The Commons: Starring Vic Toews as Kurt Russell

Conservative ministers have shown tremendous hypothetical courage in the face of hypothetical danger


The Scene. After offering a general appeal for clarity from the government—”What is happening on your side?” she begged—Nycole Turmel narrowed her complaint to a specific article of speech. In this case, a conjunction.

“Yesterday, the Minister of Public Safety said ‘information obtained by torture is always discounted. However…’ What does he mean by ‘however?’ she asked. “There is no ‘however.’ There is no ‘but.’ Torture is either condoned or it is not. Which is it? No ‘however.’ No ‘if.’ No ‘but.’ ”

Rising as today’s stand-in prime minister, Peter MacKay offered a perfectly straightforward response that entirely avoided the question. “But! But!” the New Democrat side mocked. “But! But!”

Ms. Turmel tried again, this time en français. Mr. MacKay did likewise. “Mais!” the New Democrats chirped. “Mais!”

Switching to English and stepping forward, the Defence Minister attempted to put this all in perspective. Or possibly to read aloud from a script he’d recently submitted to television producers.

“Let me be clear,” he graciously offered, “what the honourable member opposite appears to be indicating is that under no circumstances, if information came into the possession of Canadian officials that would stop the death, a mass death perhaps, if there was a bomb threat at the Air Canada Centre, that we would be forced to refuse to use any information that would save lives. That is not the position of this government.”

The New Democrats had sprung up three consecutive times to cheer their side and here a dozen or so Conservatives managed to stand and salute Mr. MacKay’s hypothetical courage in the face of hypothetical disaster.

Alas, Jack Harris was soon enough up too. And here he insisted on inconvenient details. “Mr. Speaker, information from torture is unreliable. That is the problem,” he explained. “Has the government learned nothing from the Maher Arar affair? We know there are countries and agencies that use torture as a matter of course. But instead of moving to stop this, the government turns a blind eye. That is what it really means when the Minister of Public Safety directs CSIS to use information extracted through torture. Torture will continue if the information keeps being used. Will the minister acknowledge, as his predecessor did as public safety minister, that torture is morally wrong and information extracted through torture is unreliable?”

Vic Toews would acknowledge no such thing. Whatever the opposition’s earlier taunts, he was sticking with his article of speech.

“Mr. Speaker, I cannot be any clearer. Our government does not condone torture and certainly does not engage in torture,” he reported. “However, when we have information that Canadian lives are at risk we will act without delay. Canadians expect no less.”

Mr. Harris demanded more. “Mr. Speaker, torture is prohibited under the Criminal Code of Canada and the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which we are a signatory. The minister claims not to condone torture, and then, however, opens the door wide for other countries to use torture and for us to use that information,” he shot back. “In 2009 the Conservative public safety minister said, ‘If there is any indication that torture may have been used, that information is discounted.’ Why has the government now flip-flopped and thrown open the doors to use immoral and unreliable information extracted through torture?”

Faced with two such crushing adjectives, the Public Safety Minister retreated into a horror of his own imagining.

“Mr. Speaker, this is a member who, if he knew there was a plane with his constituents, men, women and children, and he obtained information which came from a questionable source, he would do nothing,” Mr. Toews ventured, wagging his finger at the NDP critic. “That is the position of the NDP members. They would not take the appropriate action to ensure that the lives of Canadians were protected.”

The mind races with questions about this dramatic scenario. Is there a bomb on this plane or has it been hijacked or both? Is it in the air? If so, what “appropriate action” would Mr. Toews propose to take on the basis of “questionable” information? What could be done about such a situation? (Would we, for instance, shoot a plane out of the air on the basis of information obtained through torture?) Has such a situation ever presented itself in the history of counter intelligence? Has information obtained through torture ever saved the day at a moment like this? Are we discussing legitimate matters of public policy here or are we attempting to apply the lessons of the 1996 action blockbuster Executive Decision?

“That is why they are over there,” Mr. Toews concluded of the New Democrats. “They are not fit to be trusted with the security of Canadians.”

At least not in the world that the Public Safety Minister has constructed for himself.

The Stats. Pensions, 15 questions. CSIS and aboriginal affairs, five questions each. Manufacturing and air travel, two questions each. Tourism, seasonal workers, auto safety, military procurement, the census, sealing, health care, trade, immigration and China, one question each.

Diane Finley, 12 answers. Peter MacKay, six answers. John Duncan, five answers. Gerald Keddy and Denis Lebel, four answers each. Vic Toews and Christian Paradis, two answers each. Maxime Bernier, Julian Fantino, Keith Ashfield and Jason Kenney, one answer each.


The Commons: Starring Vic Toews as Kurt Russell

  1. Given the record of the Harper government in keeping its promises, we still have no idea what they would do under any circumstances if we base it on what they have said.

    But it is good to keep trying to get them to put things on the record, if only to keep track of broken promises.

    • Our first [ hopefully last] post ethical govt.

  2. You’d never know he was a Paraguayan Mennonite wouldja…..

  3. Question for the readers:  What speaks more loudly about the left’s (including this post’s author) rank political opportunism of the hard issues of war, “torture” and intelligence?

    The implicit, though disingenuous, suggestion that the issue of whether actionable intelligence should be used if gathered by “torture” (the definition now apparently includes simulations which makes the subject feel terrified but causes no real harm whatsoever – waterboarding for instance) particularily where such intelligence may save lives, is a simple one that must naturally result in the rejection of such intelligence?

    Or the deafining silence from these same people regarding Obama’s preferred method of dealing with suspected terrorists.  Much simpler, cleaner (though no possibility of garnering intelligence) – blasting the suspect (and all those around them, innocent or otherwise, within a ten meter radius) into a bloody splatter of body parts and schrapnel via a drone fired hellfire missle?

    There are many examples of where “Progressivism” can truly be seen to be to be utterly divorced from truth and reason.  But the spectacle of watching “progressives” cry out in horror at the notion of a terrorist having water poured over their faces, while tacitly condoning the condemnation to a firey horrific death, entire groups of individuals who’s “crime” is standing near someone who looks like a terrorist through a predator viewer from 25,000 feet, would make even Orwell blush.

    • Wherry is nothing but a Harper hater.  When people get blown up because we did’nt use intel information, regardless of source, maybe he will change his shrill mind.

      • I nominate the lot of you for waterboarding.

        Then you might have some idea what you’re talking about.

        • Maybe it should be you who is waterboarder. Maybe it will put some sense into your thick skull.

          • I love it when Cons publically announce their ignorance….it makes life so much easier.

          • You want OriginalEmily1 to be a waterboarder?  To waterboard you?

          • To Emily and Jay; congrats on displaying why we (Liberals/NDP) won’t be forming a government for quite some time.  People constantly refer to the Harper government as smug and arrogant, well here is the other side of the coin. Don’t worry about making a substantive argument to try and persuade someone, instead look down on them and call them ignorant for a spelling error.

          • @facebook-511679363:disqus 

            Well I’m neither a Dipper nor a Lib…..but everyone recognizes sheer ignorance when they see it.

            And it’s usually Con

          • Egads, not a Green!

          • @facebook-511679363:disqus 

            No, I’m an Independent.  A pox on all the parties.

            I want a new party….one for the 21st century….not all this ancient crap.

          • Emily,
            While I can respect your dream of a new system ,I think your focus is in the wrong place. The change required is not in the parties themselves, but in the way parties market themselves. To expand in what I said in a reply to another comment, we need a party that is willing to take a nuanced honest approach, and honestly explain it to the Canadian people.  Unfortunately, what we have is what by and large we ask for; a simplified, emotionally charged, black vs. white approach.  One that isn’t going to be improved by calling someone who disagrees with you ignorant.

          • By the way, I like that you saw my ‘egads” and raised me an ” a pox”.

    • Yeah they’re both within our control. All us progressives are just cheering on those drone attacks. Maybe we think the collateral damage is tragic [ god i hate that phrase] but better than outright war or deliberately holding down another human being and torturing him. 

      Waterboarding may leave no physical scars but can you guarantee there are no phychological ones? But you don’t care right? Just like you’re not all that fond of the presumption of innocence; and terrifying someone to the point thinking they “are” drowning [ Hitchens claimed you are drowning, it’s no illusion or hysterical reaction]  is torture in my book.

      • Actually, no.  The honest answer to the abusurdity of suggesting death (and horrible maiming and disfiguring by those at the blast radius of a hellfire who survive) is more humane than a procedure that a journalist voluntarily underwent, is the fact that a “Progressive” Obama is now pulling the trigger.

        Rule number one in the progressive rulebook:  If a “progressive” does it, it must be defended by other “progressives” as being “progressive.”

        By the way, all special forces undergo waterboarding (and much worse) as part of their training.  Funny the decades of silence from the “progressives” on such a travesty.  When our own brave soldiers are subjected to such “inhumanity”, there is silence.  When the enemey of my enemy (the “neocons”) is tortured, it is a worldwide frenzy.

        Which leads us to rule number two for progessives: outrage at human rights abuses, must be used solely as a weapon against ones political enemies.  And, in a pinch, defended as “high minded multiculturalism” when defending the enemy of my enemy (such as the twisted logic of “progressive women’s right’s groups” defending the barbaric treatment of women in Muslim countries and enclaves).

    • ” simulations which makes the subject feel terrified but causes no real harm whatsoever – waterboarding for instance”

      It’s called psychological torture.

      By your logic, any crime which does not result in physical harm to another should be removed from the books. For example:

      – Your financial advisor stole all your savings?

      – Some punk stuck a gun in your mouth and threatened to blow your head off? 

      Too bad; you weren’t physically harmed, so suck it up buttercup.

  4. “Mr. Speaker, I cannot be any clearer. Our government does not condone torture and certainly does not engage in torture,” he reported. “However, when we have information that Canadian lives are at risk we will act without delay. Canadians expect no less.”

    God i fear for our democracy, i really do. This has to be one of the most moronic debates so far this Parliament – and that’s saying something! 

    Perhaps what Canadians really want is an answer or policy that isn’t rooted in the illogical? You may act when the infomation indicates that lives may be at risk, but since torture infomation is notoriously unreliable you may well find you have acted in vain.
     Sure, you have to act whatever the source, anything less would be irresponsible but that doesn’t mean you will save any lives or arrest someone who is guilty of anything.[ liken it to acting on a bomb threat – you can’t ignore it]

    The ndp is almost as stupid – at least as far as their questions go. Even if you had a policy that explictly rejected torture sourced intelligence[ noble no doubt whatsoever] rather then adopt this govt’s preferred policy of assuming it’s all ok if lives are at risk,you would still have to take action if you thought the risk was high enough; even if .there is some reliable and relatively rapid method of determining the info has come from a torture source[ which i highly doubt] it would be prudent to act and keep an eye on the principle suspects, albeit sceptically.

    It seems to me [ after being all over the shop on this one] there needs to be a clear distinction drawn between merely taking action if necessary,  simply watching someone, or using torture tainted evidence in court against anyone – and i mean anyone. The line isn’t, or shouldn’t be where either the govt or the opposition thinks it should be.

    • You aren’t all over the place because I am exactly where you are.  And I am here. 

    • Worth noting that the government memo put out is far far less than even lives being at risk, as it specifically includes situations where a harm to “property” is merely possible.  They may was well have just said “torture? awesome!”

    • Thank you.  I’m tired of unthinking knee jerk reactions on both sides of the aisle.  I really wonder sometimes what people are thinking.. strike that, IF people are thinking.  Our current political atmosphere, while not as abrasive as some, is leading to all parties trying to “score points’ off of the others by painting things as black and white.  An honest, nuanced approach to governing is obviously a thing of the past.  Too bad, we might actually get things done.

      • Yes those Liberals sure had a nuanced approach to governing. Funny Liberals have governed this country for 80 of the past 100 years and all is well (sarcasm intended). We now have a Conservative government and suddenly we are not nuanced enough or they are bullies because they are doing things differently and are fighting an uphill battle because they face opposition parties who are all on the left of the political spectrum and who want and demand a nanny state despite the fact the nanny states in Europe are falling apart.

        • Doing thing differently is not necessarilly a synonyme for doing things right, or employing evidence based policy. This govt is all about  politics all the time, 24/7. No rational person could ever take them at their word.

          • That may be your opinion but I suspect there are many Canadians in the country who are quite happy that we have a government who is taking action. That’s why we change governments. Many people lament the demise of the Red Tories. I do not. To me they were simply Liberal lite. Harper has shown you can have different positions to the Liberals. While the Libs will denounce Conservatives at every step of the way but in the end they probably agree with many of the Conservative positions.

          • Oh sure they like the idea of taking action for now…but eventually they’ll figure out much of that has been the wrong action.
            Your last sentence is pretty much a non sequitur.

      •  “honest, nuanced approached to governing is obviously a thing of the past” 

        -massive amounts of taxpaid monies disappearing into pockets unknown;  federal accounts stripped to fake ‘balanced books; liberal entitlements became the norm & we still don’t know the extent of the cost to Canadian taxpayers, and the list goes on & on.

        – there is nothing honest about any of it;  so its a relief to Canadians that ‘ that approach to governing is a thing of the past ‘

        – and at long last we are actually getting things done.

        • Thank you to both of you for making my point about knee jerk reactions and point scoring.  If you re-read my comments, you will see the phrases, “both sides of the aisle”, and “all parties”.  My point here was not a shot at the Cons, but in fact a shot at the NDP.  To assume that because information comes from torture that we will not at least investigate is ludicrous.  I wonder if there was intelligence that there was a threat to the commons, would Ms. Turmel or Mr. Harris evacuate with everyone else or stand aound asking each other pedantic questions untill the sources could be double checked.

          • I think this is a good time to copy in Emily’s remark to you yesterday, since it’s becoming crystal clear to you by now that she was right (note that she does qualify this with “usually”):

            “Well I’m neither a Dipper nor a Lib…..but everyone recognizes sheer ignorance when they see it.  And it’s usually Con.”

          • Double like!

          • Well I’m a Liberal, and I’m going to have to claim ignorance here.  How does Emily’s response to someone saying she should be waterboarded, or I suppose waterboarder, apply to this article or my comments?  And no, I find that broad generalisations, while intended to simplify things, are never crystal clear.

  5. What this government fail to realize is that which comes from torture is NOT information It’s not factual, not logical, has no value. Making decisions on such garbage is ludicrous and could be disasterous.

    • However, to dismiss it without investigation is irresponsible. Of course the left would never think that our intelligence officers are capable of thinking and deciding whether there is any credibility to the information that was obtained.

      • And what are we missing while we spend our limited resources investigating wild-goose chases that come from torture?

        If we had unlimited resources, you’d be correct. Since we don’t, it’s irresponsible to spend them on information which has an extremely high probability of being false.

        • Of course you are speaking generally I presume. The fact is we have a competent intelligence service who is well trained and I suspect they can ferret out what is real and not. Oh I forgot they are stupid because they may not Liberals right?

          • Of course they can ferret out what is real and what isn’t, but doing so costs resources. Resources which could be used in other investigations. So since we know that information from torture is overwhelmingly bogus, don’t even have them *start* investigating that crap. If the threat is real, then if they’re competent, they’ll come across information about it from other more reliable sources.

  6. and you wonder why the the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and people are losing their jobs and can not stay in bussiness and are being shut up and you can not get the justice you deserve and it takes so long and so much money you got to find it out on your own or be tortured fighting for your rights if you have any rights we do not have any rights we have the prove they stopped us from having a lawyer we have not got the right to a lawyer i have to watch what i say or they will say they do not have the time to take on the cases…ect

    • Huh?

  7. As a Mennonite, I’m wishing we could excommunicate him.  Non-violence is at the core of Mennonite beliefs, and he has the gall to defend torture using arguments that have long been regarded as preposterous and corresponding to nothing that would actually occur in reality, rather than acknowledging that torture is both utterly immoral and ineffective.

  8. “Mr. Speaker, this is a member who …  That is why they are over there,” Mr. Toews concluded of the New Democrats. “They are not fit to be trusted with the security of Canadians.”

    I am so disgusted by that response, Mr Toews. What a f***in’ a**hole you are! Are you on Twitter? Cause I’ll join just to follow you.

    • Your comment says more about you than it does about Mr. Toews. Are you Pat Martin’s father?

      • Maybe you could suggest a suitable response to this bottom-of-the-barrel school yard innuendo, so obviously scripted and delivered like a real amateur.

        My god, the taxpayers pay this moron $230,000+ per year for answers like this?

        Go ahead hollinm, defend what this douchebag of a politician said in parliament.

        Then defend the leader who makes them say sh*t like this.

        • A hundred thousand “thumbs up!’

        • I don’t and won’t defend anything anybody else says. I am responsible for only me, nobody else.
          However, if you were the government and you learned via a third party who did the torturing since we do not believe nor participate in torture that there was evidence that there was going to be some act that would hurt/kill/maim etc done it would be irresponsible to simply ignore it. In fact it would be irresponsible.

          Oh yes Harper is in China but he sent the talking points to Toews. You guys need to grow up. 

          • Again, we don’t have unlimited resources to follow up on every wild goose-chase some poor bugger spouts off in hopes of getting out of torture.

            It’s irresponsible to spend our limited resources on chasing fairy tales when there are very real threats that we could be using those resources to run down.

          • Do you honestly believe that information obtained as a result of torture are streaming into our intelligence service daily and a decision would be required. Remember we are talking about Canada. As far as I know we are only in Afghanistan in a training capacity.

          • Do you honestly believe that the frequency that we receive information changes the argument a single bit?

            Very simple equation:

            Limited Resources + Near Certainty of False Information = Don’t Bother With It

  9. Wow.  So Toews thinks 24 was some sort of documentary?  Why am I not surprised?


    After selling himself as “Family Man”, Vic Toews fathers
    out-of-wedlock baby


    The 55-year-old Toews’ public face of self-righteous
    morality is now clashing with his troubled private life.  An MP dubbed the “minister of family
    values” by Liberals is embroiled in a messy divorce after fathering a
    child last fall with a much younger woman.


    That’s his business, frankly, yet it might explain why Mr.
    Toews was demoted to the Treasury Board and immediately cloaked by
    invisibility, stewing in question period silence while his junior parliamentary
    secretary juggles tough questions on election financing irregularities.


    But if a judicial appointment is being used to ease a
    problem minister out of government, it only increases the galling patronage of
    the appointment.


    And if they brazenly go ahead and hand him the $232,000-plus
    job and announce it in the dead of summer when nobody’s looking, it will
    underline the optics of this government behaving no differently than any other.
    Justice Vic Toews would be a huge sign this government, even having become
    thoroughly Ottawashed, is still dirty.





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