Canadian Conservatives say weapons destined for Kurds should go to Ukraine – media
Andrew Scheer's Conservatives want the federal government to give Ukraine $9.5 million worth of military equipment originally intended to help Kurdish forces in their fight against Islamic militants in Iraq.
The Trudeau government announced 15 months ago that it would give the Kurds weapons – including rifles, machine-guns, light mortars, grenade launchers and anti-tank missiles – as part of Canada's revamped mission to help eradicate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, according to North Shore News.
But there were delays in getting approvals from the Iraqi government, and in ensuring adequate safeguards were in place to prevent the weapons from winding up in the hands of paramilitary groups accused of committing war crimes in Iraq.
By the time the weapons were finally purchased late last year, Iraqi and Kurdish forces had turned on each other over the Kurds' renewed push to carve out an independent state in northern Iraq.
To this day, those weapons remain in storage at a Canadian Forces supply depot in Montreal.
Now, the Conservatives say a Scheer government would send those arms to Ukraine instead.
"They've been allowing these weapons to sit in storage and collect dust and, meanwhile, the violence in Ukraine has taken on a new spring offensive," said Conservative defence critic James Bezan.
"Instead of letting those weapons go to waste, let's get them in the hands of people that can use them."
Since Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, Ukraine has been at war with Russian-backed rebels in Donbas region.
The Ukrainian government has asked Canada to provide it with defensive weaponry, as the United States has done, but the Trudeau government has been non-committal. It did open the door six months ago to the export of Canadian-made weapons to Ukraine, but it refuses to say whether any requests for arms export permits to Ukraine have been received, much less approved.
While the Conservatives would redirect the weapons intended to help Kurdish fighters, Bezan said a Scheer government wouldn't forget the debt owed to the Kurds for their battle against ISIL. Instead of "sitting on the sidelines" as he accused the Trudeau government of doing, he said the Conservatives would appoint a special envoy to the Kurdish region of Iraq, who would be able to act as a mediator between the Kurds and Baghdad.
The Kurdish government has urged Canada to upgrade its trade office in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region to a full-fledged consulate general. But some foreign policy experts have warned that such a move could lend legitimacy to Kurds' aspirations for independence and contribute to instability in Iraq.
Bezan said the Conservatives are "not at all" encouraging Kurdish independence.
"We still believe in a united Iraq," he said.
However, he noted that the Kurds were "a trusted ally of ours" during the fight against ISIL, and said "they deserve to have that diplomatic relationship" with Canada.