Monday, November 09, 2009

Inside the Committee on Afghanistan

Doris vs Dewar ... via Thwap's Schoolyard :

Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP) : Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister.

I want to start off with your comments about communication and getting the message out. I want to be precise. In looking over the shop that you chair, the Afghanistan task force, something came up that caused me considerable concern. When I asked officials responsible for training military and police whether they were able to read the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's report, a wonderful project that we helped fund, they told me they couldn't read it because it was in Dari. I was happy to provide a translation for them.

I looked into this, and I asked an order paper question about translation and the capacity of the task force. You talked about getting the message out, and that's fair enough. What came back was rather stunning to me. Not one person in the PCO, the Afghanistan task force, knew Dari or Pashto. In this country, I'd think we'd be able to find someone—I have. Those six communication assistants in that shop are doing something. From 2006 to 2009, the government spent a total of $4,512 on translation into Dari or Pashto, whereas in this same time period they spent $9.2 million on communications about the war.

I point that out to you because I think there are a lot of deficits. It's about priorities. I don't think we should be spending $9.2 million on getting the message out about the war. We should spend more on translation services. We have a critical role. If we can't even find people to translate the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's report about torture by the people we're training, we have a problem, Minister.

I will leave that with you as a concern, because you asked for advice. It's not acceptable, from my point of view, and I'd like to know the response. I think it's an area where we have failed.

There's been a lot of attention paid to the transfer of prisoners. I'm going to make a motion to have this committee talk to people about this and bring people before the committee. Are the transfer agreements that the government brought in and we signed onto being followed by Afghan government officials? Are we certain that they're following the procedure we put in place?

Hon. Stockwell Day: It's my understanding that they are. I'll get back to you on how we came to that understanding and what gives us that sense of confidence. Then you can judge whether it's a good checking process we have.

On the issue of translation, there actually is a Dari speaker on our task force. This may not have been true when you asked for that information, but there is somebody there now who speaks Dari. Is one person enough? I don't know.

You've raised some good issues on translation. I'll get some information back to this committee, because I know we receive it from other sources. We get the reports of those human rights—

Mr. Paul Dewar: But you understand the disproportionate nature of the numbers.

Hon. Stockwell Day: With respect to communication itself, I'll come back to you with the costs. The cost of printing and distributing these reports—that's got to be fairly significant. There are quite a number of other communication methods that are used. More communication was one of the key recommendations of the independent panel that looked at Afghanistan. In fact, it is the reason we're here today: communication, communication, communication. It was very strong. So I'll get back to you on that.


opit said...

Quite believable.
I'm rather annoyed at myself for not properly caching a copy of the Talking Points for media on Afghanistan so as to limit discussion and keep it running in circles. Some of my more interesting explorations involve haring off into the unknown to parts far away for an unreported viewpoint.
Check out Google Translate. The service installs in Firefox to give one machine translation at the click of a browser button.

thwap said...


You show that there's gold [of a sort] to be found with publicly available information.

I did some poking around on my own, and found that amazing exchange. And (as you know) it got worse for Doris.

Alison said...

Thanks, Opit, will try it out.

It's a tradition with good bones, Thwap - IF Stone and Noam Chomsky just read the papers with a critical eye. Pogge and Dawg very good at it I think.
I was going to post the exchange when I saw you already had. Doris really is quite remarkably dim but secure in the knowledge that no one is paying any attention.

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