The apology precedent - Macleans.ca
 

The apology precedent


 

It was suggested during QP yesterday that some sort of apology to the House might now be in order. Here, for the sake of comparison, is the statement Gordon O’Connor, Peter MacKay’s predecessor as minister of national defence, made in the House on Mar. 19, 2007, after it was confirmed that statements he had made were not accurate.

Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to correct answers to questions previously given to the House.

While I issued a public statement on March 8 to correct the record, this is my first opportunity to address the House. In statements to the House and in two replies to order paper questions, I inadvertently provided inaccurate information relating to the role, relationship and responsibilities of the International Committee of the Red Cross with regard to Canada and detainees turned over by Canada to Afghan authorities.

I fully and without reservation apologize to the House for providing inaccurate information to members. I regret any confusion that may have resulted from these statements. The answers I gave were provided in good faith. I take full responsibility and do so without hesitation.

I would like to be clear. The International Committee of the Red Cross is under no obligation to share information with Canada on the treatment of detainees transferred by Canada to Afghan authorities. The International Committee of the Red Cross provides this information to the country that has the detainees in its custody, in this case, Afghanistan.

The arrangement between the Canadian Forces and Afghanistan recognizes the right of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit detainees at any time they are in custody, whether held by Canadian Forces or by Afghanistan.

Flowing from that correction, I am also tabling revised responses to Order Paper Questions Nos. 13 and 33 which state, “–the ICRC would advise the Afghan authorities if they had any concerns about detainees whom we transferred to Afghan authorities”. And that, “The International Committee of the Red Cross would advise Afghan authorities if they had any concerns about detainees”.

These revised responses will ensure that the House has accurate information.

In addition, today I am tabling a letter from two senior officials to the chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence correcting information they provided to the committee on December 11, 2006, regarding Canada’s notification to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission of detainee transfers.

Defence officials and I have appeared regularly before the Standing Committee on National Defence to provide parliamentarians with information and will continue to do so.

The letters establishing Canada’s subsequent arrangement with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which I would now like to table, are posted on my department’s website. To be clear, this arrangement, which has taken many months to negotiate, provides that Canada will notify the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the AIHRC, of any detainees transferred to Afghan authorities and the AIHRC will inform Canada should it learn that a transfer detainee has been mistreated.

Our government is committed to the goal of ensuring that each Afghan detainee is treated in accordance with international law. The protection of human rights is a central value to all Canadians and our government’s commitment is to ensure that these values are held no matter where are forces serve.

To reinforce that, I personally met with the Kandahar representative and the national representative of the commission, the Afghan minister of defence and President Karzai, in which I received their personal commitments to ensure that the agreements will be honoured.

I believe that my statement this morning clarifies our important relationships with the government of Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.


 

The apology precedent

  1. The difference would be that this ICRC policy was widely known, and should have been known to Gordon O'Connor.

    If you believe General N's statement yesterday, MacKay couldn't have known he was misleading the House, since his own General did not know the real facts concerning the incifdent now in question.

    He may wish to apologize anyway, I suppose. But the two situations seem to be a bit different.

    And for the record, I am no fan of Peter MacKay. I wouldn't shed a tear if he resigned. But the context here is different.

    • If you believe General N's statement yesterday, MacKay couldn't have known he was misleading the House, since his own General did not know the real facts concerning the incifdent now in question"

      It was established yesterday that the general and Mackay don't communicate such matters routinely. So, Mackay can't hide behind that excuse either.

      • kcm, You're saying MacKay was never briefed on the issue by anyone, and never discussed it with General N?

        If so, then yes, he shold apologize for misleading the House on such an important matter.

        But I suspect he relayed to the House the information that was in his briefing books. That's what I think was implied in General N's statement…he too was under a false impresssion.

        If anyone else has evidence otherwise, it would be interesting to hear about it.

        • I tend to believe that if you make a statement that is false – knowingly or unknowingly – you ought correct yourself when provided the correct information and opportunity to do so.

          Doesn't mean his job needs to be in jeopardy…yet…but if he has new information that corrects his initial statements to the house, then he should communicate as much.

          • Agreed.

            Now I'm going to refrain from posting for the rest of the day!

          • "Doesn't mean his job needs to be in jeopardy…yet…but if he has new information that corrects his initial statements to the house, then he should communicate as much."

            LynnTO, I don't know what you do for a living but for many of us, a mistake of this magnitude (and by that I mean unknowingly providing false information and I'm not convinced that this is what really happened) would cost us our job. If making Canada complicit (knowingly or unknowingly) in torture is not grounds for dismissal, I don't know what is. Ministers have lost their jobs for less. Ask Maxime Bernier.

          • Unknowingly providing false information and then refusing to correct it when provided with the right stuff should certainly cost him his job. It would certainly cost me mine.

            Unknowingly providing false information and then correcting it when given the opportunity? There's an ounce of redemption in that; perhaps not enough to salvage his position, but an ounce nonetheless. And, given his role within the current structure of the party – that is, he's the PC guy who made the deal with Reformer Harper to bring the parties together (I'm being simplistic, but for the sake of argument…) Harper will have a hard time throwing him under a bus without also throwing down an entire wing of his party politically, not to mention several bureaucrats, advisors, and military brass to boot.

            Politics is one of those professions that operates in the realm of what appears to be – not necessarily what is, or what should be, but what appears to be true. As a result, you can get fired for appearing to be an embarrassment, and you can retain your job for appearing to act on the only information you appear to have. I agree – Ministers have lost their jobs for less. But MacKay's resignation over this information – however justified by the information provided – would signal to the international community that someone here could be guilty of a war crime, and that carries far more damaging implications for Canada than any scandal, I would posit, than has ever happened in Canada's history.

          • Here's the part I'm unclear of regarding this entire argument. You have the government, and they tell the military what the objective is. The military strategizes and comes up with a plan for meeting the objective. The military breaks up the plan and gives each bit to the different soldiers on the ground to implement. The government has civilians looking on to ensure the objective is being met.

            So why, when the guy you hired to tell you if the objective is being met tells you it is not, do you discount his opinion (the one you pay him to give you) and believe instead the people responsible for the plan? It's like believing the tailor that the suit is wonderful, when people are telling you you are naked. I don't mean to say it is the military covering-up problems (but it certainly could be and it wouldn't be the first time), just that it seems a waste of a resource to put Colvin in the field to look into this stuff if you then don't listen to a word he has to say.

            So, I think I am left rejecting the entire "MacKay couldn't have known" train of thought.

    • There are really two parts to how Harper and McKay have been misleading Canadians.

      The first is the simple fact of whether there was torture or not. Harper and McKay were wrong, clearly.

      The second is the attempt to say that they had all of the reports, there was no report concluding torture, you guys have no clue, Colvin has no clue, etc… i.e. the aggressive unequivocal nature of the statements.

  2. This scenario is much worse than O'Connors blustering about the Red Cross and an apology would not address the reason for the "mistake."

    I'd be willing to forgive/believe someone who provided wrong information by mistake if he wasn't also actively trying to suppress access to the information, attacking the credibility of people who contradicted him, implying that it's unpatriotic to even ask or doubt what he is saying, and refusing to investigate.

    This amounts to multiple apologies and an admission of a global failure to be accountable and trustworthy. The only acceptable apology is an unconditional resignation. And if that's not forthcoming the prime minister must dismiss Mackay.