03/21/2012 04:36 EDT | Updated 05/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Ambassador To Libya Back In Canada Amid Controversy

The woman who led Canada's diplomatic mission in Libya throughout the Arab Spring and the start of the country's rebuilding is back in Canada.

Ambassador Sandra McCardell is no longer the top diplomat to Libya, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said.

"Ms. McCardell is the former ambassador to Libya and is currently waiting on her next assignment," Chris Day said.

"Our chargé d’affaires in Tripoli [the Libyan capital] will continue to serve as the interim head of mission until a new ambassador is selected."

McCardell was running the Canadian embassy when protests first broke out against the regime of then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. She led the effort to evacuate Canadians, and she and her family escaped on one of the flights out of the country. She returned to Libya last fall as the opposition closed in on Gadhafi.

CBC News reported last month that SNC-Lavalin had hired McCardell's husband, Edis Zagorac, to work as part of a military-civilian engineering unit that the Canadian engineering firm created with the Gadhafi regime.

SNC-Lavalin, which has billions of dollars in contracts with Libya, hired the ambassador’s husband for the project shortly after her appointment to Libya.

The discovery led Baird to request a review in January, 2012 into potential conflict of interest and to re-examine the Canadian government's policies on companies doing work for foreign militaries.

On language training

While a Quebec newspaper reported McCardell stepped down from her posting, a senior government official says she has been in Ottawa since November on intensive Arabic language training.

McCardell leaving her post in Tripoli has nothing to do with her husband's work with SNC-Lavalin, the official said. The report Baird requested is being finalized, but it appears McCardell was diligent and wanted to make sure she didn't appear to do anything wrong, the official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Speaking to CBC News in February, Baird's spokesman, Joseph Lavoie, said that "Ambassador McCardell did seek the proper guidance from the department's values and ethics division."

But Lavoie also said Baird only learned on Jan. 18 of Zagorac’s work with SNC-Lavalin involving the controversial Libyan projects, prompting the minister to request the review and report.

Lavoie also said Baird "has been clear on his views of Ambassador McCardell's great work in ensuring the safety of Canadians on the ground in the lead up to the liberation of Libya."

McCardell has a history of working in diplomatic hotspots, starting her career in Israel before moving to Bosnia and then Lebanon, according to a 2009 biography provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Gadhafi launched a bloody battle to repress the protests, including ordering Libyan pilots to strafe demonstrators. McCardell led efforts to evacuate Canadians from the country.

The UN Security Council voted in March, 2011 to approve a mission to protect civilians in the country and to order strict sanctions against the regime. Canada took part in the six-month NATO mission, which saw Gadhafi captured and killed last fall. McCardell was there to reopen the Canadian embassy in Tripoli in September 2011.