MacKay cheerleads stonewalling of torture inquiry

Hats off to Murray Brewster of Canadian Press for his chilling story on the Harper Government’s determined campaign to prevent a Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry from getting to the bottom of allegations that Canadian troops in Afghanistan abetted torture.

Peter_Mackay-sThe commission is investigating complaints by Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association that Canadian troops knowingly handed over prisoners to torture in Afghan prisons. But federal lawyers invoked a little known national security clause in the Canada Evidence Act to bar a key government witness from testifying. Their fig leaf? They claimed Richard Colvin, who was political director at a Canadian-run base when troops began handing over prisoners, had no relevant testimony to offer.

Colvin’s lawyer said he has both personal knowledge and documents relating “to the risk of torture resulting from the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities.” Lead commission counsel Freya Kristjanson said Colvin has “highly relative, credible and important evidence to provide on the issues.”

Colvin was the only government witness who agreed to speak with commission lawyers, but the Justice Department invoked the gag order before he could do so. They also invoked a classic Catch 22, saying other witnesses might be allowed to testify if the commission could show they have relevant evidence, something commission lawyers will find hard to do since the witnesses, including a retired general, refuse to speak with them.

In the Commons Wednesday, Defense Minister and Central Nova MP Peter MacKay pretended there is no cover-up. He noted that the commission had praised the government for its openness. Kristjanson said MacKay was referring to comments she made last spring in reaction to the promised disclosure by federal lawyers, but they stopped co-operating immediately after she praised them.