House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was question.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Vancouver South (B.C.)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 35% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Afghanistan December 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, hiding behind the uniform of brave men and women is the last refuge of any--I will not use that word.

The government is not the sole protector of national security. Parliament can protect the national interest as well, if not better. The parliamentary law clerk and the Department of Justice have stated that section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act does not apply to parliamentary proceedings.

Will the government now produce the uncensored documents and do the right thing by Canadian troops and Canadians and call a public inquiry?

Afghanistan December 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the government cannot claim that it only just learned about the specific incident of detainee abuse from General Natynczyk yesterday. Colonel Noonan's affidavit of 2007 and General Deschamp's testimony under oath in 2008 were both in the public domain while the government chose to ignore them and stymied the work of the Military Police Complaints Commission.

Now that we know that detainee abuse actually took place, not just once but many times as per the field notes, will the government now provide the committee with uncensored documents and call a public inquiry forthwith?

Business of Supply December 10th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I do not believe the minister was referring to Parliament seeking information in that last case; it must have been an institutional organization other than Parliament.

Parliament is in a class by itself. Parliament is not an ordinary entity. It is not an entity like any other organization. The same concerns cannot be expressed about parliamentary committees or Parliament itself. Parliament is absolutely supreme. It is the body that ultimately oversees the work of the government.

I have a question for the minister. It is with respect to the redacted field notes that were given to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, or other organizations, in the specific case that General Natynczyk referred to yesterday. I understand that from those field notes there is information with respect to the detainee being abused and other detainees being abused. The now released documents indicate that the field notes refer to abuse having happened many times before.

Can the minister tell us whether General Natynczyk could say yesterday that the release of that information would not have harmed Canadian soldiers or troops? Can the minister now say that the redaction was appropriate when it was done?

Business of Supply December 10th, 2009

I do, Mr. Speaker.

Business of Supply December 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, these are the people who handed everything to Christie Blatchford.

Business of Supply December 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I understand, as the member just said, that the House can do whatever the committee can do and then some. So the House can actually protect those secrets as well as the committee can in the way it transmits those documents to the committee.

Business of Supply December 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, if there is any embarrassment, it has been created by the government itself. The fact is that the government should concede that members of Parliament, some of whom are Privy Councillors themselves, may be as responsible as the government itself in protecting national security when they deal with the documents once disclosed. Why do Conservatives doubt the integrity of the members of the committee, that somehow the members of the committee pose a national security risk that if given the documents, somehow they will reveal secrets to the entire world?

I believe there is as much wisdom on the committee as there might be on the front benches of the government. I believe that we should have access to those documents and the committee will set its own procedure to ensure that we do the right thing by Canada, that we do the right thing by Canadian troops, and that we actually stand up for transparency and accountability to ensure the government is finally accountable for its actions or omissions.

Business of Supply December 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I will split my time with the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore. What transpired before you had to make the decision to proceed with this motion goes to show the need for this motion to come before the House.

We reached the point where we had to bring this motion, for one simple reason. The government, the Prime Minister and the ministers simply do not have any moral credibility on this issue anymore. From the outset of this issue they have demanded that we take them at their word, but their word has no value anymore.

From the outset of this issue they have insisted there was no compelling evidence of detainee abuse or torture, but day after day and week after week the facts have continued to come out and the facts have said otherwise. From the outset of this issue they have attacked the patriotism and integrity of those who have demanded answers, accusing them of aiding and abetting the Taliban enemy. However, it is now their patriotism and integrity that looks shabby and shallow.

From the outset of this issue they have hidden very strong words, like “cowards”, behind the heroism and bravery of the soldiers on the ground. But now we know they have covered the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and they have launched an unprecedented smear campaign against the one person, Richard Colvin, whose evidence they could not silence.

We have asked for facts and received cynical spin. We have asked for accountability and received only evasion. We have asked for the truth and received everything but. All of this is because the Prime Minister and the minister have treated this from the outset as a partisan issue and not a moral issue, as a search for an alibi and not a search for truth.

The Prime Minister seems more concerned about his own reputation than he is about Canada's. The minister seems more concerned about keeping his ministerial limousine than about doing the right thing. It was sad to watch his performance in the committee yesterday. He spoke with mock indignation about outrageous and insulting allegations, conveniently forgetting the outrageous and insulting allegations he so cavalierly made against Mr. Colvin, a dedicated public servant who was powerless to defend himself.

He spoke with mock sadness about how we were denigrating the fine work of our soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. It was an extraordinary position to take on the very day it was revealed that the government had somehow for two years overlooked the evidence of abuse provided by soldiers in Afghanistan who were acting in the finest Canadian tradition.

It has become all too clear that the government is simply unwilling to tell the truth. It has poisoned its own credibility. By their bare-knuckle, ultra-partisan approach to this most serious of issues, it has poisoned the well of trust in the House and in the committee. That is why we need access to all the documents related to these issues: non-redacted, unfiltered, unspun, and uncensored documents.

The minister appeared before the committee yesterday and said there are three investigations underway and that they should be sufficient to deal with this. First, he referred to the board of inquiry to investigate the treatment of individuals detained by Canadian troops in April 2006. That deals with the conduct of our soldiers on the ground. That is not the object of our inquiry in the committee.

Second, he referred to the Military Police Complaints Commission, which has been thwarted by a massive campaign of obstruction of justice from actually looking into this matter. Third, he referred to the committee on which I sit: the special committee on Afghanistan. That committee has been thwarted in its work by the government not producing uncensored documents in their entirety for the committee to see.

That is obviously why we need the documents. That is why it is urgent that this motion pass. It is not whether or not there was torture. There is an abundance of circumstantial evidence and real evidence of detainee torture in Afghan jails at the hands of the Afghan authorities.

Whether it is Human Rights Watch, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the UN reports, the U.S. Department of State, or our own annual human rights reports from Afghanistan, all of them go to show that abundant circumstantial evidence existed about torture in Afghanistan. The lack of any specific knowledge of any specific incident is not a defence to the continuing ignorant or wilful blindness of the government.

I want to quote Mr. Justice O'Connor in his report of September 2006. He said:

Canadian officials should not wait for “verification” or unequivocal evidence of torture in a specific case before arriving at a conclusion of a likelihood of torture.

That is a statement from Mr. Justice O'Connor, who headed the Arar inquiry. That should guide us. That is in keeping with the Geneva Convention, which essentially says that if we have circumstantial evidence, whether or not we have knowledge we have the responsibility to investigate and be careful we do not send people to a risk of torture where there are substantial grounds for the risk of torture.

We now know the government, from early 2006 to sometime in 2007, continued to send prisoners to a risk of torture. That is what we need to investigate. Why did it continue? Why did the government not take any action?

This is not about the conduct of our military on the ground. They have acted in the finest of traditions, as we learned from General Natynczyk yesterday. They have always done the right thing.

Ultimately there is a civil responsibility for all the actions that happened in Afghanistan, and that responsibility rests with the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence. That is why we need the unfettered, uncensored, unspun, unfiltered documents, to look at their conduct and whether or not they acted appropriately.

We heard the arguments advanced by the government to have this particular motion ruled out of order. The Conservatives have relied on section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act. They have relied on their excuses that they will give whatever is legally available to Parliament.

Now we know that Parliament has the unfettered, absolute right to order the production of papers and persons in this country. To my knowledge this Parliament has never fettered and never limited its own jurisdiction. The committee stands in the place of Parliament, and the committee has that unfettered access to these documents.

That is why I was very cautious in asking the Law Clerk for an opinion on the application of section 38. He sent me an opinion on October 23, 2009, which was tabled at the committee, that said we have unfettered access to documents and to witnesses who come before us and that those witnesses would be extended the privilege and immunity from prosecution if they were deemed to have violated any laws.

Then, based on some opinion it may have from the Department of Justice, the government said the Law Clerk's opinion is wrong. I asked the Law Clerk to provide me with a further opinion. He provided me with a further opinion on December 7, 2009, which has also been given to the clerk of the committee. It is public.

Then, on December 9, we received a letter from the assistant deputy minister, public law sector, of the Department of Justice, where it is finally admitted that the minister and the Prime Minister standing in the House and in the committee have been misleading Canadians; they have been misleading this House. The letter admits that while section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act has no application to parliamentary procedure, suddenly we learn the truth from a deputy minister within the Department of Justice.

Therefore, their whole charade, their house of cards came tumbling down.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank you very much for allowing this to proceed. I believe my time is ended. I will be happy to answer questions.

Business of Supply December 10th, 2009


That, given the undisputed privileges of Parliament under Canada’s constitution, including the absolute power to require the government to produce uncensored documents when requested, and given the reality that the government has violated the rights of Parliament by invoking the Canada Evidence Act to censor documents before producing them, the House urgently requires access to the following documents in their original and uncensored form:

all documents referred to in the affidavit of Richard Colvin, dated October 5, 2009;

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 decision 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.

Points of Order December 10th, 2009

Yes, absolutely, it has been a lie that has been perpetrated and uttered in this chamber for some time.

Mr. Speaker, I will withdraw the word if it is offensive to the government.

However, I have an opinion. In fact, there are two opinions from the law clerk that indicate that section 38 does not restrict the right of Parliament and the committee to receive documents. The committee may, by its own decisions, create a procedure whereupon if it considers any of the documents it receives as injurious to national security interests or international relations, it may not disclose those documents to third parties or may have a hearing that might be in camera. That is in fact in the opinions that I have received from the law clerk. I would be happy to pass them on, and they have been tabled in the committee.

The government is now finally realizing that section 38 does not afford it the claims that it has been making. It now rests or relies on a convention, citing an authority in saying that Parliament will at least respect the Crown's decision on non-disclosure in matters of national security.

When the government says that Parliament is two houses, that is a fiction it creates. Yes, in terms of passing legislation, Parliament is two houses. When section 38 was passed in the House, there was a definition of proceedings in that legislation that was picked up directly from the Criminal Code. It was eliminated and amended to ensure that Parliament has unfettered access to the documents it may require to do its job.

The job of Parliament is to oversee the government. Government cannot claim, whether by convention or otherwise, total immunity for whatever it desires. The nub of the question here is that we do not believe the government is blanking out or redacting documents in the interests of national security. It is doing so in the interest of covering its own butt. I think that is very important to remember.

The two opinions I have from the law clerk, which are public, and the opinion yesterday from the Department of Justice go to show that the government is on very thin ice and that its claim should not be respected.