House of Commons Hansard #65 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was policy.


Canadian Content in Public Transportation ProjectsPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

(Amendment agreed to)

Pursuant to Standing Order 37, the House will now proceed to the consideration of Motion No. 310 under private members' business.

The House resumed from March 5 consideration of the motion.

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today in this House. I believe that the only logical course of action for members of this Parliament is to support the motion.

The Bloc Québécois has always defended and recognized the enormous sacrifice made by Canadian and Quebec personnel serving in peacekeeping and peacemaking missions abroad.

Peacekeeping and peacemaking missions are very important to Quebeckers and Canadians. Therefore, it is not unusual for parliamentarians to wish to commemorate the tragic death of a Canadian or Quebecker fulfilling this role.

These missions are very important to the Bloc Québécois. We must make every effort to ensure that war and violence do not break out between two or more factions. In such a situation, it is often necessary to intervene in order to prevent acts of violence between the groups and civilians.

Quebeckers and Canadians have always held their fellow citizens who are involved in these missions abroad in high esteem. The blue berets and blue helmets of peacekeepers have symbolized international missions and interventions to generations of Canadians and Quebeckers.

When Canadian government personnel are killed while serving in overseas peacekeeping or peacemaking missions, they should receive all the honours due to them. It is only fair that the flag on the Peace Tower of Ottawa's Parliament be half-masted and that we observe a minute of silence in the House.

I would like to reiterate that, when faced with the unfortunate situation where a Canadian citizen is killed in one of these missions, that individual should receive full honours. The Bloc Québécois supports motion M-310 to show our respect for members of the Canadian Forces and other government personnel killed overseas while serving in a peacekeeping or peacemaking mission.

When Corporal Richard Renaud, a son of Alma in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, was killed by a bomb in Afghanistan on January 15, 2008, the town of Alma lowered all Canadian and Quebec flags to half-mast on the weekend of his funeral, not only to pay tribute to Corporal Renaud, but especially so that his family could grieve their loss, knowing that he did not die in vain. In this way, the Renaud family knew that the husband, son, brother, sister and friend that they had lost was being remembered by the public and its representatives. The Renaud family gave one of their own to the international community in the name of democracy, freedom and peace.

I would like to add that I attended Richard Renaud's funeral service. I think that all the military protocol and expressions of sympathy from friends, loved ones and representatives of the public during the event brought some sort of comfort to the grieving family.

We have a procedure here in the House of Commons that allows us to observe a minute of silence in honour of national tragedies, but each situation is looked at on a case-by-case basis.

We must not forget that these people serving overseas are doing so in service to their nation, whether that is Quebec or Canada. They are asked—and they have no choice—to go to dangerous theatres of operations. If they lose their lives there, it is important to honour them, not only for the soldiers themselves, but especially for their families and loved ones.

Let us think back to the world wars: the first world war from 1914-18 and the second world war from 1939-45. We were not always able to commemorate those who died in those conflicts.

Many families have lost loved ones and do not even know what happened to them. For those surviving family members, mourning and suffering are more painful. Conducting ceremonies, lowering the flag to half-staff, observing a moment of silence in the House, if it is sitting, and allowing the family members to attend gives them some comfort.

The Bloc Québécois is not trying to debate the type of mission covered by this motion. But it will come as a surprise to no one that, for the Bloc Québécois, peace missions are much more acceptable than combat missions such as the current mission in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, many people say that peace missions are on the decline. If this is true, then we must refuse to accept this situation.

Canada's foreign policy was built, 50 years ago, on peace missions. Peacekeeping and peacemaking missions began in 1956, to secure peace after a conflict between two parties or to make sure a conflict did not escalate into war. A peacekeeping mission is a mission undertaken by the UN that involves military or police action. These missions are carried out in an area in crisis, to prevent hostilities between two parties. Peacekeepers are not authorized to take offensive action and can only fire their weapons in self-defence.

We in the Bloc Québécois understand very well that, regardless of the missions in which our soldiers are involved, they have no choice but to go. They are serving their country, their nation and their people. We may be heard criticizing certain missions, but we never criticize the soldiers who carry them out. We respect and admire the men and women who serve abroad. It is the civilian authorities, such as Parliament, who decide what our soldiers will do. As part of these civilian authorities, we have our say about the kind of missions we want and how they should be carried out.

In closing, I want to reiterate that with motion M-310, we support this mission. Quebeckers and Canadians are committed to peacekeeping and peacemaking missions. They believe that this is how Canada should be represented internationally rather than participating in combat missions.

I would like to summarize the main points of my speech. First, no mission is more important than peacekeeping and peacemaking. Further, if a Canadian soldier dies overseas while engaged in a peacekeeping or peacemaking mission, that soldier should receive due honour for the enormous sacrifice made in the name of peace. Lowering the flag to half-staff and observing a moment of silence is the least we can do.

We cannot say it enough: peacekeeping and peacemaking missions are very important to Quebeckers and Canadians. Therefore, it makes sense for us to mark the tragic death of a Canadian—or a Quebecker, of course—during such missions. Canada should commit to this gesture of respect because it meets the expectations and wishes of Quebeckers and Canadians.

The Bloc Québécois therefore supports motion M-310 as put to the House by our Liberal colleague.

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to stand in this House to support this motion put forward by the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, which I had the pleasure of seconding.

The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, in order to show respect and to honour Canadian Forces and other Canadian government personnel who were killed while serving in overseas peacekeeping, peacemaking or humanitarian missions, the government should lower the flag on the Peace Tower to half-staff for the day following their demise as a remembrance of their important service to Canada and Canadians and that a moment of silence to be observed in the House, if the House is sitting on that same day.

Most of us come from different parts of the world and we make Canada our home. Many new immigrants have a great interest in this country and many of us serve our adopted country in many different ways.

Throughout the years, we have seen many young individuals rise to the call of duty and serve our great country. These are people who serve our country and sometimes surprise the rest of us. As recently as a week ago, a constituent emailed me some pictures of Sikhs and their proud participation in our armed forces, and their proud participation in World War II.

I had the opportunity not long ago to travel to Europe and visit the Commonwealth cemeteries, and witness firsthand the different names of the ethnic representations of our young men and women who had given their lives in the service of our country.

Canadians have participated in many wars since our country was founded in 1867 in support of democracy, rights and freedoms. Canada was among the first nations to provide peacekeepers in order to provide safety and keep the warring sides apart.

I have personally witnessed the great work which our peacekeepers did on the Island of Cyprus and other parts of the world. For close to 40 years, Canadian peacekeepers stood between the two sides in Cyprus walking the green line and keeping the two sides apart.

Although the flag has not flown at half-mast in the past when one of our soldiers or diplomats has given his or her life for our country, it is time that we change this.

Lowering the flag to half-mast will be the ultimate sign of respect. Canadians support our troops with lapel pins, bumper stickers and wearing red every Friday. We line the bridges on the Highway of Heroes in silent tribute when the remains of our soldiers are returned home.

The least we can do for our fallen soldiers is lower the flag to half-staff on the top of the Peace Tower. We can, and should, start a new tradition.

Canadians are looking to this government to support their efforts, and to show respect and sympathy for the fallen soldiers and their grieving families. After all, it is all of us who have sent the young men and women to serve our country.

We lower the flag for Privy Councillors when they pass away. Being a Privy Councillor myself, when I pass away, the flag will be lowered to half-staff on the Peace Tower.

However, that was not the case for a member of my extended family, Sergeant Christos Karigiannis, who was killed in action in Afghanistan last summer in June.

Sergeant Christos Karigiannis was called upon to serve our country in Afghanistan. He did not question our decision to be in Afghanistan. He did not question the merit of the decision taken by this House of Commons in sending him to Afghanistan.

Christos Karigiannis did not question, argue, or hesitate to fulfill his call of duty. He gallantly laid his life in order for us to be safe and enjoy our freedom and democracy. He gave his life fighting for democracy half a world away.

The least that we could do for our soldiers, the men and women we ordered to protect our way of life, is to honour them. Our fallen soldiers have paid the ultimate price for their service to our country.

I urge all members of this House to show the ultimate respect to our fallen soldiers and diplomats, and agree for the flag to be lowered to half-staff on top of the Peace Tower when we lose an individual in the call of duty.

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Motion No. 310 tonight.

I want to being by saying that my remarks will lead to my calling on the mover of the motion to send this to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in order to undertake a full study of the half-masting rules.

The committee could study the issues raised by this motion in the context of a full policy. It is better to complete a full study and then decide on what changes, if any, should be made.

Since 1966, the Government of Canada has had a policy governing the half-masting of flags. Revised in 2003, the Department of Canadian Heritage administers the half-masting policy for the Government of Canada. The policy outlines the circumstances under which the national flag of Canada is to be flown at half-mast.

The policy includes guidelines for half-masting that are mandatory in section I, discretionary in section II, and discretionary with the authority of the Prime Minister in section III.

Because the government speaks for Canada and Canadians, half-masting is inherently a government responsibility. All flags at federal buildings and establishments, including Parliament, fall within this responsibility.

Under section I, mandatory half-masting, six special days are observed to remember the contributions and sacrifices of brave Canadians. Among the other special days, section I, part II, called “Special Days” under the current policy, states:

The Flag will be Half-masted on all federal buildings and establishments in Canada, including the Peace Tower, from sunrise to sunset on the following days:

c) November 11, Remembrance Day, unless Half-masting occurs at the National War Memorial or a place where remembrance is being observed, then Half-masting can occur at 11:00 or according to the prescribed order of service, until sunset;--

In addition, the Flag will be Half-masted on the Peace Tower:

f) from sunrise to sunset on April 9, Vimy Ridge Day;--

Both Vimy Ridge Day and Remembrance Day allow us to remember the sacrifices of those who have served their country. The half-masting of the flag on these occasions is an age old signal of a country in mourning.

More than 1,500,000 Canadians have served their country since the first world war and continue to do so today. While considering the importance of the sacrifice of our Canadian Forces members around the world, what must not be forgotten is the importance and meaning of November 11, Remembrance Day.

For many of us, war is a phenomenon that is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend. It is a phenomenon that may both tear a country apart and bring it together.

In fact, it was war, more specifically the battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, that was a marking moment in the birth of our collective nationhood. The battle marked the first time that Canadian troops from all existing provinces worked together toward a common goal.

In the spring of 1917, the Canadian Corps were tasked with the decisive recapture of Vimy Ridge. For the first time in the Great War, all four Canadian divisions were to fight together on the same battlefield. After extensive planning and training, 30,000 Canadians, drawn from all nine provinces, attacked at dawn on the morning of Easter Monday, April 9, with rain, snow and sleet falling all around them.

With the benefit of a heavy artillery barrage, they took the ridge by afternoon. With tenacity and unflinching bravery, the Canadians fought on and three days later the entire ridge was under Allied control.

It was the most successful Allied advance on the Western Front to that date, but it had a terrible cost: 10,602 Canadians were wounded and 3,598 were killed.

This “turning point battle” resulted in four Victoria crosses being awarded and the cornerstone laid for Canada's image as a proud and confident nation, as well as its place in the world.

On July 3, 1921, during a speech given at Vimy Ridge, Prime Minister Arthur Meighen reflected on Canada's contribution to the Great War and said:

At this time, the proper occupation of the living is first to honour our heroic dead; next to repair the havoc, human and material, that surrounds us; and, lastly, to learn aright and apply with courage the lessons of the war.

That is exactly what we do on Remembrance Day. We remember those who sacrificed their lives during the first world war, the second world war and the Korean War and those who have served and died since, in Cyprus, Bosnia and Afghanistan, to name a few.

Until November 2005, the half-masting policy did not specify when to lower the flag to commemorate the death of military personnel. In the past, this has resulted in half-mastings that were based on the Prime Minister's discretionary powers, as laid out in section III of the current policy.

The Department of National Defence developed initial guidelines for half-masting in the event of military deaths. These National Defence internal guidelines function within the Government of Canada's broader policy on half-masting.

Section II, part 14, “Employees of the Federal Government”, states:

When an employee of a federal department, agency or Crown corporation dies in the line of duty or by reason of the position he or she occupies within that federal department, agency or Crown corporation, the Minister responsible for that organization may decide to Half-mast the Flag. Half-masting in such circumstances can only be carried out on those buildings and establishments affiliated to the organization. The Minister may decide on the geographical extent of the Half-masting and its duration.

The Department of National Defence's internal protocol on half-masting states:

In the event of the death of a member of the Canadian Forces who is deployed on operations to a special duty area, unless special instructions are received, flags will be half-masted as follows:

a. All flags within the task force to which a member is assigned at the time of death will be half-masted from the day of death until sunset the day of the funeral;

b. All flags at the home base/station of the member will be half-masted from the day of death until sunset the day of the funeral;

c. All flags within the environment (sea, land or air) to which the member was assigned will be half-masted from sunrise to sunset on the day of the funeral, and;

d. All flags at National Defence Headquarters and at the headquarters of the operational command to which a member is assigned at the time of death will be half-masted from the day of death until sunset the day of the funeral.

In accordance with the National Defence Protocol, the federal government will half-mast flags on appropriate buildings from time of death until sunset on the day of the funerals for all members of the forces killed on duty.

The members of our armed forces are not the only Canadians who put themselves in harm's way for the good of this country. The current policy allows the Government of Canada to recognize the ultimate sacrifice made by all public servants.

Motion No. 310, however, is extremely narrow in its focus and calls for the flag on the Peace Tower to be lowered only for:

...Canadian Forces and other Canadian government personnel who are killed while serving in overseas peacekeeping, peacemaking or humanitarian missions,....”

Being so narrow, the motion fails to recognize Canadian Forces and other Canadian government personnel who make the ultimate sacrifice serving here in Canada. I think of disasters like the flooding in Quebec, the ice storms of 1998 and the Red River flood in 1997. If a soldier were to be killed while serving his or her country at home during disasters like these, their sacrifices would not receive equal recognition under this motion.

The Government of Canada values the dedication and pride of our service people at home and abroad.

The death of any Canadian in the line of duty is truly a tragedy. The rules of half-masting the national flag of Canada allow the government and, indeed, all Canadians to mourn such a loss collectively.

I want to call again on the Standing Committee for Canadian Heritage to undertake a full study of the half-masting rules. In committee, we could study the issues raised by this motion, and other ideas brought by member, in the context of a fuller policy review. It is better to complete a full study and then decide on what changes, if any, should be made.

We have a fantastic opportunity for an in-depth study on this very important policy at committee. I hope the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo and all hon. members of this House will consider this option.

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rush in and discuss my Liberal Party colleague's motion regarding what I believe is a very serious indication to those who serve our country.

It is quite clear that the hon. member is trying to recognize, in a very solemn gesture, those who serve our country and pay the ultimate sacrifice.

When this debate arose in the previous government, we had discussions about whether or not the Peace Tower flag should be lowered at the death of every individual who passes away in the service of his or her country. I am proud to say that the previous prime minister agreed that was what should be done.

Our Chronicle Herald newspaper, one of North America's largest independent papers, on the death of any soldier overseas, automatically on the front page of its paper has a picture or caption of the Peace Tower with the flag at half-mast until that individual has been properly interned in a respectful manner.

Our Chronicle Herald newspaper has done a great job in recognizing and basically telling people, in a very dignified way, that Canada has lost yet another one of its great heroes. The hon. member is not asking for anything that is going to cost a lot of money.

I know there are discussions about the fact that it will diminish the half-mast observance on Remembrance Day or any other special days, but I would remind the House that if I were to suddenly have a massive heart attack and die right now, there is an extremely good chance that the flag would be lowered tomorrow in my remembrance.

I believe that if it is to be lowered for a member of Parliament, for past members of Parliament and/or Senators, then it should be lowered in the recognition of one of our heroes who pays the ultimate sacrifice. It is the minimum that we can do and I am proud to see that we in the NDP support the initiative fully. We have great respect for the hon. member who brought this issue forward because we know his intentions.

He, like myself, were not born in Canada. We were born in other countries but have the great honour and privilege of calling Canada our home. He comes from a country, as do I, that have ravaged pasts and terrible histories of fighting and war. It was the Canadians, along with our allies, who sacrificed so much so that the hon. member, myself, many others in the House and all Canadians could call this great country home. In fact, many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice, Mr. Speaker, so that you and I can have a good night's sleep.

The reality is that it is time for us to look after them as well. For those who do pay the ultimate sacrifice, we believe that the minimum we could do is show the ultimate respect by showing what is considered the greatest flag in the world, in my own personal view, and thus the greatest flag that we have in Canada, which is on our Peace Tower, be lowered in a very dignified way at half-mast to show the world and to show all of Canada that again one of our greatest heroes has paid the ultimate sacrifice.

It has been a great pleasure to tell the hon. member that we in our party will be supporting this initiative. I understand the debate on both sides of the issue but I do not believe that it diminishes any other aspect of half-masting flags at any other time. It is just a symbolic gesture of respect for those who pay the ultimate sacrifice. It is also a dignified way to show the families that the entire country mourns with them at their time of loss.

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Peace Tower was constructed as a living national monument to peace. Its initial purpose was to commemorate the cessation of hostilities at the end of the first world war, which it did by seeking to perpetually remember the ultimate sacrifices made by thousands of brave young Canadians from across the nation.

More recently the Peace Tower has come to be seen by most Canadians as a place where we as a nation can wear our emotions on our sleeves. That is to say, when tragedy strikes Canadians expect to see the flag lowered to half-mast as an outward expression of national grief.

As a matter of fact, the rules posted on the website of the Department of Canadian Heritage clearly state:

The half-masting of national flags is a well-established procedure whereby countries bestow an honour and express a collective sense of sorrow. Given that such flags are recognized as paramount symbols of their nations, the act of half-masting is a dramatic visual statement that speaks to the sense of loss that is shared by all their citizens.

To paraphrase what that says, when our nation wants to show that it has suffered a collective loss, a loss worthy of our recognition and respect, we lower our national flag as a symbol of our grief.

I regret that the government no longer shares my thoughts on this matter. I say “no longer” because when Canadian soldier Lieutenant Chris Saunders was lost as a result of a tragic accident aboard HMCS Chicoutimi, the Conservative MP who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works demanded that the Peace Tower flag be lowered without delay. As I recall, every member of the House supported that contention and the Peace Tower flag was lowered.

It is important to mention that under the previous Liberal government, the Peace Tower flag was lowered when Canada suffered the loss of a soldier.

By contrast, since forming government the Conservative Party has remained steadfast in its new-found opposition to the idea that the flag should be lowered upon the death of a Canadian soldier. After rolling back the previous Liberal government's policy of respect, the Conservative government set out its own rules.

This essentially summarizes the way I feel on this matter, and I believe that it summarizes how my constituents feel. The lowering of the flag atop the Peace Tower essentially costs nothing, but the gesture would clearly show that every Canadian from every corner of this nation is truly saddened each time a member of the Canadian Forces is lost in combat. Lowering the flag would show the family members of the specific fallen hero that we stand with them, just as their loved one stood with us as a country.

For me, this is not a partisan political matter. I for one would be more than pleased to stand up and applaud the Prime Minister if he would just do the right thing and lower the Peace Tower flag each time this country pays the ultimate price for our military interventions.

In closing, let me say to all my colleagues in the House that while we might differ in our opinions as to whether or not we support a particular mission, we stand united in support of our men and women in uniform along with others who, in carrying out their duties, make the supreme sacrifice on behalf of Canada and the cause of peace.

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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7:30 p.m.

Some hon. members



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7:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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7:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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7:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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7:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, April 2, 2008, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that if you would seek it you would find unanimous consent to see the clock as 7:58 p.m. so we can proceed with the adjournment proceedings.

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is that agreed?

Half-masting of Peace Tower FlagPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:30 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the issue at hand with regard to detainees, I raised this issue at the end of January with the government with regard to the detainee policy. As we know, there was a great deal of secrecy surrounding this issue as to whether the policy put in place by the government was continuing or not.

Very clearly, we need to have transparency and accountability when it comes to detainees. Why? Because we are in Afghanistan promoting certain values. One of those values clearly is the rule of law. It deals with the issue of prisoners and clearly there needs to be a consistent approach in dealing with this issue. In fact, in the resolution that the House will vote on tomorrow night, we proposed, of course, that we have a NATO-wide approach in dealing with these issues.

My concern at the time, and I raised this in November and again in January, was that we did not know what the policy was. We heard about cases of torture. When someone was captured, we wanted to know what kind of treatment was being carried out. Of course we know what the state of Afghan prisons is, and we are there to improve not only the justice system but also the prison system. In some of them, there are appalling conditions that clearly we would not want anyone to be detained in.

The management of this issue has been fumbled by the government in the past and we wanted to make sure that there was a NATO-wide solution to the issue of detainees. On consistent monitoring, we heard from the government at the time about the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, but it did not have the authority to do the kind of work that needed to be done to track these detainees to ensure that there was no torture taking place. Then the government suspended for a while and it did not of course inform the House that this in fact had taken place.

In the resolution we will vote on tomorrow night, which the government has embraced, we will in fact look at the issue of pursuing a NATO-wide approach to this to make sure that what we are doing is bringing values consistent with human life, and that we are dealing with values in terms of the dignity of individuals regardless of whether they are the enemy.

Therefore, we ought to commit to a greater transparency, to respect for a policy on the taking and transferring of prisoners, and the government has made some movement in that regard. Obviously the support of this resolution, which contains these provisions, is very important. I certainly welcome that now, but when I raised these issues they were not being effectively dealt with at the time.

The government also does not want to indicate when anyone has been captured. The Americans announce when they have captured people. The British announce when they have captured individuals. We still have not done that. When members of the government come before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, of which I am the vice-chair, we do not get the kind of satisfactory answer that we want.

However, I will say for the parliamentary secretary that we are hopeful now, with the embracing of this resolution, that we will see improvement with regard to this issue. Ultimately we are trying to bring the rule of law to Afghanistan. We are trying to improve the conditions for people, whether they be prisoners in the field or wherever they are in terms of the conditions of Afghan prisons.

I know that Correctional Service Canada has been involved to some degree. It is important to have that. We want to be better than the people we are capturing. We are better than these individuals. Therefore, in order to do that, it is important that this be raised in the House.

7:35 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, Canada is in Afghanistan as part of a UN-mandated mission, at the request of the democratically elected Afghan government and in company with our NATO and other allies.

We are playing a leadership role in Afghanistan and Canadian engagement is wide-ranging because we know that development and security go hand in hand. Without security, there can be no humanitarian assistance, no reconstruction and no democratic development.

We have deployed diplomats, development workers, troops and civilian police to help the Afghan government secure a better future for its people. We are training Afghan soldiers and police. We are mentoring public officials and helping the Afghans implement key national strategies. Canada is contributing to efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan, including the appropriate treatment of prisoners, through support for comprehensive justice and security sector reform.

I can assure my colleague that Canadian officials are also in regular dialogue with Afghan officials at the most senior level in regard to this matter. That being said, the decision to transfer prisoners remains an operational matter and is the responsibility of the Canadian Forces, taking into account Canada's obligation under international law.

In assessing whether these obligations can be met, the Canadian Forces taken into information from a variety of sources, including other government departments. It is important to highlight that the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are fully trained and have clear and detailed instructions on all matters relating to prisoners, including the factors for determining their release or transfer.

As we all know, the military does not release information on how the Canadian Forces process prisoners. Such information could be used against the Canadian Forces by an enemy able to adapt its practices and instruct its fighters on how to better execute operations against Canadian soldiers, Afghan security forces and our allies.

The Government of Canada has an arrangement in place with the government of Afghanistan regarding the transfer of prisoners. This arrangement allows full access to Canadian officials to monitor the condition of prisoners turned over by the Canadian Forces.

As a result, we discovered one credible allegation last fall. The Canadian Forces responded quickly and in a manner consistent with Canada's obligations under international law upon learning of that credible allegation.

Since that time, actions taken by the government of Afghanistan and Canadian officials in Kandahar to address the commander's concerns have been carefully considered and the Canadian Forces are satisfied that based on the facts, transfers can resume. The decision to resume transfers reflects the commander's restored confidence that transfers can be made in accordance with our obligations under international law.

The Canadian Forces exercise discretion every time it transfers a prisoner. Clearly the transfer will not be authorized if the commander assesses that there are substantial grounds to believe there is a real risk that a prisoner would be tortured or mistreated if transferred. The transfer of prisoners remains an operational issue. Any future announcements will be made at the discretion of the Canadian Forces, in light of operational security considerations at the time.

As the government has signalled in the motion currently before the House, we are committed to greater openness. That being said, the Canadian Forces must always balance its commitment to transparency against the need to safeguard operational information and the security personnel.

Canada takes its legal obligations very seriously and I can assure members that the Canadian Forces treat all prisoners humanely. As a matter of policy, prisoners are treated in accordance with the standards of protection afforded to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. Canada has been and continues to be in regular dialogue with our NATO and ISAF allies on all aspects of ISAF's mission, including the treatment of prisoners transferred by allied forces.

Canadian officials have consistently underscored the need for Afghan authorities to treat prisoners humanely and in accordance with Afghan's international obligations. We will continue to work closely with the government of Afghanistan and the Human Rights Commission to ensure that treatment is proper.

7:40 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have no question, nor do my colleagues, with regard to the professionalism of our forces on the ground in Afghanistan. The panel on Canada's future role in Afghanistan indicated, in what is dubbed the Manley report, the need for more openness and transparency, and the government has agreed to that provision, as the parliamentary secretary has indicated.

It is in the motion that we had provided to the government, and we are pleased to see that. However, again, it is imperative we know that when these transfers are done, people are treated in terms of the rule of law.

The parliamentary secretary talks about operational matters. I think that is a bit of cover, given that the United States and others indicate when they have captured prisoners on the field. Nevertheless, we will hold the government to account with regard to the issue of transparency and accountability.

I will take the parliamentary secretary at this word. However, once the motion is dealt with tomorrow night, if it passes in the House, this is one of the provisions that we believe is extremely important. I think all Canadians want to be assured that when these things are done, that we not only provide and bring to Afghanistan a level of security, but also the rule of law for the Afghan people, that we work effectively with Afghanistan in this matter and also in the area of—

7:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

7:40 p.m.


Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I can assure my colleague that this is the case. In fact, if we want to talk about openness and transparency, there have been 15 technical briefings on the mission in Afghanistan on this and other issues, 14 of them by this government.

The Ministers of National Defence, the current and the previous, have made 17 appearances before committees on this issue. If one wants to check the record in Hansard from the last two nights, one will see how much participation there was in the debate on Afghanistan, which the opposition parties called for, and one will see who actually participated in those debates and who did not.

With respect to this specific issue, we have spend $1.5 million since November in infrastructure improvements to the prison system in Afghanistan. We have trained guards. We have trained police forces. We have made more visits to the facilities.

My colleague talked about our trust in the Canadian Forces. We trust them implicitly. They are the ones on the ground. They know the situation. They are the ones who should be empowered to make the decisions. We trust them to make the right decision because they are, as he said, extremely professional, well trained and more qualified to make those decisions.

The other armed forces the member talked about release partial information some of the time. Their circumstances are completely different from ours. Their policy is not the same as ours, for very good reasons. We have a different circumstance. We choose to release information based on the wisdom of the Canadian Forces, and I trust the Canadian Forces.

7:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:45 p.m.)