The Commons: Prove it

“These are not things we can take holus-bolus”


The Scene. With the Prime Minister back on Canadian soil and allowed a few days to recover from the profound jet lag that comes with circumnavigating the globe, it seemed that today would be the day his presence would once more be registered in the House of Commons. Ah, but wouldn’t you know it, our national men’s lacrosse team was in Ottawa this afternoon and, obviously, it seemed only courteous that they be granted a brief audience with the PM at precisely 2:15pm.

Good luck for him as he apparently managed to win a very handsome jersey in the process. But poor luck for the House. And, indeed, for the Prime Minister’s Defence Minister, a man whose knees must be nearly worn completely out from all the sitting and standing.

The first of what would be 20 questions for Peter MacKay this day was tabled by Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader returning to the House after a few days away himself. Why, Mr. Ignatieff wondered en français, had the Canadian Forces, as disclosed by the chief of the defence staff over the weekend, decided on several occasions to halt the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities?

Across the way, John Baird chirped about “coercive interrogation.”

Mr. MacKay attempted to explain. “Mr. Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the question,” he said. “As he would know, and as he has indicated, decisions to stop transfers are operational decisions taken on a case-by-case basis in a theatre of operations by military personnel. In this instance, and it is now on the government web site, there were three operational decisions taken that resulted in pauses of transfers. Most recently, I want to indicate, the reason that the transfers stopped was because the Afghan officials were not living up to their expectations, not living up to the expectations set out in the transfer arrangements. The decision to stop was based on the fact that they were not living up to those expectations.”

Mr. Ignatieff returned with an assertion. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “in other words it is reasonable to assume that detainees were being abused.”

“Nooo!” moaned various Conservatives.

Mr. MacKay gave it another go. “With respect to the pause in operations of transfers made on the ground in Afghanistan, it was because we could no longer have unfettered, unannounced visits to Afghan prisons,” he explained. “When Afghans are not living up to their expectations, we pause transfers. When they started to allow that access again, the transfers then began again.”

So there. For the record though, the publicly available statement to which Mr. MacKay refers, explains the three operational decisions as follows: “The first two pauses in 2009 were related to allegations about treatment, the last pause was related to access to facilities.”

Moving on, Mr. Ignatieff attempted to do the math. “Mr. Speaker, this does not add up,” he declared. “The minister is saying that he knew that torture was a possibility from the moment they took office in late January 2006. No action of any remedial kind was taken until April 2007. Why, then, has the government been smearing the reputation of a public servant who tried to tell it what was happening in that period? None of this adds up. When will the government set up a public inquiry to give Canadians the truth?”

Mr. MacKay responded with an archaic rhetorical flourish. “These are not things that we can take holus-bolus,” he ventured, “just based on no evidence.”

Next up, Ujjal Dosanjh made a bold proposition. “We must be prepared to live by the standards of decency, transparency and respect for human rights,” he posited, “that we ourselves embrace on the world stage.”

Mr. MacKay made a claim on clarity. “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.”

This is, apparently, now the rallying cry. That whatever has been estimated, whatever has been reported, whatever has been admitted, whatever has been alleged, whatever has been testified to, whatever has been seconded, you simply cannot demonstrate beyond doubt that a prisoner transferred by Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities was subsequently tortured. Canada is back and you can’t prove we’ve done anything wrong.

“Mr. Speaker, the facts and figures that the honourable member has put forward do not apply to prisoners transferred from the Canadian Forces,” Mr. MacKay explained when Jack Layton insisted on citing a report of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. “Those are broad-sweeping numbers that speak to the conditions in the prison. They do not apply to the numbers that were transferred by Canadian Forces.”

After his performance last week, the Defence Minister seemed blessed of a slightly more straightforward script. Unfortunately, the questions persisted.

“What is important to listen to is somebody who is there on the ground,” Mr. MacKay explained. “Gail Latouche, of Correctional Service of Canada, reports that in fact, unequivocally, she and three of her colleagues working in Afghanistan have said there is zero evidence of torture and abuse, based on the visits taken place by Canadian officials.”

That Richard Colvin was also a man on the ground should perhaps not be left unmentioned. Nor, for the record, should it be left unsaid that, as CanWest reported of Ms. Latouche, she arrived in Afghanistan after the period of time in question and, as a result, “does not feel qualified to speak about the issue or the political tempest it has caused in Canada.”

The Liberals kept Bob Rae for last and the veteran of this stuff stood with a novel suggestion. “I would like to ask the minister this,” he said. “Would he please table before the House all of the briefing notes which he received as a minister and the briefing notes which the Prime Minister of Canada received with respect to the treatment of Afghan citizens by Afghan correctional services?”

Mr. MacKay proceeded to rhyme off a series of government funding commitments, including money allotted to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission whose work he now dismisses.

Mr. Rae came back, repeating his question, directly eyeing the Minister. Mr. MacKay refused to return Mr. Rae’s gaze, but with the question fully restated, the Minister snapped shut his briefing book, came quick to his feet and swaggered to the edge of the aisle, apparently quite besmirched by this challenge.

“Mr. Speaker, here is what we will do,” he said. “I will do him one better. We will look at the documents that are going to be placed before the parliamentary committee, going back beyond the time that we took office. We will see what his government’s record was and how it stacks up against the efforts that we have made to improve the conditions in prison. We will look at all of that evidence. Then we will see where conditions were improved, when actual investments were made, when the real work was done to improve the situation in Afghanistan, not their lame effort.”

Across the way, Liberals called him on, apparently taking this to mean he would do as asked.

The Stats. Afghanistan, 20 questions. The environment, four questions. The economy, Saudi Arabia, Israel, taxation and ethics, two questions each. Crime and education, one question each.

Peter MacKay, 20 answers. Jim Prentice, three answers. Deepak Obhrai, Diane Finley and Ted Menzies, two answers each. Denis Lebel, Peter Van Loan, Pierre Poilievre, Jason Kenney, Christian Paradis and John Baird, one answer each.


The Commons: Prove it

  1. the last bit is interesting – see timing of events indeed!

  2. I look forward to learning how both parties dealt with this whilst in power.
    I'm not interested in pathetic "We turned less of a blind eye to torture then you did arguments".
    If both were in on this, then both should fry.
    For shame…..

    • Seems to me, one of them already has been.

      And now for the other…

  3. While Stephen Harper was practicing Lacrosse…

    • there is no *proof* that SH was practicing Lacrosse……….and so on.

      • And those phonies pretending to be on the national lacrosse team. What's up with that, eh?

        Just because they have lacrosse sticks and jerseys, are listed on the roster of the national team and are seen in photos with the national team doesn't mean anything. There is no proof, no uevidence.

        Let us be clear. There has never been a single proven confirmation involving any of these "players" on the national team. Not one. These are not things that we can take holus-bolus just based on no evidence.

        I mean, has anyone actually seen them play for the national team?

        • Hmm, yes, I see what you mean, Ted. I found a news release by the National Team, where the head coach, David Huntley, SAYS he saw these guys play–but he was telling someone else so it was second-hand, and the news release doesn't give a name for the reporter, so its all hearsay at best. Hardly credible.

  4. “These are not things that we can take holus-bolus,” he ventured, “just based on no evidence.”

    I have never been to Afghan jail but I assume they don't sell tickets to the matinee torture sessions. How are these allegations ever going to be proven or not if we don't listen to what others – Afghans who have been in gaol, mainly – are saying and take them seriously.

    “Nooo!” “coercive interrogation.”

    This is a moral issue that stains the entire country. I wish Cons did not treat it like it's pantomime in QP.

    • Thanks, Joylon, for parking your partisan interests on such a serious issue. I agree with SamDavies, this is Canada we are talking about, and if the Liberals "did it too" they should get to wear it as well.

      • What the Liberals may have done needs to be looked into, and dealt with.
        With that said, they are not currently in power.
        If the Libs did condone torture, not only did the Conservatives not expose this (when they could have), they kept it up.
        This is a disgrace. How much lower can the bar be set?

    • "This is a moral issue that stains the entire country."

      *Standing on my chair, applauding*

      Now we prove what Canadians are made of. Do we sweep this under the rug or do we flush it out, acknowledge our failures (if any) and fix whatever caused it?

  5. ''We will look at the documents that are going to be placed before the parliamentary committee, going back beyond the time that we took office.''

    No wonder a rather subdued Bob Rae, on Power Play,
    said that the government 'can't' request documents from another governments time in office……
    gee, maybe these documents were handed over rather than shredded, already in their possession…

    • OK. Let's follow your lead and say that both parties behaved like pieces of sh*t on this. Does that make the odour coming out of SH's office smell any better to you? Does it smell even sweeter when they go into denial/smear mode and make veiled threats?
      Why is it you want to make perfume out of this pantload?

      • Exactly. This is total utter crap.

        I don't care if someone else did the same crap – it does not excuse this behaviour!!!
        "But Mom!!! Jimmy kicked me first!!!!"

        Acting like children with no honour.
        Man up to your misdeeds, cowards!

    • Subdued, he looked like he wanted to run off and stay away again.The very tan Rae was so upset over H1N1, he took another vacation.God give me strength

  6. I was tired of this act two years ago. What a former government did or didn't do on a particular file in 2005 will not lead me to judge the Conservatives any less harshly if it is found that they knew transfered detainees were mistreated and that they continued to transfer them anyway. Why the Conservatives seems to think that the questions asked of them are somehow issues of what the previous government did is beyond me. And frankly, I'm not the type that misses the point easily.
    Well done Mr. Wherry for continuing to point out the evasiveness of this Tory government and their blatant hypocrisy when they do decide to actually answer questions.

  7. I'm not sure if this is an innate skill – or whether one can be trained for it…but Minister Mackay's ability to concurrently fulminate, fabricate and fallibly fumble the facts is inFuriating!

    • It's a skill Mackay is good at and that is nothing to be prud of.

      • In your opinion.I like someone who is skilled, that is why Iggy wont ever be PM>

  8. Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result…. news headlines read to-day " Detainee transfers halted 3 times in 2009, feds say" Leadership, Accountability ?

  9. Again our government is more interested in rhetoric then issue. As an informed Canadian I am well aware of the torture that has gone on with the current Afgan regime. Where these prisoners came from is basically irrelevant! Does Mr MacKay really believe that a prisoner turn over is stamped Canadian so DO NOT TORTURE? Give me a break. Surely the Canadian public is smarter then that (I prefer to be positive). However with Canada reportedly being such a power house of human rights, how much faith is left in the rest of the world over Canada's real commitment? To our government, deal with it and quit smearing everybody.

    • This is an important point. Torture whomever you please, chaps, but be good sports and do us the favour of refraining from doing so to anyone we happen to bring in. IF that's the case, it's pathetic.

  10. Looks like Peter has been reading the comment threads here.

  11. Prisoners or detainees?
    War or insurrection?
    Soldiers or combatants?
    Technicalities? Maybe?
    Protect the soldiers?
    Canada didn't torture anybody!
    Case should be closed.

  12. And Harper was off taking a photo. Shameful.

  13. The Harper Gov: & the ministers are bunch of Liars week after week, making up Stories and accusing people of been a group of terrorist and so on,but who are the real Terrorist?torchoring People. shame… now Harper is in hiding avoiding ? & the media,I wonder who is goin to throw the Life Ring in for him & Mackay, maybe the People of Canada will vote for a more responsable,Mature & a Reiability of a Gov: Sounds Like this Current Gov: is Sinking like a Titanic. Peace~

  14. Going back a week to 10 days should we stop and reflect that Leona Aglukkaq is the best Minister of Health and PM Harper the best PM in the History of Canada.

    The were able to handle the H1N1 pandemic (Canada' Hurricane Katrina) in 2 weeks.

    I only hope that Harper gets a majority and take a couple of weeks off from campaigning to solve world peace and hunger.

  15. It must be humilating after failing to win the PR war on H1N1, this detainee policy from 2007 has been drafted as the next "explosive" scandal.

    Best of luck recycling this "serious" issue.

    • Yeah, this "serious" issue in which Canada's most senior military and political leaders may have been complicit in breaking international and Canadian laws.

      When called on it, Canada's totally "serious" New Government embarks on a campaign on denial, obfuscation and character assassination. Which totally means it's a non-issue, right? Because if they had something to hide they would be forthright and honest about what happened.

      Honestly, for you to mock this issue at this point requires 1) a complete CPoC brainwashing, 2) utter ignorance of the facts, or 3) complete ignorance or dismissal of the principles that constitute Canada.

      There may be nothing here. There could be a totally innocent explanation. But we're seen nothing yet that points in that direction. What we are seeing is the behaviour one would expect from a political party with something to hide.

      And as for you, Canadian"Sense", are you brainwashed, ignorant or unCanadian?

      • Are you an Ambulance chasing lawyer? Where is your concern from 2002-2006 when the Liberals had no Prisoner detainee program? You are now concerned in 2009 like the Liberals/NDP 15 months when the CPC took office is an "explosive" scandal?
        In 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 where is the "explosive" scandal when we had NO policy in place?

        The NDS only "tortured" after the Liberals left office, they only tortured Canadian prisoners? Other Nato countries did not have any problems with their prisoners 2002-2009.

        This issue was raised two years ago, those allegations happened when? When did Colvin arrive an when did he leave?
        is not proof. So where is the proof ?

        We have two open investigations already in place, and the opposition are demanding a third before the other two are complete? We don't have confidence in those two other investigation because we need a third Public Inquiry to get the FACTS.

        I will NOT blame the Canadians Forces or make personal attacks on Colvin. I also won't attack the Liberals or the CPC until we HAVE conclusive PROOF.

        What are those FACTS what names did Colvin drop at his Public meetings?

        1) Names of victims tortured and number?
        2) Names of Government/Military who told him to "Shut up"?

        Please link your FACTS from 1 or 2 after Colvin testified.

        Learn some history and perspective. I don't accuse without 100% proof verified, witchunts are not my style.

        Another "serious" issue abandoned by the opposition and media. No one can't do any research and find out if she has a sister?

        The $ 2.5 million shakedown for the Canadian with a passport issue, does she have a younger sister? Where is the younger sister, did she lie on her application claiming she had one years ago or now?
        "Racist" government, and officials were the allegations from the media and the opposition.

        Brainwashing or "knee-jerk" reaction to judgement without proof?

        • Wow, CanadianSense, I so thought you were better than this. Unfortunately, the STUPID CBC website doesn't have an archive or something, so I can't go back to last week and Kady's liveblog, where she reports that Colvin mentioned, by name, David Mulroney who was the deputy minister of Canada's Afghan Task Force as being the one who told him not to write these things down. However, CBC redeems itself somewhat by trying to contact all persons named by Colvin for their comment. http://www.cbc.ca/politics/story/2009/11/20/f-afg

          Continued . . .

  16. I've never seen where Suaad Hagi Mohamud claimed she didn't have a sister. All she claimed (as far as I know) was that Suaad was herself, and not her sister. The sister filled out an immigration application years ago and was denied, so presumably she still resides in Kenya–and that might be why the Canadian officials decided Suaad's passport was being used by the sister. As far as I can tell, that was the only evidence they had–that, and the fact that Suaad didn't know some facts about Toronto that white, native english-speaking residents of Toronto would know as a matter of course. At least I think white, native english-speaking residents of Toronto would know the answers, but I could be surprised. You know, it is amazing how little some people know–like we don't have a President, for example. Talk about judgement without proof–this woman was denied the ability to return home, to return to her son.

    • Did the person who did the interview do his/her job and notice physical differences? She was unable to answer questions about her own duties about her job? You really should examine the "story" again.

      Regarding the 1 or 2 did he state those NAMES told him to shut up? Do we a situation his word against xxxx?

      Where is the memo?

      It is NOT difficult to produce a memo after a meeting to confirm your "talking points". Are the Ministers lying and the Generals about him not raising the matter in person? Was he a senior person in the field? The story is he was the number two guy in the field and photo exist of in person meetings with TOP people.

      If I was Colvin and had FACTS I would have sent a follow up memo to confirm our conversation to CYA regarding those "explosive" issues.

  17. Apparently Natynchuk is a scumbag general too……giving mckay a backup for his lies.

  18. I think the only way to obtain the truth in this matter is to refer it to the ICC. As there is more than a reasonable possibility that members of the government of Canada were complicit in war crimes It would be unreasonable to expect either honest answers or an honest investigation from them or any person employed by the government. That our government is a bunch of lying thugs is obvious to all. It is very sad that they may also be war criminals

  19. Being lying thugs dishonors them. Possibly being war criminals dishonors our country.

  20. From the Guradian:

    'Cruel, illegal, immoral': Human Rights Watch condemns UK's role in torture Pressure for inquiry grows as torturers themselves allege British complicity

    So Canada is differernt Mr. Speaker?

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