Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), our briefing on the deployment of Canadian Armed Forces personnel in Iraq will begin.
I want to introduce our witnesses who are at the table.
We have with us today, Peter Boehm, who is the associate deputy minister of Foreign Affairs. Welcome, sir, we're glad to have you here.
Sitting next to him, we have Ambassador Andrew Bennett, who is the ambassador of the office for religious freedom. Welcome, sir.
We also have Minister Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
We have Minister Nicholson, the Minister of Defence.
We also have Thomas Lawson, who is the Chief of the Defence Staff.
We are going to start with the opening statements. We will start with Mr. Nicholson. Then we'll move to Mr. Baird and finish up with Mr. Bennett. Then we'll go around the room over the next two hours to ask questions to fill in some of the blanks based on the testimony.
Minister Nicholson, I'm going to turn the floor over to you now. The floor is yours, sir.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chair, honourable members, I want to thank you for the invitation to appear before your committee today.
I also want to thank you all for taking time out of your schedules to come back from your ridings in order to be here in Ottawa to discuss this very important issue.
As everyone around the table unfortunately knows, the world has borne witness to unspeakable barbarism in northern Iraq in recent months at the hands of an Islamist terrorist entity known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as the ISIL.
Stories have emerged of horrific beheadings. We have heard reports of mass graves and children being buried alive. We have also heard that Yazidi women are being kidnapped and sold into slavery by ISIL fighters. Those who refuse to convert to Islam are killed. So let us not mince words. This terrorist organization is not only committing barbaric murders through the systemic killing of religious minorities, but represents a real and growing threat to civilization itself. This is unacceptable to Canadians and to this government.
It is incumbent upon all nations who believe in democracy, religious freedom, freedom of expression, and the rule of law to confront those who would threaten the innocent.
This is why our government has decided to take action. I am happy to be here to provide you with details on the role the Canadian Armed Forces will play.
Following my remark,s the Minister of Foreign Affairs will be addressing the committee on the current situation in Iraq and his first-hand experience on the ground.
As you know, last Friday in Wales, at the NATO summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a statement regarding the Government of Canada's response to the situation in Iraq. Prime Minister Harper announced a deployment of several dozen members of the Canadian Armed Forces to Iraq, a deployment that will begin shortly upon final discussion with the Government of Iraq. The Canadian Armed Forces members in question will provide strategic and tactical advice to Iraqi forces with the goal of increasing their effectiveness in operations against the extremist group.
Let me be clear. These forces will be present in an advisory and assistance role, not a combat role.
Mr. Chair, this deployment is in support of Iraqi security forces because any long-term solution to Iraq's stability is first and foremost an Iraqi responsibility. The initial deployment of our troops will be for a period of up to 30 days and it will be reassessed after that time. I'm happy to say that although Canada's contributions are important, we are not alone in offering assistance to the Government of Iraq. In fact, the Canadian Armed Forces will work closely with their U.S. counterparts in this mission and will be joining our allies in providing critical advice to the forces in Iraq as they continue to repel the terrorist advance.
Mr. Chair, I would also like to remind the committee that the Government of Canada has also previously taken steps to assist the people of Iraq. On August 15 the Prime Minister announced that Canada would begin delivering critical military supplies to Iraqi security forces in order to assist them in their fight against ISIL. A CC-130J Hercules transport aircraft and one CC-177 Globemaster 3 Strategic Airlifter were committed to transport military supplies donated by our allies. Based in staging locations in the Mediterranean, approximately 75 Canadian Armed Forces personnel have been deployed for this work. This includes air crew, ground crew, and logistical support personnel.
I can confirm that 11 flights by the Royal Canadian Air Force have taken place delivering almost 500,000 pounds of military supplies from our allies. These supplies are enabling Iraqi security forces to halt the advance of ISIL while preventing further attacks against defenceless populations. Recently the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that Canada will contribute $15 million in non-lethal security assistance to support Iraqi security forces and to limit the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria.
Mr. Chairman, the Government of Canada is taking these steps because this terrorist organization has created a grave security and humanitarian crisis in Iraq. This terrorist group is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. It is clear that the further encroachment of ISIL threatens the territorial integrity of Iraq and poses a very real threat to regional and global security. There is real concern that this radical militant group is likely to harbour terrorists that may threaten Canada and our allies. Canadians are reading reports of these atrocities and they are concerned. This is why, in coordination with our allies and the Government of Iraq, Canada has taken these deliberate steps to help bolster the Iraqi security forces as they counter ISIL's militant activities and expansionist agenda.
Mr. Chair, this deployment is a tangible example of our determination to contain this terrorist group while helping to mitigate the ongoing humanitarian crisis. This is not a combat mission. This mission is not without risk. As always, and General Lawson will attest to this, our men and women in uniform are ready to answer the call. I think I speak for all of us around this table and all Canadians in thanking them for always being prepared to defend Canadian values and interests in this increasingly dangerous world.
Again, honourable members, thank you for taking the time to convene and discuss this issue.
It's my hope that, given the direness of the situation, we can come together and support these efforts to save lives and push back this threat to global security.
Both the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Tom Lawson, and I will be available afterwards for questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and colleagues.
Just a few short days ago I got back from Iraq where I was joined by two of our colleagues here today, Paul Dewar and Marc Garneau. We went to demonstrate Canada's solidarity with the people of Iraq in this incredibly challenging time, to see the situation for ourselves, to urge Iraqi leaders to come together in a united and pluralistic government, and to learn about what more needs to be done.
I have to tell you that it was an emotional trip at times. It was just absolutely horrifying to see the literally hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to flee their homes, and to listen to the stories about what they are fleeing from.
I think I can speak not just for this government and this Parliament but for this country when I say that we are determined that Canada will do its part in dealing with this crisis, on both a security, and just as important, a humanitarian level.
I'd like to take a few minutes to reflect on the rise of ISIL, the nature of the challenge that it has created, and some of the steps that need to be taken in tackling this challenge. After that I'd of course be keen to take any questions, ideas, suggestions, or comments you may have.
When confronted by the Arab Spring—now nearly a deep winter—Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite Shia, embarked upon a bloody campaign against his own people. Regional Sunni jihadists found their clarion call. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forebear of ISIL, grew increasingly sophisticated as they effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria.
At the same time, Sunni tribes and leaders in Iraq grew increasingly disenchanted by the overly sectarian government in Baghdad. ISIL and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the so-called Islamic State, filled that void.
As we've all watched in shock at the speed of their advance and the brutality they have employed, they have captured Mosul and other cities, and have taken over key infrastructure, including dams, oil fields, and military facilities. In doing so, they have executed hundreds of Iraqi troops. They have ruthlessly targeted anyone they don't agree with, and there are growing reports of them using rape as a weapon of war, a horrible phenomenon against which Canada has been campaigning with the United Kingdom and others.
We know about some of these actions because they themselves document them to fan the flames of terror in the hearts of those they seek to rule. They don't hide their brutality; they in fact promote it. They film it; they tweet it, and they bask in the reaction that it causes. The despicable beheading of two international journalists in particular has raised the profile of the terrible threat they pose. But let's not forget the thousands who have been victims of the same treatment. Those who happen to believe in God in a different way have tragically taken the brunt of their wrath.
Our government has consistently spoken out on matters with respect to religious freedom, and I'm glad that Canada's ambassador for religious freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, has joined us to brief us on that aspect.
The reality is that ISIL intends to eliminate the very notion of religious freedom through bloodshed and through fear. Repugnant reports continue to stream in of Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen Shiites, and others, including women and children, being ordered to convert to ISIL's barbaric interpretation of Islam or face death.
I remember talking to a Christian family at an IDP camp last week. Their neighbours had informed on them to ISIL and within five minutes they had to escape for their lives. This is one of just so many stories of the scale of human tragedy. Really, it's hard to comprehend, just as it is frankly hard to stomach.
What we are facing here is one of the most barbaric terrorist groups the world has ever seen. This is not someone else's problem. We are talking about a group of people who want to impose their barbarism everywhere from southern Spain through to India.
Their world view is a direct challenge to the values of western civilization, and it is a threat to international security and stability. It is obviously in all of our interests not to allow them to have a foothold from which they can launch attacks abroad. This battle against terrorism is one of the great struggles of our generation.
What we are facing here is one of the most barbaric terrorist groups the world has ever seen. It is not somebody else's problem. It is not a problem that will remain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. It's obviously in all of our interests to not allow them to have a foothold from which they can launch attacks abroad. The battle against terrorism I believe is the great struggle of our generation. We don't know how long the struggle will take or exactly how it will unfold, but there are actions that can be taken now to stem the flow of the threat, both by Iraqis, and just as importantly, by the international community.
There are three key areas for action. We need a firm and focused response from Iraqi authorities. We need to assist those who are on the front lines of this fight. We need to continue to help those who are its victims.
First is a strong and united government. Like the fingers of a hand coming together into a tight fist, the stability and security of Iraq depend on its government presenting a united front against terrorist threats. This was a key focus of our meetings with leaders in Baghdad last week, so I was very pleased to see yesterday that the Iraqi Parliament has approved a new government and cabinet under the leadership of a new prime minister.
The unified leadership must put aside ethnic and religious divides and work together to meet the needs of all Iraqis, whatever their creed or colour. As I made clear to the government last week, Canada has committed to work with them as they seek to do this. It is tremendously important that this government have not just an inclusive cabinet, but an inclusive program that reaches out to Kurds, to Sunnis, and to other minorities.
Minister Nicholson has covered what we're doing so far on the security front. The humanitarian challenge is just as daunting.
The violence has displaced some 850,000 people over the last two months alone. That adds up to a staggering 1.4 million since the beginning of just this year. In response to this, Canada is providing additional humanitarian support that will directly help to alleviate their hardship. Practical aid is being provided: food, hygiene kits, cooking materials, blankets, tents, medicines, and other important supplies.
Much of our security and humanitarian assistance is focused on the Kurdish region, which we visited as part of our trip last week. Ambassador Saccomani has also been spending time there, and I'd like to pay special tribute to his hard work. ISIL has been testing the peshmerga while the KRG leadership also works to provide humanitarian relief. Also, our international allies have assessed that Kurdistan is where Canadian military help is needed. Canada stands with the Kurdish peshmerga soldiers who are bravely fighting these terrorists and holding back their advance in the north.
As I conclude, I ask that as we consider whether or how to act we also consider what happens if we don't act. What happens if Canada does not do everything in its power to stop this barbarism? Will we be willing to look ourselves in the mirror in 10 years and ask if we have done enough? In a situation like this, there are no easy options, quick fixes, and win-wins. It might seem easy to ignore as we go about our comfortable lives here in Canada. It might seem convenient to brush off options as leading to mission creep in the future, but the hard reality is that inaction is not an option.
The reality is that inaction is not an option. We must fight terrorism from a position of strength and unity. We also have to stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people during this incredibly difficult time.
That's all I wanted to say. I now look forward to hearing from Ambassador Bennett, who will deliver a few words.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, vice-chairs, and distinguished members of the committee.
I am honoured to have been invited to speak on the dire and truly grave situation faced by Iraq and its people.
I thank the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development for convening this meeting.
Since January and exponentially since June, the Iraqis have witnessed the newest and deadliest wave of hatred in the world against religious communities. By now, we are all familiar with the suffering and violence faced by millions of Iraqis at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
We have witnessed thousands of families forced from their homes and into refugee camps for standing in the way of ISIL's purported Islamic caliphate. We have heard how hundreds of Yazidi women have now been abducted, converted to Islam, and married to ISIL militants against their will. We have watched the massive expulsion of nearly 200,000 Iraqi Christians from places like Mosul and the surrounding area, places in which their churches have been a continuing presence for nearly 2,000 years.
These images show us a reality we cannot ignore.
Since the creation of the Office of Religious Freedom, in February 2013, I have monitored the trend of increasing social hostilities directed towards many different religious communities in Iraq and the surrounding area.
In all my outreach to the various Iraqi and Syrian religious communities—including members of the Syriac and Chaldean Catholic Churches, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Canadian Yazidi community—every one of them shared the same anguish and the same fears about ISIL and its ideology, which drives its followers to perpetuate acts of such inhumane barbarism.
Minister Baird and I, as well as , have vehemently spoken out against the violence perpetrated by ISIL against the Yazidis, Iraqi Christians from all the distinctive ecclesial traditions, Shiite Muslims, and others. I should also add that Sunni Muslims who do not agree with ISIL face active barbarism on a regular basis. On these occasions, Canada has repeatedly confirmed its leading role in protecting and advocating on behalf of all religious communities under threat, regardless of their faith, ethnicity, or country of origin.
As the Ambassador for Religious Freedom, I have also made it a priority to raise awareness among Canadians on these atrocities that target our fellow human beings based on the faith they profess. In seeking to raise awareness amongst our fellow Canadians, I have further emphasized how democracy cannot find fertile ground where freedom of religion—including the freedom to worship in peace and security—is not respected.
I will continue to advocate strongly with our allies in this cause, and with the support of my colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, for greater championing of religious freedom in Iraq and in the region, for increased religious dialogue, which is essential for pluralism to thrive in Iraq and the broader region, and for guaranteeing the safety and dignity of religious communities in Iraq. We hope to be aided in this effort by the newly created contact group on religious freedom, an initiative spearheaded by my office to develop, among like-minded partners on the issue of religious freedom, common approaches and joint activities to promote and defend religious freedom around the world. In the past month I have performed extensive outreach with Iraqi and Syrian religious communities, including members of the Chaldeo Syriac Assyrian churches, the Yazidi community, the Jewish community including the World Jewish Congress, and Muslim communities, as well as many other churches and Christian denominations, to identify how best to help and support these gravely threatened communities. This has included a focused discussion with a number of faith-based aid organizations such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need.
Tomorrow, as part of the discussions in Toronto with the Ismaili Imamats and the Aga Khan Development Network, I will seek their perspective on how Muslims might be more directly engaged in taking action, in whatever way, to defend the religious freedom of religious minorities in the Middle East.
The office of religious freedom, through its religious freedom fund, is currently assessing a number of projects in Iraq to increase interfaith dialogue and lay the foundation for a safe and respectful environment for religious minorities in Iraq.
In the next two to three months, the office will continue to work closely with partner organizations to identify initiatives to improve interfaith relations and dialogue in Iraq in the medium and long term, and further contribute to the development of a country where every individual has the opportunities and resources to continue to practice their faith freely and without fear.
The religious freedom programming is an integral component of Canada's broader long-term strategy to address the situation in Iraq and assist the victims of ISIL. It will be designed to complement Canada's assistance effort in Iraq, including humanitarian aid, and will contribute to the development of a stable Iraq where religious freedom is fully endorsed, as only a unified, pluralistic, and representative government can overcome the current crisis.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I very much look forward to the committee's questions.
Thank you, gentlemen, for your presentations this morning.
All Canadians are of course extremely concerned about the extreme violations of international humanitarian law, crimes against humanity, and war crimes that have been committed. We're also obviously very concerned about the hundreds and thousands, as Minister Baird mentioned, of displaced persons within Iraq who have left with, in many cases, nothing but the clothes on their back. My colleagues will deal with some of that, but I want to deal with the military aspect of it and the response announced by the . We do need some clarity here, because we've heard numbers such as a few dozen, which you mentioned here today, but we've also heard a hundred, which is a little more than that. You talked about 75 Canadian forces being involved in the airlift, but the announcement on August 15 was about 30.
We'd like to have a little bit of clarity, so I have four simple questions.
First of all, Mr. Nicholson, how many Canadian Forces troops are being deployed to Iraq? Are they special operations forces? Where specifically will they be? What language capability does the Canadian Armed Forces have to operate in the role you mentioned, the advisory role in amongst the Kurds in Iraq? I understand that is where we'll be helping.
I have those four questions first, and if you could keep the answers short, it would be great, because I have a few other questions as well.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I thank each of you for being here this morning. This is a very serious discussion that Canadians need to hear.
Minister Baird, I'd like to address my questions to you regarding the humanitarian situation that you saw when you were in Iraq last week.
Each of you has referenced the enormous humanitarian crisis that is developing, and each of you talked about the victims you have seen. Canada has been engaged over the long haul on this. In fact, since the beginning of 2014, we have spent more than $28 million on development assistance, humanitarian assistance, in Iraq. We have, since 2009, resettled more than 18,000 refugees from Iraq. We've committed to another 5,000 coming out of Turkey, most of them Iraqis. We have been engaged in this situation for a long time.
Mr. Minister, could you talk about how important it is that Canada participate? While you were there, what did you observe in regard to the humanitarian assistance we are providing?
I'm sure that Mr. Garneau and Mr. Dewar will speak to this as well.
Obviously, our first priority is to stop this crisis from growing and getting worse. That means containing ISIS from expanding. We have provided very substantial support already.
The issue of supporting refugees has been important. Minister Kenny and now Minister Alexander have done a lot of work on that. We've done a lot and we'll do more.
We announced $15 million in security assistance and $7 million in further humanitarian aid while we were there. I look at Mr. Dewar and Mr. Garneau. That's clearly positive and will have a very positive contribution, but more will be needed. There is no doubt about that.
I think we have to do two things. One is to help ensure that we support the agencies on the ground. My views on some aspects of the United Nations not living up to their original high purpose.... I have been very complimentary of the work that Valerie Amos' humanitarian group does and that the World Food Programme does with Ertharin Cousin. We saw first-hand the good work that the UN is doing on the ground. They need more help and support. That is obviously a message I'm going to be bringing back to the government.
There are many families who don't want to leave Iraq. They obviously are horrified of the prospect of returning to Mosul; I mean, if your neighbour ratted you out to an international terrorist organization for being a Christian, it's hard to perceive how you would ever feel comfortable returning to that. Some may want to come to Canada or leave Iraq; others would be very keen to be resettled within the Kurdistan Regional Government territory. That as well is something that we learned. Also, we'll look at what other measures we can do.
Notwithstanding our generosity in trying to support religious minorities fleeing persecution and death, Canada has faced some criticism about supporting the de-Christianization of the Middle East, and particularly Iraq. Obviously we want to support a pluralistic Iraq. Pluralism is one of the great things that we've established in this country. If that's not possible in all parts of Iraq in the short term, it certainly is very possible in the KRG territory. That is something we'll look at. We obviously are concerned about a number of areas. I know that Mr. Dewar and Mr. Garneau have ideas they'd like to share in regard to what they learned as well, and we're certainly prepared to listen to them.
Thank you to our guests.
I want to start with Minister Baird. I saw what you saw and heard what you heard. I think it's very clear that the priority for our government is to help those who are suffering, those who had to flee, as you mentioned. We talked to those families and we saw on the front lines what was happening.
To that end I want to formally put forward a couple of asks that I would like to get the government to consider.
Obviously—you've already touched on it—there has to be an immediate support for the set-up of refugee camps. The refugees we didn't see were in Duhok where they do not have any shelter at all. As we noted it was 46 degrees. Winter will soon be coming, so that clearly has to be something we support. Just two days ago the UN had an appeal for $315 million so clearly there's an ask there. There's a critical need to build those refugee camps, frankly, yesterday.
Regarding supporting the protection of minorities, if I may, this isn't the first time we've seen the assault on minorities. This is the third wave. I was there in 2007. In 2006 there had been the targeting of Christians, Yazidis, and a group that most people won't know, the Mandaeans, who are John the Baptist followers, etc. Then there was the follow-up to that just after I was there in 2009, when there was another wave. Twenty years ago there were 1.3 million Christians. There were 700,000 in 2009. I have no idea what the numbers are now. We need protection for minorities. What we heard is that many of them don't want to leave the country. In the case of Yazidis, they can't because their belief is that they have to be in this particular region. In the case of the Christians, they want to stay in the country but they can't go back to Mosul for reasons you mentioned. We need protection for minorities, be it housing or new communities being built supporting that.
Supporting the victims of sexual violence is something we have to do. I'm assuming we are going to do it, both the prosecution of the perpetrators and support for the victims. We also have to investigate and prosecute the alleged war crimes. I'm putting that on the table and being public about it.
Minister Baird, one of the questions I have relates to the defence piece. When we were on the ground—and I appreciate the invitation from the government, I really do; it was important—we had no indication that we would be asked to send troops. For the record, I want to hear from you: were you aware of that ask when we were on the ground, not after there was an announcement, but was that something you were aware of? I say that because in all of the meetings we had with the President of Iraq and President Barzani of the Kurdish regional government, they didn't ask for boots on the ground. For the record, were you aware of the ask? Will you agree with me that we weren't asked by people on the ground in the meetings we had to send troops?
I think it's a very important issue that you raise, Mr. Goldring.
I think we need to be very clear that Islam does not condone terrorism. What we see in ISIL is a gross warping, distortion, twisting of a perceived understanding of Islam that is not Islam. I think that's been very clear and I think the majority of countries in the region have stated that.
Certainly the Saudis have condemned ISIL. The grand mufti a number of weeks back speaking from Riyadh condemned the activities of ISIL, saying that it was not Islamic. We have had tremendous support from the Jordanians who have been very active in the area of religious freedom. They categorically condemned ISIL.
I think there is a recognition that ISIL is not simply targets, although the majority of the people they are targeting are religious minorities such as Christians, Yazidis, Mandaeans, and Shia Muslims. They will not stop there. They go after Sunnis that disagree with them. I think the countries in the region realize that if this is not stopped, if this violence they are perpetrating is not halted, they will not stop simply at the borders of Syria and Iraq; they will go after Sunnis that reject their distorted and warped understanding of Islam.
To the point of a central authority, I think it's important to note that with the exception of some strains of Islam, such as the Shia Ismaili Muslims, there is no central leadership. In Sunni Islam it is a fairly diffuse system of leadership through imams and senior imams, grand muftis in different states. I have not had any contact with a particular central authority since there really is not one as we might understand it in the context of Christianity with bishops, or patriarchs, and so forth. However, I have reached out to a number of different Islamic communities represented here in Canada.
I had a wonderful meeting this past Friday with Imam Hamid Slimi, a Sunni Muslim leader in Toronto. I've engaged Shia Muslim leaders both in Toronto and Montreal, all of whom have roundly condemned ISIL's actions and have condemned not simply ISIL's approach and distortion of Islam, but they've condemned explicitly their persecution of Christians. They've condemned explicitly their persecution of the Yazidis. I have full confidence in the outreach that I've done to the Islamic community here in Canada that they are very aware of the grave threat that ISIL poses.
I would also like to thank these gentlemen for their presentations.
Today's topic of discussion is complex. We will be involved in a critical and complicated situation for 30 days. I would like to focus on a specific aspect.
I assume some sort of a plan has been developed to take into account the situation's humanitarian aspect.
Mr. Baird, your visit last week showed us a large-scale population displacement. Your colleague referred to that population as “defenceless”. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been internally displaced, and very concrete measures need to be implemented to address that situation.
Has a plan been developed as part of our mission to help that defenceless population? What measures have been implemented to deal with that aspect of the situation in Iraq, which is unfortunately ongoing? Do you feel that the current humanitarian aid provided is sufficient?
The cost of the military deployment referred to today has not really been discussed. Besides the amounts that have already been announced, have the additional costs in humanitarian aid required by the current situation been assessed?
Thank you for your question.
Of course, many people are defenceless. Our first order of business is to help the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces defend those minorities and stop ISIL's advance. We do not want the humanitarian issue to get worse. Atrocities and barbaric practices abound, but I hope that Canada's assistance to the KRG and Iraqi forces will lead to change.
You asked whether the current level of assistance was sufficient. It is decidedly not. We were on the ground, and we saw how much aid was provided. We have made many announcements over the past few years. This year, we have already announced $28 million in assistance. This announcement was made by Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie. I announced $7 million in additional aid last week.
The United Nations also requested additional assistance. We are currently looking into what could be done. I will speak with my colleague, the Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie to see how much we could add. I saw the extent of the needs during my visit. Your colleague, our colleague, requested four additional elements. We are ready to look into what we can do. It is very important for Canada to do that, but we also want to encourage other countries to join in our efforts, as we could do so much more that way.
If this is insufficient, we will continue to provide assistance on behalf of the Canadian population.
Mr. Anderson, I think some of the evidence I've seen of the persecution is pretty graphic. I think many of us have seen some images not simply on the web; in meetings I've had with different Christian groups, the Yazidi community, they've provided indirect eyewitness accounts from their families who are present on the ground. Obviously the situation around Mount Sinjar was quite acute. It was very focused. The same was the case around Mosul, and in Qaraqosh, just outside of Mosul, where the Christians were driven out by ISIL. For the first time in 2,000 years there are no Christians present there.
I think the targeted persecution of both the Christians and the Yazidis and Mandaeans takes on a variety of different forms. As Mr. Dewar pointed out, the Yazidis and the Mandaeans feel very anchored to a particular territory because it's incorporated in their faith. Christians feel the ability to move and to leave. I want to flag again the importance of not only helping those Christians and other religious minorities who feel they need to leave the region to do so through the resettlement program that we already have in place, but also of ensuring, and I think this is largely part of the focus of our work in the office of religious freedom, that those Christians and other communities that want to remain in the region are able to do so. Again, I think that plays to Mr. Dewar's point on the need to protect those communities.
When you speak to the religious leaders, to the various bishops and other leaders I have spoken to, they want people to stay, but they also realize that some may need to leave. It's a very difficult situation, and you can tell that they're very anguished about it. Although there are mass atrocities happening across political and religious communities, the response of those communities varies somewhat based on their own assessment of their need to remain in place.
I think part of our work that we would like to undertake in the coming months or over the medium and long terms would be to support in particular those Christians who have fled to countries of migration, such as Jordan and Lebanon, so that they might have the requisite places they need to help them maintain their identity and hopefully remain in the region.
Regarding a question I wanted to get to before—actually it's just a statement—I hope the government reconsiders our taking in Syrian refugees. We've been asked by UNHCR to take 10,500 refugees for the next two years, because doing so would alleviate things. It wouldn't deal with the whole refugee crisis, but we know that in the north of Kurdistan and Iraq they took 300,000 Syrian refugees, so they're already dealing with that. It's something I would encourage you to talk to your colleague Mr. Alexander about, Mr. Baird.
We were there on the ground before. One of the things we know is that the peshmerga know how to fight. We don't have to teach them how to fight. They know the ground. Their motto is: the mountains are our only friends. This is not Afghanistan. This is a group of people who know how to command and control. They do need other supplies certainly.
My question for the Minister of National Defence is this: what are we going to teach the peshmerga? I've heard from you what we won't be doing. That's very clear. We won't be doing this and we won't be doing that. What will we actually be doing in light of the fact that we do have a group of people who are able to fight?
Finally, I would note, as the himself said in Wales, that ISIL will not be defeated just by the military. If there is something else you want to add, how else are we going to deal with them?
We have stepped up our engagement with Iraq in a big way over the past two years. We have a permanent presence on the ground in Baghdad with co-locating with the British, which has been helpful because we couldn't obviously afford that early on. Our new ambassador, Ambassador Saccomani, has visited the region, Baghdad, Erbil, Basra, and elsewhere on a regular basis. We've really stepped up our engagement in the last year, which is positive.
We've taken an approach not just on the foreign affairs side of the department, as you pointed out the development side being a priority, but also on the trade side. Obviously people being able to work and provide for themselves and their own families is our long-term vision. There are opportunities for Canadian companies to assist the economic growth of Iraq. That is something important. I think we've stepped up the engagement in a big way which we hadn't a number of years ago.
The capacity in some parts of the country.... Until recent months Erbil and the KRG region was a very safe and secure area. I did notice on our visit to Baghdad it was demonstrably different than it was even 18 months before; we were not required to wear flak jackets and helmets outside of the green zone which I did 18 months ago.
We obviously want to push our interests and values. I think it's in our interests to see a secure humanitarian stable Iraq where people aren't slain.
In terms of our values, it comes back to pluralism. This is a great Canadian experience that I think we can help share with the world. Going back many years, this has been a real centrepiece in Canadian foreign policy. The leadership the Prime Minister has given the Aga Khan in terms of the Centre for Pluralism is important. The Aga Khan is probably the most world-eminent leader of pluralism. The fact that he has a special connection to Canada, the fact that he is Islamic himself, I think is not unhelpful.
The work of the office of religious freedom is inherently about promoting pluralism where you have genuine freedom of religion, not just freedom to believe, but freedom to fully practise and live your religion. So many of the other freedoms take care of themselves. That's got to be the long-term vision that we have to work with our allies on in Iraq. It was horrific to hear stories how Christian families were ratted out to this barbaric terrorist organization by their own neighbours and people in their community where they had lived for millennia. It's absolutely horrific.
We talk about religious minorities, Christians, U.S. journalists. There have been hundreds and thousands of Muslims killed in this conflict by this cult. I think in the medium and long terms, pluralism has to be a big part of the solution. The government in Baghdad has been deficient on that. The establishment of a new government last night we hope holds great promise, but our diplomatic resources will obviously be going to engage, encourage and monitor and assess that. Obviously I'll do that. Others will do that. It is tremendously important.
Again, you asked where would they be located and I indicated to you that they would be in northern Iraq. As I've indicated on a couple of occasions, they are there for technical assistance and advice.
Again, I said there would be a few dozen Canadian Armed Forces that will be on the ground. We won't give you the flight numbers or the times or exactly when and where they're going for security reasons. That being said though, as I indicated, they are going to be deployed very quickly. We believe there is an urgency to what's taking place and I think that's obvious to everyone who has viewed this area. Again, that's exactly what we'll do.
With respect to debates in the House of Commons, part of what we're doing in reaching out, calling this meeting for example, was to bring all members together so that they would have an opportunity to discuss either the deployment of the special operations forces or indeed any of the other issues as they relate to this part of the world.
That being said, we certainly welcome debate. One of the great things in our parliamentary system as you know, Mr. Harris, is that on a regular basis opposition parties can debate and call for a vote on any subject that they want. Certainly if you and your party want to have additional speeches and debates on this, you are certainly welcome to do that. I believe the Liberals are moving forward with a motion in that regard. Again, I think we are moving forward and I think this is the right thing to do.
Again, I think you make a very good point. These cannot just be military operations. They have to be a complete effort. It's not enough for a country to say that there should be no military involvement but we want to be involved heavily with aid and distributing it. This is not a place where that is obviously possible.
What we have done, as I indicated to you in my opening remarks, is that we have been of assistance to others in transporting equipment to Iraq. We have done that with allies of ours. Again, this is with full cooperation of our major allies. I've indicated that we've moved approximately 500,000 pounds of equipment into Iraq. It is not Canadian equipment or Canadian supplies; these were on behalf of, in one case, Albania.
Again, this is what we are doing, because one of the things I've said is that these things have to be a coordinated effort. It's not just Canada alone; it's not the United States or Great Britain alone. It's a cooperative effort on everyone's behalf to make sure that we accomplish what we want to accomplish, which is to put an end to this terrorist group and its activities in Iraq.
It's the kind of effort you have seen in the past from Canada. We continually reach out. Again, we don't do it all by ourselves. I think you made a very good point by raising that. We have already used our equipment and the members of our armed forces to help move equipment and supplies into Iraq at this time. The lead group we have there is part of the announcement that the has made in this area, and that will continue, but as I've made very clear, we will watch it very, very carefully.