Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally approved Moammar Gadhafi's planned Canadian layover last year, even as his government was rebuking the Libyan strongman for celebrating a convicted terrorist, a new document shows.
The Libyan leader cancelled a planned stop in St. John's after the Prime Minister's Office warned he would be scolded for throwing a party for a man jailed in the Lockerbie bombing.
Internal e-mails obtained by The Canadian Press reveal Harper himself gave Gadhafi's visit the go-ahead.
A Foreign Affairs Department official told colleagues Harper approved Gadhafi's stopover more than a week before the Libyan leader was to arrive.
"The PM approved this visit last week from WSHDC (Canada's embassy in Washington, D.C.) in a telephone conversation with PMO," the Sept. 21 e-mail reads.
"What was approved is a 'technical stopover for a head of state.'"
The Canadian Press obtained the e-mail and other documents under the Access to Information Act.
Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for the prime minister, issued a one-line statement Wednesday when asked about the e-mail: "The government of Canada had stated at the time that the Libyan leader would do a stopover in N.L."
At the time of Gadhafi's planned visit, Soudas joined an international chorus rebuking the Libyan leader for throwing a huge welcome home party for Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. The convicted terrorist was released from a Scottish prison in August after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.
The celebration especially outraged the relatives of the 270 victims killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Ahead of Gadhafi's visit, Soudas said the celebration for al-Megrahi "constituted an insult to all the victims who died, including Canadians."
Soudas added the prime minister planned to dispatch Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon to Newfoundland to upbraid Gad-hafi.
"Minister Cannon will voice Canada's strong disapproval over the hero's welcome organized for Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the man responsible for the Lockerbie terrorist bombing," Soudas said.
But finding face time with the Libyan leader was apparently a challenge.
The officer who co-ordinates security for visiting dignitaries in the RCMP's Newfoundland and Labrador division was told the St. John's airport wasn't a good meeting spot.
"I understand the minister is looking to meet the VIP in the terminal building lounge," reads an e-mail from a sender whose name is blanked out.
"This would pose a problem for us as this would be in the (restricted area) or in the airport authority boardroom. ... Either choice is a problem for the arrival in the international area.
"Could we convince him to meet at the hotel or in the car? Oh boy."
That wasn't the only sticking point.
An e-mail from one Mountie to another hints at tensions between Canadian and Libyan officials over Gadhafi's visit.
"There remains much distance between what we are going to provide and what the Libyans are willing to accept," the officer wrote.
"Stay tuned, as I wouldn't be shocked to hear that the visit is scrubbed. As it stands right now the leader has no place to stay and no prospects."
Canadian officials were also in the dark over why the 34 members of Libya's advance team abruptly cancelled their hotel reservations and left St. John's.
The RCMP's head of protective services ruled out tight security as a reason.
"It should be noted that the firm (and appropriate) stance of the RCMP in relation to security requirements was not identified as the reasons behind this change of heart by our Libyan friends," Bruce Kirkpatrick wrote.
It looks like hard feelings were to blame. Gadhafi, in an apparent reprisal, later ordered Libya's travel offices not to issue visas to Canadians wanting to enter the country.
Why Gadhafi wanted to stop in St. John's in the first place remains a mystery. While many transatlantic flights used to stop at the airport in Gander, N.L., to refuel, that practice largely stopped in the 1960s with the development of longer-range passenger jets.
The Libyan leader had planned to go to Newfoundland after delivering a blustering rant at the United Nations, which unnerved many delegates with its strange allusions to "fish flu" and the Kennedy assassination.