Canada 'does not condone torture,' Toews says
Published Tuesday, February 7, 2012 11:33PM EST
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Canada "does not condone torture," but the government expects its spy agencies to make protecting Canadian lives their "overriding priority."
Toews was responding to Opposition questions in the House of Commons Tuesday about a Canadian Press report that contains details of a 2010 government directive to CSIS. The directive, written by Toews, instructs the agency to use information that may have been extracted through torture when public safety is at stake.
The directive, obtained through an Access to Information request, reverses previous Conservative government policy that CSIS should avoid relying on information it knows was gleaned through torture.
During question period in the House of Commons Tuesday, NDP MP Jack Harris accused the government of "showing utter contempt" for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with a "sudden passive endorsement" of torture.
"The Maher Arar torture affair and the Afghan detainee debacle taught us the dangers of courting Canadian complicity in the use of torture," Harris said in the House.
"But instead of moving forward, this government is moving Canada backwards. The public safety minister has directed CSIS to use information that is extracted through torture. As long as there is a market for information derived from torture, torture will exist. Why is this government getting Canada into the torture business?"
Toews replied that "Canada does not condone torture, and does not engage in torture. CSIS and its employees are bound by Canadian law. Our government expects CSIS and security agencies to make the protection of life and property the overriding priority."
Under further questioning by Harris, Toews said information gleaned by torture "is always discounted. But the problem is, can one safely ignore it if Canadian lives and property are at stake?"
A question by Liberal Leader Bob Rae asking that Toews table the directive in the House and explain how it holds up against Canada's obligations under international law was answered by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who repeated Toews' assertions about the protection of life and property being of "overriding priority."
The directive, as quoted by CP, says that in "exceptional circumstances," where there exists a threat to human life or public safety, urgency may require CSIS to "share the most complete information available at the time with relevant authorities, including information based on intelligence provided by foreign agencies that may have been derived from the use of torture or mistreatment."
The document acknowledges that under certain circumstances, confirming the source of information provided by a foreign agency may be impossible. However, ignoring pertinent information based only on its source would represent "an unacceptable risk to public safety."
"Therefore, in situations where a serious risk to public safety exists, and where lives may be at stake, I expect and thus direct CSIS to make the protection of life and property its overriding priority, and share the necessary information -- properly described and qualified -- with appropriate authorities."
The decision to use information that was gleaned via torture rests with the CSIS director or deputy director for operations, and must be made "in accordance with Canada's legal obligations."
The public safety minister must also be informed when such a decision is made.
Amnesty International Canada criticized the directive Tuesday, saying that intelligence obtained through torture "has no place in the justice system, full stop."
"The bottom line is that as long as torturers continue to find a market for the fruit of their crimes, torture will continue," said secretary general Alex Neve. "Firmly rebuffing torturers when they offer up information extracted through pain and suffering is a critical plank in the wider campaign to eradicate torture once and for all."
In 2006, Justice Dennis O'Connor issued an 822-page report into the Maher Arar torture affair in which he advised CSIS and the RCMP to review their policies governing how they supply information to foreign governments with questionable human rights records.
The report also urged the federal government to develop policies to address situations when Canadians are detained in countries where they are at risk of being tortured.
Arar was detained by U.S. authorities in 2002 and deported to Syria, where he falsely confessed to having ties to terrorists while under duress from torture at the hands of his captors.
With files from The Canadian Press