The Commons: Eighteen attempts to explain the same story

MacKay questions the credibility of Afghan torture whistleblower, Richard Colvin


The Scene. Fewer Conservatives than usual chose to mockingly applaud Bob Rae when he rose to open Question Period this afternoon. Odd that.

“Mr. Speaker, the testimony yesterday of Richard Colvin before the Afghanistan committee showed two clear things,” Mr. Rae began, to groans from the Conservative side at mention of Mr. Colvin’s name.

“First, Mr. Colvin testified that he had information with respect to the mistreatment of prisoners in Afghan prisons and that he gave that information to his superiors. Second, Mr. Colvin testified that he was also told by his superiors to shut up, essentially,” Mr. Rae continued. “Given the importance of these two revelations, the revelations of mistreatment, harsh treatment and even torture and the revelation with respect to a cover-up, would the minister not agree with me and with others that there should indeed be a full public inquiry into what has taken place with respect to the transfer of these detainees?”

Across the aisle, Peter MacKay furrowed his brow, thrust his left hand in his pocket and commenced with the first of his 18 attempts to explain.

“Mr. Speaker, it has been stated here a number of times that there has not been a single, solitary proven allegation of abuse involving a transferred Taliban prisoner by Canadian Forces. Second, with respect to the evidence yesterday, what we know is that when the evidence is put to the test, it simply does not stand up,” he offered. “Mr. Colvin had an opportunity to speak directly to me and other ministers of the government who were in Afghanistan. He did not raise the issue. As well, what is being relied upon here is nothing short of hearsay, second- or third-hand information, or that which came directly from the Taliban.”

That Mr. Colvin’s credibility would be an issue for Mr. MacKay is perhaps confusing, seeing as how Mr. Colvin remains sufficiently fit, at least in this government’s judgment, to serve as the deputy head of intelligence at this country’s embassy in Washington, DC. Mr. Rae took note of this.

“Instead of tackling the problem,” he said, “the government is attacking Mr. Colvin.”

Mr. MacKay sought to explain. “Mr. Speaker, let me be very clear,” he said. “Nobody is attacking the individual.”

In the next breath, this. “What we are attacking here is the importance of the credibility of information that the Canadian public and a parliamentary inquiry is being asked to accept,” the Defence Minister advised. “I think that even the honourable member, who purports to be a lawyer, does know a little bit of something about due process. This is evidence that is being asked to be accepted without question. It is based on second- and third-hand information and Taliban information.”

It is apparently not, then, that Mr. MacKay thinks Mr. Colvin to be inherently flawed, only that Mr. Colvin is perhaps monetarily struck with profound gullibility and delusion. But not so grievously struck with such afflictions, mind you, that Mr. MacKay’s government so far sees fit to remove him from a seemingly sensitive position in perhaps the most vital foreign embassy this country possesses.

With that clarified, the proceedings moved on with questions from Ujjal Dosanjh and Gilles Duceppe. From across the room, Heritage Minister James Moore appeared to heckle Mr. Dosanjh with the name of “Allan Cutler.” Mr. Cutler is known as a whistleblower who exposed the Liberal government’s so-called Sponsorship Scandal. It is unclear if Mr. Moore meant to imply an analogy.

“When it comes to the prisoners and the treatment of Taliban prisoners, when it comes to their justice system, we have invested over $132 million to improve that system,” Mr. MacKay testified in response to a question from the Bloc leader. “I am very proud of the fact that we have dedicated soldiers, civil servants, individuals who are working closely with the government of Afghanistan, as challenging as that is, to see that we improve its capacity. We will continue to do so. That is the real work that is being done. This is a witch hunt.”

Fair enough. This government, for instance, has committed $7-million to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. And in a report released earlier this year, the AIHRC declared that “torture is a commonplace practice in Afghanistan’s law enforcement institutions.” It is unclear whether that charge represents real work or a witch hunt.

“Again, Mr. Speaker, here is the truth,” Mr. MacKay said in response to another question from Mr. Duceppe. “We inherited an inadequate transfer arrangement. We inherited a situation that was very difficult with respect to the handling of Taliban prisoners.”

Fair enough. Except that Mr. MacKay’s predecessor as Defence Minister, current government whip Gordon O’Connor, told the House in April 2006 that the government was “quite satisfied” with that agreement. A year later, amid allegations of torture in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister told the House that its agreements were “operating as they should.” Only a few days after that was a new agreement deemed necessary.

His desk covered with bits of paper, Mr. MacKay endeavoured to explain himself further in response to a question from Ralph Goodale. “Let us be clear, the reality is two and a half years ago we acted on credible evidence,” he said. “We acted on concerns that were being expressed from a number of sources. We invested in the system and, let us be clear, it was because of the concerns that were being expressed by Colvin and others that we did so.”

Fair enough. Except, a month ago both Mr. MacKay and Mr. O’Connor both denied hearing of Mr. Colvin’s concerns.

Marlene Jennings pursued a new point, Mr. MacKay provided a new answer. “Mr. Speaker, I do not want to turn this into a procedural argument,” Mr. MacKay demurred. “Clearly the reality is there was no evidence, none, zero. No credible evidence to suggest that a Taliban prisoner transferred from Canadian Forces was ever abused.”

So there was evidence. At least at some point. Credible evidence even, maybe. Of something. Just not abuse.

After 16 consecutive questions, the House pursued other matters. Then back to the matter of Mr. Colvin.

The NDP’s Paul Dewar again asked the Defence Minister to pursue a public inquiry. Mr. MacKay pretended not to notice. The NDP’s Jack Harris gave it a go. “A public inquiry would give an objective evaluation of the facts, the evidence and the systems now in place, not a charade, like yesterday’s shameless attack by Conservative MPs and now the minister,” he ventured.

One final time to Mr. MacKay. “What is a charade, Mr. Speaker,” the Minister said, “is someone who purports to be a lawyer saying that we should just accept evidence without any test, any process whatsoever that questions what is happening.”

It might seem that Mr. Harris and Mr. MacKay are in agreement. Except, of course, that they are not.

The Stats. Afghanistan, 18 questions. The environment, six questions. Ethics, four questions. Forestry and taxation, two questions each. The economy, Israel and air travel, one question each.

Peter MacKay, 18 answers. Jim Prentice, five answers. John Baird, four answers. Jim Flaherty, three answers. Peter Kent and Denis Lebel, two answers each.


The Commons: Eighteen attempts to explain the same story

  1. George W Bush, Dick Chaney and Stephen Harper dare we really need to know more? Of course not! Silly silly people who can not see the forest for the trees.

    • Oh God – if you're going to be a paranoid, delusional fool, at least learn to correctly spell the names of the boogeymen you create.

      Seriously – this is reasoned debate?

      • ya
        spank him for a typo
        that'll fix 'em

        all three have condoned and covered up complicity in torture

  2. "Fewer Conservatives than usual chose to mockingly applaud Bob Rae when he rose to open Question Period this afternoon"

    Why do Cons mockingly applaud Bob Rae? I have missed something here. Do give Cons give Rae a hard time for a particular reason?

    Wherry I find reading about how our MPs choose to spend their afternoons maddening most of the time but your description of their mannerisms are always appreciated. Those little descriptions add colour.

    • Absolutely, he takes the plain chicken fillet that is Question period and turns it into a grilled chicken ceasar salad.

      • Add to that the bacon of Flaherty's "I was starting to get lonely over here…" of yesterday's QP, and you have one delicious meal.

    • Rae is joke himself.Ask anyone in Ontario and beyond,

      • I just asked myself, and I disagreed. So in my sample size of one, you're 100% wrong.

        My poll was of course unscientific.

        • I did answer myself too…RAE IS A JOKE!!!

  3. Well the "Evil Harper" was personally responsible for the swine flu(shame it was a dud, I suppose), so now he can be blamed for personally putting the thumb screws to hapless Afgan Taliban types. Oh and he is responsible for global warming, not the Chinese, Americans or other emerging economies. So it goes.

  4. Where in the world is Ignatieff? Talk about picking the worse possible time to go out of town.

    • Exactly! Because that is the real issue of importance here.

      That and what colour paint is on the office at the DonOLO.

    • Maybe he feels he'd just get slammed as a hypocrite if he took the Cons to task on torture-related issues?

      Rae probably is a better point man for the Liberals on this issue.

      • MI is an expert on torture,
        maybe the committee will call him up as a witness.

        • Unfortunately, the real issue is covering up and lying, which are hallmarks of Harper. 'Fraid he'll need to find a new speech writer to toss on the barby for this one…

  5. Which party was in government when the prisoner excahnge started? Which party was in governent when Canada implemented a tougher policy on transfering prisoners? No points for guessing, but I'm wondering why the media hasn't twigged to this.

    • Liberals had no agreement for detainee handovers the first 4 years of the war.
      Liberals, December 2005 agreement
      Conservatives, May 2007 tougher agreement

      It doesn't fit the media 'we can make or break you' mentality to point out that the Liberals were grossly negligent in getting written assurances of prisoner protection,
      they've already broken MI.
      It's Harper's turn.

      • Colvin's accusations are that the government didn't respond to his complaints about Canada's responsibility in ongoing war crimes for an extended period of time. Whether they like it or not when they grabbed power in parliament and government they also inherited the Liberal's problems. It's therefore their responsibility to take, not the defeated Liberals.

        If it really was so clearly the Liberal's fault then Peter McKay would have only one defense, not 18.

      • Stop spinning Wilson. It's been noted elsewhere that until the 05 agreement we were under a different command structure…at least tell the whole truth…but then fabrication's your bag isn't it?

    • Which gov't has twisted itself in a pretzel trying to avoid any responsibility — starting with 'current transfer agreement is fine and you're a taliban-lover for asking', to 'there is no torture going on in afghanistan (and a recession is evolutionary implausible in these running shoes) and did I say sponsorship scandal?'; the Harper team then shifted slowly to 'we have a new transfer agreement, implemented because of some concerns that we will pretend don't exist', to now 'the people who advised of making the new transfer agreement and don't understand ixnay on the orture-tay are whacked but just dandy for our washington desk'… Bring on the public inquiry and maybe you can get Mackenzie King's seance tossed into the whole tangled mess. Perhaps Harper can try and bribe an ill witness to tie up this whole mess and be done with it…

    • The issue isn't who was in power at first, it's who was in power when the issue was raised, and what happened after.

  6. Anybody know of Peter MacKay's record as an attorney? Did he ever win any cases? Try any cases? Lose any cases?

    He seems to pretend to know quite a bit about "rules of evidence" and justiciability and all that. But does he have any — evidence — to support his purported expertise in the subject?

    • He worked as a prosecutor for a few years … after his tenure of on-the-job training
      with Karlheinz's Krupp friends. So he knows some of that stuff.

      I'm sure what he finds shocking is that some people don't automatically believe
      every word he says. The Rotary Club in New Glasgow does.

      • Turns out his neighbour's dog is actually a litigation genius, but the courts frown on prosecution pooches, so the mutt hired another mutt to be his mouthpiece; soon to hit the big screen with The Shaggy Foreign Minister.

  7. McKay has absolutely No Credibility!

  8. When asked why, with face to face meetings
    Colvin refused to raise detainee concerns with the ranking military officer in Afghanistan,
    he said it was because he didn't like the general's personality.
    (Don Martin article)
    Wow, is that the same reason he didn't raise concerns with Mckay in face to face meetings,
    he didn't like his personality?

  9. That was a great piece of cross examination Aaron…bravo. You made Mackay look like the potatoe head he is.

  10. Can anyone in parliament EVER answer a question logically and based on respect for each other? What a bunch of highly educated immature adults. We have Clovin who has been promoted for years by both parties and now he has zero credibility. Our ministers are simply not telling the truth. Torture is a topic no one wants to admit to having knowledge. Well it happens folks….it's called war and playing nice just doesn't win the end game. Let's just be honest and admit we knew instead of looking stupid, inept and totally out of touch. It's not hard but it will never happen. Think about it….what does Clovin have to gain by this…..just his career ruined.

    Dumb ass arogant politicians. No wonder the public sours on these dishonest idiots.

  11. I believed Peter MacKay had credibility and could be premier one day….that's simply a pipe dream now. I know he knows he blew this debate, he knows he lied, he knows he just ruined Clovins political career, he knows the press, his colleagues, the military and the public know he's lying. We Canadians have had enough of this type of leadership. Show some backbone as you ask from our military to show… which they do each and every day. I would hate to have Mr Mackay guarding my back in the military…..he would have 18 different reasons why he couldn't. If the head of defence can't be trusted to tell the truth what are the soldiers on the ground to think. Torture is sadly part of war….admit it and move on.

    Our parliament is fast becoming a joke with zero credibility.

    • Weel said, apart from the torture bit. It may be a fact of life , but we don't have to facilitate it do we?

    • The moment government officials "admit" -if it is indeed the case – that they knew detainees would be tortured when turned over to Afghan officials, it means they were complicit in a war crime.

      If Canadian officials are tried and convicted of war crimes, I can't think of a worse place for this country to be in politically.

  12. Well…sigh…where's the damn coffee pot?

  13. Excellent journalism doing exactly what it should do. Kudos~!

  14. Hillier doesnt know anything. It is funny that yesterday the question was posed as to why would Colvin lie? What did he have to gain?

    Today the question can be put to Hillier. What does he have to gain? He's retired, not in the services, and he has been publicly on the out with Harper and the Conservatives since day 1. There's no love between Harper and Hillier and everyone knows that. Colvin was a relative unknown till 2 days ago.

    I smell a rat.

  15. Again Much ado about nothing…this will be old news!!!

    • It already is. Colvin keeps his job, and life goes on.

  16. Aaron Wherry: Eighteen blogs spin the same story

  17. McKay is a PROVEN liar – so how can anyone trust him?

  18. This too- will pass. As 4 the afghans–are all taliban–how do u think they are staying alive?- they have 2 play -both sides of the fence–& after the prisoners are being handed over 2 them==it's out of our hands– they treat their own people the same as -others.The taliban would think nothng—of gouging soldiers eyes out– if they ever get ahold oft them– even worse things would be done– sure– we don't want 2 be the same– but if they are in the hands of their own people– let it go–if the story is true.!!! I think somebody is looking for a rank -up the ladder!!!!!

  19. I like Peter MacKay and he said it all in his comment:
    – any thinking person should ask the same
    Mr. Colvin had an opportunity to speak directly to me and other ministers of the government who were in Afghanistan. He did not raise the issue. As well, what is being relied upon here is nothing short of hearsay, second- or third-hand information, or that which came directly from the Taliban.”
    Since when do we believe the Taliban- do you all know what they do to people???
    It is a shame ..Canadians have so many good points unfortunately oftentimes astuteness is not one of them.

    • From my understanding, Taliban were not part of those transferred to the facilities in question.

  20. I repeat – How can ANYONE trust Mr. MacKay?
    A New Glasgow article by Mark Leeming talks about some of the thinking going on in the riding..

    "Sure, it was a bit out of character for Peter MacKay to give Elizabeth May such a hand up for the next election, but the "will he or won't he?" question in all the headlines didn't strike me as quite the coin toss others imagined it to be. Remember that we're talking about the principal architect of the Lie That Built The Conservative Party, a piece of perfidy that rather set the tone for the group, and for the man. Why would anyone expect him to shy from endorsing another scam?"

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