Debates of June 14th, 2011
House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was mission.
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Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to add my voice to this important debate about Canada's continuing engagement in Libya.
I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Mississauga—Erindale, and focusing these remarks in support of those made by the Minister of National Defence, particularly on our military contribution. I am providing a few more details by way of an update as to the nature of that contribution and its effect on the ground, in the air and on the seas off Libya.
I would like to pay tribute to all members who have spoken so far in this debate for the sense of unity and purpose prevailing in this House so far today, and for the constructive manner and frame of mind in which all have come to this debate today.
The contributions by the Canadian Forces to Operation Mobile give them an opportunity to demonstrate their exceptional capabilities once again. This operation proves that the Canadian Forces continue to maintain a high level of operational readiness and to show the utmost professionalism, which has been true for decades.
As the minister mentioned earlier, the Canadian Forces are once again showing their leadership on the international stage by standing up for the interests and values of Canadians. We are making a vital contribution to NATO's Operation Unified Protector, which aims to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973 in order to put an end to violence in Libya.
And it is a Canadian, one of our own, Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard—who is also a gifted communicator, as was clearly demonstrated in the interview he gave in yesterday's Globe and Mail—who is the commanding officer.
The Canadian Forces are playing this key role, alongside NATO allies and partners, in protecting Libyan civilians. However, despite that and in spite of this progress, the Gadhafi regime continues to use violence against its own citizens. It is this conclusion that lies at the base of the need for this debate today.
I want to take this opportunity to expand on the remarkable efforts our military is undertaking as part of Operation Mobile. The current contribution includes three task forces. As the minister said, that represents approximately 650 uniform personnel, but they are broken into three main elements: a coordinating team, Task Force Naples; an air component, Task Force Libeccio; and the naval element, Task Force Charlottetown.
Task Force Naples is our national coordination component linking Canadian expeditionary force command headquarters here in Ottawa with NATO's Combined Joint Task Force Unified Protector headquarters in Europe and coordinating our forces' participation, as well as providing staff for Lieutenant-General Bouchard.
Task Force Libeccio, led by Colonel Alain Pelletier, is our air component for the mission. Canadian aircraft is flying out of two NATO bases in Italy: Trapani Birgi in western Sicily and Sigonella in eastern Sicily. Sicily has featured in our military history in the past, so it is certainly not unknown in the annals of Canadian military operations, but, for the reference of members, people going to Trapani fly with Ryanair. Sigonella, as some may remember, was an air base featured in the terrorist incident in 1985 involving the Achille Lauro, a ship that was hijacked on the Mediterranean Sea.
Aircraft currently assigned to the task force include seven CF-18 fighters, two maritime patrol aircraft, two CC-130 Hercules and one CC-150 Polaris air refueller. Our CF-18s operate in pairs with one spare and are high-performance multi-purpose fighters.
The important point is to emphasize the significant role that these assets have played within the NATO effort in the air and on the sea in the roles that they have been given. In particular, our refuelling aircraft, our tankers, have played a vital role in keeping not only Canadian aircraft operating over Libya in surveillance and attack roles but also in search and rescue roles because that is required as pilots enter dangerous parts of airspace and stay in the air longer than otherwise would have been possible.
These are interoperable assets with allied fighters. They are capable of conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. In Libya, they are doing both: enforcing the Security Council mandated low-fly zone above Libya and engaging ground targets, as required, through that very rigorous targeting process led by Lieutenant-General Bouchard, including the authority granted by this House to a government that oversees these operations and throughout the civilian oversight to the military chain of command that NATO is proud to call its own.
Canada is one of only 8 out of NATO's 28 members participating in air-to-ground strikes, which are targeting vehicle and ammunition storage facilities, electronic warfare sites and enemy vehicles. I would like to point out that while the CF-18s are themselves highly versatile platforms, the fact that they departed Canada for Italy in less than three hours after the Prime Minister's announcement on March 18 is testament to the preparedness, responsiveness and flexibility of the Canadian Forces.
Receiving less attention, but no less important, are the refuelling aircraft, vital to the success of the overall campaign. As a NATO spokesman recently said:
This is the most diverse and extensive air-to-air refuelling operation in the history of aviation and is a clear example of the strength and cohesiveness of NATO.
The ability to deliver fuel in the air has allowed NATO strike aircraft to simply do more.
Finally, our Aurora maritime patrol aircraft also play a key part in the operation, conducting surveillance and reconnaissance missions. These missions, conducted mostly in the vicinity of Brega, Misrata and Ajdabiya, provide valuable information about what is happening on the ground.
As for the naval sector, Commander Craig Skjerpen and the crew of HMCS Charlottetown have been demonstrating the flexibility of our Halifax class frigates since they arrived in the Mediterranean on March 17. Some 18 NATO ships are patrolling constantly to ensure compliance with the arms embargo. This embargo is having a positive effect, since it is reducing the amount of illegal weaponry getting into Libya and this effect will only increase over time.
While NATO ships are enforcing the embargo, the alliance is ensuring that marine traffic can flow freely, particularly so that humanitarian aid can be sent.
Charlottetown has also supported mine clearance operations in Misrata Harbour. Last month, for instance, Charlottetown escorted Belgian and British mine countermeasure ships while they spent a week clearing Misrata Harbour of dangerous mines that might otherwise have had a devastating effect on civilian maritime traffic. That was crucially important at that time because Gadhafi's forces, as hon. members will recall, had surrounded Misrata on three sides and humanitarian shipments could only enter the city by sea.
It is important to note that while Task Forces Libeccio and Charlottetown are doing outstanding work in their respective domains, they are not working independently of one another.
On April 26, while patrolling close to the Libyan coastline, Charlottetown tracked vehicles firing rockets near populated areas of Misrata. This information was relayed to Canadian Forces members aboard a NATO airborne warning and control system, which was then passed to air operations in Italy. Canadian CF-18s were airborne in response within minutes. The pilots tracked the origin of fire, confirmed hostile acts being committed against civilians and dropped precision guided bombs to destroy two military vehicles.
That is a very concrete example of how, even when targets are not pre-planned, Canadian air and naval assets work flawlessly together in a coalition environment to prevent civilian casualties.
The Canadian Forces are making a considerable, large-scale effort to ensure the success of Operation Unified Protector. We have demonstrated the versatility and effectiveness of our contribution.
Given what we have heard today, we on this side of the House have every confidence that there are unprecedented grounds for supporting the motion today. I would encourage all hon. members, not only to support today's motion to continue Canadian engagement but also to take pride in the fact that Canada's unified approach in this House and elsewhere to this mission has been absolutely crucial in securing the international resolve, determination and effort on the ground that is now serving to protect Libyan civilians across that country and to protect some of the gains of the Arab spring. We know they are not yet irreversible, that this complex process throughout the Mediterranean area is still unfolding, but our operation in Libya with NATO under a UN mandate is absolutely vital to giving hope to a beleaguered population.
Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS
Mr. Speaker, I was certainly pleased to hear the member opposite give his comment. We had the opportunity to speak to each other during the campaign through the media at various times and I enjoyed the exchanges that we had.
The question before us has to do with resolving a tragic situation in Libya, which all members have shown themselves deeply committed to resolving. I wonder if the member would comment on the request that members of the official opposition have made and others to ensure that, as we proceed, any and all information that is made available will be provided to other members of the House.
Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member on his success in the election as well, which I did have the opportunity to observe more closely, thanks to the magic of televised media across this country.
I can assure the hon. member and other hon. members opposite that the spirit of consultation and of openness that has prevailed so far in this mission through briefings and through debates like this one is one that we wish to continue. Certainly today's debate gives us all the more reason to do so. We must not forget how powerful a tool unity is for the House and for this country when we act together on the basis of unanimity and consensus in this House. It has helped us move other countries in the right direction. It has helped to show determination again to a beleaguered people and it has gone on the best tradition of all parties in the House.
Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB
Mr. Speaker, we are encouraged by the degree to which we are engaged in this debate.
Is it the government's intention to continue to have debates in regard to Libya if further extensions will be required three months from now or in September? Could the member give a clear indication of whether this will be an ongoing commitment by the government to ensure we can continue to build on the consensus by allowing debates of this nature regarding Libya?
Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON
Mr. Speaker, the resolution authorizing this military operation was passed by the Security Council on March 17. If my memory serves, the first debate in this House was four days later. We are having a debate quite soon after the recent general election. The need for further debates will be determined by the situation and by the government, but in consultation with all members.
Because we were awaiting an election call at the time, the first call I heard directly for Canadian involvement in a military role to protect civilians in Libya came from the Hon. Stephen Lewis who was addressing the 60th anniversary of the Ajax Rotary Club on March 17, the very day the resolution was passed. He made a very impassioned plea for just the kind of action that we are taking today and are determined to take for the next three and a half months pending further developments on the ground.
Jack Harris St. John's East, NL
Mr. Speaker, we have heard some figures on the cost of this mission. The total cost estimate is $60 million. Today, the Rideau Institute has questioned that figure, saying that it is more likely to be in the range of $80 million to $85 million. We know the government is not that good with numbers when it comes to military costs and expenditures. Could the member tell us where these numbers come from and how he supports their accuracy?
Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON
Mr. Speaker, the numbers are very accurate. We have no reason to doubt the professionalism of the Canadian Forces in accounting, as in the other fields it must master to mount an operation like this. The cost translates into roughly $10 million per month. If it changes, we have every intention of informing this House.
Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Speaker, as this is my first opportunity to speak since the occurrence of the last election, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Mississauga—Erindale for the trust they have placed in me in returning me to this place to represent them. I pledge to them today that I will work each and every day to the best of my ability to continue to earn that trust as we go forward over the next four years.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my family, friends, supporters and volunteers for their efforts on my behalf in assisting me to return to this place to continue to represent the people of Mississauga—Erindale and the broader city of Mississauga.
I am pleased to participate today in this debate on the motion before the House which seeks the support of members to extend Canada's military engagement in Libya. In March of this year, the House unanimously adopted a motion deploring the ongoing use of violence by the Gadhafi regime against the Libyan people.
Our actions in Libya came after the passage of United Nations Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 and sought to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and populated areas under threat of attack.
At that time members from all parties stood together in support of Canada's engagement in Libya and for the men and women of the Canadian Forces. It was not then and should not be now an issue for partisan or political games. It is an issue of human rights and we believe that the horrific violence which is being imposed on the Libyan people must come to an end.
Canada has shown international leadership in Libya and from the outset has pushed for swift and decisive action. Abroad we have worked closely with international and regional partners, including the League of Arab States, the African Union, NATO partners and allies to press the regime to comply with its international obligations.
Canada, along with our NATO allies and partners, has called on the Libyan regime to respect a ceasefire and to adhere to the United Nations Resolution 1973. These calls have thus far been ignored.
We have clearly defined the three military objectives of the mission in Libya. First, an end to all attacks and threats of attack against civilians. Second, the withdrawal of the regime's military and paramilitary forces to their bases. Third, full and unhindered access to humanitarian aid to all those who need it across Libya.
None of these demands has been seriously considered by Gadhafi, even less respected. Gadhafi's attacks on his own population are unacceptable and abhorrent. We believe that he is a clear and present threat to both his people and to the stability in the region, a region which has been undergoing an important transition.
Clearly we have reached the point of no return and we need to be forward-looking. The overwhelming majority of Libyan citizens cannot imagine a future or building a civil society in Libya in association with Gadhafi or his inner circle.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has requested that arrest warrants be issued for Gadhafi, his son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi and his brother-in-law, Abdullah Senussi. The prosecutor alleged that these individuals have planned and directed crimes against humanity, that is they have organized widespread and systematic attacks on civilian populations, including murder, torture and persecution.
The International Commission of Inquiry conducted an investigation and also concluded that crimes against humanity and war crimes were being committed by the government forces of Libya.
Canada continues to support calls for Gadhafi's inevitable departure. We are encouraged by the increasing international consensus in that regard.
Consistent with our principle of diplomacy, we are engaging more closely with the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people who commit to stand by democratic and human rights principles and values. People in Benghazi, Misrata and other cities are being empowered to take on the responsibility of protecting civilians, developing policy and administrative structures, and providing urgent social services.
These are transformative moments and we should not underestimate how fragile and unique this period is. Canada will therefore enhance its engagement with the national transitional council which we base on a continued commitment to a vigorous democratic transition, respect for the rule of law and transparent governance.
As clearly expressed at the contact group meeting in the UAE, the national transitional council is endeavouring credible efforts to prepare for the future and set Libya on a decisive path of transition. Canada and its members stand ready to offer support for this process, as well as for the political dialogue led by the very capable UN special envoy, al-Khatib.
It is clear that we expect full compliance with the international humanitarian law and human rights as a new and free Libya takes shape. The national transitional council must ensure the protection of all civilians, including migrants and sub-Saharan Africans.
We welcome and fully support the NTC's vision for a democratic Libya and road map for a political transition.
For all these reasons, Canada considers the interim national council the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
However, let me be clear. Libya is not ours to reconcile, nor is it ours to reconstruct. The reconciliation and reconstruction of Libya is a project that must be led and undertaken by the Libyan people.
As clearly expressed by the Libya contact group, the UN international regional partners and also Canada, will be there to provide help and support. Just as Canadians are actively engaged in protecting civilians from Gadhafi and his regime, we will also be there as they rebuild their country.
Despite progress that has been made, the reasons for which Parliament voted unanimously to endorse military engagement in Libya still exists today; so do the conditions that prompted the UN and NATO to act. Colonel Gadhafi must go. The Libyan people must be protected. For that reason, it is our position that Canada's role in Libya must continue.
Canada stands in solidarity with the Libyan people and is proud that our contributions will help them to determine their own united, independent and sovereign future.
I encourage all members to once again support this motion.
Jack Harris St. John's East, NL
Mr. Speaker, first, let me congratulate the member on his re-election and on his position as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Now the minister two assistants, but these two parliamentary assistants seem to be adding, unfortunately, to the ambiguity of the government's position here.
When the member rises in the House and says, “Gadhafi must go. Gadhafi must go. Therefore, we are continuing our mission”, pardon me if I assume from the member's remarks that the mission is to get rid of Gadhafi.
I am not trying to be nuanced here. Nobody likes Mr. Gadhafi, or Colonel Gadhafi, or whatever title he goes by. However, the fact of the matter is this is not about regime change and if the UN resolution is to be followed precisely the way we believe it should, then the talk of the parliamentary secretary is confusing people and is leading to me to wonder whether General Bouchard is right when he says, “My job is not regime change” or whether the parliamentary secretary is when he says “Gadhafi must go. Therefore, we are continuing our mission”.
Which is it? We cannot have it both ways.
Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member and I have worked together in the past on the special committee on Afghanistan and I wish to congratulate him on his re-election and his re-appointment as the critic for defence for the New Democratic Party.
The member should know that we are being very clear. Our mission is not regime change. Our mission is to protect the civilians of Libya. As they go forward, it is our view that they will select someone else to lead their country and we will work with the government they choose. The military will not be involved in any way, shape or form in making that change for them. They will make that change themselves.
Our brave men and women are simply there, flying those missions, to protect the civilians from the atrocities that have been allegedly and reportedly committed by the Libyan regime to date.
Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Calgary East said that Canada was in Libya to promote Canadian values such as democracy and the rule of law.
Then I just heard the member opposite say that Libya is not ours to reconstruct.
I wonder if the member has any opinions going forward, if a new government takes control of Libya, to what extent is Canada willing to guide, forcibly or otherwise, that new government so that democracy and rule of law are present in the new Libya?
Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON
Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, Canada has supported and continues to support, many countries around the world with the development of democratic institutions. We will continue to work with all the international partners, the United Nations and the regional partners in that region of the world to support the development of democracy in Libya. When it becomes clear what the situation is following the cessation of hostilities, Canada will certainly be supporting the development of democratic institutions.
James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for his enlightened speech. I think everyone here understands that we are extending the mission to protect civilians in Libya. We know that the military assets that are being used by Colonel Gadhafi have been used against his own people. If we want to bring about the change and the aid that is so desperately needed, we ought to make sure that we provide that type of security. That is really what it is all about.
I would ask the parliamentary secretary to expand upon Canada's role, that we have announced just today, in expanding humanitarian aid. Also, could he explain what we would do to construct the required institutions to support democracy and ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support the transition away from what has been there to hopefully what we would see as a new democracy in Libya?
Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON
Mr. Speaker, as the member would know, earlier today the hon. Minister of International Cooperation announced an additional $2 million in aid. That is in addition to the $8 million that has already been provided to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which provide support and assistance to victims of gender-based violence.
We will continue to do these sorts of things and our military will continue to protect those who are providing humanitarian assistance to the people who need it in Libya.
Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am rising in the House today to support the UN mission in Libya and Canada's participation in it. I join with those who believe that this mission is justified and that it should be extended because of Moammar Gadhafi's actions towards the Libyan people. The sad reality of the situation in Libya is that the real victims of Colonel Gadhafi's lust for power are the civilians. Make no mistake about it, Libya's civilians are not just collateral damage from a conflict between two factions. They are being directly targeted by Colonel Gadhafi and his armed forces.
And this is not coming from marginal sources with questionable information. It is coming from organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Criminal Court. As a result of an investigation, the International Criminal Court prosecutor concluded that Gadhafi personally ordered attacks on unarmed civilians, that he authorized the use of aircraft to attack protesters, that his troops attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in public areas, that he posted snipers outside mosques to kill people leaving after prayer and that he used heavy artillery to fire on funeral processions.
This is not the only source of evidence. A mission by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to Tripoli and rebel-held areas found evidence that Gadhafi's troops had attacked civilians, workers and medical units. For its part, Human Right Watch has documented serious violations of the laws of war by Libyan forces, including indiscriminate attacks in residential areas in Misrata and in the villages of the Nafusa mountains. In February, Amnesty International also found overwhelming evidence of the use of lethal force against protestors who posed no threat and were directly targeted.
This evidence clearly shows that Colonel Gadhafi's actions do not respect the laws of war and that some of these actions could be condemned as war crimes. These violent attacks against the population justify the intervention of the international community because history has shown that action must be taken in such situations and that prompt action is vital.
When I was a member of the Canadian Forces, a number of colleagues spoke to me about their experiences in countries ravaged by civil war. Whether it was Rwanda or Yugoslavia, they talked about horrible situations in which no child should be involved.
The quick adoption of resolution 1973 and the rapid deployment of international forces to put in place a no-fly zone must be applauded. However, history shows us that it is also important to act with a clearly defined mandate. For that reason it is vital to clearly define the mandate of the troops deployed, to establish a specific time frame, and to target interventions based on clearly-defined objectives, those set out by the UN resolution. We must put a stop to attacks against civilians. Libyan military and paramilitary forces must return to their bases, and humanitarian aid must be accessible to all those in need.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has investigated and has drawn conclusion of the following allegations of war crimes.
The evidence shows that Moammar Gadhafi personally ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians, including the use of aircraft to attack protesters. His forces attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in public space, repressed demonstrations with live ammunition, used heavy artillery against participants in funeral processions and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after the prayers. Gadhafi forces have lists with the names of alleged dissidents. They are being arrested, put into prisons in Tripoli, tortured and made to disappear.
The UN Human Rights Council's mission to Tripoli and rebel-held areas in late April found evidence of war crimes by Gadhafi's forces, including attacks on civilians, aid workers and medical units. Aircraft, tanks, artillery grad rockets and snipers were used. It also found some evidence of crimes by opposition armed forces, including the arbitrary detention and torture of suspected Gadhafi supporters. The commission did not find evidence that the opposition armed forces were part of any widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population.
Human Rights Watch has documented serious violations of the laws of war by Libyan government forces, including repeat indiscriminate attacks into residential neighbourhoods in Misrata and towns in the western Nafusa Mountains.
Amnesty International has also found clear evidence of the use of lethal force against protestors in February and, more worrying still, that in many cases protesters who posed no threat were deliberately killed.
The International Criminal Court is also investigating allegations that Gadhafi ordered his troops to commit the systematic rape of women in rebel-held areas, based on information that Gadhafi himself authorized the rapes and provided drugs to enhance the ability of his force to rape women. Due to the social stigma associated with reporting rape and the displacement of civilians, it is difficult to know how widespread the use of rape as a weapon of war is, but the ICC has received information that there are several hundred victims in some areas.
As far as humanitarian aid is concerned, the situation in Libya is alarming. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 people have been killed in the past four months of combat; close to half a million civilians have left their homes and fled the country since the crisis started; another 330,000 people in the country have had to leave their homes to seek shelter elsewhere in Libya. These people have to live with very little and face shortages of food and water. They have almost no access to medicines and are unable to travel because of fuel shortages.
The situation is even worse at the border with Tunisia, where Tunisian authorities are struggling to receive thousands of Libyan refugees who want to flee their country. The United Nations estimates that as many as 3.6 million people could be in need of humanitarian assistance and that is where our government can and must do more. So far, only half the United Nations' requests for aid have been met.
If we talk about people being killed, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people have been killed on both sides in four months of fighting in Libya. Almost 500,000 people have left the country since the crisis began, while about 330,000 people have been internally displaced. It is estimated by the UN that at least 1,000 people, mainly men, have been kidnapped or have disappeared in Misrata since the conflict began in February.
The UN refugee agency reports that tens of thousands of people on both sides of the battle lines in Libya are facing a critical shortage of essential goods, including food, medicine and fuel.
The situation on the Tunisian border is increasingly strained as Tunisian authorities struggle to absorb the tens of thousands of Libyans fleeing the conflict. Under the United Nations' worst-case scenario, as many as 3.6 million people in the country could eventually require humanitarian assistance.
This is why we have to support those people. We need to be there to support all the women and all the people living in Libya.
There are probably people in Canada of Libyan origin and I sincerely believe they would be proud that we are supporting them. I would not want to have to inform any of them that their family members back in Libya had been killed or raped. I believe we must support them out of respect for human rights. These people have the right to feel safe in their homes.