This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was documents.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

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.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

You sent them there.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

However, Mr. Speaker, we have not heard any kind of plan of action whatsoever for how to deal with the mission at hand. Here are a few suggestions and a few reality checks.

The traditional structure of government in Afghanistan is Pashtun-led. President Karzai is Pashtun, but he is not who the Pashtun want. In fact, the security structure within Afghanistan is controlled by Tajiks. This is a complete turnaround and a completely unnatural situation given the traditional power structure within Afghanistan.

The security forces and the security situation are controlled by members of the Tajik tribe who are part of the mujahedeen, the individuals the Taliban kicked out because they were corrupt and abusive of the people.

The government has no plan to address that problem, so the inter-tribal problems and the abnormal and unnatural structure that exists right now in Afghanistan are not being addressed. There will be no peace in Afghanistan unless that is addressed.

The government of Mr. Karzai is predatory, venal and corrupt. Is there a plan to deal with the corruption in that government? The government talks about, but there is none. The fact of the matter is that corruption kills. Corruption is the cancer that will prevent the mission from being successful and prevent the Afghan people from being able to enjoy the safety and security they have wanted for decades, the same things that we all want.

The reality is that the government has simply failed miserably to have any plan whatsoever to do that. Ultimately, security is up to the Afghan people, not the western forces. Increasingly, we are seen as part of the problem in Afghanistan. While President Obama has chosen to do institute a troop surge, which I personally think is an error on his part, what we must do is to have political solutions that can deal with this issue. What may some of those solutions be?

First, there needs to be a doctrine to deal with the corruption within Mr. Karzai's government, not zero tolerance, but one in which we can take a much firmer line.

Second, there needs to be a transparent reporting mechanism so that the Afghan people can know where the moneys are going. The money should go toward primary services and health care education as well as security.

A political process must be instituted to encourage various members of the Taliban leadership to be part of the political solution and the power structure within Afghanistan. If we hive off elements of the Taliban and are able to weaken the Taliban, that would enable them to be part of the political solution and for Afghans to have ownership of their country.

A regional working group must also be instituted, involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Iran and others in the region. These countries must be at the table because their interests have to be congruent with the future and interests of a stable Afghanistan. India and Pakistan are part of the problem in Afghanistan, so in essence Afghanistan's future in some ways lies outside the country. That has to be dealt with.

The government is focusing through a narrow prism with respect to the mission in Afghanistan. It is a very complex situation there and requires a coherent, intelligent and well executed political solution that focuses on enabling the Afghan people to be masters of their security forces. Afghanistan will not be a democratic, western-loving, human rights respecting nation. It is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Therefore, we have to change our goals.

In the end, it is up to our government to implement these solutions. Failure to do that fails our troops, fails the people of Afghanistan and fails the people of our country.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, with all of the wonderful highfalutin words that our interlocutor just spoke, I wonder how he feels about the fact that the motion as written will lead to a situation where there will be uncensored, unredacted, uncontrolled information that will ultimately be available on the Internet for the Taliban to be able to plot and plan and do whatever they wish.

I wonder if he could explain to us how he feels about the fact that the motion will also put Canada in a position of not having any allies who will trust us with the information that we so desperately require to carry out this work that he is speaking about so pompously.

I find the position of the hon. member and his party, the position of the opposition, to be politically opportunistic and very, very shallow.

I wonder how he would feel in the event of a possible death as a result of this motion.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

I see my colleague has swallowed the Kool-Aid, Madam Speaker. It is a nonsensical comment that somehow the information that is to be released to members of the committee will somehow be a security threat.

The reality of the situation, and I ask my hon. colleague to reflect upon this, is that the witnesses received the information and the members of the committee simply want to receive the information too.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

That isn't how the motion reads.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

On our side, we have Privy Council members who are sitting there at the table, and members from the government also. All that the members of the committee want is to have access to the same information the witnesses had when they came before the committee. That is simply the right thing to do.

Legal precedent respects this, the principles of Parliament respect it, and the government should stop hiding behind its arguments, which are only made to scare the public for political gain. It needs to stop utilizing these tools and to do the right thing, instead of hiding behind these absurd arguments that hold no water whatsoever.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague from B.C. I am very happy that the Liberal Party has caught up to the NDP. The NDP was the first to call for a judicial inquiry and the first to call for the minister's resignation. The Liberal Party, creaking and groaning, but getting there nonetheless, has now followed the NDP on those recommendations. It did take some time, but it did get there.

The problem we are facing, as the member well knows, is far greater than this particular case. It is a systematic pattern of obstruction by the government. Unfortunately, the examples the Conservatives take are from the previous Liberal government, which consistently withheld information from Parliament.

Therefore, my question is very simple. Does this signal a change in Liberal policy? Are the Liberals now willing to say that they were wrong before but now believe that Parliament should be receiving these kinds of documents in this kind of situation? Does this indicate very simply that the Liberals are asking for forgiveness for their past?

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I think the member has a made an assumption that is utterly false. The reality of it is that the Liberal Party has been calling for truth and transparency on this issue in a non-political way for the sake of our troops and our mission.

The members over there, and all members in fact, want to make sure that the mission will be successful, but above all else that our troops will be safe and secure. We cannot have a situation where our troops are put in a compromised situation because of a political failure the government has authored with its own pen.

The reality is that the government needs to rectify this situation. There is no harm in, and the Conservatives should fear nothing from, coming clean on this issue, so that the truth can come out and such a situation cannot be repeated.

I also ask the government to look at the way it treats its own public servants, because the type of abuse that is being thrown on the head of Mr. Colvin is certainly something that cannot continue and is really a blight on the record of the government.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, we have already established that this is a constitutional privilege of Parliament, that it is in the Standing Orders and has been extended to committees of the House. Even the parliamentary law clerk has given his opinion that under the Canada Evidence Act, notwithstanding public safety and national security interests, it is available.

There is already information in the public domain that a detainee in the custody of Canadians and released to the Afghans was in fact tortured. The issue at question is whether or not it happened. The government was saying no and now, all of a sudden, evidence has come out. I also understand that embedded journalists have information as well, including film, and that more will be coming out.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on this. The government simply has to stop the stonewalling and the cover-up and make sure that we take the appropriate steps as we move forward on this. It just needs to stand up and be responsible for its actions or, in fact, its inaction.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, it is the constitutional right of Parliament to demand information and it is the supremacy of Parliament that trumps other provisions of the laws. The fact is that what the Conservative government member said is utterly wrong.

We are not asking for information on operations or information that is going to detail the operational needs or the current situation of our Canadian Forces members. We do not need to find that out, but we do need to find information that is specific to these events. We also need to make sure that this does not happen again. That is the issue, but it also goes to our ability to win in this mission and to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Our Canadian Forces members are doing their job there. The members of the provincial reconstruction team are doing their job. Our allies are doing their job. However, if Canadians are put in a situation where they are doing things that are going to harm these efforts, because of failure in the political doctrine of the Conservative government, then, in effect, the Conservatives are harming the very mission that so many of our men and women have given their blood, sweat and tears for, and to which the Canadian public has given significant amounts of money.

I do not think it should be seen in some superficial way, but I think the government also needs to utilize this as a springboard to deal with the larger issue of the mission in Afghanistan, what it is doing, what its objectives are, how it is doing it and how it is integrating with other groups while looking at the political strategy for the mission in Afghanistan in a broad regional context. Only in the regional context will we be able to deal with this mission and ensure some semblance of security for the Afghan people into the future.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Questions and comments.

The Minister of State for Science and Technology, a very brief question.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Cambridge Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear ConservativeMinister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Madam Speaker, perhaps I will just make a comment. The fact is that we are debating a motion here that is asking the government to release information that could in fact entail something as simple as a soldier's name, middle name, address and perhaps phone number. It is information that the Taliban are hoping they can get their hands on, not just to attack that soldier but also potentially to put the family of the soldier at risk.

That is exactly what this motion says. This member has not read the motion.

With my final comment, I want to remind the member that it was the Liberals who put us in Afghanistan without a debate in 2003. We have fixed their mess; this happened under their watch.

We have no problem with dealing with committees as long as folks on committees are not using Twitter. However, what we will not do is to release information that is in the national interest, so that our allies can continue to—

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I would like to give the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca time to respond. He has 30 seconds.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that the members from the other side all have the same talking points. They all churn out the same nonsense. They are not willing to utilize their own God-given intellect to be able to deal with a very important issue.

What I would impress upon the members from the other side is to look at this clearly, understand that what they are saying is a bunch of nonsense and to get to the heart of the matter, so that we can resolve this issue and have a proper mission in Afghanistan with a proper structure and proper political solution to deal with this very serious and important issue.

Opposition Motion--Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to see you in the chair this afternoon.

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed extraordinary events in the House. I was first elected in 1993, and I have seen a lot of brouhaha since then, but never like this. This is the kind of brouhaha that prompts us to ask questions about the role of parliamentarians.

I read a legal opinion provided by Rob Walsh, law clerk and parliamentary counsel. He is a senior parliamentary officer. He produced a document concerning the constitutional role of the House and its committees. I will read excerpts from it because I think he makes a good point and a strong one in the context of this debate.

He says:

As I indicated in my earlier letter, it is important to remember that the Committee, charged by the House with reviewing Canada's mission in Afghanistan, is at all times to be seen as carrying out its constitutional function of holding the Government to account. This is fundamental to responsible government and more particularly to the relationship between the Government and the House and its committees—

Is that strong enough? I will go on.

—and provides the constitutional basis for the demands made by the Committee upon the Government for information and for the Government's obligation to provide to the Committee the information it needs to carry out this function. The law of parliamentary privilege provides that this relationship operates unencumbered by legal constraints that might otherwise seem applicable.

I invite my hon. colleagues to read the rest of this legal opinion. Not only does it confirm the legitimacy of the motion that was moved this morning and has the support of the opposition parties, but at the same time, it confirms the importance of the parliamentary role of the committee as well as the constitutional role of parliamentarians and the committee. I invite my Conservative colleagues, some of whom might feel like they are being attacked by some of our questions or opinions, to reflect carefully on this. It is directed at all members—not only the opposition members, but also members on the government side. It says much about the importance of committees.

I would like to thank Mr. Walsh for having written this opinion and I think it could prove very useful in the future. However, why was this needed?

On the one hand, a great deal of time would be required, but my colleagues have already taken quite a bit of time. On the other hand, I would like to revisit a few crucial aspects.

After the attack on the twin towers in 2001, our world, not the entire world, but our world—where “our” world ends is up to each of us—found itself thrown into a state of war unlike any we had seen, I think, since the second world war and the Korean war. It is a context to which our minds, hearts and politics are not accustomed, a context which deserves our attention, and one in which we need to identify our principles.

Canada's Engagement in AfghanistanRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day ConservativeMinister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Madam Speaker, with the greatest respect for the member and in the interest of the members, I would like to table some documents.

As a point of interest and based on timing, I am considering the coincidental matters which the hon. member is speaking to. In accordance with Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table the sixth quarterly report on Canada's engagement with Afghanistan.

Export Development CanadaRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day ConservativeMinister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Madam Speaker, I also have the honour to table the government's response to the legislative review of Export Development Canada.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Opposition Motion—Documents on Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I cannot wait to read it.

I was saying that since 2001, a number of countries—the United States first and foremost, but also NATO, which is growing larger with the addition of the eastern European countries—have plunged into another world. That means that we have to review and take a fresh look at the principles that will apply. I say “we” because I am putting everyone in the same boat to start.

It is not easy, because this is not a traditional war. We are fighting a dirty war over there. We therefore have to develop principles that are going to allow us—we are still thinking about that—not necessarily to win the war, but to enable the Afghans to regain control of their country and develop it with our help.

By the way, I am anxious for us to talk about this. We are supposed to discuss it in committee first, and then in Parliament, but we must do so. How are we going to keep going after 2011? We have to carry on, not to wage war, but to help Afghanistan develop.

Canada sent soldiers into this situation and was supposed to know how to comply with the Geneva conventions. I do not know to what extent they were studied. It may be that they were not studied at all. It seemed that what was most important was to be strong, to win the war and to help the people.

We hear ministers and generals talk about how hard they have worked. I do not doubt that, but the fact remains that the Geneva conventions were drafted to tell countries how to treat detainees in war time, or if they are in a war zone and they are taking detainees.

We have to read the Geneva conventions. We certainly have all the documentation we need right here. The respect we owe the detainees, from the accommodation we provide them to the way we treat them, in every way, shape or form, is nothing less than respect for their rights, even if we view them as criminals before they even go trial. That is the rule.

And the rule is such that if a country responsible under the Geneva conventions—either the country providing assistance or the country receiving assistance—detains someone, transfers him and suspects that the detainee will be mistreated or tortured, that country has no right to transfer the detainee.

Does that pose real problems? I am sure it does. We have been told repeatedly that Afghan prisons are poorly built and poorly equipped and that the prisoners are malnourished. This has been well documented. We have also been told, and this too has been amply documented, that the conditions in the prisons are conducive to torture and there is indeed torture. These are standard practices. Just read the report of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. The commission conducted a major study on a sample of 398 prisoners. Of those, 57 detainees from Kandahar were identified as having been tortured. That is a substantial percentage.

Was it difficult to manage under these conditions? I think it was extremely difficult. Other countries have taken a different approach and have not agreed to transfer detainees to the Afghan authorities, knowing the state of the prisons and how the detainees are treated there.

That is not the purpose of this debate. However, it does help explain our anger. This is a false debate. We are right in saying that, in most situations, the signs were there and the government should have stopped transferring detainees. The government has said that, at first, it relied on the Red Cross. However, in the first agreement that was quickly negotiated and signed by General Hillier, Canada did not have full access, nor did the Red Cross.

Full access was necessary. In other words, they should have had access to the detainees at any time. There was a responsibility to keep exact written records of the detainees in order to know what happened to them. We should not forget that, in the Afghan prisons, these detainees could meet guards whom they had fought, or relatives of the guards might have been killed or injured by the detainees. When exact written records of detainees are required, there must be access to them. Without access, you cannot keep the records.

I tried to read the redacted documents we received. The bits that are visible at least allow us to understand that there was a great deal of discussion about transferring the detainees, under what conditions, and about the fact that they were unable to keep records. Someone said—and these were the exact words—“We have not tracked them for two months. Imagine what can happen in two months.” Someone wrote that.

There was no follow-up between December 2005 and May 3, 2007. There may have been good intentions, but there was no follow-up. Who can guarantee, in such cases, that the prisoners were not tortured after being transferred, even though we placed our trust in the process? After all, someone also wrote that Afghanistan was assuming responsibility for them.

This is explicitly prohibited in the Geneva convention. The country that is transferring the prisoners remains responsible and cannot transfer that responsibility.

Since that country remains responsible, if prisoners are transferred and the conditions are what they are, if there is a serious risk that the prisoner could be tortured, this contravenes the Geneva convention. That means that we could be penalized for contravening the convention.

I tried to paint a general picture. When I was young, I was a history teacher. I always made an effort not just to learn, but also to understand. What has been going on for the past few weeks? The government prevented Mr. Colvin from handing over documents that he had sent to a number of people as warnings. He had sent 18 or 19 documents all over to say that this or that could not be done. I think he said that it made no sense and that Canada would probably tarnish its reputation.

I hope that after this debate we will be able to see the documents in question.

We also heard testimony from individuals without any admission that a mistake had been made.

It makes sense that this issue would become explosive during oral question period in the House of Commons. But that is not what we want. What we want is to find a way to allow Mr. Colvin to testify, to get the documents and to restore Canada's reputation.

Opposition Motion—Documents on Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Madam Speaker, I have found evidence of torture in Afghanistan:

YOU must become so notorious for bad things that when you come into an area people will tremble in their sandals. Anyone can do beatings and starve people. I want your unit to find new ways of torture so terrible that the screams will frighten even crows from their nests and if the person survives he will never again have a night's sleep.

This was under the heading “I was one of the Taliban's torturers: I crucified people”, as reported by Christina Lamb on September 30, 2001.

Today's motion, by design or not, may provide information to assist the cause of the insurgents to rid Afghanistan of the protection that UN-sanctioned forces provide.

As a member of the separatist party, why does the member opposite want to put the lives of our soldiers in danger?

Opposition Motion—Documents on Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I would like to point out to my colleague that many of the soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan were Quebeckers. I would also like to point out that Quebeckers are brave and disciplined. Not a single officer has reported failure to comply or even to participate. They are enthusiastic and energetic in their work and in engagements.

I am a separatist, and yes, my goal is independence. However, those of you who have been listening will have heard me say that the situation we find ourselves in is one we share. We are still part of Canada because that is what Quebeckers want. We are loyal, and we participate in the debates. You should be glad that we care about working to restore Canada's reputation.

Opposition Motion—Documents on Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I would remind all members to address their remarks to the Chair.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Opposition Motion—Documents on Afghan DetaineesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I know the member has been involved in foreign affairs files for many years during her career as an hon. parliamentarian.

The issue here ultimately comes down to this. It appears that Canada has been in violation of international law, the Geneva Convention, and this is the allegation. I heard the words of the member for Cambridge already, but I do not believe the House has been reminded often enough of the terms under which it would be determined that someone would be in violation. It is not a matter that we simply think that something happens, it is a matter of whether we are aware. Just by being aware that there is the possibility, I believe we could be in violation of international law.

Maybe the member could answer this question. Why is it so important that we clear our name to ensure that the reputation of Canada continues to be in favour of human rights?