We believe this is unfinished business of the most serious kind — accountability for alleged complicity in torture — the only appropriate remedy for which is a public inquiry.
In September 2015, in the midst of the federal election campaign, the Rideau Institute released a report — Torture of Afghan Detainees: Canada’s Alleged Complicity and the Need for a Public Inquiry — calling for a transparent and impartial judicial inquiry into the actions of Canadians in relation to Afghan detainees, a cause the Liberals themselves had championed in the face of implacable stonewalling by the Harper government.
That report was followed by other actions, including an Open Letter to the Prime Minister signed by 41 human rights experts, former and current parliamentarians, and other eminent Canadians, including former prime minister Joe Clark.
In December 2015, Craig Scott, a former M.P. and law professor at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, launched a parliamentary e-petition, which subsequently received enough signatures to obligate the government of Canada to provide a written response.
Shockingly, the Prime Minister left it to Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan to provide the official government response, which denied the need for an inquiry despite all of the evidence to the contrary. This decision was all the more problematic since, were an inquiry to be held, Harjit Sajjan himself would be a witness, given his role as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan when the alleged mistreatment took place.
…. there remains an underlying conflict of interest in that Sajjan is blocking an Afghan-detainees commission of inquiry for which he would be a crucial witness. – Craig Scott
Canadian media coverage of this terrible inaction by a government that professes to value international law has been rather sparse, and perhaps the Liberals were hoping the issue would just fade away.
However, they clearly misjudged the International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity where the responsible national government either cannot or will not take action itself. In December 2017 the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC sought approval from the Court for a formal investigation into the actions of the Afghan government, the Taliban, and USA forces regarding Afghan detainees.
On 5 January 2018, Globe and Mail columnist and human rights advocate Erna Paris highlighted the issue once again in her powerful article entitled Will Canada finally deal with its Afghan war skeletons? She concludes:
How ironic that Canada, whose current leader has fashioned his mandate on human rights and the rule of law, may be subject to an international investigation for having failed to respect the rules of the world’s first court to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity — the very tribunal this country worked so hard to create.
Only a full investigation will serve the interests of justice. Canada’s reputation in the world may soon depend upon its willing compliance.
Photo credit: Dene Moore, Canadian Press.