Ottawa – Today, the Military Police Complaints Commission (“MPCC”) released its Final Report following its inquiry into the conduct of the military police relating to the transfer of detainees captured by Canadian Forces in Afghanistan to risk of torture in Afghan prisons. The Commission’s public interest hearing was established in response to complaints filed by Amnesty International Canada and the BC Civil Liberties Association in 2007. These complaints were filed as part of an effort by the two human rights organizations to have the legalities of the policy and practice of Afghan prisoner transfers examined.
Following a federal court challenge launched by the Department of Justice to the MPCC’s jurisdiction to the hold a public interest hearing on detainee transfers, the scope of the Commission’s work was ultimately limited to the narrow question of whether certain members of the military police had personally failed in their duty to investigate potential misconduct related to the transfer of detainees to Afghan custody. In today’s report, the MPCC found the complaints unsubstantiated with respect to the eight named individuals. Nonetheless, the Commission also uncovered some troubling failures and shortcomings in military police operations that would have hampered efforts to respond thoroughly and effectively to concerns about detainee transfers.
While the report makes clear that there was significant information available documenting the risk of detainee torture at the hands of Afghan authorities, it also found significant problems with respect to information sharing, reporting, and accountability within the military police, and between the military police and the Canadian Forces, generally. On detainee abuse issues, the Commission found that the Military Police were kept “out of the loop” and “marginalized” by Canadian Forces leadership. The Commission noted that it is ultimately “for others to examine the overall appropriateness of Canada’s detainee transfer policies, and the results achieved.”
Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada: “But it has never been clear who those ‘others’ are. And the government has made it clear that they do not invite or welcome scrutiny of that nature when it comes to detainee transfers. There is much that remains unexamined, such as the legality and appropriateness of relying on non-binding state to state agreements and prison visit and monitoring arrangements in the face of a well-documented and serious risk of torture. There is still, also, a pressing need to impartially and independently establish an accurate picture of the numbers of prisoners transferred, the numbers of allegations of torture and ill-treatment, the response to those allegations by both Canadian and Afghan officials, the frequency, nature and outcome of monitoring visits, and many other crucial factual questions.”
Importantly, the report devoted significant attention to the obstacles faced by the Commission in obtaining relevant documents and witness testimony from the government of Canada. The Commission concluded that the government failed to co-operate with the process, blocking access to witnesses and documents and adopting “an overall attitude of antipathy…towards the Commission and its task”. According to the Commission, it also appeared that the government was utilizing national security privilege as a “litigation tool … whose purpose became at least as much to delay proceedings as to protect truly sensitive information.” The Commission observed that it faced the same obstacles as the Somalia Inquiry in 1990s.
Carmen Cheung, Senior Counsel at the BCCLA: “The Commission is rightly critical of the many ways in which the government has delayed, obstructed, and attempted to undermine the progress of these hearings. Indeed, the government has resisted every effort to seek a full accounting of its detainee transfer policies, whether that request has come from organizations such as the BCCLA and Amnesty International, or from Parliament itself.”
Amnesty and the BCCLA believe that when it comes to fundamental issues such as preventing, investigating and responding to allegations in any way related to torture, the government should cooperate and collaborate fully and expeditiously with any and all investigatory processes, and call for all of the MPCC’s recommendations in this regard to be implemented fully and without delay.
Amnesty and the BCCLA are represented by lawyers Paul Champ, Carmen Cheung, Khalid Elgazzar and Grace Pastine.