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House of Commons Hansard #139 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was national.

Topics

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Ottawa South Ontario

Liberal

John Manley LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, this is not a legal issue. There was an understanding between all of the governments involved in the situation in Afghanistan that the Geneva conventions will apply. It was understood when, for example, article 5 of the NATO treaty was invoked.

It is only in these past few days, when representatives of the American government explained that there might not be any process to determine the status of the prisoners, that we raised the issue. It has been raised and we want a clarification.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Clearly, Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Prime Minister is incapable of giving us a date, because there likely never was an agreement on the transfer of prisoners, and it is even less likely that there was one at the time when the prisoners were transferred.

When the minister says, “We want a clarification”, what he means to say is—and I wanted him to confirm this—that there was an agreement that was not clear and that we want to clarify it today.

Is this what the Deputy Prime Minister means by clarity?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Ottawa South Ontario

Liberal

John Manley LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is trying to complicate the situation more than is necessary.

In fact, all combatants have clearly understood that international laws will apply. Even the U.S.A. has assumed that position to date and even accepts that the Geneva conventions will apply. It is merely a matter of finding out whether there is a proper process, in the opinion of ourselves and the other allies, to determine the status of the detainees.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has said that the Geneva conventions are being complied with in the case of the prisoners taken in Afghanistan. These conventions call for a tribunal to determine the status of these prisoners.

Can the minister tell us which tribunal has reached a decision, or is going to reach a decision, on the way these prisoners are to be handled, in compliance with the Geneva conventions?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

York Centre Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the Geneva conventions call for competent tribunals if there is any doubt as to the status.

The United States claims that of all of the people it is keeping there is no doubt as to status, that it is only keeping people who are terrorists. However, continuing discussions are going on with respect to the matter of how in fact those determinations are made.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister says that he negotiated an agreement with the United States pursuant to international law.

How can he reconcile his claims with President Bush's comments, to the effect that there will not be any tribunal—President Bush has already stated this—and that these prisoners do not have prisoner of war status? How can he reconcile his comments with those of President Bush?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

York Centre Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, it has been the Canadian position that international law must be observed and Canadian law must be observed. Part of international law allows for prisoners who are taken to be transferred to another country, as they are in this case, as long as international law and the Geneva conventions are followed.

Right from the beginning, the United States has given us that assurance.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, for a whole month we have been seeking clarification about Canada's handling of captives in Afghanistan, and the question has never been hypothetical.

It is not good enough for the Prime Minister to say that he did not know about the captives. Either his office and the Clerk of the Privy Council did know what was going on and did not tell the Prime Minister, which is a problem, or the Prime Minister's Office did not know what was going on, and that is an even bigger problem. Which one is it?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Ottawa South Ontario

Liberal

John Manley LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, from the beginning of our involvement in the war against terrorism, it has been understood that the international laws of conflict apply and therefore the Geneva conventions apply. That has been consistently the position of Canada and we hold to that position. It has also been the position of the United States.

Consequently, there was no confusion over the turning over of prisoners to the United States. Only in the last two weeks or so have some statements been made by representatives of the U.S. administration that have cast doubt on whether there was an adequate process for determining the status of prisoners. That is what we are seeking to clarify.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, confusion continues to reign with this government. The defence minister changes his story about Canadians taking prisoners. The government says that it respects international law but recklessly claims that the Geneva conventions are outdated.

An agreement with the U.S. on the status of detainees was to have been in place but now we learn that negotiations are ongoing.

Will the Prime Minister take charge and ensure that captives taken in Afghanistan are treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva conventions unless and until an independent tribunal deems otherwise?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Ottawa South Ontario

Liberal

John Manley LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations

Mr. Speaker, it is very touching that the member is so concerned about the condition of al-Qaeda prisoners. However no questions have been raised by the international committee of the Red Cross or anyone else about the treatment of the prisoners.

I also point out what Mr. Rumsfeld said the other day in a television interview. He said:

I think that everyone has agreed that under the Geneva Convention that the United States has been, is today, and will in the future treat them--will apply the Geneva Convention and see that they have the appropriate rights under the Geneva Convention.

That is what we were seeking to obtain clarification about.

Minister of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Deputy Prime Minister.

The Minister of National Defence has told the House that JTF2 reports only to him and only orally. He has said that he then decides, all by his lonesome, whether the Prime Minister will be informed.

Is the government telling the House that the only way the Prime Minister and his government know about the operations of JTF2 is if the Minister of National Defence remembers what he has been told or deems it important enough to pass on?

Minister of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

York Centre Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, it would be my responsibility to tell the Prime Minister, in case there is any deviation from government policy, if anything out of the ordinary happens with respect to any of these matters involving the JTF2.

The JTF2 is conducting itself completely within the terms of the rules of engagement, completely within Canadian law and completely within government policy.

The JTF2 was sent there to be part of the mission to flush out the terrorists and arrests are a normal part of that mission. The fact that they have taken prisoners should not come as a surprise to anybody.

Minister of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, it will not be a surprise for at least eight days with this minister.

My supplementary question is for the Deputy Prime Minister.

The Pentagon has proposed an Americas command that would put Canadian troops and ships under an integrated command. Canada's vice-chief of defence staff, General Macdonald, said that Canada “declared ourselves ready to consider an arrangement that could extend to land and sea”. I wonder if the Prime Minister has been told about this.

I wonder if the Deputy Prime Minister can tell the House whether Canadian officials are now discussing a major extension of Norad. If the Deputy Prime Minister knows this and if he will tell the House what is being discussed, I wonder if he would come before parliament--

Minister of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. Minister of National Defence.

Minister of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

York Centre Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the United States, under its attempts to improve its homeland security, is looking at a change in its command structure. In doing that, it will have an effect on what we do here because we are part of the same continent. We want to make sure we know what it is doing. We want to make sure it will not have an adverse effect on Norad. We have been in consultations with the U.S. No commitments of any kind are being made until there is a whole government discussion on the matter.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

February 5th, 2002 / 2:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Canadian Alliance Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, on January 16 the Department of National Defence said that Canadian soldiers would treat any captured prisoners as POWs until a special tribunal determined their status. The next day the minister of defence said that we would hand over prisoners to the United States without holding tribunals, and in fact we did so. Now the Minister of Foreign Affairs is asking the United States to set up tribunals that we did not need.

My question for the Minister of Foreign Affairs is this. If we did not need tribunals two weeks ago why do we need them today?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Toronto Centre—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

What we need, Mr. Speaker, is for the people opposite us in the House to read the Geneva convention instead of interpreting it their way and trying to mislead the Canadian people on what the Geneva convention says. That is what we need.

Article 5 of the Geneva convention, if they would put it on their desks, says “in case of doubt...a tribunal”. We said that our prisoners would be treated in accordance with international law. They are being treated in accordance with international law. We have obeyed international law and we will continue to do so.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Canadian Alliance Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, might I suggest a learn to read week for the Liberal caucus and perhaps the new minister could read it to his other colleagues in the front bench. They do not know what it says.

Clearly, handing over al-Qaeda terrorists to face justice is the right thing to do, but the government is second and third guessing its own policies. It has no clue about its own policies. The fact of the matter is DND said it would hand over prisoners without a tribunal, then the minister contradicted that and the foreign affairs minister is contradicting that.

Our troops did great work in capturing al-Qaeda terrorists. If the government believes our troops did the right thing, why is it changing its policies?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Toronto Centre—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for raising the tone in the House. I do not think it is helpful for members of the House to suggest there is confusion where there is not.

We have always said that we would act in accordance with international law. What we have also said is there are differences in interpretation of international law. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that we are resolving that as is proper in an amicable way with our most important ally, the United States of America.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of National Defence said that the Geneva conventions had been written at an earlier time and were therefore not easily applicable to the conditions that exist today.

Why then did the hon. minister tell us on January 28 that Canada would respect not just any international law, but the Geneva conventions?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Toronto Centre—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, what the Minister of National Defence said, if I may put it another way, was that the conditions contemplated when the Geneva convention was drafted have changed considerably. I think this is just plain common sense. Everyone in the House knows this.

Everyone also knows that the interpretation of the convention is being discussed. Members on this side know that we are respecting the Geneva convention and that we are interpreting international law as it now stands. We must respect the fact that discussions are still taking place as to how international law should be interpreted.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, the values in the name of which the war in Afghanistan was launched require that these same values be respected in the continuation of that war.

Will the Minister of Foreign Affairs tell us how Canada can have concluded with the United States an agreement which respects the Geneva conventions, when the Minister of National Defence says they are not applicable?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Toronto Centre—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I repeat what I said earlier. The Geneva convention is not inapplicable. It is applied differently. This is where the discussion of international law comes in. Obviously, lawyers can disagree, and the member knows this as well as I do.

What is important is that our values support respect for international law. That is what we have always done in this House and on the battlefields to which we send our troops.

Minister of National DefenceOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, again today the defence minister said that the JTF2 followed the rules of engagement with respect to the capture of the al-Qaeda terrorists. Yet the minister contradicted himself when he said last week that the rules of engagement had not been finalized.

When were the rules established for the JTF2 and who signed off on them?