OTTAWA — Canada wants to see a transition toward greater democracy and freedom in Egypt, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday.
But Harper stopped short of calling for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the face of continuing protests over his three decades of rule.
“We want to see a transition towards basic values of freedom, democracy, human rights and justice,” Harper told the House of Commons on Monday. “We want to make sure the transition does not tend towards violence, instability and extremism.”
For the second straight day, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon refused to be drawn into discussion on the future of Mubarak’s government, which has now faced a week of mass protests.
“I think that it’s quite clear. Canadians would not like to see foreign governments involve themselves in Canadian internal affairs,” Cannon told reporters.
“In the same manner, we are respecting the sovereignty of this country. It’s up to the people of Egypt to make and to take the correct decisions that they feel need to be taken.
“It’s not up to the government of Canada to go and get involved in internal politics in a country. We’ve called upon this government, the Mubarak government, to put in place both economic as well as democratic reforms.”
Cannon’s remarks contrasted with what the former British prime minister said in an interview Monday. Tony Blair, the international Mideast envoy, suggested that a change in Egypt’s leadership appears inevitable.
“Change will happen. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle now,” he said.
About 600 Canadians were to be evacuated from Egypt amid ongoing political turmoil.
Cannon said two planes chartered by the government were to pick up Canadians eager to escape the unrest. The planes were to take the evacuees to Frankfurt.
Cannon dismissed reports that many Canadians in Egypt were not getting information about the flights, although he acknowledged there were some “technical difficulties” due to the volatile situation.
He said embassy officials and an operations centre in Ottawa were contacting people to give them information.
“How do you think that we have now roughly 200-and-some-odd people who are waiting to embark on the plane? It’s because our embassy officials as well as our operations centre are in a position to be able to contact these people and invite them to go to the airport to be able to board the planes,” Cannon said.
Cannon also said Canada is working with the U.S., Britain, Australia and other “like-minded countries” to share space on flights.
Egypt has been rocked by days of mass protests against Mubarak’s rule.
Cairo’s international airport has been chaotic, with shouting matches and even fist fights as thousands of travellers crowded in, hoping to board flights.
A spokeswoman for Cannon said an Air Canada flight was scheduled to depart Cairo International Airport at around 4 p.m. local time. The plane, which can hold 335 people, was expected to arrive in Frankfurt at 10 p.m. local time. (4 p.m. ET).
Another flight, chartered through Skylink Travel and capable of carrying 234 people, was to depart Cairo at 7 p.m., flying via Amman to Frankfurt. Arrival in Frankfurt was set for 3 a.m. Tuesday local time (9 p.m. ET).
Cannon said Canada is also exploring ways to evacuate Canadians based outside Cairo.
“The government is looking for options for flights to evacuate Canadians from cities other than Cairo. Individuals located outside of Cairo are advised not to try to make their way to Cairo, for safety reasons,” he said in a statement.
“The Government of Canada’s priority is the safety of Canadian citizens in Egypt.”
Cannon said passengers must sign a form “agreeing to repay the costs related to evacuation.”
There have not been any reports of Canadians injured or killed in the Egyptian protests. There are some 6,500 Canadians in Egypt, 1,200 of whom are registered with the Canadian Embassy.
Canadians in Egypt who want to leave are asked to phone Canada’s embassy in Cairo at 20 2 2791 8700 or call collect to the Foreign Affairs emergency operations centre in Ottawa at 613-996-8885.
Relatives in Canada can contact the centre toll-free by dialling 1-800-606-5499, or by sending an email to sos(at)international.gc.ca.
— With files from The Associated Press