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Shake-up at the Military Police

Yesterday, the Canadian Press reported that the Canadian Forces provost marshal — the head of the military police — will be granted more direct authority over all members of the military police. This is the result of a reorganization in the command structure, which will take effect today.

This is a welcome move towards greater investigative and policing independence in the Canadian military. Under the previous system, the CF provost marshal had direct command authority only over the National Investigative Service, which conducts major criminal investigations within the CF. The task force provost marshal — the head of the military police detachment in theatres of operation such as Afghanistan — reported to the local CF task force commander, and not up a military police chain of command. This, of course, creates a situation where there is potential for conflicts, given that the military police’s job is, in part, to assess whether the members of the Canadian Forces are behaving lawfully. These CF members include  the commanders on the ground.

As those of you who have been following the BCCLA’s work at the Military Police Complaints Commission likely know, one of the issues in that case is whether the CF provost marshal and the task force provost marshal, among others, failed to investigate whether the task force commander in Afghanistan illegally issued orders to transfer detainees to substantial risk of torture. One of the issues raised during the hearing was whether the task force provost marshal’s decision to not investigate the commander’s conduct was influenced by the fact that the commander was his direct commanding officer. This reorganization of the chain of command may go towards curing that potential for conflict.

On the other hand, as we’ve said previously in these pages (and at length in our final submissions to the MPCC), testimony at the MPCC has made clear that the National Investigative Service, for example, saw no need to investigate the legality of orders to transfer detainees, notwithstanding ample publicly-available information documenting reports of torture in Afghan prison facilities. Today’s restructuring changes nothing with respect to the NIS’s chain of command — it has always been independent of the task force commander.

This change in the command structure also doesn’t address our concerns about ongoing detainee transfers, which continue to this day, notwithstanding concerns about detainee torture as recently as 2009. It does little to ensure that military police receive adequate training so that they recognize violations of human rights and law of war when they take place. And this is a move that only impacts the function of the military police — the policy decisions to transfer detainees to the custody of the notorious Afghan secret police were made by government ministers and officials across agencies, over many years. The military police can only bear part of the responsibility for Canada’s conduct in Afghanistan. There needs to be a public accounting for the role played by many other government actors.