The Devil in the Detail

The complainant, Constantine Kritsonis, thought it was wrong of Nahlah Ayed to state that Canada had not participated in the American-led fight in Iraq in 2003. He pointed to the presence of some Canadian officers and soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom. That may be the case, but it doesn’t change the fact that official Canadian government policy was not to participate.

COMPLAINT

You objected to a statement made by CBC correspondent Nahlah Ayed in a piece she wrote about western intervention in Middle East conflicts. She used historical examples to show the impact such actions have had in the past, and what a difficult decision it is for a government to do so. In reviewing past examples she stated:

Canada, for one, chose not to participate in George W. Bush's Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. But it did sign on for Libya in 2011, sending in a squadron of six F-18s as part of a NATO-led coalition.

You said that this statement was not true, and by way of proof cited an article from the Ottawa Citizen on Canada.com that featured Canadian officers serving with American forces in Iraq. You said the article “includes Canadian wounded and a Canadian general commanding 35,000 troops.”

You said this was “just lying to the public” and the article should be corrected.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The executive producer of CBC News.ca, Gary Graves, responded to your complaint. He told you that you were right that individual Canadians participated in the American-led Operation Iraqi Freedom. He explained that those who participated were already involved in some sort of ongoing exchange programs with the American military. He explained the officers were already assigned to the military units of other countries, although mostly of the U.S.

He explained the context of Ms. Ayed’s piece was the political and strategic calculations in participating in interventions. She was examining it in terms of Canadian foreign policy. And in that way, he added, the story is completely accurate:

In 2003, the then Liberal government of Jean Chretien decided very publicly that Canada would not participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which had been dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom. As you probably know, this was hotly debated at the time and in subsequent election campaigns, and became a cornerstone of Canadian foreign policy.

At the same time, mindful of our close relationship with the U.S., Canada did not withdraw all help from the U.S. and the government did decide to allow a small number of Canadian soldiers, mostly officers serving in already-established exchange programs with U.S. battalions, to continue in those programs and therefore participate in the war.

He said that some officers taking part in an exchange program did not contradict the assertion that Canada’s official position was that it did not participate in the American-led initiative.

REVIEW

Nahlah Ayed wrote an analysis piece weighing the implications, pro and con, of Canada becoming involved in interventions in the Middle East. It is clear from the context that she is talking about policy decisions made on a governmental level. She cites Canada’s recent decision to send F-18s to be part of the international mission against ISIS. She refers to Canada’s participation in a multilateral operation in Libya. And she refers to the 2003 decision then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien made to stay out of the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Iraq.

Her statement is entirely accurate. Looking back ten years later, Mr. Chretien is quoted as saying: “It was a very important decision, no doubt about it. It was, in fact, the first time ever that there was a war that the Brits and the Americans were involved and Canada was not there.”

The story you cite to prove that Canada was part of the intervention was published in 2008. It is clear that the officer involved was already seconded to a U.S. military unit. He arrived from North Carolina:

Canadian Forces Brig.-Gen. Nicolas Matern recently arrived in Baghdad as part of the first wave of soldiers and officers from the U.S. Army’s 18th Airborne Corps from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The explanation that Mr. Graves gave you for the presence of a small number of Canadians is also correct. They were participating through an ongoing practice of secondment between the militaries of the two countries. Had Ms. Ayed said that no Canadians participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, that would not be entirely accurate. But she did not. She clearly stated Canada chose not to participate. This clearly means a policy decision made by the government of the day.

In the context of a piece about the calculations governments make to involve themselves or not, it is not relevant that some Canadian officers served with American and international forces in Iraq. There was no inaccuracy and no need to correct this piece.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman