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Canada wants Gadhafi to face world court for crimes against humanity

Libyan anti-government protesters wave their old national flag during a rally in Benghazi on February 28, 2011. GETTY IMAGES/AFP PHOTO/Patrick Baz.

Canada says Moammar Gadhafi should be hauled before the International Criminal Court to answer for attacking his own people.

The call by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on Monday came as the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa abandoned Gadhafi and pledged its “utter solidarity” with the pro-democracy uprising.

“We would obviously be in agreement — total agreement — with any resolution that came forward that would bring Gadhafi to the authority of the international court,” Cannon said at a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

He spoke after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court raised the possibility that attacks on civilians by forces loyal to Gadhafi could result in the Libyan strongman facing charges of crimes against humanity. Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he hoped to decide within days whether to formally open an investigation that could lead to charges.

The UN Security Council has asked the war crimes court to examine the deadly crackdown in Libya. The only other time the council referred a case to the court, it led to the genocide indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for atrocities in the Darfur region.

The Libyan embassy in Ottawa has also denounced the violence by Gadhafi’s teetering regime — a government it says it no longer speaks for.

“The Libyan embassy in Ottawa announces its absolute denunciation of the bloody events that are currently taking place in Libya” the embassy said in a statement on its website.

“Whilst we pray for the souls of the martyrs who fell during those tragic events, we call for their immediate cessation and for the realization of the rights of our great Libyan people in choosing their options and achieving their legitimate demands.”

The embassy said it would remain open in order to “safeguard the interests of Libya” and Libyans in Canada.

The Harper government said it hopes economic sanctions against Libya will force Gadhafi from power quickly. Government House leader John Baird tabled documents in Parliament on Monday to implement sanctions against what he called the “appalling” regime in Tripoli.

Canada has joined the United Nations and a number of western countries in slapping sanctions on the North African country. The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to impose an arms embargo and urged member states to freeze the assets of Gadhafi, four of his sons and a daughter.

However, Baird said the new measures will not lead to a ban on commercial activity by Canadian companies in Libya, which include Montreal-based engineering giant SNC Lavalin and oil company Suncor.

“Obviously there are Canadian companies who have operations there. This doesn’t eliminate commercial activities. What it does do is refrain financial transactions with the Libyan government and with the Libyan central bank.”

Baird said the government has contacted SNC Lavalin and hopes the sanctions will be “time limited” because the regime change would force Gadhafi out of power.

SNC Lavalin said it’s awaiting details of how the sanctions might affect its operations.

“As soon as we have clarified the nature of the legal requirements, we will implement them on all our activities in Libya,” spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said.

Quinton said some employees of the company volunteered to remain in Libya to “supervise our projects there.”

Industry Minister Tony Clement said he didn’t have details on the financial impact to Canadian companies because of the sanctions, but added it was the right thing to do to “turn the screws on the Gadhafi regime.”

“There may be a cost to Canadian companies but, quite frankly, continuing to have that regime in power means that there’s a cost in terms of world peace and in terms of what their citizenry is exposed to.”

Earlier Monday, Cannon told the UN Human Rights Council that “a tide of change is sweeping the Middle East and North Africa” and that leaders such as Gadhafi and Iran’s ruling clerics will be “overwhelmed” if they try to defy it.

“We cannot allow the repression we see in Iran, in Libya and elsewhere in the world to continue any longer,” he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday about the situation in the region.

“They discussed the need to deter violence by the Libyan regime against its own citizens, and for co-ordinated international action to address growing humanitarian needs in Libya and neighbouring countries, including a role for the United Nations,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

Harper has said Canada will go beyond the UN resolution by banning any financial dealings with the government of Libya and its institutions and agencies, including the Libyan Central Bank. Canada will also freeze Libyan government assets.

Baird refused to say how much money the Libyan government has invested in Canada, but he confirmed that Gadhafi’s regime tried to access its holdings here.

“We are aware of specific financial dealings of the Libyan regime in financial institutions in Canada and the actions taken by our government have blocked those,” Baird said.

Meanwhile, the United States and Britain raised the possibility of a no-fly zone to prevent Gadhafi from inflicting further misery on his people, as American aircraft carriers were positioned closer to Libya.

Cannon said there was “no consensus” among allies about implementing a no-fly zone. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted that the UN resolution didn’t call for a no-fly zone or other armed intervention.