The case for changing the mission in Libya

The following is NDP defence critic Jack Harris’ speech to the House on the motion to extend the military mission in Libya.

Mr. Speaker, this is an important debate today for many reasons. It is the third debate on this issue of Canada’s mission in Libya. We had resolutions in this House on March 17 and June 14, each extending that mission for three months. We are now faced with the government seeking to continue the military mission for a further three months.

The reason this debate is so important is that it is really about the future of Canada’s role internationally, to what extent it will see itself as a military power, primarily, or whether it will continue the well-respected role that it had and was known for in providing a very different type of image and action on the world stage.

This is a new approach to international action. The military intervention in Libya, through resolution 1973, is in response to a very new doctrine, called by some an ’emerging doctrine’, of the responsibility to protect. It is a situation in which the normal rules of state sovereignty, alive since the 18th century, have been overridden by humanitarian goals, the obligation of other states to ensure that civilians are protected where a state is incapable, unwilling, or, in this case, is a perpetrator of actions against its own civilians.

In doing so, it is extremely important that the international community get this right. So as a party, we approached this very gingerly from the beginning. We supported resolution 1973, and still have no regrets about that support or Canada’s involvement as of March 17 in engaging in support of resolution 1973.

It has not been without controversy because there have been criticisms along the way about the actions of NATO from time to time, but more so about the comments that have been made, also from time to time, by world leaders and by members of this House, including the Minister of National Defence and the Prime Minister, talking about what can only be called ‘regime change’ as a goal of Canada’s involvement in Libya.

There may be nuances in explanation of that and I am sure the Minister of National Defence will have a chance to do that, but it has never been our intention or desire to support an intervention based on the notion of regime change, for a very simple reason. It has nothing to do with our shared abhorrence of Colonel Gadhafi and his methods and his willingness to do terrible things, including murder and mayhem, to his own citizens. What it has to do with is the question of the possibility and precedent for Canada or other nations being engaged in other people’s civil wars.

So we supported the resolution. It was extremely important that we do so. We supported the extension in June. As we said at that time, the regime of Colonel Gadhafi was still in power. The regime was continuing to carry out the activities that resolution 1973 was designed to counter.

Canada has played a significant role, as the minister pointed out. We too share in thanking the men and women of our military and our diplomatic corps for their contribution to the protection of Libyan civilians from the risks posed by the Gadhafi regime. They have done what we have asked them to do. They have done it with honour and done it well.

The question becomes: What is the situation we are dealing with today as compared to March 17 or June 14?

We had a briefing last Monday from National Defence officials, from Major-General Jonathan Vance. We had a briefing from our Canadian Ambassador to Libya, Her Excellency Sandra McCardell.

I want to say that we very much appreciated the follow through by the government on the resolution passed in the House, which was reiterated on June 14, that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and the Standing Committee on National Defence remain seized of Canada’s activities under UNSC resolution 1973, and appreciates the government’s full and continued co-operation on committee meetings and the sharing of information.

That was an amendment inserted into the resolution that was adopted by the House, as requested by the New Democratic Party and done so to ensure that the House play a role as civilian, parliamentary oversight of the actions of the Canadian military abroad. I think that is a trend that ought to be continued and encouraged at all times Canada is engaged in military action abroad.

We did get, as others have noted, full, frank, open briefings from our very professional diplomatic and military sources to keep us abreast of the state of play and the activities in Libya that required our knowledge and understanding in order for us to form our opinions.

We have obviously been following the news all along, and as a result of the briefing last week it is pretty clear that we are in a totally and entirely different set of circumstances now than we were in March or even in June.

A week ago Friday, 10 days ago, the National Transitional Council took Libya’s seat and place in the United Nations, recognized as the official representatives of the people of Libya in the United Nations, representing the state.

The former Gadhafi regime which no longer clearly exists are in what Major-General Vance has called an eroding defensive position. It is eroding daily. It is not done. There are still two cities, Sert and Bani Walid, where the forces of Colonel Gadhafi are holding out. They seem to have the ability to prevent incursions, very easily, by the National Transition Council forces, mostly through the use of snipers.

As I said, and as Major-General Vance has said, it is an eroding defensive position. The former Gadhafi regime is not in any state to carry out the kind of activities that caused resolution 1973 to be adopted by the United Nations back in March and our resolution here in the House following on with Canada’s support.

Back in February, Colonel Gadhafi and his son, Saif were talking about their views and promised that they would fight to the last man and woman, and bullet, and that they would not lose Libya.

Her Excellency Sandra McCardell, in a briefing to the foreign affairs committee in July, referred back to the initial promise in mid-March by Gadhafi when they were on the outskirts of Benghazi promising to purify to Libya inch by inch, house by house, person by person until the country was clean of the dirt and impurities, and this from a man who had already described his people as rats and dogs.

That was what we were dealing with back in March. That is what we have been dealing with for the past six months.

Canada has played a significant role in this. In fact, among the nations we have been the largest contributor after the United States, Great Britain and France. In our view, we have done more than our share on the military side. The question now is what role Canada should play in the future of Libya.

We are in what is the end game of a civil war, but it is a civil war within Libya. The forces of the National Transitional Council are, as described by General Vance, weeks, not months or years, and it may only be days away from an end to the civil war. Although it may be questioned as to what role NATO can play now in terms of the end game when we are looking at an eroding defensive position by the Gadhafi forces, it is clear that its role is much less and, in fact, lessening by the day, when it is understood that we are dealing with the end game of a civil war.

We are not there to take sides in a civil war. We have great concerns that this be done right and that in the future the responsibility to protect ought not to be used as a cover for regime change or other interventions. I think that is a very careful issue that I am sure will be debated by international legal experts for some time to come. However, I do not want to get into that too much as a justification for our position.

Our position is that Canada has done more than its share militarily and should now refocus its efforts on the other aspects of rebuilding of Libya. We were very interested and concerned that, along with the United Nations resolution 1973, there be a Libyan-led solution to the political crisis as well to form a new government. There have been some doubts expressed, as we have heard here today, about what this National Transitional Council is, who is engaged and how well they are able to form good governance in Libya.

We have a new resolution from the United Nations that was adopted on September 16. It recognizes that they are taking note of the developments in Libya, welcome the improved situation and looks forward to stability in Libya. It talks about the establishment of an inclusive representative transitional government and emphasizes the need for a transitional period to be underpinned by a commitment to democracy, good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights.

It goes on and on talking about the necessity for change in Libya that supports a call for Libyans of all beliefs and background to refrain from reprisals, which is extremely important. It also notes that the Libyan Transitional National Council is concerned about this and notes that they call for an avoidance of acts of reprisals, including against migrant workers. Apparently, some migrant workers are being targeted because they appear to be from southern Africa and are being attacked because they are suspected mercenaries.

The United Nations Security Council has taken strong measures here to set up the new mission in Libya under the leadership of a special representative for a three-month period to assist in restoring public security, order, promoting the rule of law and a whole series of issues under the UN mandate spelled out in article 12 of Resolution 2009.


We think this is where Canada ought to focus its efforts. As I said earlier, Canada has made a significant contribution to the mission in Libya, a contribution which far exceeds our place in the world in terms of our size, our military, our population, and our financial wherewithal, frankly. We have made more than a significant contribution.

As other nations have done, such as Norway, we are in a position to change our focus and change our role. We, as New Democrats, do not support a continued military role in Libya but rather believe that we should refocus our efforts to that of assisting in the efforts to rebuild Libya and support the use of all the Canadian efforts that will help us do that.

I have a motion, which I will move shortly, incorporating that, but the thrust of the motion is to refocus our efforts in the areas of assisting in the development of governance, assisting in the development and the rule of law, assisting in humanitarian aid, and spending some of resources on that rather than on continuing in the military role.

We do appreciate and thank our soldiers and we thank our diplomats for their efforts to date. We think that the Government of Canada should be using its good offices; its talented people; our NGOs, and others who have a great interest in supporting this effort and in participating in the assistance in rebuilding Libya; and in a larger civilian commitment to the post-conflict transition that is to take place in Libya, hopefully with greater assistance from this country than we have been able to provide to date. Of course, with the new government in Libya and improved access to Libya, we now think that it is time for us to engage in the past-conflict phase.

Therefore, I wish to move the following:


That the motion be amended by:

(a) substituting the words “an extension of up to three months of the involvement of the Canadian Armed Forces operating with NATO in accordance with the legal mandate from the UNSC Resolution 1973; that the House continues to support” with the words “focusing our efforts on”;

(b) substituting the words “continue to protect Libyan civilians from the risks still posed by the Gaddafi regime” [which no longer exists] with the words “thank them for their contribution to the protection of Libyan civilians from the risks posed by the Gaddafi regime”.

The motion would now read:

That, in standing in solidarity with those seeking freedom in Libya, the House adopted Government motions on March 21 and June 14, 2011 authorizing all necessary measures, including the use of Canadian Armed Forces and military assets in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973; that given the current military situation and the success of National Transitional Council (NTC) and anti-Gaddafi forces to date, the House supports focusing our efforts on Canada’s engagement in all spheres in the rebuilding of a new Libya, including human rights, democratic development and the rule of law, that the House deplores the violence committed by the previous regime against the Libyan people, including the alleged use of rape as a weapon of war; that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Standing Committee on National Defence shall remain seized of Canada’s activities under UNSC Resolution 1973 and in the rebuilding of the new Libya; and that the House continues to offer its wholehearted and unconditional support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who stand on guard for all of us, and thank them for their contribution to the protection of Libyan civilians from the risks posed by the Gaddafi regime.

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