Address by Minister Cannon to House of Commons on Situation in Libya

No. 2011/16 - Ottawa, Ontario - March 21, 2011

Check Against Delivery

In just one month, Canada and Canadians have witnessed a historic change in Libya. It all started when the people of Benghazi, inspired by recent developments in Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets to stand up for their basic human rights. The courage these citizens showed in the face of atrocious acts of violence galvanized the entire country and the international community. Initial hopes that Col. [Muammar] Qadhafi would accept the will of the people and allow them to be in control of their own destiny crumbled when he decided to attack his own people, thereby forcing the United Nations Security Council to approve a no-fly zone in order to end the violence. Despite the many challenges to overcome, one thing is certain: a profoundly changed Libya will emerge.

As Qadhafi’s forces were advancing to surround the heavily populated, historic city of Benghazi, the fear was that the people of Libya, who were standing up for their legitimate human rights, would face a final bloody confrontation with a defiant and isolated dictator supported by mercenaries. Qadhafi has not only ignored the demands of the people, he has also ignored those of the international community. He has ramped up the assaults and threatened his own people in televised speeches, promising he would attack them “house to house” and that he would be merciless toward some one million inhabitants.

Qadhafi has threatened the Mediterranean countries and any other country that opposes his madness. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 300,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and Niger.

Canada is very concerned about allegations that refugees are being prevented from leaving the country—in western Libya in particular, a region about which it is very difficult to get any information—and that vulnerable populations, including migrant workers, are being targeted.

Canada has taken a series of measures to press the Qadhafi regime to respect the rights of its citizens. On February 23, the United Nations Secretary-General [Ban Ki-Moon] responded to the egregious violations of international and human rights law and called on the Government of Libya to protect its own people.

On February 27, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1970, which condemned Qadhafi’s actions, which by then included the killing of at least 1,000 people and the arrest, detention and torture of thousands more. The measures included a travel ban and an asset freeze on members of the government.

Canada’s approach, in concert with the rest of the international community, has been to isolate the Qadhafi regime, cut it off from its financial resources, deprive it of its legitimacy and ensure that there will be no impunity for crimes against humanity committed against the civilian population and for violations of international humanitarian law.

Canada welcomes the decision by the Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, as well as the Prosecutor’s [Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s] announcement that he has initiated an investigation.

As always, our first priority was the safety and security of Canadians caught in the conflict, and we worked with our allies to ensure the safe evacuation of all those in need. During the early stages of the crisis, nearly 350 Canadians, as well as numerous nationals of partner countries, were transported from the conflict zone by road, air or sea.

Then the Government of Canada responded to the Security Council’s initiative by immediately suspending our diplomatic presence and by implementing our own sanctions in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution and the domestic Special Economic Measures Act. Our quick action to end all financial transactions with Libya prevented Qadhafi and his associates from immediately accessing more than $20 million in assets at Canadian financial institutions.

Altogether, this move deprived the regime of more than $2.3 billion in resources located in Canada. Unfortunately, these messages from the international community were not strong enough for the regime of Colonel Qadhafi.

Most recently, on March 17, a new Security Council resolution, No. 1973, authorized the use of military force to bring the Libyan government into compliance with its international legal obligations.

UN Resolution 1973 authorizes UN member states to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya. This resolution, drafted and supported by the League of Arab States, does not authorize any foreign occupation. It sets out a solid mandate of protection, and Canada urges all member states to implement it.

The resolution also imposes a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace and authorizes member states to “take all necessary measures” to enforce compliance. However, the resolution does not affect flights whose sole purpose is to provide humanitarian aid or evacuate foreign nationals.

The resolution calls on member states to implement these measures in accordance with Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations in order to restore international peace and security.

Canada has answered the call. It has notified the secretaries-general of the United Nations and the League of Arab States of its intention to participate in the international efforts and is in close contact with its allies in order to determine how its participation in these efforts can be as effective as possible.

Resolution 1973 authorizes international action and sets limits on the action. It specifically excludes any form of occupation force on any portion of Libyan territory. Now, this was a clear agreement between the sponsors of the resolution and the Arab League. The central purpose of the resolution is to end the violence, protect citizens and allow the people of Libya to shape their own future.

In closing, I want to reiterate that Canada has contributed $6.5 million to date to partners to help the people of Libya and those affected by the crisis, particularly those who have fled to neighbouring countries. Our contribution will fund essential food, water, shelter, medical supplies and evacuation assistance to those fleeing the violence.

Canada stands ready to provide further assistance to those who suffer as a result of the terrible humanitarian crisis unleashed by Qadhafi. We sincerely hope that Qadhafi does decide to step down.