Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Canada's call to arms

An Open Letter to Jack Layton
May 2, 2010

Subject: New Democrats to the Prime Minister: You can't run from torture allegations
Date: Fri Apr 30 14:58:39 PDT 2010

Dear Jack,

I appreciate your e-mail, and I also appreciate that the NDP were concerned about this matter from the very beginning, particularly Dawn Black’s questions to Gordon O’Connor in early 2006 which are a matter of public record in Hansard. I also like Jack Harris as NDP Defence critic.

I absolutely agree with the position that the House order to produce documents is one of fundamental importance, the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown. I’m not very worried that the Conservatives are going to call an election on this issue – is Harper going to offer a John Yoo-like pseudo-legal opinion that the Magna Carta is “quaint”? Of course he’s not a lawyer, as is painfully obvious, and he’s getting a little more erratic now that his government is fraying not just at the edges, but everywhere.

My reason for writing is to make a case that the documents disaster is one of three themes that should be combined into one. First, is the inquiry into what exactly has happened and may still be happening to prisoners taken by Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Apart from the supremacy of Parliament issue, I’m asking you to support a judicial inquiry, which as Justice O’Connor showed, can be conducted almost entirely in public, with certain materials heard in camera. That would solve the government’s alleged fear that it might compromise national security, as defined by Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act, of which Sections 38.01 and 38.02 should probably be repealed, given their overall uselessness except for the intimidation of civil servants.

Second, is that the Minister of National Defence has just announced that General Andrew Leslie is going to conduct a review of Department of National Defence operations, as “Chief of Transformation” – it sounds like something from Harry Potter. The question is, transforming into what? Canadian citizens should be part of any review of the Department of National Defence, particularly about what we want it to do, what our role in NATO should be, and how closely we want our military to be involved with the American, given the appalling performance of the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and repeated government obfuscation behind the screen of “sensitive international relations”. You know, I for one don’t think protecting “sensitive international relations” includes protecting criminal behaviour on the part of our allies. As you might know, the Supreme Court had something to say about that as well [2008 SCC 28]:

“The principles of international law and comity of nations, which normally require that Canadian officials operating abroad comply with local law and which might otherwise preclude application of the Charter to Canadian officials acting abroad, do not extend to participation in processes that violate Canada’s binding international human rights obligations.”

Third, there is the ugly unfinished business of Somalia, and secrets that may still be lurking that should now, after the Afghanistan debacle, be flushed out for once and all. I note in passing that before it was aborted, the Somalia Inquiry encountered massive resistance from the Department of National Defence (does this sound familiar?) and there was serious evidence of attempts to shred documents (destruction of evidence), that I fear might occur again ‘inadvertently” in General Leslie’s proposed “transformation”, or might already have occurred. As noted by the Somalia Inquiry Commission:

“Many of the leaders called before us to discuss their roles in the various phases of the deployment refused to acknowledge error. When pressed, they blamed their subordinates who, in turn, cast responsibility upon those below them. They assumed this posture reluctantly - but there is no honour to be found here - only after their initial claims, that the root of many of the most serious problems resided with "a few bad apples", proved hollow.
“We can only hope that Somalia represents the nadir of the fortunes of the Canadian Forces. There seems to be little room to slide lower. One thing is certain, however: left uncorrected, the problems that surfaced in the desert in Somalia and in the boardrooms at National Defence Headquarters will continue to spawn military ignominy. The victim will be Canada and its international reputation.”

I believe ignominy has arrived. I also believe Canada needs the Canadian Forces, proud and capable of course, but accountable to Canadians citizens and independent of creeping encroachment by NATO.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Kitson