Canada and Syria

By: Russell Blain

Syrian flag (left) and Canadian flag (right)

Syria: a country long plagued by violence, political unrest, and global tension. Over the past several decades, a combination of an iron fist regime and increasing international pressures have sent the country into serious trouble. Since 2011, the Syrian military has responded to protests with intense warfare, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. At the same time, the country's democratic ties around the world have diminished because of multiple factors, including the government's increasingly violent oppression towards the Syrian people through use of military and chemical weapons. One of such countries that broke ties was Canada.

Protestors storm the streets of Damascus, the country's capital city.

What happened in Syria?

When Bashar al-Assad assumed the role of president in 2000, much of the country was optimistic that he would effectively tackle all human rights violations that had been occurring over the years under his father, Hafez al-Assad. However, the exact opposite has been achieved – through things such as suppressing internal dissent and imposing travel bans – and this has ultimately resulted in Syria’s increasingly present opposition parties. In March 2011, protests revolving around Bashar al-Assad's regime had escalated to an unprecedented level, along with brutality from the Syrian military. 18 months later, Red Cross International declared Syria was in a state of civil war, advising travellers to reconsider their thoughts before entering the country. As of 2015, 3.8 million Syrians have fled in search of refuge within neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and Lebanon ("Bashar al-Assad." Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015). Al-Assad's continued disregard for human rights has resulted in the country receiving harsh backlash from numerous global leaders and serious plans to combat this brutality from western nations.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (left) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (right) .

How did Canada get involved?

Rather than simply watch as the violent outbursts occurred, Canada took immediate action to alleviate the suffering for millions of Syrian residents. To date, more than $700 million has gone towards activities such as humanitarian assistance, development projects, and security initiatives which have allowed for refugees to receive a large amount of support.

Beyond giving millions, Canada has also vowed to take in 13,000 Syrians and Iraqis over the course of 2015 ("Canada’s Response to the Situation in Syria." Government of Canada. Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. http://www.international.gc.ca/international/syri...). To accommodate, a variety of government and private-organizations will sponsor housing, food, clothing, and emotional support for incoming refugees.

Canada's continued support has resulted in an overwhelmingly positive outcome for both Syria and its people. Aside from resettling thousands, Canada's generous commitments have allowed for strengthened government services and infrastructure with an emphasis on health, security, and education. Overtime this support will help stimulate the economy and act as a revival in Syrian trade. Also, a significant influx in refugees present in Jordan has sparked a $53 million contribution for the Jordanian government to handle the country's counter-terrorism capacity while diminishing the threat of chemical warfare ("Canada’s Response to the Situation in Syria." Government of Canada. Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://www.international.gc.ca/international/syria-syrie.aspx?lang=eng>).

Syrian refugees entering Canada in 2015.

What were Canada's interests in helping Syrian and Iraqi refugees?

Ultimately, Canada's motive for this progressive support is to provide Syrians and Iraqis with a fair standard of living, away from the tension and intense warfare of their home countries. As a long term goal, Canada plans to bring the democratic change Syrian people have been longing for over the past several decades while also assisting in weakening the Assad regime. By helping refugees settle within much safer and opportunity-filled environments, the government has already taken the first step in a time consuming process. In Immigration Minister Chris Alexander's words, Canada is "doing the right thing" for "Syrians and Iraqis who face the worst forms of violence in the world today" (Chase, Stephen. "Canada Vows to Accept 13,000 More Refugees from Syria and Iraq." The Globe and Mail. N.p., 7 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canada-to-accept-13000-more-refugees-from-syria-and-iraq/article22332408/>) . At the same time, however, Canada is trying to bring the international community together to support the Syrian people and their interests. Syria has been the victim of severe backlash from numerous countries around the world for its threat to global security, and having countries like Canada lead an initiative to regain this security will ultimately bring forth an increased global drive towards a unified planet.

Part of Canada's foreign policy includes acting as a leader in the human rights field by reflecting Canadian values on a global front

How is this significant for Canada's foreign policy?

Through this continued aid, Canada has not only helped Syria and its neighbours, it has also established itself as a country that truly strives to achieve internationalism. Part of Canada's foreign policy includes its disapproval of all nuclear and chemical weapons that are present in the world today ("International Security & Disarmament." Foreign Affairs Trade and Development Canada. Government of Canada, 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.international.gc.ca/cip-pic/security-securite2.aspx?lang=eng>). As such, Canada's involvement in the Global Partnership Program involves the destruction of such weapons in Syria to ensure a peaceful, democratic world. Also, Canada's belief that transnational terrorism poses a significant threat to the country and its citizens helps solidify the motives behind all this continued support. By reaching out to Syria, Canada has demonstrated selfless behaviour and stressed its foreign policy to all the nations of the world. Partnering with other countries such as the United States, Canada has effectively given the Syrian people an outlet from all the continued oppression while at the same time making a commitment to end the ruthless violence. With this in mind, other countries may begin to attract towards Canada as a democratic partner and positive environment in which to conduct trade.

Canada is effectively bringing forth a turning point in Syria. Over time, it is planned that violence levels will decrease, and the government will be reformed into a much more democratic state. While there is a significant amount of work that still needs to be addressed, including peace treaties and continued financial support, Canada has helped evoke a global spark that brings our planet one step closer to peace and unity.

Syrians walk amongst the wreckage after an intense battle between the country's military and residents.

Works Cited

1. "Canada’s Response to the Situation in Syria." Government of Canada. Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://www.international.gc.ca/international/syria-syrie.aspx?lang=eng>.

2. Chase, Stephen. "Canada Vows to Accept 13,000 More Refugees from Syria and Iraq." The Globe and Mail. N.p., 7 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canada-to-accept-13000-more-refugees-from-syria-and-iraq/article22332408/>.

3. "International Security & Disarmament." Foreign Affairs Trade and Development Canada. Government of Canada, 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.international.gc.ca/cip-pic/security-securite2.aspx?lang=eng>.

4. "Bashar al-Assad." Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

5. "Syria's Civil War: Key Facts, Important Players." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 03 Apr. 2014. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/syria-dashboard/>.

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