OTTAWA -- While polls may show deep divisions within Canada over the deployment of 2,300 troops to Afghanistan, Canada's four political parties threw their unwavering support behind the Canadian Forces mission during a special debate last night.
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, who opened the discussion, said it is in Canada's national security interest to confront terrorism abroad, citing the attacks in Bali, Indonesia, Madrid and London that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States.
"Our security begins very far from our borders," said O'Connor. "Must we wait for terrorists to appear in Vancouver, Montreal or here in Ottawa?" O'Connor said Canada would join its allies to "defeat the scourge of international terrorism."
The Conservatives received unwavering support from the Liberals, who committed Canadian troops to this mission last year when they were in power. "We carved a line in the rugged hills of Afghanistan, not with our words but with our legendary courage, the blood and the sweat of our men and women of the Canadian Forces," said Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh. "On our side of that line is liberty and freedom from tyranny and poverty."
Dosanjh said the Liberals believed then and believe now that it is crucial to destroy the root causes of terrorism in Afghanistan and keep the country from falling back into a failed state.
"We knew this would not be a quick, easy mission," Dosanjh said.
"We knew that enemy was determined and that casualties were a virtual certainty."
Three Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have died during the deployment to Afghanistan this year.
Dosanjh said that if the government decides to extend the mission beyond February, the matter should be brought before Parliament for further debate.
He stopped short of calling for a vote on the merits of extending the mission, but said that with the country so divided, it was up to the government and its elected federal politicians to frequently update Canadians on the mission and how the ongoing sacrifices measured up with success on the ground.
"Of course, we support the women and men in our Armed Forces," said NDP MP Dawn Black. "The best way to demonstrate that support is to ask the serious questions."
Black questioned the legitimacy of the prisoner exchange agreement that the Forces signed in December with the Afghanistan government. The deal, signed by Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, calls for Canadian Forces personnel to turn over prisoners to the Afghanistan government.
The NDP charged that there are not enough safeguards in the agreement to prevent prisoners being transferred to the U.S. or other powers that may torture them.
But O'Connor and Dosanjh defended the agreement, saying there were safeguards to protect against prisoner abuse, notably a provision that called for full disclosure to the international Red Cross of any prisoner transfers.
Bloc Québécois defence critic Claude Bachand said the debate within Canada was "a sign of a healthy democracy," which is not something Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers offered the country.
Here’s what I sent as a response. They haven’t called to confirm authorship, so I assume it’ll be swallowed by the pro-war machine that is the Free Press.
It's a shame Gordon O'Connor, the new Defence Minister, used the tired argument that Canadian occupational forces are in Afghanistan for our security. For a brief period after the September 11th attacks, questions surfaced regarding the origins of terrorism, but in the time since the claim that terrorists "hate our freedom" has one out.
Countries like Afghanistan have been subject to the meddling influence of self-interested western nations for generations. Is it any wonder that youth are so easily convinced to take up a struggle against foreign intervention?
Canada's continued involvement in countries like Afghanistan and Haiti does the opposite of guaranteeing our security. We are inviting attacks on our cities by perpetuating attacks in theirs.