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House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.

Topics

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is scandalous that the government is attempting to undermine the credibility of diplomat Richard Colvin by maintaining that his remarks are based on “suspicions” and that he did not personally see cases of torture. I would remind the government that he is not a member of the Taliban but a high-ranking diplomat who has said that torture was systemic.

In any case, is the government not aware that the Geneva Convention applies not only when there is torture but also when there is the risk of torture? That is what is currently before us.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I remind the hon. member, and he was in committee yesterday, Mr. Colvin himself admitted he had no first-hand evidence to give. In fact, the observations that he made of one single individual, who he could not say, by the way, was transferred from Canadian Forces, he could not confirm that the marks he observed were actually from any abuse that had been received.

There are incredible holes in the story that have to be examined. I know hon. members would like to turn this into a large brouhaha. The facts have to be examined, they matter, and evidence has to be examined. That is what we are doing.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government's abhorrent behaviour does not end there. It wants to muzzle the former diplomat by preventing him from testifying before the Military Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating torture cases in Afghanistan. The witness faces a dilemma: he can refuse to testify and risk six months' imprisonment for contempt or he can testify and risk five years' imprisonment for contravening the Canada Evidence Act. Only the government can resolve the impasse.

Will it allow Richard Colvin to testify?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I am a little troubled by his question. Mr. Colvin gave evidence. We are not restricting him from doing so. We are not preventing him from doing so.

In fact, with respect to his own evidence, let us be clear. He admitted his evidence was second and third hand. He admitted he did not have any evidence that reflected directly on transferred prisoners. He admitted he had an opportunity to speak to ministers, mainly myself and others who were in his presence, and he chose not to raise them. He admitted even that he did not speak to senior members of the military because he thought they might react badly. That is not the job of a diplomat.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, three years ago when the NDP first raised the issue of the detainee torture in Afghanistan, our defence critic at the time, Dawn Black, was vilified and attacked by the government as a Taliban lover. The defence minister was particularly dismissive and insulting at the time, and we see the same sort of pattern here today. In addition, he would not explain what was really going on.

In light of the disturbing testimony we have heard from Richard Colvin, will the government now agree with us that we need to have a public inquiry into what happened to the detainees, their handling and transfer by Canadian Forces to the Afghan prisons?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, two and a half years ago we did act. Two and a half years ago we began the process of improving the system in Afghanistan, investing in human rights, working closer with agencies on the ground, ensuring that we were going to be able to one day turn Afghanistan over to the people of Afghanistan to do the things that we are doing for them.

To suggest somehow that this is being covered up, we have been responding to questions in the House, in parliamentary committees, in the media, at the Military Police Complaints Commission. We have been nothing but up front and honest in disclosing information about this. We will continue to do so.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, Richard Colvin was second in command in Afghanistan at the time. He is a respected diplomat. He is so respected that he is now the deputy head of intelligence at the Canadian embassy in Washington.

He is credible, unlike the minister.

People are tired of the government being secretive and hiding things.

We want to know who knew what, when they knew it, how they knew it and why they did not do anything.

There are questions, and that is why we need an inquiry.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, two and a half years ago we acted. Two and a half years ago we actioned a file to improve the system based on evidence we were receiving from many different sources. That has been admitted here a number of times.

Mr. Colvin said yesterday that he was asked to stop putting things in writing. This is a ridiculous accusation. Mr. Colvin's accusations are completely unsubstantiated. They were voiced publicly two and a half years ago. We acted on them. Mr. Colvin himself admitted he had multiple opportunities to raise these issues directly. He chose not to.

We acted two and a half years ago and we continue to act. The member opposite can throw as much mud as he likes.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is hardly surprising given that when one asks questions of the minister, what one gets are insults back.

It has been cover-ups and denials since day one. Conservatives have been so consumed with hiding the truth that they would not even take calls from the Red Cross, which was trying to be in touch to warn Canada what was happening to prisoners. They would not even answer the phone.

Mr. Colvin testified that Canada takes more than six times more prisoners than the British, twenty times more than the Dutch. Here is a simple question. How many Afghans have been detained by Canadian Forces and how many were transferred to the Afghan authorities?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, quite frankly what is insulting is the hon. member continuing to take at face value evidence that comes, in most circumstances in this context, from the Taliban itself. It is particularly troubling that the member would continue to cast aspersions that really in a way reflect on the work that is being done by members of the Canadian Forces.

There is not one bit of evidence, not a scintilla, that points to mistreatment of Taliban prisoners by the Canadian Forces. There is no evidence to suggest that there is a direct line to the good work being done by our military in Afghanistan.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the mission in Afghanistan is controlled by a committee of the most senior Conservative cabinet ministers. They are supported by the most senior public servants. They were and they are directly responsible for the handling of all issues, including Afghan detainees and the risk of torture.

Canadians in Afghanistan reported honestly to their superiors in Ottawa. Senior officials here were fully informed. The minister claims that he acted two years ago. If Richard Colvin is not credible, what was the evidence two years ago that he acted on? What problem was he trying to fix if he does not believe Mr. Colvin?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

The short answer, Mr. Speaker, is the inadequate failed transfer agreement that was left in place by the previous government.

The reality is there were all kinds of allegations going on at the time. There were all kinds of bits of information that suggested the Taliban were being transferred into prisons that needed to be improved. That is what we did. We invested in the prisons. We invested in training. We invested in improving its justice system. We upped our game with respect to working with other agencies. Guess what? Things are better in Afghanistan today as a result of those efforts. The hon. member opposite cannot say the same about his government's performance.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative defence is that they were either negligent or lazy. It is simply ludicrous. Officials in Afghanistan told Ottawa the truth. The torture issue was all over our newspapers. It dominated question period. It even caused a cabinet shuffle. The Minister of Public Safety bragged about having his people on the ground, getting details first hand. However, through it all the Conservatives say that Mr. Colvin was treated no more seriously than yesterday's garbage.

If Mr. Colvin is so unbelievable, why was he promoted to be the senior official for security in our embassy in Washington?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, maybe he earned a promotion.

Let us be clear. The reality is two and a half years ago we acted on credible evidence. We acted on concerns that were being expressed from a number of sources. We invested in the system. It was because of the concerns being expressed by Colvin and others that we did so.

However, when it comes to the holus-bolus broad brush strokes that somehow suggest that every transferred prisoner was tortured, even those who we do not know whether they came from Canada, that is not credible. What is less credible is the bleating of the member opposite.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, Richard Colvin's testimony showed without a doubt that the Conservative government knew, in May 2006, that Afghan prisoners were being subjected to torture.

Yesterday, it was clear that all the Conservative members were told to attack Mr. Colvin.

Will the government present to this House the briefing notes it prepared for its members, instructing them to destroy the integrity of a respected Canadian diplomat?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to turn this into a procedural argument. Clearly the reality is there is no credible evidence, none, zero, to suggest that a Taliban prisoner transferred from Canadian Forces was ever abused.

What is shocking is we have members opposite who are lawyers who want to completely ignore due process, want to completely ignore any evidence being held up for scrutiny, want to just accept the word of the Taliban. That is shocking. I do not think any member opposite would believe, credibly, that the Taliban is not beyond telling lies about what happened to them in prison.

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government's wilful blindness is not a valid defence. The Conservative government does not like senior officials to speak inconvenient truths. Linda Keen was fired from her position as head of nuclear safety. Peter Tinsley was fired as president of the Military Police Complaints Commission. Yesterday, Conservative members tried to tarnish the reputation of Richard Colvin and to discredit his testimony.

Can the Conservative government guarantee that Mr. Colvin will not suffer the same fate as Linda Keen?

AfghanistanOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, we encourage people to come forward when they have evidence to give. We encourage them to speak the truth. The reality is those statements have to stand up to scrutiny. Those statements have to be put in the crucible of testing the veracity of what is being said. In this instance, it does not make that test.

Let us take a look at what was said. One of our brigadier generals, Daniel Menard, a commander of Task Force Kandahar, was asked yesterday about the possibility that somehow evidence was being withheld. He said:

This is not the way that we operate and certainly not the way we...working at (Defence headquarters). We just do not do things like that.

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, China and the United States have agreed to really fight climate change by making the Copenhagen summit a success. Now we hear that Russia apparently has set targets similar to Europe's, which call for reducing greenhouse gases by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels. The list of countries that are prepared to show leadership and seriously tackle greenhouse gases is growing. Canada is increasingly isolated.

Will the Minister of the Environment wake up and promise to negotiate in good faith at the Copenhagen summit?

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Jim Prentice ConservativeMinister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, what the hon. member is saying is incorrect. Our plan is simple. It is a national plan with North American harmonization within an international framework.

For example, we have a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020. We have invested in clean energy. We have also invested in green technologies, such as carbon storage. The Bloc should support our efforts, because we have also proposed an integrated North American emissions trading system.

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that Canada's lack of leadership is condemned not only on the international stage, but also here at home, where nearly 200 businesses in Quebec are calling for an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen and the introduction of a federal cap and trade system for emissions.

Why are the Conservatives from Quebec kowtowing to the oil companies in Alberta and doing nothing to support the consensus in Quebec to fight climate change?

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Jim Prentice ConservativeMinister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, our plan is clear. We are going to have Canadian domestic policies harmonized on a continental basis, integrated within an international framework, which we are currently at the table negotiating at Copenhagen.

I will tell the House one thing this government will never do. We will never do what the former Liberal government did, supported by the Bloc, which was to fly over to an international conference, pull out of the air a target on the way, agree to an emission target that was ill-suited to our geography, to our climate or to the nature of our industrial bases. That will never happen under this government.

Political Party FinancingOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, two members of the board of directors of Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated participated in a Conservative Party fundraiser organized by Senator Housakos, thereby violating the company's code of ethics and that of its parent company, which forbid directors from attending partisan events. One of the people involved, Serge Martel, acknowledged that he had violated the code of ethics. Yet the Minister of Public Works and Government Services is the only one still denying that there is a problem.

How can the minister continue to condone this violation of the code of ethics? Does this mean that there is one rule that applies to Senator Housakos' friends and another rule for everyone else?

Political Party FinancingOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is this government that brought in the Federal Accountability Act, which brought more transparency, more accountability to government, to our agencies, to our boards and commissions. It is this government that raised the bar with respect to ethics in government.

Senator Housakos has sent this matter to the Senate ethics officer, and we certainly see that as a proactive measure on his part. We await the ethics officer's finding in this regard.

Political Party FinancingOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, by refusing to condemn this violation of the JCCBI code of conduct, the government is sending a terrible message to the entire public administration. The government is saying that it will exonerate people in advance and that as long as the Conservative Party benefits somehow, they can rest easy.

By condoning patronage and violations of codes of ethics, is the government not complicit in these reprehensible actions?