NDP: Gen. Hillier is undermining democracy

Gen. Hillier is undermining democracy
The Ottawa Citizen
Mon 23 Jul 2007

Alexa McDonough MP

Re: Military tried to cover up file on outspoken critic, July 13.

The Harper Government appears to be using the Department of National Defence to fight two wars — one in Afghanistan, and another against concerned citizens who dare to raise questions.

Last week, Rick Hillier, the highest-ranking general in the Canadian Armed Forces, made a major policy decision, quite possibly in contravention of the Access to Information Act. The general appears determined that DND withhold information requested by the Canadian public, including elected officials, about matters relating to the handling of detainees in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Citizen has revealed that DND is monitoring and building a file on Steven Staples, a respected defence policy analyst, and critic of Canada’s war strategy in Afghanistan.

These decisions raise a major concern — does the Harper government consider us at war on two fronts, one with insurgents in Afghanistan, and another with Canadian citizens who dare to criticize the Kandahar mission?

Gen. Hillier, on behalf of the Conservative government, seems prepared to conceal the real face of the war in Afghanistan. Together they are afraid to let Canadians evaluate the government’s strategy, and the progress of the Kandahar mission, with the best information possible. They prefer to shield Canadians from the facts by denying access to information about, for example, the mishandling and possible torture of detainees in Afghan custody.

When informed Canadians, like the director of the Rideau Institute, question these and other distressing signs of a failing policy in Afghanistan, Gen. Hillier, with the apparent backing of Harper’s government, treats the matter as a threat from within. They gather and withhold information, and try to discredit critics’ opinions as if they represented a threat to the Canadian Forces and Canada’s security.

Gen. Rick Hillier is not a cabinet minister. He is not an elected official, yet he is determining what Canadians can and cannot know about the mission in Kandahar. This is not how democracy is supposed to work.

Where are the elected officials who should be accountable for these actions and what have we heard from them? From prime minister? From the minister of foreign affairs? From the minister of defence? Not a word! It makes one wonder: are they silent because they’ve directed the Chief of Defence Staff to compromise public access to information? Or are they silent because they remain willfully blind to Gen. Hillier’s undermining of civilian control over the military?

These are important questions for Canadians to ask of their elected officials. But you may not want to ask out loud. You may find yourself among the growing number of critics being monitored by the government. So much for Canada championing democracy in other parts of the world!

Alexa McDonough, Halifax

NDP critic for international affairs

MP for Halifax

Tags: Afghanistan, Defence policy, Steven Staples