Ottawa foils justice

You can’t call it a miscarriage of justice that the federal government is denying diplomat Richard Colvin funding for legal advice in the investigation of his remarks that Canadian Forces broke international law in their treatment of prisoners of war in Afghanistan. That’s because justice hasn’t had a chance to be heard yet.

You can’t call it a miscarriage of justice that the federal government is denying diplomat Richard Colvin funding for legal advice in the investigation of his remarks that Canadian Forces broke international law in their treatment of prisoners of war in Afghanistan.

That’s because justice hasn’t had a chance to be heard yet.

As a federal employee, Colvin is entitled to legal advice in any investigation as to how he did his job. What he did was to inform superiors that Canadian Forces, apparently with the knowledge the government, turned Afghan detainees over to local forces without ensuring that they would not be tortured, in 2005 and 2006.

Torture of prisoners is against international law, and is therefore the work of war criminals. It was — and still is — well known that torture is a common procedure in Afghan prisons.

“According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured,” Colvin said last October. “For interrogators in Kandahar, it was a standard operating procedure.”

If true, that makes Canada complicit in a war crime.

Last fall, the reaction of the government was to deny, deny, deny and then attack the character of the whistle-blower. This despite the fact that Colvin was by then a top security adviser for Canada in Washington.

The aspersions against Colvin were unseemly and unfounded then, and the tactic did not wash with the Canadian people.

As pressure mounted for the truth to be told, the Military Police Complaints Commission was told to investigate. Colvin would have to testify and he needed a lawyer.

The government agreed to provide some funding for independent counsel after his original lawyer argued that the Justice Department could not represent parties on both sides of the dispute, given the risk of a conflict of interest.

But the Conservative government has not agreed to any additional funding, even as the Military Police Complaints Commission continues its investigation.

“Coupled with the government’s public attacks on Mr. Colvin and his testimony before the special committee on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan . . . our client is left with the reasonable belief that the denial of legal indemnification is a reprisal for his participation before the committee and the commission,” said Owen Rees, Colvin’s Toronto lawyer.

Nobody knows if this is quite the case. The federal Foreign Affairs Department merely says they are still reviewing Colvin’s latest request for money. They can review until hell freezes over — or until Prime Minister Stephen Harper decides to re-open Parliament and face questions on the matter.

Rather than face Colvin’s accusations honestly, the government chose to vilify him.

When that didn’t work, an investigation was directed and Colvin was restricted from accessing the legal advice he needs to cross-examine government testimony.

And to ensure they didn’t need to face questions outside of the investigation, they locked down Parliament entirely.

When this issue first came to light, Canadians could take some pride that we were a nation secure enough in our values that we could question them publicly, while still in the middle of a war. Not many nations on Earth would be capable of doing that.

What are Canadians to believe today? One thing is sure: our government seems willing to throw justice out the window, rather than allow Canadians to find out what really happened to those prisoners.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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