Canadian firms can stay in Libya: Baird

Strict financial sanctions against Libya won't stop Canadian companies from operating in the country, government House leader John Baird says.

Canadian companies must make financial transactions with Libya, central bank

Government House leader John Baird speaks to media Monday in the foyer of the House of Commons after tabling documents related to the sanctions against Libya. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Strict financial sanctions against Libya won't stop Canadian companies from operating in the country, government House leader John Baird says.

"This doesn't eliminate commercial activities. What it does do is restrain financial transactions with the Libyan government and with the Libyan Central Bank," Baird said Monday morning.

"We don't want to see commercial operations flowing money into the regime at this time that would be used either to be stolen or, even worse, used to finance the violence against the Libyan people."  

Baird says the government has been in touch with Canadian engineering company SNC Lavalin, which operates in the country, to explain the measures.

"They can operate there, they can operate commercially. What they can't do is operate financially with either the Libyan government or the Central Bank of Libya," he said. "I think as the situation is deteriorating that we're not looking at expanding commercial activity."  

An SNC Lavalin spokeswoman said the company is awaiting more details on measures imposed by both the UN and Ottawa.

"We are awaiting more details as to how they will apply to our projects before knowing what the precise impact will be," Leslie Quinton, vice-president of global corporate communications, wrote in an email to CBC News. "As soon as we have clarified the nature of the legal requirements, we will implement them on all our activities in Libya."

Quinton added that evacuation of SNC Lavalin workers should be completed in the next 48 hours.

Calgary-based Suncor, which is involved in projects in Libya's oilfields, said in a statement Monday it was also awaiting more details.

"We currently expect that the sanctions, as they have been reported in the media thus far, will not prevent us from maintaining our evacuation support efforts, and support for our Libyan employees," the statement read.

Assets frozen

Baird tabled strict sanctions against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his five children and top 10 associates in the House of Commons, the morning after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the moves. 

Speaker Peter Milliken turned down a request for an emergency debate on the sanctions Monday.

The UN Security Council unanimously voted Saturday to freeze the assets of Gadhafi and to impose a travel ban on the Libyan dictator and those close to him.

The resolution also includes an arms embargo and a request to the International Criminal Court to investigate Libyan leaders for possible crimes against humanity.

Harper said on Sunday evening the federal government has put in place the UN sanctions and also imposed an asset freeze and a ban on financial transactions with the government of Libya, its institutions and agencies, including the Libyan central bank.

"These actions will help restrict the movement of and access to money and weapons for those responsible for violence against the Libyan people," he said in Ottawa.

"The actions of the current Libyan regime are appalling and will not be tolerated." 

Baird said the government was "aware of specific financial dealings" with financial institutions in Canada.

"And the actions taken by our government has blocked those," he said, noting he couldn't be more specific.

"Obviously what we're committed to do is work with our international allies and go even farther to make sure none of that money will either support the regime or be used to finance the appalling violence of the regime against their people."

Nobody was revealing publicly how the government knew Gadhafi had stashed money in Canada.

"A lot of people are wondering how did [Gadhafi] … get the money there?" said NDP Leader Jack Layton. "Where did the money come from? Is this money stolen from the people of Libya?"

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae wondered why the government didn't also crack down on the deposed Tunisian leader, Ben Ali.

"Why is it so easy to put a big freeze on Mr. Gadhafi but not possible to put [a freeze] on the dictator from Tunisia, many of whose assets we know are also in Canada," he asked.

Under the cabinet order setting out the sanctions, it is up to banks and financial institutions to abide by the asset freeze.

Canada's banks must report transfers of $10,000 or more coming into or leaving the Canada, as well as any any suspicious transactions to an agency known as FINTRAC. That agency would be able to note transactions that breached the sanctions.

Gadhafi reportedly had $30 billion in assets in the U.S.

Baird said he hopes the sanctions impact will be limited and very short-term.

Harper said Gadhafi blatantly violated the most basic trust between a state and its people.

"Far from protecting the Libyan people against peril, he is the root cause of the dangers they face. It is clear that the only acceptable course of action for him is to halt the bloodshed and to immediately vacate his position and his authority."

Humanitarian aid a possibility 

Canada may also help France provide humanitarian aid to Libya, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Monday in Switzerland.

"The UN resolution obviously as well calls for humanitarian aid, so we're very supportive of the fact the French will be going forward with that, and we're certainly prepared to give a hand in that regard," he said from Geneva after speaking to the UN's Human Rights Council.

"I think as the days go forward we'll be in a better position to appreciate the different options that are there as they're being more refined," Cannon said.

As for a no-fly zone over Libya, where there are reports Gadhafi ordered military pilots to shoot at protesters, Cannon said that's complicated to organize.

"There doesn't seem to be a consensus among allies as of yet. Those discussions are ongoing," he said.

In his speech to the UN's council, Cannon said there's no place in this era for bloodthirsty, megalomaniacal dictators.

He urged the UN's high commissioner for human rights to move quickly to set up a commission to investigate violations of international human rights law in Libya and identify those responsible.

"We are very supportive of this initiative and obviously in total agreement with any resolution that came forward that would bring Gadhafi to the authorities of the international court," Cannon said.