The BCCLA National Security Blog comes to you live from Ottawa, where Amnesty International Canada and the BCCLA just presented oral (and final?) submissions to the MPCC. Here are some early press reports from The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.
Listening to the Department of Justice’s submission today emphasized the absolute necessity for a full public inquiry into Canada’s past — and ongoing — practice of transferring detainees to Afghan national security forces.
Repeatedly, the Department of Justice argued that the MPCC’s jurisdiction and mandate are narrow, and pointed to several key areas in which it would not be permitted to make findings. For example, the DOJ argued that the Commission would not be able to make any determination whether the orders to transfer constituted any breaches of law whatsoever. The DOJ also argued that the Commission could not pass judgment on decisions made across government branches with respect to the transfers. For those decisionmakers who are not subject to the jurisdiction of the MPCC — that is, anyone who isn’t a military police officer — there will be no assessment of responsibility.
The DOJ also reiterated its position that allegations of Afghan torture were historic, and in any event, efforts to mitigate the risk of torture were undertaken — notably, with the adoption of a supplemental transfer arrangement with the Government of Afghanistan in May 2007. But what the effect of the May 2007 arrangement was to show that torture and abuse were indeed taking place in Afghan prisons, and almost immediately in June 2007, transfers were suspended out of concern of detainee mistreatment. Again, in November 2007, transfers were suspended, following a prison visit conducted by Canada’s own officials. While certain additional measures were undertaken before transfers resumed in late February 2008, credible human rights bodies continued to report ongoing torture and abuse in Afghan prisons and by Afghan security forces. And according to the Canadian Forces, detainee transfers were stopped on three separate occasions in 2009, twice because of continuing concerns over post-transfer treatment of detainees, and once because of difficulties in accessing transferred detainees for monitoring.
The MPCC is performing extraordinarily important work, but given the jurisdictional fetters placed on the Commission, it may not be able to provide a full picture of Canada’s conduct in Afghanistan — past or present. But such a full accounting is vital. The onus placed on Canada by our international obligations, and by our own commitment to human rights as a country and as a society — require us to very carefully assess the conduct of those who act in our name.