House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Etobicoke--Lakeshore.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a government in chaos. No less than three ministers, a secretary of state and the Prime Minister himself have jumped into the confusion, each making up their own stories to hide their incompetence.

The person ultimately responsible for this mess is the Prime Minister. It is his job to ensure that our military has the civilian leadership that it needs.

Why will the Prime Minister not bring some order to this chaos, take the first critical step and fire his incompetent Minister of National Defence?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, the very simple answer is that the Minister of National Defence is undertaking a very important action on behalf of the Canadian military in rebuilding our Canadian military after years of neglect and denigration by the party opposite.

The Minister of National Defence and all ministers of this government are strong defenders of the Canadian military, unlike the party opposite, and we are proud of it.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is not leadership. Rather than seeing the Prime Minister's leadership, we are witness to open battles between departments in the media. The ministers contradict one another on a daily basis.

When will the Prime Minister take charge and bring some order to this chaos that runs the risk of engulfing his own government?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal member speaks of the departments' contradictory statements in the media today. He is contradicting the facts of 2005, when the Liberals were in power.

The allegation in the papers today, as I understand it, is that General Hillier signed an agreement without any political approval. It is my clear understanding that any such agreement would have required the approval of the Liberal cabinet ministers of the day.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning we learned that General Rick Hillier acted on his own when he reached an agreement on the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities. Without consulting the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Hillier entered into an agreement that does not involve NATO and that does not respect the Geneva convention.

How can the Prime Minister maintain an agreement on an issue as serious as the transfer of detainees, when the Minister of Foreign Affairs was not even consulted?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, as I just said in English, I think that such an agreement should have been discussed and approved by the Liberal cabinet ministers of the day. That said, this government brought changes to the agreement last year, and it will continue to make changes, depending on how that agreement is working.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, on November 15, 2005, when he was in the opposition, the Minister of National Defence said, about the mission in Afghanistan:

—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.

However, these prisoners are being transferred to Afghan authorities. We have no guarantee that the Geneva convention is being followed. Can the Prime Minister explain why he and his Minister of National Defence changed their minds once they came to office?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, the decision to, instead, transfer Taliban prisoners to the Americans and the Afghans was made at the end of the previous government's mandate. We have now made arrangements with the Afghan government and with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. We are constantly cooperating with our counterparts in Afghanistan, and these arrangements are working as they should.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has not been consulted about the arrangement negotiated with the Afghan authorities concerning the fate of prisoners. The Prime Minister continues nonetheless to defend such an arrangement, in spite of the known risk of torture faced by prisoners. He is thus accepting that Canada violate the Geneva convention.

How can the Prime Minister approve such an arrangement, which does not provide a right to have full access to detainees, unless he agrees with general Hillier and with going over the head of his own Minister of National Defence?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Helena Guergis ConservativeSecretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are respecting their obligations under international law. As has been pointed out, we do have an arrangement with the government of Afghanistan and the human rights commission. There is an investigation going on and we will assist in that investigation.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I take exception to the answer we have just been given. It is the responsibility of the nations transferring prisoners to take every precaution to ensure that the conventions are respected.

In trying to understand Canada's position, we have the beginning of an explanation when listening to the kind of language used by General Hillier, who talks about the Taliban as scum bags, and hearing the Prime Minister answer back that they are just Taliban.

Does that not show how little regard this government has for Canada's obligations under the Geneva convention?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Helena Guergis ConservativeSecretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, let us be clear here. The NATO commander has confirmed and has said that he sees no evidence to back up any allegations that are being made by the Taliban alleged terrorist detainees.

The hon. member continues to take the word of the Taliban detainees over our brave Canadian men and women and that is truly unfortunate.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, in light of these allegations, the ministers of this government should start working for Canadians and for our troops. They need to show us that they are up to the job and we are not seeing that right now.

We know one thing. An agreement was signed, under the Liberal government, without a clause guaranteeing access to detainees, an essential clause under the Geneva convention. General Hillier signed that document.

When did the Prime Minister know about this agreement? Does General Hillier still have carte blanche for signing such agreements?

AfghanistanOral Questions

May 2nd, 2007 / 2:30 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, as I just said, my understanding is that the Liberal government of the day approved this agreement. In the meantime, we have the cooperation of the Afghan authorities on ensuring access to the prisons and seeing that these arrangements work.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is going to have to do better than that, because the general says, and told Parliament, that he signed these agreements with the full knowledge of the two ministries involved at the time when the Liberals were in power. Now we have reports in the Globe and Mail suggesting that he did it on his own.

The Prime Minister is going to have to confirm that the general signed them on his own or did not, so that we can understand what kind of chain of command we have in this country.

It is important for the Prime Minister to get to the bottom of it. Does the general have carte blanche under his government to sign agreements that could possibly violate conventions, yes or no?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Once again, Mr. Speaker, the leader of the New Democratic Party is asking me about events that occurred under the previous government.

At the same time, let me be very clear. I think I have been already, but let me be very clear that the information I have would indicate that General Hillier is correct and the Globe and Mail is wrong.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, we all know that the success of our mission in Afghanistan relies first and foremost on openness and transparency. However, again yesterday, the Conservative government refused to answer simple and direct questions on the matter of the detainees. Let us try again today.

How many detainees have been transferred? Where are they? Have they been interrogated? By whom? In the presence of whom? Have they been asked directly whether they were tortured?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member said, let us do it again. This is an operational matter. We do not discuss the details of detainees.

However, during the Liberal regime there were detainees, and if the Liberals want to reveal that information, they can.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has a new excuse every day for not answering questions.

Can the minister tell us how general information on detainees would endanger the lives of our troops? Is this not further evidence that the government is trying to hide information? Why not tell Canadians the truth?

Why is the Prime Minister not able to manage this crisis?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, we have military operations going on in Afghanistan. We do not advertise everything we do and every one of our actions in public because there are lives at stake in Afghanistan. That is why we keep operational information quiet.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Geneva convention is clear on the prisoner transfers. It states:

--the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever...Violence to life and person...murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture....

In the Arar case, Justice O'Connor recommended also that:

“Canadian officials should not wait for 'verification' or unequivocal evidence of torture...before arriving at a conclusion of a likelihood of torture.

Why is the government putting Canadians at risk of breaching the Geneva convention?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Helena Guergis ConservativeSecretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, I have with me a quote dated April 10, 2006, by the member for Vancouver South, who said he had read the agreement and reviewed it:

I agree that it is an important agreement and it is one that is quite good in many respects. The involvement of the International Red Cross or the Red Crescent as an independent third party is very important because it can then follow the prisoners and ensure they are treated well and appropriately in accordance with the Geneva conventions. The agreement makes reference to the Geneva conventions and that is important for us to recognize.

That was said by the MP for Vancouver South.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, the only difference is that at least our member knew what the Red Cross did. The minister does not know how the Red Cross worked. It is quite pathetic.

This government is unable to provide the slightest bit of information, such as the number of detainees who have been transferred, their current status or whether there have been any disappearances. This government is showing that it has no interest in its responsibilities under the Geneva convention. It is in complete denial.

How will we win the respect of the Afghans if Canadians cannot get assurances that this Conservative government will respect international law?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Helena Guergis ConservativeSecretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, what is pathetic is the fact that it took the Liberals four years to put a policy in place, and it was only done a month before Canadians fired them. We have quotes and evidence that they support the agreement they put in place, and now they have decided it is not good enough.

It is this Conservative government that is going to enhance this policy.