Canada’s Complicity in the War in Iraq

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien leaves a news conference in
Ottawa, April 9, 2003. Chrétien says he hopes the U.S. wins
the war, but stands by Canada’s decision to stay out of the conflict (Young 2013)

On March 17, 2003, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced that Canada would not participate in the impending American-led war in Iraq (Alberts 2003). This essay will show that, despite Chrétien’s announcement, Canada is complicit in the war in Iraq. Canada’s complicity in the war in Iraq is evident in three ways. First, the Canadian government provides direct military and other support in Iraq. Second, the Canadian government indirectly supports the invasion of Iraq by increasing its military presence in Afghanistan. And, third, Canadian industry supplies both raw materials and manufactured goods for use in the war and the Canadian government facilitates this trade. Before presenting this evidence, it is necessary to define the scope of the war in Iraq.

Defining the War

The first step in defining the war in Iraq is defining it in terms of time. There is no dispute that the war began on March 21, 2003. The issue of when or if the war ended is less straightforward, however. On May 1, 2003, President Bush declared victory in Iraq (Edmonton Journal 2003). However, that did not mean the war had ended. While declaring victory, Bush was careful not to declare that the war was over as such a declaration “could trigger international laws requiring the speedy release of prisoners of war, limiting efforts to go after deposed Iraqi leaders and designating the United States as an occupying power” (Edmonton Journal 2003). In fact, the President stressed that much work remained ahead, including “bringing order to the country, finding weapons of mass destruction, creating a democratic government and pursuing leaders of the fallen regime, including Saddam” (Edmonton Journal 2003). The reconstruction of Iraq is an important stage of the war and should not be seen as a post-war phase. Indeed, “‘Phase 4’ of the war plan (note, not the ‘post-war’ plan) was to be ‘the administration and rebuilding of Iraq’” (Ginty 2003: 607).

This paper takes the position that the war in Iraq continues to the present. To facilitate clarity, I use the term ‘invasion’ to specifically denote the first six weeks leading up to Bush’s declaration of victory. I use other words, such as ‘war’ and ‘campaign’ to refer to the initial invasion and the subsequent occupation and reconstruction, generally.

The next step in defining the war in Iraq is to distinguish between the war in Iraq and the War on Terror. The War on Terror began in response to the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 (Edmonton Journal 2003). In this era of globalization, just as trade knows no international boundaries, neither does war. The War on Terror is not linked to any specific territory or people. The enemy that this war is waged against is American-perceived “evil” (Cruz De Castro 2005: 213). It is a mistake to think that just because the initial campaign of this War on Terror was carried out in Afghanistan that Afghanistan is the only target. As part of the crusade against terrorism, American troops have been deployed to Yemen, the Philippines, and the former Soviet nation of Georgia (Cruz De Castro 2005: 213). Iraq is just one campaign that is part of a much larger war.

This interpretation of the war is consistent with President Bush’s rhetoric. When declaring victory in Iraq, Bush explained, “The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror [sic] that began on September 11, 2001, and still goes on” (Edmonton Journal 2003). On September 20, 2001, the President defined the War on Terror: “Our War on Terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated” (Levenson 2004: ¶ 5). He then went on to say, “You are either with us or you are against us” (Clarke & Hoggett 2004: 102). As the following sections of this essay will show, clearly, Canada is with them.

Canadian Military Support

During the invasion of Iraq, there were thirty-one Canadian troops who were serving with the U.S. and British militaries, as part of an exchange program (Segal & Missio 2003). Despite the Canadian government’s claims to the contrary, spokesperson for the British Forces, Lieutenant-Colonel Ronnie McCourt confirmed that these troops are in Iraq and “they are in combat” (Segal & Missio 2003). While claiming to morally oppose the unilateralism of the war, the Canadian government refused to recall these troops (Layton 2003). Critics of my argument may say that thirty-one troops are inconsequential. According to Jack Layton (2003) these personnel represented a larger contribution to the war than thirty-five of the forty-four coalition of the willing countries. Layton (2003) points out that “the vast majority of the coalition of the willing has offered public support but no troops, whereas Canada offers troops but no public support” (¶ 2).

Canada is very active in the reconstruction phase of the Iraq war, or phase four of the war plan. Even before victory had been declared in Iraq, Chrétien was offering support for the reconstruction of Iraq (Thorne 2003). On CNN, Paul Martin pointed out that Canada has donated $300 million to help reconstruct Iraq. Canada has also helped with the election in Iraq and is training the new police force in Iraq (O’Keefe 2004: ¶ 5).
Critics of my argument might say that it is unfair to include the reconstruction phase as part of the war in Iraq. My first response is that certainly the daily violence in Iraq depicted in the media presents the image of a war zone. Nevertheless, some would say that Canada’s involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq is consistent with our foreign policy tradition of peacekeeping. I respond by drawing on the work of Matthew Bouldin and Roger MacGinty. According to Bouldin (2003), ‘the separate roles of peace-keeper and war-fighter are coming together as…powers fight fewer wars with each other and become more involved with the affairs of collapsing or collapsed states” (270-271). This is especially evident in the case of Iraq because the “reconstruction was internalised into U.S. military strategy” (Ginty 2003: 607). Ginty (2003) refers to this as “‘preemptive reconstruction’…(that) [reframes] warfare as a non-destructive activity” (601). This conceptualization of peacekeeping should also be applied to Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan, which is the subject of the following section of this essay.

Indirect Support Via Afghanistan

Canada increased its military presence in Afghanistan during the war in Iraq, thereby providing indirect military support for the Iraq conflict, as these are two campaigns of the same war. In 2002, Canada provided about 850 military personnel to the War on Terror in Afghanistan (Department of National Defence 2002). In May of 2002 the Department of National Defence (2002) announced that most of these troops would be returning home in August of that year. However, by February 2003, with the invasion of Iraq looming, the government announced the redeployment of about 1000 troops to Afghanistan by the summer. By July 2003, Canada was a leading contributor to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Canadian Brigadier-General Peter Devlin took command of the Kabul Multi-National Brigade (KMNB), and was followed by 1800 additional troops (CBC News 2003). In April 2004, the Department of National Defence (2004) stated that the “Canadian contingent [was] the largest in ISAF with about 1900 personnel deployed” (¶ 5). Canada continues to have a major presence in Afghanistan, with about 900 troops committed to the country until at least the summer of 2005 (CBC News 2005). I am not the only one to see the timing of Canada’s military commitments in Afghanistan as suspicious. Retired Major-General Lewis Mackenzie commented, “Was it a coincidence that (Canada’s decision to commit peacekeepers to Afghanistan) happened at the same time as the U.S. was calling for support in Iraq? I don’t think that’s a coincidence” (CBC News 2004: ¶19).

Canada’s participation in the War on Terror has created a situation in which the Canadian military is deeply embedded in the coalition war machine that invaded and subsequently occupies Iraq. American Central Command for both the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns is based in Qatar. During the invasion of Iraq, fourteen Canadian liaison officers were stationed at the base (Jeffrey M.K. L-G 2003). As part of the War on Terror, 200 Canadian military personnel staffed Sea King helicopters, air craft and frigates in the Persian Gulf region (Segal & Missio 2003). The Persian Gulf was the launch pad for the American invasion of Iraq and three Canadian frigates provided security to coalition warships in the Persian Gulf (Layton 2003). When questioned in the House of Commons, the Defence Minister at the time, John McCallum tried to justify this blatant contradiction by saying that the Canadian military was protecting coalition forces from possible terrorist attacks (Layton 2003). He explained that the likelihood of such attacks had increased as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Layton (2003) describes McCallum’s logic as “circuitous” (¶ 5); the need for Canada’s involvement in the War on Terror, which is sanctioned by Parliament, has increased due to the invasion of Iraq, which is not sanctioned by Parliament.

Canada’s military presence has been so strong in Afghanistan and in other American projects that there are not enough troops to send to Iraq even if Canada had openly supported the war in Iraq. Paul Martin made this point on CNN when he said, “We are very, very heavily involved in Afghanistan. We’re in Haiti…Our commitments are such that it would be very hard for us to commit troops into Iraq” (O’Keefe 2004: ¶ 4). Martin reassured the Americans on CNN that “we’re certainly doing our share” (¶ 5). The following section of this essay demonstrates how Canada is indeed doing its share in terms of providing military supplies.

Support in the form of military supplies

Providing supplies to the U.S. military is a big business in Canada. In fact, it is such a big business that the federal government created the Canadian Commercial Corporation. The CCC is a crown corporation whose mandate, according to its website is to “facilitate international trade” (Canadian Commercial Corporation N.D. “Who We Are” ¶ 1). The CCC website elaborates on the role of the CCC:

CCC acts as Canada’s contracting instrument in supporting the procurement needs of the U.S. Department of Defense (US DoD) and many U.S. prime contractors. In times of crisis or conflict, CCC can be called upon (as was the case during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf Crisis) to support the industrial mobilization of Canadian sources of supply in keeping with Canada’s obligations to the United States under the Defence Production Sharing Arrangement of 1956.

Canadian Commercial Corporation

The post-September 11th environment, particularly in the United States, makes the Defence Production Sharing Arrangement (hereafter, DPSA) an even more strategic link between Canada and its neighbour to the South. The DPSA provides a platform into a market that—even as it faces rising calls for protectionism—is increasing its appetite for goods and services that Canadians can deliver competitively. (Canadian Commercial Corporation N.D. “What We Do” ¶ 6)

Perhaps Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin is one of the CCC’s clients. In November 2004, the company bid on a contract to provide bullets for the U.S. military (Spannos 2004). The contract is to produce between 300 million to 500 million bullets per year for at least five years, specifically for use in Iraq and Afghanistan (Spannos 2004). Vancouverites may recognize the name of this company because it was involved in the construction of both SkyTrain lines in the region (SNC-Lavalin N.D.). It is also the winning bidder to enter into the public private partnership with the Province of British Columbia and Translink to build and maintain the RAV SkyTrain line that will connect the airport and Richmond to Downtown Vancouver by 2010 (Translink 2004).

SNC-Lavalin is not the only U.S. military supplier based in Canada. Montreal-based CAE is “the largest Canadian-based defence contractor” (Van Praet 2003: ¶ 4). The CEO of the company, Derek Burney expressed concern over the possibility that his company may be excluded from U.S. military contracts because of Canada’s supposed non-participation in the war in Iraq (Van Praet 2003: ¶ 2). Despite these concerns, according to the company’s first quarterly report in 2003, CAE “has a well-established position in the U.S. defence market” (CAE 2003: 13). The report also states “we have also strengthened the team directing CAE’s efforts in the key American military market through the appointment to the board of directors of CAE USA of General Michael Ryan, former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff”(2).

Despite the prevalence of Canadian companies supplying the U.S. military, the majority of U.S. military contractors are American companies. Canada’s complicity in the invasion of Iraq lies here as well. According to NDP MP Pat Martin (2005), the Canada Pension Plan Reserve Fund has invested about $600 million in U.S. military contractors.

Canada does not only supply manufactured goods for the American military; Canada is a major supplier of raw materials as well. Most notable is the sale of molybdenum. Molybdenum is an extraordinarily strong material that can maintain its shape at very high temperatures (Columbia Encyclopedia N.D.). That is why molybdenum is an important material used in the production of rocket and missile parts (Columbia Encyclopedia N.D.). British Columbia is an important producer of molybdenum with over 9000 tonnes produced in 2003 (Natural Resources Canada 2004). In April 2003 (after the war in Iraq) British Columbia’s molybdenum exports nearly doubled over the previous year’s figures (BC Stats 2003b: 1). By October 2003, BC Stats (2003a) reported that the growth in molybdenum sales outpaced all other metallic minerals (1). The growth continued in 2004, as molybdenum exports grew by 122 percent (BC Stats 2004b: 1). Also, in the twelve months following the onset of the war in Iraq, prices for molybdenum on the world market soared by “at least fifty percent” (BC Stats 2004a: 2). I must concede that I could not find any proof that British Columbia’s molybdenum has been used in weapons deployed in Iraq. However, given the metal’s military applications, I find the growth in exports coinciding with the war in Iraq to be highly suspect.

One might criticize this section of my argument because there is a separation between the public and private sectors. While Parliament decided not to provide military support for the invasion of Iraq, it did not ban Canadian companies from supplying the war effort. I maintain that the actions of Canadian companies are important when considering Canada’s involvement in the war. When assessing how a nation relates to the outside world, one must look beyond mere government declarations. How the citizens and businesses of a nation relate to the rest of the world is just as important as how the government does, if not more important. Besides, the Canadian government facilitates the military contracting business via the CCC and the investment of CPP funds in military contracting firms. Also, provincial and federal coffers benefit from the revenues generated from supplying the American military with manufactured goods and raw resources.


Despite the official position of the Canadian government, Canada is, in fact, a major contributor to the American-led coalition war effort in Iraq. Canadian troops directly participated in the war in Iraq. Granted, Canada’s contribution of troops was small, however, it was a larger contribution than most of the other coalition of the willing members. In addition, Canada has provided financial and other support for the reconstruction of Iraq, which is a stage of the war. When the war in Iraq began, Canada decided to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. That move indirectly supported the war in Iraq because Iraq and Afghanistan are two different campaigns of the same war. Furthermore, as a result of Canada’s commitment to the War on Terror, the Canadian military is embedded in the coalition war machine that is attacking Iraq. In addition to military support, Canada supplies the American-led war in Iraq with both manufactured goods and raw resources. This trade is facilitated by the federal government via the CCC, which is a crown corporation, and the investment of CPP funds into military contracting companies. The high degree of Canadian complicity in the war in Iraq shown in this essay makes a farce of Jean Chrétien’s proclamation that Canada would not participate in the war.

Post-script: This essay was written as an assignment for a first-year introductory political science course that I took at Kwantlen University College that I took in 2005. The course was taught by Dr. Greg Millard. In recognition of this essay, I won the ‘Award for Excellence in Writing in Political Science’ in the amount of $100.


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