Richard Colvin testified that he and his colleagues in the field began informing Ottawa about the treatment of detainees in May 2006. He left Afghanistan in October 2007 and most of his testimony covered events in between.
Herein, in the first of three posts covering relevant public comments made during Question Period, a collection of QP exchanges from April 5, 2006 to October 2, 2006.
April 5, 2006
Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP): Mr. Speaker, on December 18, the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff signed an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan concerning the transfer of prisoners. My question is for the Minister of National Defence. Was the previous Liberal government aware of this memorandum of understanding before it was signed? Why does a very similar agreement signed with the Netherlands allow its government to ensure full compliance with all international conventions while ours does not?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, to my knowledge the previous government knew about the arrangement because it was done under its watch. With respect to the second question, this is a more mature arrangement than the Netherlands has. Nothing in the agreement prevents the Canadian government from inquiring about prisoners. We are quite satisfied with the agreement. It protects prisoners under the Geneva agreement and all other war agreements.
Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the agreement does nothing to stop prisoners from being transferred to a third party. Once Canadians hand a prisoner over to the Afghan government we wash our hands of the entire matter. This is simply not good enough. Will the minister ensure that Canadian government officials have the same rights as Dutch officials when it comes to tracking, interviewing and ensuring that no human rights violations or torture will take place? When will the minister redraft the agreement to better reflect our values as Canadians?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we have no intention of redrafting the agreement. The Red Cross and the Red Crescent are charged with ensuring that prisoners are not abused. There is nothing in the agreement that prevents Canada from determining the fate of prisoners so there is no need to make any change in the agreement.
April 11, 2006
Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ): Mr. Speaker, on December 18, 2005, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Hillier, signed an agreement with the Afghan defence minister regarding the transfer of prisoners captured by Canadian armed forces. Why has the government not maintained better control over prisoners by ensuring, for example, that Canadian soldiers and diplomats can make personal visits to prisoners, as the Dutch have done?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I do not know what the member is talking about when he says that this is a difficult process. The process is that if Canadian soldiers capture insurgents or terrorists they hand them over to the Afghan authorities and then the International Red Cross or Red Crescent supervise the detainees. If there is any problem, the Red Cross or Red Crescent would inform us and then we would become involved.
Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ): Mr. Speaker, Canada is obliged to respect the Geneva convention to which, incidentally, it is a signatory. Will the minister concur that there is nothing in this agreement to prevent the Afghan authorities from transferring prisoners to the American forces, who could then transfer them to Guantanamo, as we know that the United States does not consider these combatants to be prisoners of war? The minister must amend the agreement.
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as has been mentioned, under the agreement the Red Cross will supervise the detainees in the Afghan prisons. If they were to be transferred to a third party, and why they would be is beyond me because we are giving Afghans to Afghanistan, then the Red Cross would monitor this. If there were a problem, the Red Cross would inform us.
May 31, 2006
Ms. Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l’Île, BQ): Mr. Speaker, General Gauthier says that Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan do not have to follow the Geneva Convention with respect to individuals who are taken prisoner because the conflict in Afghanistan is not—or is no longer—the result of a state of war between conflicting nations. Can the Minister of Defence guarantee that Afghan combatants who are taken prisoner will receive the same treatment they would have been entitled to as prisoners of war?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, that is a standard procedure for our military no matter what operation it is on throughout the planet. When it takes prisoners, it will always follow the rules of the Geneva Convention. There is no lower standard than that. That is in every case whether the operation is under the Geneva Convention or not.
Ms. Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l’Île, BQ): Mr. Speaker, under these conditions, can the minister explain why Canada did not follow Holland’s example and sign an agreement with the Afghan government to allow continued contact with prisoners for constant information on their fate? What is the government waiting for to renegotiate this agreement?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the agreement we had with the Afghan government fulfills the needs that we have from the point of view of security of the prisoners. The Red Cross or the Red Crescent is responsible to supervise their treatment once the prisoners are in the hands of the Afghan authorities. If there is something wrong with their treatment, the Red Cross or Red Crescent would inform us and we would take action.
October 2, 2006
Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP): Mr. Speaker, Canadians recognize that this government is too close to George Bush, especially when it comes to foreign policy. Incredibly, the U.S. Congress is passing a law that will give the President the power to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva conventions. Documents show that this government is fully aware of the fact that prisoners we hand over to the Afghans can be given to U.S. authorities. What assurances is this government seeking that prisoners handed over to Afghan authorities are not sent on to Guantanamo Bay or to secret U.S. prisons?
Mr. Russ Hiebert (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we signed a bilateral agreement with the government of Afghanistan. We have been assured by them that any time a prisoner is detained that they will be held under the Geneva conventions to the highest standards. As well, the International Red Cross will be monitoring these detainees and will keep track of them at every possible opportunity. I urge the member from the NDP to provide some support for our troops in Afghanistan. That party is the one that is calling for our troops to cut and run.
Ms. Dawn Black (New Westminster—Coquitlam, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the previous Liberal administration took the U.S. on its word and look what happened to Maher Arar. The Canadian government has not asked to follow up on one single detainee. Canadians want assurances that our soldiers’ values and international law are not compromised if Afghani authorities hand over prisoners captured by Canadians to the U.S. In light of what happened to Mr. Arar, does the government really trust the U.S. administration to tell the truth about where it holds Canadian captured insurgents?
Mr. Russ Hiebert (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as I outlined in my earlier answer, we have an agreement with the government of Afghanistan. When detainees are captured they are passed on to this particular government. We have been assured by the President of Afghanistan that all necessary treatment and standards are kept so that these detainees are not injured or harmed and that they are kept out of harm’s way.