support its traditional allies, even in a token way (apparently 2.4% of coalition airstrikes are carried out by our CF-18s). Conservatives, et al, are also asking the very legitimate question of what the government’s policy on ISIS is. Right now, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of Defence, is doing a very glib job of airbrushing the lack of policy/direction on the subject matter at hand:

“There will be changes, there will definitely be enhancements in a substantial way. Some things will be noticeable to Canadians, and some things won’t be unless you’ve been in that environment.” (from CKNW AM980)

This statement reminds me a bit of the same kind of rhetoric presented by the weatherman: “It might rain tomorrow, it might be sunny. There many be periods of precipitation, interspaced with clear breaks. Look out for showers in the afternoon, and patches of sun.”

And of course, unless we’re privy to military matters, we won’t even know there has been anything done at all: “Some things will be noticeable to Canadians, and some things won’t be unless you’ve been in that environment.” (emphasis mine).

Such statements are evocative of the lovely ambiguity that has been dogging the Liberals on this issue. Additionally, let’s not forget that those Hornets are still actively participating in coalition air strikes (which in turn, does not support the opposition’s suggestion that Canada was snubbed for withdrawing air support…how can we be snubbed for not doing something that we’re still actually doing?), as per the previous government’s mandate, and will continue to do so at least until March. After all, nobody likes a premature pullout.

Conversely, supporters argue that policy shifts should be reasonable and measured, and not taken as knee-jerk reactions to the public whim (given that a majority of Canadians purportedly support continued airstrikes against the Islamic State). I strongly believe in measured and well-thought out responses to issues du jour, and do see validity in this line of reasoning for the silence from the government.

However, just from an optics perspective, the longer the public has to wait to hear on what Prime Minister Trudeau’s line will be on Canadian participation in the fight against the Islamic State, the louder the voices of antagonism from the right, that keep chirping for more direct military participation. And the public at this point, I think, is really just wanting to know what action Canada will take. I don’t think that people necessarily care whether airstrikes or training of opposition forces should take place, just that something by way of military support of coalition efforts takes place.

I’ll also add here that the Prime Minister is in a bit of a damned-if-he-does-and-damned-if-he-doesn’t position: if he keeps his word and discontinues air support, the right will have a field day stating that Canada is letting it’s coalition partners down. If Prime Minister Trudeau does continue air support, the right will have a field day stating that he’s not doing enough (though he would likely continue along former Prime Minister Harper’s direction in continuing to deploy the six CF-18s in the Middle East) and that he broke his word to the electorate.

Given that the Prime Minister has delivered on many of his campaign promises (on a quick note, when do we hear about Veterans?), I do believe that he will withdraw the CF-18s as his word is important to him. And given the canniness of the Minister of Defence, due to his significant service and vast experience in the Canadian Armed Forces, I think that a good compromise of training opposition forces and providing additional support to coalition partners (such as mid-air fueling of coalition fighter jets) will balance out to save face both at home and abroad.

Between a rock and a hard place, but sometimes that’s a good foundation to build a solid policy.

Better in Refugees than in Soccer: Canada vs. Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the refugee crisisIn listening to all the furor over the NYE attacks in Cologne, I’ve come to realize that Canada’s cautious approach to taking in refugees is warranted. Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, took the bold step back in 2015 of presenting a carte blanche (read: open door) entry to almost all refugees, in order to try to mitigate some of the  refugee and migrant chaos that Europe was experiencing that summer.

Honestly, I’m not sure how the screening for entry into Germany is happening. I know that refugees entering Europe from any geographic/national point are able to apply for entry into Germany, contrary to the EU regulations that would rather have refugees be accepted in whichever country they first appear. Apart from being rubber stamped at the various fringe countries, I have a feeling very little security checks are actually being held of those wishing to seek asylum in Germany.

By Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist, The Hamilton Spectator - Wednesday November 25, 2015 10,000 Syrian refugees to be resettled by yearÕs end, 15,000 more by February The Liberal government will not meet its Dec. 31 deadline to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees and now says it aims to complete the program by February. The new target is to bring 10,000 people to Canada by year's end and the remainder in the first two months of 2016. The group will be a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees, all of whom will be identified by the end of next month. The Canadian government is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as the Turkish government to find suitable candidates. Priority for government refugees will be given to complete families, women at risk, members of sexual minorities and single men only if they are identified as gay, bisexual or transgender or are travelling as part of a family. Private sponsors have no restrictions on whom they can bring over and the majority of refugees expected to arrive by the end of the year will be coming via private groups. All health and security screening will take place overseas and once that's complete, refugees will be flown to Toronto and Montreal, largely on chartered aircraft. From there, they will be spread across 36 different destination cities which already have resettlement programs in place. Temporary accommodation will be provided by the military if required, but the government aims to have lodging in place in the host cities and towns. The federal government cost for the program is an estimated $678 million over the next six years but doesn't include additional funding that could be necessary for provinces and territories. More than 500 officials have been assigned to work on the massive resettlement program, one of the largest of its kind in the world as it relates to the Syrian refugee crisis. (Source: Hamilton Spectator) Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to fulfill a campaign promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees (note, only Syrians are included in this number, as opposed to Germany who is accepting refugees from any war-torn country, again, as I understand the situation). The first 10,000, brought in by the 2015 year end, were refugees who had already been sponsored from within Canada by either private citizens or private organizations, such as churches, and whom had already been on the Government of Canada’s radar for the past few years as Citizenship and Immigration Canada conducted its normal security checks.

I’ve had some discussions with individuals who claim that this initial 10,000 shouldn’t count towards Prime Minister Trudeau’s 25,000 count as the 10,000 had already been approved under the auspices of the previous government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I feel that’s just politicking numbers – at the end of the day, whomever is being admitted into Canada is being admitted by the Government of Canada, regardless of who is Prime Minister or which party is at the helm of the country.

What is important is that the Government of Canada remains committed to conducting thorough security clearance checks on each individual who is applying to become a citizen of Canada. All refugees accepted to Canada have gone through these checks. Some pundits have scoffed at Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to 25,000 refugees, which really is a drop in the bucket in comparison to Germany’s acceptance of over 1 million refugees in 2015, but that is a manageable number, especially in light of the Cologne attacks.

I wonder if Cologne would have looked different on New Year’s Eve, if the refugees accepted into Germany, carte blanche, had to submit applications, had actually been screened, and had trickled into Germany, rather than flooding into Germany through Chancellor Merkel’s kindness and courage in throwing the doors of Germany wide open to over a million refugees? I do understand that Canada is in a different place, quite literally, than Germany, as we don’t have a war (or wars) on the doorstep of our continent, so that we can take an arm’s length approach to refugees. However, the clash of cultures that occurred that evening of December 31, 2015, perhaps may have been mitigated through a more conservative approach to the refugees.

One might argue that Europe does not have the luxury of being able to deal with a conservative approach to accepting refugees, as Canada is doing. We selected handpicked refugees, and are handpicking refugees out of the camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, rather than having to deal with desperate people who have trekked thousands of kilometers in order to find stability and peace. Certainly, most of the refugees whom Germany will have accepted are also not misogynistic bigots who think it their right to grope and rob women in public (and worse); as Deborah Orr, of the Guardian notes:

…it’s silly to pretend that the word “refugee” is synonymous with the word “saint” anyway.

Only a simpleton – or, more commonly, person driven by instinct and emotion – thinks you can counter the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are bad” with the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are good”.

Point taken. Refugees are a slice of a population, and every slice of a population will have its devils and its saints, and everything in between. And yet, the method encouraging people to go through the proper refugee application process certainly seems to have its merits.

I understand that Chancellor Merkel is doing her best to save German face and to instill tougher rules on criminals who are also refugees, and to instill some bureaucratic brakes on the 2015 ‘open door’ policy, so that the influx of refugees slows down in 2016. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we keep being reactionary to incidents with these refugees, whether it is the drowning of a refugee toddler, the Paris attacks, or this latest clash of cultures.

The root(s): the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya; the tensions between Sunnis and Shias as played out through Saudi Arabia and Iran; and of course, the spread of the Islamic State through various regions around the globe. That’s what stable countries like Germany and Canada need to focus on, how to resolve these conflicts in order to mitigate the refugee crisis.

Until these various crises are somewhat ameliorated, we will keep having refugees, and keep reacting to refugee issues: it’s time to stop taking a tactical lens to what is a strategic issue.

Punchline of a Bad Joke: Then Shia turns to him and says, “So Sunni”

Sunni versus Shia cartoonRemember the one about the rabbi and priest walking down a street? Well, those days are over. Move over Judaism versus Christianity, we’re getting into Shia (Shiite) versus Sunni territory now. The unfortunate thing is that the jokes haven’t been crafted yet, only the sad punchlines.

Courtesy of International Business TimesThe latest, Saudi Arabia’s (Sunni) execution of a Saudi Shia cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, on January 3, has lead to the condemnation of the execution by Iran (Shia), the subsequent storming and pillaging of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and the retaliatory suspension of diplomatic relations with Iran, by the Saudis.

Yemen Sunni Saudi versus Iran Shia proxy conflictThis ungraceful dance is being played out in various Islamic national theatres: Syria, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of course, how could I forget, in Saudi Arabia. It’s the Coke versus Pepsi rivalry with very serious human consequences.

All the prophesying pundits have cast the bones and come up with various predictions for 2016. Not one includes some sort of resolution, let alone peace, in the Mediterranean theatre. And let’s not fool ourselves any longer: it’s no longer a Middle Eastern regional issue but something that is, albeit, an unpleasant and unpolitically-correct truth to swallow, a religious issue.

I know, I know, most Muslims are not supportive of quashing down their brethren who might view Islam through a different lens, and I know that most targets of all these various violent actions are Muslims themselves. The fact that Muslims are targeting Muslims, whether through rhetoric or through a loaded gun, shows that we really have to start using a religious-cultural lens through which to view what’s happening around the Mediterranean basin.

Back to the Saudis and the Iranians. Given that so many of the issues of 2015 – the migrant/refugee crisis, increasing jihadism, the virulent rise of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Turkey versus Russia leg cocking, terrorist attacks in various countries around the world etc… – stem from the Syrian conflict, perhaps it’s time we not worry about getting the Syrian government and rebel groups to the negotiating table, but start higher up the pecking order, and work on getting the Iranians and Saudis to the table. Perhaps then some sort of resolution might trickle top down.

In the meantime, I’m going to start working on jokes.