Catholic agencies ask, what is Canada's role in the Middle East?

Carl Hetu

Carl Hetu

November 23, 2015
PHILIPPE VAILLANCOURT
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
Catholic News Service

MONTREAL - For two major Canadian Catholic agencies, the Liberal government's decision to stop airstrikes against Islamic State positions in the Middle East begs the question: How must Canada act in that region?

Shortly after his Oct. 19 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his intention to pull out of the U.S.-led airstrikes campaign against Islamic State positions in Iraq and Syria.

Carl Hetu, national director of the Canadian branch of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said "It was about time" for Canada to turn its back on the military approach.

"Needless to say, that military solutions rarely help to solve anything on the ground. What's more, Canada doesn't have any military power, whatsoever."

Some Christians are hesitant about Canada's decision to pull out of the bombing campaigns against Islamic State. On social media, people argued Trudeau had "abandoned" the Middle Eastern Christians to their fate.

"That's utterly false," Hetu said. "Militarily speaking, we shouldn't be involved there, in the first place.

"The only viable solution and the only way to make a difference is through a ground-breaking diplomacy that will find new ways, new strategies to bring peace and stability in the Middle East."

Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of Aid to the Church in Need, was not as categorical.

"As a Catholic, I'm of course opposed to war," said Lalonde.

"However, what are the alternatives? Are we really willing to let things get worse than they are today?" she asked as she reflected on the atrocities committed by Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Aid to the Church in Need never took an official position about the legality or the morality of airstrikes against Islamic State, and Lalonde said the agency's partners in the Middle East are unable to evaluate the actual efficiency of the strikes.

NONE OF THE ABOVE

When questioned whether Canada should continue bombing Islamic State positions or, instead, open its borders to refugees, Lalonde replied, "None of the above."

"If they were offered a true alternative, those people would happily stay in their native homeland," she said.

"Opening our borders so that thousands of refugees may settle in Canada is, of course, a generous initiative.

"Unfortunately, it's not enough: Some people won't be able to leave, especially the poor, the sick, the elderly, the women or the young children," she said.