By Erika Klein
I had a sinking feeling in my stomach this week when the Canadian Federal Government and Prime Minister Harper's Conservatives voted to bury an inquiry into the abuse and transfer of Afghan detainees. It isn't the first time our military has been accused of a human rights scandal during peacekeeping missions and the move to postpone the inquiry suggests the government wants nothing more than to stop the flow of information and deflect any kind of responsibility.
A public hearing by a military watch dog into the handling of Afghan prisoners has been re-scheduled for the spring. Whether the federal government will allow the inquiry to proceed is uncertain. The debate to resume the inquiry was debated in the House of Commons amidst the fall out from General Walt Natynczyk's startling revelation that a detainee captured by Canadian Forces was indeed abused, contrary to our government's assurances that there was "no evidence of torture prior to 2007." The chairman for the Military Police Complaints said it was necessary to set a date for the resumption of an inquiry but the Conservative government has yet to appoint his successor. It seems this latest move to postpone till March without an appointment of a chairman serves to further delay and possibly even stop an inquiry altogether.
Since 2005, Canadian troops have been handing over detainees to the United States as well as to other countries because we lack the resources and facilities in order to process them. These prisoners, some of them mere afghan citizens who require due process and release, suffer undetermined detainments and torture by receiving countries and many being held at Guantanamo Bay. Opposition parties in the House of Commons demanded answers and want to know why prisoners have suffered torture directly and indirectly via Canadian Forces. The government has denied any knowledge or responsibility and is more concerned with political strategy than human rights violations at the hands of our country.
As a Canadian citizen, I am abhorred that our image internationally is being tarnished if not outright damaged. The Charter of Rights gives anyone (citizen or non citizen) who is on Canadian soil the right to be free from torture and abuse, including those arrested and detained overseas by our armed forces. The world sees Canada as a haven for those seeking to escape oppression and war. We are viewed as a progressive country that holds our Constitutional rights and values as the vital threads and fabric of our society. Canada also respects and follows international conventions and rules of war. Why then is our Prime Minister trying to silence these issues and quietly make them go away?
It seems our government cares more about winning another election than allowing transparency or accountability. It's a fundamental flaw of the conservative strategy. It demonstrates a culture of secrecy, centralized power and an utter disregard for the values Canadians hold dear. Though many of us are divided on whether we should even be fighting in Afghanistan, we support our troops, the mission to bring democracy to Afghanistan and human rights. An ethical and strong leader should not shy away from the potential scandal our country is directly responsible for. A person worthy of holding the office of Prime Minister should allow the release of documents and information and facilitate an inquiry without delay.
It is because Canada has the Charter and because we are losing so many to this war that the truth should come out. If our military forces are only following orders, Canadians should be able to hold the foreign ministry and senior officials accountable and begin to work on a more effective solution to the detainee's plight. Honesty and integrity, openness and especially a respect for the basic human rights of all during times of war, is what makes a strong country. I'm ashamed that my government is dedicating more time to a cover up then to what's really going on in Afghanistan . I'm disgusted that we are simply handing over potentially innocent people caught in a bloody war who are enduring torture in a dangerous climate of silence. It is utterly un-Canadian and un-constitutional. However inconvenient the truth may be, our country must continue to uphold and protect our values and begin to address the transgressions of our actions.