Mr. Speaker, before I begin the heart of my remarks, I would like to join other members of Parliament in thanking the Canadian Armed Forces for the work it has done in combatting the floods in Quebec and the Ottawa River valley today. Also, the minister did miss in his listing of those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, a proud New Democrat member of Parliament and one of the few female veterans in the House.
It is with no pleasure that I rise today to speak to the motion and I will take no pleasure in having to vote for the motion. However, we are faced with a situation where the Minister of National Defence has lost the confidence of a broad sector of the Canadian public, certainly a broad sector of the Canadian Armed Forces and possibly also our allies. Therefore, we believe he can no longer continue to lead the Canadian Armed Forces as the Minister of National Defence.
It causes me a great deal of personal angst to have say this. The minister has treated me, as his opposition critic, with respect. As I have said before, he is someone who all members in the House honour the bravery and distinction with which he served his country in Afghanistan. However, that is not the topic today. Nor is it the topic that the minister addressed in his speech, which was a broad review of defence concerns.
The topic is what the minister has said about his service in Afghanistan, and the wound the minister has suffered is self-inflicted. We have three versions before us of what the minister's role was.
Early on, in a letter to the Vancouver Police Department, when he returned from one of his tours of duty in Afghanistan, his commander, Brigadier General Fraser, said that he was a key intelligence officer. In interviews the minister he gave to Sean Maloney, Royal Military College Professor, in the preparation of his book Fighting for Afghanistan, he emphasized his intelligence role and his liaison role with the governor of Kandahar, the national director of security, and the Afghan National Police. That probably constitutes the heart of his role and a real contribution to Canada's effort in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, as minister, he or his government then made a decision, and we now have conflicting stories about who actually made that decision. However, at a minimum, he participated in a cabinet decision that there would be no inquiry into the transfer of detainees in Afghanistan to face torture and the Canadian role in those transfers. This is problematic. The minister would have key information for any such inquiry. He should neither have participated in the discussions about a decision not to hold an inquiry nor, even worse, if he personally made that decision. He certainly is the person who announced the decision on behalf of the government. Under the British concepts of ministerial responsibility, which we follow in the House, he is the minister responsible for that decision.
As a result of that, conflict of interest complaints were filed with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, one of those by Craig Scott, former member of the House and a distinguished professor of law at the University of Toronto. It appears from the letter, a copy of which I received from the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, that the minister then told a second story about what his role was in Afghanistan. In this second version of his story, he said that he was merely a reservist working on capacity building with police in Afghanistan and in that capacity would have had no knowledge of the matters of transfer of detainees. If this is indeed what he told the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, it is a direct contradiction of his previous interviews he gave and his previous commanding officer.
That is why following the minister's speech I asked him very directly to let us know what he told the Conflict of Interest Commissioner about his role in Afghanistan. That is why the member for Outremont, the leader of the NDP, has written to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and asked her to review her decision to close that conflict of interest file, and she has agreed to review that request. That is our second version.
Through whatever strange reason, the minister repeated a claim, which he previously made as a candidate in 2015, on his recent trip to India where he exaggerated, at best, his role in Operation Medusa. The Conservatives have chosen to focus almost all their discussion on this question, which is referred to as stolen valour, and that is an important question. The minister has apologized and taken back that version of what his role was in Afghanistan.
The problem is that if an apology is to be meaningful, it has to be followed by full transparency. Therefore, we need to hear from the minister, and I was disappointed not to hear this from the minister today, why the three versions of his story exist and how he reconciles those three versions of his story.
I was also disappointed not to hear the minister address directly the issue of the conflict of interest. He is following the same mode the Prime Minister followed in his conflict of interest issues when he says that he is pleased to answer all the questions of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. Where members are accountable in a parliamentary system is in the House. Therefore, the minister needs to not only answer truthfully to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, but the minister needs to answer truthfully and fully in the House. Unfortunately his speech this morning did nothing of the kind.
With respect to full disclosure, in my previous role before coming to Parliament, I worked for a major international human rights organization in Afghanistan. I was a researcher working in Kandahar before the minister arrived there as a reservist. Therefore, I do have some knowledge of what was going on at the time. It was very clear that the governor of Kandahar, and there were three different governors of Kandahar in very quick succession, faced very serious accusations of being involved in the torture of detainees in irregular detention centres, one of those being labelled a dungeon underneath the guest house at the Kandahar governor's palace.
These accusations were documented in Canadian documents in 2010 at the very highest level. Certainly, the former ambassador, Chris Alexander, made those allegations public. In addition, the allegations were made to the third of those governors. The one whom the minister most likely worked most closely with, Asadullah Khalid, was the governor of Kandahar from 2005 to 2008. The former Canadian ambassador made the accusations that Governor Khalid ordered a bombing that resulted in the killing of five U.N. human rights and aid workers to cover up his role in the narcotics trade in Kandahar.
I raise this question not to say that the minister was involved in torture, obviously not. Nor was he involved in the narcotics trade. No one should misunderstand me. I am not trying to cast aspersions on the minister's role in that sense. What I am trying to say is that if the minister was the liaison to these people, then he had key information about the torture of detainees and about other very illegal and despicable actions by the people to whom he was liaison.
It is very easy to consult many reports of international observers from that time who documented the use of torture in Kandahar province. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and many organizations had a look at this and were very clear that there were well-documented incidents of the torture of detainees.
Therefore, the question, which the Conservatives actually prorogued Parliament to avoid, since they were in charge of government at that time and when the minister was serving there, is what was Canada's role? Did we continue to transfer detainees into situations where we knew they faced possible torture? This would be a violation of international law and a stain on Canada's international reputation. A second part of the question, which is very important to me, is whether we used information obtained from torture for various military purposes. Again, this is a very serious question, both in the information derived from torture being highly unreliable and therefore it if was being used perhaps putting Canadian troops at risk, but also it is a very questionable practice under international law.
We know that a Conservative minister of public safety, Vic Toews, issued a ministerial directive allowing Canadian security forces to make use of information derived from torture. In his intelligence liaison role, the minister should have known that all those people whom he was liaising with faced these credible allegations of torture of detainees, and therefore when meeting the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, he should very clearly have said to her that his role placed him in a situation where he might have key information for such an inquiry.
We have a Conflict of Interest Commissioner who has traditionally interpreted her mandate extremely narrowly and has focused on financial matters almost exclusively. I believe that there is a real conflict of interest involved that is not financial.
There is also the possibility that if the minister was called to appear before such an inquiry, it might affect his ability to continue as the minister, giving him a direct personal interest in not holding such an inquiry. However, we will not know the answer to that, because the minister refuses to answer questions about who made that decision. Was it a cabinet decision? Was it his decision? We just do not have an answer. Again, I asked him earlier this morning and failed to get a response from him.
Once he had spoken to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, he also gave interviews to journalists and is quoted as saying to Murray Brewster that he was not an intelligence officer.
We have all these questions. Knowing the minister personally, I have a hard time understanding how he got himself into this situation, because I find him very straightforward on a personal level. I find him very responsible and very open, so it is a mystery to me how he got himself into this situation and why he does not try to explain that. A simple apology, not accompanied by transparency and accountability, will simply be seen as meaningless words. We have to have those other parts to go along with the apology. I hope that the minister will still have a chance today to clear the air on these questions.
How does this affect his ability to carry on? I think we had a good example this morning in this debate when he presented quite an interesting discussion on the background of the Canadian defence review, but I do not think anyone was listening. No one was listening to the minister, because they still had those other questions in mind. They were still wondering if they could trust what the minister was saying on this because of the various versions of his role in Afghanistan.
It undermines his own credibility as minister to carry forward with this kind of work. Even if he is doing the best work, those questions, those clouds, will always remain behind him until they are answered and disposed of.
I met several members of the Liberal Party over the weekend, both back in British Columbia and in travelling back to Ottawa, who said to me that it was all just politics. I say, with respect, that it is not just politics. There is nothing more important than the ability of Canadians to trust in their ministers. This is something the Prime Minister wrote in the mandate letters he gave to all his ministers, that they had to achieve the highest standards of honesty and transparency. The minister still has the opportunity to do that, and I would hope he would take that position. However, what we have heard so far does not meet those standards laid out in his mandate letter for honesty and transparency. It is not just a matter of politics.
Members have also asked me what would make me happy. Of course, I do not like that question, because the question is not what would make me happy but what would benefit Canada here. How do we get a solution out of this controversy over the minister that benefits Canada? There are two ways the could proceed that I think would make Canadians happy and restore ministerconfidence. One of those two would be to order an inquiry into the transfer of detainees in Afghanistan and to allow such an inquiry to go forward. It is something the Liberals supported when they were in opposition. However, now that he is the minister, we have them refusing to hold such an inquiry.
That may be too big a step for the minister. Because I have already said it was a conflict of interest for the minister to make that decision, I need to be a little consistent. Therefore, I will offer him a second option that does not involve that conflict, which is that he should request that the Prime Minister assign a different minister to examine this question. He should recuse himself from participating in the discussion as to whether there should be an inquiry into Canada's role in the transfer of Afghan detainees to face torture. He should ask the Prime Minister to ask another minister to make a new decision about whether such an inquiry is warranted. I believe it is an important part of Canada's international reputation to hold such an inquiry and to clear the air on our role in Afghanistan and the transfer of those detainees.
Unfortunately, I do not believe we will get either of those. The Minister of National Defence is going to attempt to muddle on as the minister. As I said before, when he brings out the defence review, it is going to be hard for people to focus on whatever good things are in the review and whatever good things he is bringing forward when there are still questions about how the minister described his own role.
There are two problems I see when the defence review eventually comes forward. One is that there was no money set aside in the budget, which we would have expected for new initiatives in a defence review. The last budget had no money set aside. I guess we are expected to believe that when the review comes out, the government will simply increase the deficit to take on new military activities. I do not believe that is true. I believe we will see a lot of good statements about policy, which will then be put off into the future, since there is no money in the budget to actually carry them out.
The second problem I see with the defence review is the exclusion of this House from participation in the defence review. The House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence played only a very small role, one chosen by committee members, to try to give the minister some input on the review. We were certainly not asked to do that. When the defence review was going on in Vancouver, I asked to go to one of the sessions and was told that members of Parliament were not allowed to attend, because it might interfere with the session. I find that a very strange concept.
We still have no commitment from the minister that when this defence review he has referred to so much today comes forward it will either be presented to this House for a vote or be presented to the defence committee. Again, without those commitments, it is hard for me to do much more than reflect on this controversy on the minister's understanding of his role when it comes to the new defence review. What is his role? Is it just his defence review, or is it one that will garner the support of Canadians across the board?
As I said, I take no pleasure today in having this debate take place. I have only been here six years, but again, I have watched the House of Commons since I was first a candidate in the 2003-04 election, and I have never seen a motion like this before the House. We are, indeed, in a very sad situation, where we have to have a debate about whether Canadians can have trust and confidence in one of their cabinet ministers. On a personal basis, as I have spoken to the minister, this is someone I like and respect, so I take no personal pleasure in being forced to raise these questions in the House of Commons.
However, it is our duty, as members of Parliament, to make sure the government is held accountable and to the highest standards, and that is really the question before us today: Has the minister, in his role as Minister of National Defence, adhered to the highest standards of honesty and transparency that are required of any minister of the crown in Canada? If he has not, then this will inevitably affect his ability to lead the government and Canada as Minister of National Defence.
In conclusion, I say again that New Democrats will be supporting this motion, but we take no pleasure in having to do so.