Opinion: Ottawa bans using info from torture

Opinion: Ottawa bans using info from torture

Agencies will be restricted in how they use intelligence received from foreign entities

The federal government has issued new regulations to Canada’s security agencies to restrict the use of intelligence possibly obtained through mistreatment or torture – unless the information is needed to prevent the loss of life.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Monday issued directives to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency.

The ministerial directives replace those issued in 2011 by the previous Conservative government and are meant to “more clearly prohibit the disclosure or requesting of information that would result in a substantial risk of mistreatment,” according to the public safety department.

That passing of information was behind the nightmare endured by Canadian Maher Arar. A public inquiry concluded that erroneous information passed by the RCMP led the Americans to deport Arar, eventually to Syria where he was tortured and held for about a year.

The new regulations bar each of the agencies from disclosing information that would result in a “substantial” risk of mistreatment of an individual by a foreign entity.

As well, they are prevented from asking for information that would put a person at risk of mistreatment.

Finally, the agencies are restricted in how they can use any intelligence that was likely obtained through mistreatment of an individual by a foreign entity.

The new rules are meant to “guard against any complicity in mistreatment,” a department official told reporters during a background briefing.

Yet there is not a blanket prohibition on the use of information where torture or mistreatment is suspected. The new directives do allow the use of such intelligence “when necessary to prevent loss of life or significant personal injury.”

Such cases would require high-level approval within the security agencies and will be flagged to the minister as well as the proposed oversight body comprised of MPs.

The government refused Monday to say how often it may have used intelligence obtained through torture and mistreatment, saying only that “officials are sometimes required to interact with foreign entities that may engage in those practices that are contrary to our values and principles.”

“The ministerial directions are provided exactly to bring more clarity to the decision-making process,” the official told reporters.

Security expert Stephanie Carvin said the new rules acknowledge the reality that confronts security agencies today.

“We are an intelligence-consuming nation. Canada is heavily reliant on intelligence-sharing partnerships. You have to strike a balance that is also realistic,” said Carvin, an assistant professor of international relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.

“I wish we lived in a world where you could just cut yourself off from everyone who was bad but you can’t,” she said in an interview.

She said the challenge for security agencies will be sorting out which information may have been derived through mistreatment or torture. Given the prison conditions in some developing countries, just being detained might count as mistreatment and abuse, she said.

“Those kinds of cases still aren’t clear,” Carvin said.

She did say the directives introduce some openness and political oversight. “We really don’t have a window into how often this is done … I think this goes a long way to creating some transparency.”

Amnesty International said the new rules are a “significant improvement,” but criticized the government for still allowing the possibility that intelligence obtained by torture could be used by security agencies.

The human rights organization said that “loopholes and lack of clarity in some areas may still leave the door open to complicity in abuses and the tacit promotion of torture at the hands of foreign officials.”

“Promises not to torture from those who already break clear international and national laws by torturing in the first place are virtually worthless,” Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said in a statement.

Bruce Campion-Smith is a national affairs writer.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Drumheller RCMP arrest local drug dealer

A joint forces investigation involving Drumheller RCMP and ALERT has led to… Continue reading

Red Deer Advocate file photo
Ex-mountie found not guilty of sexual assault in Red Deer court

An ex-mountie who was accused of sexually assaulting a fellow RCMP officer… Continue reading

The City of Red Deer has opened its 77 outdoor rinks for skating and hockey. (Photo courtesy of The City of Red Deer)
Red Deer city outdoor rinks ready to go

It’s time to dust of the skates for outdoor rinks. The City… Continue reading

Eva Pennock got an unlikely visit from a horse at a Three Hills Health Care Centre. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Pennock)
Unlikely visitor brings cheer to residents at Three Hills Health Care Centre

An unlikely visitor spread some cheer and good tidings this week at… Continue reading

(File photo by Advocate staff)
Zero tax increase approved by Red Deer city council for 2021 and 2022

City council passed operating budgets for the next two years on Thursday

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Longtime central Alberta politician Judy Gordon has passed away. Photo courtesy of the City of Lacombe
Former Lacombe Mayor Judy Gordon passes away

Gordon also served as MLA for Lacombe-Stettler before retiring from politics in 2010

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro (left) and Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw pose for a photo after they received a flu shot earlier this year. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s flu vaccine distribution already closing in on last year’s totals

Central zone has administered 122,000 doses of influenza vaccine

Hugh Danielson and Brayden Watts, of Red Deer are trying to spread the word about a new innovation for wheelchairs that they think will be especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Brayden Watts)
Local medical supply company lands exclusive patent rights to wheelchair extension

By some small miracle, Hugh Danielson and Brayden Watts stumbled upon a… Continue reading

Alberta premier Jason Kenney declared a public health state of emergency Tuesday and sweeping new measures as COVID-19 cases in the province continue to rise.  (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Premier critical of COVID-19 anti-maskers

Premier Jason Kenney advised those attending anti-mask rallies this weekend to do… Continue reading

Police are on the lookout for Hugo Strohschein, 85, was last seen shortly before 10 p.m. on Dec. 3 in Red Deer. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer RCMP)
Red Deer RCMP seek help to locate missing 85-year-old man

The Red Deer RCMP is hoping for the public’s help to locate… Continue reading

A masked worker walks behind a hiring sign on his way into the Dover Cliffs long term care home in Port Dover, Ont., Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. Statistics Canada will say this morning how Canada's job market fared last month as COVID-19 case counts rose along with a new round of public health restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian economy added 62,000 jobs in November, Statistics Canada says

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the economy added 62,000 jobs in November… Continue reading

Bank towers are shown from Bay Street in Toronto's financial district, on Wednesday, June 16, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrien Veczan
North American stocks up in early trading, loonie tops 78 cents US

TORONTO — Gains in the mining and metals sector helped lift Canada’s… Continue reading

Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori delivers a speech after an opening plenary session of the three-party meeting on Tokyo 2020 Games additional costs due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Tokyo, Friday, Dec 4, 2020. (Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics delay costs may reach $2.8 billion

TOKYO — The cost of the postponement for the Tokyo Olympics could… Continue reading

Most Read