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 afghanistan.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 15th, 2005 / 6:25 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West Ontario


Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the amendments to the Criminal Code proposed by the hon. member for Wild Rose in Bill C-329.

The bill summary tells us that the purpose of this enactment is to give a peace office the power to arrest without a warrant a person who is in breach of a probation order binding the person or a condition of the person's parole.

As you know, Madam Speaker, the Criminal Code already contains provisions that enable the police to arrest persons without a warrant. It might be instructive, however, if we took a few moments to review these provisions.

Subsection 495(1) of the Criminal Code provides the police with the power to arrest without warrant a person whom first, the officer believes on reasonable grounds has committed an indictable offence, which would be in the past; second, who the officer believes on reasonable grounds is about to commit an indictable offence, which would be a future offence; or third, one who is actually committing a criminal offence, which would obviously be in the present.

However, this power of arrest without warrant is circumscribed by subsection 495(2) of the Criminal Code. Here is what subsection 495(2) provides:

(2) A peace officer shall not arrest a person without warrant for

(a) an indictable offence mentioned in section 553,

Theft where the alleged value of the subject matter of the offence does not exceed $5,000 would be an example of such an offence. It continues:

(b) an offence for which the person may be prosecuted by indictment or for which he is punishable on summary conviction, or

(c) an offence punishable on summary conviction,

in any case where

(d) he believes on reasonable grounds that the public interest, having regard to all the circumstances including the need to

(i) establish the identity of the person,

(ii) secure or preserve evidence of or relating to the offence, or

(iii) prevent the continuation or repetition of the offence or the commission of another offence, may be satisfied without so arresting the person, and

(e) he has no reasonable grounds to believe that, if he does not so arrest the person, the person will fail to attend court in order to be dealt with according to law.

In other words, while the Criminal Code authorizes the police to arrest a person without an arrest warrant in circumstances that would allow a peace officer to reasonably believe that the person is connected to the commission of a criminal offence, it also places reasonable limits on that authority.

Reading subsection 733.1(1) of the Criminal Code, the offence of failure to comply with a probation order, and paragraph 495(1)(a) together, it is clear that a peace officer already has the power to arrest without a warrant a person who has committed the offence described in subsection 733.1(1), or who on reasonable grounds he believes has committed or is about to commit the offence. This would appear to make the proposed new paragraph 495(1)(b.1) redundant.

The new paragraph 495(1)(b.2) of the Criminal Code proposed by Bill C-329 would authorize police officers to arrest without warrant persons who fail to comply with a condition of parole or unescorted temporary absence.

Members should know that non-compliance with a parole condition or a condition attached to an unescorted temporary absence is not a criminal offence. The law is clear. If the act which constitutes the parole violation is in fact the alleged commission of a criminal offence, then section 495 would authorize the arrest without a warrant.

This proposed legislation would give the police the power to arrest without warrant for a mere curfew violation or some other matter which is not a criminal offence and then prevent the release of that person.

What is being proposed here is arrest without warrant for conduct which is not a criminal offence, followed by imprisonment without trial. Just what is to become of that person is not clear. I suppose that the individual would have to apply to the courts for a writ of habeas corpus to secure a release.

These are matters addressed under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and essentially such conduct should lead to the cancellation of the unescorted temporary absence and the issuance of an apprehension warrant, and where the police officer believes, on reasonable grounds, that such a warrant is in force, he or she may arrest the person without warrant and remand the person into custody.

Similarly, when an offender breaches a condition of parole or statutory release, the person's parole or statutory release may be cancelled and a warrant of apprehension may be issued, and where a peace officer believes on reasonable grounds that such a warrant is in force, he or she may arrest the person without warrant and remand the person into custody.

The supervision of offenders on conditional release is a function assigned solely to parole supervisors under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The decision to suspend the conditional release for a breach or to prevent a breach under the CCRA rests with the correctional authorities and the National Parole Board.

When conditional release is suspended, whether for a breach or to prevent a breach, then and only then is there a warrant issued for the arrest of the individual. The proposed Bill C-329 would conflict with the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and its underlying principles.

I suggest the proposed legislation is misdirected and ineffectual as a legislative proposal. The bill is unnecessary. It would not contribute to enhancing the safety of Canadians or making the criminal justice system more effective.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-329 was introduced in first reading by the Conservative member for Wild Rose on February 1, 2005 and put on the priority list on June 20, 2005. This will be its fourth appearance in the House of Commons since 2001.

Bill C-329 amends the Criminal Code in order to give peace officers the power to arrest without a warrant a person who is in breach of a probation order, or a condition of parole or unescorted temporary absence.

I should point out to begin with that arrest without warrant by a peace officer is already in the Criminal Code, so this is nothing new.

At the present time, the Code allows a peace officer to arrest without warrant a person who has committed an indictable offence or is about to commit an indictable offence. He must have reasonable grounds to believe the person has committed or is about to commit an indictable offence. A peace officer can also arrest without warrant a person who is in the process of committing a crime or one in respect of whom he has reasonable grounds to believe that a warrant of arrest or committal is in force. This is all set out in subsection 495(1) of the Criminal Code.

Bill C-329 proposes to broaden the list of situations in which an arrest may be made without warrant. The first condition added is if a person is in breach of a probation order; second, if a person wilfully fails or refuses to comply with a condition of parole; third, if the person wilfully fails or refuses to comply with a condition of unescorted temporary absence

Bill C-329 therefore allows a peace officer to arrest without warrant a person who is in breach of a probation order, or who, on reasonable grounds, he believes has committed or is about to commit the offence. A peace officer may also arrest without warrant a person who wilfully fails or refuses to comply with a condition of parole or of an unescorted temporary absence or who, on reasonable grounds, he believes has breached or is about to breach such a condition;

The Bloc Québécois continues to believe in and support the principle of rehabilitation. Probation orders, unescorted absences and parole orders are effective means of rehabilitation that have proven their value.

The Bloc recognizes that rehabilitation measures have sometimes failed and allowed offenders to commit new crimes. We still believe that society has no choice but to promote measures to return people who have broken the law to society. There is always an element of risk associated with rehabilitation. The aim must be to lower the risk at all times, knowing full well that it will never reach zero.

The justice system will never be perfect. Judicial errors occur, for example, such as the one involving David Milgaard, who was sentenced at 17 to life in prison for a murder he did not commit.

The system's failings must not lead us to throw the baby out with the bath water. We have to resist the temptation to reject the system's basic principles, such as rehabilitation. Instead, we must increase guarantees of security, surveillance methods and instruments of action in order to strike a balance among public security, the need to promote rehabilitation and the importance of maintaining public trust in the judicial system.

To ensure this balance, offenders authorized to move about in the community must meet all the conditions set for them either by a judge or by a parole commissioner. The system's credibility and the public's trust depend on the ability of the police to have the conditions met. So peace officers must have the means necessary to intervene quickly when parole conditions have been violated.

Bill C-329 will give peace officers the power to prevent offenders from violating their conditions of parole, probation or absence and to return them quickly before a judge when they have violated one of the conditions of release.

It is therefore in this perspective that the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-329. It represents, in our opinion, an important surveillance and intervention instrument that will better protect the public, give a measure of credibility back to the judicial and correctional system and still permit recourse to the rehabilitation measures the Bloc believes in.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I believe the bill before us this evening, Bill C-329, is an attempt on the part of the mover of the bill to shift responsibility with regard to enforcement of provisions that are imposed upon people who have been accused or have been charged and are either out on bail conditions, recognizance or, if convicted, on parole.

We have an existing system for how this works. I think we have to look at the law from that perspective and recognize, I suppose, historically, if I can start from that vantage point, that for more than 400 years, arguably as far back as the Magna Carta, society has looked very closely at how we treat individuals within our society and when we require our enforcement officers, whether they be police or other agents, to have the judicial authority to apprehend someone or to actually conduct search and seizures of property.

We have a lengthy history of doing this and it is a constant balance. I believe what is being attempted here is to shift that balance somewhat. The provisions of the bill, as it stands now, would be to implement in the Criminal Code additional authority for our regular police officers to charge, apprehend and arrest without warrant individuals who had breached the terms of their conditions of release on parole.

The argument that we hear being made to support the purpose of this bill and its passing into law is that police officers need this authority. I think we have to stand back, look at that and say that there is other legislation, specifically the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, that already empowers agents in those agencies to enforce the provisions of that act.

The argument we hear against that is that it is just not working very well. My answer to that is an amendment, not to the Criminal Code to shift authority, but an amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. I think there may be some merit to considering that.

We have certainly seen a number of cases in the country where individuals, either charged or convicted of crimes, who obviously were not benefiting from the restrictions they were supposed to be functioning under and in fact were abusive of those conditions or terms of release and were ignoring them or breaching them on a regular basis. I therefore believe there are strong arguments for tightening this up but the tightening up should occur under that legislation rather than the Criminal Code.

When we go back to look at our long history of determining people's rights to security of the person, that is, from unreasonable arrest, we put quite clear restrictions on when police officers and enforcement officers under the Criminal Code can apprehend without an arrest warrant. What I believe we would be doing under this bill is interfering with the role that we have imposed on agents, whether they be parole officers or agents at the provincial level who enforce these conditions, and leaving to them, which is what I believe we should do, the authority to enforce. If it is not working that well, then we should amend that act and provide them with additional authority.

My final point is on the existing provisions within the Criminal Code. We have heard a bit of it this evening about the need to add this additional authority to our police officers for them to be able to prevent crimes from being committed by individuals who are out under bail conditions, recognizance or on parole. Subsection 495(2)(d)(iii) of the Criminal Code has a specific provision that allows police officers to arrest without warrant when it would “prevent the continuation or repetition of the offence or the commission of another offence”.

If police officers have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence is being committed or will continue to be committed, under the existing Criminal Code, they can arrest without a warrant. With regard to prevention, the code already has those provisions in it. This to some degree would be duplicitous. More important, and I come back to the essential point, this enforcement to deal with people who abuse their bail or parole conditions should be left under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and to the officers and agents who are responsible thereunder.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak to the private member's bill that my colleague from Wild Rose has introduced. I will start off by condensing the purpose that we, as legislators, have to ensure that the safety of Canadians is utmost.

It is tragic that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice have fallen down on that job and have provided us a legacy of being soft on crime. It has left Canadians at risk. To compensate for the Liberals philosophy of not doing their jobs, my Conservative colleagues and I have had to create a number of justice related private members' bills to address the concerns of Canadians and the concerns of safety.

Today, we are looking at one of those examples, Bill C-329, an act to amend the Criminal Code, to arrest without warrant. My hard-working colleague from Wild Rose has been pursuing a number of different private members' bills over the last 12 years. I want to give him the credit he deserves.

For 12 years we have been in an environment like the one we heard a moment ago from the parliamentary secretary. He read a prepared script from the government in which it said that it was sorry but it would not arrest people. Even though people are going down the road into a crime cycle, even though they will commit crimes, there is no indictable offence so they will not be arrested. That is the legacy. The member for Wild Rose has shown patience in putting up with that for 12 years.

I will share some examples of where the Liberals have fallen down on the job. I hope members of the House will support the hon. member for Wild Rose because he has done an incredible job.

The purpose of Bill C-329 is to give a peace officer the power to arrest without a warrant a person who is in breach of a probation order or a condition of the person's parole. The bill was prompted by a resolution from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in response to the controversial 1997 Supreme Court decision, Regina v. Feeney. A similar resolution was also prepared by the Canadian Professional Police Association.

I would like to refer to the Feeney case. It involved the bludgeoning murder of an 85 year old B.C. man. The police, suspecting that Feeney was the culprit, went to the window of the trailer Feeney used as a residence. Unable to arouse Feeney, the police entered the trailer and found him sleeping. The police seized blood-soaked clothing and other evidence of the offence and arrested him for the murder. Feeney was convicted, based in part on the evidence seized after the police entered the trailer. One of the issues confronting the Supreme Court of Canada was the admissibility of the blood-soaked shirt and other evidence seized in the trailer.

The court overturned its previous decision and held that in order for the police to enter and search a dwelling to search for and to arrest a person, prior authorization, a warrant, was required.

The question we asked is, are those reasonable limits? The person who was convicted was involved in a bludgeoning murder, beating a person to death, an 85 year old man in B.C. and Feeney's conviction was overturned because the police did not have the authority to look in that trailer. I do not think those are reasonable limits and I think most Canadians would agree. I think most Canadians agree that we need to give police appropriate authority.

Existing legislation in policies of Correctional Service Canada do not permit the timely arrest and detention of parole and probation violators. Presently, the police officers can only notify probation officers when they believe that a person is in breach of an order. With a time delay, further crimes are often committed.

The bill would remedy this situation and give law enforcement more tools to deal with repeat offenders. The government has indicated that this is something that needs to be changed, but it continues to dither and not take real steps to address the problem. The Liberal government lacks any genuine concern and action on victims' rights.

Preventing crime and protecting victims means reducing the opportunities for people to commit new crimes. We must change the law to tell parole and probation violators that the days of the law turning a blind eye to crimes committed while they are on parole are over.

From now on, crime prevention should include the ability of law enforcement officers to make arrests without warrant. The controversial decision of Regina v. Feeney is an example of where the courts are making significant decisions and leaving it up to parliamentarians to enact legislation to protect our communities, and that is what we have to do today.

I would like to highlight another example where the courts have made decisions to do with probation and Parliament needs to act, and that is the Shoker decision. I was at a B.C. probation officers forum about two weeks ago and this came up. They are very concerned about their ability to enforce conditions of release. The conditions of release are not meaningless. We have heard from the parliamentary secretary that they are not enforceable. If they are breached, it is not a criminal offence. These conditions are put upon release to ensure that criminals do not start down this crime cycle.

This is the Shoker story. He was convicted of break and enter with the intention of committing sexual assault after he broke into a home in Abbotsford at midnight of September 7, 2003. While naked, he attempted to climb into the sleeping woman's bed. The victim, who was married to an RCMP officer, jumped out of bed screaming and called 911. Her husband then arrived and arrested Shoker.

Shoker, who has used heroine, speed, cocaine and marijuana, said that he was not thinking straight because he was on drugs. He was sentenced to 20 months in jail and two years' probation. He had earlier lost his driver's licence to an accident caused by his drug impairment and a psychologist testified that Shoker showed a lack of insight into the seriousness of his substance abuse problem. He was previously charged and acquitted of entering the home of another sleeping woman and pulling the blankets off of her also.

Last year the B.C. appeal court ruled the probation condition that offenders abstain from drugs or alcohol and also to require that offenders undergo periodic urinalysis, blood testing or breathalyzer tests were unconstitutional. That condition appears on thousands of probation orders across our country. Now that cannot be enforced. Offenders cannot be forced to submit to urinalysis or blood tests to determine whether the offender, who is out on release, is going down the crime cycle.

The B.C. appeal court deleted the probation condition requiring Shoker to supply body samples on request because it concluded that there were simply no safeguards in the Criminal Code that would prevent authorities from demanding and seizing the offender's bodily samples arbitrarily.

Back to the comment made by the parliamentary secretary. Are these reasonable limits? I do not believe they are. It is not reasonable to allow somebody, who is going down a crime cycle, to start into drugs, or pornography or whatever it is that drives them into their crime cycle. If these people are released with conditions, the conditions have to be enforced.

This is what the hon. member for Wild Rose is saying. The police know these people. They deal with them. They know them by name. The police need the authority to intervene when they know people are going down these crime cycles. If it is 2 o'clock in the morning, it is not practical to try to make contact with a probation officer. The member is saying to give the police the authority to remove that person if they are in a crime cycle. The police know it.

It is a good bill. The member has been trying for four sessions in Parliament and we still have the same opposition, the same excuses to protect the criminals and not the victims, not Canadians. It is our responsibility to create good legislation. Bill C-329 is good legislation and I encourage every member of the House to support it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Michael John Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in this second reading debate on Bill C-329, an act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada.

This bill would empower a police officer to arrest without warrant a person allegedly in breach of a probation order or an offender who is alleged to have breached a condition of conditional release such as parole or temporary absence.

From a federal perspective, our concern lies with the power of arrest without warrant as it applies to federal offenders on parole or temporary absence.

I am aware that this matter has been before the House on a number of occasions before I came here. Therefore, the details of this fairly simple and direct proposal have been discussed a number of times by previous speakers in the course of previous debates.

There may not be much to be said with regard to the specifics of this legislation, but I do want to view it from a broader perspective and give it the attention it deserves.

Many of our constituents across the country, certainly those from Dartmouth--Cole Harbour, have strong opinions on the way the criminal justice system should work. I welcome this bill as a basis for the discussion of some of the legislation that frames the system. I would like to outline for fellow members and for interested Canadians who may be following this some of the background that I think should be considered each time reform of the laws governing criminal misconduct is undertaken.

The Criminal Code of Canada is the focus of the amendments that the hon. member for Wild Rose proposes to amend. This represents but one of many interrelated statutes that have evolved to guide us in our daily conduct and to exact accountability when societal norms and values are violated.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Income Tax Act, the Fisheries Act, the Narcotics Control Act and the Official Secrets Act are just samples of the federal statutes that exist to control behaviour and to exact accountability when their provisions fail to deter.

Also, in the consideration of Bill C-329, the provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act are certainly relevant. This is because the measure before us would undermine that legislation.

I believe it is important that the record of the debate on this proposed legislation shows the course followed by most apprehended offenders, from the point of commission of an offence to the determination of their penalty.

In a typical case, an individual may be arrested by a police officer who, although operating in accordance with local policies and procedures, is ultimately answerable to a provincial government. Each province, through the provisions of our Constitution Act, exercises responsibility for the administration of the Criminal Code and related federal statutes as well as any ancillary laws that I have mentioned.

The case would then proceed within the provincial jurisdiction to a crown attorney, who takes the facts to court. If the judge determines guilt and the sentence is a fine, probation or incarceration for less than two years, the offender will remain in the provincial purview. Should the sentence be of two or more years' duration, however, he or she will become the responsibility of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada and the administration of the sentence will fall to the Correctional Service of Canada and, finally, the National Parole Board.

Most of those convicted will at some stage encounter one or more voluntary organizations which often assist in the supervision of those who are conditionally released and offer assistance in preparing offenders for their reintegration back into the community. Most offenders will serve the last days of their sentences in the community, whether subject to the conditions of parole or statutory release.

Under the provisions of this bill, every one of them would in this period essentially be subject to arbitrary arrest. That is the concern. By supporting supervision by police as proposed by this bill, we would be sanctioning the detention of those on conditional release for actions that would not result in arrest for any other Canadian.

I join other speakers by reiterating that our police have power to detain anyone they encounter who they believe to have broken any law or to be a danger to themselves or others. Section 31 of the Criminal Code authorizes the arrest without warrant of anybody who has committed a breach of the peace or who, on reasonable grounds, is believed to be about to engage in a breach of the peace.

I do not know how much more we believe the police need to carry out their duties. We all want the police to have the appropriate powers to carry out their duties and this bill addresses that. The question is, how much do they need? Therein lies the difference.

The system is not simple. From municipal to provincial jurisdiction, from the correctional agencies of the federal system to the voluntary sector, it is important that we keep in mind the number of diverse players in criminal justice.

The vast majority of offenders will serve the latter portion of their sentences under supervision in the community. There may be some who require more control or more assistance and perhaps more vigilance on the part of those who are entrusted with their supervision.

These supervisors have the power to end release programs if it is likely that an offender will reoffend. They will issue a warrant of apprehension where a breach of a condition of parole or temporary absence has occurred or where it is necessary to prevent a breach or to protect society. The supervisors are available to issue a warrant 24 hours a day and will often do so in collaboration with police. Moreover, as I said, police already have the power to arrest without warrant an offender they see committing a criminal offence.

Given the complexity of the criminal justice system, the amendment of one act necessitates the adjustment of related acts, and changes in one sector of responsibility may affect all other sectors. Therefore, I believe that the resources of the House and the committee system might better be employed in an effort to make considered, coherent and comprehensive reforms rather than a single adjustment to one act.

I appreciate the efforts of the hon. member for Wild Rose. I recognize that in general terms a private member's bill might well be a suitable beginning to necessary reform. I must nonetheless, however, offer my opinion that every attempt should be made to address all possible issues arising from this proposal within a deliberate consultative process before that action is taken involving the House.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Pursuant to order made Thursday, November 3, 2005, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 21. I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 21, Mr. Chuck Strahl in the chair)

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek Ontario


Tony Valeri LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons


That this Committee take note of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Papineau Québec


Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I am very pleased that my colleague, the Minister of Defence, proposed this evening's debate here in this House. I am grateful to him for allowing me to speak so soon even though he was the one who proposed this very important debate.

I am addressing the House today to speak about the remarkable work Canada has accomplished in Afghanistan.

Our country plays a leading role in the international action to help Afghanistan become a stable, democratic, self-sufficient state that respects human rights and that will never harbour terrorists again. Achieving this objective is essential to maintaining peace and international security, and to bringing about a secure and prosperous future for the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan, which is recovering after more than 20 years of conflict and drought, remains one of the poorest countries in the world, a major source of narcotics and therefore a fragile state. Canada provides an essential contribution to this country.

In order to optimize our intervention in Afghanistan, we must adopt a strategic approach based on the unparalleled added value Canada can offer. Our commitment in Afghanistan is a concrete manifestation of the international policy statement that calls for a government-wide approach based on pursuing our strategic interests abroad.

Canada's commitment in Afghanistan is based on specialized knowledge and the contributions of various federal departments and agencies, such as Foreign Affairs, National Defence, CIDA and the RCMP, or what we call the three d s, meaning diplomacy, defence and development assistance, in a coordinated and integrated manner.

With regard to our diplomatic commitment, which I will focus on—my colleagues from National Defence and Development will follow—Canada opened an embassy in Kabul in September 2003.

This embassy provides the diplomatic presence needed to ensure effective support for Canadian defence and development efforts in close collaboration with our Afghan partners and the international community. Canadian diplomats elsewhere are also working to support the work being done in Afghanistan, particularly at NATO and the United Nations, and through the G8.

Thanks to recent provincial and parliamentary elections, Afghanistan has fulfilled the initial requirements of its democratic transition as set out by the Afghans and the international community, when they met in Bonn in 2001. Other achievements. within the framework of the Bonn process, include the adoption of a constitution and presidential elections.

Canada has been a key supporter of the transition to democracy in Afghanistan. The resources deployed at all levels of government in support of the recent elections there are clear evidence of this. The contribution comprised financial support, the sending of election observers, and assistance to the Afghans in maintaining security throughout the electoral process from the beginning right through to election day.

By declaring themselves as candidates, a decision liable to put them in danger, by going to the polls despite the risk to their safety, by speaking out in favour of reform, the Afghans have shown their support for change.

Democracy has now taken root in Afghanistan and is starting to bear fruit, particularly in establishing the people's confidence and pride in their own country.

Canada's efforts have helped Afghanistan achieve real results in other areas as well, in particular in reforming the security sector. The demilitarization agenda is critical to stability in Afghanistan. The successful completion of the first two phases of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program in Afghanistan this past July saw some 63,000 former combatants lay down their arms.

Canada has played an important role in this process, fostering political support through diplomatic channels, the second largest donor, disbursing close to $21 million in support of the program and providing a secure environment for former combatants to disarm.

We remain committed to the final phase of the process, reintegration, and we will continue to work with the United Nations and our international partners to ensure its successful completion.

Canada was instrumental in the establishment of a highly successful heavy weapons cantonment process in Afghanistan, the same weapons that were used to destroy much of the country. Our top military officials, working closely with the Canadian embassy in Kabul, helped to create the momentum and will for a program that many thought was impossible. Thanks to Canadian efforts, over 10,000 tanks, heavy artillery and other weapons are now safely secured.

Afghanistan is one of the most mine affected countries in the world, with over 800 victims per year. In 2003, Afghanistan acceded to the Ottawa Convention on Landmines. Canada is a lead donor in mine action, having contributed approximately $47 million to mine action assistance in Afghanistan since 1989. These funds have helped to clear 10 million to 15 million mines in Afghanistan.

There is no question that important progress has been made. Afghanistan is on the road to recovery. The challenge now is to ensure momentum continues. We will work with Afghanistan and our international partners to consolidate and build on the achievements of the last four years.

An example of this is the recent deployment of Canada's provincial reconstruction team to Kandahar. In order to respond to the multifaceted and complex nature of reinforcing the authority and building the capacity of the Afghan government in Kandahar, the provincial reconstruction team brings together Canadian Forces personnel, civilian police, diplomats and aid workers in an innovative and integrated Canadian effort of the three Ds of diplomacy, defence and development.

With the provincial reconstruction team and the February 2006 deployment of a 1,500 strong task force and brigade headquarters, Canada has positioned itself to play a leadership role in southern Afghanistan and provide an enabling environment for Afghanistan's institutional and economic development.

In order to effectively approach outstanding challenges, the first step is to recognize and empower Afghan leadership. This requires a commitment to take the necessary steps to ensure that Afghan authorities have the capacity to carry out their required functions. We support an intensified focus on institution building and emphasize the need to ensure that international community efforts result in systemic changes. It is only by building lasting capacity that we can ensure that our investment lasts long beyond our engagement.

Canada has emphasized the need to deal with the recalcitrant commanders who continue to challenge the authority of the central government by adhering to illicit pursuits. These non-compliant power brokers must be made aware that there are consequences to their actions. Their continued involvement with narcotics, illegal armed groups and human rights violations must be addressed. Without a commitment to take decisive action against those who most overtly defy the rule of law, they will continue to subvert our best efforts and contribute to instability.

We have continued to stress the necessity of a global view if past injustices in Afghanistan are to be put behind us. Any government needs the trust of all its citizens. The inclusion of those responsible for serious offences in the past against either Afghan law or international law would cast doubt on the government's credibility. Although the process of addressing past wrongs will no doubt be fraught with emotion, as is the case with any post-conflict situation, this political sensitivity can be mitigated by a process that is transparent, objective and founded in law.

Canada supports the work being done at this time by the Afghan authorities, in close collaboration with the Afghan human rights commission, with a view to drafting a national transitional justice strategy.

I must say how very pleased I am to take part in this evening's very important debate on Canada's role in Afghanistan.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.


Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the minister for being here tonight to lead off this debate and hopefully we will be hearing from the Minister of National Defence later on, which I am sure we will.

I believe the operation in Afghanistan will be the most intense operation in which this country has been involved and probably the most dangerous since Korea. This is not a peacekeeping mission. The general in charge has indicated that we will be taking the fight to the Taliban, that we are there to perform operations and that the possibility of Canadians being hurt is great.

This is not at all a peacekeeping mission. The mission is to clean up the most dangerous part of that country. Some of the terms that have been used are “less benign” and “unstable”. The fact is that it is just damn dangerous and this is where our troops are going. We need to have the confidence as a nation and certainly as the official opposition that everything has been done to provide these troops with the absolute best equipment and training and to ensure they have the facilities on the ground to protect them around the base perimeter.

I want to hear from the minister, and perhaps we can ask the defence minister later as well, that indeed has happened. We hear that the forces are having trouble finding enough trained troops, the numbers that are required, to send over there and that they are having trouble finding the equipment to properly equip these people to ensure their safety.

I would like the minister to state that this indeed has happened and that our troops are equipped, trained and in the best possible situation in this most dangerous part of the world.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.


Pierre Pettigrew Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, that is a very important question and I appreciate it. I am sure my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, when he addresses the House a little later, will certainly provide further information.

As a government, it is very clear that we would not have embarked on such an important mission if we were putting the lives of our Canadian citizens at risk in a way that is not absolutely necessary. Yes, of course, lives are at risk in the military but obviously we want to ensure we put all the chances on our side. This is something the Minister of National Defence has looked into personally when we were going through the decision making process in the government.

It was a very important priority for the Minister of National Defence and the government in general to ensure that we were sending our Canadian soldiers with the appropriate training and equipment to do the best possible job. I do not think General Hillier would have accepted any such risk either if he had not been confident that we were taking the appropriate actions before sending our Canadian soldiers there.

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7:15 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like the minister to provide some further information about his concept of the PRT, the provincial reconstruction team. In French we call it the EPR. This seems to be quite a new type of intervention for us to be involved in. There will be 19 of these teams in Afghanistan, including the Canadian one in Kandahar. However, we have not found a definition for the PRT. There are several models including the American and British ones.

Can the minister give us a sense of how he envisions this? What will the Canadian PRT contingent in Kandahar consist of? Can he define the PRT's mission and its intervention method in the field?

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7:15 p.m.


Pierre Pettigrew Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, the PRT concept was originally based more on the American model. Since this was our first experience, the Provincial Reconstruction Team was later improved and reinforced. Some new elements were introduced, particularly when the Europeans became involved in this type of exercise.

I can say that the Provincial Reconstruction Team reflects precisely what we have in our international policy statement. We want defence, diplomacy and development to work in a more coordinated and integrated way. It is clear that for now, the work is focussed more on stability, with a significant military presence. Eventually we expect elements of diplomacy and development to become more of a priority.

It is essential that we take responsibility for a territory. However, in addition to the military effort, we must ensure that other aspects of development are included. That is why CIDA is very involved in this exercise.

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7:15 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, the minister himself referred to mine action and the fact that some 10 million to 15 million mines have been removed, and yet at the same time concern has been expressed about the extent to which Canadian Forces, vis-à-vis their cooperation with American forces, are actually involved in the use of anti-personnel mines.

I have been told that at one point Canadian soldiers were ordered by their American commander in Afghanistan to lay anti-personnel mines around the camp but they refused because of Canada's signing of the convention against anti-personnel landmines. The Americans then laid the mines themselves. The Canadian government was able to argue that Canada was respecting the convention. However at the same time our soldiers are benefiting from the existence of these mines.

I am looking at a lecture that was given yesterday by Michael Byers in Saskatoon who is the author of a new book entitled War Law . He said, “the fact that American soldiers rather than Canadian soldiers laid the mines makes it possible for the Canadian government to argue that there was no violation of the convention. Our government interprets the prohibition on the use of anti-personnel mines as not extending to reliance on mines laid by others providing that Canadian soldiers do not request the mines be laid”.

He goes on to say that he thinks this is a rather “strained interpretation and hardly reinforces our claim to be the leading proponent of the total elimination of anti-personnel landmines”.

Does the minister dispute this account of what has happened in Afghanistan and, if he does not, is the government not concerned that Canadian reliance on mines that we are allegedly against puts us in a situation where we are clearly in violation of our own norms on this?

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7:20 p.m.


Pierre Pettigrew Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, I appreciate our colleague bringing this matter to our attention. I am not privy to the information to which he is referring. I have never heard that the Americans would have done the dirty work sort of thing around our own camp. Therefore I will take note of his question because the government would be concerned if that were a reality. We certainly will look into that and we will have the opportunity of chatting together about this for sure.

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7:20 p.m.


Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Chair, something has been very disappointing about the way the government has handled this whole process of taking our troops out of the Kabul area and moving them into Kandahar where it is even more dangerous, as we have seen recently with the car bombings that have killed soldiers in the area, without any explanation to the Canadian public or Parliament as to why that change was made.

Here we are having this debate in the House today and yet the minister has not given the most basic explanation to Parliament and to the Canadian public as to why the government has made this change. I would really appreciate if the minister would take this opportunity to explain finally why the government has taken this decision.

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7:20 p.m.


Pierre Pettigrew Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, my colleague the Minister of National Defence, who has kindly agreed that I open these discussions tonight because I have some other obligations, will deal with this more extensively.

I want to reassure the member that this is the reason why we are having this debate tonight. We will begin discussing this issue. This is a realignment of our presence in Afghanistan following our commitment of a few years ago, and in deep discussions with our international partners in NATO and with the other countries that are involved there.

We discussed who should do what in Afghanistan. We distributed the roles among ourselves. It was thought that Canada could do the best job there. The Minister of National Defence will have the opportunity to explain this more extensively.

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7:20 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to speak on the matter of our commitment to Afghanistan. The Conservative Party believes that political disputes should be resolved by negotiation and compromise, and therefore we oppose any use of terrorism, whether it is national or international. In particular, we believe that international terrorism must be opposed wherever possible because it is in our national interest. It threatens our values and our society.

Conservatives believe that Canada must oppose international terrorism, not only through use of military force but also diplomacy, international assistance and the promotion of democratic values. By combining our efforts with those of other democracies, we can overcome the scourge of international terrorism.

The terrorists who bombed the twin towers in New York were trained in Taliban run camps in Afghanistan. Twenty five of the victims were Canadians and therefore an attack on the towers was an attack on us. Almost immediately after the attack the United States declared that it would move against the terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Canada joined the coalition that entered Afghanistan, overthrew the Taliban government, and moved quickly to eliminate the international terrorist camps.

It was certainly appropriate and justified for Canada to send troops to assist in the overthrow of the Taliban regime. The battalion group we committed operated in the Kandahar area. Its function was to seek out and eliminate terrorists and insurgents who were located in the geographic area. As expected, our soldiers' performance was outstanding and helped to bring a degree of law and order to the Kandahar area. Although there were no direct battle casualties, tragically four soldiers were killed by friendly fire. Once the troops had accomplished their mission, the battalion group was withdrawn to Canada.

This initial commitment to fight the Taliban was made in response to an attack on our citizens, not to assist the failing state. Had we not been attacked, it seems unlikely that we would be in Afghanistan today since none of our national interests were involved until we were provoked. While we were committing a battalion group to the combat role in the Kandahar area, another battalion group was sent into the Kabul area as a peacekeeping force to protect the capital and the provisional government.

When we withdrew the battalion group from the Kandahar area, the government of Afghanistan asked us to remain in the capital to help further stabilize the situation. Canada agreed. This was a sensible decision as no civilized society wants the return of the Taliban government. The risk attached to this important role was clearly demonstrated when two of our soldiers were killed when their unarmed vehicles hit a mine.

Recently, the government announced that our commitment to Afghanistan would change again. The Canadian Forces would abandon Kabul and move into the Kandahar area, the heartland of the Pathan, the major supporters of the Taliban. The new commitment involves three elements: a provincial reconstruction team, a task force headquarters and a battalion group.

The provincial reconstruction team will have the role of supporting the local government and police force to reinforce law and order in the Kandahar area. The task force will command the multinational battle groups located in the south of Afghanistan while the battle group will seek out terrorists or insurgents and eliminate them. Let there be no doubt, this force will be involved in a combat role, not a peacekeeping role.

These changes to the current commitment were announced some months ago without any explanation from the government. Without a satisfactory explanation of why we are deepening our commitment, there is a suspicion that the government is reacting to local events without any real concept of where we are going.

When a government decides to intervene in a failing state there are a number of considerations that must be taken before committing troops. It must be satisfied that the mission supports the goals and objectives of Canada's foreign policy; the mandate is realistic, clear and enforceable; there is a clearly defined concept of operation; it has an effective command and control structure; there are clear rules of engagement; there is sufficient international financial and political support for the mission; it has adequate and properly equipped forces; it can sustain the commitment and engage in other international activities that may arise; there has been an effective consultation between mission partners; there are criteria to measure progress; there is a definition of success; there is an acceptable timeframe for the commitment; and there is a clear exit strategy if the mission is not successful.

I do not have great confidence that the government had satisfactory answers to these considerations before committing our troops to increased involvement in Afghanistan. In particular, I doubt that the government has a clear political and military strategy for Afghanistan or criteria on which to measure progress or a definition of success or an exit strategy. We have had pronouncements from government officials who indicate that our commitment in Afghanistan may be 5 years, 10 years or even as long as 20 years. It is obvious that the government does not have an idea how long the commitment will go on.

What really irritates me about the government's management of the military commitment to Afghanistan is that it has created a crisis situation and it is running out of time. The government has sent troops on a dangerous high risk mission to Kandahar and neglected to properly equip them before they arrived in Afghanistan despite a commitment from the Prime Minister not to send men and women abroad or put them in harm's way without giving them the best of equipment.

Being confronted with the challenge of Kandahar, the defence staff is doing what it can to prepare. Military personnel do not have what they need for the mission and have formulated a long list of equipment they desperately need for the troops to defend themselves, protect innocent Afghanis and defeat the Taliban.

The government knows it has made a hasty decision without thinking through the consequences. The cross-Canada speeches by the minister about Afghanistan and its dangers is like closing the barn door after the cow is gone. It committed troops to confront the Taliban without providing them with the necessary equipment.

To solve the political problem they have created, the Liberals are now planning to bypass the competitive procurement process by sole sourcing the bulk of the equipment for Afghanistan. They have also tried ramming through aircraft projects that could support our expeditionary efforts by creating requirements that can in reality only be met by one solution. In military terms, it is called situating the appreciation, knowing what one wants and writing the documents to arrive at the favoured solution.

By sidestepping the checks and balances of fair and open competition, the Liberals are admitting that they have done relatively little in 12 years to improve the military's defunct procurement system. In rushing through equipment for Afghanistan, the government is cutting corners on safety and security. Some examples are selecting 10-year-old, outdated, level one armour protection for the armoured personnel carriers instead of the much more effective level three protection.

Deciding that delivery on time is two and a half times as important as performance when selecting the winner of the armoured patrol vehicle project. This is bizarre and to add to the problem is the fact that the government did not ask for the latest version of armoured protection on the vehicles.

The government unwisely meandered into this commitment without having a clear idea of what was involved. All this could have been avoided if the Liberals had acted with some forethought. They have made a politically charged decision to commit troops to a high risk venture in Afghanistan without ensuring they are supplied with the proper equipment.

Some of our troops are already in the Kandahar area and the balance will be there by February. We in Parliament must support their efforts in any way we can. Wherever our troops have been sent, they have made us proud and they will do so again. The troops on the ground have a “can do” attitude and they will do whatever it takes to meet their tasks. However, when the government puts our forces in harm's way, it has a responsibility to be absolutely clear about what is to be accomplished, how it is to be accomplished, and when it is to be accomplished. It also has to provide the best equipment and logistic support available.

I have no doubt that our troops will do their part, but whether the government fulfills its part of the bargain, only time will tell.

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7:30 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario


Bill Graham LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his comments which are obviously based upon a distinguished military career and a great deal of knowledge of this subject and I thank him for his observations.

I will have an opportunity to discuss these issues further as the debate goes on, but I want to assure him that his list was comprehensive in terms of exactly where we should be going and I hope that I can assure members of the House that we have taken into consideration the important matters the member raised.

However, it would be helpful if the member could help the House when he says that we have no strategy in terms of time. He will recall that Bosnia was a situation where we had to go in without an exact knowledge of how long it would take. It took about 10 years really before we were able to turn this over to the Europeans.

I am not saying we are going to be in Afghanistan anything like 10 years, but I hope the hon. member would agree with me that we must remain there long enough at least allow President Karzai's government to have control over the situation in that own country. If we do not pacify that region and if we do not deal with that particular region, the chances of stabilization in Afghanistan will never take place. That is obviously the strategic reason that caused us to go there and we will discuss that further in the debate tonight.

The second observation I would like to draw from the member is the fact that when we talk about equipment and what we are doing there, the member will be aware that this is a multilateral mission. We will be with professional troops from Britain, America and other allies, all of whom will bring their own expertise and their own equipment. We will be allying ourselves with other well equipped members of NATO with whom we will share our equipment in a way that will make the force effective.

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7:30 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Chair, I will try to answer the first one about time.

When the government commits the forces to a mission, it has to analyze what has to be done. There has to be a criteria for success. What is the gauge of success? What efforts have to be put in? An estimate has to be made either by our own staff or by our allies or in concert with our allies to estimate how long the mission will take to achieve our goals. There has to be some sense of how long the forces are going to be there. The minister said that it would not be 10 years. Certainly now it will not be 20. Maybe we put it in a bracket. Maybe our commitment is for 10 years or five years, but there is some reasonable estimate that can be made based on the criteria of success.

If the forces cannot achieve these criteria and cannot achieve success, then that is the alternative. At some point we have to pull out. If we feel we are making success, then we have to report that we are making success. We have no idea what the criteria is for success. I believe we can make a time estimate. We can say the forces will be in there for so many years.

With regard to equipment, it is true that we are going to have a variety of allies with different equipment. What is important for us is what our troops are equipped with, within the limits of our financial capability and our technical capability what can we provide our troops in terms of weapons and protection and mobility. For instance, in the commitment we are going into, I am aware that the Americans in the zone will have helicopters and can provide helicopter lift, et cetera, and there is no immediate need for helicopter lift. When our troops go down a road or into a village or up a hill somewhere, they have to have the best protection possible. My contention at the moment , because this decision was made without making sure we had the equipment the troops precisely need for Afghanistan, is this is being rammed through and we are not necessarily making the best choices.

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7:35 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to take this opportunity to put a question to my honourable colleague, who is a former general. The current military command in the Kandahar region will now be replaced by a NATO command. I would like him to share with the House his thoughts regarding the importance of this fact. Does he think that it is advisable to shift from an American command to a NATO command? I would be grateful if he would give us the benefit of his expertise in this field, in that he is a former General in the Canadian Forces.

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7:35 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative 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.

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7:35 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP 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.

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7:35 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative 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.

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7:40 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP 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.

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7:40 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative 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.