Friday, November 27, 2009

Fizzle on HST, government position on torture allegations shifts yet again

A few big developments today...

First, it will apparently have to be something else in the way of distraction for the strategists in the PMO: "Flaherty Wins Bloc Support to Merge Sales Taxes With Provinces."
Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty won the support of the opposition Bloc Quebecois for a bill that would allow provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia to merge local sales taxes with a federal levy.

“The Bloc will support the motion,” Pierre Paquette, who leads the party’s day-to-day operations in Parliament, told reporters today in Ottawa. The law may make it easier for Quebec to receive the same kind of compensation other provinces received when they merged their sales taxes, he said.

The Bloc’s decision eases pressure on Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff on whether to oppose the change, which is backed by two provincial leaders from his own party. Flaherty plans to bring the bill to a vote before Parliament breaks for holidays on Dec. 11, according to a document provided by a government official.
So back to the uncomfortable focus for the government. Speaking of which, a distinctly different tone and set of admissions from Peter MacKay today:
Now, under the weight of evidence that many international organizations were sounding the alarm about treatment of Afghan prisoners, MacKay says his government knew of the problems and began to act shortly after taking office in January 2006.
"The decision to change the transfer arrangement would have been as a result of a lot of sources of information including those from Mr. (David) Mulroney, those from other individuals on the ground, Elissa Goldberg, those who were involved in the actual PRT, those who went to Afghan prisons to observe the situation," the minister said outside the Commons.
"That began almost immediately after we took office . . . . Obviously there were concerns about the state of prisons."
MacKay further massaged the Conservative message on Friday.
"Obviously there were concerns about the state of prisons,"he said. "There were concerns about allegations. There were concerns about information found in reports. There were concerns.
"We acted on those concerns over two and a half years ago."
While the government had previously stated that a specific abuse allegation in the spring of 2007 prompted it to act, MacKay now suggests it was an evolution in thinking.
"I can't say that there was a specific moment in time that the decision to change the transfer arrangement crystalized in my mind," he said.
"It was obviously made as a result of recommendations from within the department."
Colvin slowly being vindicated by these shameless Conservatives now? Also interesting, the notion that if indeed the agreement was being considered to be defective and under scrutiny all along, why did Conservative ministers represent to the House of Commons that it was fine and in doing so, arguably mislead parliament? A number of instances are cited in the CP report, linked above. What a fine mess they're in.

Why would they shift their position so significantly today? It likely has to do with such considerations as the defences available under international law when evidence of war crimes appears:
The jurisprudence from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and, most importantly, a recent decision from the International Criminal Court itself, has ruled that even if it is established that military and civilian commanders did not have actual knowledge, that is no defence to a charge of complicity in a war crime.

The standard that has been established is that persons in command must take all reasonable steps to acquire such knowledge and then to take all further necessary and reasonable steps to prevent the continuation of the war crime or to punish the perpetrators.
They've been on the "no knowledge" track, now they're on the "reasonable steps" track.