ANTALYA, Turkey — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has told his fellow G20 leaders that Canada will continue to make a strong military contribution in the fight against Islamic militants — but it won’t be from the air.
Trudeau said his government will follow through on its election campaign commitment to withdraw its six CF-18 fighter jets from the U.S.-led coalition mission attacking targets in Iraq and Syria some time before Canada’s March 2016 commitment expires.
He said Canada will concentrate its military contribution on strengthening efforts to train Kurdish fighters for their ground war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Trudeau said Canadian troops have built up expertise in such training, especially from the war in Afghanistan.
“The discussions we’re having both internally and with our allies is around how best Canada can help,” Trudeau said Monday at the close of the G20 summit.
“I know that Canada will continue to, and be seen to be continuing to do its part in the fight against this terrorist scourge.”
Trudeau said no other leader has told him to keep the CF-18s in place. However, the issue complicated the new prime minister’s international debut at a summit, where he was more interested in talking about infrastructure and climate change.
Trudeau also held firm to his plan to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada by the year end, but he acknowledged the renewed security concerns that extremists might pose as legitimate migrants.
“Security remains a primary concern for the government of Canada, particularly at this time, post the Paris attacks, which have caused a lot of people concern.”
His comments came before Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall released a letter to Trudeau asking that the refugee plan be suspended. Wall said he is concerned about security screening and wants the government to re-evaluate the idea.
Trudeau said Canada must not turn away from its commitment to help vulnerable refugees, which put him on the same page as U.S. President Barack Obama.
“Slamming doors in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” Obama said at the close of the summit. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”
Trudeau said he has not discussed the CF-18 pullout or his refugee initiative with Obama. He said that conversation will come later this week at next summit they’re both bound for — the APEC leaders’ gathering in the Philippines.
The international aid agency Oxfam said the G20 made progress in tackling the refugee crisis.
“The G20’s commitment to a bold new deal for refugees — ensuring their right to work, to access health care and education and provide safe and legal routes to other countries — could make a huge difference to the lives of millions of people,” said Steve Price-Thomas, Oxfam’s deputy advocacy director.
Trudeau also met French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday and offered continuing solidarity with France.
Trudeau’s office said the two pledged to work together for “an ambitious outcome” to the international climate change summit that will take place in Paris later this month, albeit under heightened security. Trudeau was also unruffled by the criticism of groups such as Greenpeace and Oxfam who criticized the G20 for a weak statement on climate change.
“The G20 communique has some strong language on climate change,” he said.
Fabius was standing in at the summit for President Francois Hollande, who remained in France to respond to Friday’s attacks, which he called an act of war.
Prior to the Trudeau meeting, Fabius defended France’s decision to launch retaliatory air strikes on ISIL in Raqqa, Syria on Sunday.
He said the French response was a “political” one and that France had to be “present and active” following Friday’s violence, which left 129 people dead.
Trudeau and his fellow G20 leaders faced calls for a firm response to the Paris attacks, which largely overshadowed the economic agenda of the G20.
The prime minister also held bilateral meetings Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his host, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who placed the Syrian refugees on the G20 agenda because his country hosts more than two million of them.
Trudeau said the summit allowed him the opportunity to meet other world leaders and work on building personal relationships.
He described a brief conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom his predecessor Stephen Harper refused to engage.
“I pointed out that although Canada has shifted its approach on a broad range of multilateral and international issues, we remain committed to the fact that Russia’s interference in Ukraine must cease,” said Trudeau. He told Putin to honour the Minsk peace agreement for eastern Ukraine.
That was noticeable change in style from the last G20 in Australia, where Harper told Putin to “get out of Ukraine,” and said he had nothing more to say, after he bumped into the Russian leader at the meeting.