POLITICS

Libyan diplomat in Canada makes refugee claim

08/09/2011 04:41 EDT | Updated 10/10/2011 05:12 EDT
AP

At least one Libyan diplomat is claiming refugee status in an attempt to stay in Canada, after the Department of Foreign Affairs moved to kick out the country's remaining diplomats, CBC News has confirmed.

Making a refugee claim in Canada entitles a person to a hearing with the Immigration and Refugee Board before any attempt to remove them from the country.

Sufyan Maghur, who represents the National Transitional Council in Ottawa, says he isn't surprised to hear any of the diplomats have made refugee claims.

"It's late in the game and I don't think any of them want to go back," he said.

"I really want to put my faith in the Canadian immigration system. I have full trust in it and I think it will do good. If these people have done something wrong, I think their claim will be rejected and they will be kicked out."

While the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa is closed, it doesn't mean diplomatic relations with the country have officially been severed.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said late Monday night that Canada had declared all remaining diplomats at the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa personae non gratae and that they have five business days to get out of Canada. Their access to the embassy's bank accounts was also cut off by Ottawa.

There were four diplomats still working at the embassy, CBC News confirmed on Tuesday. Five staff had already been expelled in May. At that time, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said they were being kicked out because activities they had carried out in Canada were "considered inappropriate and inconsistent with normal diplomatic functions."

The expulsion of the remaining diplomats is the "latest step Canada has taken to isolate and delegitimize" Moammar Gadhafi's regime," according to Baird's statement.

NDP MP Hélène Laverdière said it was the right move. "Every pressure we put on the Gadhafi regime, I think it's good," she told CBC News.

But some are questioning the timing of the decision and why it wasn't made earlier.

"It's a fairly logical move which is coming very late in the game," said former Canadian diplomat Louis Delvoie.

Canada is a primary player in the NATO air-bombing campaign of Libya that began in March and maintaining diplomatic relations with the government of a country that it is bombing is "nonsense," he said. Delvoie is the former ambassador to Libya's neighbour Algeria, and former high commissioner to Pakistan. He is now a fellow at Queen's University's Centre for International Relations.

Six weeks ago when Baird travelled to Libya he met with members of the NTC, made up of anti-Gadhafi rebels, and declared it the "legitimate representative of the people of Libya." International partners that call themselves the Contact Group on Libya, also agreed to recognize the NTC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people when they last met in mid-July.

Recognizing the NTC as the legitimate representative body in effect meant Canada declared Gadhafi's regime illegitimate, yet it was still maintaining diplomatic relations with it, Delvoie said.

The Libyan diplomats should have all been expelled at the same time, he said.

Some diplomatic ties remain

It's not clear what will happen next at the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa now that it has been closed. The government says it has not officially cut ties with Libya completely.

Diplomats named by the NTC took over the embassy in London on Tuesday, previously staffed by appointees of Gadhafi's government, Reuters news agency reported. Whether the same thing will happen in Canada is unknown. A government source said, "We are examining all options at this point."

Canada and other countries that belong to the effort in Libya have imposed sanctions, tried to apply diplomatic pressure on Gadhafi and have been conducting airstrikes for months. Expelling diplomats and shutting down embassies is a move that several countries have made.

"It's part of a larger move by a number of Western countries to isolate the regime, but so far that isolation has not produced any discernable results. Colonel Gadhafi has managed to hang in there," Delvoie said.

Canada's military involvement in the United Nations-sanctioned mission is set to expire on Sept. 27. The NDP said on Monday that if Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government ask Parliament to extend the mission, it will not support a vote on it.

The party's foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said Canada should move to more diplomatic efforts.

"There is not one person, even on the military side, who thinks that the goals will be achieved through military means. Let's acknowledge that and let's not sleepwalk into another ongoing conflict," Dewar said after a special summer meeting of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.

"We need to put our focus on the diplomatic side and the political side," he said, adding that Canada has achieved its goal of preventing Gadhafi from massacring Libyan people.