TORONTO, SEPT. 14 -- Prime Minister Brian Mulroney today announced that he is sending a squadron of CF-18 fighter jets to the Persian Gulf to provide air cover for two Canadian destroyers on their way there.
The announcement immediately intensified opposition criticism that Canada is being drawn into an escalating role in the conflict with Iraq at the bidding of the United States without any debate in Parliament.
Following a request by U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III that members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization increase their military contributions to the defense of Saudia Arabia, Mulroney also said that the two destroyers and a supply ship will be under active-duty orders tomorrow, when they are scheduled to pass through the Suez Canal on their way to the gulf. Canada is a member of NATO.
The timing of the order further infuriated opposition critics in Parliament, because it ruled out the possibility of an early recall of Parliament for a debate on Canada's involvement in the gulf conflict. The destroyers and the CF-18 squadron, based in West Germany, are scheduled to arrive near the Strait of Hormuz on Sept. 26, two days after Parliament reconvenes from its summer recess under its normal schedule.
Lloyd Axworthy, a Liberal Party foreign affairs critic who had demanded an early recall of the House of Commons, said: "You don't put yourself in a situation of a potential war without consulting Parliament. This is not Romania." He added, "We are getting into some pretty heavy water here, and there seems to be some confusion over who's in charge."
Reaction from other opposition parties suggested that Ottawa's decision to beef up its military presence in the gulf would become an increasingly contentious issue in Canada, which prides itself on a non-bellicose foreign policy and which in the past has been sharply critical of U.S. military involvement in Central America and elsewhere.
While Mulroney and External Affairs Minister Joe Clark emphasized that Canada was responding to U.N. Security Council resolutions authorizing enforcement of a multinational naval blockade of Iraq, the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, Audrey McLaughlin, suggested the government was answering to Washington, not the United Nations.
At a separate news conference, Lt. Gen. David Huddleton, deputy chief of staff of the Air Force, would not say where the fighter squadron would be based, but he stressed that it would be under Canadian command and would only provide air defense for the ships.
Mulroney also announced today that Canada's is providing up to $65 million in humanitarian aide to Turkey, Jordan and Egypt for the relief of Asian refugees who have fled Iraq and Kuwait.