Douglas Roche


April 20, 2015

I believe the Canadian government's decision to bomb ISIL terrorist targets in Syria is morally wrong, militarily counter-productive and legally dubious.

Of course, Canada should "do something," as popular parlance puts it, to counter the appalling and abhorrent crimes perpetrated in Iraq and Syria by ISIS – the mass killings, sexual violence, slavery, forced displacement, and the destruction of holy and historic sites.

But bombing, as I have argued throughout my public career, is not the answer to the deep problems of evil and injustice the modern world faces.

Bombing is designed to wreck carnage, and innocent people are inevitably killed or displaced. The military use of firepower against terrorists embedded in the general populace is ineffective.

In order to legally invoke self-defence under the UN Charter, an armed attack against Canada would have had to take place. A credible threat against Canada (other than the video mutterings of a jihadist) has never been shown.


On all three counts – morality, military strategy, international law – the motion adopted by Parliament, 142-129 (opposed by all opposition parties), to authorize air strikes in Iraq and Syria is a serious mistake. Once again, militaristic thinking drives the political agenda.

The response to terrorism may have to include military action, but only as a last resort when authorized by an effectively functioning Security Council. There are many alternatives to bombing.

I have always expected more of Canada than just a simplistic response to evil. Surely, the country that had always, until recently, been a stalwart supporter of the United Nations, that started UN peacekeeping, that led the way in achieving the Landmines Treaty and the development of the International Criminal Court, can do better than dispatch bombs to problem areas.

True, Canada is also sending humanitarian aid to assist the millions of refugees, but this is only a fraction of the billions the war in Iraq and Syria will eventually cost Canadian taxpayers.

We need political leadership that unites people in understanding the proper role of Canada in this crisis.

Terrorism is growing because states still resist the fundamental lesson the United Nations has taught for 70 years: war does not produce peace. The "War on Terror," rashly proclaimed after 9/11, unleashed chaos in Afghanistan and Iraq and has led to the recruitment of thousands of terrorist fighters. It has been a failure of monumental proportions.


The only effective way to counter world terrorism is not through bombing, but to strengthen UN international partnerships to use all the political, economic, social and legal instruments available.

Blocking the ability of terrorists to assemble, communicate, transfer money and acquire arms has preoccupied the UN for more than a decade. The four pillars of the UN's Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy – countering the appeal of terrorism, combating terrorism, strengthening the UN's ability to deal with terrorism and protecting human rights in combating terrorism – contain within them the potential to end terrorism as a worldwide threat.

The UN teaches that extremism and violence are spawned by tyranny, inequalities and bad governance. Few crises erupt without warning. They build up over years of human rights grievances and the denial of basic economic and social rights.

Unfortunately, states are still reluctant to implement the UN's comprehensive response to terrorism. Every time a terrorist attack occurs, the first response of many politicians is to call for military action. "Killing evil" becomes a mantra. Erratic political leadership panics with each new outbreak.

Those who want to uncover the reasons behind violence are accused of condoning terrorism. It is time to stop such knee-jerk one-dimensional reactions.


The outbreak of radical extremism reveals the deep disorder in the world, which can only be corrected by summoning up all the resources of humanity to develop legal procedures to protect the common good. That is what the United Nations does and what Canada should fully support.

Such long-range action should not be dismissed as inconsequential to the demands of the moment. Existing terrorism must be met today by the rule of law. The UN upholds this.


But the UN has the collective wisdom to know that the anger and alienation that produces terrorism must also be addressed. Good governance must operate on several fronts at once – policing, retribution, restoration, rehabilitation, reconciliation. That is what the UN, in its fullness, provides.

In coming months, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, working with the UN Alliance of Civilizations, will convene a meeting of faith leaders from around the world to prevent violence through mutual understanding and reconciliation. That gives me more hope than bombing.