SNC-Lavalin has confirmed it has a contract to build a detention centre in Libya, a country currently gripped by violence as pro-democracy protesters clash with hardline government forces.

The Montreal-based engineering giant has said the facility will be the "first to be built according to international human rights standards."

"We think this is an important step forward for this country and an opportunity for us as a company to share values that we think are essential to all citizens of the world," Leslie Quinton, the company's vice-president of global communications said in an email Thursday.

Quinton denied reports that SNC-Lavalin was concealing the project.

"It is one of the thousands of projects we work on yearly, not all of which are announced by press release."

Quinton pointed out the project is mentioned in SNC-Lavalin's upcoming annual report for 2010.

"We are proud to be able to deliver such a necessary project and hope that it will become a model for others in the region. What would be the alternative to building a state-of-the-art facility according to the standards of human rights?"

Libya has been in the throes of upheaval after a popular uprising in neighbouring Egypt forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to hand over power to a ruling military council on Feb. 11.

It appears at least some army units have abandoned Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's fight to defend his rule in favour of protesters. Other reports say mercenary groups are supporting the regime.

Reports from the country include grisly details of massacres, lynchings and street fighting.

Libya has consistently received poor grades from the international community for its human rights record, with calls to end prisoner abuse, restrictions on the media and illegal detentions.

'Bloody dictators'

In Quebec City, the sole member of Quebec solidaire in the legislature criticized SNC-Lavalin for working with the Libyans and said it should end the contract immediately.

Amir Khadir called on the company to "be socially and ethically responsible and stop this collaboration."

He said Quebecers cannot accept one of their companies being involved with "bloody dictators."

"Many people who are in prison in Libya are only in prison because they want more freedom, they want their rights to be respected and a Canadian firm is collaborating with that regime in putting these people in jail," he said.

"Quebec people do not want our country, our people, our businesses, collaborating with dictators."

SNC-Lavalin has two other projects in the North African country.

Benghazi Airport, is a $500 million contract awarded in September 2008 that is about two years from completion and the $450 million Great Man Made River contract awarded last October that is scheduled to be finished by 2015. Both represent about $200 million in revenues, or about three per cent of the company's total revenues.

SNC-Lavalin has 22,000 employees in 100 countries, with offices in 35 countries. It is one of the biggest engineering and construction companies in the world and a major player in the ownership of infrastructure and in operations and maintenance services.

It's shares closed at $55.50 Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.