This Week in Question Period – December 11th, 2009


By: James Di Fiore

Poor Peter MacKay.

Not since his heartbreaking split with nepotism-soaked heiress Belinda Stronach a few years ago have we seen such a flustered Minister of Defense. Peter McKay faced loud and sometimes obnoxious calls to resign by members of the opposition this week, capping off a week that brought the prisoner abuse scandal to a new level.

After years of steadfast claims that Canada has never acted improperly when handing detainees over to Afghan officials on the battlefield, a field report surfaced that showed one detainee had been photographed with Canadian soldiers before being handed over and subsequently abused at the hands of his Afghan captors. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lambasted both Prime Minister Harper and MacKay after General Walter Natynczyk acknowledged that the military had been aware that transferred prisoners risked being abused. The report contained a note from a Canadian soldier stating the following – “we then photographed the individual prior to handing him over to ensure that if the Afghan National Police did assault him, as has happened in the past, that we would have a visual record of his condition.” The field report is dated 2006 and was apparently only discovered on Wednesday morning by General Natynczyk.

The opposition leaders and back-benchers took turns calling for MacKay’s resignation both directly and through the PM.

Coincidentally, MacKay was scheduled to appear in front of a parliamentary committee concerning Afghanistan on Wednesday afternoon, where he once again faced scathing criticism from opposition members. The government has consistently stated they have no credible evidence of detainees being tortured after being in Canadian custody, and attempted to spin the controversy into ‘military bashing’ by the Liberals and other opposition parties.

This desperation tactic may be a watershed moment for the parliament as they head into the holidays. The new developments related to the military police complaints commission’s stated determination to begin hearings in March over Afghan detainees, but many on the Hill feel the Conservative government will not appoint a new commissioner in time. 340, 000 documents currently being reviewed and redacted may thwart the committee’s ability to uncover the underlying issues. The government has stated the redacted material are a matter of “operational safety” for the troops still stationed overseas. Michael Ignatieff sees it differently.

“This is a government that tried to strangle the military police commission from the beginning,” Ingatieff stated. He added, “The risk of putting anybody in operational danger is about zero . . . It’s too ridiculous to discuss.”

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