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Canada’s Detrimental Policy Towards Syria

It has been a year since I was sitting at Trudeau International Airport in Montreal waiting for the Syrian refugees to arrive. I was hired as a translator (English to Arabic and vice versa) from Nov 2015 to March 2016 to help facilitate the communications between Red Cross personnel and Syrian refugees. I still remember the first moments when I first saw the refugees pouring out of the first chartered aircraft, and the warm feelings that overwhelmed me as I realized that I would have the chance to to help these poor, unfortunate and impoverished people. Although I was really happy at the time, the more I ruminated on Trudeau’s campaign to bring in 25 thousand Syrian refugees, the more I realized how Trudeau’s policy is only directed at the symptoms not the root causes, thus rendering it a failed policy.

The millions of the Syrian refugees that have fled Syria since the outset of the Syrian conflict in 2011 have been mostly driven outside of their country because of the violent clashes between the Syrian rebels and the Syrian government. The rebel groups in Syria are highly decentralized and loosely defined as they belong to many different and sometimes overlapping ideologies, the most prominent of which is political Islam such as ISIS, Al-Nusra Front and Army of Islam.  On the other hand, the Syrian regime has been a prominent actor in being ruthless and inconsiderate when it came to preventing civilian casualties during its attacks on the Syrian rebels. Furthermore, the underlying reason behind the conflict goes beyond a simple political struggle against a dictator but extends to include convoluted religious, socio-economic, and geo-political variables.

In the midst of such a chaotic situation, a wise foreign policy that intends to save Syrian lives would include having the Canadian government taking the side of the Syrian people instead of siding with members of some of these aforementioned Syrian factions – some of them having had committed atrocities too. This strategy would have gone a long way in establishing credibility when trying to broker a peace deal with the Syrian government. The legacy of the former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was rife with bias towards the Syrian rebels and against the Syrian government. A prominent example included in an article in the National Post dated August 31 2013 claimed that “Canada has given more than $5.3-million to the Syrian opposition to set up pirate radio, train bloggers and document war crimes by the Syrian government”. Prime Minister Harper has also chastised the president of Syria many times calling his government illegitimate. The Canadian foreign policy has been ever since congruent with the American one, who is one of the main benefactors of the Syrian rebels. These moves are damaging because they exhibit a rhetoric that will make it difficult in resolving the conflict once the war is over.

Trudeau has unfortunately carried on the same discourse towards the Syrian conflict. In an interview with his defense minister Harjit Sajjan published on CTV news on Nov 22 2015, the minister emphasized that Assad must leave immediately due to the atrocities that his government has committed in Syria. This discourse has not helped mitigating the conflict if not exacerbating it, which reflects the government’s lack of understanding of diplomacy. To top it off, Trudeau’s policy in this regard was more focused on bringing in more refugees to Canada, as opposed to solving the root causes behind the existence of this refugee crisis. The focus on refugees can also be interpreted as opportunistic one, given Canada’s need for immigrants due to its ageing population.

Trudeau was hailed as a hero by the mainstream Canadian media in terms of helping the Syrian people; however, the evidence mentioned before shows that his government has not played an effective role in abating the atrocities taking place in Syria. The federal government’s money that was spent on airlifting the Syrian refugees would’ve been better spent on supporting the reconciliation and reconstruction efforts in Syria, which are direly needed in any civil war. I hope that the Canadian government would change its direction, and focus its resources on solving the root causes of this conflict as opposed to ineffective healing of its symptoms.

-Tareq Shahwan

Photo Flickr:CC- Public Domain

About Yianni_Papadatos

Political Science Major and History Minor at Concordia University. Areas of interest include Economics, US Politics and Political Philosophy. Managing Editor at the Political Bouillon.

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