After detainee obstacles, future of MPCC in doubt
Published Sunday, December 13, 2009 10:03PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 12:29AM EDT
The outgoing head of the Military Police Complaints Commission says the government's refusal to release uncensored confidential documents about Afghan prisoners puts the future of the watchdog in question.
"It leaves the commission in an extremely difficult position," Peter Tinsley told CTV's Question Period on Sunday. "This raises a whole myriad of issues at law, as to whether the commission can legally proceed."
Tinsley has been overseeing the commission's public hearings into the controversial Afghan detainee issue. However, the government has refused to turn over uncensored documents, citing security concerns -- despite the MPCC having the necessary security clearance.
"The reason that was given when we went to a public hearing and the documents stopped flowing was that security considerations required that to occur," Tinsley said.
"There should have and could have been full access to documents with the concern being what goes out on the street. And the commission is as concerned about security interests and the interests of the Canadian Forces as any other agency of the government."
The MPCC also has the authority to block sensitive information from the public.
Tinsley would not speculate on why the government has resisted turning over documents. Some files have been turned over, but have been heavily censored.
The government has chosen not to extend or renew Tinsley's term as commissioner. His last day was Friday.
Tinsley, who left the army in 1998 as a lieutenant-colonel in the Judge Advocate General's office, was appointed in 2005 for a four-year term.
He had previously served as the senior prosecutor of Canadian soldiers during the public inquiry into the 1993 torture and killing of a Somali teen by Canadian paratroopers.
The MPCC was created partly as a response to that torture incident in Somalia, with a mandate to "examine complaints arising from either the conduct of military police members in the exercise of policing duties or functions or from interference in or obstruction of their police investigations."
While the MPCC has faced resistance from the government, so has a parliamentary committee that is also investigating the detainee issue.
Last month, diplomat Richard Colvin told the committee it is likely all detainees Canadian soldiers handed over to Afghan authorities were tortured. He also testified he tried warning government officials about torture but was told to censor his reports from the field.
Colvin was at one point Canada's No. 2 official in Afghanistan.
Vote over documents
On Friday, opposition MPs voted in Parliament to demand the Harper government release thousands of pages of uncensored records on Afghan detainees.
However, after the vote, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day said the government would make use of a law that allows it not to release documents on security grounds.
The vote came on the heels of a revelation by Canadian Gen. Walt Natynczyk, who said Wednesday that a prisoner handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadians was beaten while in Afghan custody.
Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh, a member of the parliamentary committee, told Question Period that the prime minister, as well as Defence Minister Peter MacKay, should have known about allegations of abuse.
Laurie Hawn, MacKay's parliamentary secretary, denied that senior government officials in Ottawa knew of the allegations.
"Gen. Natynczyk corrected himself with new information that he got," Hawn told Question Period. "And we can play semantics -- the guy was briefly detained by Canadians and turned over to the Afghans. It's not like he was brought back to (Kandahar Airfield) processed and then turned over to the (National Directorate of Security). So you can play word games all you want. Yes, he was detained. But if Gen. Natynczyk didn't know, then how is Minister MacKay to know?"
Hawn repeated the government's assertion that it would not turn over any documents it feels would compromise the security of Canadian soldiers or their partners in Afghanistan.
But committee member and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the parliamentary committee would continue to dig for information about who knew what and when.
"After the general's bombshell that he dropped this past week, we need to hear from others about what was happening on the ground. And quite frankly I'm concerned about not only the original agreement that was signed on detainee transfers, but the present one, and how it's being adhered to and followed," Dewar said.
"We need to find out who was accountable here, because that's really what this is about."