Former defence minister Gordon O’Connor’s exchange with reporters after QP today.
Question: What about the allegations of coverup? He said that officials like Mr. Mulroney were saying to him do not write reports like this. Is that – can you say categorically that’s not true?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: Well, I don’t know if it’s true or not. I have no idea.
Question: It didn’t come from you?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: Well, not from me. I’m the Defence Department. Mulroney doesn’t work for me or never worked for me. And I, you know, who says it’s true. That’s just his allegation.
Question: Were you ever apprised of these reports?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: No, never.
Question: How come?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: What do you mean how come?
Question: Well, if such an inflammatory report makes its way to Mr. Mulroney, you would expect that Mr. Mulroney – it would go into the chain of command. So how come you didn’t get it?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: Well, first of all, you’re making an assertion it got to Mr. Mulroney, etc. I don’t know if that’s true. All I’m telling you I never saw any reports, period.
Question: But do you find it normal? That’s the question. As a minister do you find it normal that he didn’t –
Question: Are you rattled? Are you rattled a bit by this? Do you find it disturbing or do you just think it’s nonsense?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: No, I was asked – I was asked by Canwest about a month ago about this sort of issue and I said reports like this may have occurred and gone through the system and people at lower levels may have decided there’s no credibility to different reports. So at the ministerial level, me, as Minister of Defence, I was never briefed on any of this.
Question: You said repeatedly the Red Cross, if there was a problem the Red Cross would have talked to you.
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: Yes. Yes, I did.
Question: Mr. Colvin says the Red Cross couldn’t even get hold of Kandahar Canadian Forces Base for three months. Nobody was returning calls.
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: If you recall, and it’s in your article today, I said that for about 10 months because that’s the advice I received and there was a certain day, I can’t remember what the day is, where the Red Cross came out publicly and said they didn’t do it and I got into Parliament and apologized. Ministers do not – are not on the ground knowing everything that’s going on. They have to rely upon their political advisors and their military and that’s what I did. So I’ve got to go.
Question: You just said that, Minister, you have to rely on the advice you receive from the machinery recently. So are you not concerned to see that some of these reports that are – seem to be important did not come up to you? Are you concerned about that?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: Actually, as of this moment, just to tell you the truth, ma’am, I’ve never seen any of the reports.
Question: No, I know but –
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: And all I know is Mr. Colvin –
Question: But are you concerned that you didn’t see the report.
Moderator: Okay, that’s enough. The Minister has a meeting he’s got to go to. I’m sorry, the Minister has a meeting he’s got to go to.
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go. I have never seen any reports.
Question: Are you concerned –
Question: Do you think that there were prisoners tortured, the detainees? Do you know one way or another whether that happened?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: No. I went to the prison in Kandahar, I don’t know if that’s the one they’re talking about, I went through there and visited. I didn’t see any evidence of torture. I can tell you I didn’t. And I was escorted by military officers and by political people and so I’ve never seen any evidence.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.
Question: But you can’t say there didn’t either, can you?
Moderator: Thank you very much.
Hon. Gordon O’Connor: I can’t say the sky goes up a hundred miles either.
Moderator:Thank you very much. Thank you.