Speech: Military Action in Libya

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise in this House today to discuss Canada’s role in the responsibility to protect civilian life in Libya. The United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 gave us that mandate.


Here, I want to be clear that had I been present in this House when this place first voted to support the mission, I would have voted with all the members present and said, “Yes, Canada has that role”.

There is no greater obligation or moral responsibility falling to elected representatives in the course of any train of human events than the decision to send its fellow citizens into harm’s way in a war zone and to risk their lives and the lives of others in pursuit of a cause in which it has been determined that only military action will suffice. In that sense, the Green Party acknowledges that there is such a thing as a just war, although the party, not just in Canada but also globally, subscribes as a fundamental principle to the pursuit of non-violence and peace.

In this context, the accepted international human rights norm of the responsibility to protect, which has been acknowledged since 2005, represents a new level of moral responsibility. Just as we might have said ages ago, “If someone beats their children, it’s not our business” or “If a man beats his wife it’s not our business, and we don’t go into their house”, now we have an exception to those notions of national sovereignty and can say that we can intercede. Now can go into their house because we recognize that there is a wrong being conducted, that innocent lives are at risk and that we have a right to intervene under the responsibility to protect.

Why then do I fear that I must vote against this motion? We have seen what is now referred to as mission creep, an extension of the responsibility to protect within Libya to a goal of regime change.

In order to meet the goals of UN resolution 1973, our primary goal should be a ceasefire, negotiated solutions and diplomacy. However, when the African Union came forward with a proposal through South African President Zuma, its peace proposal was rejected. Now there may have been other flaws, and I accept that. However, the only peace proposal on the table that was accepted by the government of Gadhafi was rejected by key NATO partners, because we suddenly said that a precondition to any ceasefire must be the removal of Colonel Gadhafi.

I must be very clear here as well. I deeply desire the removal of Colonel Gadhafi, but not by military means in what appears to be a civil war in which Canada has taken sides. An immediate ceasefire is needed, yes. Protection of human life is required.

However, many of the things I have heard hon. members say in this House over the course of today could apply to other governments in whose countries we have not intervened. It is not enough to say, “We have not engaged in Syria, so we should not continue in Libya”. It is not enough to say, “We have rejected the calls of the United Nations for peacekeepers to help end the systematic rape of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, so we mustn’t continue in Libya”. I’m not saying that.

I am saying that other governments have their turned guns on their own peoples, whether in Myanmar or, as I prefer to call it, Burma, or in Syria or other places around the world, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where we are not engaged.

So when we do choose to engage, we must keep our eye on the mission. The mission is the protection of civilians.

My own experience of this is only generational. I can only speak of how I was raised by my father. My father grew up in London during the blitz and he shared with us something that I think we should all bear in mind when we decide to go to war. In his view, as he used to tell us when we watched bombs falling on North Vietnam, there is no greater way to strengthen the resolve of a civilian population than aerial bombardment. There is no greater way to solidify their resolve to detest those who drop the bombs than aerial bombardment.

We need to recognize that collateral damage is not just the lives of innocents that we inevitably lose in aerial bombardment. Collateral damage is damage to our very souls. Collateral damage damages our legitimacy. Collateral damage is something that, while inevitable in war, should be deeply avoided when our mission is to protect innocent lives and we are not a nation at war.

For these and many reasons, I depart from the very good and noble objectives that I recognize on all sides of this House. I recognize that the opposition parties have put forward amendments which essentially say “yes” to the government motion, but they say “yes, but”.

In my case, on behalf of the Green Party and my constituents of Saanich—Gulf Islands, I must say “no, but”. I see we have a role as peacekeepers. I believe passionately that we must return to our role as peacekeepers as a nation that is so well known around the world for peacekeeping. We have a role within NATO to be the nation that stands and says, enough of the aerial bombardment, now is the time to send in the diplomats. Let us work with colleagues who have some chance of reaching the illegitimate government of Mr. Gadhafi. Let us work with colleagues in the African Union, the Arab League and the United Nations, and be the country that says that we do not continue to give a blank cheque to a mission that has no exit strategy.

With that and with deepest respect to all members on this side of the House, the other side of this place, I thank them all for what I know are deeply felt and high motives in going forward in the mission of Libya, but they will go forward without my vote.