Cdns. have had access to detainees all along: Day
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Thursday, April 26, 2007 4:41PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 6:07PM EDT
The Conservative government seems to be changing its story on the status of Canada's access to Afghan detainees.
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor announced Wednesday that a deal had been struck with Afghan intelligence to get access to prisoners to investigate allegations of torture.
Today, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day stunned the opposition by saying corrections officers have always had access to Afghan detainees after they have been transferred to Afghan officials.
The conflicting statements arose during a raucous question period, where members of the opposition once again called for O'Connor's resignation after it was learned no new agreement was in fact finalized to ensure the safe transfer of Afghanistan prisoners -- as was previously stated by the defence minister.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed on Thursday during question period that officials had yet to draft the aforementioned agreement.
But he added that the government expects to "formalize" a deal soon.
NDP Leader Jack Layton accused the Conservatives of floundering and trying to work damage control after another mistake by O'Connor.
"We are watching policy being made on the fly having to do with international law and Canada's responsibilities," Layton said.
He went on to say that the Conservatives continue to contradict themselves and are making it impossible for Canadians to have trust in the federal government.
"It is impossible to know what is taking place right now within the government. There seems to be a total contradiction in the statements being made by the ministers and by the prime minister and all they seem to be able to resort to is pointing to their critics and calling them names.
"This isn't foreign policy, this isn't leadership, this is chaos," Layton said outside the House of Commons.
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said the conflicting government responses are a farce, and that it would be funny if it weren't for the fact that lives are at stake.
On Wednesday, controversy arose over the original agreement amid reports that Canadian officials knew prisoners captured by Canadians and handed over to Afghans security forces were at risk of torture, abuse and even execution.
Later the same day, O'Connor announced a new deal had been struck to allow Canadians to monitor the prisoners after they are transferred.
Chief of Staff Gen. Rick Hillier and O'Connor have both been named in a 14-page letter to the International Criminal Court by Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia and William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway.
The professors claim "possible war crimes" have been committed by Hillier and O'Connor, resulting from the prisoner transfer agreement between Canada and Afghanistan, and have asked the ICC to investigate.
On Wednesday, both O'Connor and Harper rejected suggestions that the government intentionally buried the fact it was aware of allegations that prisoners were being abused in the hands of Afghan authorities.
Dion asked Harper why he withheld the information that he had on received the "damning report."
Harper insisted his government received no specific reports on possible abuse of captured Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
The prime minister said the document mentioned in the newspaper is an annual report produced for the Foreign Affairs Department that talks about the general state of the Afghan prison system.
However, he said the government has no evidence of specific allegations of abuse.
Answering a question in French, Harper conceded there are "human rights challenges'' in Afghanistan.
The Information Commissioner Robert Marleau told the Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics on Thursday an investigation into why sweeping portions of a document on Afghan torture were blacked out before it was given to the Globe and Mail will be launched.
Helena Guergis, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, maintained during question period on Thursday the accusations that the Canadian government was violating the Geneva Convention were unfounded.
"The fact of the matter is that the opposition has been making false accusations all week and now that they continue to make these false accusations they should apologize." She went on to say that Foreign Affairs will draft a new formal agreement with Afghanistan officials as was originally promised by O'Connor.
However, the opposition deemed Guergis' promise to draft a new agreement was a poor attempt at covering up the mistakes of the defence minister.
"It turns out once again that Gordon O'Connor was wrong and the litany of mistakes that have been made by this individual just goes on and on and today's whole exercise on the part of the government was a pretty crude attempt to try to hide that fact," former Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said after question period on Thursday.