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North Korean threat could prompt Canada to reconsider stance on U.S. missile defence: Liberal MP

By Taylor Blewett      

Mark Gerretsen says now might be the time to 'revisit' the decision to participate in the collective defence scheme.

Conservative members Cheryl Gallant, far left, James Bezan, centre, and Pierre Paul-Hus, right, along with New Democrat Randall Garrison (not pictured), requested the House Defence Committee meet in response to a potential North Korean missile threat. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia
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A Liberal MP says Canada’s longstanding abstention from the controversial U.S.-led continental ballistic missile defence system could be up for debate in the face of renewed provocations from a nuclear North Korean state.

House Defence Committee member Mark Gerretsen (Kingston and the Islands, Ont.) said Canada’s participation in the North American collective defence scheme is one of the “big questions” that will be addressed at upcoming public hearings on North Korea helmed by the committee.

“We had an opportunity [to participate] back in 2005 under Paul Martin, and the decision was not to do it at that time. Should we revisit that decision? Maybe,” he told The Hill Times on Tuesday after a rare summertime meeting of the committee convened to address the North Korean threat.

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In 2005, Paul Martin’s then-Liberal government opted out of involvement in the American-led ballistic missile defence system over concerns about costs and its effectiveness in deterring threats. The system was developed by the former George W. Bush administration in the U.S. to protect against ballistic missile threats from rogue states like North Korea.

Although not a member of the defence system, Canada is involved in ballistic missile detection through its participation in North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD).

In recent weeks, the North Korean government has levelled threats against the United States and its Asian allies, including promising to strike the American territory of Guam in the South Pacific if pressed.

This comes after North Korea conducted two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July, claiming after the second that it is now capable of reaching the continental United States with a nuclear missile strike.

In response, members of the House Defence Committee rushed back to Ottawa for an emergency meeting on North Korea. During the brief session on Tuesday, committee members voted unanimously to undertake a study on Canada’s ability to defend itself and our allies in the event of an attack by North Korea on North America.

Public hearings will be held before Parliament resumes sitting on Sept. 18, with government and Canadian Forces officials, as well as experts, invited to testify.

A new poll released Tuesday by Abacus Data finds that 63 per cent of Canadians are following the tensions between North Korea and the U.S. “closely,” while 43 per cent believe it likely that North Korea will launch a missile aimed at the U.S.

When asked about the Canadian response, 36 per cent of Conservative voters said Ottawa should tell the U.S. that Canada will support them if a conflict occurs, though but only 15 per cent of Liberal backers, and 11 per cent of NDP supporters agreed with the sentiment, according to the poll.

Mr. Gerretsen said palpable public interest in the escalating U.S.-North Korea hostility makes it crucial for the upcoming committee hearings to be held in public.

“This is on the minds of many Canadians. … They are wondering how this might impact Canada and what our response to that would be,” he added.

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