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With Prime Minister Stephen Harper looking on in the Senate chamber, Governor-General David Johnston bestows the Meritorious Service Cross on Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchardlooks on during a ceremony honouring troops who served in the NATO-led mission in Libya on Nov. 24, 2011.DAVE CHAN

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor-General David Johnston paid warm tribute to the military today for its work in the Libyan campaign.

Mr. Johnston thanked the troops for their efforts.

"On behalf of all Canadians, I thank you for your service in this mission," he said. "Together, you embody our commitment to international law, to the rights and freedoms we cherish in a democratic society, and to the personal values of duty, honour, and service."

He spoke in the ornate, red-trimmed Senate chamber. The room was packed with uniforms from all three services. MPs, cabinet ministers and diplomats also looked on.

The Governor-General said the military had responded to the call of service.

"In Libya, you served with distinction at all levels, bringing great credit to the Canadian Forces and to Canada."

The Prime Minister called it "a day of honour."

"We are celebrating a great military success: the success of Canada's participation in Operation Unified Protector and Operation Mobile, respectively the NATO mission to Libya and Canada's contribution to it," he said.

He told the audience that "soldier for soldier, sailor for sailor, airman for airman, the Canadian armed forces are the best in the world."

The formal Parliament Hill ceremony recognized the efforts of the men and women who took part in the NATO campaign that helped force Moammar Gadhafi from power.

Canadian warplanes flew hundreds of missions over the North African country in the spring and summer, while warships patrolled offshore.

A group of seven CF-18 fighters enforced a no-fly zone and bombed Libyan arsenals and other targets.

"Numbers don't tell the whole story, but it bears repeating that Canadian fighter jets flew nearly a thousand sorties – roughly 10 per cent of all sorties – without caveats against Gadhafi's military," Mr. Harper said. "Canadians should also know that the taking of Tripoli by rebel forces was materially assisted by the CF-18 missions that cleared away Gadhafi's remaining mechanized forces."

Mr. Johnston was greeted on his arrival with a booming, 21-gun salute and a guard of honour.

The ceremony featured a flypast by a variety of military aircraft, including a giant C-17 transport and a formation of CF-18 fighter-bombers tucked up close to a CC-150 Polaris, an Airbus converted for military service.

The Governor-General presented the Meritorious Service Cross to Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, who commanded the entire NATO task force.

The citation for the medal said Lt.-Gen. Bouchard brought great credit to Canada "with his demonstration of exceptional operational and strategic acumen."

The Prime Minister said the officer's conduct "was in the finest traditions of the Canadian military."

He also paid a brief tribute to the Canadian troops still stationed in Afghanistan. While the country's combat mission there ended in the summer, more than 900 Canadians remain in Kabul, training Afghan soldiers.

Mr. Harper said the Afghan and Libyan operations are symbols of Canadian willingness to act when necessary.

"So let no one ever question whether Canada is prepared to stay the course in defence of what is right," he said. "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."

Liberal defence critic John McKay offered his party's congratulations.

"Our men and women in the Canadian Forces should be proud of their accomplishments in Libya," he said in a statement. "Our military served with the same courage and dedication for which it has always been known."

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