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

No. 2011/23 - Ottawa, Ontario - June 14, 2011

Check Against Delivery

It is an honour for me to rise in this place and speak to the motion before us. It is an honour because I am proud of the part that Canada has played in the mission to protect the Libyan people from their rulers. It is a mission that is not yet over. The push for a more free and fair Libya is a cause not yet achieved. And so Canada—and our international partners—must continue to show resolve, patience and determination to go the distance and help Libyans secure their future. We must extend our military mission there. We must redouble our diplomatic efforts. And we must increase humanitarian aid. That is what our government proposes going forward. And the honourable members who will speak for the government over the course of today’s debate will elaborate on the suite of actions we are proposing.

While the citizens of Libya contemplate and prepare for the establishment of a constitutional state, modern and respectful of human rights, Colonel Qadhafi, without the slightest concern for his country, is practising a true scorched-earth policy.

We continue to believe that without the intervention of the international community and the adoption of UNSC [United Nations Security Council] Resolution 1973, Benghazi, the home of the opposition who were within range of Qadhafi’s forces in March, would have been utterly devastated.

Remember the threat launched by Qadhafi himself: “The decision has been made. Get ready, we are coming tonight,” he said in an audio message sent to Benghazi and broadcast on Libyan television.

He promised to search “house by house’’ and to show no mercy. However, because of our decisive action, Benghazi today is a vibrant community that, through the strength of its partnership projects, is inspiring to all who observe it.

Canada has been vocal in condemning the targeting of civilians by the Qadhafi regime, and the impact of that regime’s actions on the hundreds of thousands of people who have been trapped in Libya or forced to flee its borders. This regime has chosen to wage war on its own people. In the face of this blatant disregard for both human rights and international law, Canada has demanded that the regime halt its attacks against its own people and that perpetrators of crimes are brought to justice. We have been particularly disgusted by abhorrent reports that Qadhafi and his thugs are using torture and sexual violence as weapons against the Libyan population. Such actions are international crimes and may be war crimes or crimes against humanity. Canada calls for a full and impartial investigation of these allegations so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.

Canada has made significant contributions to humanitarian aid already, as my colleagues will no doubt detail later. Let me say, at this juncture, that we are certainly prepared to do even more. I am pleased to announce, on behalf of my colleague the Minister of International Cooperation [the Honourable Beverley J. Oda], that Canada is prepared to commit an additional $2 million in humanitarian aid for Libya. A portion of this funding will go directly to support those who are victims of the use of sexual violence as a tool of war.

On March 31, this House pledged, through a unanimous motion, its support for Canada’s engagement in military operations in Libya. The men and women of the Canadian Forces, working under UN sanction, have helped to avert humanitarian tragedies in eastern Libya, and they have significantly limited the regime’s capacity to launch indiscriminate attacks on the innocent civilian population in the east. The Minister of National Defence [the Honourable Peter MacKay] will speak more to other achievements. But as important as each of these victories is, they are only stepping stones on the way to ending, permanently, the capacity of this regime to wage war on its people. We must press on.

From the outset of the crisis in Libya, Canada has supported a swift and decisive international response. Not only did we implement UNSC Resolution 1970 quickly, but we extended it further under the Special Economic Measures Act, freezing regime assets and putting in place a travel ban on regime members and an arms embargo. We committed fully to the enforcement of UNSC Resolution 1973, which calls for an immediate ceasefire, an arms embargo, increased sanctions and a no-fly zone to protect civilians.

Canada was among the first to call for the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, and strongly supported the creation of an International Commission of Inquiry into violations of human rights. The preliminary results of these inquiries have confirmed the seriousness of the crimes that are being committed. The report of the International Commission of Inquiry stated that these crimes are such as to indicate a policy directed by Qadhafi and his inner circle. Colonel Qadhafi seeks to remain in power by committing crimes against the people. He needs to be stopped and held accountable. He is a clear and present threat both to his people and to the stability of the region, including the emerging and promising democracies of Tunisia and Egypt. I would note that Canada’s end-game is shared by our G-8 partners, as expressed in Deauville [France] last month.

Canada’s engagement has been the result of a concerted whole-of-government effort. Abroad, we have worked closely with international and regional partners, including the League of Arab States, the African Union, and NATO partners and allies, to press the regime to comply with its international obligations.

Canada has been a member of the Libya Contact Group since its inaugural meeting in Doha, Qatar, in April. We participated in subsequent meetings in Rome, and in Abu Dhabi last week, where Canada was ably represented by my colleague the Honourable Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence. The Contact Group is an organization of like-minded nations that is helping to provide leadership and coordinate international efforts with regard to the future of Libya.

After three months of energetic diplomatic, military and humanitarian engagement, the world’s resolve to protect the civilians of Libya against attacks and threats of attacks from the Qadhafi regime has not faded. It is gaining momentum. But our work is far from over. And so we must look at doing more in terms of humanitarian aid. We must continue our military assault on Qadhafi’s command and control centres. We must also take a more robust and principled approach diplomatically, if our mission is to truly succeed. Increasing our diplomatic effort is what I would like to touch on here.

I am pleased to inform the House that Canada is embarking on an enhanced engagement strategy with the National Transitional Council of Libya, or NTC.

Canada will, as part of this strategy, recognize the NTC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people going forward. Our government will engage with the institutions and representatives of the NTC. I will be seeking a meeting with my counterparts on the NTC—the Council’s vice-chairman and its ambassador to the United Nations. We will identify members of the NTC responsible for domestic issues and propose meetings with their Canadian counterparts. We will also happily arrange meetings between NTC members and honourable members of this place.

We welcome the efforts of the National Transitional Council in defining core driving principles, through its “Vision for a Democratic Libya,” and its blueprint for building a post-Qadhafi Libya, the “Road Map for Libya,” outlining a transition process based on inclusiveness and balanced representation. We will maintain an ongoing dialogue with the NTC to identify Libya’s most pressing needs now and into the future. We will do all we can to link the NTC with Canadian expertise on governance and civil society issues.

This is the start—we hope—of stronger ties between the Canadian and Libyan people and a brighter, better future for Libya as a whole.

The decision of this House to extend Canadian participation in the NATO mission should be accompanied by the steps outlined above, and more to come. By doing so, we will send a clear message that we are committed to fulfilling the UN mandate and that we are willing to uphold our commitment to providing protection and assistance to those in need.

The Libya mission came about in a unique set of circumstances. The threat to the civilian population, the threat of a massacre in Benghazi, was real and imminent, coming from the mouths of the Libyan leaders themselves. The capability existed to intervene. Military assets were available, and the geography made it possible. In regional terms, the situation in Libya represented, and continues to represent, a threat to the success of other nascent political openings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. That is why the Arab League called for action. It is why the international community, including Canada, has been compelled to respond. The track record of the Qadhafi regime over 40 years of unpredictability and interference in the affairs of the states of Africa and the Middle East was cause for real concern for the future.

Our strategy is clear. By applying steady and unrelenting military and diplomatic pressure, while also delivering humanitarian assistance, we can protect the civilian population, degrade the capabilities of the regime and create the conditions for a genuine political opening. At the same time, we can bolster the capacity of the Libyan opposition to meet the challenges of post-Qadhafi Libya and to lay the foundations of a state based on the sovereignty of the people.

In conclusion, let me say that the government understands the concerns of Canadians who oppose using lethal force and turning to military action to resolve the problems of the international community. I believe this is an instinct that all Canadians share, and is a credit to us all. At the same time, we have a responsibility to act, when we can, when our objectives are right and clear, to protect and assist those who share the values, and would share the institutions, for which many of our ancestors gave up their lives so that we could enjoy the benefits.

Since the Libyan uprising began in February, the world community has borne witness to the tremendous courage, sacrifice and dignity of the Libyan people, and to their determination to open a new chapter in the history of their country. The Libyan people are desperate to secure a brighter future. To help secure this future, Canada must play its part. Let us all strongly reaffirm today that Canada, along with the international community, stands in solidarity with the legitimate and irreversible aspirations of the Libyan people.

Thank you.