There is simply no other way to learn whether Canadian officials knew whether prisoners captured by the Canadian forces were being transferred to torture. We have no recourse in the courts, given the government’s successful application to have our case dismissed. The MPCC process has been derailed by the government’s procedural challenges and refusal to provide the Commission with crucial information. Parliament’s own inquiry into detainee transfers has been badly hampered by its protracted to-and-fro with government over access to relevant documents. Thus, the only remaining option to ensure that there is proper accountability for Canada’s conduct in Afghanistan is to establish a full, public Commission of Inquiry into all aspects of the laws, policy and practice that has governed Canada’s approach to handling prisoners in Afghanistan. The need for a full public inquiry — where the Commission of Inquiry would have full access to the relevant documents and witnesses — has been made apparent by the obstacles encountered by both the MPCC and Parliament this past year. The MPCC hearings, which began in April 2009, were stalled for six months because of a lack of the necessary documentation. The Commission adjourned once again over the summer because it was still waiting for government to disclose the relevant and necessary documents. Parliament has also faced obstacles in terms of document disclosure. Government’s refusal to make documents available to the House of Commons culminated in an historic ruling by the Speaker of the House that the government was obligated to disclose all documents related to the detainee issue at the request of Parliament.
Nonetheless, the recently concluded “document deal” does not reflect the Speaker’s ruling in favor of full disclosure; indeed, it still permits a panel of judges to withhold certain documents from the Commons Committee, creating the worrying possibility that critical documents will never be disclosed for Committee review.
The BCCLA maintains that access to documents is essential to resolve inconsistencies between government-issued statements, and those documents that have been made public thus far. The jurisdictional mandate of the MPCC is limited and information coming out of the Parliamentary document review may be incomplete. We need an independent commission with full access to documents and witnesses to resolve these inconsistencies and get to the truth. There is simply no other way to learn whether Canadian officials knew whether prisoners captured by the Canadian forces were being transferred to torture.
The BCCLA National Security Blog, with ongoing updates and analysis on this issue.