Canada extends war in Iraq and Syria

CF-18 fighter plane, Canadian forces photo
CF-18 fighter plane, Canadian forces photo

After a debate in the House of Commons, the Conservative government announced that Canada will continue its war against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and extend its bombing runs into Syria until at least March 30, 2016. But Canadians should be asking whether this costly mission is right or even useful.

ISIS fighters are Sunni fundamentalists attempting to impose a caliphate in territory that straddles borders in Iraq and Syria. It was a string of brutal attacks by ISIS against Christians and other minorities in Iraq in the summer of 2014 that galvanized public opinion in the West, leading to military action in the region.

Church leaders skeptical

On April 7, the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper that expressed polite skepticism about  extending the military campaign. The two dozen church leaders who signed the letter represent most of this country’s mainline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as some smaller denominations that include Mennonites, Quakers and The Salvation Army.

Together, they write: “Military intervention will not bring an end to the conflict without a broader internationally sanctioned strategy for achieving a sustainable peace in Iraq and Syria.” They, and we, have seen this all before. The CCC points to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 2003 and its “tragic consequences.”

Humanitarian and refugee assistance 

The leaders call on Ottawa to strengthen its diplomatic efforts, provide more humanitarian assistance in the region and offer refugee sponsorship and resettlement in Canada. It’s a position that mirrors that taken by opposition parties in the House of Commons and by many others outside of Parliament’s walls.

For decades now, Canadian churches have been deeply involved in refugee sponsorships, but that hasn’t been a priority for the Conservative government as the brutal civil war in Syria continues, driving an estimated 10 million people from their homes and creating three million Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations.

Frustration palpable

Nor has the Canadian government shown much interest in consulting with church and other groups or co-operating with them to allow more private sponsorships to occur. The frustration of refugee-sponsoring groups is palpable, albeit muted, in the CCC letter. “Members of our parishes and congregations across Canada, as well as other organizations and volunteers, are eagerly waiting to receive Iraqi and Syrian refugees. . . . Accordingly, we urge you to consult with the Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association to discuss how to coordinate a response in Canada to the refugee crisis.”

$500 million better spent

Defence Minister Jason Kenney acknowledges that the Iraq-Syria war effort will cost Canada at least $500 million in the next year. Despite the warrior rhetoric from some of our politicians, Canada is not a robust military power. We do, however, have experience and credibility —  although it has been diminished recently — in diplomacy, humanitarian assistance and the resettlement of refugees.

We would make a greater international contribution by using the $500 million to focus on efforts such as those.

This piece appeared in slightly altered form in the United Church Observer on April 9, 2015.

Proud to protect refugees

Proud to Protect Refugees
Proud to Protect Refugees

My wife Martha has been involved for many years in church groups sponsoring refugees and assisting them to settle into new lives in Canada. I have acted as an occasional helper, enough for me to hear some of the heart rending stories about the wars, famines and oppression that have driven people from countries such as Congo, Afghanistan, Colombia or Iran. I have found through personal contact that most of these new Canadians are hard-working, decent and well-meaning. But in 2012, the federal government introduced changes that make it harder for refugees to get here, and more difficult for them once they arrive. Groups of people in Canada remain committed to welcoming the stranger but, ironically, they are finding that in a world with an estimated 15 million refugees and a wait time of years in the camps, they now have no one to welcome. Continue reading Proud to protect refugees

Pulpit and Politics, best stories 2012

I worked for years in newsrooms and each December we would produce what we called Year Enders, which summarized the most significant stories that we had covered in the past 12 months. In that tradition, I have reviewed Pulpit and Politics for the year past and this is a brief summary of what I have found. Continue reading Pulpit and Politics, best stories 2012

Development and Peace knee-capped by Catholic bishops

Archbishop Richard Smith, CCCB President

The Catholic aid agency Development and Peace (D and P) is in turmoil after the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) pressured the organization in  September to scuttle an educational post card campaign just as the material was about to be distributed. The postcard, which was to be sent to the Prime Minister, asked that he have a parliamentary committee undertake a national consultation on the future of Canadian development assistance. This is hardly the stuff of revolt but the CCCB said that the campaign was too political and would cause division in the church and among bishops. So the CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.

It would appear that the CCCB’s decision that the fall campaign should be shut down may have been made without the knowledge of bishops who sit on the CCCB’s standing committee on Development and Peace. The Catholic Register newspaper quoted two of those bishops saying that they had not been contacted directly about the ultimatum to Development and Peace.

Bitter reaction

That decision has resulted in D and P staff resignations, criticism of the organization’s management team and elected National Council, and accusations from D and P supporters who accuse the CCCB of becoming too cozy with the Conservative government. Continue reading Development and Peace knee-capped by Catholic bishops

Development and Peace spat a many-layered story

Catholic aid organization Development and Peace

I posted to this blog recently about how the Canadian Conference of Catholic bishops (CCCB) pressured the Catholic aid agency Development and Peace (D and P) to suspend a fall 2012 educational campaign that involved sending postcards to the Prime Minister. The cards asked that he have a parliamentary committee undertake a national consultation on the future of Canadian development assistance. The bishops said the postcard campaign was too political and would cause division in the church and among bishops. They asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.

This has resulted in bitter accusations from D and P supporters who accuse the bishops of becoming too cozy with the Conservative government. This revolt against the Catholic hierarchy is virtually unprecedented and it is uncertain where this dissatisfaction will lead. I indicated in my previous posting that this is a many layered story and that I would provide some background to place the controversy into a context. Continue reading Development and Peace spat a many-layered story

Jason Kenney at CCCB plenary

Joe Gunn on Jason Kenney and CCCB

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is scheduled to speak to the annual plenary meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in October. Joe Gunn, a former director of the CCCB’s Social Affairs Commission, says the appearance of a cabinet minister at a  plenary is unprecedented in recent memory. Gunn is now the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice,  an ecumenical organization that promotes justice, peace and the integrity of creation. His article appeared in the August 29 edition of the Prairie Messenger and is reproduced here with Gun’s and the paper’s permission. Continue reading Jason Kenney at CCCB plenary

Raymond De Souza and the National Prayer Breakfast

Fr. Raymond De Souza, National Prayer Breakfast

A note posted on the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada website says that Father Raymond De Souza will be the featured speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Ottawa on May 1. Hundreds of MPs, Senators, judges of the Supreme Court, Parliament Hill staff and invited members of the public attend the annual event. The EFC blurb describes Fr. De Souza as being “of the National Post.” I would have thought it more appropriate to describe him as a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston, which he is, but it is easy to understand the confusion. Continue reading Raymond De Souza and the National Prayer Breakfast