That, in the opinion of the House, the government should, in accordance with Part I of the Inquiries Act, call a Public Inquiry into the transfer of detainees in Canadian custody to Afghan authorities from 2001 to 2009.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from St. John's East for seconding this motion.
On April 5, 2006, the following question was posed in this House to the then defence minister. It was posed by my colleague, Dawn Black, who was our defence critic at the time, and I will read it into the record. She said:
Mr. Speaker, on December 18, the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff signed an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan concerning the transfer of prisoners. My question is for the Minister of National Defence.
Was the previous Liberal government aware of this memorandum of understanding before it was signed? Why does a very similar agreement signed with the Netherlands allow its government to ensure full compliance with all international conventions while ours does not?
The reply by the then defence minister was:
Mr. Speaker, to my knowledge the previous government knew about the arrangement because it was done under its watch.
With respect to the second question, this is a more mature arrangement than the Netherlands has. Nothing in the agreement prevents the Canadian government from inquiring about prisoners. We are quite satisfied with the agreement. It protects prisoners under the Geneva agreement and all other war agreements.
The supplementary question by my colleague, Ms. Black, was:
Mr. Speaker, the agreement does nothing to stop prisoners from being transferred to a third party. Once Canadians hand a prisoner over to the Afghan government we wash our hands of the entire matter. This is simply not good enough.
Will the minister ensure that Canadian government officials have the same rights as Dutch officials when it comes to tracking, interviewing and ensuring that no human rights violations or torture will take place?
When will the minister redraft the agreement to better reflect our values as Canadians?
The then defence minister answered:
Mr. Speaker, we have no intention of redrafting the agreement. The Red Cross and the Red Crescent are charged with ensuring that prisoners are not abused. There is nothing in the agreement that prevents Canada from determining the fate of prisoners so there is no need to make any change in the agreement.
I begin with that because this is the beginning of what I think should be a study by an independent inquiry.
When we first took our place in this House in 2006, there was a transition in the military operations in Afghanistan. We were moving from Kabul to Kandahar, but we were also charged with different responsibilities. We had to take issue with the fact that we were handing over detainees and that there was much more activity in the field. That has been laid out, but we also had to take responsibilities that we all have as decision makers with regard to international law.
Obviously, we know what happened after what I just read into the record. There was an admission by the government that the transfer agreement was not as substantive as what it is claiming. The fact is that our agreement was not as robust as the Dutch agreement and we were not aware of what was happening to detainees once they were handed over.
In fact, at committee, we have heard from generals, both serving and past. We have heard from diplomats, serving and past. We have heard from those who were in the field, particularly Mr. Colvin. While there might be disputes with some of their testimony, there is one thing that is seamless and where there is a consensus, and that is that we knew of the allegations and reports of international groups who monitor human rights, such as the Red Cross and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, that there was abuse in Afghan jails. This is something everyone can agree on.
What we have had in front of committee is the statement of fact by Mr. Colvin that he was trying to bring forward to the chain of command, both military and through DFAIT, that there were problems and that we needed to rectify those problems. For over 15 months, his calls went unheeded.
In fact, there was still, by the government of the day, no formal acknowledge that there was a problem with the agreement. It was not until there was actual reporting from the field by a reporter, Graeme Smith. It was admitted at committee, after questions posed to the generals, that in fact when they had heard of the abuse as was noted in Mr. Smith's reports, there was a halting of that.
It is interesting to note that at the time when Mr. Colvin was writing his reports of concerns regarding detainee transfers, there were also, for the record, responses as of June 2006 from officials that there were no concerns.
Part of that is what is needed to be put on the record because our motion today calls for an independent lens, a judicial inquiry, to have documents put in front of someone who can sort out the contradictions, the contradictions that Mr. Colvin was stating in more than one report to over 70 people, that he had concerns about the handover of detainees from Canadians to Afghan prisons, to Afghan officials, and the generals' testimony that once they were handed over they were not the military's responsibility.
I will read from the Globe and Mail report written by Mr. Smith and referenced earlier. It was the cause for our halting of the transfer of detainees according to testimony at committee. It stated:
“Do you have facts?” he asked, in a June 2, 2006, interview with The Globe and Mail. The Canadian commander added that his soldiers had established close relationships with Afghan security services and only gave detainees to local officials who could be trusted to treat them properly. “We respect the rights of individuals,” Brig.-Gen. Fraser said. “We will make sure that those rights are maintained and nothing bad happens to those people”. Canada's appointed watchdog has always expressed less confidence in Afghan system. “The NDS is torturing detainees,” said Abdul Qadar Noorzai, the regional head of the AIHRC. “I've heard stories of blood on the walls. It's a terrifying place: dark, dirty, and bloody. When you hear about this place, no man feels comfortable with himself”.
We have in front of us a dilemma. On the one hand we have assurances from officials that are saying that they were not aware that there were concerns within the Afghan jails in particular to those detainees who were transferred by Canadians but we had concerns generally.
On the other hand we have Mr. Colvin, who was very clear in his testimony that he had tried to get the attention of his superiors. He was unequivocal in his statement at committee when he said that he had tried to get the attention of Canadian officials. He had underlined the insufficiency within our agreement. He had cited the Dutch agreement, as was mentioned by my colleague, Ms. Black, as being a preferred option. He had said that when we were handing over detainees, we had no way to monitor. We had no records.
The government's line to date has been the following. We cannot prove with absolute clarity that there was any torture of Afghan detainees that were handed over by the Canadian military to Afghan jails. Mr. Colvin's evidence is saying very clearly that there was no way to monitor and in fact the government was not following up on allegations, and it was not investigating until a new transfer agreement was signed off.
These are huge gaping holes. What we have in essence is a black hole for more than 15 months where we were handing over detainees. There was no follow-up in terms of monitoring. There was no follow-up in terms of allegations. Thus, there was no way to provide evidence. Therefore, the government's claims have absolutely no credibility. If we are not able to investigate, if we are not able to monitor, then we will not be able to find.
Mr. Colvin is not in my opinion a whistleblower. The government has conveniently tagged him with that moniker.
The reason Mr. Colvin appeared at committee and was able to give evidence was because he was asked to appear before the committee. Prior to that, he was to provide testimony to the Military Police Complaints Commission. We know the story there.
He was not able to give evidence. The commission was not functioning. I will not go through all of that. It is safe to say that the government did not want people to come forward. It did not want the commission to do its job. I do not think anyone would dispute that, save for the government of course.
We asked that Mr. Colvin come before committee so we could actually get to the bottom of what happened. Instead of listening to Mr. Colvin's testimony and taking that evidence in, the government's approach, and we have seen this time and time again, was to shoot the messenger, to attack his credibility.
Mr. Colvin came before the committee because he was asked. In the case of Mr. Mulroney, he was not invited to the committee until after Mr. Colvin attended and Mr. Mulroney asked to come before the committee.
It is interesting to note that prior to Mr. Colvin's testimony, the government was not interested in having this study done by the Afghanistan committee. It was very clear about that. It fought against Mr. Colvin appearing at committee and decided that it would support a study of sections 37 and 38 of the National Security Act but voted against Mr. Colvin coming before the committee.
Yet, after the motion passed in committee, it did not list Mr. Mulroney as a witness. All parties are able and encouraged to invite witnesses to the committee. Not once did the government say it wanted to hear from Mr. Mulroney until Mr. Colvin provided his testimony. That is interesting because it shows the government was not interested in the declaration from officials. What it was more interested in, after Mr. Colvin's testimony, was covering the trail.
I say that, sadly, because what the government should be acknowledging is what every single independent body that has looked at human rights in Afghan jails has observed, that there was and is abuse in them. That is obvious.
For some reason, the government has tried to deny that. I do not understand it. It is a well-known fact. In fact, one of the agencies Canada funds, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and its representatives, whom I previously brought to committee before the detainee issue was before committee, had written very clearly that there was widespread abuse.
It is interesting that when Canada's monitors and trainers for the Afghan army and the Afghan police and the deputy minister were asked if they had read the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission's most recent report, they said they had heard about it but never read it. The reason given was that it had not been translated.
I do not know about anyone else, but if I am involved in training police and corrections officers in Afghanistan, and I have given the authority and mandate to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to be an overseer and monitor what is going on in jails, I would want to read that. I would want my officials training the Afghan police and corrections officials to actually have read what is going on in the jails. They were not doing that. I brought that issue up months ago.
That report is now widespread. It has now been translated into English. It was curious that the government could not find anyone who read Dari in the monolith that is the bureaucracy, but the officials were finally availed of it. It was actually one of my staff who helped translate it.
The question in front of us is to take from the government and even the opposition the issue of the transfer of Afghan detainees and posit it before an independent inquiry.
Even with the government's hottest rhetoric, and we saw it all last week, how can the government deny what every single solitary editorial in this country and most people who look at this through an unbiased lens have said we need? We need an independent inquiry. What are the Conservatives afraid of?
The Minister of National Defence contradicted himself in the House. He said that he never read reports from Mr. Colvin and weeks later he said that he got an attachment on it. Last week the Minister of National Defence said that some of those reports came to him but they went through the generals and the bureaucrats first.
There is a lot of game playing going on, even with the one person who the government put forward as credible to attack Mr. Colvin. Members of the government did not say this when they quoted him in the House, but it is interesting to note what Paul Chapin, the third party validator for the government, did before he retired. The Minister of National Defence used his words in the House to defend the Conservatives' lack of action on the detainee issue and their denial. Before he retired, Mr. Chapin was actually the architect of the first detainee transfer. Now he works for a lobby group.
The one third party validator the government has is not even independent from all of this. He is entirely involved in the detainee transfer agreement. That is it. That is the government's credibility, one person, Mr. Paul Chapin. He is a fine gentleman, but let us be honest. He was the author of or was involved in writing the first detainee transfer agreement, which everyone agrees was insufficient.
Where is the credibility for the government? There is none. It is relying on hot rhetoric. I do not have to tell members that when the government starts calling people names and accusing people of being allied with the Taliban, it shows the merit of the government's arguments. If the government is not able to rely on fact, and if it is not able to make the argument, then there is the old parlour trick of attacking the messenger. We have seen this. Not only did the government attack us, and we on this side are used to the government attacking us, but it is so 2006, what we have seen this past couple of weeks. It is what we heard when we first debated this, that somehow we are aligned with the Taliban and we do not support the troops.
When the government starts to go after public servants who are not whistleblowers but who were actually called before the committee to provide evidence, then it has hit a new low. The limbo pole is almost on the ground and the government is trying to get under it.
If we are to get to the bottom of this issue and if, as the government claims, it wants to get to the truth, why is it the government has withheld documents? Why is it that certain journalists in this country have access to documents that a parliamentary committee does not have access to? Why is that certain people in this country are able to access information that a parliamentary committee cannot access?
If this were any other jurisdiction, for example the United States, and a congressional committee had asked for documents before witnesses testified, it would be given them in a second. However, not with the Conservative government. The government decides to attack the messenger. Never mind the facts. As I said, the facts that we have had in front of the committee demand further investigation. I say this as a member of the committee. I want this issue to be the subject of an independent inquiry. For the government to deny that makes its motive very clear.
The government does not want Canadians to hear the whole story. It wants to bury truth. It is going to take us down a path of poisoning an issue, politicizing an issue, instead of bringing light to an issue and instead of asking that someone who is unbiased, not the opposition, not the government, not any other third party, but someone unbiased look at this to get to the truth.
I call on the government not only to support this motion, but to announce its intent to call an inquiry. If the Conservatives deny a public inquiry, they will rue that day and history will not be favourable. They will wish they had gone down the path of transparency and called a public inquiry.