On that October day in 2011 when the toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi was dragged from a rubbish-filled drainage pipe and killed by rebels, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was quick to declare victory and proclaim a "better future" for Libya.
He expressed his pride in the "prominent" role of the Canadian military in defeating the Gadhafi regime, including the hundreds of bombing missions by Canada's CF-18 jets. "With the shadow of Gadhafi now lifted from their land, it is our hope that the Libyan people will find peace and reconciliation," he said. "The Libyan people can finally turn the page on 42 years of vicious oppression, and continue their journey toward a better future."
Today, his predictions ring hollow. There's little peace or reconciliation in Libya, and the dream of a better future is fast disappearing.
As civil war deepens, the country is on the brink of total collapse and failed-state status. While the dictator is gone, there are new oppressors: brutal militias that battle in the streets, kidnap and torture refugees, bomb embassies, attack hotels and airports, seize oil fields, assassinate political opponents, murder Christians, persecute the Sufi minority and shut down commercial flights into the country.
There hasn't been much gratitude for Canada's role in the overthrow of Col. Gadhafi. The Canadian embassy in Tripoli, like most other Western embassies, has been forced to close its doors, and the Canadian ambassador had to relocate to neighbouring Tunisia because it was too dangerous to operate in Libya.
Under the rule of its militias, Libya has helped fuel three of the world's major disasters over the past three years. First, its massive arsenal of weapons began leaking to rebels in northern Mali. The weapons soon fell into the hands of Islamist radicals, who seized the northern half of Mali in 2012. The extremists were eventually pushed back by French military intervention, but they continue to attack targets in the region.
Then the Libyan lawlessness allowed Islamist militias to gain influence in the east of the country. The extremists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador, and helped accelerate the expansion of Islamist militancy across North Africa and the Middle East. Hundreds of Libyan recruits joined the so-called Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq, even forming their own brigades of jihadis in Syria.
Finally the Libyan militias turned a blind eye to the rise of the human-trafficking gangs, which were able to operate freely in the Saharan desert and in Libyan ports on the Mediterranean because of the absence of any central government. This, in turn, led to the deaths of thousands of migrants in boat disasters in recent years, including more than 800 migrants who drowned when one boat sank last week.
Five different governments have attempted to rule Libya since 2011, but each has failed. The country is now divided between two rival governments – one in Tripoli and one in Tobruk – with neither controlling much at all.
I witnessed the early signs of this political chaos in a visit to Tripoli and Benghazi in 2013. When I travelled to Benghazi, I met Islamist extremists who already operated openly on the streets, controlling entire neighbourhoods and checkpoints at the entrance of the city. In Tripoli, I saw how the militias were destroying Sufi shrines and Christian graves because of their religious intolerance, and I met African migrants who lived in fear of kidnapping by militias that routinely extorted money from them.
The warning signs were obvious, but the international community did little. And since then, the chaos has only grown worse. Peace talks among the militias have failed to reach agreement. About 3,000 Libyans have died in the factional fighting since last summer. Foreign investment has dried up, and the crucial oil industry has been severely damaged.
Meanwhile, newly released documents show that the Canadian military had been warned of the danger of long-term civil war in Libya if it intervened in the conflict. A briefing report written by Canadian military intelligence specialists on March 15, 2011, and published recently by the Ottawa Citizen, said a long-term civil war was "particularly probable" if foreign armies gave assistance to Libya's opposition forces.
Just eight days after this warning, Canadian CF-18s began their bombing sorties in Libya.
And when Col. Gadhafi was killed on Oct. 20, 2011, Prime Minister Harper immediately announced that Canada's military role would end within days. He made no mention of the looming risk of civil war that his specialists had warned about.
Libya has recently emerged as a campaign issue in the British election. The opposition Labour Party has criticized the government of Prime Minister David Cameron for failing to do any effective post-conflict planning in Libya after the fall of Col. Gadhafi, thus contributing to the rise of the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.
It will be interesting to see if Libya is mentioned by any political parties in the campaigning for Canada's own federal election this year.