Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada is outraged by the suspected poison gas attack in Syria last week, and vowed to “review a full range of options” in response to what he called the Syrian president’s war against his own people.
“Obviously we’re tremendously concerned about the victims of Assad’s war against his own people,” said Mr. Baird. “The use of chemical weapons is a new dark chapter in this conflict.”
Hundreds of people were reported dead after chemical weapons were apparently used in at least four suburbs in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Aug. 21.
It is not clear who is behind the attack, believed to be the worst in 25 years since Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in 1988. As a United Nations convoy tried to enter the rebel-controlled Mouadamiya suburb on Monday to inspect the region, one of their vehicles was struck by sniper fire, but no injuries were reported. The region has also experienced heavy shelling since Wednesday. The centre of the capital remains under the control of President Bashar al-Assad, who denies his government is responsible for the attack and warned against a possible U.S. military intervention. Russia, Assad’s main arms supplier and diplomatic defender in the UN Security Council, says rebels may have been behind the chemical attack.
Mr. Baird said the only way to halt the bloodshed in Syria is “a political solution.” But he conceded that such a solution seems increasingly difficult to find with the escalating violence.
“Canada is incredibly outraged by the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” said Mr. Baird. “Such an attack demands a firm response from the international community. In recent days, we’ve been in very close contact with our international partners and we will continue to work with them in lock-step.”
Speculation has been mounting that Western countries will order some kind of military response to an incident that took place a year after U.S. President Barack Obama declared the use of chemical weapons a “red line” that would require strong action. However, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius noted that Russia and China would probably veto a UN Security Council vote to allow strikes against Syria.
Mr. Baird said Russia’s “obfuscation” at the Security Council needs to end and called on Russia to be a part of the solution in Syria.
“If you believe our Russian colleagues that this was somehow an act of the opposition, the government would have been very keen to get these inspectors in there as soon as possible,” he said. “Unfortunately, this area has been bombarded and blown up continuously for several days.”
Heavy shelling in the region since Wednesday has made it difficult for the UN team to confirm whether a chemical attack took place and who was behind it.
In Ottawa, Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair said any Canadian intervention in Syria will require the reconvening of Parliament, which had been set to return next month but is now not expected until October.
Mr. Mulcair urged the Canadian government to continue to work through the UN.
“To see a government in the 21st century gassing its own citizens is an abomination, and the world has to move against that,” Mr. Mulcair said Monday. “That should be done through the institutions of international law, in particular the United Nations. It’s a tragedy Canada’s voice won’t be heard, because we were never able to get a seat at the UN.”
Mr. Mulcair added he does not presume that Russia or any other country will hold up UN efforts.
“That would mean there are important countries in the world that are going to be parties, they’re going to be accomplices, in seeing widespread killing of civilians by gas and by chemical weapons by their own government. So let’s assume we can move forward,” he said.
Mr. Baird also condemned the attack on the UN convoy and said Syrian authorities must allow UN officials unfettered access to the affected regions while protecting them from harm.
Mr. Baird made his remarks during a press conference in downtown Toronto to announce a two-year collaboration with Nigeria where more than 5,000 people have perished since 2001 as a result of violent clashes between Muslims and Christians. Canada is providing $553,643 in assistance to help train Nigerian government authorities on mediation and developing dialogue with community and religious leaders with the goal of establishing a road map for peace.
With files from Josh Wingrove in Ottawa and Reuters