Listening to Peter MacKay - Macleans.ca

Listening to Peter MacKay

Some utterances worth noting

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Pursued in succession by Claude Bachand, Bob Rae and Jack Harris on the matter of Afghan detainees, Defence Minister Peter MacKay was made to stand six times in QP yesterday, responding with his usual mix of assurance and impatience. Three of those answers constitute a particular, and particularly remarkable, series. Those answers were as follows, reprinted here with emphasis added as necessary.

First, in response to Mr. Bachand.

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a number of witnesses now and we have heard a great deal of testimony. However, we have also heard from an individual who is a former director of international security at the Department of Foreign Affairs and is now a respected professor at Queen’s University, Paul Chapin. He wrote a very interesting article. I am just going to quote from it. It says: “Regrettably for the inquisitors, no evidence has yet been uncovered: no mutilated bodies, maimed survivors, photographs, first-hand accounts, or authoritative reports documenting specific cases with names, dates and places. Not a single individual appearing before the committee has yet provided any such evidence, beginning with the first one.” That is what he had to say.

Then, to Mr. Rae.

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we have heard from a number of witnesses and what we know is that we have now in place a much more rigorous process of monitoring, a much more vigorous process of investing in the prison system and working with the Afghans. We never said it is perfect, but it is getting a lot better. We have improved upon the system. We have improved upon the failed arrangement that was in place under the previous government. We have made things better in Afghanistan: the human rights situation, its agriculture, immunizing children, improving education. This is a tremendous effort on the part of our country, particularly the men and women of the armed forces.

And finally, to Mr. Harris.

Mr. Speaker, again, what I have here in my hand is an article called “End the Inquisition”. It comes from a respected former member of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It outlines all of the myths, many of which members of the opposition have partaken in over the past number of months. One of the more telling passages from this article says: “In contrast, the committee has heard many hours of testimony from military commanders, ambassadors, and senior officials refuting allegations Canada delivered detainees over for torture.” We can play the partisan game here all day. These are people who know. These are people who have been involved and are listening.

The article to which Mr. MacKay refers is this one. It is, indeed, credited to Paul Chapin. There is much one might say about what Mr. Chapin has written there, but first one must deal with what is not acknowledged: namely Mr. Chapin’s direct involvement in this particular matter of debate.

As Mr. Chapin told our John Geddes last November, he was involved in creation of the 2005 detainee transfer agreement. In fact, Mr. Chapin is “happy to take ownership” of that agreement. And, indeed, that is the same agreement that Mr. MacKay considers a “failed agreement.” The failed agreement that is the very basis for this entire discussion. The failed agreement that, in its failings, has put us in our present situation.

Now, one might wonder whether Mr. MacKay understands that the source he is citing as a “respected” authority on this matter takes “ownership” of the agreement that Mr. MacKay now laments. One could, for instance, posit that the Defence Minister is simply unaware of the connection, that no one on his staff has bothered to point it out (it’s not like the papers that published Mr. Chapin’s essay bothered to note the fact).

But then the NDP’s Paul  Dewar reported the connection to the House in December. And when Mr. Dewar was through with his remarks, Mr. MacKay stood next and said he had “listened intently to the words of the member opposite.”

So perhaps, in the months since, with all that has transpired and all that has been said on all sides, Mr. MacKay has simply forgotten.