Thank you, Mr. Chairman, honourable members, for the opportunity to appear before you today.
I'm going to start by giving you an overview of the state of affairs in Iraq and Syria, and then speak to the Government of Canada's activities that aim to oppose ISIL, to help the Iraqi people, and to support the Government of Iraq.
The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is wreaking havoc in the region, inflicting great hardship upon people who have already suffered from civil war and strife. ISIL has organized, mobilized, and advanced on the basis of adherence to a distorted ideology that aims at eliminating so-called non-believers, who are identified as all those refusing to convert to ISIL's perverted version of Islam.
At its heart, this is a conflict based on religious persecution and fuelled by religious hatred, which has led to a humanitarian catastrophe. It represents the ideology of obscurantism; that is, the deliberate preventing of the facts from becoming known. It is opposed to the fundamental freedoms upon which our society is based, to all aspects of tolerance and pluralism, and even to the very idea of the inherency of human dignity.
To counter the extremist rhetoric in the Middle East, including in Iraq and Syria, we must promote an alternative vision to that supported by the Islamic State and other extremist groups. We must provide an alternative to the fear of oppression, discrimination, marginalization and abuse that are often perpetrated by the governments in power, factors that have allowed extremist ideas to spread.
The only possible long-term solution is political inclusion, better governance and respect for religious freedom and human rights. This political solution must come from the Iraqis and Syrians, but Canada is committed to long-term political and diplomatic efforts in support of that goal.
Although promising progress has been made in Iraq, we know that achieving that goal will take time. That is why Canada is supporting the local forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq. Canada also remains ready to contribute to the long-term reconciliation and political reform.
The tragic events that took place in Paris earlier this month, involving extremists linked to transnational terrorist organizations based in the Middle East, clearly demonstrate that our efforts are part of a bigger fight.
While we work with our friends and allies to combat the threat that this ideology poses around the world, we must remain committed to the goal of reversing the military gains of the Islamic State, restoring humanitarian aid, protecting fundamental rights and reaffirming Iraq's authority on territories currently under the control of the Islamic State.
To do so, the U.S. has formed a coalition of over 60 countries supporting military action against the Islamic State. This coalition provides military advisers and equipment.
Within the coalition, Canada belongs to a core group that is participating in a combat role through air strikes against ISIL in Iraq. Canada's allies are taking part in these air strikes also. We count among these allies 10 Middle Eastern countries. The Canadian Armed Forces contribution, through Operation Impact, includes fighter, surveillance, and refuelling aircraft for the air operations against ISIL.
Canada's military has also contributed military advisers and planners to assist Iraqi security forces, as well as airlift support for the delivery of military equipment. You will hear more about this later this week, when Ministers and will speak to this group. ln support of the role that the Canadian Armed Forces are playing, DFATD and several other departments and agencies are making significant contributions to ensure that those on the front lines have the best chance of defeating ISIL.
Let me reaffirm at this time that the humanitarian crisis we're witnessing is as a result of an ongoing conflict between government forces and a number of armed groups, and most notably ISIL's violent campaign of religious persecution of members of religious minorities as well as of Shia Muslims, and Sunni Muslims who reject ISIL's warped view of Islam. Canada's activities seek to support the Iraqi people in combatting the various manifestations of this violence.
Let me begin on the security side. Through its counterterrorism capacity-building program and the global peace and security fund, the department is providing $10 million in non-lethal security assistance to Kurdish security and defence forces. Our support translates into such vital protective equipment as helmets, body armour, and remotely operated explosive detection vehicles, as well as logistics support, including transport vehicles, binoculars, computers, and GPS units.
To further target ISIL and other extremist groups in the region, the counterterrorism capacity-building program is also implementing a $5-million multi-year regional initiative to stem the flow of foreign fighters and counter violent extremism. Project activities will be aimed at increasing local capabilities to identify and intercept foreign fighters in source, transit, and destination countries.
Canadian diplomats and public safety agencies met with partners in the region to provide the best possible assistance. We are ensuring that Canada's investment complements local initiatives and supports the work of like-minded donors.
Canada is also working with regional partners such as the Hedayah Center in the United Arab Emirates to implement projects aimed at countering extremist propaganda. Extremist rhetoric encourages intolerance and the use of violence, especially among marginalized and dissident young people who may well be influenced and mobilized by such propaganda.
If we want to overcome extremism, we must wage an ideological battle, a battle that denounces extremist propaganda for what it is: perverse calls for religious and historical legitimacy devoid of substance and rooted in intolerance and cowardice. At the same time, the international community must become more engaged in helping those segments of the population by finding a solution to the factors that make them so vulnerable to extremism.
As a result, Canada is contributing to the efforts made to address immediate humanitarian needs, to hold human rights abusers accountable and to support the long-term rebuilding, stabilization and development of the communities affected by the conflicts. These efforts can help incite those vulnerable people to want to live in a democratic Iraq where fundamental rights are protected and respected.
Since the beginning of 2014, Canada has provided $67.4 million in humanitarian assistance for displaced Iraqis. Canada has also provided $400 million to support humanitarian interventions in response to the conflict in Syria, including $9.5 million for Syrian refugees in Iraq.
This assistance, provided with the help of experienced humanitarian partners, helps address the urgent needs of millions of civilians in health, shelter, food, education and protection, including from sexual and gender-based violence.
ISIL's brutality has been particularly felt by women and girls. Reports of sexual violence by ISIL are widespread, and it is increasingly clear that this is part of a deliberate campaign of persecution against religious minority groups. Due to the stigma attached to rape, most incidents go unreported. Even when they are reported, families and communities sometimes blame the victim. Sadly, the impacts of sexual violence often endure far beyond the end of conflict.
In response, Canada is taking concerted action to assist the survivors of sexual violence and other related abuses of human rights by ISIL. On October 6, announced $10 million for measures to respond to sexual violence and other abuses against women and girls. These funds will be spent on two key priorities.
First, Canada is concerned with increasing accountability in the documentation to help hold perpetrators of these crimes to account.
Canada has made a contribution of up to $5 million to Justice Rapid Response, an intergovernmental mechanism for rapidly deploying active duty criminal justice and related professionals from a standby roster. Justice Rapid Response will identify and train first responders on the ground and define outreach activities, including engagement with survivors of sexual violence.
Canada has also made another $5 million available to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to help respond to, document, and investigate sexual violence and other related human rights abuses. Canada is focused on preventing, and supporting survivors of, sexual violence and related abuses, and $5 million has been allocated to enhance protection for vulnerable women and children from sexual violence and related human rights abuses.
A DFATD official was on the ground in Iraq this fall to identify initiatives that will help assist survivors of ISIL's crimes of sexual violence. Canada's humanitarian assistance funding is already supporting a number of humanitarian organizations to assist survivors of SGBV through access to psychological support services, medical treatment, awareness sessions, counselling, training, empowerment courses, and clinical care. Displaced people are especially vulnerable to SGBV. That is why Canada is supporting the UN Population Fund, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the ICRC, and Plan Canada to prevent and respond to sexual violence in Iraq. These organizations are setting up women's centres and providing medical treatment as well as psychosocial counselling and legal assistance to survivors.
In Syria, Canada supports the United Nations Population Fund, in order to meet the needs of women and girls, including survivors of sexual abuse. With that support, 2.3 million girls and women will have access to improved sexual and gender-based violence prevention and response mechanisms, including psychosocial support and medical services.
Canada also denounces the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In addition to providing much needed assistance and protection to the refugees in the region, we are leading the way by making sure that the use of sexual violence by the Islamic State, against members of religious minorities in particular, remains a global priority, including for the G7 and the United Nations.
In terms of the global refugee issue, Canada intends to do its part to address the crisis caused by the violence in Iraq and Syria. In addition to providing much needed assistance and protection to the refugees in the region, Canada has accepted 20,000 Iraqi refugees and will accept 3,000 more this year, as well as 5,000 more from Turkey by 2018.
Canada is also committed to settling over 11,000 Syrian refugees under its humanitarian and compassionate program.
In the long term, Canada plans to contribute to stability and development in Iraq. The department is working on setting up a bilateral development program to meet the short-term needs and to support long-term resilience and prosperity in Iraq.
Finally, through Canada's Office of Religious Freedom, we will be working over the medium and long term to promote interfaith dialogue, to encourage understanding and respect between Iraq's religious communities, and to help build a political and social framework that allows all Iraqis to express their faith freely and without fear. To that end, the government has recently announced a new initiative with the Minority Rights Group International, seeking to document human rights violations against vulnerable groups in Iraq. The initiative will focus on religious communities and provide support to human rights defenders working with religious minorities.
Canada's Office of Religious Freedom is also working closely with its partners to identify additional opportunities for collaboration with the religious communities directly affected by the situation in Iraq and Syria.
We are encouraged to see that the new government in Iraq is reaching out to all of Iraq's religious and ethnic communities in order to build a more inclusive country. The marginalization of Iraq's Sunnis was at the basis of ISIL's resurgence in Iraq, so the importance of inclusiveness cannot be overstated.
We're equally pleased to note that Baghdad is taking action to fight corruption within the security forces and government, and to resolve some of its disputes with the Kurdistan regional government.
In closing, let me stress again that Canada deplores ISIL's acts of terrorism against civilian populations, and it is committed to working with partners, including the Iraqi government, to halt these despicable acts and alleviate the suffering of ISIL's victims. All aspects of Canada's multi-faceted approach are important and complementary. Canada is proud to support Iraqis in their efforts to defeat terrorism, and we look forward to working with the Iraqis and our international partners on the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.
Thank you. My colleagues and I would now be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Thank you to our guests today.
I want to start off by acknowledging something that we had asked for after I accompanied , along with my colleague , and the assessment we made. We, as the official opposition, asked for support for those who have suffered from sexual violence, but also for the prosecution of others. I'm glad you mentioned that. It wasn't as welcomed when I mentioned it in the House. I was accused of wanting to just send lawyers to deal with ISIL, but I'm glad to hear the government has taken that on. It's very important to gather evidence, because at some point we want to see justice done. So I want to give credit to the government for that project and the $10 million that was announced.
I also want to just touch on the fact that some of the points you just made were around the importance of humanitarian assistance. I also note that you enumerated the amounts that we are investing or have pledged to invest. I think that's important. Certainly, that was our assessment when we put forward what we wanted to see, not just on protection of victims of sexual violence and documentation, but also on ensuring that those who are suffering because of having to flee are going to be well supported. The World Food Programme, the winterization program, and others are very important. We thought that was where we should be putting the emphasis.
I do note that we haven't been able to get the same transparency from the other department. It would be interesting—if you have information on that—to see how much we're actually spending on the military side. I think that's important not only for transparency but also to understand what's the best investment. If you have the information on how much the military mission is forecast to be, or if you have actual numbers for now, they would be most welcome.
I want to ask you about a couple of pledges that have been made. There's one in particular that I'm very concerned about because of what we saw on the ground. That's the pledge for winterization. This is a 2015 pledge. There was UNICEF, the No Lost Generation, for $8 million; the World Food Programme for $10 million; and $9 million for winterization. I don't have to tell you that the winterization is important because of the winter they're suffering from now.
To my understanding, we haven't been able to get the money transferred in those three areas. The pledge is there. I'm just wondering if you can update us on the UNICEF money for child protection, the World Food Programme, and most importantly, or as important, the $9 million we had pledged for 2015, which hasn't yet been realized.
Could you give us an idea when those pledges will actually be transferred?
Thank you very much for your many questions in your one big question. Perhaps I'll just start by saying that currently there's an estimated 5.2 million people requiring assistance in Iraq itself, of which 1.5 million people are considered out of reach. So they're in the hard to reach areas.
As Mr. Gwozdecky had noted in his opening remarks, Canada has provided over $67.4 million to respond to the humanitarian needs of Iraqis. We are currently the fourth-largest donor to this humanitarian crisis. We are behind Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and the U.K., according to the numbers today.
What we do when we work in such complex situations, as you know, is that we work with trusted and experienced partners. The very serious security situation in many parts of Iraq just underscores the importance of needing to work with these experienced partners. Our partners include UN agencies like the World Food Programme, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as UNICEF for the No Lost Generation initiative; the Red Cross movement, primarily the ICRC—and it is the ICRC who has access in the hard to reach areas—as well as a number of NGOs. When I was in the region in October I was in Dohuk and Erbil and what I did note was that at the time there were not as many partners as one might find in other contexts. Again that's for obvious reasons because of the challenges working particularly in this context.
What we do know is that our partners are getting results and some of the results that our partners are reporting, for instance, are that WFP has been able to feed 1.5 million people. We also know that 1.26 million people are receiving shelter, as well as essential household items. We also know that 500,000 IDP and host-community children are given access to educational opportunities. This is something that is the direct result of the Canadian assistance in combination with the other donors.
Iraq is not a context like Syria where there have been annual pledging conferences hosted by the Kuwaiti government. However, it does continue to have a different type of profile. We are not meeting as donors four times a year in Kuwait to talk about the pledges made, and to basically report on pledges made. It's a different context.
So who are we working with? I've answered that. As for the other donors, I mentioned the four largest donors. However, in Baghdad and in Erbil there is a donor coordination group that comes together. While we do not have a permanent humanitarian officer based in northern Iraq, we do have people travelling there from Amman on a regular basis. I also have my team travelling there perhaps four to six times a year. We're visiting the country on a regular basis.
When I was there we did in fact get together with the NGO community, with the ICRC, and we also visited and met with the UN agencies that are there. The UN has activated the cluster system, so there are regular meetings going on to ensure coordination.
Perhaps on a final point, we do ensure accountability for our humanitarian funding, again, by working with these experienced partners. They have put in place very strong accountability measures and systems to ensure that funds are used in an effective, efficient, and appropriate manner.