Canada Kicks Ass

31 Canadians in war: PM
Date: Saturday, March 29 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics


Soldiers on loan to British forces are not in combat roles -- but still in danger. Canadian soldiers are in Iraq alongside British forces who are at risk of facing deadly fire.

"There are Canadian officers that have been deployed into the theatre alongside and with British units," an unnamed British military official told CanWest News Thursday in Doha, Qatar, headquarters for the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

"They are working with British units right now, probably in southern Iraq. They would be in the same danger as our troops, indeed," the official said, adding that the Canadians were part of an exchange program.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Jean Chretien hinted Canadian forces are in Iraq but drew opposition fire for his government's refusal to openly admit it.

"We have Canadian soldiers in the British Army, as well as the Australian Army and they may be in Iraq at this time," Chretien told the Commons during question period Thursday.

The disclosure came a day after U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci bluntly said his country is upset and disappointed that Canada has refused to join the war against Iraq.

On Wednesday, Defence Department officials acknowledged that Canadians are aboard American AWACS planes helping in the war on Iraq. The planes are used for surveillance, command and control in air operations.

It was the first time the government has conceded that any of the 31 Canadians on exchange assignments with coalition forces are involved in the conflict.

Canada also has three warships in the Persian Gulf escorting U.S. ships to Kuwait.

Chretien said the Canadian forces were part of an auxiliary unit and not combatants.

"They have received instructions from their army, to the effect that they could only use their weapons in self-defence,"Chretien said. "They are not fighting. There are 300,000 soldiers, and some Canadians are fulfilling the duties that they were given months ago," Chretien said.

In what could be seen as another move to calm the rhetoric over Iraq, following Thursday's question period in the Commons, the government joined the opposition to vote unanimously to support a motion by Canadian Alliance MP Jason Kenney calling for a special tribunal to indict Saddam Hussein and other top Iraqi officials for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Chretien again rejected opposition claims Thursday that Canada-U.S. relations are at an all-time low over Canada's failure to back the American war effort.

Chretien noted that he told U.S. President George W. Bush last year that Canada would not participate in an Iraq war without United Nations approval.

"I repeated that in August, in September, in November, in December, in January and February, and in March," he told the Commons.

"You cannot be more consistent than that."

Chretien was reacting to fresh criticism in the wake of comments Tuesday by Cellucci that Americans were disappointed with Canada's lack of support and with anti-U.S. slurs by senior Liberals.

Cellucci confirmed Thursday that he spoke with top U.S. officials before making his comments. "I had had conversations with people in the State Department, with (national security adviser Condoleezza) Rice, so they knew," Cellucci said in an interview.

"I knew how people felt down there so I thought it was important that we let the Canadian government know how people were feeling. "

McCALLUM WON'T CONFIRM LOCATION

During question period, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe seized on reports that Canadian soldiers are with British forces in Iraq.

"Faced with this fact," Duceppe said in the Commons, "will the Prime Minister finally admit that Canada is participating in the war without the approval of the United Nations?"

Defence Minister John McCallum refused to confirm the role and location of Canadian troops in region.

"I'm not going to go down this slippery slope," McCallum told reporters outside the Commons. "The more detailed information one gives about the whereabouts of our troops, the more risk there is, and the government is not prepared to take that risk."

Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper said outside the House that it's "contemptible to send people in harm's way, to deny they're there, then not fully support their action.

"If people are going to be there, we should be on side and we should be supporting what they're doing."

Harper said the government position on Iraq has been so fickle that the Americans and British can't help but conclude that it is "unreliable and untrustworthy."

"Canadians are going to pay a price for this prime minister and his party's anti-Americanism," said Harper, warning Americans could begin boycotts of Canadian products.

Earlier this week McCallum issued a press release to inform the public that a Canadian reconnaissance team had left for Kabul, Afghanistan on Mar. 22. to contribute to security efforts in the country.

Reporters pressed him Thursday on why he would not discuss the role of Canadians in the Gulf region, yet issued releases about missions in Afghanistan.

"That's a totally different matter. They're going on a reconnaissance mission to Kabul, that's a totally different matter," said McCallum.

Canada's position in Iraq is subjecting Canadians with family members in the armed forces to anguish, said NDP Leader Jack Layton.

"They have reported that a family member is in a combat situation in southern Iraq," Layton said. "It's completely unacceptable, especially when parliament has said there is under no circumstances to be an engagement in this war."

A senior government official said there has been no indication Bush will cancel or postpone his scheduled visit May 5, though he added it would be a distinct possibility if the war was still on.

In the Senate, meanwhile, leave was granted to correct the official record of proceedings to accurately reflect a statement attributed to Liberal Senator Laurier LaPierre which caused a political storm.

The original record of an exchange Tuesday quoted LaPierre as saying "Screw the Americans" when, in fact, an audio tape revealed that he actually said "So did the Americans."

© Copyright 2003 Edmonton Journal





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