Dr. Dawg

Vic Toews and the slippery torture downslope

| Disqus Comments


Our Minister of Torture and Surveillance, Vic Toews, has been a busy bee.

Readers will recall the brief controversy a few months ago, in which it was revealed that a new directive issued by Toews would permit the use of information extracted by torture if that amorphous substance known as “national security” were threatened.

The issue flared and died, as these things do, and the media moved on to the latest on the Kardashians. But now it has been discovered that Toews has authorized extensions of his pro-torture policy.

Briefly, the RCMP and Canadian Border Security will be given the same latitude as has already been extended to CSIS, namely, to use information that may have been extracted by torture:

The Conservative government has quietly given Canada’s national police force and the federal border agency the authority to use and share information that was likely extracted through torture.

…The government directives state that protection of life and property are the chief considerations when deciding on the use of information that may have been derived from torture.

Now, some have been under the impression that this was as far as it went—under ill-defined circumstances, we could avail ourselves of, and use, information so generated.

Here’s law professor Craig Forcese last February: “[T]o be clear, we are not talking here about Canada aiding and abetting, inducing or facilitating torture — the discussion is about passive consumption.”

Well, no, and I argued against this assumption at the time. I believed then, and have been proven right, that the notion of “passive consumption” would be used as retroactive cover for proactive moves by CSIS.

The “passive consumption” argument, nevertheless, remained in the media foreground. Clearly even the willingness to be consumers of tainted information would create a market for torture, but Toews’ directives went much further—they authorized information-sharing that could lead to torture:

The directives are almost identical to one Mr. Toews sent last summer to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service — instructions that were roundly criticized by human rights advocates and opposition MPs as a violation of Canada’s international obligations to prevent the brutalization of prisoners.

Each of the directives is based on a framework document — classified secret until now — that indicates the information-sharing principles apply to all federal agencies.

“The objective is to establish a coherent and consistent approach across the government of Canada in deciding whether or not to send information to, or solicit information from, a foreign entity when doing so may give rise to substantial risk of mistreatment of an individual,” says the four-page framework. [emphasis added]

This opens up a completely different discussion. In the first case, the torture is already a fait accompli, and we have been agonizing over the ethics of using information derived from it. But the second involves active complicity with the torturers, giving information to, say, the Syrians—as we did extra-legally in the Maher Arar and other cases—knowing that the likelihood or indeed the certainty of torture would result:

[An] inquiry headed by former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci into the imprisonment of three other Arab-Canadian men during the same post-9-11 period found Canadian officials had a hand in the torture of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin in Syria through the sharing of information with foreign intelligence and police agencies.

In the case of Mr. Almalki, Canadian officials provided questions to Syrian military intelligence.

False confessions Mr. El Maati made under torture — including a fictitious plan to attack the Parliament buildings — were used to obtain search warrants in Canada.

This practice has now been effectively legalized, and the RCMP and CBSA may now avail themselves of it.

It is but a small ethical leap at this point from being an accomplice to torture to actively carrying it out. I’ll leave it to the international law experts to determine whether we are already in breach of the UN Convention Against Torture, but these words appear to speak for themselves:

Article 4

Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture. [emphasis added]

I don’t see any “except-fors” in the wording, here or elsewhere in the text.

But in Harper’s Canadaâ„¢, 2012, torture is now effectively legal: and Parliament has had no opportunity to do a thing about it.

[H/t David Eaves]

Return to the home page

blog comments powered by Disqus

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on August 25, 2012 10:51 AM.

Abortion debate: let's not and say we did was the previous entry in this blog.

We Need an Open Debate on Slavery in this Country. is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 6.3.6