TORONTO — CANADA'S Parliament has been recalled to debate the role of Canadian military forces in the Gulf, but some legislators say it is coming too late. In making the announcement, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said that war ``is now regrettably possible.'' It is the first time since the Korean War that Canadian forces have been in a potentially offensive fighting situation, though they have been used in a variety of peacekeeping jobs for the United Nations, from the Middle East to Africa.
Mr. Mulroney says the government wants to consult Parliament about ``changes in the role'' of Canadian forces that would include taking the offensive in a war. Opposition politicians and peace groups, however, say Canada should not go beyond enforcing UN sanctions.
``My deepest concern is that they [the Canadian government] will be simply using Parliament to rubber stamp or ratify decisions already taken,'' says Lloyd Axworthy, a Winnipeg member of Parliament, and former Liberal cabinet minister. The ruling Progressive Conservative Party has a majority in the House of Commons and should be able to win any vote.
Mobilizing a 19th-century institution to deal with a 20th-century crisis takes a while; Parliament only began its deliberations Jan. 8. And External Affairs Minister Joe Clark said that while the opposition may talk, it is the government alone that has responsibility for Canadian decisions in the Gulf.
``Even though that is clear, it is useful to have a discussion in Parliament, so we are bringing Parliament back for that purpose,'' Mr. Clark said.
After it was announced last week that Parliament would be recalled, Prime Minister Mulroney sent six more F-18 jet fighters to the Gulf.
``It is evidence of our commitment to ensure that we'll be fully capable of meeting our engagements to the multinational forces,'' said General John de Chastelain, chief of defense staff.
The leader of Canada's socialist New Democratic Party, Audrey McLaughlin, said there is evidence the government is preparing for war without consulting Parliament. She complained that Parliament and selected politicians had been left out of decisions to increase the size and nature of Canada's forces in the Gulf.
``The whole point of the democratic process is that you don't get to debate after all the decisions have been made,'' Ms. McLaughlin said. ``I think Parliament should have been called on Jan. 2.''
Canada now has 24 F-18 fighters stationed in the Gulf region. It also has three ships, two destroyers and a supply ship. More than 1,700 Canadian military personnel are in the Gulf and 130 more will arrive this week to support the additional F-18s.
While Parliament will debate the role of Canadian forces, there appears little doubt they will be used offensively, especially the aircraft.
``Canadian pilots will be shooting down Iraqi pilots,'' said Defense Minister William McKnight. ``This is a war fighting scenario that we are in at this time.''
Both Mr. McKnight and General de Chastelain have denied persistent reports that Canada will send additional forces to the Gulf. But because of the small size of Canada's military, there are limits to its role.
``With an 80,000-person regular force and a reserve force of about 20,000, Canada will be hard pressed to maintain, reinforce and resupply the forces it has deployed,'' says retired Maj. Gen. Richard Rohmer, a military affairs analyst.
During the weekend there were antiwar demonstrations in 32 towns and cities in Canada. ``Hey Joe [a reference to External Affairs Minister Joe Clark] we won't go, we won't die for Texaco,'' chanted demonstrators in front of Parliament in Ottawa.
``This war is morally wrong and we shouldn't be there,'' said Patricia Schipper at a demonstration in Saskatoon. A man at the rally said, ``Canada should enforce sanctions, but not go to war.''
The largest protest was in Toronto, where an estimated 6,000 people demonstrated in front of the US consulate, then at city hall, a block away.
``These protest are sending a strong message to the federal government that Canadians don't want war,'' says Sheena Lambert, coordinator of the Canadian Peace Alliance, which helped organize the rallies.