Event Recap: thePanel discussion on Canada’s Humanitarian Role in Syria

by Christopher Millar

When presented with the chance to willfully procrastinate and avoid attacking my mountain of assignments and readings, I more often than not indulge myself.  I was thus pleasantly surprised that my attendance to thePanel discussion on Tuesday October 29th was inherently worthwhile, informative, and engaging.  The topic of inquiry of this specific panel was the crisis in Syria and what role, if any, should Canada play in this entrenched and debilitating humanitarian disaster.  To be completely honest, a year and a half ago I would have considered myself an informed observer of the Syrian crisis. Now, I am sadly informed by catchy headlines or severe acts of inhumanity.  This is partially due to my growing cynicism as a student of political science and international relations, as well as my disappointment in the lack of action by the global community, which seems to be absent a normative backbone of any kind.  Thus, I was inherently stimulated by the discourse between the panelists, Paul Heinbecker, Dr. Bessma Momani, and Rafal Rohozinski.  The always wonderful Evan Solomon was especially great as mediator in the relaxed off-camera setting, allowing for frank discussions, analysis, and experimentation in policy alternatives.  The right-honourable Senator Romeo Dallaire, who was originally supposed to be a participant on the panel, could not make it due to late-night Senate shenanigans over the expenses scandal.  Although he was sorely missed, the other panelists were magnificent in their presentation and challenging perceptions.

Mr. Heinbecker brought a wealth of experienced analysis and insight into what Canada’s role should be in Syria.  At one point Mr. Heinbecker even fell into a captivating monologue about Canada which was eerily parallel to that of Jeff Daniel’s rant on America, in the HBO show The Newsroom.  Dr. Bessma Momani brought an energetic and impassioned component to the panel, with a specific focus on refugees and the role Canada can play domestically rather than putting military forces on the ground.  Finally, Mr. Rohozinski acted as the rational voice of reason and critique throughout the hour and a half discussion, several times reverting to the phrase, “why Syria and not the DRC or Somalia?” in reference to the dilemma of equal treatment and response to international crises.  One specific vein of argumentation of Mr. Rohozinski’s, that I inherently admired, was how he repeatedly underlined the intrinsic necessity that the Syrian people should ultimately choose the final solution to the crisis and that it was not appropriate for Canada to aggressively influence a solution which would be in our specific Western interests.  The talk also engaged with the audience throughout the night, allowing individuals to text in responses to questions and comments raised throughout the various chapters of the evening.  The question period following the debate was lively and stimulating. A number of NPSIAns stood up and demanded insight from the esteemed panel. It seemed to be of little issue to the engaged audience that the talk stretched beyond its allotted time horizon.

Overall, the night was truly worthwhile and I look forward to thePanel’s next event.  My mountain of academic responsibilities remains inherently ominous, yet I rest contentedly knowing that my time was well wasted.  In closing, the quote of the night, I must say, came from Stephane Dion, who, while sharing his thoughts during the questions period, pleaded with the panel, “do not blame the Canadian people for the current government … I take full responsibility.”  This was followed by an eruption of laughter and a twinge of respect at realizing that not all politicians take themselves too seriously.

For information on events hosted by thePanel, please view their website at www.thepanelonline.com.



Photo credit: Alexandre Laquerre


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