Even Coyne is baffled at Conservative smear tactics

Andrew Coyne-cs

Writing in Maclean’s, Andrew Coyne expresses “some bafflement” at the Conservatives’ reaction to Richard Colvin’s testimony.

Don’t worry, Coyne hasn’t gone socialist. He’s sure Canada is no longer turning over detainees without adequate safeguards. He thinks the Harperites fixed the problem, and ought to take credit for it. He doesn’t think we are at the point of needing a public inquiry—yet. He thinks Colvin’s testimony is “less than bullet-proof.”

But it’s another thing altogether to imply that Colvin is some sort of whack job or stooge of the Taliban. As others have pointed out, his sterling career track — he’s now a senior intelligence officer at the Canadian embassy in Washington — hardly bespeaks eccentricity or incompetence. And if, as the government maintains, there was no reason to believe what he was saying was true — on a balance of probabilities, at least — then why did the government eventually change its practice? If no one in government even knew there was a problem, how could anyone have given the orders to fix it?

Whatever the truth or falsehood of Colvin’s reports, it is scarcely credible that they would not have been passed up to the highest levels: not just in the bureaucracy, but the cabinet as well. If the Minister of National Defence at the time, Gordon O’Connor, did not know, he surely should have; if bureaucrats insulated him from that knowledge, to preserve “plausible deniability,” that is a mark against him as much as them, for not establishing as an inviolable rule that he should be kept abreast of all such sensitive matters.

But the more likely proposition is that he did know. And if he knew, it is equally likely that the Prime Minister would have been told. Again, I don’t find that damning in itself: once told, they acted, even if it now appears rather too slowly. What’s indefensible is for ministers to have lied about what they knew, especially to Parliament — or, if they did not know, for officers and bureaucrats to have deliberately kept them in the dark. The more the government attempts to shoot the messenger, the more one suspects one of these will prove to be true.

If they knew, and lied about it, maybe that explains the baffling attacks on Colvin.