Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Welcome to the Banana Republic of Canada

In the wake of the O'Connor and Iacobucci public inquiries into the role CSIS played in the torture of Canadians overseas, a new government rulebook of guidelines was issued to CSIS and blandishments were offered by the ministers in charge.

What's in the new rulebook? Pogge blogged yesterday about a copy obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act that is so heavily censored it is impossible to tell whether the new guidelines adequately address the recommendations laid out by O'Connor and Iacobucci to prevent future torture such as that visited upon Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin. As Pogge wrote :
"When representatives of government and its agencies assure us that they're playing by the rules, it's a little difficult to judge the accuracy of their claims when we're not allowed to know what those rules are."

This was also the position our elected representatives on the Committee on Public Safety and National Security found themselves in back in March during its Review of the Findings and Recommendations of the Iacobucci and O'Connor Reports. Despite persistent straightforward questions from the Liberals and Bloc members - Do we condone torture? Do we still use information derived from torture? - the dodging and weaving from CSIS lawyer Geoffrey O'Brian left these questions largely unanswered.
A brief media flurry resulted from his opening statements that there is no absolute ban on the use of information derived from torture when "lives are at stake", but this was immediately laid to rest the next day when the word "knowingly" was added by Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan", as in "we don't knowingly use info extracted by torture". It's the Don't ask, Don't tell Intel.

As O'Brian explained to the committee : "Three individuals are suing the government for several hundred million dollars, therefore we cannot discuss anything that would indicate that the government is in agreement with Iacobucci's findings."

He is aided in this avoidance of accountability by the six Con members on the committee running interference on tough questions from the Libs and the Bloc. From my notes of that session -not exact quotes :

Maria Mourani, Bloc : I'd like to ask about our questioning of Omar Khadr in Guantanamo ...
Dave MacKenzie, Con : Point of order : what's the relevance?
Mourani : Khadr was tortured and Canadians paid CSIS to contribute.
Chair Garry Breitkreuz, Con : I don't understand the relevance.
Mourani : I want to know did CSIS use information from Khadr obtained under torture?
MacKenzie : Point of order - Mourani is on a fishing trip.
I'll just give you a moment to let that one sink in.

Mourani : I'll rephrase the question : Is information obtained under torture?
Chair, Breitkreuz : Witnesses cannot comment on individual cases.
Mark Holland, Lib : But the questiuon is central to this inquiry.
Rathgeber, Con : Point of order. Not relevant. Stick to Iacobucci and O'Connor reports.

Which, you will recall, O'Brian has already said cannot be commented on due to ongoing litigation.

Menard, Bloc : Mourani is right. This is central to the O'Connor and Iacobucci reports. What we want to know is: Is torture still endorsed?
Mourani : Answer my question.

O'Brian, eventually : "I reject the premise of the question"

And thus CSIS informs elected members of parliament - the peoples' representatives - sitting on a committee whose mandate is to provide public oversight on intelligence agencies - to stuff it.

A couple of years ago I was sitting in a bar in the States discussing politics with some university students. "How are things up there after the coup?" one of them asked.
Me : *blink* *blink*
"Perhaps you don't call it a coup," said another helpfully.
We not only don't call it a coup, we don't even ever refer to it.
In 2006 as Liberal PM Paul Martin was set to be re-elected, RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli went public with a criminal investigation into rumoured leaks of the Liberal decision not to tax income trusts and that was the end of the Libs. Nothing came of the investigation save one lone bureaucrat pocketing some loot. No inquiry was ever launched into why the head of the national police force, himself later disgraced over Arar, in effect threw the outcome of a national election.

And exactly which intelligence agencies are responsible for the continued incarceration of Omar Khadr and the ongoing banishment of Abousfian Abdelrazik? Well we don't really know.

What we do know is that we have lost public oversight over our police and intelligence agencies. Isn't this the kind of thing we used to sneer at "banana republics" for?


Shelley said...

Thanks, Alison. I always check your blog & you never fail to provide something I've missed elsewhere, or comment so intelligently that I start "forwarding". Really.

Alison said...

Thanks for your kind words, Shelley.
Jennifer at Runesmith has posted this excellent related article :
The quiet unravelling of Canadian democracy

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