Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Before the media (and government officials and the public) were kicked out of the Military Police Complaints Commission hearings which commenced today, an argument to be advanced by the federal government at the hearings was relayed: "Federal lawyer seeks to narrow scope of Afghan detainee hearings." The hearings have this focus:
The complaint alleges that the provost marshal and unidentified members of the military police "aided and abetted the torture of detainees" by transferring them to custody of the ANP and NDS even though they knew or should have known about cases of torture and the risk of it happening.
The federal government in response is arguing that only the actual knowledge of the military police is relevant to the hearing. Information from diplomats or from human rights bodies such as the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission or the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights about torture cannot be imputed to the military police, said the federal lawyer, it is "irrelevant."

What is the upshot of this argument though? It's a silo argument, that each of these entities operates in their own sphere and even if one has knowledge, it can't be proved to be known by another. It's narrow and seems quite unrealistic. It's arguably a recipe for military police having a licence to ignore pertinent information to their jobs.

You can understand why the government might put forward this argument as a defence, but proactively and legally, due to the jeopardy it might put military police in if they ignore widely known information, it's not a good policy for Canada to be advocating. How can you credibly fulfill your obligations under the Geneva Conventions if you put blinders on your military and turn off all sources of harmful information?

The above might seem to be a trivial point. But such issues have implications for Canada's face in the world, what we can be counted on to do in conflict situations and how we live up to our obligations.