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Top U.S. military officers were in South Korea this week after Washington and Seoul begin joint military exercises in the face of nuclear tensions with North Korea.

Lee Jin-man/AFP/Getty Images

The Liberal government has agreed to hold an emergency parliamentary committee hearing on Canada's ability to defend itself against an attack by North Korea, including whether the government should join the U.S. ballistic missile defence system.

The Conservatives and NDP called on the House of Commons defence committee to study the North Korean threat amid an escalation of tensions between the United States and North Korea. The Liberal members of the committee agreed on Tuesday to hold an emergency meeting on the matter before Parliament resumes on Sept. 18, although an exact date has not been set. The committee will hear from government officials and subject-matter experts on Canada's ability to defend itself and its allies against a North Korean attack.

"Canadians are talking about North Korea and what's been going on and they want to know answers to some of those questions," Liberal committee member Mark Gerretsen said.

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Ibbitson: North Korea's threat to rain down missiles leaves Canada looking for an umbrella

The meeting comes after a series of tit-for-tat threats between the U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Earlier this month, Mr. Trump threatened "fire and fury" upon North Korea after Pyongyang conducted two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July.

The war of words between the United States and the hermit country has reignited a debate over whether Canada should consider joining the American ballistic missile defence (BMD) system – a matter that will likely be discussed at the parliamentary hearing.

"Given the fact that North Korea has been toying with missiles, I think ballistic missile defence would be something that would most definitely come up," Mr. Gerretsen said.

Former prime minister Paul Martin originally opted not to join the U.S. program in 2005. The Conservatives also refused to join when they were in power from 2006 to 2015. In its recent defence-policy review, the Liberal government said Canada will continue to remain outside of the U.S. anti-ballistic missile program. Mr. Gerretsen said it is time to revisit that position.

"Given the threats that are continuing to emerge in the world and the fact that over the last number of years Canada has not been a participant when the United States is pretty much running the show with respect to missile defence, we should be having an ongoing discussion about what our role should be in that. And I think 10-years plus after the fact is a timely opportunity to have that discussion again."

Mr. Gerretsen said he does not know if other Liberal caucus members share his "personal" views.

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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's office said that while government remains committed to its position on BMD, it noted ballistic missiles are just one of a variety of threats being considered as Canada and the United States work to modernize the North American defence system.

"The new [defence] policy commits the Government of Canada to examining, through NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] modernization, territorial defence against all perils, including threats from cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and other future technologies to provide Canadians with greater security at home," spokesman Jordan Owens said.

The Conservatives said they are waiting to hear from government officials before taking an official position on Canada's involvement in the U.S. ballistic missile defence system.

"It's up to the government of Canada to make a determination of how best to protect Canadians. And we will wait and see what that position is before we make any recommendations on any future engagement with defence co-operation with the United States and other NATO allies in how we deal with North Korea and other rogue states," said James Bezan, a Conservative committee member.

The NDP opposes Canada's participation in BMD. Foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said Canada should instead focus on encouraging a diplomatic solution through talks with North Korea and allies, notably the U.S.

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