The Commons: Lost in translation -

The Commons: Lost in translation

Harper and MacKay can’t seem to get their stories straight


The Scene. No hair is apparently so fine it cannot be split. If Confucius did not say so, he perhaps should have.

After Michael Ignatieff had stood to open Question Period and wondered aloud about the government’s competence, the Prime Minister, making his second consecutive appearance in the House, rose and explained, en francais, as follows.

“Quand nos diplomates, nos soldats ont reçu des preuves crédibles de cas d’abus, nos diplomates, nos soldats ont agi dans ces cas.”

Now, as scrawled quickly in ye olde Moleskine, the House of Commons translators, they of pleasant, if harried, voices, relayed “des preuves crédibles de cas d’abus” as “proof of abuse.” For the record, the authority that is Google understands this to mean “credible evidence of abuse.” And our dog-eared 1977 copy of Cassell’s French Dictionary translates the term “preuves” as “proof; evidence, testimony.”

This may or may not matter.

Mr. Ignatieff stood for his second question. “Mr. Speaker, reports of torture reached the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s own national security advisor,” he said. “For 18 months, the government knew about torture in Afghan jails. For 18 months, it did not investigate. For 18 months, it did not stop it and it has covered it up ever since. Why?”

“Whenever Canadian officials or soldiers have received credible reports of abuse,” the Prime Minister explained, “they have reacted and responded.”

Once more to Mr. Ignatieff. “Mr. Speaker, between January 2006 and May 2007, the government knew that torture was occurring in Afghan jails. It knew that it was transferring Afghans to those very jails, but the Prime Minister claims that no one transferred by Canadians was ever tortured,” he said. “How can he be so categorical when the government did nothing to investigate for 18 months? What kind of Canadian government does nothing to prevent torture?”

Back to Mr. Harper. “Mr. Speaker, again, on the contrary, Canadian officials and soldiers have always acted when they have had credible evidence of abuse,” he said. “That is absolutely clear.”

And yet. Here, again, is what his Defence Minister said just the other day. “Mr. Speaker, let us be clear,” he offered. “There has never been a single proven allegation of abuse involving a prisoner transferred by the Canadian Forces. Not one.”

Perhaps Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay are not speaking these days. Perhaps Jim Prentice, the minister who occupies the seat between them on the government’s frontbench, is interfering with the communication between the Prime Minister and Defence Minister. Perhaps we should see what the Defence Minister now has to say about what the Prime Minister has just said.

In the meantime, the Prime Minister kept on.

“Monsieur le Président, quand il y avait des preuves crédibles de cas d’abus, dans les prisons afghanes, envers des prisonniers détenus par les Canadiens, le gouvernement, les soldats, les forces canadienne et le ministère des Affaires étrangères ont réagi,” he told Gilles Duceppe.

“Monsieur le Président, encore une fois, quand il y a des preuves crédibles de cas d’abus, les fonctionnaires du gouvernement du Canada ont toujours réagi de façon responsable,” he told Jack Layton.

Both times, to our ears, the House translators, to whom we here and now give a belated thanks for their efforts, translated the term “preuves” as “proof.”

By this time, Minister MacKay had apparently taken the hint. “Mr. Speaker, when officials at Foreign Affairs, officials at the Department of National Defence were in possession of credible allegations, they acted,” he told Bob Rae.

“We acted when we had credible evidence, we acted when we had substantial evidence that related to the transfer of prisoners taken by Canadian Forces,” he told Dominic LeBlanc. “We acted when we had credible evidence, we continue to act to improve the situation in Afghanistan.”

“Mr. Speaker, when officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Department of National Defence had credible allegations we acted,” he told Ujjal Dosanjh. “We acted substantially. We acted quickly.”

So there. And now how to make sense of it all?

Did the Prime Minister mean “proof” or “evidence?” If he meant “evidence,” what is the difference between “credible evidence” and proof? What act was it “credible evidence” of? Was this “credible evidence” of whatever ultimately deemed to not constitute proof? If so, wouldn’t that make it “uncredible evidence?” Same too for the phrase “credible allegation?” What, precisely, is a “credible allegation” if it is not substantiated and proven?

Tomorrow will make a week since the government began its latest attempt to explain itself. One can only hope that on the seventh day we will realize the clarity we’ve been promised.

The Stats. Afghanistan, 17 questions. Environment, four questions. Bilingualism, three questions. Violence against women, the Mint, child safety and abortion, two questions each. Taxation, fisheries and poverty, one question each.

Peter MacKay, 10 answers. Stephen Harper, nine answers. Jim Prentice, Helena Guergis and James Moore, three answers. Rob Merrifield and Leona Aglukkaq, two answers each. Gail Shea, Christian Paradis and Diane Finley, one answer each.


The Commons: Lost in translation

  1. Good job, Wherry. It seems clear the MacKay's original statement is misleading at best. ("There has never been a single proven allegation of abuse involving a prisoner transferred by the Canadian Forces. Not one.”)

    If the government took various "credible allegations" seriously enough to act on them, it seems likely that at least some of these allegations were true, whether or not they were "proven" according to MacKay.

    • Hardly, they 'd act if they thought the allegations had reached a certain fairly low likelihood of probability.

  2. "Both times, to our ears, the House translators, to whom we here and now give a belated thanks for their efforts, translated the term “preuves” as “proof.”" That's a mistranslation – preuve translates as evidence. The PM's statement in English "credible reports" is the equivalent of "preuves crédibles". The PM and MacKay are not contradicting each other. As they have not been on the umpteen other times you've "contrasted" completely compatible statements from two government sources…

  3. I've been a little busy the last week or so ………. was MacKay holding them down and Harper torturing then , or was it the other way around ?

    • You got it right, Bill. Plus Hillier watched and Colvin took notes.

        • re your link:I was thinking the RCMP may be poised to make another Adscam bust…?

      • As long as Iggy's cool with it , I'm good .

      • They probably made them listen to Harper's speaches for days on end. Call the ICC immediately. I cant imagine anything more depraved.

  4. ^… torturing them … cough .

  5. "Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes."

    Enjoyed The Commons again today, Wherry. Since the torture allegations were relaunched last week, The Commons has been inspired. I was wondering if Confucius did have anything to say about hair splitting but I could not find anything but didn't look very hard either. But I did find the quote above, which might fit what's happened here to Cons.

  6. There's no difference between evidence and proof. Wherry is also making a serious mistake, like so many of his colleagues – he is assuming that the Generals or senior DND civil servants tell MacKay everything.

    • Except there's this whole accountability thing, you see, and some people think it's an important component of responsible government, and some people — can you imagine ?? — even go and campaign on the importance of accountability, and they get elected on a promise to increase accountability, and accountability is soooo important to them that they make it their very very first piece of legislation.

      Sounds incredible, I know, but it's true.

    • There is a difference. Proof is what we call it when we have evidence sufficient to convince. If it doesn't convince, then it remains just that: evidence.

    • Or that McKay and Harper tell the generals everything.

    • There is an important difference.

      Evidence is a fact. A prosecutor will "introduce" evidence in a trial to support a theory or claim.

      Proof is a theory or claim that is verified or confirmed by facts. Or at least, an attempt to claim that the evidence shows the proof of the theory or claim.

  7. MacKay is done.

    Good riddance.

    • No he is not!!! Mark my words…and I am saying this in the nicest way :)

  8. Again this is proof (pun intended) that this government refuses to govern!!! When this first came up their first thoughts were simply "who do we play-spin-play this to our partisans advantage" It is finally obvious that concerns were raised, doubts that prisoners captures on our watch were given proper Geneva convention treatment and so the government apparatus acted!
    Only politically the Harper government could not admit that it had in fact acted…..Why???? The spin doctors spun this way to far. Pity

  9. Quote:

    So there. And now how to make sense of it all?
    Did the Prime Minister mean “proof” or “evidence?” If he meant “evidence,” what is the difference between “credible evidence” and proof? What act was it “credible evidence” of? Was this “credible evidence” of whatever ultimately deemed to not constitute proof? If so, wouldn't that make it “uncredible evidence?” Same too for the phrase “credible allegation?” What, precisely, is a “credible allegation” if it is not substantiated and proven?

    I don't know why this is so confusing. Jean Chretien should be asked to help sort it out.


    "No, a proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It's a proof. A proof is a proof, and when you have a good proof, it's because it's proven." – Jean Chretien (When discussing what type of proof Canadians wanted from the US before assisting in a war with Iraq)

    • From the Generals testimony on tracking prisoners we learned,
      the detainees would only give Canadian soldiers one name,
      and likely there are hundreds of Afghans with that same name.
      So the Cdn soldiers had a name and number of detainees handed over, but
      once detainees were transferred to the Afghans, they were untrackable from that point, by name-identity.

      So there was no way to prove, even with evidence of abuse,
      that any prisoners that were abused in the Afghan jails were Canadian handovers.

      Also, Colvin was allowed outside the wire once (remember he 'volunteered' for the job to replace a killed diplomat)
      and thusly was going on second hand info.
      There may have been evidence of abuse, but there was no proof the abused was a Canadian handover.

      • Yes, your last sentence focuses on " actionable" evidence and even actionable information or hearsay evidence.
        My comment was said with "tongue-in-cheek".
        The question is: Why did Colvin not do a reverse memorandum, meaning, a written submission which requires a written reply at least acknowledging receipt of the submission on his concerns. One would think that if he were so concerned about legal liability, then he would know that acquiescence through silence can be viewed as being culpable. It is not enough to simply say that he forwarded his concerns – what is required is a detailed description of his follow-up on his concerns.

  10. Canada shouldn't be an accomplice to or participate in torture.

    Who disagrees?

    • Everyone!!!!!

  11. I'm surprised that this is even news. If you consider that the intentions of Canadians are to help the people of Afghanistan and thwart any future violent behaviour that may be directed towards other societies, then the mistakes made along the way aren't really worthy of dwelling on. They've been made; the concern should be to focus on ensuring that they aren't made again. If continuing to bring up the past is the biggest concern of the opposition parties, then they should perhaps spend more time trying to come up with something more productive like perhaps some policies that Canadian would like to see implimented. On a personal level, if you wanted to spend your time slinging mud at past mistakes instead of offering recommendations, you could spend the rest of you life targeting every human being as we've all made a mistake in our life. I could just as easily point my finger at the previous Liberal government; if they hadn't sent Canadian Forces personnel to Afghanistan in the first place, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all.

    • You are surprised that accusations of war crimes from a top Canadian diplomat, corroborated by many third parties, is news?

    • How much is this really even about the torture and how much about our government's competence to do what they said they were going to do, espouse our values abroad when they venture into international affairs, and remain trustworthy in their conduct?

      If you were to poll Canadians about if they cared about whether the detainees were tortured by Afghanis, a majority would certainly care, I would think, but if you asked how much they cared? I would think it is not a huge priority.

      However, if you were to poll Canadians about how much they cared that their government was competent in handling this or how much they cared about the Conservatives lying about this? You would definitely have a strong majority saying they care very much about the conduct of our government.

      • Ted, stop spamming. Your identical talking point is already here. Send an email to CPC HQ and tell them they sent the message twice

        • Hunh???

          Did you really read my comment criticizing the government and think that it is a CPC talking point???


    Well I guess that whole "let's attack the accuser with everything we got" strategery didn't work out so well eh? Anybody wanna bet Harper's next angle is to make MacKay fall on his sword and hope that'll suffice?

    • What's the wager?

  13. This story is a 'don't care' state.
    And sounds like the background noise turned up a little.

    How about Copenhagen and the CRU hack?
    I'll read that.
    Actually, I'm off there now.

    • AT the risk of making myself unpopular, you're right. This story is being kept alive on nothing. Colvin made some esplosive allegations he can't back up and that he was never in a position to know about anyway. There are no verifiable facts in this story and that has been the case for days now.

      Meanwhile, as you say, there is this very troubling CRU hack that no one seems to want to report.

  14. I really don't care if these SOB's that would have killed our soldiers are being tortured or not . I think the answer is to shoot them and leave the body where it falls.

    • Funny, they feel the same way about us.

      Not sinking to that level is what makes us better. Most of us.

    • One of the most serious claims in all of this is that a number, many, local residents have been rounded up. Are they Taliban supporters or just some Afghanis who don't like westerners with guns in their streets or complete innocents.

      In Rob C's world, we'll never know because their corpses will be rotting where they fell.

      Fortunately, Canadians are way better than that. Fortunately, Canadians have the moral compass that Rob C lacks.

      • Did you even watch the 3 Generals testimony?
        ONLY after firefights were INSURGENTS rounded up, and evidenced with exposive dust on their person.
        Even when our brave soldiers buddies were killed in those firefights,
        their killers were treated with respect.

        • Were the generals actually involved in these firefights? If they weren't, and were only hearing about these from the soldiers, doesn't it make it just hearsay? Or is hearsay defined differently for Colvin?

          Gauthier said he was visiting every second month, thus he for one could not have been at every firefight. Hillier, as I understand, was in Ottawa a lot. Who actually was he having firefights with?

        • Oh and one more thing, Wilson. Seems that your haloed Generals turned over the Afghans that had actually been arrested for killing brave Canadian soldiers back to the Afghans (CBC just reported this) and, get this, on more than one occasion!!

          Hillier said today that he had a record of every detainee that Canadians turned over to the Afghans — would be interesting to find out if these KILLER INSURGENTS might have been released after their friends bribed the jailors.

        • Wilson:

          I am not accusing soldiers of doing anything wrong. If they had suspicions there is nothing wrong with rounding them up.

          But that is where their political masters step in. They are taking directions from their Generals who are taking instructions from our government. Our government has put in place an agreement for prisoner transfers pending resolution of their status. So after that it is the oversight, not the soldiers, that is in issue.

          And I hear two contradictory things from apologists for the government on this. On the one had, we have conservatives saying "well, duh, it's Afghanistan, of course there is torture and all the better for it because these are Taliban murderers and terrorists". And then we have the Conservatives and the Generals saying "nope, never was any torture, we would not allow that, we never heard anything about no torture claims. And if we did hear anything about any torture claims, none of it had any credible proof. And if we did hear anything about torture claims and there was credible proof, it was not the detainees we told our soldiers to pass over to the Afghanis. And if…. " etc.

  15. I, for one, will always take the word of the prisoner over the prison. They always tell the truth. The Taliban never lie, especially about mistreatment in prison. They are trained to cry torture if captured. They know that Red Bob and Taliban Jack are ready to carry their water into the parliament. They know that The Star and Macleans and the Globe will shed many tears over their discomfort. Keep this in mind, folks, when the Taliban capture an solcier, a journalist, or a schoolgirl, they decapitate them. They do not torture them by keeping the lights on all night or playing loud music. Jail, even an Afgahn jail, must look pretty good to these cave dwellers, who incidently, would like to see our blood and brains on the sidewalks.

    • Not really worthy of a reply, but it's worth noting that the whole problem is that the Taliban ethos is an intensification and simplification of the general Afghan ethos, with a bit of scripture thrown in for good measure. In a country in which there's a fanatical, sadistic insurgency in the hills, it's not unlikely that there's cynical, sadistic torture going on in the valley. Let's recall that torture was only abolished in most of Europe around 1780. Afghanistan is a fair bit more backward than that.

    • tinfoil is for wrapping your food Wes, not your head

    • Yea right. The editorial page of the Toronto Star is popular reading with the morning coffee for Resistance commanders in Kandahar.

  16. Who cares, really. The libs and dips are worried about Afghan on Afghan torture – what do they think will happen when we leave Afghanistan?

    • What ever happens, it will be Harper's fault, and reason for a fund raiser!

    • Is this what passes as sophisticated thought in your neck of the woods? This whole "oh, I'm so woooorldly, this kind of stuff happens aaaall the tiiiiime, let's be realistiiiiic, the real world blah de bleh da blah blah"?

      It is to weep.

      • It's nice how the liberals all care so much about these alleged insurgents who may have been tortured. Maybe if they could turn their attention towards Darfur, we could get some international effort to help out there. Oh wait, those are only innocent civilians being tortured/raped/maimed/killed there, my bad….

        • Well as a "liberal" (whatever the heck that means, we're all someone else's "liberal" aren't we?) I'm puzzled. The reason I'm puzzled is that Liberal MP Irwin Cotler (who presumably would also fit under your definition of "liberal" but I could be wrong, labels just confuse me) founded the "Save Darfur Parliamentary Coalition" in 2008.

          So guess what? It was a really nice attempt to change the channel but you're aiming the remote the wrong way.

        • Liberals only care about torture when they are in opposition.

          In government, they left them ALL out to dry, Khadr, Sampson, Arar, and Afghan detainees,
          and there is one more, starts with an A..

          • Pointing out that partisan politics is an exercise in hypocrisy is hardly a surprise. Heck, I could come right back and say a certain Conservative Party was really hot and bothered by accountability, transparency and responsible spending until they got to power. So what? It impacts the credibility of elected politicians when they take a stand, sure, but none of it matters to the substance of the debate.

          • Wilson only copies and pastes the talking points her masters want her to say. She has no opinion, just links.

  17. It's pretty hard to put a cigaratte paper between the folks that call the footsoldiers of their opponents "scumbags" and those that call the sufferers of economic down turn "no good bastards"…
    The common factor seems to be – you are either with me or against me – no half measures!
    Well – I hope the collective Opposition parties get their act together and use NO halfmeasures either!

  18. Bottom line is it is difficult to lie consistently. Since a lie by definition has no objective reality (it does not describe real events or things) it is a lot easier to get mixed up in the details. Harper and Mackay need more practice keeping their lies consistent. Alternately they can return responsibility for all lying to the PMO. Harper and his crew are much better at it.

  19. Have we Canadians blurred the line between abuse and torture? I noticed that every opposition question has torture in it and every government response mentions abuse. I would wager that when most Canadians hear the word torture they will conture up images of waterboarding, bamboo shoots under the fingernails, hanging buy the thumbs etc. Did Mr Clovin say that every man he interviewed was tortured? Or were they just kicked in the ass as they were thrown in the cell?
    And what of the Liberals involvement? We all remember of the picture of the JTF2 folks with the blindfolded prisoners. Maybe it is time to take a step back and look at all this with an eye to the reality on the ground.

  20. Colvin didnt lie, he embellished. I am still asking, and I never get an answer.Why now .This was in 06/07 and we are nearing the end of 09.The timing for this is really suspicious.The libs have stopped pretty low before, I am hoping they are not promising him something.I watched and was proud of Hillier, and he knew full well that farmers were not being rounded up.The very people that are, and in jail, are the ones that would harm our men and women.I feel no pity for them, if jail is like that then guess what, so be it, and I am a mean right winged nutcase.Lefties, you can keep your bleeding hearts, I know where my heart lays.

    • Why now? Because reports – not reports from the Liberals – have been published claiming abuse and torture, and that Harper's government knew about it.

      So with such serious claims, the committee has for at least a year been trying to get to the bottom of this. Harper has refused to provide documents that they are required to provide and said they would provide. Then a whistleblower is willing to speak. Harper has tried for, I think, about 6 months to prevent Colvin from speaking so It took a while the committee to call him as a witness to investigate. That's what committees are supposed to do.

      The wheels of government do not move quickly (unless you are Harper trying to cover something up, change the channel or change your story). Especially slowly when the government is actively trying to stop or at least slow you down.

      • The problem you see is that the line between the Resistance and farmers is very blurred. Are you seriously contending that Nato troops have not detained farmers whose main crop is opium poppies? If you attempt to interfere with their crop and they forcefully resist does that make them Taliban to be turned over to torture. Things in Afghanistan are never clear cut. The government our soldiers are keeping in power is a group of brutal corrupt warlords and drug suppliers and even the president probably should be made to take up residence in a jail rather than the presidential palace.

        Hillier has done us a grave disservice with his simplistic characterisations. By defining the struggle the way he has he has probably contributed in no small measure to our almost innevitable defeat in Afghanistan. Our policies and actions, based at least in part on his simplistic assessments have caused us to react to his artifial reality rather than to the objective one on the ground. Hillier is not the only one responsible for this but you only look at the shifting rationale for the mission to see that we have been responding fantasies rather than the (much more complex) reality on the ground.

      • I am asking , if this were so important to Colin,why didnt he approach McKay and or Hillier.Why bring something up that was 06/07 I don't buy that truffle, that he found Hillier intimidating.perhaps his case about detainees was flimsy at best, and perhaps the opposition seized on it, to make political gain.What isn't happening, is there are no gains to be made.My family members, just back from Afghanistan are outraged, that a little pipsqueak like Dewar, who has likely never put on a uniform , ( whcih would include the boy scouts or girl guides) , is challenging our generals.We find this distasteful, and unsettling.Soon this will move on, much like isotope shortage that was killing people, H1N, also 1 killing people, and d now detainees that 'likely', 'may ',or 'may 'not have been tortured.War is nasty, ask any vet!