The Commons: 'Let us get beyond the rhetorical flourish' -

The Commons: ‘Let us get beyond the rhetorical flourish’

The Conservatives plead for patience


The Scene. Bob Rae stood and reviewed the allegations of obstruction, of troubles faced by the Military Police Complaints Commission and Richard Colvin. “How is all this compatible,” he wondered aloud, “with the pursuit of the truth about allegations of abuse in Afghan prisons?”

With the Prime Minister away, this seemed an appropriate time for Peter MacKay to stand and table the government’s response. Instead, here came John Baird, his relevance to this particular file unclear, professing outrage at the latest attempt of the Liberal party—a letter referencing the government’s handling of Afghan detainees—to garner funds from its supporters. “It is unwarranted,” he said, accusing the Liberals of somehow impugning the men and women of the Canadian Forces, “it is appalling and it is absolutely shameful.”

These matters surely can be tricky. Given continued concerns over a recent Conservative mailout, one wonders whether we might be nearing the day when we’d all be better off with a complete and total ban on political party’s promoting themselves at all.

There was more sparring on this between Messrs Rae and Baird before Mr. Rae attempted to identify an indisputable fact.

“Mr. Speaker, the fact remains that partially and heavily blacked-out documents with key information missing are not disclosure. Non-answers in the House are not disclosure. Rhetorical personal attacks such as the minister himself has just indulged in are not disclosure and do not amount to disclosure,” he offered. “We need to get at the truth. Why is the government afraid of a public inquiry to get at the truth? What is it about the truth that the government is afraid of?”

Mr. Baird stood here with an ode to heroism. “Mr. Speaker, a great Canadian hero spoke to the House of Commons committee yesterday,” he pronounced. “General Rick Hillier, a great Canadian hero himself, dismissed the claims against them as ludicrous and uninformed.”

Indeed. Let no one—absolutely no one—ever question Gen. Hillier. Let no soul cast aspersions on the man or his work. He is a great hero, of this there cannot be any doubt. No matter what the Defence Minister has said about the detainee agreement Gen. Hillier signed in 2005 being “inadequate” and “failed.”

Ujjal Dosanjh rose next to try his luck. “Mr. Speaker, for years there has been a compelling body of evidence on the risk of torture in Afghan jails in the public domain: the U.S. Department of State, the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Red Cross and even DFAIT itself, to name just a few sources,” he reviewed. “The Dutch were so worried that they wanted to build a NATO prison to ensure the proper treatment of prisoners. Why the cover-up? Why no disclosure? Why not a public inquiry?”

The aforementioned Mr. MacKay, he of the previous declaration that “there has never been a single proven allegation of abuse involving a prisoner transferred by the Canadian Forces,” stood here and attempted once more to split the difference. “Mr. Speaker, as we have indicated a number of times, when we had credible allegations, we acted,” he said. “When we had evidence that substantiated concerns, we moved.”

Mr. MacKay next reminded Mr. Dosanjh of something General Michel Gauthier had said in dismissing Mr. Colvin’s testimony. Mr. Dosanjh then reminded Mr. MacKay of something Gen. Gauthier had said about the need to release all relevant documents. Thus did Mr. MacKay stand and plead for decency.

“Let us get beyond the rhetorical flourish,” he begged. “Let us get beyond those who are in partisan mode.”

The questions persisted. Gilles Duceppe wondered how two retired generals had been allowed access to government memos that are apparently the subject of national security concerns. Claude Bachand asked that the government provide Mr. Colvin with immunity to testify fully and turn over all relevant documents. Messrs. Baird and MacKay seemed not to notice.

“Disparaging remarks, rhetorical flourishes are not going to help us get to the bottom of this issue,” Mr. MacKay scolded.

Jack Layton asked if the government would order a public inquiry. Mr. Baird pledged to do something else entirely. ” Mr. Speaker, the government has been very clear. We have and will continue to provide all legally available information,” he said. “We think national security is important. We also think the safety of our men and women in uniform is paramount and that is something we will never ever negotiate on. Our government stands solidly behind our men and women in uniform and we make absolutely no apologies for that whatsoever.”

Justin Trudeau and Siobhan Coady had their turns, Peter MacKay dismissing each in kind.

“Let us wait for others,” he finally advised, “like the generals yesterday, to have a full picture of what took place during the period in question, not the partisan attacks, not the righteous indignation, not the feigned concern of the member opposite.”

His particular aspersion cast upon Ms. Coady aside, this may be the least disputable answer the Minister has offered all week.

The Stats. Afghanistan, 14 questions. The environment, six questions. Employment, ethics, child safety, election financing and Aboriginals, two questions each. Crime, bilingualism, Uganda, China, product safety and abortion, one question each.

John Baird, nine answers. Peter MacKay, eight answers. Jim Prentice, four answers. Leona Aglukkaq, three answers. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Diane Finley, Chuck Strahl and Pierre Poilievre, two answers each. Rob Nicholson, Jason Kenney, Deepak Obhrai and Helena Guergis, one answer each.


The Commons: ‘Let us get beyond the rhetorical flourish’

  1. check then mate

    • How did retired generals get to see documentation that even the author of said documentation can't get full access to due to "security concerns" psiclone? Really, how did they do that?

    • Check, then mate?

      In what game?

      Who got checked and who got mated?

    • I love it when you get to post first. You freaking kill me.

  2. Failing to answer the questions about how retired generals got to be re-briefed on secret documents, failing to answer why all those other reports arent credible to the govenment, failing to answer why they wont release documents/memos submitted by Mr Colvin is checkmate?

    • Shhh…it is part of the strategy only known to true aficionados of Vulcan 3D chess…

  3. Why is Hillier a "great hero"? He seems to have been a competent manager, and he sure liked to talk tough, but was he on the front lines? I don't think he oversaw any combat operations in Afghanistan.

    • General Hillier is and was a "Soldier's Soldier" unfortunately he wore two hats …. One in support of government .. IE " See no evil speak no evil" and two "My troops deserve the best, and that have my 100% backing" he appears to have done the best for both. Remember Jack at the General Rank *** he is tasked with completing a mission at all costs with life and death just the normal daily routine. Jack when any clear and concise issue reaches the public attention governments act… either they give out medals for good (Harper just did) and send who ever to slaughter ( Chrieten, Air Born) and turn the page. The point here is Jack there is yet any clear and concise evidence. It will come of course but for now it has not affected Mr. Harper's majority goal. Should any u-tube or pictures hit the media …. look out bing bang boom and someone is gonzo with government spin big time. Sad part is most people could care less.

      • Hillier was a hero ??
        On March 10, 2006
        A Canadian supply convoy travelling in southern Afghanistan triggers a roadside bomb, blowing a wheel off an armoured vehicle. Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's chief of defence staff, is nearby in a meeting with a village elder. Hillier is immediately taken to the Canadian base in Gumbad by armoured convoy and a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter flies him back to the main base in Kandahar. Instead of facing the conflict he ran. I guess they do not make heros like they used to.

  4. The "national security" excuse is really beyond lame. It's absurd to suggest that memos on detainee policy from 2006 could possibly affect the safety of CF personnel in 2009.

    • Do you want a more laughable example? The Clownservatives used the very same "national security" excuse in 2007 to recall an electronic file that Canada's "New Government" had freely distributed into cyberspace themselves. At the time they must have been too embarrassed to have their incompetence on display but here we are in late 2009 and Harper is beyond embarrasment and think he can get away with anything.

      Here's the file still out there on the internet despite the recall by the Finance department:

    • I couldn't agree more!!!!

    • Pushing unproven, and as far as we know so far unprovable, allegations about Canada sending people to torture while Canadian troops are on the ground in hostile territory where such inflammatory claims could incite violent response is a national security issue. Even the Obama administration has come to see that point.

      • By that logic, neither the CF nor the Government can ever do anything wrong while the war is going on.

        • I don't think that Al-Qaeda or the Taliban are paying much attention to this, if any. Hate to say it, but they're probably much more preoccupied with what the Yanks are doing (and to a much lesser extent, what the Brits are doing). I suspect the Canadian Parliament is barely on the Taliban's radar.

          So no, I doubt that our soldiers are being endangered by the torture allegations. Given the Taliban's medieval notions about human rights, they probably think that we're crazy to even be talking about this.

        • Jack …. just for a point .. Afghanistan is not a "War" it is a conflict supported by NATO … no declaration of War has been issued … very big deal … which means of course our brave soldiers entitlements are far and few. There has been over 150 suicides and countless numbers of PTSD cases and many more to come and when this ends ( heaven only knows) and it well past 2011 as many of Mr. Harper non tendered contractors are not finished milking the taxpayers.. These brave soldiers and their families will be fighting for compensation for years to come as did those from WW II and Korea. Fact Jack!

    • Lets get real here. Do you think all diplomats were consumed about detainees and that is all they wrote about in their memos? There was probably a myriad of issues and yes some of that stuff could be sensitive and of national security. We are still there fighting in case you haven't heard and it is the responsibility of the government to protect Canada's interest and not allow the opposition to go on a fishing expedition which potentially could affect our troops. So rave on the documents will not be produced.

      • Having our country's name connected, albeit tangentially, with torture is not in our national interest. Far worse is the ignominy that will arise if we appear to be covering up the first connection. Our national interest is best served by honest government above all. But I guess if you think honesty is a virtue you're just "raving" in the eyes of CPC hacks.

  5. How can Mr. MacKay continue to cling to this argument about acting once they had credible information when the Dutch had expressed such concern as to warrant suggesting a joint institution with the Canadians and British back in early 2006? The Netherlands had already registered their concerns over prisoner safety. I believe the biggest rhetoric is coming out of his mouth. And worse, he uses his rhetoric by hiding behind our young and brave soldiers who are doing nothing but their job which is dictated by our politicians, the very body (both Lib and Con) that put these men in dangers path. So far I have heard nothing regarding how documentation discussing torture have any impact on national security. How can one not think they are hiding something (or covering someones backside).

  6. Rae is mischievous and wouldn't know the truth if it hit him right between the eyes.

    • Bob Rae is certainly being mischievious, although Bob Rae is smart enough to recognize the truth; the question is what would he do with the truth.

      Unfortunately he seems to believe that it is to his advantage to ignore the truth.

  7. Why would Petey want to get to the issue of something that lacks credibility? Issue? What steenking issue>

  8. Funnily enough, I read this and thought about our discussion of just a few weeks ago about saving Question Period. This is a perfect example of why it isn't worth it. It's true enough that the government is just blustering but that is also all the opposition is doing. Rae says he wants disclosure but all he really cares about is scoring points and so Baird responded by scoring points of his own. In a sense deplorable but each side is only matching the (very low) standard set by the other. (And why Wherry is wasting good pixels on multiple postings on this freak show is anybody's guess.)

    Meanwhile, millions of Canadians changed the channel and watched CSI or reality TV instead (which, if i might gently point this out to those who think they smell Harper blood here, serves his purposes very well).

    • "It's true enough that the government is just blustering but that is also all the opposition is doing. Rae says he wants disclosure but all he really cares about is scoring points and so Baird responded by scoring points of his own."

      Well, that's fine and may be true enough. It doesn't answer the questions, though. I don't care what political party anyone belongs to, if Canada was knowingly sending people to be tortured, I want us to admit we made a mistake, I want to know how we came to make this mistake, and I want to know the steps that have been put in place so that this mistake doesn't ever happen again. I don't want to hear that "they did it too" or that "these were bad people" or any other lame excuse.

      • Did you listen to the testimony today? They were concerned about Canadian detainees. Yes they knew there were problems in the prison system but that was not their concern. When they had credibile evidence they changed the system to track the detainees handed over by the Canadian military. What do you want them to do walk on water.

  9. Poor Mr. Colvin. I don't know who sh.t in his porridge but the Generals and today the Diplomat made short work of his so called evidence. Sure everybody knew there was torture going on but the military were busy moving from Kabul to Kandahar and felt none of their detainees were being tortured. No evidence has been presented to say that Canadian detainees were being tortured other than one when the military/diplomats had to change the system which they did. Unless there is a smoking gun to come I think this issue is going to die a slow death. Already the media reports are changing.

    • So, everybody knew that torture was going on, but there was no evidence of something everybody knew. Amazing.

      Rick Hillier–Liberal-appointed bureaucrat–and his former colleagues clearly couldn't lie straight in bed. The generals were so laughably incoherent today that they actually enhanced Colvin's credibility.

      One of them, Fraser I believe, actually admitted that he had had no idea what to expect in Kandahar before our deployment there. Gee, and all this time I naively thought that generals usually formulated detailed plans based on a close inspection of the situation on the ground before committing their troops…

    • Did you actually listen or read about what he said?

      Mulroney basically confirmed Colvin's version of events, that the detainee transfer agreement was a problem, and while he denies that it was an attempt to muzzle him, he confirms that he told Colvin to talk to him on the phone instead of sending memos.

      The smoking gun is that instead of simply admitting that there were problems with detainee transfers and explaining why Canada amended the transfer agreement in 2007, this government has repeatedly said there was no problem, has obstructed the MPCC inquiry and is now handing out secret documents to retired generals but not to a parliamentary committee. If Peter Mackay finds one more side of his mouth to talk out of, the top of his head will fall off.

  10. Is anyone else having flashbacks to the US's WMD invasion? How everyone "knew" that Saddam had WMD although there was no real proof. Look how well that turned out.

    Everyone assumes that detainees were tortured. While I will admit that this is likely the case, assuming something and proving something are two different things.

    • And proving it will only occur if an investigation takes place, but that can only happen if the people in charge read the damn memos and take action when they receive them rather than holding their hands over their ears and singing from the big book of Beatles' songs.

      None of this is about proving torture, it's about what the government formerly known as Canada's New Government) did to ensure it was not complicit in torture. It looks like it spent at least a year just hoping the problem would go away.

  11. Political party's? Seriously? Party's? How does a mistake that would fail a third grader make it to this page?

  12. I support my PM!

    • Support Harper, don't question him!

  13. Let's get real here. Hillier is a hero because he refused to stay quiet and meek while the Canadian government (of both Liberal and Conservative types) asked of his troops without giving the necessary resources. I am sure he is a beloved "hero" among the rank and file. He may have also done something that got him to General status, but I don't know that

    Of course you get the head guy out of harm's way. That's the price you pay for being the head guy. I would imagine Hillier was more upset about it than you. So, let's at least agree not to disparage everything this guy's ever done while we question him on what we don't know.