stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Read and Win Contest

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



  Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

  Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


Globe editorial
The fog that hangs over the detainees


From Friday's Globe and Mail

Misleading the Canadian people on the Afghan detainee file has become a habit for the Harper government. While it is reassuring that this country's military respects its duty under the Geneva Conventions not to turn its prisoners over to torturers, it is disheartening to find yet again that Ottawa has not conveyed the truth about the detainees.

Late yesterday, the Prime Minister's Office told reporters that the government did not purposely distort the truth. Rather, it was not aware that since Nov. 5 -- nearly three months ago -- the military had stopped handing its detainees over to the Afghan authorities. Why was it unaware? Because the military acted on its own and didn't tell anyone in the government. If this is true, the Harper government was in the dark on an issue that has occupied it for months at the highest levels, and on which it is fighting a battle in the Federal Court of Canada. It is evidence of an astonishing lapse in communications. If it is not true, it is an embarrassing attempt by the government to cover up for its having told falsehoods, by blaming the military. Either way, it intensifies the fog surrounding this important matter.

Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier was asked directly on Nov. 14 by Bloc Québécois MP Claude Bachand whether, in light of calls from human-rights groups, Prime Minister Stephen Harper would halt the transfer of detainees to the Afghans. Mr. Bernier replied there was no evidence of systematic torture. "If we have evidence, the Afghan government will do an investigation."

There was not a true word in that response. The military already had the evidence (torture instruments found beneath a chair in a prison cell). Mr. Bernier misled Canadians. The PMO now says he did so inadvertently because the military acted on its own discretion. If so, the military allowed a misleading impression to stand.

The Prime Minister argued earlier this week, through his spokeswoman Sandra Buckler, that anything to do with the detainees is a security matter, and is therefore secret. This is hard to credit when the government voluntarily revealed the truth in a letter to human-rights groups challenging its detainee policy in Federal Court, a letter that it knew would become part of a public court record. The truth - that word again - is that Canada has a political agreement with the government of Afghanistan that allows for Canadian officials to monitor the treatment of detainees. The Harper government has boasted about the agreement. The Canadian public has a stake in what Canada is doing to uphold it.

The list of half-truths and untruths that the Harper government has fed Canadians on the detainees is a long one. Ottawa has denied prisoners were abused, claimed the prisoners were being monitored when they weren't, and signed a decent monitoring pact only after its falsehoods were revealed. Far from building support among Canadians for the mission, all this prevarication has led to more skepticism.

In Federal Court yesterday, a government lawyer insisted that what Canada has been doing with detainees since Nov. 5 is a state secret. If the PMO is to be believed, it was clearly a secret from the government. How Canada conducts a war fought and paid for by Canadians is the business of Canadians. Only Mr. Harper can clear up the fog that has settled over the detainees.

Back to Home Page

Subscribe to The Globe and Mail
Sign up for our daily e-mail News Update


Breaking News

Today's Weather

Globe Poll

What's New

Technology news for your business

Health Care: The Romanow Report

Iraq Backgrounder

Morning Smile
Why did the magician's inquiry get nowhere? Too much smoke and mirrors. Jerry Kitich, Hamilton, Ont.