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Public safety minister's torture directive 2.0

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Jim Bronskill from the Canadian Press published a follow-up story on the torture directive that was issued by the Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews. The new story speaks of a more recent directive issued in July 2011. The new directive removes any ambiguity as to what the government position is with respect to the use and sharing of information that is likely derived from torture.

It seems that the Canadian government has learned nothing from the two $30-million torture inquires, both of which recommended that the Canadian government adopt a different approach to dealing with foreign agencies that do not adhere to the same human rights standard as ours.

In issuing this directive the government has essentially ignored recommendation 14 by Justice O'Connor, which stated that: "Information should never be provided to a foreign country where there is a credible risk that it will cause or contribute to the use of torture. Policies should include specific directions aimed at eliminating any possible Canadian complicity in torture, avoiding the risk of other human rights abuses and ensuring accountability."

What makes this direction even more alarming is that the fat annual budgets devoted to enhancing national security have not been balanced by a similar increase in oversight. In fact, the government chose to ignore the most important recommendation of Justice O'Connor, which is to establish a credible oversight agency that has the required powers to monitor and investigate the activities of the RCMP and those of other agencies involved in the gathering and dissemination of national security information. Unlike the powerless Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) or the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) this agency would also be granted subpoena power to compel all agencies to produce the required documents.

Coming back to the directive, one can only cite two examples here which I believe are sufficient to illustrate the hollowness of the argument presented in the directive. The first relates to the invasion of Iraq which we now know was based on false intelligence (see this video) that was extracted from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi while he was being tortured in Egypt. Al-Libi was later found dead inside his prison cell. Some human rights activists believe the Gaddafi regime liquidated him three years after he was rendered to Libya by the CIA.

The second example is that of Ahmed el-Maati. A Canadian citizen of Egyptian-Syrian descent, he travelled to Syria in November 2001 to get married. He was immediately detained by the Syrian intelligence based on information that originated in Canada. The Syrians tortured him until he falsely confessed of being involved in a plot to blow up the Canadian parliament. A truck driver, the main piece of evidence was that CSIS and the RCMP found an Ottawa map in his truck, which had a few government buildings visibly marked. This piece of information, which was sent to his Syrian and Egyptian captors, was the basis for his subsequent interrogation and torture. After his return to Canada, investigative Globe and Mail reporter Jeff Sallot found out that the map did not even belong to el-Maati. What is troubling about his story is that the sharing of information extended over a long period of time despite the fact that a credible risk of torture was established by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).

The el-Maati story is a perfect example that illustrates the Hollywood fantasy that underlines the "ticking bomb" scenario that Minister Toews was apparently contemplating when he wrote this directive. According to his most recent directive, should the el-Maati scenario repeat today, CSIS and RCMP would conduct business as they did in 2003.

It doesn't take a genius to conclude that in the el-Maati example cited above the actions of our security agencies did not protect the lives of Canadians, as the directive seems to indicate. In fact, their actions did exactly the opposite: it put the life and well-being of a Canadian citizen in harm's way, wasted tax payers' money, and above all, used human resources that could have been assigned to monitor real and credible threats instead.

Now all the above discussion is technical in nature. As I said recently on The Current, what is important to emphasize is this: whether torture produces reliable information or not, the practice of torture and the use or sharing of information gleaned from torture is abhorrent and evil and should never be used under any "exceptional circumstances."

This article was first posted in Prism magazine.

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