Canadian CF-18 in Libya, March 2011. Image credit: Video still via Kevin Coulombe/YouTube

As Canada prepares to spend $19 billion to purchase 88 new fighter jets next year, and close to another $60 billion to operate and sustain them, it is appropriate to look at the aftermath of the war where they were used the most.

A primary use of Canada’s fleet of CF-18s over the past 30 years has been bombing missions in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria. Canada’s fighter jets have conducted at least 1,598 bombing missions over these countries.

In March 2011, Canada joined the NATO mission in Libya.

CF-18 fighter jets conducted 733 bombing sorties, making up 10 per cent of NATO air strikes, and dropped 696 bombs of various types.

NATO “debilitated Libya’s water supply by targeting critical state-owned water installations,” according to investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed. That included bombing a state water utility in Sirte in April 2011 and the water-pipe factory in Brega in July 2011.

Ahmed adds: “By September 2011, UNICEF reported that the disruption to the GMR [Great Man-Made River water supply system] had left 4 million Libyans without potable water.”

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed on October 20, 2011, and the war was declared over on October 23, 2011.

On that day, then prime minister Stephen Harper stated:

“We join Libyans in welcoming the post-Gaddafi era and the transition of the country to a democratic society — one that respects human rights and the rule of law. Canada will continue to work with transitional leaders as the new Libya takes shape.”

By November 4, 2011, the CF-18s had returned to Canada.

Attempts to build a democratic state after Gaddafi was toppled quickly disintegrated into a new civil war that began in May 2014.

By July 2014, the Canadian embassy in Tripoli was closed due to security challenges.

In May 2020, The Guardian reported:

“Under Gaddafi’s brutal rule, Libya had one of the highest standards of living in Africa. [Now] more than 200,000 people are internally displaced and 1.3 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.”

That second war lasted until October 2020.

In July 2021, the International Organization for Migration reported that at least 1,146 people died attempting to reach Europe across the Mediterranean Sea in the first six months of 2021. The route between Libya and Italy was the deadliest, claiming 741 lives.

Furthermore, this year 13,000 people have been forcibly returned from sea to Libya. The International Organization for Migration says those people are subjected to arbitrary detention, extortion, disappearances and torture.

In October 2011, Canada’s prime minister said he looked forward to the Libya that would take shape after the war.

What emerged has been described as a nightmare.

The government of Canada now says: “Despite these challenges, there remain significant commercial opportunities in Libya for Canadian companies in the oil and gas, infrastructure and education sectors.”

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the end of Canada’s bombing missions in Libya we can ask: did the 696 bombs we dropped on Libya bring peace and human rights?

Do we bear some responsibility for the migrants now fleeing Libya and drowning in the Mediterranean Sea? What lessons were learned? What could have been done differently?

A public debate on the use of Canada’s fighter jets is crucial as the Canadian government prepares to spend $19 billion on new fighter jets in 2022.

Brent Patterson is an activist and writer.

Image credit: Video still via Kevin Coulombe/YouTube

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer. He has worked in solidarity with revolutionary Nicaragua, advocated for the rights of prisoners in jails and federal prisons, taken part in civil...