House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Chair, in both cases the Americans have a very professional armed force and army. If we operate within the command of the American armed forces, we have all the support and we have clear command and control. Similarly with NATO, if we are going to have a NATO organization, NATO also is an alliance of like-minded countries in the north Atlantic and they have a very professional organization. In either case the Canadians can work with NATO or the United States and I think they could be comfortable with both.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, my colleague from the Conservative Party has raised some interesting issues with respect to equipment, et cetera. He will know from some of the things that have been raised in this House and some of the things that have been said elsewhere, and I intend to say more about this in my own remarks when we get to them, that many people have concerns about the whole question of those who are being detained by the Canadian Forces and subsequently turned over to American forces. There is concern about whether or not the prisoners are being treated in accordance with laws that Canada recognizes even though the Americans may not.

We have had revelations recently about CIA black sites or secret camps. We know what happened at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. There have been leaks of legal documents which have sought to justify torture, pushing the envelope with respect to how prisoners are interrogated.

What is the position of the Conservative Party on this? Does it share concerns about this? Does it have confidence in what the Americans are doing? Does it want to register any caveats about this? I would be interested in knowing what the view of the official opposition is on these issues.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Chair, first I will talk about the mechanics of prisoners of war. Typically, different levels of organization, such as battalions, brigades, divisions, have capabilities to hold prisoners of war. At the battalion level, or the battle group level, which is the level of commitment we are making right now, it is a very minimal holding area. The prisoners are brought back, held for a time and then they have to be passed to some higher organization that has a police battalion or a police company to look after the prisoners.

The size of force we are sending to Afghanistan does not typically have any large prisoner holding capability. That does not mean that a nation of our size could not build one if we wanted to. We could artificially create an area and then send the prisoners back to wherever we are going to send them.

I understand when we are under American command, that when we transfer the prisoners to the higher level American forces, we do so on the understanding that they will be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. We have faith that the Americans will treat our prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention. If we had evidence to the contrary, we would then perhaps change our attitude, but at the moment that is our understanding.

Our forces are being transferred to NATO. I do not know what the NATO arrangements or the NATO structure will be. I do not know if the NATO forces have a larger prisoner holding area or not, but if we capture prisoners in the new venture we are going into, we will be passing them on to NATO forces, as long as we have a guarantee that the Geneva Convention is followed.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Continuing on this issue, Mr. Chair, very early on in January 2002, Canadian soldiers did capture suspected Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and they handed them over to the U.S. forces. This was in the context of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld having publicly refused to convene the status determination tribunals required by the third Geneva Convention of 1949 to investigate whether individuals captured are in fact prisoners of war.

In addition to some of the stories about what has happened to prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, we have an open repudiation of the extent to which the Geneva Conventions, in the minds of the American administration, actually apply in this situation. It is one thing to say we want them to do it, but on the other hand, there is some evidence that even by their own understanding, it is not something they feel obliged to do, at least in this particular instance.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Chair, I must point out to the member that at the moment we are not the government. We hope to be, but at the moment we are not.

If prisoners were transferred from our forces to higher forces, to American forces or NATO forces, as I said before, we would expect them to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention, and we stand by the Geneva Convention.

I would imagine that we also keep track of the prisoners that we capture, that is, we know whom we captured by name, et cetera, and that there would be a way for us to check on where these prisoners are and how they are treated. Also the Red Cross can be sent in to check on prisoners in war zones.

We would enforce the Geneva Convention basically is what we would do. At the moment, we trust our American allies and we trust our NATO allies to follow the Geneva Convention, unless we have evidence otherwise.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I rise with pleasure to speak this evening on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on the subject of our forthcoming dispatch of troops to Afghanistan. I say forthcoming, for a large contingent will be going to Afghanistan in February. I am aware, nonetheless, that there are already people there on the ground.

To begin with, for the benefit of our listeners and those watching on television, it is worthwhile to give a very short history of the reasons for this situation. It is, I think, unnecessary to recall the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The Americans very quickly identified the terrorists as well as the places where they had been trained. The eyes of the world turned to Osama bin Laden with his training camps in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime then in power encouraged this type of terrorism, harboured it and provided an oasis for terrorism.

The Americans decided to intervene with a coalition of people who decided to accompany them. Twenty-six days later, on October 7, the Americans entered Afghanistan. It took several months before the UN finally decided to support them by creating the ISAF following the signing of the protocol in Bonn. This was an international intervention force under American leadership, but with the authority of the UN.

There are several types of mission that I would like to consider. The current mission is a dangerous one. That is, moreover, why the Minister of National Defence has already begun to engage with public opinion. He has said that it is not a traditional peacekeeping mission and that there is a risk that soldiers will be lost in this undertaking.

I will call this a stabilization mission, which ultimately allows for all kinds of operations. I have here a description of the mission, which includes a full spectrum of operations. Not only will there by an attempt at reconstruction with the PRT, but they will also attempt to seize members of al Qaeda or high profile Taliban figures. These are likely to be highly dangerous missions. The entire range of operations is thus included in the current mission.

In regard to this commitment, we must see why we are there. I am taking excerpts from documents given to us by Brigadier General Ward. He came to tell the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs how both the mission and the commitment were seen. I think that it is important to read the mission statement. Ultimately, it is about helping the Afghans progress toward independence in terms of their security, stabilize their country, develop their government and build a better future for their children. This can take different forms, as I said. It can take aggressive forms, as in the pursuit of the Taliban who want to destabilize the country, but it can also take the form of reconstruction. The PRT is there to accomplish all parts of this mission.

I would like to speak about command. There is one thing that currently bothers us in the Bloc Québécois. As we speak, the zone in question is under American command. We are anxious for it to pass to NATO command. We hope that before the contingent is fully deployed, NATO will have taken over all operations in the region. For us there is a certain gradation in the type of command. I will explain.

We refused to join the Americans in Iraq in a coalition of the willing because it was not under UN control. The priority for the Bloc Québécois is certainly to be under UN control. This might not always be the case, but it is our first priority.

We can agree to being under NATO authority. That was already done in Kosovo. There may be conflicts, as in Rwanda, where we should have intervened. International law seems to be developing now in regard to the duty to protect. The Bloc Québécois is following this closely.

All of this is to say that we have an order of priorities in regard to command. The Bloc Québécois prefers the UN first and then NATO. We are very resistant to coalitions of the willing, such as is currently the case in Iraq.

I would like to turn now to the PRT concept. It is relatively new. People have said that there is a certain inconsistency when the armed forces arrive in a country and there is a lot going on. There is a war going on with shelling, attacks, infantry, air forces, navies, cruise missiles launched from ships, and so forth. These kinds of activities are inconsistent with our saying, at the same time, that we have come to reconstruct.

As a result, the international community expressed its concern with the creation of provincial reconstruction teams. This is important. There are a number of different models. The current difficulty is that there are no specific models or definitions. People are doing things, and we are trying to determine the best course of action here.

The American model, among others, may not be the one to follow. The Americans tend to shoot first and ask questions later. In fact, a few years ago, the coalition fired on a school, killing nine children and a number of adults. The next day, the PRT came in to rebuild. They shoot and kill a number of civilians and, the next day, they talk about development. It goes without saying that they were summarily asked to leave.

Currently, the NGOs tend to say that the British model may be the best. The armed forces have a very clear role. The local NGOs are responsible for reconstruction.

We will see what the Canadian model will be. For now, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is talking about the 3-D approach. I asked General Ward a question when he came. We believe that there is a problem. About 95% of the contingent about to leave for Kandahar are military personnel. The 3-D approach is a nice concept, but more emphasis needs to be put on development and diplomacy. I understand that Kandahar is a dangerous region, but there is a difference between that and saying that 95% of the contingent are military personnel. I think that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has not given this enough thought. It needs to be addressed.

We have a great deal of respect for the Geneva convention. Everyone remembers seeing the three JTF2 prisoners exit the plane and be handed over to the Americans. We are not saying that the Americans are tyrants, but I do not think that, when it comes to treating prisoners, they get a passing grade. We need only think of all the scandals at Guantanamo or in Iraqi prisons. Just recently, we learned that the CIA had almost secret prisons in Eastern Europe. What are they doing to these prisoners? This is one of our concerns.

In a fight against a tyrannical regime, the people captured must not be submitted to the same treatment. A decision has to be made at the outset on the treatment given prisoners. It is a very important point for the Canadian Forces going to Kandahar. What do they do if they arrest Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters?

We have clearly supported and will continue to support the intervention in Afghanistan, because we approve of the mission, as I said earlier. We want this country to return to democracy. It has not really enjoyed democracy, it has to be said, but it is changing. In a context of instability, it is not possible to think of setting up a democratic society. So we think the Canadian contribution is good.

As for what awaits the prisoners, we call on our government to define the legal status of the opponents. How will we consider the people we capture? Will we bring them before our own justice system, keep them prisoner in our prisons or hand them over to another country? Handing them over could be a secondary recourse. However, we would want to be sure the Geneva convention would be honoured. Otherwise, we cannot allow a Canadian envoy to capture people and then turn them over to the Americans, only to discover later in the news that they have been taken to an unknown location and tortured.

We can ask that of the government. We can also point out the importance of setting certain limits on reconstruction and of determining our course of action. The minister has to add a fourth dimension to his three d s, that of the NGOs. We have to have agreements with them. Their job is to help people. It is not just the job of the Canadian army with its notions of defence, diplomacy and development. Let us agree with the NGOs as well and ensure the collective contribution of all these people in ensuring that the work done by the PRT in Kandahar is the best in Afghanistan.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:50 p.m.

Toronto Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham Minister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, I have three comments.

First, concerning the ISAF coalition, I can assure the hon. member that our goal is a humanitarian one. Our operations are within the coalition now, but the purpose of our presence, along with our British and other colleagues, is precisely to transfer authority to ISAF before our mission is over.

I will come back to the comments made by other hon. members on geopolitics and related issues, and what we are doing about it. This is a very important aspect for us and for the Afghan government, which wants the international community to be present in its country, not a group of countries like a coalition. Mr. Karzai himself has said this.

Second, our presence in Afghanistan is a good thing for us, in order to regularize our status as members of the international community as a whole, particularly since this is a NATO mission under UN authorization. As for the PRT, I agree with the hon. member that there is at present an imbalance between the presence of troops and the development assistance they have to provide. I visited the PRT recently, and I hope the hon. member and others will have the opportunity to do likewise. If so, they will see, as I did, that the people living there want stability and they want it now. They want assistance. They realize, however, that there will be no assistance until there is stability. At the moment, the focus is on stability, but we are also working on assistance and good governance.

Third, for the question from our colleague concerning prisoners. This is not a formal presentation, but I would like to share with the House the new policy I am trying to draft in conjunction with the Afghan government. We are in Afghanistan working for the good of the people and their government. We are not there to serve our own interests.

When I was over there, I attempted to reach an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan on the transfer of prisoners to the Afghan government, with guarantees of supervision by both the Red Cross and the Afghan human rights commission itself, in order to guarantee the status of these prisoners. We are in the process of negotiating this and I hope the agreement will be concluded before our troops are sent in for more extensive duties.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to hear that, like us, the minister would like to see this coalition not just under U.S. command, but under NATO command as well. In my opinion, it is important that the international community address the problem. When a nation intervenes practically alone, or with a limited coalition of people that take international jurisprudence into their own hands, this often causes many problems. With NATO, we have democratic parameters to address these problems. We all know the NATO structure where 27 ambassadors discuss using consensus to make a decision. I believe that if NATO can truly take control and command over Kandahar, we will be reassured.

As for the PRT, the minister said he understood our point of view. He knows that there is currently need for greater stability. We agree. However, we believe that 95% for military and 5% for development and diplomacy is not enough. Diplomacy must not be forgotten. We must negotiate this with the mayors and warlords. We need these diplomats and not just armed forces for establishing this type of parameter. It is true that the climate is currently so unstable that we need more armed forces. However, do we need 95%? That is what in fact needs to be debated.

In regard to his new policy, I am glad to hear it. The minister told us that he was close to reaching an agreement with the Afghans. However, I would just like to emphasize something to him. If he manages to reach an agreement which ensures that the Afghans comply with the Geneva Convention, we will support him because this is important. However, the Afghans must not be used as intermediaries between prisoners taken by Canadian troops and prisoners taken by American troops. We would not want to see the Afghan government or the Canadian government saying it would hand the prisoners over to the Afghans, and then the Afghans saying that ,now that it had them, it would hand them over to the Americans. Then they would be intermediaries.

We must be above all reproach. The prisoners have to know this, regardless of where they are sent. The Geneva Convention must be respected. If it is not, Canada must consider having its own prisons and its own justice for prisoners in Afghan territory.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I am following up on the dialogue between my colleague from the Bloc and the minister having to do with the possibility of an arrangement between the Canadian Forces and the Afghan government for the turning over of people detained by Canadian Forces to the Afghan government.

I want to bring to the attention of my Bloc colleague the words in article 3 of the torture convention, which decrees:

No State party shall expel, return...or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

Apparently last week at the UN General Assembly the UN special rapporteur on torture singled out Canada and five other countries for violating human rights conventions by deporting terrorist suspects to other countries where they may have been tortured.

There is a very real danger, as I think my colleague pointed out, that if the detainees who are turned over by Canada to the Afghan government are subsequently turned over to the Americans, we may be in violation of article 3 of the torture convention. The UN committee on torture has stated that the term “another State” in article 3 of the torture convention encompasses any additional country to which a prisoner might subsequently be transferred.

I am indirectly saying this to the minister, but inviting the comment of the member from the Bloc. Would he not agree with me that it is not enough for us to simply have an arrangement with the Afghan government, but that one has to have real assurances that the Afghan government is not just an intermediary for ultimately turning prisoners over to the U.S., which, frankly, everyone is worried has crossed the line when it comes to torturing suspects?

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to see that my friend from the NDP shares my concern. If the minister wants to turn prisoners over to the Afghan government, he must ensure that the Geneva Convention is upheld. I would not want the Afghan government feeling free to decide where to send prisoners that the Canadian government had turned over to it and deciding to turn them over to the Americans.

We have the evidence. The Americans' record is tainted by what they have done. We will probably not see any torture in the United States, but there will be at Guantanamo. They will say that this does not happen in their country, just elsewhere. We know what the Americans are basically up to. They want to transfer these people to other countries where torture is used. The Americans will be informed, and then when questions are raised about what happened, they will say that it did not happen in the United States but in Bulgaria or Cuba.

I am asking the minister to cooperate on this. If he concludes an agreement with the Afghans, I would like him to inform Parliament. We must ensure that if prisoners are transferred to the Afghan government, the Geneva Conventions apply in full. If he does this, he will have the support of all the parties in the House.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

8 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I am grateful that the House has this opportunity to exchange views on the new situation for Canadian Forces in Afghanistan because it is indeed a new situation and deserves some parliamentary discussion.

What we are debating tonight is the fact that Canada has undertaken a change from its previous role in Afghanistan and is in the process of establishing what is called the provincial reconstruction team, henceforth known as PRT, in southern Afghanistan, the city of Kandahar, which involves moving the concentration of our forces from Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, to the southern city of Kandahar.

This raises a number of issues. The minister knows that this will involve more active force protection and counter-insurgency activity on the part of Canadian Forces. Our understanding is that some 1,000 plus soldiers will be deployed by February, not including members of the elite JTF2. This is a change too. I hope I will have some time to say more about this later.

There is a perception in the country that this is somehow in keeping with our traditional sort of peacekeeping role, at least our post second world war, post Korea role in world of peacekeeping. In fact, what we are doing in Afghanistan is quite different than that. I do not think the government has been fully upfront with Canadians about the difference in the rules of engagement and the difference in the situation to which Canadian troops are being sent, not only in Kabul but particularly now in Afghanistan.

This is certainly not peacekeeping. It might be called peace building, but it is more like war fighting. It is more like fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda and trying to maintain that state which has been established in the wake of the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime through the military activities of a coalition of the willing, of which Canada was a part. I do not think we have paid sufficient attention to the departure or the significance of the change in the role of the Canadian military that our activity in Afghanistan represents.

There also are some questions within the NGO community about the PRT itself and the extent to which humanitarian operations in that area have been placed in a very odd position, where they are subsumed to a military structure. NGOs have some concern about the militarization of development. We heard some testimony to this effect in the defence committee not so long ago. This is not just true there. They also expressed some concerns about the DART in that regard.

NGOs are very sensitive to the role they play in any given situation. They have to be seen as neutral. They cannot be seen as an extension of any one particular side in a dispute. In the three block war, to the extent that they are being subsumed on the development side, they are very concerned about what this means for the security of their own employees and for the effectiveness of their mandate.

Finally, and we have already spent some time on this, Canadian involvement with U.S. forces and in Operation Enduring Freedom means that Canada could be complicit in any torture that occurs and any use of banned weapons by the U.S. forces, and this is the worry that has been expressed here tonight.

I already have raised the issue of anti-personnel mines and there may be other instances where Americans have used weapons that we have signed conventions against. I am thinking of the use of white phosphorous. It was not used in Afghanistan, but I think there is some evidence that Americans have used it perhaps in the attack on Fallujah, which, granted, is different than Afghanistan. We are in this increasingly integrated, interoperable relationship with a country that continues to violate conventions to which we are signatories. It seems to me that the government should be more concerned about this than it is.

When I asked a question in the House not so long ago, the minister of defence was not here. His parliamentary secretary stood up. I raised the question in the context of these black sites that had been recently revealed, where Americans were allegedly sending detainees to be tortured. All got was a very simplistic and naive answer from the parliamentary secretary. He said that they were turned over to the Americans, that the government trusted them, that the Red Cross kept an eye on these things and that everything was just fine.

Frankly, I do not think that cuts it. I would hope the minister would express more concern than his parliamentary secretary did in that context.

I think the minister has received a letter. Perhaps he has not seen it yet. I received a copy of it. It is a letter from a Mr. Melville Johnston, a professor emeritus at Ryerson University. I will quote from the letter. He says:

The Human Rights Watch has condemned the use of “torture shuttles” (airline flights to transfer prisoners to various countries that used to be under the influence and/or control of the former Soviet Union). The European Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross have called for investigations into the so-called “black sites”. Moreover, the Human Rights Commission of the Council of Europe has stated that it finds these sites “very worrying”.

Mr. Johnston goes on to say:

As a Canadian citizen, I am ashamed that my Government would in any way participate in or contribute to the illegal treatment of prisoners held by the US authorities.

I think Mr. Johnston speaks for a lot of Canadians when he expresses these kinds of concerns. We have to be very concerned that in the post-September 11, 2001 environment we do not suddenly undo all the work Canadians did for decades in establishing international law and new conventions trying to make the world a more civilized place. We cannot throw that overboard because we happen to be allies of the Americans in a war against terrorism.

Further to that, I want to go back to something I was talking about earlier with respect to the treatment of detainees. I will again refer to a speech that was given yesterday by Michael Byers who is UBC professor of international law and author of a new book War Law . He delivered the F.C. Cronkite lecture in the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon yesterday. In that address he says the following, and I quote at some length:

In January 2002, Canadian soldiers captured suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and handed them over to U.S. forces. The transfers took place despite the fact that U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had publicly refused to convene the “status determination tribunals” required by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, to investigate whether individuals captured on the battlefield are prisoners of war. Canada, by choosing to hand the detainees over, also violated the Third Geneva Convention. The transfers did not, however, violate Canada's obligations under the 1984 Torture Convention, since there was no reason to believe that U.S. forces would mistreat the detainees.

Professor Byers goes on:

Today, we know better. Photographs, news reports and official investigations into abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba indicate that, at best, the U.S. military has failed to educate its soldiers about human rights and international humanitarian law. At worst, the revelations suggest a policy of law-breaking that extends all the way up the chain of command, to the Secretary of Defence and perhaps the commander-in-chief himself.

The denial of access to legal counsel, the removal of detainees from occupied Iraq (in blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention), and leaked legal opinions that seek to justify torture provide additional cause for concern.

I will end my quoting of Professor Byers at that point.

Canadians may be concerned with the role of our forces in Afghanistan. I think we would find more of a consensus with respect to the concern that Canadian soldiers, by turning over people that they detain to Americans in this environment, are in violation of agreements that we have signed and in violation of the values that Canadians like to think our government holds.

We are in a context not just in respect of the turning over of detainees in Afghanistan, but also with respect to some issues here at home that make us wonder whether we have a government any more that is committed to these long-standing Canadian values. It is not just in respect of the turning over of detainees in Afghanistan. It also is with respect to some issues here at home that make us wonder whether we have a government that is committed to these long-standing Canadian values.

It is not just the turning over of detainees in Afghanistan to Americans for possible torture or forms of imprisonment that violate the Geneva Convention. We also have the case of suspects in Canada such as Maher Arar and others who ended up being turned over to the Americans and who in turn were turned over to the Syrians, with Canada not seeming to care at the time about that.

We have a growing sense of unease about whether in our eagerness, which may well be justified, to combat terrorism we are sacrificing a Canadian tradition with respect to international law that we will rue being exposed to erosion in this way.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

8:10 p.m.

Toronto Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham Minister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, there were two very important points raised by my hon. colleague, and I will make some comments. He might wish to speak to them as well.

The first is the nature of the role of what we are asking our troops to do in the southern part of Afghanistan. It is clear that it is not a peacekeeping mission of the Cyprus type or some of the traditional types with which members of the House would be familiar. However General Dallaire, now Senator Dallaire, and others who comment on these matters would say that everybody has agreed, particularly as a result of Rwanda, that we must have a capacity today in peacekeeping to recognize that there are situations where we must have much more robust rules of engagement than in a traditional situation and where we have to bring stability to the area if ultimately there will be peace and stability so the society can develop.

I would put the Kandahar mission in that latter category. We cannot go there without being properly prepared, as the hon. member from Carleton has pointed out. We have to be prepared to fight in those circumstances and be properly prepared for that, and I will speak to that in my speech.

On the detainee matter, I would like to totally associate myself with the observations from the member for Elmwood--Transcona and my colleague from Saint-Jean when they point out that the treatment of detainees is becoming an issue which goes to the credibility of how we are actually engaging in these forms of operation.

I want to remind the members of the House that Canada is a signatory to the International Criminal Court convention. We signed it specifically because we are determined that international law will be furthered by our operations, not hindered by them. Our troops are instructed and accompanied by lawyers from the department who ensure that international law is observed in their missions.

It is for that purpose that when I was in Afghanistan last, I raised with President Karzai the model of a Danish agreement that the Afghan government has signed, which the members can have a look at. It deals with turning detainees over to the Afghanistan government.

We are in Afghanistan. We are trying to build up Afghanistan for Afghans and for their society. I cannot speak to all the details, but I can assure members that this agreement would ensure that capital punishment could not be used, that the International Red Cross would have access to prisoners to ensure that international conventions were being observed, both customary international law and conventional law, and I would hope to build in a supervisory role for the Afghan human rights commission as well.

That is the attempt. This is a negotiation that is going on, but I will keep members of the House advised as to the progress of these negotiations because I consider them important for the reasons the other members have raised.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

8:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I am happy to hear the minister acknowledge that what we have in Afghanistan is not a traditional peacekeeping operation, although I do not think that anyone really thought it was. It is just that the government has not been as fulsome in its acknowledgement of that as it might be.

I think there was an attempt to do so by acknowledging that there might be casualties and that there was more likelihood of casualties with the move from Kabul to Kandahar, but there has been a kind of morphing of the government position with respect to peacekeeping that I do not think has always been fully explained.

For instance, the 5,000 new troops initially were supposed to be for peacekeeping. It is clear now that those 5,000 new troops are going to be recruited and trained to help us fulfill our commitment in Afghanistan, which frankly seems to be rather open-ended, and they are not going to be available for traditional UN peacekeeping. I think that is a change in government policy and expectation that has not been fully explained to Canadians.

I think there are a lot of Canadians out there who still think this increase in the armed forces is so that we can get back to the situation we once were in, where we were a much more significant contributor to UN peacekeeping operations or peace support missions than we are now.

I found it very interesting that when the minister talked about the Danish agreement as a model he did not say there was anything in the Danish agreement about guarantees that prisoners turned over to the Afghan government would not be subsequently turned over to some other government.

I was waiting. I thought, okay, he went down the list of things that were in this Danish agreement that we should be happy about, and I was waiting for the minister to say, pursuant to the discussion we just had, that the key thing is that there is a guarantee they will not be turned over to the Americans. Yet the minister did not say that. I find that disappointing because clearly that is the concern that was expressed on the floor here. That would be my response to the minister.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the discussion this evening and I really appreciate the comments of my colleague, the member for Elmwood—Transcona. He has raised a number of the things that I have heard about from my constituents with regard to Canada's participation in Afghanistan.

In particular, I have heard from constituents about what happens to prisoners who are taken by Canadian Forces members in Afghanistan and that whole concern about whether they are eventually being turned over to Americans in the context of the secret prisons that we have recently heard about, but also in the context of the kind of behaviour the Americans undertook in Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo Bay. That is of major concern to the people in Burnaby--Douglas who contacted me about this.

I was a little disconcerted, as was my colleague, to hear the minister's response to that concern. It seems to me that there is something that is good, that there are negotiations under way and it is good that some of these issues may be addressed, but in the meantime, what happens concerning the whole point about whether Afghanistan is indeed turning these folks over to a third country or to the United States?

I would like to ask the member for Elmwood--Transcona about his comment concerning the militarization of development work. I think he made a very important point. I wonder if he might speak a little more about the kinds of concerns that NGOs have had around that, as I think this is another departure from the kind of work that Canadians expect of Canadian organizations and the Canadian Forces and really is part of the whole departure from our traditional peacekeeping role that he was talking about in his remarks.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan
Government Orders

November 15th, 2005 / 8:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Elmwood—Transcona, MB

First of all, Mr. Chair, on the militarization of development aid, this is a real concern within the NGO community. It is not limited to just their critique of the DART, which we received. It is related not just to how much more efficacious they think their own capacity is and the feeling that the money would be better spent by enabling them rather than having the military do certain things, but it also, as I indicated before, has to do with their concern about how being subsumed into a military environment affects their neutrality and their ability to do the kinds of things they traditionally do.

I heard that this morning. I was at the breakfast, and so were you, Mr. Chair, with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which was laying out its operation Micah, which is part of its global partnership to defeat global poverty. I was sitting at the table with someone from World Vision, who was expressing a concern about the way the role of NGOs was being affected by the role of the military in certain situations.

This is something that is certainly shared widely. It is not just something that we find on the left, for instance, unless one would want to make the very unusual allegation that the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is on the left wing of the Canadian political spectrum. This concern is a widely shared anxiety within the NGO community.

Secondly, I want to address the concern about the extent to which in Afghanistan we see a model of Canadian military involvement outside of Canada that is very different from what Canadians have come to affectionately associate Canada with, that being the traditional peacekeeping model.

I would refer members to an article called “Canadian Forces international operations: 2001-2005” in the most recent Ploughshares Monitor , which is a magazine put out by Project Ploughshares. I do not have the time to go into it, but this article lays out rather clearly the extent to which the role of the Canadian Forces in UN led and UN mandated operations has decreased substantially, while the role of the Canadian Forces in other military operations, either NATO led or U.S led or other coalitions of the willing, has increased. To me, to some degree this has all gone on under the radar of Canadian political awareness.

Wherever we go we still hear people talking about Canada's peacekeeping role as if this is what we are doing in the world. We are not. In part we are not doing it because we do not have the resources to do it anymore. One of the reasons why we do not have the resources is that what resources we do have and what resources we are planning to have are being planned for our continued and increased participation in these other kinds of operations.