Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is now saying that Bashar al-Assad needs to go, just a week after the Canadian government refused to commit to supporting the ouster of the Syrian dictator.
“We need to move as quickly as possible towards peace and stability in Syria that does not involve Bashar al-Assad,” Trudeau said from France on Monday, where he is on a state visit.
Trudeau called last week’s chemical weapon attack, which killed dozens in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun and was believed to have been carried out by Syrian government forces, a “war crime.” He added that Assad’s culpability in the attack was “almost without a doubt, now.”
It marks some of the strongest language put out by the Trudeau government since coming to power in 2015, and comes days after he announced that he “fully supports” American airstrikes that ravaged the Assad government’s air force, but his government has yet to actually do much of anything to hasten Assad’s departure.
Initially, Ottawa declined to assign responsibility for the attack to the Assad regime.
Initially, Ottawa declined to assign responsibility for the attack to the Assad regime. In a statement, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, said that if the government were, in fact, responsible, it: “Further weakens the credibility of the regime as a potential partner for peace.”
The Khan Shaykhun attack is just one of many chemical weapons attacks that have been launched in Syria since 2013. The regime controls the only significant amount of chemical agents in the country — even after they voluntarily destroyed some 1,000 tons of Sarin, Mustard gas and Vx nerve agent as a part of a join US-Russia agreement, brokered in 2013.
When VICE News asked the office of Canada’s foreign affairs minister last week, a day after the attack, whether it was Ottawa’s position that Assad must be removed, the response was less than clear.
“Canada is very much very active on the Syria file.”
“It is for Syrians to determine their political future, through direct negotiations under the auspices of the UN,” a spokesperson said in an email.
A day later, speaking from a G7 meeting held in Brussels to address the Syria issue, Freeland said that “if confirmed, this new use of chemical weapons is a damning indictment of Assad.”
She insisted that Canada must support the UN Security Council-backed joint investigative mechanism and wouldn’t comment when asked by VICE News whether Assad should have a role in any future peace talks.
“Canada is not sitting by,” Freeland insisted. “Canada is very much very active on the Syria file.”
But Ottawa’s commitment to Syria has scaled down since Trudeau took power, in October of 2015.
Last year, Trudeau’s government ended a bombing campaign against Islamic State targets throughout the war-torn country. A replacement plan kicked in $1.8 million to investigate violations of international law, contributed to national security initiatives in Jordan, prioritized refugee resettlement in Canada and the region, and earmarked $145 million to stem the flow of foreign fighters and weapons of mass destruction. Under the previous government, Canada kicked in some $810 million over four years in assistance directed at the Syrian crisis, on top of the military mission to roll back the spread of the Islamic State.