The Harper government has decided to allow Canadian spies to use information obtained by torture, provided someone else does the torture.
The torture has to be to obtain something important, such as a matter of “public safety” says Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
It was Toews who secretly gave CSIS permission to use information obtained by torture in a two-page directive he wrote 10 December 2010. The document was never made public.
Now Opposition MPs want to know why the change was in a “directive” and not in a security law brought before Parliament for approval.
It goes against the traditional Canadian policy which has been to reject all information obtained by torture, no matter where the torture took place or who did it.
Unfortunately, the Toews directive does not say who decides when Canadian “public safety” is involved. Is it the Harper government, a judge of the Federal Court, the spy agency, Toews himself, or the torturers?
Toews’ directive does not explain what constitutes a threat –a terrorist act, an individuals who has placed a bomb, or an individual who hopes to place a bomb someday, or wants somebody else to do the job for him?
It recalls the Front de Libération du Quebec cells 50 years ago.
Some members of these cells were very serious. Others were young people who thought they were revolutionaries. But none ever had to be tortured.
It also recalls imprisonment in Syria of Canadian engineer Maher Arar, sent there to be tortured for 18 months by U.S. intelligence agencies with the approval of the RCMP following a false accusation obtained from a prisoner under torture in Syria.
The information he gave Syrian torturers was bogus. He just wanted the pain to stop.
There was a full investigation by a judge in Canada, and eventually the Harper government had to pay compensation of $10 million to Maher Arar.
Toews says he advised CSIS that the federal government now expects the agency to make the protection of life and property and its highest priority.
So what was it before? Watching cabinet ministers and writing reports?
Canadian policy previously required CSIS to reject any information of dubious origin, never mind from outright torture.
Stephen Harper once prorogued Parliament on the mere risk that information obtained under torture from Taliban prisoners had ended up in the hands of our military in Afghanistan.
Now Harper will have to find some other reason to prorogue Parliament.
Canada has always spoken out at the United Nations about using torture to obtain information, and the UN condemns countries that do. Now all this has changed.
Torture is alright as long as someone else does it to get you important ‘public safety’ information.