Madam Speaker, today we are debating an opposition motion that is actually bringing to the floor some fundamental issues with which there is disagreement, and depending upon how that is disposed of, it will affect how parliamentarians will be able to discharge their responsibilities.
The first element has to do with the constitutional right of parliamentarians to call for persons, papers and records. I would refer members to the publication called The Power of Parliamentary Houses to Send for Persons, Papers & Records: A Sourcebook on the Law and Precedent of Parliamentary Subpoena Powers for Canadian and other Houses, authored by a member of Parliament, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, back in 1999.
In the book, on page 29, he makes general references but I will just read one of them. It states:
As Maingot notes, “a privilege may not be diminished, prejudicially affected, or repealed save by express statutory enactment to that effect.
The right to call for persons, papers or records is a constitutional right. It is also in our Standing Orders, as the members are well aware, and it has been used often in committee. The issue before us in part has to do with the Canada Evidence Act, paragraph 37-38, which essentially deals with an exclusion with regard to public or national security or safety.
It states that in the powers and in parliamentary privilege issues, the only way that the power can be exempted or taken from Parliament is if it is in a specific statute, specifically expressed, and that is the subject-matter with which the Law Clerk of the Parliament of Canada gave his opinion to the committee.
I was there when former General Hillier and two other generals gave testimony before the committee. Each of those three persons, even former General Hillier, had copies of the documents in question, unredacted. They had the full information and they were in fact giving their testimony with the full knowledge of all the details.
I thought it was kind of interesting that they all basically gave the same story that there was nothing in these documents that would tend to indicate that no torture took place of detainees turned over by Canadians. The committee had asked for these documents. There was the problem of having to have them translated before they could be circulated to the committee, but ultimately some of the documents were received and they were redacted. Some of them in fact were totally blacked out.
It begs the question, why is it that the government is prepared to say, and the witnesses on behalf of the government are prepared to say, that there is nothing in here that would indicate any evidence whatsoever of any torture being suspected or having taken place; not one instance, not one case, to quote the Minister of National Defence? The government says, “It is clear, you do not have to worry about it, but we are not going to give you the documents so that you can satisfy yourselves”.
This is a fundamental issue in terms of parliamentary privilege. It is a fundamental right of parliamentarians to have access to information, and for parliamentarians who are sitting at the committee and want to ask questions of witnesses, how can they ask questions of witnesses when they do not have all the information that the witness has?
How can we test them on the veracity of their testimony? How can we get to the nub or the point that we are trying to get at without having the information before us? The members did not even have the redacted information when these witnesses were called, but members at the committee said, “We want the assurance that we have the right to recall these witnesses once we eventually get the documents”.
It is pretty clear, if we look through the various events that transpired with this special committee on Afghanistan, that there seems to have been what some would describe as obstruction of the committee to do its work. That is so fundamentally wrong if parliamentarians are unable to discharge their responsibilities and to exercise their rights to ask those questions. That is substantively where the debate has been going so far.
Today there is a motion before the House which I think comes on the basis that we have not been able to get the information, but we have the evidence coming from the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Natynczyk, who has now come forward and indicated that yes, there was a clear known case where a detainee in the custody of Canadians was turned over and that detainee was abused.
There is more to come. I am absolutely convinced of it because I have also heard stories myself coming from journalists who were embedded in theatre in Afghanistan. They have an interesting situation. If members would want to try to find out they should ask what are the rules of the game guiding embedded journalists? Can they disclose any information on things that they have personally witnessed? They have taken film. They are censured before and after. Is all the film accounted for? My understanding is from what I have been told, it is hearsay though, that in fact some film does exist in the public domain, clear evidence of further examples of torture.
That is going to come out because we cannot expect that people are going to hold on to this when it is so vital to the public interest. Canadians, as the previous speaker said, are very concerned that somehow it is not a matter of the military. It is a matter of the direction of the military and that comes straight from the government. The government is the one who is responsible. The government is the one who has put roadblocks in the way of parliamentarians getting the information.
There is no question that parliamentarians do not want to somehow put Canada in a position of embarrassment or any other sanctions. I think the concern is that parliamentarians want to be absolutely sure that we are now doing the right thing and that if there is a problem that it is corrected.
In fact, before all of this occurred the Minister of National Defence had actually said that the protocol for turning over detainees was inadequate. Therefore, in 2007 the government came out with a new protocol.
If the government said it was inadequate from the previous government, why was it not changed immediately? It begs the question. It cannot just say it was inadequate so it came out with something else in 2007. However, in the interim, under its watch, things were happening. The allegations were there.
Mr. Colvin testified to that. We have subsequently had so many former ambassadors come forward and defend the right of a whistleblower to do this. This the right thing to do, to say there were concerns. Those concerns were raised at various levels but also at the highest level and they were suppressed or denied.
Very slowly this cover-up is being taken apart and the information is coming out. I think the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Natynczyk, did the right thing, the honourable thing. He said that he found that information, it was true, and here it is. He did it as soon as he found out. The government however has not.
Whenever the matter is raised, the government's approach is to attack back and say that we are doing this because we do not stand behind our troops. That is just a strategy. Flip the channel, change the channel, get the attention somewhere else and say “They're the bad guys and we're the good guys”.
The issues before the House ought to be focused on. When people start to switch the channel, we know that we are on the right track. When they start to heckle and yell, we know we are on the right track.
This is an issue before this place which is fundamental to the supremacy of Parliament to call for persons, papers and records to get to the truth and to do the right thing. That is why we are fighting for this. That is why the majority of the House supports this motion.
The motion is asking that, and I will not read it all, the House provide in original and uncensored form:
all the documents referred to in the affidavit of Richard Colvin dated October 5, 2009;
He was the first witness before that committee. It also asks:
all documents within the Department of Foreign Affairs written in response to the documents referred to in the affidavit of Richard Colvin, dated October 5, 2009;
all memoranda for information or memoranda for decisions sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs concerning detainees from December 18, 2005 to the present;
all documents produced pursuant to all orders of the Federal Court in Amnesty International Canada and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association v. Chief of the Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces, Minister of National Defence and Attorney General of Canada;
all documents produced to the Military Police Complaints Commission in the Afghanistan Public Interest Hearings;
all annual human rights reports by the Department of Foreign Affairs on Afghanistan; and
accordingly the House hereby orders that these documents be produced in their original and uncensored form forthwith.
There is a suggestion that somehow these documents, if released, would create a further risk to our military, either as individuals or collectively. We have been at war in Afghanistan for a long time. I do not think it is a secret. I do not think there is anybody on either side of the conflict who is unaware that there are tens of thousands of people in theatre from a variety of countries, and more coming.
To somehow suggest that an individual soldier might be at risk because of information coming out, we have tools to work with that. If the Minister of National Defence were acting in good faith, he would not tell us why we could not have the documents presented to this special committee. He would tell us how we could have them. The difference is we do have tools.
I had suggested this earlier in this whole chronology of events was this. This is a special committee dealing with this. Since most of the members on the committee are already privy councillors who are sworn to secrecy of state secret information, the others members could also be sworn in and bound to secrecy. They could then have access to documents, look at them and it if there were a case, say we needed to protect the information.
I think they can start off with the Colvin documents. If the witnesses presenting to the committee say that they did not notice anything that gave them any indication whatsoever that there was any evidence of torture, then why would they be reluctant to release that to the committee members so they could satisfy themselves.
It is a disconnect. If there is nothing there, and if three generals are prepared to say there is nothing in there, why is the government saying that it will only give us the blacked out version. Why not swear them in? Why not go in camera? Why not give them a chance to look at it and demonstrate that the government can be trusted on this?
The actions of the government thus far have been that members do not trust it. It has nothing to do with whether we have the greatest respect for our military. The trust in our military is not the question. It is the trust in the government.
The government has not shown good faith. As a consequence, Parliament is now seized with a motion before it, saying that we have to do something about this because this is not going away. The government, at its own peril, is going to continue to play this game, to cover up the facts and the details until it is whittled out. Other stuff will come out, and the government knows it. It always does.
About an hour ago the minister tabled in the House the quarterly report to Parliament for the period of July 1 to September 30, 2009. There are some interesting developments to report upon, an election and all other good things.
The report is really only 13 pages long if we forget the attachments. I think this is really important because it tends to go to what we are talking about right now. The conclusion says, ”This is a conflict of utmost complexity in the region of violent instability. We share this difficult mission with our close allies under UN authority and, most importantly, with the Afghan people. Although the endeavour remains risky and the outcome far from certain, Canada's mission in Afghanistan underscores the values that Canadians themselves hold dear”.
That is why we are there, to underscore the values that Canadians themselves hold dear. The value is respect for international law and international human rights. That is the value. The government may put it in a report, but I do not think the it believes it. I do not think it really believes that human rights are worth fighting for. I do not believe it has given any indication that it will protect and defend human rights. I cannot believe all of the different things that have happened.