What they said (IV)

by Aaron Wherry

On February 1, 2008, a Globe and Mail report tied Asadullah Khalid to allegations of torture. Weeks later, during a visit to Afghanistan, Maxime Bernier stated publicly that Canada would like to see the governor removed, a statement that was then said to set back attempts to remove Khalid. He was ultimately replaced in August 2008.

Herein, a collection of QP exchanges relevant to discussion of governor Khalid.

January 30, 2008.
Hon. Jack Layton: Mr. Speaker, revelations of the Federal Court case challenging the Afghanistan detainee agreement reveal a high level of coordination with most of the senior officials in Kandahar. It was stated in court that every senior minister travelling in the war zone must meet with the governor of the province. Can the Prime Minister tell us when he last met with the governor, Asadullah Khalid, and was there any progress made at that meeting in ensuring that Afghan prisons under the governor’s control are secure and torture free?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, my recollection is that I met the governor on my first visit to Afghanistan in March 2006. This was not a question of controversy at the time. I do not believe I have met him since, but I can check my records. The Minister of National Defence tells me he has met recently with the governor and has discussed these issues.

February 1, 2008.
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, for months Canadians have received disturbing reports about the torture of Afghan detainees. From the very beginning, the government has bungled the issue, trying to brush it aside, even stooping to accuse its critics of supporting the Taliban. Now, no less than the governor of Kandahar, Asadullah Khalid, is accused of beatings and electrocutions. What is worse, the government knew about it. It has known since April of last year and it covered it up. Does the government really think it can credibly fight this war in secret?

Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the member knows that simply is not true. A more important issue for us is the future of the mission in Afghanistan. Yesterday, the Liberal Party blocked a parliamentary study into the Manley report on the future of the Afghan mission. Our government is seeking to have a broad discussion based on what is a serious and responsible report and to work together with others in Parliament to try to find a reasonable agreement on how to move forward in Canada’s interest. I would like to hear from the Liberal House leader how it is serving the interests of Canadians, on a broad debate on the future of the Afghan mission, to shut down debate the way the Liberal Party did yesterday.

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the House does not need a dog and pony show. It needs the truth. No amount of bluster and obfuscation can hide the fact that the government covered up the most heinous allegations, the spectre of the governor of Kandahar torturing detainees. The Government of Canada, the Prime Minister of Canada, knew about it for almost a year and kept it secret. Surely, barbaric behaviour is not a matter of operational security. Does the government expect to earn the confidence of Canadians in the absence of basic transparency?

Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I do not know what confidence Canadians would have in a Liberal Party that considers John Manley and Pamela Wallin to be a dog and pony show. We think what they produced was a serious report. Every day we hear the Liberal Party raising questions about Taliban prisoners. Yet it is the same party that yesterday blocked any serious debate or discussion by a parliamentary committee on how to move forward on the Manley report. The time has come for a serious discussion of those matters. The Liberal Party is blocking those discussions. It does not think that matters; it does not matter what Canada does in Afghanistan; all that matters is Taliban prisoners. The Liberals are happy to talk about that all the time. Could the Liberal Party explain why that—

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the government House leader should simply start with the truth. The government’s failure to come clean has drained its already tenuous credibility. Since last April, the government knew about credible allegations that Governor Khalid had been involved in torture, but the Minister of National Defence continued to deal with him. Senior Canadian commanders and diplomats still deal with him. Has the government even bothered to investigate the allegations against Mr. Khalid, as specifically required under Canada’s detainee transfer agreement? Why the cover-up?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, cutting through the histrionics, hyperventilating and hyperbole coming from the member opposite, he would know, as a member of the previous government, that we have improved upon an agreement that was flawed under his government. We have made it much more possible to have eyes inside the Afghan prisons. This is exactly what we set out to do. With respect to Governor Khalid, of course I would meet with an individual who is the governor of a province in which there are over 2,500 Canadians. I met with him, as I met with the president of Afghanistan and my counterpart, the minister of defence.

Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, leadership is judged not only when things are going well but also when they are not going so well. At present, they are not going so well. An allegation has been made that the Governor of Kandahar was personally involved in the torture of detainees and the government hid this from Canadians for almost one year. Why did Canada transfer detainees to a system controlled by such a regime?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as I just said moments ago, of course I met with the governor. I met with the president of Afghanistan. I met with the defence minister. In fact, I did so immediately upon hearing of these credible allegations. I sought assurances from them that there would be a full investigation, that they would look into these allegations and in fact the individual involved should be immediately suspended. There were assurances given that would happen. Members would know as well that the operational decision then taken by the military was to suspend transfers. Everything that happened should have happened. I know members opposite do not want to hear that. They want to hear that there was a flurry of press releases, but that did not happen.

Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I do not know why he kept all that secret until he got caught. This government’s cavalier attitude is disturbing. It is now clear that the Conservatives hid what they knew about the Governor of Kandahar and his involvement in cases of torture. Was Mr. Manley informed of the governor’s activities before the government briefed him about the mission? Mr. Manley and his panel have insisted on the importance of transparency. Where is the transparency in this matter?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, if the members opposite were not so intent upon shutting down any further discussions at the committee level by Mr. Manley and members of the committee coming before a parliamentary committee to have a reasonable and rational discussion about this particular report, we could ask him that. What I can say is that the process we have in place was improved upon from the previous government. It was done so specifically to deal with allegations of abuse, and that has happened. There has been no hiding of the truth. There have been operational decisions taken in the field as they should be taken.

Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP): Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, the Conservative culture of secrecy has no limit. Today, the Globe and Mail is reporting that the governor of Kandahar is involved in torture. The government reported this to the Red Cross but there is no indication these allegations have been investigated, as is required by the detainee transfer agreement. The Conservatives failed to tell Parliament. They suppressed this information in federal court. Why did the Conservatives not tell Canadians about these cases? Why do they continue to hide the truth from Canadians?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I want to point out an important matter. First, the allegation with respect to the governor is not a Canadian transferred prisoner. Second, with respect to the governor of Kandahar, we must not forget that this is an individual appointed by the sovereign elected government of Afghanistan. We will continue to abide by the agreement that we signed and improved upon, the flawed one of the previous government. This agreement is in place to do exactly what we have always done, which is to stand up for human rights and ensure that prisoners who are transferred are treated properly.

Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the government knew Asadullah Khalid was personally accused of torture and abuse of detainees. The government has kept this secret for nine months. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Defence are defendants in federal court over these manipulative actions. Justice Mactavish said that transfers should not resume until a judgment is made. Will the government commit today not to restart that transfer of detainees? Will the government respect Canada’s courts?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we always support our international agreements. We support the courts. We support the Geneva Convention. That is exactly the reputation that Canadians have always enjoyed. However, what we will not do is follow the advice of the members of the opposition, the members opposite, who want certain operational details disclosed. They want information that might be of use to the Taliban, operational matters. As General Hillier has said and as other Canadians working in the field know full well, operating in an area the size of Ottawa with a set group of individuals, certain information can help the Taliban. We will not do that.

February 4, 2008.
Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister reaches the heights of hypocrisy when he talks to us about transparency in Afghanistan. For months now, the government has been in possession of a report showing that the governor of Kandahar province is suspected of torture. And the government finds a way to brag about an agreement signed with the Karzai government, which appointed this governor. The Conservatives refuse to admit that there were serious suspicions of torture and they try to give us a lecture. Will he finally stop making a mockery of transparency, the very issue that got him elected?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Canadian officers always take allegations against our officers, and other officers, seriously. There is no credible evidence in this case. Once again, I invite the Bloc Québécois and the opposition parties to speak with the officers in charge of this file and to examine the whole Afghan mission and the Manley report to verify this.

Hon. Denis Coderre (Bourassa, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, right from the start, this government has been giving evasive and incorrect responses to serious questions about how the Conservatives are dealing with Afghan detainees in Kandahar. The Minister of National Defence said in this House that he addressed the issue with the governor of Kandahar during a face to face meeting. The minister will have to make up a new story; the governor himself has said that he does not recall ever meeting the minister. We want to hear the Minister of National Defence’s latest version. Who is telling the truth: the minister or the governor of Kandahar?

Hon. Maxime Bernier (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we take allegations involving the governor of Kandahar very seriously. Officials have reported to the Afghan government with regard to these allegations and I can tell you that the Afghan government is following up on this matter.

April 14, 2008.
Hon. Stéphane Dion: I will tell you why they showed such a lack of transparency: because they want to hide their incompetence and their contradictions. Not so long ago, the Minister of National Defence supported General Hillier by saying that the governor of Kandahar was doing phenomenal work. Yesterday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs asked that the governor be replaced. Today, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is telling us to forget what he said yesterday. Who are we to believe: the Minister of National Defence, yesterday’s Minister of Foreign Affairs or today’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, or none of them?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: Mr. Speaker, Afghanistan is a sovereign state that makes its own decisions on government appointments. Canada fully respects that fact and is not suggesting any changes to the Afghan government.

Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Foreign Affairs suggested that the Karzai government replace the governor of Kandahar, mainly because of the corruption in that region of Afghanistan. This statement by the minister is especially surprising given that the Government of Canada has been telling us for months that major progress has been made in Afghanistan and ministers have boasted about the work this governor has done. Why did the government conceal this situation during the debates on extending the mission beyond 2009?

Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as I have already said, Afghanistan is a sovereign country that makes its own decisions about government appointments. Our main goal is to promote Afghanistan’s self-sufficiency in all aspects of its nationhood, including development, security and governance.

Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, this is all well and good, but we heard the Minister of Foreign Affairs on television, just like we saw him handing out Jos Louis. This time, he made a more serious mistake than he did with the Jos Louis. The minister should not just tell us any old story. The government has told us plenty of stories here and has hidden the truth from us, just as General Hillier hid the truth. Is this not one more reason to leave Afghanistan in 2009, because the time has come to stop playing fast and loose with the truth?

Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I understand that the leader of the Bloc Québécois has problems with the concept of sovereignty, but we believe that Afghanistan is a sovereign country that makes it own decisions about government appointments.

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago the Minister of National Defence said the government was not going to interfere in the internal affairs of Kandahar. A few days ago General Hillier was praising the governor and said he was doing phenomenal work. Yesterday the Minister of Foreign Affairs contradicted that statement and said that it was the government’s view that the governor of Kandahar should be removed. I would like to ask somebody over there who can clear up this confusion, what does the government really think of the governor of Kandahar?

Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our position is quite clear. I am sure it is the same position that any reasonable person would come to a conclusion about, which is that the affairs of the Afghan government are the affairs of the Afghan government. It is a sovereign country. It is responsible for its own nominations and its own appointments. We do not make those decisions for the people of Kandahar. Our focus, however, is on assisting the Afghan people to build the strength of their state and to build their capacity, and to assist in their development. We are having considerable success on these projects.

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, there is a problem. What the minister has just said completely contradicts what his government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. How can he explain that his government is in complete disarray?

Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our position is quite clear. What is difficult to understand is any position on almost any issue coming from the Liberal Party. We understand that because often there are many different groups and many different factions within the party that have different positions. What is more remarkable is that it is also the leader of the Liberal Party who can take one position on issues of foreign policy one day, and then two weeks later take an entirely different position. Those members did the same thing on the tax bill, Bill C-10. They did the same thing on the immigration bill last week. It is the Liberal Party that has trouble sorting out its policies. That party has no policy, no vision and no leadership. It is all over here.

April 15, 2008.
Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, this government truly has a problem with coordination, consistency and transparency. Since 2006, there has been a high turnover in Ministers of National Defence and Foreign Affairs. Yesterday, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs committed a huge blunder. Today we learn that the chief of the land staff, General Hillier, has tendered his resignation for some unknown reason. Is General Hillier’s resignation directly tied to the Minister of Foreign Affairs’s blunder?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, General Hillier has worked well with the government. He has done an excellent job rebuilding the Canadian Forces. He is a great Canadian and we are proud to have worked with him.

Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, not so long ago, General Hillier said he was satisfied with the governor of Kandahar. The Minister of Foreign Affairs wonders about the governor, saying, “Is it the right person at the right place at the right time?” Was the Minister of Foreign Affairs referring to himself or the governor of Kandahar?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is a good Quebecker and a good Canadian who is working for Canadian interests internationally. Canadians and Quebeckers are very proud, not only of this minister, but of the role Quebec plays in Canada and in the world.

Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ): Mr. Speaker, in 2007, when the Bloc Québécois was concerned about the allegations of corruption and torture brought against the governor of Kandahar, the Minister of Foreign Affairs declared that the situation in Kandahar had greatly improved. Yesterday, this same minister short-circuited the diplomatic efforts now underway by openly asking President Karzai to replace the governor of Kandahar. Are these blunders and contradictions not enough to prove two things: this government’s lack of transparency and the incompetence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs?

Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Afghanistan is its own state and it makes its own decisions about government appointments. Canada is helping Afghanistan to become a stable, democratic and self-sustaining state so it can never again serve as a haven for terrorists threatening global and Canadian security. Since 2006, Canada’s efforts have been guided by the Afghanistan Compact. We are there to do our business. As the Prime Minister said, we have full confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, for 17 months now this government has failed to address allegations of torture and evidence of corruption in Afghanistan. Now, at a very delicate moment, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has made an extreme clumsy mistake that undermines international efforts in Kandahar. Both the Minister of Defence and General Hillier have spoken warmly in public about the governor, but behind closed doors, apparently, it is another message and another tune from the government. Then the minister makes the colossal mistake of babbling in front of the media. What does the Prime Minister intend to do about this mess?

Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Afghanistan is a foreign state that makes its own decisions about government appointments. I can assure members that Canada fully respects this and is not calling for any changes to the Afghan government. Members need to know that Canada is in Afghanistan to help it become a stable, democratic and self-sustaining state so that never again can Afghanistan become a haven for terrorists threatening both global and Canadian security. As the Prime Minister said, we have full confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs because he is doing a great job for Canada.

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the response from the Prime Minister’s stand-in. The diplomatic efforts of the men and women in Afghanistan have been thwarted by this government’s incompetence. With one careless comment, the Minister of Foreign Affairs sabotaged months of diplomatic efforts and effectively crushed all international efforts in favour of human rights and against corruption. The Prime Minister claims to be a champion of responsibility and transparency. Will he ask his minister of—

Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the Liberal stand-in leader. Afghanistan is a foreign state that makes its own decisions about government appointments. I can assure members that Canada fully respects this and is not calling for any change in the Government of Afghanistan. We have full confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is doing a great job for Canada.

Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister was forced to repudiate his Minister of Foreign Affairs’s suggestion yesterday that the governor of Kandahar should be replaced. This has actually squeezed President Karzai by making the actual replacement of Asadullah Khalid practically impossible. Quite frankly, the foreign affairs minister is becoming an embarrassment to all Canadians. Does the Prime Minister not realize that putting a flat tax poster boy in charge of Canada’s affairs abroad was a very bad idea? Does he not realize that the conduct of our Minister of Foreign Affairs has to be more than just a photo op?

Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister has said, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs has said, and as I am repeating, Afghanistan is a sovereign state that makes its own decisions about government appointments. I can assure the member that Canada fully respects this and is not calling for any changes in the Afghan government. As the Prime Minister has said, everybody has full confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He is doing a great job for Canada, for his constituency, and for Quebec.

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