Tortured policy

See no torture (in Afghanistan); hear no torture (by CSIS partners); speak no torture (when facing south)

Torture: It’s no longer just for Afghans.

Last week Public Safety Minister Vic Toews admitted that he directed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to accept for Canadian use — “in exceptional circumstances” only of course — information obtained by foreign agencies through the use of torture.

Previous Canadian policy had insisted that CSIS could not knowingly rely upon information derived from torture and that the spy agency must also have measures in place to identify such information (“CSIS may use intelligence derived from torture, Toews says,” Canadian Press, 7 February 2012):

The latest directive says in “exceptional circumstances” where there is a threat to human life or public safety, urgency may require CSIS to “share the most complete information available at the time with relevant authorities, including information based on intelligence provided by foreign agencies that may have been derived from the use of torture or mistreatment.” …

“Therefore, in situations where a serious risk to public safety exists, and where lives may be at stake, I expect and thus direct CSIS to make the protection of life and property its overriding priority, and share the necessary information — properly described and qualified — with appropriate authorities.”

The UN Convention Against Torture, which Canada has signed and ratified, bans the use of torture under all circumstances, stipulating that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Canada’s legal obligation to reject torture has also been incorporated into the Criminal Code of Canada.

The new policy doesn’t eliminate these legal bans; instead, it authorizes Canadian officials to receive the proceeds of the crime of torture as long as the torture itself is outsourced to foreign officials.

In so doing, it also sends a very clear message to CSIS: The information is more important than the crime. Keep the information coming.

Given this atmosphere, it should come as no surprise if those “exceptional circumstances” later turn out to be something more akin to standard operating procedures. Exceptional circumstances have a way of becoming that.

And that’s assuming that the agency chooses to see that torture was involved at all. Canada’s record in Afghanistan strongly suggests that some (although not all) Canadian officials are quite capable of becoming legally blind to torture when convenience demands that they see nothing.

And, really, is that so surprising? How can we expect our officials — or at least those who want to have a successful career — to see torture when their bosses won’t even permit them to say the word?

Further commentary:

Torture is always wrong,” Ottawa Citizen editorial, 8 February 2012

Dan Leger, “Is Canada OK with torture? Vic Toews sure is,” Chronicle Herald, 13 February 2012

Tags: Afghan detainee torture, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS, Torture, UN Convention on Torture, Vic Toews