Columnist praises a cowardly bully

CONTRARIAN INDEX — Number of newspaper columnists who think politician Peter MacKay’s character assassination of diplomat Richard Colvin was a virtuoso performance: 1.

MacKay angry-cscThe Chronicle-Herald’s normally astute Stephen Maher took a flying leap off the deep end Saturday with a column slathering praise on Peter MacKay for his reckless attacks on diplomat Richard Colvin.

Maher said MacKay “showed what he is made of, …communicating effectively and aggressively in brutally tough circumstances, answering difficult questions in the House of Commons, enduring a rough scrum with reporters in the chaos of the foyer.”

Maher’s timing was off. He wrote the column on Friday, just as the Tories realized how badly MacKay’s antics were going over, and started to backpedal.

It’s the damnedest column I ever read. It begins and ends with a few paragraphs of cringe-inducing praise for MacKay, but sandwiched in between is the Maher reportage I know and count on: a detailed and scrupulously accurate recital of the facts—facts so starkly at odds with his fawning conclusions as to induce whiplash:

According to an affidavit he filed with the Military Police Complaints Commission on June 2, 2006, Mr. Colvin filed memo KANDH-0032, warning of the “risk of torture and/or actual torture of Afghan detainees . . . based on source or sources that I assessed at the time, and assess today as highly credible.”

Those sources were “diplomats from other embassies, (non-governmental organizations), officials from the UN, military officers at (the International Security Assistance Force), human rights organizations, journalists and intelligence sources” who spoke to Mr. Colvin on a confidential basis.

MacKay’s “virtuoso performance”  burlesqued this meticulous gathering of evidence as “accepting testimony of people who throw acid in the face of schoolgirls.” And just by the way, MacKay did not “endure” the scrum, as Maher credits him with doing. He ran away from it, as the audio record shows.

colvinColvin is a senior diplomat with impeccable credentials with a reputation for staying quietly in the background. After the events in Kandahar, he was promoted to First Secretary of Canada’s Embassy in Washington. Testifying as he did last week put all this at risk. More importantly, it ran counter to every career civil servant’s training, inclination, and temperament. It required an act of conscience and courage.

And MacKay? What courage did he show? He slagged an honorable civil servant as a stooge for Canada’s enemies. He misrepresented the character of Colvin’s investigations, then used specious arguments to ridicule them. He insisted there was no of evidence of torture, then claimed his government had corrected the problem. He vilified Colvin knowing the diplomat could not respond. In short, he played the cowardly bully. After all, why worry about human rights when you have a party to protect?

Maher was right about got one thing: MacKay did show what he is made of. Whatever else he may accomplish in his life as a politician, his behavior this week will leave an indelible stain on his reputation.