TIM HARPER
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF


OTTAWA—A Liberal MP from the GTA says she will resign from caucus if her
government joins any U.S.-led strike against Iraq that does not have United
Nations approval.

"This is crazy," Mississauga Centre MP Carolyn Parrish said yesterday. "I
don't think we should be helping Americans get away with this. This is just
the boys playing with their big toys and, although we can't stop the
Americans, we don't have to legitimize this."

Parrish has support within the Liberal caucus, many of whom appear to have
been taken aback by a perceived shift in Canada's position announced last
week by Defence Minister John McCallum.

At best, many say they are now confused. At worst, they are predicting a new
round of caucus dissent for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien should he
contribute
to U.S. President George W. Bush's Iraq mission without U.N. blessing.

That door was opened in Washington last Thursday after McCallum met his
American counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld.

The next day, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham also said there could be
a
set of circumstances whereby Ottawa joins a campaign without U.N. backing,
as
it did in the 1999 bombing over Kosovo, a mission led by Washington and
NATO.

Yet a number of Liberal MPs said yesterday they left for their Christmas
break after being assured by Chrétien their government would take its orders
from the United Nations, not Washington.

"I can't believe McCallum is down in Washington farting around like this,
making stupid statements," Parrish said.

"This party is in a pretty shaky state right now, so I'm not looking to lead
a parade of 50 of us across the aisle and force an election.

"But I'm prepared to sit as an Independent."

Others also predict internal trouble for Chrétien if the Canadian position
is
not clarified.

"There are a lot more problems looming within caucus if they do not stick to
their multilateral approach," said Brampton West-Mississauga MP Colleen
Beaumier, who will travel to Iraq this weekend to see the situation
firsthand.

She said Chrétien has assured her the Canadian position has not changed, but
she admits to confusion.

"I would definitely be opposed to this if we went in there as any part of a
cowboy mission (without the U.N.)," Beaumier said.

John Godfrey (Don Valley West) said he could find no appetite in his riding
for Canada's involvement in a U.S.-led campaign.

He said he could back his government's involvement without U.N. backing only
in two very extreme cases — if the U.N. deadlocked and was unable to make a
decision, or if there was indisputable proof that Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein
had weapons of mass destruction and was planning to use them on a neighbour.

"Otherwise, I would be opposed to any such action," he said.

MP Carolyn Bennett, who represents St. Paul's in Toronto, said she backs
constituents who have been flooding her Web site saying there can be no
Canadian participation in a Washington-led offensive.

"We urge you," one constituent said in a message posted on her Web site, "on
our behalf, to stay the line and not join without U.N. support. We feel so
strongly about this that it would affect our vote in the next election, even
though we have been Liberal supporters for more than 30 years."

Bennett said the apparent change has not simply caused concern within the
Liberal caucus.

"This has concerned Canadians everywhere and (MPs) would like some assurance
we're going to be consistent on waiting for U.N. authority," she said.

Officials in Chrétien's office have been trying desperately to get their
message back on track.

"Prudence is the watchword," one spokesperson said, adding the Liberals will
be very cautious about any commitments to take part in military action
against Saddam.

While Ottawa is keeping all options open, the government has not changed its
long-held position that any attack on Iraq should be done through a United
Nations-backed coalition, the spokesperson said.

Parrish headed a delegation of nine MPs who visited the West Bank, Gaza
Strip
and Israel last May. The trip was funded by Palestine House, a Palestinian
cultural centre based in Mississauga.

The MPs — three Liberal backbenchers, one New Democrat, four members of the
Bloc Québécois and one independent — produced a report accusing Israel of
resorting to increasingly harsh tactics that had left Palestinians living in
sub-human conditions.

Meanwhile, a national physicians' group, part of a global coalition, will
formally register its opposition to war in Iraq under any circumstances at
an
Ottawa news conference tomorrow.

Dr. David Swann, a public health specialist who recently returned from Iraq,
will call for a "more humane" approach to Iraq, rather than a war that would
cause death and suffering for the civilian population, including children.

With files from Les Whittington