Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada paying tribute to troops who served on Libyan mission

Ottawa, Ontario
24 November 2011

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the following remarks paying tribute to Canadian troops who served on Operation Mobile, as part of the NATO-led Operation Unified Protector in support of the Libyan people:

“Your Excellency, Mr. Speaker of the Senate Kinsella, Mr. Speaker of the Commons Scheer, Ambassadors and Commissioners, Ministers, Minister MacKay, Honourable Senators and Members of Parliament, Général Natynczyk, Lieutenant-General Bouchard, Members of Her Majesty’s Canadian Armed Forces, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen; this is a day of honour. It is a day to celebrate the success of the NATO mission to Libya, and Canada’s contribution to it; it is a day to pay tribute to the extraordinary men and women of our Armed Forces who played their part; and of course, it is a day to honour the great Canadian who led them. This is, as I said, a day of honour.

“Of course, when it comes to the Canadian Armed Forces, every day is a day of honour. We must always remember that it is no small thing to put your life on the line, day in and day out for your country: something we should always honour. But, even by that measure, today is special because we are celebrating a great military success: the success of Canada’s participation in Operation Unified Protector and Operation Mobile, respectively the NATO mission in Libya and Canada’s contribution to it.

“It is a day to pay tribute to the extraordinary men and women of our Armed Forces who played their part. And yes, it is a day to honour the great Canadian who led them.

“These missions were undertaken for a noble and admirable purpose: to safeguard the lives of millions of innocent Libyan civilians. I think we all remember how, as what was referred to, hopefully, as the Arab spring spread across North Africa, Libyans began asking for the same reforms as their neighbours.

“And, why would they do otherwise, having experienced over four decades of dictatorship so brutal and psychotic, that it had literally taken their country out of the mainstream of human existence?

“We also remember how the Gaddafi regime responded, unleashing the full fury of the state - police, army and air force – against them, calling all those who protested “germs, rats scumbags and cockroaches” – and demanded Libya be cleansed “house by house.” It was an invitation to genocide. That is why the Security Council of the United Nations, with the support of the Arab League, called on NATO to blockade the Libyan coast. That is why a no-fly zone was established over the country. And that is why the Government of Canada sent more than 2000 members of Canada’s Armed Forces to join their NATO allies in support of the most basic human rights of the Libyan people.

“For more than six months, Royal Canadian Navy frigates and aircraft of the Royal Canadian Air Force patrolled the Libyan theatre, carrying a share of the operations out of proportion to the size of the Force deployed.

“Numbers don't tell the whole story, but it bears repeating that Canadian fighter jets flew nearly a thousand sorties – roughly ten per cent of all sorties – without caveats against Gaddafi’s military. Canadians should also know that the taking of Tripoli by rebel forces was materially assisted by the CF-18 missions that cleared away Gaddafi’s remaining mechanized forces.

“Meanwhile, ships of the Royal Canadian Navy, on top of their role of enforcing the naval blockade, played a vital role in intelligence gathering, targeting and information operations. And, for the first time since the Korean War, a ship of the Royal Canadian Navy – the frigate Charlottetown – came under hostile fire.

“The intervention of the ships of the Royal Canadian Navy and the aircraft of the Royal Canadian Air Force, in concert with the NATO and Arab League allies was extremely effective. Because they held the ring, the Libyan people were able to lift Gaddafi’s yoke from their necks. And thanks to their own sacrifices, Libyans have won the opportunity to build for themselves a better future.

“This operation also shows, by the way, how considerable and how utterly unpredictable are the demands that may be placed upon the Canadian Armed Forces at any time. It reminds us, as if such reminder were necessary, how great is the obligation to ensure that the dedicated and courageous people who serve have the equipment and training they need to do their jobs as effectively and as safely as possible.

“Our Government is not indifferent to the mission performed by our men and women in uniform. One of this year’s high points for me was the opportunity I had in September to visit members of Canada’s Armed Forces in Trapani, in Sicily, and to personally congratulate them on the crucial part they were then playing in the Libya campaign.

“I told them their unwavering professionalism reflected the greatest possible credit upon every one of them. And I also told them this – and it deserves to be repeated here on Parliament Hill: that soldier for soldier, sailor for sailor, airman or airman, the Canadian Armed Forces are the best in the world.

“Further, I am proud to remind you that the entire NATO force was commanded with great distinction by the Royal Canadian Armed Force’s own Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard. General Bouchard, in a few moments you will receive from His Excellency the Governor General a tangible reminder of your country’s esteem. But General, I just want to say on a personal note, that your conduct of operations was in the finest traditions of the Canadian military. And I believe the appropriate signal is “Bravo Zulu.”

“So, on behalf of those gathered here now, and the Government of Canada, please accept our warmest congratulations. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered now to honour all those here and around the country, who have returned from the Libya mission.

“Our thoughts remain, of course, with those of their comrades who are still serving abroad in dangerous missions, particularly in Afghanistan, where Canada will remain until 2014. Our mission to Afghanistan is already the longest-ever military engagement in Canadian history.

“So let no-one ever question whether Canada is prepared to stay the course in defence of what is right. For we believe that in a world where people look for hope and cry out for freedom, those who talk the talk of human rights must from time to time be prepared to likewise walk the walk.

“History shows us this: that freedom seldom flowers in undisturbed ground. And so, while few nations exceed our own home and native land in its passion for peace, a generous spirit will not blind us to injustice. Still less shall “modest stillness and humility” make us indifferent towards oppressors. And, heaven forbid that we should fail to do that of which we are capable, when the path of duty is clear.

“Our Government is not that kind of government. Canada is not that kind of nation. And Canadians are not that kind of people. But, at least, our job in Libya has been done and done well. General, we salute you, and all who served alongside you. God bless all of you. God bless Canada and welcome home.”