It was suggested during QP yesterday that some sort of apology to the House might now be in order. Here, for the sake of comparison, is the statement Gordon O’Connor, Peter MacKay’s predecessor as minister of national defence, made in the House on Mar. 19, 2007, after it was confirmed that statements he had made were not accurate.
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to correct answers to questions previously given to the House.
While I issued a public statement on March 8 to correct the record, this is my first opportunity to address the House. In statements to the House and in two replies to order paper questions, I inadvertently provided inaccurate information relating to the role, relationship and responsibilities of the International Committee of the Red Cross with regard to Canada and detainees turned over by Canada to Afghan authorities.
I fully and without reservation apologize to the House for providing inaccurate information to members. I regret any confusion that may have resulted from these statements. The answers I gave were provided in good faith. I take full responsibility and do so without hesitation.
I would like to be clear. The International Committee of the Red Cross is under no obligation to share information with Canada on the treatment of detainees transferred by Canada to Afghan authorities. The International Committee of the Red Cross provides this information to the country that has the detainees in its custody, in this case, Afghanistan.
The arrangement between the Canadian Forces and Afghanistan recognizes the right of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit detainees at any time they are in custody, whether held by Canadian Forces or by Afghanistan.
Flowing from that correction, I am also tabling revised responses to Order Paper Questions Nos. 13 and 33 which state, “–the ICRC would advise the Afghan authorities if they had any concerns about detainees whom we transferred to Afghan authorities”. And that, “The International Committee of the Red Cross would advise Afghan authorities if they had any concerns about detainees”.
These revised responses will ensure that the House has accurate information.
In addition, today I am tabling a letter from two senior officials to the chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence correcting information they provided to the committee on December 11, 2006, regarding Canada’s notification to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission of detainee transfers.
Defence officials and I have appeared regularly before the Standing Committee on National Defence to provide parliamentarians with information and will continue to do so.
The letters establishing Canada’s subsequent arrangement with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which I would now like to table, are posted on my department’s website. To be clear, this arrangement, which has taken many months to negotiate, provides that Canada will notify the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the AIHRC, of any detainees transferred to Afghan authorities and the AIHRC will inform Canada should it learn that a transfer detainee has been mistreated.
Our government is committed to the goal of ensuring that each Afghan detainee is treated in accordance with international law. The protection of human rights is a central value to all Canadians and our government’s commitment is to ensure that these values are held no matter where are forces serve.
To reinforce that, I personally met with the Kandahar representative and the national representative of the commission, the Afghan minister of defence and President Karzai, in which I received their personal commitments to ensure that the agreements will be honoured.
I believe that my statement this morning clarifies our important relationships with the government of Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.