From Question Period this afternoon, the Defence Minister takes questions from the Bloc, Liberals and New Democrats on the matter of Afghan detainees, Richard Colvin and the Military Police Complaints Commission.
M. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ): Monsieur le Président, contrairement à ce qu’il a prétendu à la Chambre des communes, le gouvernement sait depuis mai 2006 que les prisonniers afghans risquaient d’être torturés. Le rapport du diplomate canadien en poste à Kandahar vient confirmer un peu nos dire et s’ajoute aux questions que le Bloc québécois a soulevé en cette Chambre à ce sujet à de multiples reprises. Comment le ministre de la Défense nationale peut-il prétendre en cette Chambre qu’il n’a jamais vu le rapport de Richard Colvin sur le traitement des prisonniers afghanistan?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the important issue, really, is what Canadians have done to improve the transfer arrangement that was left in place by the previous government. It is important to note that there have now been over 170 visits to Afghan prisons. We continue to mentor the Afghan army and police, as well as corrections officers. The transfer arrangement has been greatly improved, as has the Afghan penal system as a result of the hard work of Canadians. As for this report, we receive hundreds, if not thousands, of reports annually through the Department of National Defence, as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs. That is why they did not make it to my desk.
M. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ): Monsieur le Président, le ministre prétend qu’il n’a jamais vu le rapport. Il prétend n’avoir jamais vu ce rapport et soutient que cela ne s’est pas rendu jusqu’à lui. Le moins que l’on puisse dire, c’est que le ministre est loin d’être curieux. Au moment où les députés du Bloc l’interrogeaient, au moment où divers groupes dénonçaient le traitement réservé aux prisonniers afghans par les Forces canadiennes, lui, il ne posait pas de question. En plus, personne de son entourage politique a supposément porté ce rapport à son attention. Est-ce ce que le ministre veut nous faire croire? Ce qu’il a à dire est loin d’être convaincant.
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, CPC): Mr. Speaker, in addition to all of the improvements that we have seen in Afghanistan with respect to the treatment of Taliban terrorist suspects, we have also seen this particular issue be the subject of at least three court challenges. We have three different independent investigations going on into the circumstances. This is an issue that has been deliberated on fully. I am not going to comment on the hon. member’s intellectual abilities, but I will note that when it comes to Bloc members, I wish they would spend just as much time standing up and protecting the interests of Canadian soldiers as they do for the vigour they seem to have for Taliban prisoners.
Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and the former and current ministers of defence all claim that they were not aware of Richard Colvin’s reports on the treatment of Afghan detainees at the time. As far back as the fall of 2006, questions on that matter were being raised in this House. When did the Minister of National Defence become aware of the reports? Has he now investigated who in the military and the Department of National Defence was made aware of the reports and when?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I would remind the hon, member that it was due to the shortcomings of the arrangement that was in place when our government took office that we did act to improve the arrangement. We then obviously undertook further prison visits. We undertook to train more Afghan army, police, as well as correctional investigators. As a result of that, we have drastically improved the system as it currently exists in Afghanistan. I would remind the hon. member as well that we continue to investigate certain issues which are of a serious nature and we are co-operating fully.
Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, obviously the government has been throwing obstacles in the way of the Military Police Complaints Commission and it is not answering questions in the House. Colvin claims his reports were sent up the chain of command in the military, the Department of Foreign Affairs—and he was the minister of foreign affairs in the beginning—and the Department of National Defence. How is it possible that no one in cabinet, including the Prime Minister, was aware of Colvin’s reports, or is this a case of continuing wilful blindness on the part of these Conservatives?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as a result of these issues that I mentioned we are continuing to support, I do want to indicate, let us be clear, that it was in fact the decision of the chairperson of the Military Police Complaints Commission to shut down its hearings. He is invited and welcome to begin those hearings again at any time. Also, he has decided, with respect to a decision by the federal court, which clearly outlines the mandate of the Military Police Complaints Commission to appeal that decision. That, as well, has delayed proceedings. We are co-operating. We have provided documents. We have provided witnesses. We will continue to do so. I do intend to hear from the Department of Defence, as well as foreign affairs as to where this report stopped, because it did not make it to the deputy minister or my desk.
Mr. Jack Harris (St. John’s East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, senior diplomat Richard Colvin wrote 26 different reports on Afghan prisoner torture and sent the reports to over 79 senior military government officials, including the head of the Afghanistan task force. Yet, the minister of national defence at the time, the current Minister of National Defence and the Prime Minister have denied seeing any of these reports. Would any of these three blind mice like to explain whether they suggest we are dealing with extreme negligence and incompetence by officials or are they misleading Canadians?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, CPC): Mr. Speaker, those are pretty strong words. The reality is that we have this question coming from a member of Parliament who was not around when we came to government and then undertook the very important task of improving the Afghan penal system. We took very clear steps to improve the inadequate transfer agreement that was in place. We took the steps of training Afghan officials to ensure that human rights were respected. And we continue in that important work. This member has now asked, I believe, nine or ten questions on the Military Police Complaints Commission. I only wish he would bring that type of enthusiasm to support the men and women of the Canadian Forces.
Mr. Jack Harris (St. John’s East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, Mr. Colvin’s report focused on a plan compiled by the Prime Minister’s own National Security Advisor and was sent to commanders at National Defence and all relevant government officials and the issue was top of mind at the time. Yet the Minister of Defence and the Prime Minister both said in the House that allegations of prisoner abuse were baseless. Just who did they ask before making such declarations? Are the people of Canada to believe that neither the Prime Minister’s own National Security Advisor nor any of the relevant senior officials brought these reports to their attention; and if so, can they explain this gross incompetence?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, CPC): Mr. Speaker, again, the hon. member may have a natural rhetorical flourish, but the reality is this government acted. We acted decisively in putting in place a new transfer arrangement. We have in fact helped to improve the correctional system. Most important, there are at least three separate investigations going on with the allegations of which he is concerned. Of course, the important thing to note here and for everyone to understand is that these are allegations about what Afghan officials did to Afghan terrorist suspects and what the military police knew about it; that, and only that.