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MPCC Resumes Afghanistan Public Interest Hearings Without the Public

Globe and Mail / Interim MPCC Chair Stannard

Yesterday kicked off the resumption of testimony in the Afghan Public Interest Hearings before the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC), which is investigating allegations made in complaints filed by the BCCLA and Amnesty International in 2007 and 2008.

The Commission is a quasi-judicial body  established by Parliament to provide for greater public accountability by the Canadian Forces military police and the chain of command. The Commission is independent of both the Department of National Defense and the Canadian Forces.

These hearings are part of an ongoing inquiry to determine what military police officers knew about the torture of prisoners transferred from Canadian to Afghan custody, and what efforts, if any, they made to investigate when it became evident that transferred detainees were being abused.  Senior officials from the Canadian Forces, National Defence and Foreign Affairs have been called to testify before the Commission.  This round of hearings are scheduled for six weeks. Lawyers for (and from) the BCCLA and Amnesty will be present for all of the sessions, and we’ll endeavour to bring you up to the minute commentary on developments at the hearings.

In a last minute application yesterday, the Department of Justice sought to bar the media and public from two days of hearings, citing “national security” concerns.  (Curious that these concerns didn’t manifest themselves until the morning that the witness in question was scheduled to testify, despite the fact that the MPCC made the witness list available in late March.)  The nature of these “national security” concerns is also unclear, given that the DOJ has also agreed to release full transcripts of the testimony this week.  Nonetheless, the Commission Chair granted the DOJ’s request, so the hearings were held in closed session yesterday and will continue to be “secret” today.  The editorial board at the Globe and Mail has some sharp criticism for the MPCC’s decision to hold closed-door hearings today.

This latest maneouver by the DOJ reflects a distressing lack of transparency and more of its talismanic invocation of “national security” privilege as a catch-all justification for all manner of secrecy.  It also continues a pattern of obstruction:  the federal government has repeatedly attempted to shut down the MPCC inquiry. Federal lawyers argued that the MPCC lacks jurisdiction to hear the complaints and have tried to prohibit the MPCC from proceeding. The Commission originally began hearings in June 2009, but the hearings were derailed after the federal government failed to provide documents to the Commission and challenged the Commission’s jurisdiction in Federal Court.