Harper heads to Paris meeting on Libya

Stephen Harper was set to meet other world leaders in Paris, after his foreign minister suggested Canadian involvement in Libya could go beyond the deployment of CF-18s.

Canada commits 6 CF-18 fighter jets to help enforce UN no-fly zone over Libya

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces Canada will send fighter jets to help enforce a UN resolution of a no-fly zone over Libya, in the Commons foyer March 18, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper headed to Paris late Friday to attend a summit with other world leaders to discuss the ongoing crisis in Libya, hours after announcing Canada would deploy CF-18s to enforce a UN no-fly zone.

The meeting on Saturday will be hosted by French President Nicholas Sarkozy. British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are expected to attend the meeting, along with representatives from the Arab League and other European countries, according to Canada's foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, who is also attending.

Cannon said the meeting will deal with "operational matters" related to the no-fly zone now imposed over Libya.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Cannon went further in discussing what Canada is prepared to do, saying Canada is "open to all options." When asked by host Kathleen Petty if that includes "boots on the ground," Cannon said if that were required to "protect citizens that are being literally murdered by [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi, that's what the resolution calls for."

Opposition leaders, who were briefed by Harper before the announcement to deploy the CF-18s, offered support for the deployment. But Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said that support came with conditions.

"I said to [Harper] that I thought it was important for Canada to deploy immediately, but I thought that any combat operations ... must have parliamentary approval and so we will be looking to the government to provide parliamentary authorization as soon as possible for this mission," Ignatieff said Friday in Nanticoke, Ont.

"This is an air interdiction operation as I understand it, it is not a ground troops commitment and that principle must be maintained," Ignatieff said.

The CF-18s took off in snowy weather Friday from CFB Bagotville, along with 150 personnel. Two C-17s from CFB Trenton are being used to transport the personnel. CBC News has learned the CF-18s, pilots and support personnel will be based, at least for now, at Trapani, Italy, an air base in the western part of Sicily.

Harper said his government authorized the deployment to support the UN resolution passed late Thursday declaring a no-fly zone over Libya and authorizing the use of "all necessary measures" to stop attacks on Libyan civilians.

"The message given by Canada is a strong one and the Canadian Forces are prepared to respond," Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, chief of the air staff, told a news conference at the base before the planes departed.  

"This departure means that Canada is fully engaged in this important mission and you can expect to be put into operations once you arrive in theatre," Deschamps told the departing crew. "I have full confidence in you and you will make a difference and do us proud."

The CF-18 jet deployment adds to the presence of the HMCS Charlottetown that is currently stationed in the Mediterranean Sea.

Situation 'remains intolerable': PM

In Harper announcing the deployment, Harper said Canada has taken a "strong and decisive" position on Libya and to date actions have included evacuating Canadian citizens, imposing sanctions, and calling on Gadhafi to step down.

"Despite these actions, the situation in Libya remains intolerable," said Harper, adding that Canada worked to gain support for the UN resolution. "We will now take the urgent action necessary to support it," he said.

The prime minister said the government is encouraged by reports of a ceasefire in Libya in response to the threat of military action. For the threat to remain credible, however, adequate military forces need to be in place, he said.

"Our deployment will therefore proceed," Harper said.

"One either believes in freedom or one just says one believes in freedom. The Libyan people have shown by their sacrifice that they believe in it. Assisting them is a moral obligation upon those of us who profess to believe in this great ideal," he said.

Harper did not take questions from reporters after making his statement.

Opposition leaders informed

Harper said he spoke to the leaders of the opposition to inform them of the government's decision and that Parliament will be consulted when it resumes sitting next week. He also said the approval of Parliament will be sought if troops are to be deployed in the region for longer than three months.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe's office said he suggested to Harper that a motion be introduced in the Commons next week to ratify the deployment. If there was a vote to extend the deployment beyond three months, the Bloc would support it, Duceppe's office said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said he supports the deployment but raised some "concerns" with Harper and said he wants Canada's role in any missions going forward to be made very clear.

The government is expected to present a motion in the House of Commons as early as Monday, outlining Canada's involvement in the UN-backed action.

Canada is not alone in committing military personnel to help enforce the no-fly zone. British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country will also start moving planes to bases near Libya. France and the United States have also indicated their militaries will participate.