Leader of the Government in the House of Commons John Baird speaks to media in the Foyer of the House of Commons February 28, 2011.
Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWACanada is warning that the desire for freedom in Libya and across the region will overwhelm leaders who withhold democracy and abuse their citizens.
After criticism of its reluctant embrace of the pro-democracy rebellion that toppled Egypts longtime ruler, Prime Minister Stephen Harpers government is now positioning itself squarely behind Libyan rebels who are massing on Tripolis doorstep and preparing for battle with their dictator.
In Ottawa, Government House Leader John Baird tabled sanctions in the House of Commons and spoke openly of regime change to end Col. Moammar Gadhafis 41-year rule. At a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon spoke hopefully of a tide of change sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa.
He was speaking of the successful revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, which both ousted their longtime leaders, but also of Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan, where autocratic rulers have promised political reforms and freedoms in a bid to snuff out the flame of full democracy.
While the United States and other western nations tried to encourage Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak to renounce his throne, Canada seemed preoccupied with the security risk to Israel of a politically volatile Egypt.
Cannons remarks were also aimed squarely at Iran, where the countrys theocratic leadership crushed post-election protests in 2009 and have used force to put down more recent copycat demonstrations inspired by protests in Egypt and Tunisia.
Leaders who try to defy or repress this tide, like Gadhafi or the leadership in Iran, will eventually be overwhelmed, he said.
Cannon advised governments facing an unruly citizenry to listen to the people, offer them genuine dialogues and respect their rights and freedoms.
The resounding response to Gadhafis series of military and mercenary attacks on Libyan protesters, which the dictator has shrugged off in recent interviews, is designed not only to cripple his regimes ability to finance the repression but to set a precedent for other leaders who may fear theirs is the next country to erupt in violence.
The clampdown began on Friday with coordinated announcements of economic sanctions and trade embargoes against Libya. Canada took United Nations Security Council sanctions, passed Saturday, one step further after the federal government learned of an attempt by the regime to withdraw a huge sum of money from a Canadian bank, reportedly tens of millions of dollars.
We are aware of specific financial dealings of the Libyan regime in financial institutions in Canada and the actions taken by our government have blocked those, Baird said Monday, refusing to reveal any specific details.
The Canadian sanctions are also expected to ban the operations of Canadian companies SNC Lavalin, which was building a prison, irrigation system and airport, and Suncor, which produces oil, in the country.
The sanctions apply to the provision of assistance, goods and services to named members of the Libyan regime, said a government official.
Both companies have evacuated the bulk of their foreign employees from Libya and suspended operations because of the unrest. Baird said that even without the new sanctions no company in their right mind would consider a continued activity in Libya until a peace is achieved.
Even as governments take the administrative steps to implement sanctions, world leaders are examining the next steps they can take to cripple Gadhafi and hasten his ouster. British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers Monday that he had instructed his defence officials to look at the logistics of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, something that Canadian defence sources say is not yet happening in Ottawa.
The UN would have to give its approval to any plan before foreign fighter jets started policing the countrys airspace to prevent Libyan military aircraft from firing on the advancing rebels.
Still, foreign forces are already diving in and out of the country from airbases in Malta in order to rescue their citizens, often from remote Libyan oilfields. A Canadian C-17 transport plane made one such run Monday morning, bound for an oilfield southwest of Tripoli, government officials said.
The flight picked up one Canadian as well as German, Vietnamese, Filipino and Thai citizens and dropped them in Malta at 7:30 a.m. EST. Another 33 Canadians were evacuated aboard a British military ship, HMS Cumberland.
As of Monday morning, 151 Canadian citizens were remaining in Libya.