Transfers to resume once prisons improve: MacKay
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Saturday that Canadian soldiers will resume transferring detainees to Afghan authorities, but only when Canada is confident they will not be tortured.
The handovers will recommence once "we see there are improvements... in the Afghan prison," MacKay told reporters.
Meanwhile, Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan said the government has confidence in Sandra Buckler, director of communications in the Prime Minister's Office.
On Thursday, she had told CTV News that the military had not told the government that it had stopped turning suspected Taliban detainees over to the Afghan government in early November.
On Friday, Buckler said she had "misspoke."
"... I shouldn't have said it, I broke my own rule in speaking about operational matters in the military," Buckler told CTV News in a phone interview.
She then refused to confirm the policy change, saying, "I will not speak about operational matters."
Noting the calls for her resignation, Van Loan told reporters in Ottawa on Saturday: "If everybody up on the Hill who misspoke themselves once in their life had to resign, none of us would be here."
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion told reporters on Friday that he had been briefed on the policy change when he visited Afghanistan a few weeks ago -- and if he knew, there's no way that the government couldn't have known.
Dion didn't say anything until the Buckler gaffe, which Van Loan said was the right thing to do.
But Van Loan also said that the government should not speak about the military's operational matters.
"While there may be an interest in clarity and transparency and we support that, that doesn't extend to a kind of transparency that would result in disclosure of details that would put our troops at risk," he told reporters in Ottawa on Saturday.
The opposition has accused the government of covering up news that Canadian troops stopped transferring suspected Taliban prisoners to Afghan authorities after diplomats found clear evidence of torture.
Military leaders had also reportedly been furious, saying they kept the government in the loop.
The policy change came to light Wednesday as a result of government documents filed in a lawsuit by human rights groups opposed to Canada's policy of handing detainees over to Afghan authorities. A general also testified about the change on Thursday.
The opposition has accused the government of not revealing the change mainly to protect itself from embarrassment. Government leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ridiculed the notion of torture when they first surfaced in the spring of 2007.
The Tories are busy in Ottawa this weekend planning strategy for the resumption of Parliament on Monday.
Van Loan said there would be a debate and vote sometime this spring on extending the Afghanistan mission, but added the timing hasn't been set yet.
Any opposition attempt to defeat the Conservative minority government would likely happen over the budget, which is likely to be tabled in February or March, he said.