March 25th, 2015

NDP REALITY CHECK: What IS the legal rationale for bombing in Syria?

Yesterday, when Tom Mulcair asked Stephen Harper to provide the legal basis for bombing in Syria, the Prime Minister got up and read from a piece of paper where he said the following:

“As our allies have indicated, they are taking necessary and proportionate military action in Syria on the basis that the government of Syria is unwilling or unable to prevent ISIL from staging operations and conducting attacks there, including ultimately attacks that include this country as a target.”

The key part, “unwilling or unable”, was repeated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs this morning at a press conference.

The US Ambassador Samantha Power wrote a letter to the head of the UN giving the legal rationale for their bombing in Syria. She makes a few points:

  • The legal justification is that the US is helping to defend Iraq;
  • Because the Syrian government is unwilling or unable to protect against attacks against Iraq, the US is responding as an ally to the government in Baghdad; and
  • They believe that this involves invoking article 51 of the UN charter (self-defence).

This is the same legal justification that Australia, France and the Netherlands have expressed concerns about.

Some questions for the government:

  • Is Stephen Harper’s actual legal basis for bombing in Syria the defence of Iraq rather than Canada?
  • Did Canada receive a formal request for military assistance in Syria from the government of Iraq?
  • Has the Canadian government informed the United Nations of the legal basis for “self-defence,” as required by article 51 of the UN charter?

Can the government release its legal justification, the same way the Obama administration did?