By: Dana Wagner on
Tom Mulcair, Leader of the Opposition and NDP MP for Outremont, in Question Period on March 24, 2015
The first Canadian killed in the U.S.-led coalition fight against Islamic State in Iraq did not die behind enemy lines. The incident occurred on Kurdish-held territory in Northern Iraq.FactsCan Score: False
Last week, the government announced it would extend Canada’s involvement in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, and the motion passed on Monday. The NDP said it would not support the mission and accused the government of using inaccurate language to describe what Canadian soldiers are doing. What the opposition has called a combat mission, the government says is an “advise and assist” mission.
Tom Mulcair, the NDP leader, challenged the government position in Question Period by stating “we have lost a Canadian soldier behind enemy lines,” a claim meant as evidence of a combat mission.
One Canadian soldier has died during this deployment to Iraq. Sgt. Andrew Doiron was shot on March 6 in a “friendly fire” incident when Kurdish Peshmerga troops opened fire on their Canadian allies. The Canadians were in a vehicle, returning to an outpost in Northern Iraq operated by the Kurds when the shooting happened.
The Kurdish fighters based in Northern Iraq formerly fought the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein for Kurdish independence but are now aligned in the fight against Islamic State. “The enemy” is not the Kurdish Peshmerga, it is Islamic State.
For Mulcair’s statement to be true, the soldier’s death would have had to occur on Islamic State-controlled territory, which falls on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. This point matters because if true, it would mean Canadians were participating in an operation on enemy territory, and it would be tough to call that non-combat.
There’s disagreement about how near to the front line the vehicle carrying Doiron reached. A spokesperson for the Kurds said the Canadians had travelled to the front line, while Jason Kenney, the defence minister, said the Canadian soldiers stayed behind it. According to unnamed “Canadian officials” who spoke to the CBC, the Canadians did not come closer than 2.2 kilometres to Islamic State forces.
There’s also disagreement about what the front line is. Christian Leuprecht, a national security expert at the Royal Military College told CTV “the front line is ultimately where the weapons can reach you, and where you’re in lethal danger.”
There does not appear to be disagreement between the Canadians and the Kurds on where Doiron died. Both parties say the incident occurred at a Kurdish checkpoint just outside an outpost. That outpost is described by a Kurdish commander as an “active battlefront.” Here’s what the CBC reported about the location of the killing: “The Kurdish command post where all this occurred is a scant 200 metres from the Kurdish front line. That demarcation point is separated by another two kilometres of no-man’s land between the Kurds and ISIS fighters, who have been engaged in running battles for months.”
Some might argue, using Leuprecht’s interpretation, that the Kurdish outpost is at the front line. Mulcair, however, said Doiron was killed “behind enemy lines,” which would be understood as somewhere behind the front line and in an Islamic State-controlled area.
In a segment that aired on March 16, the CBC toured the location of Doiron’s death, identified as Copan in Northern Iraq, accompanied by Kurdish military officials. It is near the front line, and some may even consider it at the front line, but it is not in enemy territory. Mulcair’s claim is false.