Friday, January 18, 2008

Tortuous machinations

Yesterday a federal judge struck down the Safe Third Country Agreement, which held that Canada and the US, allegedly "safe" countries for refugees, could bar passage of refugees from one country to the other. Justice Michael Phelan had already ruled this past November that the US doesn't respect refugee-protection requirements under international law, nor international conventions against torture. The Harper government is appealing the ruling.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International, exercised by Canada's turning over of Afghan POWs (or "detainees" if you prefer) to Hamid Karzai's torturers, has been doing a little digging. And they came up with a document from Foreign Affairs that identifies the US and Israel as countries that practise torture themselves. The Harper government is now "disavowing" the document, whatever that means.

Our Justice Department has routinely used "national security" to deny access to documents subpoenaed by Amnesty International. But somehow this one fish slipped through the net. A few hours later, hand-wringing Justice Department officials were pleading to have it returned.

Too late, guys. The document, intended to instruct our diplomats on how to recognize torture cases (remember the hapless Franco Pillarella?), also lists Guantanamo as a place where torture is likely--the prison into which Canadian citizen Omar Khadr was thrown when he was fifteen years old. He's still there. The Harper government has done nothing to get him out.

It's not a policy document, it's just a training manual, bleats Foreign Affairs. Somehow that doesn't clear things up, at least for me. If, as their official statement claims, "[it] does not reflect the views or policies of this government," why was the Justice Department so darned keen to get the thing back?

There is an ugly pattern here, one that has been emerging over the past year or so. Readers will recall the little junket that the Correctional Service of Canada took through the prisons of Afghanistan--the one where a senior CSC official asked for better boots as she waded through blood and fecal matter during her visit. The government tap-dances like mad every time one of these stories comes out. But the stories keep right on coming.

Torture is being mainstreamed, right before our eyes. A Bush advisor claimed as far back as 2005 that the President could legally crush the testicles of a child if he so chose. And as usual, the Harper government is scrambling to keep up.

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