Canada kicks out 5 Libyan diplomats

The federal government is expelling five diplomats working at the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa.
Demonstrators supporting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, foreground, square off across the street from people who oppose him outside the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa on May 13. Canada is expelling five diplomats from the embassy. (CBC)

Five Libyan diplomats working in Ottawa have one week to get out of the country amid fears they were trying to intimidate Libyan citizens in Canada.

The officials have been declared persona non grata, a news release distributed Tuesday evening by the Department of Foreign Affairs says.

"The activities carried out in Canada by the five Libyan diplomats are considered inappropriate and inconsistent with normal diplomatic functions," the release says.

"Canada has not severed diplomatic relations with Libya, but we have suspended the operations of the embassy in Tripoli. The Libyan Embassy in Ottawa remains open."

The five diplomats and their families must arrange for their immediate departure.

Ambassador Abdulrahman Abututa is not one of the diplomats being expelled. Abututa presented his credentials to Gov. Gen. David Johnston last October.

A government source confirmed there were fears embassy officials were trying to intimidate those opposed to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Protesters called for expulsions

Ottawa-based representatives of the Libyan National Transitional Council called in March for Canada to expel Libya's diplomats.

One day after the British government expelled five Libyan diplomats from the U.K. for safety reasons, Sufyan Maghur urged Ottawa to do the same.

"They call themselves diplomats, but they don't really do anything outside of the listening, watching, taping or scaring the Libyan community," Maghur said of the Libyan diplomats. "There's no real diplomatic issues that they deal with."

Some Libyan students in Canada who have spoken out against Moammar Gadhafi's regime said they recently received threatening phone calls and that they believe diplomatic staff were involved.

Safiah Aghliw, who organized a March 31 protest demanding the embassy's closure in Ottawa, said many of the students told her they were too afraid of reprisals from diplomats operating within the Libyan Embassy to attend the rally.

Threats of deportations reported

"They will cut their student visas, they will deport them right away. At times, we heard reports of bribes," she said.

Baset Elzagallai, a student at the University of Western Ontario, was told his scholarship would be cancelled. He showed up at the demonstration anyway, saying he wanted the diplomats to renounce the Libyan regime.

"Their duty actually is established from the legitimacy of the people, not of a dictator," he said.

Ihab al-Mismari, the only diplomat to have defected, said his wife was recently visited and confronted by a driver working for the embassy, who called al-Mismari a traitor.

When his wife threatened to call 911, the chauffeur drove away, but also left a letter warning that al-Mismari could be charged with treason.

Ambassador declared support for Gadhafi

Although British Foreign Secretary William Hague reasoned that the Libyans were sent packing because their presence in Britain was considered a possible security threat, al-Mismari's cousin, Balqees Mihirig, said Canada is being naive.

"Some of the members of the embassy are part of the Libyan intelligence services," Mihirig said. "And those are the most dangerous people in Gadhafi's regime."

So far, Canada has not taken steps to expel any Libyan diplomat, including the head of Libya's intelligence operation in Canada, Saleh Ramadan Zaidan.

The Canadian Libyan Council recently condemned the Libyan ambassador for making official his support for Gadhafi on the embassy website.

Last week, a protest outside the embassy in Ottawa turned into a skirmish as groups for and against Gadhafi's regime confronted one another.

A pro-Gadhafi protester was injured and treated in an ambulance, and an Ottawa RCMP officer hurt his leg and was taken to hospital.

Police took out their batons and broke up fighting between about 75 anti-Gadhafi protesters and a handful of people supporting the Libyan leader.