Mr. Speaker, perhaps as this concurrence motion was sought to be cut short by the Conservatives, I could read from Kerry Pither's book, Dark Days
, about the actual implications of what we are debating.
I would put that there is no matter that could be more important to debate in the House than one pertaining to innocent Canadians who suffered torture, according to a commission of inquiry conducted here in Canada, because of mistakes that were made by security officials, and our attempts to ensure that it never happens again.
If members have lost that fact, let me read from Ms. Pither's book. Talking about Ahmad El Maati, it says:
|| The sound of prisoners being electrocuted didn't stop, either. “[They were] only a few feet away and across the hall. And what scared me most was I [knew] that maybe my turn was next. I was living constantly with this fear that I would be next, I would be next, I would be next.”
|| After being there for about ten days, it was his turn.
|| Ahmad was led into an interrogation room where four or five men were waiting.
|| “Whether you tell us the truth or not, we're going to torture you anyway,” said a man whose voice Ahmad would come to know well.
|| Hit from behind, Ahmad was forced to his knees, then grabbed by the hair and his head yanked backed as the men slapped and kicked him. Then the electric shocks started. The men stood behind him, prodding him with a rod. “It's difficult to describe the feeling,” Ahmad says. “You feel your soul is coming out of your body, and your heart's going to stop and you lose control of yourself and screams come out unconsciously.”
|| This time they started with his hands, shoulders, legs, and stomach. Later they aimed for his genitals. Afterward, Ahmad saw the device being used: a black rod, about a foot long, with a handle on one end and a point on the other.
|| These sessions sometimes lasted for several hours at a time.
Unfortunately, this is but one account in the book. There are many others. It is impossible for us to imagine the horror that these men would have faced. Perhaps even more tragically, today, the government still refuses to give them an apology, give them redress in the form of compensation, and most importantly, allow them to clear their name.
Perhaps not quite as bad as that torture they would have faced in those terrible dungeons in Syria is for the cloud of suspicion to continue to hang over them today. What they ask for more than anything else is the right to have their name cleared, a right that should be afforded to them immediately. Second, if one were to talk to the innocent victims, they would say to make sure that it never happens again.
If we did not know the answer to how to stop this from happening again, the government could be forgiven for not acting. However, the reality is that we have had report after report, commission of inquiry after commission of inquiry, and committee report after committee report detailing in the clearest possible terms the actions that must be taken.
Whether it was the report of Justice Iacobucci, who was not given the power to make recommendations but made clear conclusions, including the innocence of three of the men whose stories I will tell in a moment; whether it was Justice O'Connor's recommendations, which were clear and which years ago the government promised it would implement, yet we stand here today with those recommendations still not acted upon; whether it was the Senate committee report on anti-terrorism; whether it was the report that flowed out of the RCMP pension scam; or whether it was the report done yet again by the public safety and national security committee of which I am a member, which was tabled in front of the House and in which we simply asked for the right to debate today, again and again the answers are apparent and obvious and the government refused to act.
Worse, the government has shown contempt for oversight. Not only did it show contempt for this issue by trying to stop it from being debated in the House today, but one can take a look at the limits placed upon the RCMP public complaints commission. It is bad enough that the RCMP public complaints commissioner does not even have the power to force people to give him information. If he goes to senior RCMP officers and asks for files or information, they have to be given to him voluntarily. That is still the case today, even after all the recommendations that have been made.
It is bad enough that he can only act upon complaints, that he cannot act proactively, that he has not been empowered to go there. It is bad enough that there are many agencies which he is not allowed to investigate and where no oversight exists at all. Imagine, for the Canada Border Services Agency, that no independent oversight exists. Imagine, for immigration, that no independent oversight exists, so the government continues to allow this situation that has been identified to continue.
It would be bad enough for those recommendations to be ignored, but it was not enough for the government. It also slashed the budget of the public complaints commissioner's office. At a time when he needed more resources to ensure the integrity of our national police force, his budget was slashed.
The government's excuse here is to say that it has to wait for more reports. All those reports that I mentioned apparently are not enough. We also have the Braidwood inquiry. We also have Justice Major's report coming out on Air India. We have to wait for those. What could be more preposterous than to just keep waiting for a report to reiterate the same things over and over again? How many times does the government need to be told that something is essential to do before it takes action on it?
Certainly, I could understand if the government would do as it promised and implemented Justice O'Connor's recommendations, that again were followed up by so many different reports and inquiries, and say that it was going to build upon them, but to suggest that it will not do these self-evident things because it needs to wait for another report is nothing but an excuse.
What every one of us in the House knows is that after Justice Major tables his report, or when the Braidwood inquiry is done, we will be told there is another report or another commission of inquiry that needs to be conducted. Why? It is because under the Conservatives' watch, even when we knew what needed to be done to ensure that future tragedies did not occur, another one will because they refuse to take action. There will be another commission of inquiry to look into that, and that will provide yet another excuse for inaction, yet more time will go on.
Some of the cases that we talk about are well-known, such as Maher Arar and the extraordinary and terrible situation that he went through, which finally and eventually did lead to an apology and compensation, but let us also take a look at some of the other cases.
We know about Mr. Dziekanski of course, who was tasered at a Vancouver airport. There is an inquiry going on about that right now. We know about the pension scandal, but maybe we could take a moment to look at three of the individuals who were identified through Justice Iacobucci's report, and who were cleared.
With regard to Mr. El Maati, Justice Iacobucci determined that the way the RCMP and CSIS inaccurately labeled Mr. El Maati contributed to his detention and torture.
With regard to Mr. Almalki, in addition to finding that information-sharing with the U.S. and sending questions to Syrian interrogators likely contributed to Mr. Almalki's torture, Justice Iacobuuci found that Canadian officials were linked with Mr. El Maati, in communication with American, Syrian and other foreign agencies before his detention, without taking steps to ensure those labels were accurate or properly qualified, without attaching caveats and without considering the potential consequences for Mr. Almalki.
With regard to Mr. Nureddin, Justice Iacobucci determined that CSIS labeled Mr. Nureddin as a human courier and facilitator in the transfer of money to members of Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq without first taking adequate measures to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information or to qualify it as appropriate, and that this likely contributed to his Syrian detention and torture.
These cases are tragic and when we hear the stories and we read a book like Ms. Pither's, and we hear about the horrible circumstances they were put through, what I think is so unimaginable to Canadians when they are exposed to it is that the solutions are here now and the government continues to refuse to act. It is something that I have to admit I am utterly confounded by.
I am confounded by it not only because of its implications for further abuses for other Canadian citizens, and because of the fact that it does not put the safeguards in that we need to ensure that Canadian citizens never face this type of situation again, but we also have to reflect upon its implications for our national security agencies themselves and for the RCMP.
We are lucky to have, in the RCMP, some of the finest men and women we could ask for serving us across this country.
I have had the opportunity to go to detachments in urban and rural areas and meet some amazing people who are doing incredible work, whose clear motivation is to protect their communities and to give back. However, they are deeply frustrated. They are frustrated because they recognize that at the top levels the RCMP is in need of reform.
They recognize that if those changes are not made, it tarnishes the name of their organization and, in turn, tarnishes the good work they do. All they ask is that they have leadership that is equal to the courage and valour they show every day. All they ask is that the organization is as exemplary at the top as it is at the bottom.
The government is refusing to make these changes and they ask, why? They ask why, when the answers are so self-evident, so clear and repeated so strenuously. It is not just for the protection of Canadian human rights but I would also suggest for the protection of our police force and its integrity overall.
We need to ensure that tragedies do not occur again, that when mistakes are made or it is found there are weaknesses in our system they are repaired, not left to fester and tarnish, that we do not repeat the same mistakes again and again, doomed to repeat the same failures.
In that regard, I am going to go through the recommendations that were placed in the report delivered by the Standing Committee for Public Safety and National Security.
The first and most self-evident is to implement immediately the recommendations of Justice O'Connor. It is impossible for me to believe I am still saying this in the House all these years later, particularly when the government has promised so many times to implement these recommendations, but many of the key and most important recommendations are still not implemented. That is utterly unacceptable and the committee unanimously called for those recommendations to be implemented immediately.
The second is that there be regular updates on the status of both implementing Justice O'Connor's report and responding to the conclusions of Justice Iacobucci's report, regular reports on the progress of the government. The government has been unbelievably secretive in even telling us what it has and has not done.
One of the first and most difficult tasks for the committee was to take a look at the 23 recommendations of Justice O'Connor and try to figure out what action the government had taken. Even as a committee of Parliament, it had a huge amount of difficulty getting answers on what, if any, action it had taken. It has to break that secrecy.
It needs to be clear and honest about what actions have been taken and exactly where we are in implementing those recommendations. Where recommendations have not been implemented, it needs to explain in clear terms why and what the timetables are to implement them. That is if the government continues to maintain, as it has, that it will implement Justice O'Connor's recommendations.
After I began by reading one of the stories, I hope the government really reflects upon the importance of this third recommendation, which is to apologize to Mr. Almalki, Mr. El Maati and Mr. Nureddin, to help clear their names, and to remove the cloud of suspicion that walks with them everywhere they go. The government should put itself in the shoes of somebody who had to undergo torture in that horrible faraway place, to put itself in the shoes of the men who returned to this country not only having been tortured but still wearing the label of being an extremist or terrorist when not an ounce of it was true. A well-respect justice said that it was without basis, and the government should simply allow them to have their names cleared.
The third point under the third recommendation is to give them compensation. The government says this is a matter before the courts and it cannot act. I remember a similar argument being made in the public safety committee about Mr. Arar. It said, “We can't do anything. We can't apologize. We can't give compensation. This matter is before the court”.
It was not until the hue and cry from the Canadian public was such that it demanded action, that no other alternative was possible. Only when the government was pushed right to that corner did it finally take action. Suddenly, all of those arguments about it being before the court and not being able to do the right thing disappeared, and it did the right thing.
If it could do it for Mr. Arar, then these three gentlemen deserve nothing less. After all they have been through, after all the horrors they have seen, this is the very least the government can do for them. Instead of trying to cut-off debate, instead of trying to stifle discussion on this, the Conservatives should be rising in the House and give the men their due, here, now, today.
It was amazing to me during the proceedings of committee to hear from Mr. O'Brien, a lifetime public servant who worked for CSIS, who said that yes, under certain circumstances, we continue to share information with countries that engage in torture. The government had said, “Oh, no, we do not do that”. Yet, here was somebody on the front lines in CSIS, clearly in a better position to know than anybody else in the country saying, “Oh yes, we still do it. We still trade that information”. He explained to us that it was important to do that because sometimes good information comes from torture.
This belies all evidence which tells us that information obtained by torture is unreliable, but it also belies humanity, because at the end of the day, as we fight for our collective security and our freedoms, surely we cannot morph into the thing we disagree with. When we allow torture, when we condone it, and we do condone it by saying that it is okay, we will get information that comes from torture, we are implicitly saying that it is okay to torture.
In this regard the fourth recommendation is extremely important, and that is a clear, unambiguous ministerial directive that says we will not exchange information with countries that engage in torture. It sends an unequivocal message to those who would use torture as a means either of extracting information or terror, that Canada finds it utterly unacceptable.
The government may rise and say, “Oh yes, we did that”. Through a question on the order paper, we found the ministerial directive of 2009. It does say that assurances should be sought when sharing information with foreign agencies that torture has not taken place, but then it adds a caveat where it says, “When it would be appropriate”. We are therefore saying, “Do not share information on the basis of torture unless it is appropriate”. What does that mean? That means, “If you tortured somebody really good and you got something juicy, then send it over to us, but if the torture did not work out so well and you did not get information that is that salacious, well then you can keep that to yourself”.
We have to end this ambiguity. I do not think Canadians accept, in any quarter, the notion that torture is acceptable. It is up to the government to deliver a ministerial directive that ends all ambiguity, and certainly to ensure we do not have officials with CSIS or other agencies that are on the front line coming before committee and telling us that this still goes on and this still continues.
Finally, one of the things that has been called for by Parliament for a long time is to ensure that there is parliamentary oversight of our national security activities. We are one of the few jurisdictions in the world where that does not exist. The establishment of a national security committee would ensure there are no dark corners in which Parliament is not allowed to look. I think that is essential.
When we dealt with hearings on Mr. Arar in committee, for example, how often did we hear, “You cannot hear that. That is private and privileged information. That is subject to security clearance”. There needs to be a committee that is allowed to look into all of those corners to ensure human rights and Canadian interests are protected at all levels. We have to ensure that those things we value most, our freedoms, our collective securities are protected, but also our right to never be in a situation like Mr. El Maati, Mr. Nureddin or Mr. Almalki, where a Canadian citizen is wrongly sent to a terrible place, facing torture, because of mistakes made in this country.
It is time to apologize to those men. It is time to take action to ensure that it never happens again. The time to do so is today.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois regarding the report of the Committee on Public Safety and National Security. This is an interesting debate in the House today. I do not serve on this committee, and so I had another look at this report that was produced in June 2009. I see why there was interest in having this debate here today.
Some of my Bloc Québécois colleagues serve on this committee, including the member for . Those who know him know that he is a distinguished lawyer who was the attorney general of Quebec when he was a member of the National Assembly. My colleague from , a well-known criminologist, also serves on the committee. Anyone who is familiar with her work knows that she has written extensively on the subject of street gangs. She not only tackles the problem of street gangs, but also proposes solutions to the issue. In addition, she has always been interested in human rights issues.
In reading the report, I was able to better understand the intentions of the committee members at the time, why it is being brought back to the House today, and also the Conservative philosophy behind the position they defended in committee.
The report reviewed the findings and recommendations arising from the Iacobucci and O'Connor inquiries. Mr. Speaker, I know that you are familiar with all of these reports, but for those listening, I want to point out that the Iacobucci inquiry was an internal inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin. The O'Connor inquiry looked into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Maher Arar. These cases were very important in terms of the government's foreign policy and how the Conservative government and the Government of Canada treated Canadian citizens who experienced difficulties with foreign authorities. That brings me back to the committee's analysis and, most importantly, its findings and recommendations.
The first recommendation called on the government to recognize the urgency of the situation by immediately implementing all of the recommendations from the O'Connor inquiry, the one in relation to Maher Arar. The committee found it regrettable that the government had not yet established the national security review framework recommended by Justice O’Connor. After hearing from the majority of witnesses, the committee determined that the implementation of the recommendations from the policy review report would give Canadians assurance that the actions of national security departments and agencies were in compliance with the law. That was the main objective. I will read the recommendation:
|| The Committee reiterates the recommendation made in its report presented to the House of Commons on January 30, 2007, and recommends that the Government of Canada recognize the urgency of the situation by immediately implementing all the recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar.
In June 2009, the committee resurrected the O'Connor inquiry's recommendations, which had been submitted in the January 2007 report. It is important to bring this up again today to show that, first, the government has not yet implemented the committee's June 2009 recommendations, and second and more importantly, the government expressed a dissenting opinion. The committee submitted a majority report, but a minority, the Conservatives, produced a dissenting opinion. That means that the Conservative members did not agree with the committee's recommendations. I will come back to that.
That is why it is so important today to show that even though the committee submitted a majority report with recommendations, the inevitable outcome has been that the government, which expressed a dissenting opinion, has no interest in implementing the report's recommendations.
This means we must find out why the Conservatives decided to submit a dissenting opinion and why they decided not to act on the June 2009 committee report.
The second recommendation states:
|| The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada immediately issue regular public reports on the progress made in implementing the findings and recommendations arising from the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar and the Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin.
The reports should have been made public in order to demonstrate that these people did not suffer irreparable harm at the hands of the government. It seems clear that the government decided not to publicly announce all of the progress made because, once again, it wanted to hide the documents.
This brings us to the core of the report. The third recommendations states:
|| In consideration of the harm done to Messrs. Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin, the Committee recommends:
||that the Government of Canada officially apologize to Messrs. Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin;
||that the Government of Canada allow compensation to be paid to Messrs. Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin as reparation for the suffering they endured and the difficulties they encountered; and
||that the Government of Canada do everything necessary to correct misinformation that may exist in records administered by national security agencies in Canada or abroad with respect to Messrs. Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin and members of their families.
Clearly, the reputations of these individuals have suffered considerable harm. The committee found that the government made a mistake and should correct that mistake by officially apologizing. That was a recommendation. It will come as no surprise that the Conservatives had a dissenting opinion and ignored that recommendation. Their failure to acknowledge the harm done to our citizens is an affront to rights and freedoms, but that is the Conservative way.
Despite the Conservative rhetoric when it comes time to show some respect for human rights, this is just further proof that they really do not respect those rights.
The fourth recommendation is very important in light of the debates of these past few days, because it recommends adopting an unequivocal position on torture. This report was published in June. It took a few months to draft it. I will read the recommendation:
|| The committee recommends that the Government of Canada issue a clear ministerial direction against torture and the use of information obtained from torture for all departments and agencies responsible for national security. The ministerial direction must clearly state that the exchange of information with countries is prohibited when there is a credible risk that it could lead, or contribute, to the use of torture.
I am not a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, but the fact that the Conservative MPs issued a dissenting opinion on this recommendation is disturbing. It shows that everything the government has been doing in the past few weeks to hide the documents on the torture of Afghan detainees from the Standing Committee on National Defence is symptomatic. It is a Conservative syndrome. They see no torture and hear no torture, therefore there is no torture. Only those who are present can determine that there is torture. If there is no video evidence of torture, then there is no torture.
That is the heart of today's debate. I watched the Conservatives tear their hair out saying that today's debate would delay all the big, fine decisions they have to make. They have made some very serious decisions nonetheless.
Once again, they gave a dissenting opinion on recommendation 4, which reads as follows:
|| The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada issue a clear ministerial directive against torture and the use of information obtained from torture for all departments and agencies responsible for national security.
When I read that in the report, I remembered that the Conservative Party had issued a dissenting opinion on recommendation 4. That gives me a better understanding of the Conservative ideology, which comes from the Republicans in the U.S.: “If we don't see it, it ain't happening”. It is a bit like the boxer who told his trainer that someone was hitting him. The trainer answered that no one was hitting him, no one could see him and no one was touching him. The boxer asked the trainer to check with the referee, because he could feel someone touching him. That is the reality. That is the Conservative approach. They cannot see or feel anything, but meanwhile, people are being tortured. In order to admit that torture is taking place, all the Conservative members would have to see acts of torture with their own eyes at the same time.
This attitude comes from the Conservatives' right-wing ideology. Today, this whole debate is being brought to the House of Commons in connection with the June 2009 report. The government has not acted on this report. But even worse, the Conservatives had a dissenting opinion on recommendation 4, which recommended:
||that the Government of Canada issue a clear ministerial directive against torture and the use of information obtained from torture for all departments and agencies responsible for national security. The ministerial directive must clearly state that the exchange of information with countries is prohibited when there is a credible risk that it could lead, or contribute, to the use of torture.
As we can see, in June 2009, the Conservatives did not agree with this recommendation. Obviously, this tells us even more about how they handle all the cases of torture of Afghan detainees.
The fifth recommendation was as follows:
|| The Committee recommends, once again, that Bill C-81, introduced in the 38th Parliament, An Act to Establish the National Security Committee of Parliamentarians, or a variation of it, be introduced in Parliament at the earliest opportunity.
Clearly, the objective was to create a parliamentary committee to review the activities of national security organizations.
When a government just does not wish to issue the directives or support a recommendation calling for clear directives, it is not unusual for a committee of parliamentarians to follow up with these organizations in the matter of the allegations or the way in which they handle all files involving our citizens who are accused of all kinds of things abroad. My colleagues on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and I thought this was an interesting solution.
Once again, this report expresses the findings of the majority but the minority Conservative voice has prevailed. It is no surprise that the report has not been acted on and that, inevitably, it has been shelved. That is what happened.
The Bloc Québécois is pleased to discuss this matter today. It gives us a little more insight into the Conservative philosophy, which is based on always turning a blind eye, never apologizing and, when faced with a situation where there is torture and the violation of human rights, having to be there to actually witness it. They do not even want a committee to recommend that clear directives be issued to all security services that may question witnesses. That is how they see things. There is the Conservative view of things and the humanitarian view of things, and the Bloc Québécois has always defended the latter. We have always been strong defenders of justice.
We want every person who commits a crime to be punished. However, when someone is wrongly accused of having committed a crime, they deserve an apology. Torture must not be used; it is straight out of the Middle Ages. I apologize for pushing this, but it really is an outdated way of doing things. There are ways to obtain information that are more respectful of human rights. That is how the Bloc Québécois wants things to work.
Today's debate was very important, and it showed that the Conservatives do not want to discuss governance problems related to torture. The government is not at all willing to bring the facts to light or to prevent these kinds of things from happening.
The Bloc Québécois still supports this report. Our colleague from was once the attorney general of Quebec. He was one of the instigators of Opération printemps 2001, which targeted organized crime in Quebec. He was the minister at the time. This operation was made possible thanks to the Bloc Québécois, which was in favour of amending the Criminal Code to reverse the burden of proof. Criminals were then required to prove that their money had been earned legitimately. Opération printemps 2001 dealt a serious blow to organized crime.
The Bloc's position will always be the same: we believe that we must fight criminals and anyone who attacks our freedoms. But in doing so, we must respect human rights. We must not torture people. We are capable of holding these debates in a way that respects human rights.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to rise to speak to this motion, notwithstanding that other important business has been delayed by it. It is an important question.
I want to start by responding to some of the issues raised by the Liberal member for , because he did speak in a tone that I can only call high sanctimony. It was a tone that is highly inappropriate for a Liberal on this matter, because of course the events the Iacobucci commission looked into were all events that occurred under the watch of a Liberal government.
If we are to look for true accountability, it is not the Liberal Party that should be complaining. The Liberals should be looking into themselves to explain why they failed to provide appropriate oversight and adequately protect the rights of Canadian, rather than making a ridiculous assertion that the events that happened in 2001 and 2002 are somehow the responsibility of a Conservative government here in the year 2009.
That said, I want to address some of the specific issues. I will point out that the report before us from the parliamentary committee and, in fact, the Iacobucci commission itself would not even have existed if it were not for this Conservative government having inherited the problems that existed before and that needed to be addressed. I will read from Mr. Iacobucci's report. It says:
|| By Order in Council dated December 11, 2006, I was appointed under Part I of the Inquiries Act to conduct an internal inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin.
Therefore, this is actually a report that was initiated by the Conservative government. I heard words from the Liberals about the importance of these kinds of public inquiries and how they should be regarded. Let us remember that the Liberal government refused to hold such an inquiry. It is only because of the Conservative government initiating it that we are able to address these issues and respond to them as we have.
I also heard a complaint that one of the things we have not implemented from the O'Connor report and the Iacobucci report is a national oversight body for national security. As I have stated many times publicly, including in the House, we have not done that yet because we are awaiting the outcome of the major commission on the Air India terrorist event. That is a major commission of inquiry that, once again, was initiated only by this Conservative government. That was after the previous Liberal government refused for over a decade to undertake such a commission of inquiry.
The members say that we do not need to wait for that commission of inquiry. I can understand that he does not want to wait to hear what it says, because the Liberals of course spent a decade obstructing, delaying and preventing such a commission of inquiry from happening. Keep in mind that it is an inquiry into the worst-ever terrorist incident in Canadian history. The Liberals, who claim to care about these things, refused to establish a commission of inquiry into that.
We have done that in our government. Everyone I have spoken to who is associated with the commission of inquiry has urged me to await the outcome of that inquiry so that we can take into account what everyone agrees were serious failings in co-operation among intelligence agencies and how that investigation and prosecutions were handled. There is much value that will come of it.
As a responsible government, we will continue to await it. I would like it if the report came sooner. That being said, the information that will be gleaned from it will be very important for us, by all accounts, to be able to have effective national security oversight. Unlike the previous government, we are not interested in the appearance of doing things; we are interested in delivering real results and improving the way we manage our national security and oversight to ensure that the errors we have seen in the past are not repeated again in the future.
I did want to outline these points at the outset because those who may have been following this debate might have had a very different impression if they heard the words of the Liberal member for . In no way did he ever reflect on the fact that the problems we are dealing with are very much the responsibility of his party when they were in government. They are things we are trying to address.
I do want to thank the members of the public safety committee for the work they did in examining the important issues that were raised by both the O'Connor and Iacobucci commissions of inquiry. National security and the protection of Canadians is obviously one of the most important priorities for any government and that, of course, applies to—
If I could continue, Madam Speaker, the government's responsibility is to counter new threats and challenges within a national security framework that guarantees accountability and the protection of civil liberties.
That is why the Government of Canada is unwavering in its commitment to give law enforcement the tools they need to safeguard our national security. That is why we are bringing in changes, for example, by expanding the access of police through modern forms of technology so they can execute warrants in our intelligence services as well to deal with changing technology and how it might be used by those wishing to harm our national security. At the same time, we need to empower our national security review bodies with mandates that allow them to conduct thorough reviews of our law enforcement and security agencies and their actions.
As highlighted in the response to the standing committee's report, the government remains steadfast in its commitment to strengthen Canada's national security review framework. I want to take this opportunity to address some of the recommendations contained in the standing committee's report, because that is, of course, what is before us.
The report itself includes a number of recommendations that the government supports in principle. For instance, the committee's report recommends that the government immediately implement all of the recommendations arising from the O'Connor inquiry. The government has made its position very clear in this regard. Much of the work to address both the O'Connor and Iacobucci commissions of inquiry is already complete or very well under way.
As hon. members are aware, Justice O'Connor's part I report contained 23 recommendations concerning such matters as improving domestic and foreign information-sharing practices, creating clear policies around the provision of consular services, and improving training for all individuals involved in national security investigations.
This government took immediately action to accept and implement the recommendations put forward in Justice O'Connor's part I report. I am pleased to say that process is now largely complete, which is again something we might not have heard from the hon. members opposite, and 22 of the 23 recommendations have already been implemented.
I would also like to highlight that many of the issues raised by Justice Iacobucci were similar to those raised by Justice O'Connor, and as such, have already been addressed by this government's actions.
The government is also moving forward to address Justice O'Connor's part II report, which dealt with Canada's national security review framework more broadly. For instance, much work has been accomplished in developing proposals to strengthen the Royal Canadian Mounted Police review and complaints process, including a review of its national security activities. We expect to move forward with legislation on that soon.
Work is also well under way to enhance our national security review structures, including providing a mechanism to facilitate inter-agency review of national security activities. As I indicated, while that work is very well advanced, we do want to see what Justice Major has to offer as a result of the extensive work that has been done on the Air India inquiry, and I think any reasoned person would recognize the importance of looking at what Justice Major reports and his recommendations regarding national security oversight.
Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism. In fact, we know full well from a series of recent prosecutions that Canada faces terrorist threats, both abroad and at home, and that we are working effectively to address those threats, but we also have to be aware of the changing nature of terrorist threats and adapt accordingly. Today we know, for example, that because threats to our security are global, so too must our response be. We also know that co-operation and coordination are vital. Today, more and more departments and agencies are working together to address emerging challenges and threats.
We need to work closely together with international partners, and that need has never been greater than it is right now. In fact, in every particular terrorist incident we look at, there is almost never a unique situation related to one country. Even what we call homegrown terrorism here in Canada has often shown linkages to several other countries through communications, through financing, through support, through training, through moral support and instructions, so we know that those linkages are very, very real, and we have to respond in that fashion.
The Government of Canada is doing this and will continue to do so. The government is committed to modernizing and strengthening our national security review framework to reflect that, to respond to the shifting security and threat environment, and to respect the principles of independence and accountability. In doing this, the government will continue to consider the advice and recommendations of key stakeholders and advisers, as I said, including Justice Major.
As the government proceeds with the implementation of these reforms, we are committed to keeping Canadians informed of policy initiatives that will affect their lives and the lives of fellow citizens.
In response to the committee's second recommendation, the government is pleased to note that a comprehensive progress report has been tabled that provides the committee and Canadians with a detailed account of our work to date in implementing Justice O'Connor's 23 part I recommendations.
I also want to emphasize that this government is presently developing proposals to address the gaps identified in Justice O'Connor's part II report with regard to the review of national security activities. Here the government has also pledged to keep members of Parliament and Canadians generally informed of the developments as they arise.
With respect to the committee's third recommendation, concerning Messrs. Almalki, Abou El Maati and Nureddin, it should be noted that the government acted decisively on the recommendation of Justice O'Connor to establish an independent and credible process to review the cases of these three individuals, again something that did not happen under the previous government. However, I would like to remind the committee that it would inappropriate for the government to address its third recommendation as it pertains to matters that are the subject of ongoing civil litigation.
The government supports the spirit of the committee's fourth recommendation, calling for clear direction against torture. Indeed, the government considers that this recommendation has already been fulfilled. In contrast to the views expressed in the committee's report and by some members here today, the Government of Canada's policy on torture and the use of information elicited through torture is clear.
As I indicated through my statement as Minister of Public Safety, issued on April 2, 2009, we clearly reiterated on behalf of this government that this country does not condone the use of torture in intelligence gathering. Moreover, the committee's recommendation also fails to take into account the ministerial directive issued by me as public safety minister to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which clearly states that the government is steadfast in its abhorrence of and opposition to the use of torture by any state or agency.
The committee's fifth and final recommendation calls for a greater role for parliamentarians in the review of national security activities. While neither Justice O'Connor nor Justice Iacobucci specifically addressed the involvement of parliamentarians in this area, the government strongly supports their continued participation, which they do of course through a number of forums, as we see in our ongoing parliamentary committees even today.
In closing, I would like to reiterate this government's appreciation to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for its work in examining these very important issues. However, while the government supports some of these recommendations in principle, notably those that seek to implement the recommendations of Justice O'Connor's report and those calling for clear policies against torture and for the continued involvement of parliamentarians in the area of national security, the government cannot support the committee's report as a whole because it frankly fails to acknowledge the work that has already been accomplished in this area.
Canadians actually have a lot to be proud of. We have come a long way since 2001, 2002 and 2003 when these abuses occurred, since we had a government that refused to allow a public inquiry into the Air India terrorist incident. We have come a long way since that time and have implemented a lot of changes to adequately balance human rights and the need to protect the national security of Canadians.
We will continue to do that, because that is what Canadians expect of us and that is what we are delivering.
Madam Speaker, as I had indicated, we are dealing with the third report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The report states:
|| Pursuant to its mandate under Standing Order 108(2), the Committee has conducted a review of the findings and recommendations arising from the Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin (Iacobucci Inquiry) and the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar (O’Connor Inquiry) and has agreed to report the following:
The committee made five principal recommendations. I would also point out that at the end of the report, just before the chair's signature, it states:
|| Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the Committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this Report.
The report was tabled in mid-June, just before the House adjourned for the summer break. Under Standing Order 109, the minister is permitted 120 days to respond to the report of the committee. The response to the report was tabled in the House on October 19, which effectively used the full 120 days. The response was referred to the committee for consideration and review. It has been some four weeks since then.
The committee is looking very carefully at this response, but it also has other activities going on as well. It is watching very carefully the special hearings going on with regard to Afghan detainees because of the subject matter of torture, which is part of this report.
I was a little taken back when the suggested that we were wasting the time of the House and that the committee had four months. If the committee asks for a government response to its report, no concurrence motion in that committee report can be moved until that response has been tabled in the House.
I understand the government's interest in moving on with other matters, but even the minister who just addressed the House started off by suggesting that this concurrence motion was delaying important business. When we are talking about the Government of Canada and all of its agencies and how they address serious issues such as the torture of people, I cannot imagine that being dismissed by the government as not being important business of the House.
It is part of our responsibilities to work in committees, to do the work that is necessary, to inquire into major developments, and to report findings based on hearing from expert witnesses with appropriate recommendations to the House for its consideration.
Now that we have had the government response, this concurrence motion is asking the House to look at the report of the committee based on the recommendations that it felt were appropriate, and to see whether or not the House accepts that the report deserves the attention and action of the Government of Canada. That is important.
I understand the government would like to do other things, but parliamentarians do have rights, and this motion has been moved in accordance with the rules of the House.
As I have indicated, there has been a response by the government and it was tabled in the House on October 19. It addresses each of the five recommendations.
I had an opportunity to review the government's response and how it reacted to some of the observations that came out of the committee's work in discussing matters with government agencies and other witnesses involved or related to the subject matter before them.
This has to do with the findings and the numerous recommendations arising from the Iacobucci and O'Connor inquiries. All of the recommendations that the committee itself wanted to make indeed have roots in the work of those two inquiries.
I do not want to read the report into the record, but I want to succinctly deal with each recommendation and the substantive response of the government so that members will understand and will be able to make their own judgment as to whether or not the government is taking this report seriously and the work of the committee seriously. It will be self-evident.
The first recommendation basically asks the government to immediately implement all of the recommendations of the commission of inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to the Maher Arar case, being the O'Connor inquiry. I will simply extract a couple of points that the government makes. It says in response:
|| [T]he Government recognizes the need to continually assess existing policy and practice against ever-changing environment in which we operate.
It is a roundabout way of saying we have to do more to deal with some of the circumstances which existed and allowed Canadian citizens to be subjected to torture, incarceration, or other things, and wrongfully as it turns out. It goes on to say:
|| The Government is committed to modernizing and strengthening Canada’s national security review framework. In achieving this objective, the Government will continue to take into consideration the advice and recommendations of key stakeholders and advisors, including Justice Major’s forthcoming report in the context of the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182 (Air India Inquiry).
Again, there is an acknowledgement by the government that there are flaws and inadequate processes in place to address matters. I think the government effectively agrees with the committee recommendation, but it remains to be seen whether the government has acted on the recommendation.
The second recommendation has to do with regular public reports on the progress made in implementing the findings of the recommendations from the O'Connor inquiry and the inquiry into the actions of officials in relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, which is the Iacobucci inquiry. The government response says that the Iacobucci inquiry identified a number of issues which have particular emphasis on sharing and handling of information provided to and received from foreign agencies as well as the provision of consular service and that it should be noted that Justice Iacobucci was not given a mandate to make those recommendations.
I wonder whether or not that is just sidestepping the important issue. It is really to abandon one's responsibility as a government and I ask the question, why? I do not think it really matters whether Iacobucci recommended these things; a standing committee of Parliament is recommending them. We just cannot have public inquiries to determine what the government should consider is important in terms of streamlining and modernizing its processes for protecting the rights and freedoms of Canadian citizens.
The government response says that the government continues to develop its proposal for modernizing and strengthening the current RCMP review and complaints body and to further these efforts the government has and will continue to consult with key stakeholders, in particular those jurisdictions that contract the RCMP to provide policing services in their jurisdictions.
Finally, the government commented that it is confident that it will be ready to move forward to address the gaps identified by Justice O'Connor with regard to the review of national security activities and will continue to keep members of Parliament and Canadians apprised of new developments.
The bottom line is, yes, the government will do it, but has the government done it? Do we have any evidence that it is happening? Have members of Parliament been apprised of the changes? The answer is no and the question is why not?
Recommendation 3 is in reference to the harm done to Messrs. El Maati, Adullah Almalki, and Mr. Nureddin. The committee has recommended an apology to these Canadian citizens, compensation to be paid to them for the suffering they endured and the difficulties they encountered and, finally, to correct misinformation that may exist in records administered by national security agencies in Canada or abroad with respect to these persons.
The only comment the government had with regard to this whole recommendation was that it would be inappropriate to address the committee's third recommendation as it pertained to ongoing civil litigation. Again, that is dismissive.
I did not even comment on correcting the information. I was absolutely astounded that a clear recommendation did not have a clear response. I would suggest for the committee that it should go back to the minister and ask him why he did not give it an indication that he was committed.
We understand, as I indicated earlier, from the issue of the sub judice convention, where the official opposition in a dissenting report made the same point, the committee should not have made this recommendation with regard to compensation or an apology because there was ongoing civil litigation. However, the sub judice convention is a self-imposed, voluntary convention and it does not prohibit a committee from making those recommendations.
Members may want to look at chapter 3, page 99, of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, O'Brien and Bosc, 2009. There is a further reference, breaking down between the civil and criminal, around page 600, for the members' reference.
The Government of Canada may invoke voluntarily the sub judice convention with regard to this matter, but it is not incumbent on the committee to invoke it. In fact, it is important the committee raise the issue that an apology and compensation, notwithstanding there may be ongoing civil litigation. It is something, based on the evidence and the persons involved here, that their rights and the protection of those rights and the protection of the persons was not in place. It is clear that there will be an apology and compensation. It will be up to the courts to determine what that compensation might be.
However, the evidence is clear in this regard, and the committee was most appropriate in making recommendation 3, the first two parts. The third part, with regard to the information, the government simply just did not respond, and do not know why.
Recommendation 4 from the committee had to do with clarifying the ministerial direction against torture and the use of information from torture for all departments and agencies responsible for national security. It said that the ministerial direction must clearly state that the exchange of information with countries was prohibited when there was a credible risk that it could lead or contribute to the use of torture.
I could not imagine a more appropriate recommendation, particularly in light of the current proceedings going on before the special committee on Afghan detainees and the refusal of the government to take the necessary steps to ensure that the members of the committee have the information they need in order to ask important, relevant and exceptional questions to the witnesses coming before them.
When Mr. Colvin was before us, that was one thing, but then the three generals came before us. All had access to the unredacted correspondence that came into question, but the committee members did not. Just yesterday they received it. If members saw the news stories, they would see that a vast majority of those pages were totally blacked out and the information blacked out on all other pages was such that we could not possibly impute what the information was. How can we address this question about whether there was any reference to torture and whether there was reasonable cause to believe there were incidents of torture?
The recommendation was a very good one, but the response of the government was that it did not condone the use of torture in intelligence gathering, and it referred to the clear directive.
The government said that its unequivocal position was supported by the recent ministerial direction issued to CSIS by the , which clearly stated that the government was steadfast in its abhorrence and opposition to the use of torture by any state or agency for any purpose whatsoever, including the collection of intelligence.
Why was this not in place already? Why does the government have to issue a directive now? This report came out. This is the response of the and national security. Now he is saying that the government has this report. I have a copy of this directive here. The fact it had to issue the directive to remind it of our long-standing policy with—
We didn't think it was necessary to ask you.
Mr. Paul Szabo: Madam Speaker, the minister is going to start heckling me to try to indicate that maybe he does not like what he is hearing.
These are the facts. As a consequence of the committee's report and the excellent work it did, there was a directive issued. The fact that a directive had to be issued was virtually an admission that, in the system, it was not translating right down to our troops in the field.
The minister may not like the facts, but the facts are clear. The government seems to apply a double standard to the issue of torture. There was a dissenting opinion among certain members of the committee, even at the time. Their position was that the recommendation had already been fulfilled by the government. That was the response and the dissenting opinion of the Conservative members of the committee in the report. They dismissed it and said that everything was fine, but it is not fine. The minister had to issue another directive to remind them that torture should not be used. I think it is clear at its face.
Recommendation 5 was that a national security committee of parliamentarians be established. The response of the government was that it looked forward to getting reports from committee, et cetera. It was basically dismissing it again.
The response of the minister to this excellent report is clear. The government certainly does not consider this to be important information. That was exactly what the minister said when he started his speech. He said that this was delaying important work. The minister should know that this committee did important work.