Legal Experts Discuss Complicity with Torture at Criminology and Human Rights Symposium
Published: Wednesday, Apr 11, 2012
Four prominent legal experts discussed Canada’s involvement in torture culture at a recent criminology and human rights symposium at St. Thomas University.
According to the experts, Canada plays a vital role in keeping torture culture active by abetting US torture culture, using torture for national security, and turning a blind eye to the torture of Afghan detainees.
Alex Neve, Lorne Waldman, and Paul Champ joined STU’s Endowed Chair in Criminology Alan Clarke to present the legal ins and outs on this topic at “Canadian Complicity with Torture.”
No excuse for being complicit
The Secretary General of Amnesty International (Canada), Neve, spoke on “Clean Hands? A Review of Canadian Complicity in Torture Abroad.” Neve told the audience complicity of torture should be a deep concern for Canadians. He explored key legal issues involved in how Canada sends both immigrants and Canadian citizens to be tortured.
“We now have a catalogue, not just a few examples, but a litany of ways Canadian action and inaction, both deliberate and negligent, lay behind the nightmare of imprisonment and torture.”
Windows have been left open in Canada’s policy on torture, said Neve, and reforms are necessary.
“The longer we wait for these reforms, the longer we continue to have woefully inadequate review and oversight on national security in this country, the longer and greater the risk of Canadian complicity with torture,” he said.
“It’s time to get it right, to amend our laws, to change our practices, to ensure accountability, to withdraw problematic policies, and to just change our mindset—because just as there is no excuse for torture, there is absolutely no excuse for being complicit.”
Clarke presented on US torture culture and how Canada assists in its aims. Not only is torture inhumane, he said, but using torture to obtain information is problematic and oftentimes causes damage.
“Every time they try to give you a case where they say that torture worked, and scholars and journalists track it down, it has turned out not to be so, or to be greatly exaggerated.”
Waldman, named one of Canada’s most influential lawyers and co-counsel for Maher Arar, spoke about the inherently evil quality of torture and its effects on society as a whole. He reiterated Clarke’s point that information obtained through torture is unreliable and focused on how to protect national security without the use or risk of torture.
First, he said, government agencies engaged in sharing information with another country should be familiar with the human rights history of that country. Second, under no circumstances, if it means we are being complicit with torture, should we share information.
Waldman told personal stories of people who underwent brutal torture through rape, humiliation, and physical beatings.
A blind-eye approach to Afghanistan detainees
The final speaker of the day was litigation lawyer Paul Champ, who appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada v. Khadr. Champ reviewed Canada’s blind-eye approach to Afghanistan detainees by presenting some of the reports available to, but ignored by, General Hillier, Chief of Defense Staff for the Canadian Forces from 2005 to 2008.
Champ discussed the process by which Canadian soldiers would hand over Afghan detainees to Afghan officials and prisons, a process that blatantly violated Canada’s pledge to not put people at risk of torture.
If the reports, which showed torture was taking place in these prisons, weren’t enough, said Champ, he asked the audience to consider that, in annual reports from 2002 on, our own Department of Foreign Affairs admitted torture and extrajudicial killings there were “widespread and visible in flagrant.”
Although the military suspended these transfers on an on-again-off-again basis, Champ argued the investigations and proposed solutions to the problem was ineffective and minimal, and any information discovered was ultimately downplayed.
Champ presented two legal lies Canada uses to justify these actions: a required standard level of proof required in proving torture and that the risk of torture should be assessed on personalized risk and not general.
“How do you commit torture when it’s against the law to commit torture?” he asked. “You redefine what torture is.”