IN THE NEWS ~ Harper won't rescind torture directives

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Duplicates: Hamilton Spectator (First), A10; Guelph Mercury (First) News, Page A6

The official Opposition pointed to a new report out of the United States that discredits torture in renewing a call for the Conservative government to rescind its information-sharing policy.

The long-anticipated U.S. Senate intelligence committee report concludes the Central Intelligence Agency's use of simulated drowning, confinement in small spaces, sleep deprivation and threats of violence against family members did not yield valuable information in the post-9/11 fight against terrorism.

In the House of Commons, New Democrat MP Peter Julian said Tuesday the conclusion to be drawn from the American report is simple - torture doesn't work.

However, Julian pointed out, the Canadian government has issued directives to several police and security agencies allowing them to use and share information derived using brutal methods.

The instructions give five federal agencies - the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP, the military, Canada Border Services and the Communications Security Establishment - the go-ahead to exchange information with a foreign partner even when doing so may give rise to a substantial risk of torture.

A federal framework document obtained through the Access to Information Act outlines a "consistent process of decision making" across departments and agencies when the exchange of national-security related information puts someone at serious risk of being abused.

Julian said the Harper government's acceptance of torture had repudiated basic Canadian values. "Will the government rescind these directives immediately?" he asked.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper ignored the demand.

"This is a report of the United States Senate," Harper told the Commons. "It has nothing to do whatsoever with the government of Canada."

The Canadian policy has drawn persistent criticism from human rights advocates and opposition MPs who say it effectively condones torture, violating international law and Canada's United Nations commitments.

The federal framework says when there is a "substantial risk" that sending information to - or soliciting information from - a foreign agency would result in torture, the responsible deputy minister or agency head should be consulted.

In deciding what to do, the agency head is supposed to consider factors including the threat to Canada's national security and the nature and imminence of the threat; the status of Canada's relationship with - and the human rights record of - the foreign agency; and the rationale for believing that sharing the information would lead to torture.

Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained in New York in September 2002 and shipped overseas by U.S. authorities - ending up in a filthy Damascus prison. Under torture, he gave false confessions about involvement with al-Qaida.

A federal commission of inquiry, led by Justice Dennis O'Connor, concluded that flawed information the RCMP handed to the Americans after the 9/11 attacks very likely led to the Ottawa man's year-long nightmare.

O'Connor recommended that information never be provided to a foreign country where there is a credible risk it will cause or contribute to the use of torture.

The U.S. Senate report did not examine the treatment of detainees like Arar who were in the custody of foreign countries.

Arar declined interview requests from media Tuesday. But he was following the U.S. Senate report's release. ILLUS: Prime Minister Stephen Harper answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday in Ottawa. The prime minister ignored calls to change the government's policy on torture. Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press

© 2014 Torstar Corporation


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