Canada shirks its responsibilities under international law

The Canadian government has rejected the call, made in petition E-70, for a Public Inquiry into the Treatment of Afghan Detainees.

The government of Prime Minister Trudeau [through Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan] has just responded to e-petition E-70, which calls for a commission of inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees by Canada. Notwithstanding that the Liberal Party, while in opposition, voted for a motion in the House of Commons calling for just such a commission of inquiry (a motion which passed), the Liberal government has now rejected this call. – Craig Martin Scott, e-petition initiator

The text of the government response can be found here. (Scroll down the page to the section called “Government response” and click on the embedded PDF link OR click Govt Response to E70-421-00217_DND_E-date June 17 2016 to go directly to a copy of the response.

While its forces were deployed in Kandahar, Canada routinely transferred detainees to Afghan custody in full knowledge of the extremely high risk of torture. In so doing, Canada failed utterly to prevent the torture of many of them, thus flouting one of the most basic legal and moral obligations: the prohibition of torture, enshrined in customary international law, international human rights treaties, international humanitarian law, and Canada’s own Criminal Code.

Yet, the Minister of Defence concludes the official response as follows:

Throughout Canada’s military operations in Afghanistan, the Government of Canada ensured individuals detained by the CAF were treated humanely and handled, transferred or released in accordance with our obligations under international law.

Says Craig Scott:

These words could have been penned, word for word, by the previous Conservative government…. It is deeply disappointing that the Liberal government has chosen to add another link to a chain of complicity that for over a decade has seen non-stop efforts on the part of various Canadian government actors to hide the truth and block any form of accountability.

On the issue of the government’s response coming from the Minister of National Defence, Craig Scott states:

I wish to be clear that it is wholly inappropriate that Minister Sajjan has headed this decision process, given the possibility he may have relevant general knowledge (and possibly also specific knowledge) arising from his command and military intelligence roles in Afghanistan at relevant times. Minister Sajjan should have recused himself from this decision.

I do not believe Canada can seriously promote human rights and rule of law values, let alone try to project a “Canada is back” sunny virtue, around the world when we are not prepared to account for Canadians’ concern about our own complicity in torture, disappearances and extra-judicial killings—by way of our policies and practices of transferring captives to Afghan agencies known to engage in frequent and/or systematic perpetration of these violations—and our own alleged direct involvement in abusive treatment of detainees while simultaneously setting up a system to hide the fact those detainees were in our custody (as just revealed in the La Presse reports).

Click June 17 2016 – statement_by_C_Scott on govt e70 response for the full text of the remarks by Craig Scott.

The Open Letter from over 40 prominent Canadians, including the Right Honourable Joe Clark, calling for a Public Inquiry can be found here: Afghan_OpenLetter-Jun7-2016_EN.

Recent CBC news coverage of the government’s response can be found here.

Photo credit: Canadian Forces

Tags: Afghan detainees, Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Afghanistan, Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada, Canada, Canadian Forces, Canadian military mission in Afghanistan, Convention against Torture, Craig Scott, Department of National Defence, e-petition, Foreign Minister Stephane Dion, General Rick Hillier, Gordon O'Connor, Government of Canada, Human rights, ICC, ICC Prosecutor, ICRC, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Criminal Court, Military Police Complaints Commission, Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan, MPCC, Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Paul Champ, Peter MacKay, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Richard Colvin, Rideau Institute, Right Honourable Joe Clark, Stephen Harper, Torture