Just when it looks like the ministerial directives at CSIS couldn’t get more troubling, Jim Bronskill and his Access to Information requests uncover ever more disturbing material.
As readers of these pages will recall, last month, Mr. Bronskill reported on a December 2010 ministerial directive in which Public Safety Minister Vic Toews apparently informed CSIS that the agency is expected to rely on information potentially obtained through torture in “exceptional circumstances.” That was distressing enough, given that relying on evidence derived from torture violates the universal and absolute prohibition against torture. But last week, Mr. Bronskill reported on another document obtained through the Access to Information Act, even more troubling than the December 2010 directive.
In a four-page directive issued in July 2011 to CSIS director Richard Fadden, Minister Toews outlines the procedures for sharing information with foreign agencies in cases where such cooperation carries “substantial risk” that someone will be tortured.
While Minister Toews’ parliamentary secretary has said that the directive is “in line” with Canada’s international human rights obligations, we respectfully disagree. That there is even a procedure in place to assess whether Canada should cooperate with foreign agencies if such cooperation would result in torture bespeaks a fundamental misunderstanding of what is permissible under the international human rights regime.
To be clear: the prohibition against torture isn’t simply a promise to not explicitly and directly engage in torture. In order for the prohibition against torture to have any meaning or efficacy, all activity associated with torture must be equally condemned. That certainly includes accepting and using evidence derived from torture, and in sharing intelligence with foreign partners with the knowledge that torture may well result.
Our colleagues at Amnesty International Canada have issued a terrific open letter to Minister Toews and Mr. Fadden. (Go read it!) They quote at length the recommendations of Justice O’Connor at the conclusion of his inquiry into Canada’s complicity in the rendition and torture of Maher Arar, and make the excellent observation that the July 2011 directive “in fact institutionalizes one of the serious shortcomings that led to the human rights violations” discovered during the Arar inquiry.
There is much to be learned from Justice O’Connor’s findings and recommendations, but the teaching that keeps coming to our minds is this: “Canada should not inflict torture, nor should it be complicit in the infliction of torture by others.” It’s something that cannot be repeated enough.