After more than forty years of tyrannical rule by Moammar Gadhafi, Libya is at the cusp of freedom and a hopeful new era.
But, as Gadhafi’s regime collapses, spare a thought for Christoph Halens, a Canadian reporter who went to Libya in 1987 — and never came back.
Spare a thought for Halens, who was murdered by the Gadhafi regime in April 1987. For simply doing his job.
Halens was a bearded, gentle soul, one who moved in progressive circles at Ottawa’s Carleton University in the early 1980s.
There, we would occasionally run into each other in the hallways. He was intelligent and friendly.
After leaving Carleton, Halens got a job as a researcher at Southam News near Parliament Hill.
He was a well-liked and well-respected employee.
In early 1987, word started to spread about a “peace conference” that would be taking place in Tripoli, Libya.
The conference was being sponsored by Moammar Gadhafi to memorialize the 1986 bombing of Libya by the U.S.
The Reagan administration had taken the action to punish Gadhafi for his long-standing support for terrorism — and for bombing a Berlin discotheque frequented by U.S. military personnel.
The “peace conference” was to be vehemently anti-American and, as Halens discovered, stridently anti-Israel.
It was being organized in Ottawa by some Palestinian nationals and Ian Verner Macdonald, a former Canadian diplomat noted for his fierce anti-Israel views.
For those who wanted to go, it was all-expenses paid.
Macdonald and others assembled a motley crew of “delegates” — members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, academics, far-leftists and (as Halens learned) even neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Halens wanted to cover the gathering as a reporter, and convinced his bosses to let him go — with Southam News paying his costs.
It was a rash decision, one that would have fatal consequences.
The Canadian “delegation” arrived in Libya, and started rubbing shoulders with members of the IRA, PLO, American Indian Movement, Nation of Islam and assorted terrorist groups from around the globe — as well as a significant number of anti-Semites and white supremacists.
Many were housed at the seaside Zanzour Tourist Village, near Tripoli.
Halens started taking notes and asking questions.
The Libyans, who had spies and government “minders” everywhere, didn’t like Halens’ inquiries.
They also disliked the Canadian delegation, which had divided into camps, with the neo-Nazis on one side and the leftists on the other.
Halens, who hadn’t filed his story yet but was keeping careful notes about the bizarre conference, told Canadians with whom he was friendly that he was nervous.
He told them he felt something bad was going to happen.
Sometime after midnight on April 14, 1987, Halens was taken to the rooftop at the Zanzour Tourist Village and thrown off.
His body was found at 6 a.m. that morning by hotel staff.
He was 32 years old.
The government of Brian Mulroney, and then-Foreign Affairs minister Joe Clark, did what it could to obtain answers in the case.
But our diplomatic relations with Gadhafi were close to non-existent in the 1980s.
Years later, even when Paul Martin travelled as prime minister to make profoundly ill-advised overtures to Gadhafi — even foolishly cavorting with the dictator in a Bedouin tent for news photographers — no one made an attempt to find out about the circumstances surrounding Halens’ death.
Now, as Moammar Gadhafi’s rule is measured in hours, it is time we finally find out what happened to our fellow citizen, Christoph Halens.
We owe Halens, and his family, that much.
(Eds note: Kinsella’s book about Libyan support of terrorism, and Halens’ death, was called Unholy Alliances and published in 1992.)