Libya-Canada diplomatic relations halted

Canada has suspended diplomatic relations with Libya and evacuated its ambassador and all staff from the strife-torn North African country, the Prime Minister's Office says.

C-17 flies Canadian, Australian diplomatic staff out of Tripoli

Latest

  • Canada suspends diplomatic relations with Libya, and pulls out its ambassador and staff
  • Opposition says the Harper government bungled the evacuation effort
  • Less than half of the 200 remaining Canadians in Libya want to leave

Canada has suspended diplomatic relations with Libya and evacuated its ambassador and all staff from the strife-torn North African country.

A Canadian C-17 Globemaster aircraft left Libya on Saturday bound for Malta carrying 46 evacuees, including 24 Canadian citizens, the Prime Minister's Office said in a briefing.

Those on board included Canadian diplomats as well as the Australian diplomatic team, said Dimitri Soudas, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's communications director.

Fewer than 200 Canadians remain in Libya and fewer than 100 want to leave, Soudas said. Most remaining Canadians are in the Benghazi area and are working for companies.

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There were no Canadians at Tripoli International Airport early Saturday, but a British flight was due to leave later Saturday with any Canadians who made it to the airport, according to Harper's spokesman.

Britain also temporarily suspended operations at its embassy in Tripoli and evacuated its diplomatic staff.

It's believed as many as 1,000 people have died in violence in Libya as government forces continue to crack down on protesters demanding an end to Moammar Gadhafi's 42-year rule.

'Last planned' evacuation flight

Earlier Saturday, the Canadian government had advised Canadians needing help getting out of Libya that the "last planned evacuation flight" would be leaving the embattled country's capital sometime Saturday.

Several Canadians who got out of Libya on their own said they were disappointed with the federal government's response.

Zoran Koracin, an oil and gas engineer who returned to Calgary from Tripoli late Friday, said his biggest disappointment was with the Canadian Embassy.

A staffer there told him to check his email for updates on the crisis and on flights home but the wireless network was spotty for most of the past week, he said.

"I told him, 'You know what? You are useless. You're here because of us and you should have somebody 24 hours on the phone trying to contact people and let them know, are you preparing something?'"

He said he was able to eventually book his own flights back to Canada, which involved flying from Tripoli to Belgrade, Belgrade to London and London to Calgary.

Sheila Muirhead, whose husband Michael was able to get out of Benghazi late Friday after getting a ride to Malta on a British navy frigate, said her biggest disappointment was also the federal government's response. She said it was too slow.

She was also upset by her husband's Libyan employer, who she said did nothing to help the employees. After the violence broke out in the city, her husband and his co-workers were left on their own at the compound.

"Everybody from Libya left the building and the ex-pats were left to fend for themselves for three days," said Muirhead, who spoke to her husband on Skype late Friday.

"They could hear the whizzing of the bullets going past the windows. One bullet did come through a building window," she said. "Another co-worker from Canada did have somebody try and break down the door in the building. He barricaded himself against the door."

Muirhead's husband is now in London and is expected back in Canada on Sunday.

On its website, the Department of Foreign Affairs advised Canadians wishing to depart on the flight to leave for Tripoli International Airport "at first light" Saturday.

"Given the unpredictable security situation and deteriorating conditions, this is the last planned evacuation flight," the department said.

The C-17 military transport aircraft has been designed for rapid strategic airlift, even from unpaved runways. The aircraft featured prominently during the Canadian military's aid mission in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

2nd charter flight leaves empty

In a televised statement Friday evening, the prime minister said the Canadian government has "facilitated" the safe evacuation of about 200 Canadians from Libya on a number of flights and vessels.

But CBC News has learned that a second Canadian-chartered flight, which arrived in Tripoli around 3 a.m. local time Saturday, left empty because there were no Canadians at the airport to pick up.

The charter representative told the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault he believed the plane could not stick around on the runway in Tripoli because of airport congestion.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Saturday that Canada's evacuation efforts were hampered by the fact the Tories haven't given Canada's foreign service adequate resources and Canadians are now suffering the consequences.

"We didn't staff it up and I don't think we've invested enough," he told reporters in Montreal.

"And now we discover in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya just how important our diplomats are to help Canadians out of danger and to give us the good information to make public policy."

Senior government officials said Canadian staff will stay in Malta to assist citizens arriving there and that Foreign Affairs staff remain in contact with Canadians still in Libya.

The Canadian Embassy had previously warned on its website on Friday that the road to Tripoli's airport was impassable. It described the situation for travellers as "extremely chaotic" as it advised Canadians not to attempt to reach the airport.

Canadian citizens in Libya wanting to leave Libya should contact Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada's Emergency Operations Centre at 613-996-8885. They may also send an email to sos@international.gc.ca.

Many Canadians wishing to leave have found their own way out by hitching rides on allied countries' flights and ships.

On Friday, hundreds of employees of a Montreal-based company that is overseeing a number of construction projects in Libya left the country by bus. The SNC Lavalin workers had been holed up in a camp about 200 kilometres from Tripoli.

Rallies across Canada

Many Canadians who attended rallies in several cities Saturday  said Canada has been too slow to speak out against Libya's violent crackdown on demonstrators.

"That took far too long," Amal Abuzgaya, one of the Toronto demonstration's organizers, said of the government's decision to pull out of the troubled country.

"We feel that Canada is being a follower and not taking action in terms of humanitarian aid," she said. "We still feel there's more that [the government] can do."

The rally in downtown Toronto drew a modest crowd, while dozens of people showed up at events in Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg.

About 100 people marched through downtown Montreal, waving Libyan flags and chanting, "Down with Gadhafi!"

Corrections

  • Sandra McCardell is Canada's ambassador to Libya. An earlier version of this story referred to former ambassador Haig Sarafian as the current ambassador.
    Oct 13, 2013 2:04 AM ET

With files from The Canadian Press