Canada will provide $5 million in humanitarian aid to the people of Libya and has sent a warship to waters near the strife-torn North African country.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday the money will be used for food, shelter and medical assistance during Libya's humanitarian crisis, which has developed since longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi's crack down on dissent.

It remains unclear how the aid will be delivered, since Gadhafi has declared accepting foreign assistance "high treason" because it "opens Libya to colonialism."

Earlier on Wednesday, HMCS Charlottetown prepared to begin its week-long voyage to the Mediterranean Sea to help evacuate Canadians from Libya. The Halifax navy dockyard was bustling as crews put the last provisions on the frigate and duffle-carrying sailors kissed their families goodbye.

Just before 6 p.m. AT on Wednesday, HMCS Charlottetown came back into Halifax Harbour.

Mike Bonin, a spokesman for Maritime Forces Atlantic, told CBC News the frigate was out at sea doing technical verifications before it sets sail on its mission; one of those verifications was having the ship de-magnetized.

Bonin said the tasks were related to the ship's security and must be done at a specific site in Bedford Basin.

At 9:20 p.m. AT, the ship was seen moving again. The military later confirmed the ship was on its way to Libya.

Crew members found out Tuesday morning they were heading to the waters off Libya but couldn't tell their families about the mission until Harper announced it in the House of Commons hours later, CBC reporter Phonse Jessome said.

240 crew to aid evacuation

Libya has been veering toward a full-scale civil war between rebel forces concentrated in the east and forces loyal to Gadhafi centred on the capital, Tripoli.

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HMCS Charlottetown is expected to leave Halifax late Wednesday for Libya. ((Phonse Jessome/CBC))

Harper said Tuesday that Charlottetown and its 240 crew would assist in the evacuation effort.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the frigate will also be available to assist in any humanitarian mission as part of a U.S.-led task force in the Mediterranean. But the minister said the warship could also enforce any embargoes approved by the United Nations or NATO.

The journey to the coast of North Africa is expected to take six or seven days.

A Canadian C-17 military cargo plane managed to land in Tripoli Wednesday and took out 17 people, including one Canadian, according to Dimitri Soudas, communications director for Harper. 

As many as 200 Canadians are still in Libya. A military transport plane was refused permission to land at the main airport on Tuesday.

Canada has two C-17 military cargo planes and two Hercules aircraft in nearby Malta.

With files from The Canadian Press