On April 23, 2007, the Globe reported what it had learned from interviews with 30 detainees. Two days later, the paper revealed what the Foreign Affairs department’s own reporting disclosed about torture in Afghanistan. After the premature announcement of a new transfer agreement that week, a new deal was signed on May 3.
Understandably, the issue dominated Question Period during this time—dozens of questions asked between April 23 and May 7 as new stories and allegations came to light. Herein, a selection of questions and answers during that period.
April 23, 2007
Mr. Michael Ignatieff (Etobicoke—Lakeshore, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have been in Afghan places of detention and I have no confidence in the capacity of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to protect prisoners. They were beaten, whipped, starved, frozen, choked, electrocuted. These are very serious allegations, and Canada’s honour is at stake. When will the Prime Minister replace his incompetent Minister of National Defence with a minister who can make sure our allies and Canada itself respect the Geneva convention?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, everyone knows that our forces in Afghanistan treat the detainees with proper care. They follow all the rules. We have made a recent agreement with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and it has guaranteed that it will report to us any abuses of any detainees we transfer. I have the personal assurance of the leader of the human rights commission in Kandahar and the national level.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the revelations concerning torture victims in Afghanistan are positively appalling and Canadians are very concerned about this. The NDP raised this issue a year ago. Afghan authorities use torture in order to mentally and physically break their victims. Will the government finally do the right thing, which is to immediately put an end to the transfer of prisoners, launch a public inquiry and dismiss the Minister of National Defence today?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister said, we take these rumours seriously. We are asking our officials to investigate this with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and with the Afghan officials. I might remind the member for Toronto—Danforth that we recently had an agreement with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. It has promised to advise us if any of our detainees are abused.
Ms. Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l’Île, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence no longer has the credibility to manage this department. He has been hiding the truth for several months. My question is for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Will he assume his responsibilities and does he intend to take action so that Canada will stop transferring prisoners to the Afghan authorities until such time as he has negotiated a new agreement that guarantees the safety of prisoners?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as has been stated a number of times already by both the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence, Canada does take its responsibilities very seriously. These allegations that have been published today have not been confirmed by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. We are looking into the issue. I fully intend to take this up with my counterpart. Other officials will be consulted as well. Canada will continue to do its best to see that definitively Afghan prisoners are not tortured nor abused.
April 24, 2007
Hon. Lucienne Robillard: Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister remains true to form. He has never been able to take responsibility for his own actions. He is being asked some very simple questions here today. Since the Conservative government signed the new agreement, what has been happening to detainees and prisoners? Has anyone visited them? In what conditions are they being held? If the Minister of National Defence is incapable of answering some simple questions, why does the Prime Minister continue to place his trust in that minister?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as I have said on a number of occasions, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission is charged with inspecting the Afghan prisons. If there are difficulties in the Afghan prisons, the commission will inform us. To this date, it has not informed us.
Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Minister of National Defence described stories of torture as rumours while the Prime Minister, yesterday and today, spoke of serious allegations, and therefore risks. Under the Geneva convention, the transfer of prisoners is prohibited in situations where there is torture, and even in cases where there is a risk of mistreatment. In light of these serious allegations, does the Prime Minister realize that he may be asking the troops to break the law and that he is shirking his responsibilities by not respecting the Geneva convention?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Forces take their responsibilities seriously. That is why we have a new arrangement and that is why they continue to consult the Afghan authorities to ensure that we are assuming our responsibilities. The allegation that the Canadian Forces are shirking their major responsibilities is irresponsible. The Leader of the Bloc Québécois has no evidence of that.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that Canada is not well served by a Minister of National Defence who does not have a proper understanding of the Geneva convention, a minister who will say anything to hide his incompetence, a minister who is now asking our troops to continue transferring detainees to torturers or so-called torturers. That is not acceptable. When will the Prime Minister put an end to this farce, stop the transfers and fire the minister?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Forces are operating and consulting with their Afghan counterparts. They are honouring their commitments and constantly consulting with their counterparts to ensure that we fulfill our obligations. Allegations to the effect that we are not living up to our responsibilities are only being made by the Taliban. I do not accept these unfounded Taliban allegations.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence misled the House again yesterday. He claimed that these allegations were simply rumours and that the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission would be responsible for the situation. Now we learn that the head of that commission is barred from going to the prisons. What more does it take for the Prime Minister to issue an instruction to his incompetent Minister of National Defence that the transfers should stop now pending the truth? Why will he not stand up and make that instruction today?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Very simply, Mr. Speaker, as I have repeated several times, our forces, the Government of Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs are in constant touch with their Afghan counterparts on these very issues. We do not have evidence that what the hon. member alleges is true. To suggest the Canadian Forces would deliberately violate the Geneva convention and to make that suggestion solely based on the allegations of the Taliban is the height of irresponsibility.
April 25, 2007
Hon. Stéphane Dion (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has repeatedly told this House that the government had no information about any abuse Afghan detainees might have been subjected to. We now have proof that this was not true. The Prime Minister no longer has any choice. Will he finally fire his Minister of National Defence?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as I have just said and have said on many occasions this week, we have heard these allegations. We always take these allegations seriously. That is not the same thing as assuming that every allegation made by the Taliban is true. We are, however, consulting with our partners in Afghanistan and, so far, we have had full cooperation in finding the facts.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, one thing is clear: the government knew what was happening to detainees who were transferred. The secret documents are not Taliban documents; they are Department of Foreign Affairs documents published in the Globe and Mail. They confirm that extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are commonplace. They know about this. Why does the government not stop transferring detainees to situations where they will face torture?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Canadian military personnel do not send prisoners into situations where they will face torture or anything like that. The NDP’s allegation is unfounded.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, brushing off these allegations in such a casual manner by the Prime Minister is simply not acceptable and is not in line with the responsibilities that he has as the leader of this country with respect to the Geneva conventions and other matters. What he should be doing is firing his incompetent Minister of National Defence. What he should be doing is stopping other ministers or any other officials from blackening out government documents that tell the truth. What he should also be doing is stopping the transfer of prisoners that could be going into torture this very day. Will he do it or will he deny his responsibilities?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Once again, Mr. Speaker, as I have said repeatedly, these are serious allegations and we treat them seriously. A full level of consultation is going on, both from here and on the ground in Afghanistan, to determine the facts and to determine whether there is any basis for any of these allegations. At the same time, the leader of the NDP likes to talk about responsibilities but he has no evidence. There is no evidence at all that anyone in the government has the ability to black out reports. At the same time, he also accuses the Canadian military of somehow violating the Geneva convention. He does not have proof of that and he should take his responsibilities seriously and not make such accusations.
Hon. Lucienne Robillard (Westmount—Ville-Marie, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the minister does not know about it? That is unbelievable. Canadian diplomats are not the only ones who have sounded the alarm about detainees being tortured by Afghan authorities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, also considers torture to be a violation of human rights. The Prime Minister and his government chose to ignore Ms. Arbour’s comments on the subject. Why did the Minister of National Defence choose to act as though the High Commissioner had not said anything, and why is he, even now, transferring prisoners. Will he resign?
Hon. Gordon O’Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, at the heart of all these questions is a suggestion that our military will knowingly hand prisoners over to torture. This is an aspersion on the Canadian Forces. Our Canadian Forces operate at the highest level of conduct and I stand by their actions.
Ms. Caroline St-Hilaire (Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, BQ): Mr. Speaker, with today’s disclosures we have proof that Canada violated the Geneva convention. The Prime Minister must face the facts: this report was not written by the Taliban but by senior officials at Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs. Does the Prime Minister intend to announce the only possible solution in these circumstances, which is to immediately stop transferring prisoners to the Afghan authorities?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, what simplistic thinking to suggest somehow that Canada is in violation of international obligations or the Geneva convention. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are taking action. We are working directly and collaboratively with Afghan authorities to see that this situation is remedied. We will do so based on actual factual information in our possession, not on allegations made by the Taliban and not on allegations made by the Bloc Québécois.
Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, international law not only prohibits the transfer of detainees to conditions of torture, but requires that the government take all necessary measures to protect detainees already transferred or to have them returned into our protective custody. Since it is clear that those already transferred have been tortured and since the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has acknowledged that it cannot protect them, will the government secure their protection, or will it continue to be soft on compliance with international law, soft on detainee protection, and soft on protecting the rights of our own Canadian soldiers?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Once again, Mr. Speaker, as I have said before, members of the Canadian military are in constant communication with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and with their other counterparts in Afghanistan to assure themselves that the allegations the hon. member makes are not the case. We do that at other levels, at the level of corrections, and also at the level of foreign affairs. Any suggestion that the hon. member or other members have that the Canadian military is deliberately violating the Geneva convention is false and without any foundation.
April 26, 2007
Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct the Prime Minister. The Bloc Québécois is not accusing Canadian soldiers of violating the Geneva convention. We are accusing the government because of all its confusion. We are accusing the Prime Minister and the other two ministers of misleading the House. They are the ones we are accusing of violating the Geneva convention. We are not accusing anyone else. The Minister of National Defence acknowledged the agreement with the Red Cross and looked the chair of the Afghanistan independent commission straight in the eye. Then, yesterday, sometime between three and four in the afternoon, he picked up the phone, called over there and, presto, a new deal. This can mean only one thing: previous agreements were worthless. Why are we waiting to ask—
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our troops in Afghanistan are doing very difficult work in dangerous conditions. I reject any suggestion that our troops are violating our international agreements. On the contrary, our troops from Quebec—the Van Doos—and from the rest of Canada are Canadian heroes.
Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the original Canada-Afghanistan agreement included a prohibition against the transfer of detainees into situations of inhumane treatment and torture. There is evidence including from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission that detainees have in fact been tortured in a culture of impunity. Is the government continuing to transfer prisoners in violation of international law? Is the government seeking to have the return of detainees transferred in conformity with international law? Why should we trust any unseen agreement with those implicated in the torture itself?
Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, we are asking why they put so much trust in false allegations. We want to be sure that whatever act the prisoners may have committed, they are extended their human rights. In all the visits our Correctional Service officers have done, they have not actually seen the evidence. There is something the opposition should be aware of. The Taliban are like the al-Qaeda. Taliban members train with them and use the same manual procedures. Members of the Taliban have been told, trained and instructed to lie if asked about being tortured. As a matter of fact, they are told directly to say they were tortured even if they were not. That makes it difficult, but we want all prisoners’ rights protected.
Hon. Diane Marleau (Sudbury, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we want to talk about panic. First it was the Red Cross, then it was the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, then it was some other body and then last night we heard we would have a new agreement. I have heard that Correctional Service Canada will be involved. Will Correctional Service Canada be the body charged with monitoring full time the conditions of detainees? When will we see this agreement?
Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is common in debate, when someone raises his or her voice in panic and just fires out a bunch of questions, that the person has lost the issue. That is what we are seeing across the way. As I have already indicated, Correctional Service Canada has been involved for some period of time. We have let people know that but they have never been interested in asking what our Correctional Service officers are observing there. A supposed or purported Taliban prisoner, they will believe right away, but dedicated Correctional Service officers who actually are putting their lives on the line even going to Afghanistan and some of those areas, they will not listen to and will not believe. We believe in our dedicated people.
April 27, 2007
Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the government’s entire conduct this week has been a pattern of contradiction, misrepresentation, misinformation and disinformation, and it is still continuing, and, at its core, undermining the very integrity of the Afghan mission and our responsibility to protect our own soldiers. Why is the government seeking to blame everybody else but refuses to accept responsibility for its own action or inaction? Why does the new government not finally act as a responsible government and implement our responsibilities under the Canada-Afghan agreement and under international law? Why does the government not act responsibly?
Hon. Helena Guergis (Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport), CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is Canada’s new government that has acted responsibly with respect to Afghanistan. What Canadians deserve to know is why it is the Liberals in the opposition continually take what the Taliban, the alleged terrorists, have to say to be the gospel truth but when Canadians, brave Canadian men and women, say something they ignore it.
April 30, 2007
Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, a few days ago, we learned that the Liberal government knew as early as 2002 that torture was common in Afghan prisons. The prime minister at the time decided nevertheless to enter into an agreement to deliver all prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers to the Afghan authorities. If the Liberals had known since 2002 that the Afghan authorities were torturing prisoners, then the Prime Minister must have been informed when he was elected 15 months ago. How could he let his Minister of National Defence mislead the House by saying that he was not aware that prisoners were being mistreated?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as I just said, we have arrangements with the government of Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Vague allegations have been made in Afghanistan for a long time. We need specific proof. The commissioner of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says that he has heard only rumours and that he does not report rumours to the Canadian authorities.
Ms. Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l’Île, BQ): Mr. Speaker, last Monday, the Prime Minister began the week by saying that he was aware of what he calls allegations of torture, but he referred to the February agreement, which did not allow access to detainees. On Wednesday, the Minister of National Defence announced a new agreement with access rights. On Thursday, the Prime Minister prevented him from speaking and said that no such agreement existed. He and his ministers contradicted themselves all week. There is no agreement to ensure compliance with the Geneva convention with respect to the treatment of Afghan detainees. Will the Prime Minister put an end to this disinformation campaign and assume his responsibilities for ensuring compliance with the Geneva convention?
Hon. Helena Guergis (Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport), CPC): Mr. Speaker, our members of the military on the ground take their job very seriously. They will continue to do the good work they are doing and that includes conforming with international law. We believe that things are working very well on the ground.
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, media reports say that the Government of Canada has known for quite some time that detainees transferred to the Afghan authorities face torture. These are not new reports. The Liberal government was informed of this when the members for Toronto Centre and Markham—Unionville were in charge of the situation. Why do the minister and the Prime Minister not launch an investigation to find out what is really going on? More importantly, why does the Prime Minister not demand that his minister put an end to prisoner transfers or else resign?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our information indicates that so far our arrangements with the government of Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission have been operating as they should. The government of Afghanistan has made a public commitment to conduct an investigation, and the Government of Canada is prepared to help it in any way possible.
Mr. Bernard Patry (Pierrefonds—Dollard, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, this is pathetic. The government knows that over half the NDS personnel are former KHAD fighters from the Soviet era, notorious killers and torturers who were trained by the KGB. Human Rights Watch has called on the government to work with NATO to develop a common policy and get involved in all stages of the detention process. Why has this Conservative government covered this up and ignored the recommendations of Human Rights Watch?
Hon. Helena Guergis (Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport), CPC): Mr. Speaker, again we have general allegations. We have yet to receive any specific allegations. We have arrangements with the government of Afghanistan and with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. We believe that these arrangements are working well. If the government of Afghanistan requests our assistance, we will be pleased to give it to them.
Hon. Denis Coderre (Bourassa, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, echoes of the general’s incompetence, contradictions and impulsiveness in this scandal concerning the treatment of prisoners in Afghan prisons have made it all the way to Europe. While the Prime Minister and his Conservative government busied themselves with their daily cover-ups, the secretary general of NATO seemed to take the prisoners’ situation very seriously at the Brussels forum. The hon. Fawzia Koofi, a member of the Afghanistan parliament who was also present, agreed with me when I spoke to her about the allegations of torture in Afghan prisons. It is very troublesome that our international reputation is being tarnished. When will the incompetent general be dismissed?
Hon. Helena Guergis (Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport), CPC): Mr. Speaker, I do not know how many times we need to stand in the House to explain to the previous Liberal government that its inaction with respect to developing a policy on the transfer of detainees is unacceptable. What also is extremely unacceptable is the fact that far too often the opposition is so ready to take the word of Taliban detainees over our brave Canadian men and women. Canadians are finding themselves offended at this.
May 1, 2007
Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, for the last week, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and other government officials have responded to opposition questions about torture of detainees by saying that we are listening to the Taliban. Is the U.S. state department the Taliban? Is Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch the Taliban? Is the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the UN Commission on Human Rights and our own foreign affairs department the Taliban? Is the government disputing these reports? When will the government stop blaming others and act responsibly?
Hon. Helena Guergis (Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport), CPC): Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member has specific evidence for these allegations we would be happy to receive it. I do not know why he would continue to hold onto it if he had something that our brave Canadian men and women and the Afghan police have no evidence of whatsoever, with no specific evidence to support any of these allegations. I do not know how often those members have to hear a NATO commander say to them that there is nothing to back up the allegations. We will continue to work with the Afghanistan government and the Afghan human rights commission to investigate these allegations.
May 3, 2007
Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, this agreement was conveniently signed just hours before the start of the Federal Court proceedings this morning. Even the judge is said to have remarked on the curious timing of this particular agreement. Canadians were forced to learn therefore about this agreement from a Federal Court judge rather than from the responsible minister. Did the foreign affairs minister push forward the signing of this critical international agreement in order to save the government from a public embarrassment before our courts?
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, what foreign affairs did, and it had the lead on this particular issue, was work with all departments to ensure that we got it right. We have actually worked very quickly when one considers that the agreement was in place back in 2005. When the issues came forward, we took action to enhance the agreement and to ensure that we got it right. We have ensured that this enhanced agreement will make explicit Canada’s expectation and of course Afghanistan’s responsibilities vis-à-vis detainees.