Mr. Speaker, perhaps as this concurrence motion was sought to be cut short by the Conservatives, I could read from Kerry Pither's book, Dark Days, about the actual implications of what we are debating.
I would put that there is no matter that could be more important to debate in the House than one pertaining to innocent Canadians who suffered torture, according to a commission of inquiry conducted here in Canada, because of mistakes that were made by security officials, and our attempts to ensure that it never happens again.
If members have lost that fact, let me read from Ms. Pither's book. Talking about Ahmad El Maati, it says:
The sound of prisoners being electrocuted didn't stop, either. “[They were] only a few feet away and across the hall. And what scared me most was I [knew] that maybe my turn was next. I was living constantly with this fear that I would be next, I would be next, I would be next.”
After being there for about ten days, it was his turn.
Ahmad was led into an interrogation room where four or five men were waiting.
“Whether you tell us the truth or not, we're going to torture you anyway,” said a man whose voice Ahmad would come to know well.
Hit from behind, Ahmad was forced to his knees, then grabbed by the hair and his head yanked backed as the men slapped and kicked him. Then the electric shocks started. The men stood behind him, prodding him with a rod. “It's difficult to describe the feeling,” Ahmad says. “You feel your soul is coming out of your body, and your heart's going to stop and you lose control of yourself and screams come out unconsciously.”
This time they started with his hands, shoulders, legs, and stomach. Later they aimed for his genitals. Afterward, Ahmad saw the device being used: a black rod, about a foot long, with a handle on one end and a point on the other.
These sessions sometimes lasted for several hours at a time.
Unfortunately, this is but one account in the book. There are many others. It is impossible for us to imagine the horror that these men would have faced. Perhaps even more tragically, today, the government still refuses to give them an apology, give them redress in the form of compensation, and most importantly, allow them to clear their name.
Perhaps not quite as bad as that torture they would have faced in those terrible dungeons in Syria is for the cloud of suspicion to continue to hang over them today. What they ask for more than anything else is the right to have their name cleared, a right that should be afforded to them immediately. Second, if one were to talk to the innocent victims, they would say to make sure that it never happens again.
If we did not know the answer to how to stop this from happening again, the government could be forgiven for not acting. However, the reality is that we have had report after report, commission of inquiry after commission of inquiry, and committee report after committee report detailing in the clearest possible terms the actions that must be taken.
Whether it was the report of Justice Iacobucci, who was not given the power to make recommendations but made clear conclusions, including the innocence of three of the men whose stories I will tell in a moment; whether it was Justice O'Connor's recommendations, which were clear and which years ago the government promised it would implement, yet we stand here today with those recommendations still not acted upon; whether it was the Senate committee report on anti-terrorism; whether it was the report that flowed out of the RCMP pension scam; or whether it was the report done yet again by the public safety and national security committee of which I am a member, which was tabled in front of the House and in which we simply asked for the right to debate today, again and again the answers are apparent and obvious and the government refused to act.
Worse, the government has shown contempt for oversight. Not only did it show contempt for this issue by trying to stop it from being debated in the House today, but one can take a look at the limits placed upon the RCMP public complaints commission. It is bad enough that the RCMP public complaints commissioner does not even have the power to force people to give him information. If he goes to senior RCMP officers and asks for files or information, they have to be given to him voluntarily. That is still the case today, even after all the recommendations that have been made.
It is bad enough that he can only act upon complaints, that he cannot act proactively, that he has not been empowered to go there. It is bad enough that there are many agencies which he is not allowed to investigate and where no oversight exists at all. Imagine, for the Canada Border Services Agency, that no independent oversight exists. Imagine, for immigration, that no independent oversight exists, so the government continues to allow this situation that has been identified to continue.
It would be bad enough for those recommendations to be ignored, but it was not enough for the government. It also slashed the budget of the public complaints commissioner's office. At a time when he needed more resources to ensure the integrity of our national police force, his budget was slashed.
The government's excuse here is to say that it has to wait for more reports. All those reports that I mentioned apparently are not enough. We also have the Braidwood inquiry. We also have Justice Major's report coming out on Air India. We have to wait for those. What could be more preposterous than to just keep waiting for a report to reiterate the same things over and over again? How many times does the government need to be told that something is essential to do before it takes action on it?
Certainly, I could understand if the government would do as it promised and implemented Justice O'Connor's recommendations, that again were followed up by so many different reports and inquiries, and say that it was going to build upon them, but to suggest that it will not do these self-evident things because it needs to wait for another report is nothing but an excuse.
What every one of us in the House knows is that after Justice Major tables his report, or when the Braidwood inquiry is done, we will be told there is another report or another commission of inquiry that needs to be conducted. Why? It is because under the Conservatives' watch, even when we knew what needed to be done to ensure that future tragedies did not occur, another one will because they refuse to take action. There will be another commission of inquiry to look into that, and that will provide yet another excuse for inaction, yet more time will go on.
Some of the cases that we talk about are well-known, such as Maher Arar and the extraordinary and terrible situation that he went through, which finally and eventually did lead to an apology and compensation, but let us also take a look at some of the other cases.
We know about Mr. Dziekanski of course, who was tasered at a Vancouver airport. There is an inquiry going on about that right now. We know about the pension scandal, but maybe we could take a moment to look at three of the individuals who were identified through Justice Iacobucci's report, and who were cleared.
With regard to Mr. El Maati, Justice Iacobucci determined that the way the RCMP and CSIS inaccurately labeled Mr. El Maati contributed to his detention and torture.
With regard to Mr. Almalki, in addition to finding that information-sharing with the U.S. and sending questions to Syrian interrogators likely contributed to Mr. Almalki's torture, Justice Iacobuuci found that Canadian officials were linked with Mr. El Maati, in communication with American, Syrian and other foreign agencies before his detention, without taking steps to ensure those labels were accurate or properly qualified, without attaching caveats and without considering the potential consequences for Mr. Almalki.
With regard to Mr. Nureddin, Justice Iacobucci determined that CSIS labeled Mr. Nureddin as a human courier and facilitator in the transfer of money to members of Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq without first taking adequate measures to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information or to qualify it as appropriate, and that this likely contributed to his Syrian detention and torture.
These cases are tragic and when we hear the stories and we read a book like Ms. Pither's, and we hear about the horrible circumstances they were put through, what I think is so unimaginable to Canadians when they are exposed to it is that the solutions are here now and the government continues to refuse to act. It is something that I have to admit I am utterly confounded by.
I am confounded by it not only because of its implications for further abuses for other Canadian citizens, and because of the fact that it does not put the safeguards in that we need to ensure that Canadian citizens never face this type of situation again, but we also have to reflect upon its implications for our national security agencies themselves and for the RCMP.
We are lucky to have, in the RCMP, some of the finest men and women we could ask for serving us across this country.
I have had the opportunity to go to detachments in urban and rural areas and meet some amazing people who are doing incredible work, whose clear motivation is to protect their communities and to give back. However, they are deeply frustrated. They are frustrated because they recognize that at the top levels the RCMP is in need of reform.
They recognize that if those changes are not made, it tarnishes the name of their organization and, in turn, tarnishes the good work they do. All they ask is that they have leadership that is equal to the courage and valour they show every day. All they ask is that the organization is as exemplary at the top as it is at the bottom.
The government is refusing to make these changes and they ask, why? They ask why, when the answers are so self-evident, so clear and repeated so strenuously. It is not just for the protection of Canadian human rights but I would also suggest for the protection of our police force and its integrity overall.
We need to ensure that tragedies do not occur again, that when mistakes are made or it is found there are weaknesses in our system they are repaired, not left to fester and tarnish, that we do not repeat the same mistakes again and again, doomed to repeat the same failures.
In that regard, I am going to go through the recommendations that were placed in the report delivered by the Standing Committee for Public Safety and National Security.
The first and most self-evident is to implement immediately the recommendations of Justice O'Connor. It is impossible for me to believe I am still saying this in the House all these years later, particularly when the government has promised so many times to implement these recommendations, but many of the key and most important recommendations are still not implemented. That is utterly unacceptable and the committee unanimously called for those recommendations to be implemented immediately.
The second is that there be regular updates on the status of both implementing Justice O'Connor's report and responding to the conclusions of Justice Iacobucci's report, regular reports on the progress of the government. The government has been unbelievably secretive in even telling us what it has and has not done.
One of the first and most difficult tasks for the committee was to take a look at the 23 recommendations of Justice O'Connor and try to figure out what action the government had taken. Even as a committee of Parliament, it had a huge amount of difficulty getting answers on what, if any, action it had taken. It has to break that secrecy.
It needs to be clear and honest about what actions have been taken and exactly where we are in implementing those recommendations. Where recommendations have not been implemented, it needs to explain in clear terms why and what the timetables are to implement them. That is if the government continues to maintain, as it has, that it will implement Justice O'Connor's recommendations.
After I began by reading one of the stories, I hope the government really reflects upon the importance of this third recommendation, which is to apologize to Mr. Almalki, Mr. El Maati and Mr. Nureddin, to help clear their names, and to remove the cloud of suspicion that walks with them everywhere they go. The government should put itself in the shoes of somebody who had to undergo torture in that horrible faraway place, to put itself in the shoes of the men who returned to this country not only having been tortured but still wearing the label of being an extremist or terrorist when not an ounce of it was true. A well-respect justice said that it was without basis, and the government should simply allow them to have their names cleared.
The third point under the third recommendation is to give them compensation. The government says this is a matter before the courts and it cannot act. I remember a similar argument being made in the public safety committee about Mr. Arar. It said, “We can't do anything. We can't apologize. We can't give compensation. This matter is before the court”.
It was not until the hue and cry from the Canadian public was such that it demanded action, that no other alternative was possible. Only when the government was pushed right to that corner did it finally take action. Suddenly, all of those arguments about it being before the court and not being able to do the right thing disappeared, and it did the right thing.
If it could do it for Mr. Arar, then these three gentlemen deserve nothing less. After all they have been through, after all the horrors they have seen, this is the very least the government can do for them. Instead of trying to cut-off debate, instead of trying to stifle discussion on this, the Conservatives should be rising in the House and give the men their due, here, now, today.
It was amazing to me during the proceedings of committee to hear from Mr. O'Brien, a lifetime public servant who worked for CSIS, who said that yes, under certain circumstances, we continue to share information with countries that engage in torture. The government had said, “Oh, no, we do not do that”. Yet, here was somebody on the front lines in CSIS, clearly in a better position to know than anybody else in the country saying, “Oh yes, we still do it. We still trade that information”. He explained to us that it was important to do that because sometimes good information comes from torture.
This belies all evidence which tells us that information obtained by torture is unreliable, but it also belies humanity, because at the end of the day, as we fight for our collective security and our freedoms, surely we cannot morph into the thing we disagree with. When we allow torture, when we condone it, and we do condone it by saying that it is okay, we will get information that comes from torture, we are implicitly saying that it is okay to torture.
In this regard the fourth recommendation is extremely important, and that is a clear, unambiguous ministerial directive that says we will not exchange information with countries that engage in torture. It sends an unequivocal message to those who would use torture as a means either of extracting information or terror, that Canada finds it utterly unacceptable.
The government may rise and say, “Oh yes, we did that”. Through a question on the order paper, we found the ministerial directive of 2009. It does say that assurances should be sought when sharing information with foreign agencies that torture has not taken place, but then it adds a caveat where it says, “When it would be appropriate”. We are therefore saying, “Do not share information on the basis of torture unless it is appropriate”. What does that mean? That means, “If you tortured somebody really good and you got something juicy, then send it over to us, but if the torture did not work out so well and you did not get information that is that salacious, well then you can keep that to yourself”.
We have to end this ambiguity. I do not think Canadians accept, in any quarter, the notion that torture is acceptable. It is up to the government to deliver a ministerial directive that ends all ambiguity, and certainly to ensure we do not have officials with CSIS or other agencies that are on the front line coming before committee and telling us that this still goes on and this still continues.
Finally, one of the things that has been called for by Parliament for a long time is to ensure that there is parliamentary oversight of our national security activities. We are one of the few jurisdictions in the world where that does not exist. The establishment of a national security committee would ensure there are no dark corners in which Parliament is not allowed to look. I think that is essential.
When we dealt with hearings on Mr. Arar in committee, for example, how often did we hear, “You cannot hear that. That is private and privileged information. That is subject to security clearance”. There needs to be a committee that is allowed to look into all of those corners to ensure human rights and Canadian interests are protected at all levels. We have to ensure that those things we value most, our freedoms, our collective securities are protected, but also our right to never be in a situation like Mr. El Maati, Mr. Nureddin or Mr. Almalki, where a Canadian citizen is wrongly sent to a terrible place, facing torture, because of mistakes made in this country.
It is time to apologize to those men. It is time to take action to ensure that it never happens again. The time to do so is today.