Mr. Speaker, this debate is especially important to my constituents of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca because I serve the men and women at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt and their families. They do a remarkable job. Canadians are deeply indebted to them for their work.
I am going to use the detainee issue as an insight for the public to examine the way in which the Conservative government has been operating since it came to power. The government operates in a way and utilizes tools which, for the most part, the Canadian public is not aware of because the government hides behind this place, Parliament.
In February 2007 allegations surfaced of abuse of three Afghans in Canadian custody. The Military Police Complaints Commission launched an investigation. In March warnings came from Mr. Richard Colvin, a heroic public servant, who came before committee and gave a dispassionate but critically important testimony. He did his job in the best traditions of a public servant in Canada.
He spoke at that time and gave warnings to the government about torture that was taking place with detainees that were given to the NDS, the national directorate of security.
As time has progressed, the Conservative government has done everything in its power to block and prevent the truth from coming out.
More than anything else, this is important for our troops, for the Afghan people and for the success of the mission. I will get to that later.
In March 2009 the Conservative government definitely tried to delay the Military Police Complaints Commission hearing. In April the application was denied by the Federal Court and Mr. Colvin was subpoenaed to appear before the MPCC. The Conservative government was trying to block the work that the MPCC was trying to do.
What I found utterly shocking to learn and it is very important for the public to know, is that in July, when Mr. Colvin was giving his testimony, federal government lawyers were used to threaten witnesses not to participate in the MPCC hearings. Mr. Colvin said, and this is a matter of record, in the special committee that he himself was threatened by government lawyers. This would not come from the lawyers themselves; it would be a directive from the government. This is a complete abuse of their position.
In October, the MPCC shut down the hearings after the federal Conservative government blocked witness testimony and failed to produce documents. This all speaks to the reason we are here today and why the Liberal Party has put forth this motion in the House of Commons. We want to get to the bottom of this issue.
This debate would not be taking place if the government had given the committee the documents that the government gave to the witnesses. It failed to give those documents to the members of Parliament who sit on that committee. Is it not absolutely remarkable that members who sit on the committee were deprived and denied access to the very documents that witnesses had privy to? It is not, as the government claims, an issue of public security at all. It is an issue of obfuscation and stonewalling which has become the sine qua non of the government's behaviour not only in this area but in so many other areas.
Unbeknownst to many members of the public, the Conservative government has been foisting on all elements and arms of the Canadian federal government a culture of denial, secrecy, obfuscation, stonewalling and bullying. It has used an arsenal of hyperbole and partisan rhetoric to divide Canadians, not to unite them.
The modus operandi of the government is not to unite Canadians, it is to divide Canadians, to secure the 42% that the Conservatives need to get a majority. What kind of leadership is that? That is not leadership. It is the pursuit of political power over the public good. The public good is merely a backdrop upon which the government is playing its little games.
The tragedy of all of this is that the victims are our citizens, our country, our future and the potential that we could have as a nation.
The public service is also a victim. Let me give an example. I think the public would find it shocking to know that when any of us in opposition, as members of Parliament, meet with members of the public service who serve the government of the day, regardless of their stripe, there has to be somebody from the minister's office eavesdropping in on the meeting. That is right. In meetings that we have with public servants there has to be someone from the minister's office there in person listening in, eavesdropping in on the conversation and taking notes. That is what happens to us.
The fear that is happening within the public service is terrible. Public servants cannot do their job. Not only can they not serve the government of the day, but they cannot serve the Canadian people. That is offensive at a most fundamental level of democracy. Our public service is being abused in this and other ways, as we have seen with Mr. Colvin.
How on earth do we attract the best and brightest? How do we get the best out of our public servants? How do we attract, engage, encourage and foster the type of excellence our public servants have given to Canadians for generations? It cannot be done while holding a hammer over their heads threatening to knock them over the head at every turn. How and when does this happen? Here are a few examples of what the Conservative government has done to some of these people.
Adrian Measner, president and CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board, was fired in December 2006 for his decision to follow the direction of the farmer elected Wheat Board directors.
Johanne Gélinas, environment commissioner, was fired in January 2007 after publicly commenting to the media about not receiving sufficient information from the government about its made in Canada environment plan.
Yves Le Bouthillier, president of the Law Commission of Canada, was fired in September 2006 after all federal government funding for the commission was cut.
This next one is shocking given that the Copenhagen summit is taking place right now. Andrew Okulitch, a scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada, was fired in September 2006 for objecting to an order to turn federal correspondence into political propaganda. Mr. Okulitch refused to turn the federal correspondence into the political propaganda in the area for which he was responsible.
The list goes on. I have a list two pages long of people who have been abused. This speaks to that very serious problem of what is taking place, and it occurs in other areas.
The government does not like certain people, for example, people who have substance abuse problems. What does it do? It takes the Insite program to court to block people from having access to interventions that would reduce harm and save lives. What kind of government does that? In effect it causes people to die. We have a Conservative government that is engaging in policies to block treatments that are proven to be effective by some of the top scientists from around the world and, as a result of the government's actions, these people will die.
This speaks to the issues I mentioned, including what Mr. Colvin has faced. The threats that have come down on his head are symptomatic of the kind of abuse that is taking place with respect to our public servants. In fact, the Government of Canada should send a letter to those wanting to be public servants saying, “If you are not with us, you are against us, and you need not apply”. In essence, that is what the government is saying. The government does not want, as it claims, truth to power. It does not want excellence. It wants people to be lemmings and to do as it tells them to do. That is not a public service. That does not serve the Canadian public at all.
Mr. Colvin's testimony has managed to mobilize 70 former ambassadors to support Mr. Colvin in the fact that he is actually doing his duty.
The character assassination the Minister of National Defence did in this House, I think much to the embarrassment of his own party, and certainly to the embarrassment of Canadian people, is appalling and has to be stopped in its tracks. One cannot, and should not, do that.
Why is this important to the Canadian Forces? We are trying to get to the bottom of this issue, but the government has this little game that it plays. The parliamentary secretary was playing it just before question period. The government sidles up to the Canadian Forces, puts its arm around them, wraps itself in the Canadian flag and says, “We are with the Canadian Forces and everybody else is against them”.
What a bunch of nonsense. Every single political party in the House of Commons supports the institution of the Canadian Forces, the men and women who serve the Canadian Forces and their families. The nonsense that has been portrayed and trotted out by the government is offensive.
As an example, the Prime Minister stands on one of our naval ships in front of our Canadian Forces and proceeds to lambaste the opposition. He uses the Canadian Forces as a backdrop. The uses the men and women of the Canadian Forces as a tool to hammer the opposition. That is not what the Canadian Forces are about. The Conservatives are using the Canadian Forces as a tool for their own political gain. They cannot do that.
In effect, while the Conservatives have been wrapping themselves around the Canadian Forces, claiming to be their best friends and utilizing them as a tool against everybody else, they have not been engaging in their responsibility, which is to have an effective plan for Afghanistan.
The government has looked at the Afghanistan mission through the narrow prism of the military. In effect, there is an insurgency that is primarily coming from Pakistan, not from within Afghanistan. An insurgency has to be defeated through political means, utilizing military tools as a backup to the political interventions.
The Conservative government has utterly failed in the four years it has been at the helm to come up with any political strategy for Afghanistan or Pakistan, which is where al-Qaeda is centred. It has not had any kind of national debate to bring together the best and brightest minds to deal with this. No, the Conservatives look at this through the military prism and by doing so, weaken and compromise the lives of our Canadian Forces, the mission itself and the Afghan people.
Why is that important to the detainee situation? I must say that the members of our forces have exerted extraordinary restraint and professionalism in the field. That is without any debate whatever. They have been absolutely extraordinary.
With the failure to deal with these issues politically, the government has compromised our ability to do better in the mission and has compromised the lives of our forces. By having a political doctrine that has compromised the Canadian Forces by not dealing with the detainee issue, the Conservatives are burying their heads in the sand. They are not being proactive and it is destroying the hearts and minds aspect of the mission.
In the words of Mr. Colvin and others who have been in Afghanistan, many of the individuals were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Farmers, peasants, ordinary rural folk have been caught and tortured. What happens when they are tortured? The people who pick them up become the problem. The government's political failures are actually causing a failure in the mission that is out of the hands of the Canadian Forces. It compromises the lives of Canadian Forces members, the mission and the lives of the Afghan people.
What has the government failed to do? First, in terms of an overriding objective, we went into Afghanistan to get rid of al-Qaeda, a job done very quickly by our forces and others and well done at that. We did not, however, go into nation building. This mission has quietly morphed into a nation-building exercise.
Also, the insurgency coming from Pakistan has not evoked the government to come up with a political strategy for Pakistan. Then it talks about the Taliban being some monolithic structure. What a bunch of nonsense. The Taliban is a heterogeneous structure made up of warlords, common thugs, religious zealots and people whose family members have been killed or harmed by coalition forces.
The three major groups in the insurgency are the ones by Mullah Omar and warlords Hakani and Hekmatyar. Those are the three major insurgencies from Afghanistan. Do we hear anything about that from the government? Does it have a plan to deal with this? No, not at all.
What the government is doing, in effect, by its political failure, is actually sowing the seeds of a potential Vietnam quagmire. It is our men and women out there in the dirt and dust in very difficult circumstances who are paying the price of this. The irony of it all is that while the Conservative government wraps itself up in the flag and the Canadian Forces, its political failures are in fact compromising the lives of our men and women in uniform. That is absolutely inexcusable.